- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 26 Jan 1939, p. 200-213
- MacNamara, Lieut-Colonel J.R.J., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- How much the Spanish issue, both internal and external, has affected the whole world. The Spanish struggle going right back into medieval history. Now watching the spectacle of an old Spain turning into a modern state, going through hundreds of years of history in the course of one man's lifetime, or merely a few years. Understanding what is going on in that Iberian Peninsula. A brief review from 1837. Events that led to the breaking-up of Spain. The military revolt, and the revolution by the workers. Spain in a state of civil war, a state of chaos, a country being torn internally and externally, and standing in a strategic part of the world, an ideal place for other countries to interfere for their own purposes. Intrigue inside Spain before the outbreak of hostilities. Involvement by the Italians, the Russians, and Germans. The speaker's trip to Spain to try and find out what was really going on. A description of what he found there. The war now possibly drawing to a close in the northern sector. The speaker's opinion as to why Germany and Italy intervened in Spain. Matters that affect France and Britain, especially in terms of keeping the Mediterranean safe and open for shipping, communication, and defence purposes. The Rome-Berlin-Tokyo triangle. How the speaker sees this conflict as another world war. A new world war in progress, a world war which is being fought on an entirely new technique, a new type of world power politics, backed up, if necessary, by military force. The very determined spirit in Britain today, a spirit backed up by a shrewd instinct which knows how far it can go, and the point beyond which it cannot let others go. Facing the fact that we also have to be materially strong. The need to build armaments. Details of war preparations in Britain. Britain's strength at the moment. Strength in unity of all peoples who are looking in the same direction as the British and who think the same thoughts in a similar way.
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- 26 Jan 1939
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SPAIN--ITS INTERNAL ISSUES AND REPERCUSSIONS AS AFFECTING THE BRITISH EMPIRE
AN ADDRESS BY LIEUT-COLONEL J. R. J. MACNAMARA, M.P.
Chairman: The President--Mr. J. P. Pratt, K.C.
Thursday, January 26, 1939.
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen of The Empire Club of Canada: Recently an invitation was extended by a group in the United States to a young British Parliamentarian to come to the United States and deliver a series of talks. It is because of that that we have the privilege today of welcoming one of the youngest members of the British Parliament, Lieutenant-Colonel J. R. J. MacNamara. The Colonel is young in years but not in experience. Already he has drawn considerable attention from the English press and from his colleagues, because of his straightforward views and fearlessness in expressing them. He is a Member of the Conservative Party, but nevertheless he has not hesitated to oppose its policies when his principles were at variance with them. The Colonel was born in India, educated in Britain, and has travelled in practically every part of Asia and Europe. He tells me, however, this is his first visit to Canada, but promises to come back in the summer if his parliamentary duties will permit.
Colonel MacNamara has selected as his subject: "Spain--Its Internal Issues and Repercussions as Affecting the British Empire." This is a subject with which he is well qualified to deal, because he has spent some time in Spain and has conversed with the leaders there. But there is another side to Colonel MacNamara and I feel this should be mentioned especially. He was the leader in the movement to transport Basque refugee children, regardless of race or creed, to a safe haven in Great Britain. (Applause.)
I have great pleasure in asking Lieutenant-Colonel MacNamara to address our Members. Colonel MacNamara. (Applause.)
COLONEL J. R. J. MACNAMARA: Mr. President and Gentlemen: You have today asked me to speak to you on "Spain." I deeply appreciate the honour which you have conferred upon me by asking me to your luncheon as your guest today. At the same time I do feel somewhat hesitant in speaking on this very thorny subject. I realize how much the Spanish issue, both internal and external, has affected the whole world. I realize how sometimes even people who are perfectly normal individuals in their own life are unable always to keep their tempers with the best of friends when the Spanish issue is mentioned. So, because I intend to talk frankly and I don't see any point in speaking unless I speak frankly, I hope at the start that I shall not offend anyone's susceptibilities.
Now, the world, as I said, has been deeply affected by the Spanish struggle, but the roots of the cause of this Spanish struggle go right back into medieval history. They can be traced a long way and now we are watching the spectacle of an old Spain turning into a modern state, going through hundreds of years of history in the course of one man's lifetime, and not only one man's lifetime but merely a few years of that one man's lifetime. If one understands that at the start one understands a great deal of what is happening in that Iberian Peninsula.
As long ago as 1837 we heard of convents being burned, of priests being attacked, of all the same symptoms which characterize the conflict of today. There is nothing new in it. Before now monarchs have been booted out of Spain, only to return the honoured guests of the very people who kicked them out. Before now they have had Republican elements and have turned again to the system of King at the top and Government below, and so on. We have heard of "Red" dangers long before Communism or Bolshevism were known in Russia. The anarchy of Barcelona was known, as I say, long before the Bolshevism of Russia. Anarchy is an old creed, not actually what some people think it to be. Some people look upon the stage anarchist as a man wrapped in a long black cloak, with a large hat pulled tight over the eyes, a man who moves stealthily by night, a sinister figure: My own opinion is the anarchist is nothing like that. On the contrary, he is more a Puritan. He is something like Oliver Cromwell's Roundheads of Britain. They are mystic in a way and severely religious for their own anarchical doctrines and they are not always antireligious, as we know it, either. In fact, at one large anarchist procession in Southern Spain, just before the Civil War, they took along in the procession of the anarchists a statue of the Virgin Mary, because they said (I don't know why) they thought that she was just as good an anarchist as themselves.
In Spain all during the last century the Spaniards looked upon all government as a necessary evil, but they never considered that any government really mattered until 1898 when they lost a war against the United States, a war over Cuba, and after that they began to realize, after all, governments did matter. They never got a really good government and so all the time they have been consistently hostile to any government that has been in power.
Very little social legislation was passed by any government until the time of Primo de Rivera, and very little was done for the people, but still the government continued in office with a great deal of political bribery and that sort of game going on all the time. The trouble came to a head about the year 1921, when the Spaniards suffered a terrible disaster in Morocco. Their forces were fighting against the Moors, who had a leader called Abd-el-Krim, and they were defeated and practically annihilated at a battle in which 10,000 Spaniards were killed by the Moors, and, what is worse, about 4,000 were taken prisoners by the Moors. Since the time of that terrible defeat there has been no stability in Spain. The King was personally held responsible by the Spanish people for this defeat and so the Spaniards turned against their monarchy and they turned against every government which was supporting the monarchy.
When Primo de Rivera came into power in 1923 he found a Spain which had nearly disintegrated already. He tried to pull the country together. He tried to put life again into the people who were all politically cutting each other's throats. He found a state of affairs which was very difficult even for a dictator like himself to deal with. Poverty among the people was very wide spread. It had been impossible to tackle the land question. The peasants didn't own land. They were mostly out of work at certain seasons of the year and there was no way of providing them with relief and meals were very few and far between. In the army there was one officer for every five or six men and at least one General for every day of the year, but no equipment, no guns, no ammunition. He tried his best to put that state of affairs right, but he failed. He failed because of the intrigues of people around him, and he failed because of his own waning health and, because he failed, the King, who had supported him, failed too.
So Spain not only lost her last hope in Primo de Rivera, but she lost also the last stabilizing background in the monarchy. The King left Spain and various other forms of government were tried. They tried Republican Government, and government, first of all, mildly left wing, then mildly right wing. Then there was a general election when both sides formed Fronts, and the Popular Front got in by a small majority. That was the government just prior to the civil war. It was a weak government. It was a government which adopted a policy of wait and hope for the best, but nothing more, and meanwhile other forces got to work inside Spain and helped in this work of disintegration. There were Communists on the one hand; there were Nazi elements and Fascist elements, particularly Nazi elements, on the other, and there were in between those, strong anarchists who sought to make trouble in any way they possibly could.
So all these forces got to work and Spain began to split up. The outbreak of revolution was only a matter of time. Already there was chaos within the country. Murders were being committed--it was gang warfare--and the police themselves were just as bad when they retaliated. There were told stories, which I am sorry to say were often true, about torture by the police in prison and so on.
Well, that was a good ground for amateur revolutionaries from the world over to come in and sow their seed and they did so. Then there came a murder on both sides, about July of 1936, and that prompted the military revolt. There was a revolt by the army on the one hand and in towns and villages where there wasn't a revolt by the army on the one hand, there was immediately a revolution by the workers on the other hand. So you had the military revolt started, and which was successful in some places, but in other places there was a revolution. The only difference, really, between the two, was that where the military revolted they formed entirely new governments. They formed committees, those military juntas which took charge of the town or district where they had been successful; whereas on the revolutionist side, the revolutionaries, though they formed committees or juntas, too, and ruled themselves, still did so in the name of the government of the day.
So now we found a Spain which was in a state of civil war, a state of chaos, a country which was being torn internally and externally with matters with which we need not concern ourselves, but a country which stands in a strategic part of the world, a country which, when there is trouble within it, is an ideal place for ether countries to interfere in for their own purposes--purposes quite unrelated to the Spanish internal issue, and that is what has happened.
Before the outbreak of hostilities there was intrigue going on inside Spain. When hostilities broke out, immediately we heard of Italian aeroplanes fighting for General Franco. It may be that those Italian aeroplanes were there before the outbreak of the civil war. It may be that they arrived coincident with the civil war, but that is only relative. Since then there has been intervention by many European powers for their own satisfaction and their own satisfaction alone. At least that is how I read it. I was told in Britain in the same way as all other Britons were told by the Italians, that they had come to Spain to fight Bolshevism for the sake of the rest of Europe. I was amazed to find the Italians so generous on behalf of Britain and the rest of Europe. I was told that the Germans, who were persecuting their own Christians in Germany at the time, had come to join hands with the Mahomedan Moors in defence of Christianity. Again, I was amazed at the generosity of the Germans.
On the other side there has undoubtedly been help given to the Spanish Government by Russia and by other countries to a certain extent, too. But if we are going to be fair now we must confess that the scale of help has been entirely weighted in favour of one side. The Russians sent arms and ammunition to governmental Spain. They sent also a few technicians. It may have been that arms and ammunition and a few technicians found their way into governmental Spain from other countries as well, but the other side, General Franco's side, has had the organized troops, the organized regiments, the fighting regiments of Italy, plus their arms and their ammunition, and their aeroplanes, and besides, German arms, ammunition and aeroplanes and German technicians helping them, and if General Franco wins in Spain today it will be a foreign victory, and not a purely Spanish victory.
I went to Spain myself soon after the outbreak of the war to see what was happening, because I found in Britain that it was very hard to get the truth. People were taking one side or the other and they were violently prejudiced and it was very difficult to get anyone to give a fair account of what was happening. I flew to Barcelona and went on by train and then by car into Madrid, creeping into Madrid without any lights during a bombardment overnight. It was very interesting in Madrid, in the war zone. About one third of the whole city had been destroyed. There was a huge refugee problem. Refugees were filling all the basements of public buildings. They were living in the hotels--wherever there was room. They were living in the underground stations, and they were lying along the streets on a cold winter's night in bitter Madrid, and they were being bombed and harassed with shell fire. There was a great shortage of food. One would see the women lining up in queues for food, waiting perhaps ten hours for the sake of getting ultimately, perhaps, one cauliflower, which would cost them a dollar, and on that they would have to feed, or try to feed their whole family.
At the edge of the city ran the front line and I went there many times and saw the soldiers, the battalions, marching up in the morning, carrying nothing but umbrellas, and taking over the rifles, such as they were, of the troops in the trenches, and the troops leaving were taking away, not rifles but the umbrellas of the people who came up. That was the way they were trying to carry on. The bombing went on day and night, and also the shelling, but I would like to tell this audience, if anybody thinks they are going to subdue a civilian population or country by bombing a civilian population, in my opinion, they are entirely wrong. I saw that myself in Madrid. I saw the bombers come over and I should say the government enlistment figures went up tenfold every time there was an aerial raid. I remember seeing a bomb drop on a house and kill eight people, four women and four children. The old lady of the house, the grey-haired grandmother was still alive. She was let out of a top window, covered with blood and white plaster from the walls. She was let out in the street and she stood there, supported by people on either side, looking up at all that was hers, completely destroyed by one bomb. What was her reaction? It wasn't to open the gates of Madrid to the invaders, the persons who had done the bombing. On the contrary, when a young fifteen-year-old grandson ran up the street to her and took her hand, she turned to him and said, "My boy, so far I have forbidden you to go and fight because you are too young, but now you may go and enlist." That, Gentlemen, in my opinion, is what will happen in other cities if a foreign invader should start bombing civilian populations.
Now the war has run on, and the weight of material, and so the fortunes, have been in General Franco's favour. He has slowly fought his way through government defences, winning bit by bit in the various theatres, and it now looks as though he were going to clear up that pocket in Catalonia, although I would hate to be too sure, because Spain is still a country of surprises. I would like to mention that, in my opinion, still the most effective weapon of the battlefield, so we have learned in the Spanish War, is the heavy gun. People make a lot of fuss nowadays about the bombing aeroplane, but I do not personally believe it to be nearly as effective as some people would make out. Of course it has its uses in war, but what has gained General Franco his victories, time and again, has been not so much the bombing aeroplanes, but his superior weight of artillery. He has immense power in his artillery to battle his way through fortifications, however well prepared and however well planned. In defence, I think that the machine gun has proved once again to be a most effective weapon. Although the government side has been ill equipped and has not had the proper weapons for fighting a major war, it has had a certain amount of machine guns, and, where the defence has been successful, once again it has been successful where there has been a network of machine guns served by just a few men. They have been able to hold up advances time and again for very long periods.
As I say, the war may now possibly be drawing to a close in the northern sector. That does not mean that the Spanish War will necessarily come to an end, but it does, of course, make us think once again of how much we may be affected by this foreign intervention in what we had hoped originally would be a purely Spanish struggle.
In my opinion, Germany has intervened in Spain because of a short term policy in Spain itself; whereas; Italy has intervened in Spain because of a long term policy. Germany, in my opinion, sent her weapons and her men to Spain because she wanted to have aeroplanes and troops south of the French Pyrenees frontier, with all that that means to France, during the critical times when she was going to march into Austria and Czecho-Slovakia in central Europe. She wanted also and has got, the iron ore in that northwestern part of Spain to help her in her own rearmament programme. I do not think it likely that the Germans would want to stay in Spain permanently, although they might wish to have the use of certain ports as submarine bases for their navy in the Spanish Peninsula. The Italians, on the other hand, I feel have a long term policy in Spain. It is Mussolini's avowed policy to recreate the Roman Empire, and in order to do so he talks of the Mediterranean as being an Italian lake. He has already fought a war in Abyssinia, in order to gain control of that end of the Red Sea and, therefore, the Mediterranean. He is now making claims for Tunis, Corsica, and Nice, and in order to complete the picture he must also have control at the western end of the Mediterranean. He would like, I think, permanently to have stationed in Spanish ports, submarines or aircraft which would make it very difficult for Britain, with her trade routes through the Mediterranean. He already has control of two of the Balearic Islands, and I think it is rather doubtful that the Italians will give up that control lightly, even though the war may cease. The control of those Balearic Islands is of vital importance to France because France has to bring troops across from Africa to her mainland in order to augment her metropolitan army. Likewise if territory in Africa is threatened she must bring across troops, and those Balearic Islands threaten her routes in the same way that our trade routes through the Mediterranean are now threatened by the Italians in various other places. So you can see the Mediterranean has been made unsafe already, and, if the Italians are successful in Spain and still continue to be hostile to us, the Mediterranean will be made a sea which will be very uncertain, to put it mildly, for the British and French mercantile marine and naval vessels of war. That is a very serious matter, Gentlemen, for both the French and the British Empires.
It is true that we, in Britain, have an alternative route to the East, via the Cape. We can go around the Cape of Good Hope to India, Australia and New Zealand. That is true. But do not forget that there are also Spanish colonies on the West African CoastRio de Oro, Rio Muni, and the Island of Fernando Po--and if those Spanish colonies were to be hostile to Brtiain because Spain became a hostile power to Britain under her new masters, or if those colonies should fall into the hands of another power, another European power who wished to cut off our route to the East, via the Cape as well as through the Mediterranean, then you can see that it is going to be very difficult for Britain to keep open Empire communications with South Africa, with India, with Australia, and with New Zealand.
All this, Gentlemen, in my opinion, is part of a carefully worked out plan, a carefully worked out plan of the Rome-Berlin-Tokio triangle. You see those three powers working together and coordinating every move. Whenever one makes a move, such as a march into Austria, the other creates a diversion elsewhere. Just before Herr Hitler's march into Austria, the Japanese pretended to be angry with the French over the alleged passing of arms from French Indo-China into China, and they were making an incident with the French and keeping the French quiet in the Far East over that. Two days before Herr Hitler marched into Austria, General Franco started his big offensive in the Aragon, and that was enough, with the trouble in the Far East, to keep the French completely quiet in Europe. Every single move is coordinated.
That is why I say we are going through now another, world war. We may not actually be fighting at the moment ourselves, but there is and there has been, since July, 1936, when we first saw foreign intervention in Spain, a new world war in progress, a world war which is being fought on an entirely new technique, a new type of world power politics, backed up, if necessary, by military force, backed up, if necessary, by open hostilities, a kind of war which may be very inclusive one day if it is allowed to continue and grow and spread, a kind of war which I say we have not yet fully understood, a kind of war which, in my opinion, is far more dangerous to people like ourselves, Britons who live all over the world, than any other kind of war which we as a race have ever had to face in the past. It is difficult, of course, for us in Britain now, at this moment, to see what we can do in the Spanish issue. It is difficult for us to do anything material, either way. At the same time we are beginning in Britain now to wake up to the dangers of this new type of world war and that is why we have embarked upon a policy of rearmament, a policy of getting our nation prepared against any eventuality, and I assure you, Gentlemen, that whatever you may have read to the contrary, or whatever the dictators or others may have sneered about us, that there is a very determined spirit in Britain today, a spirit backed up by a shrewd instinct which knows how far it can go, and the point beyond which it cannot let others go. There is that spirit which is just as determined to look after our interests as a nation and as an Empire as any spirit that may have preceded us in generations before. (Applause.) But it is not only the spirit that is there. We are too close to realities to indulge in luxuriant theories. We have to face facts and the fact is that now we need to be materially strong and so we are building ourselves the armaments. We are violently self-critical, that is quite true. There are certain nations in the world who boast about themselves and say how wonderful they are, but underneath all that boasting, because they do not allow of any criticism, there may be, for all we know, a great deal of inefficiency. We adopt exactly the other policy. We are violently self-critical. Every single thing we do we criticize about ourselves. We allow freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of criticism, and so we are able to probe all along the line and discover if there is any inefficiency anywhere, and when we do, and when we find the inefficiency, of course it is published everywhere and thus gets into the newspapers of every nation in the world. By doing that we get it put right, which, after all, is far better than going along and telling ourselves that we are simply wonderful, but not allowing anybody to find out whether it is true that we are wonderful or not. That is just the difference between us and the others.
I will say to you, Gentlemen, that we are now getting very well prepared in our Homeland, and we are not only getting prepared in material strength, but we are getting well prepared in our manpower, too. We have a voluntary army in Britain, the Territorial Army, the same as your non-permanent militia here, or much the same as the National Guards in the United States. That Territorial Army of volunteers is now over strength. It is over strength and there is a spirit throughout the country by which we find girls nowadays even handing a white feather to young men who are not in the Territorial Army. It is over strength but we are increasing it still more
We are also calling upon people in factories, people that we cannot spare to go and fight in war, to train themselves to defend their factories against aerial attack. They work in factories, but, if an air raid warning should sound, they have their own guns in the factories and can run out, dropping their work and taking up their arms in a few moments.
We have our balloon air barrages, our anti-aircraft artillery, our expeditionary force, ready to go abroad, if necessary.
One way and another we are getting prepared and it means, because we don't want to spend too much money on it, by only having people do it full time, that we are calling upon the voluntary services of the country. The people who give their time voluntarily now have to give a great deal of time in order to make themselves efficient. Night after night you see them in the Territorial drill halls. Night after night they are going to Air Raid Precaution meetings, or whatever it may be, but one way and another, I say my Homeland, Britain, has wakened up to the fact that we are going through anxious years and it has wakened up to the necessity of being completely and absolutely prepared against any eventuality.
I say that because I hope it may be, perhaps, a word of comfort in this country, where one is apt to see the exaggerated reports, on the other hand, of inefficiencies, which are found out as a result of free criticism. We are, I think, very strong at the moment, very strong indeed, and I think that any power in the world that underestimates our strength now, might learn for themselves a sorry lesson. (Applause.) Not only do we wish to be strong ourselves but we see strength, as well, in unity. We see great strength in the unity of all peoples who are looking in the same direction as ourselves and who think the same thoughts in the similar way to ourselves. We want to see those of us in the world who have common interests become more united than ever and that is why, Gentlemen, I am so delighted, as well as honoured, to have had the opportunity to speak this afternoon to a Club like yours, The Empire Club of Canada, a Club where I have seen a generous understanding and I know there is a wonderful spirit of Empire unity. It is the greatest pleasure to me, as a British Member of Parliament, to come here to your country and to lunch among friends like you, who have the same feelings as myself. We do realize, all of us, I know, that we are going through difficult times in the future, and when one goes through difficult times there is nothing better in the world than to have true friends. (Loud Applause)
THE PRESIDENT: Colonel MacNamara, I think after the demonstration which you have just witnessed, you realize you spoke true words when you said that The Empire Club of Canada is truly British. On behalf of that Club may I express to you, Sir, our warmest thanks, and may I ask when you go back to England that you tell those of your confreres who have addressed us, and those who have not addressed us, that we welcome, most gladly welcome, an opportunity of introducing and having speak to us a Member of the Mother of Parliaments. I thank you again most warmly, on behalf of the Club.
The meeting is adjourned. (Applause.)