SPain in the 1930s greeted the first violent clash between conflicting ideologies of the century. Writers such as George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, André Malraux and Arthur Koestler became passionate witnesses to a complex civil war that pitted totalitarianism against democracy, while Stalinist communism and fascism fought a proxy battle and that anarchism, Trotskyism, nationalism and Catholic fundamentalism have thrown gasoline on the blaze.
Often, however, writers obscured the country. This was not the case with Henry Buckley, whose Life and death of the Spanish Republic (1940) exudes not only authority, empathy and real knowledge, but also humility. Buckley was a simple journalist – above all, but not only, the The telegraph of the daycorrespondent of, who knew Spain better than any of them.
He arrived in 1929, just as the gentle dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera was coming to an end, and lived through the extraordinary eight years of the Second Spanish Republic. As a practicing Roman Catholic, he was immune to the “dark legends” spread by Protestants over Spain. But he was so appalled by the reactionary church in the country, which joined with the military and landowners to fight democracy, that he was unable to attend mass.
Christ, he knew, would have supported the poor and oppressed majority who saw republican democracy as their savior. Worse yet, when the war came he saw Hitler and Mussolini pour in as Britain and France hid behind false hands off and let Spanish democracy die. “Our supreme ego in the face of need,” he said, “is something that we will pay for terribly and with our own blood.”
Buckley wrote this book, the best of all contemporary tales, as the world braced for a larger war that would prove him right. Unfortunately, the warehouse with many copies was soon bombed. This new edition offers an honest reminder of a shameful past, when Britain and other democracies failed Spain and fueled Hitler’s terrible ambition.