Spain and the Great War

By T. H. Pardo de Tavera

[The Century Magazine, January 1918]

In this tremendous armed conflict, which has drawn into it the greater part of the nations of the civilized world, Spain, has the desire of almost all her citizens, has been and continues to be neutral. What does this attitude mean? That Spaniards look with indifference upon this catastrophe or feel an equal degree of sympathy for each of the belligerent alliances? Not at all. Spaniards desire to remain neutral because the majority of them are Germanophiles, or, rather, because they are thorough enemies of England and France as well as of the United States. As it is impossible for them to take an active and open part on the side of the Central empires, they wish to preserve their neutrality at any cost, because, should they abandon it, their only field of action would be to range themselves upon the side of the nations that they detest.

The Spanish people, generally speaking, are thoroughly conservative, tradition-bound, reverent of its past, determined to continue living within the confines of its own mentality, which it calls "the Spanish soul;" hostile to every change, firmly convinced that it can progress without imitating what is thought or done abroad, and that it is sufficiently endowed morally and intellectually to be genuinely national. In the eyes of those who think thus the mistake made by Spain consists in not having always and everywhere followed the policy of the most Spanish of its sovereigns and the most Spanish of Spaniards, King Philip II.

It is from the time of this monarch that the deep hatred against the Englishman dates—a hatred founded primarily on religious, and later on political, motives. While Philip II was proclaiming himself the champion of the Roman Catholic Church, and while in America, Flanders, and wherever else opportunity offered he was exterminating heretics, England was becoming the bulwark of Protestantism and the most formidable foe of the papacy. Politically, the discovery of America and the Strait of Magellan caused Spain to conceive the idea of making herself the ruler of the seas. There, too, England went forth to meet the Spaniards, and from that moment the dominion over the sea, of which Philip II had dreamed, passed without difficulty to that nation which thenceforth was called "perfidious and proud Albion."

Spanish hatred of England has continued ever since, though nowadays new reasons are given to explain it. As time passed, other events happened, especially the occupation of Gibraltar, which the Anglophobes invoke to-day as a justification of their attitude.

In the eyes of this majority of Spaniards, satisfied with its religion and with the monarchy, living under that form of civilization known as the military and religious, France also is a detested nation. These Spaniards do not forget the Napoleonic invasion, though, to be sure, they do not even remember the name of Wellington, who freed Spain from the French yoke. The so-called War of Independence left a deep impression on the Spanish soul—an impression which in the course of time has been revived by the recent expulsion from France of the religious orders. These communities have settled in Spain, and neither they nor the inhabitants of Spain can forgive the neighboring republic for taking such a step, especially as this democracy, by setting such an example, overturns the traditional policy of the monarchists.

Besides these causes for antagonism against England and France, there exist in Spain a feeling of admiration for Germany and a fervid sympathy and veneration for the autocratic and military form of her institutions. The Spanish nation, to put it in a nutshell, wishes, like every nation, to be well governed, but its political conception of good government is that of genuine paternalism, by means of which a tutelary government makes the nation strong, contented, rich, and powerful.

Moreover, the clergy and the monastic orders hope that, if the Central empires are victorious, the pope will again become, largely by the will of Austria, sovereign lord over Rome.

In general the Spanish army is Germanophile, and the same is probably true of the navy.

A minority, led by intellectual elements of high worth, is resolutely pro-Ally, and these men are the ones who dare by word and by writing to struggle against Germanophile public opinion, which is merely "public sentiment," stimulated by the thousands of Germans who do everything possible in Spain to keep alive the prejudices and hatred against their enemies.

Representative government in Spain is a fiction. In order to form a ministry, the king summons a politician at the head of a party which possesses the majority in the Spanish Parliament, or which is at least capable of forming a cabinet made up of men who enjoy its confidence. If the Parliament responds to the policy of the ministry, all goes well; but if the Parliament shows hostility, it is dissolved, and another is elected, which always has a satisfactory ministerial majority! This fictitious method of procedure has brought the system into discredit, the result being that Spaniards do not live under a government of laws, but under one of politicians.

From the beginning of the war the governments have shown a tendency to range themselves upon the side of the Allies, though they have been forced to maintain a certain attitude of reserve in view of the fact that the Spanish army is openly Germanophile. Some think that the army's sentiments are not of such intensity as to make it lose the sense of military discipline and cause it, for example, to refuse to fight against the Central powers. Recently, an event of the greatest seriousness has proved that the army is determined to impose its will upon the Government rather than to obey it. An organization of officers has been formed, called the Council of Defense, including officers from the rank of second lieutenant to that of colonel, confined originally to the artillery and cavalry, but spreading later to the infantry. Two months ago the Government, alarmed by the attitude of these councils, ordered the Captain-General of Catalonia to dissolve the council of the infantry. When the heads of this organization refused to obey, the captain-general, following instructions from Madrid, had the colonel-president arrested. Thereupon a conflict of the most serious kind broke out; the subordinate officers and colonels of all the regiments told the captain-general that they would proceed to free the arrested men unless the latter were immediately set at liberty. This incident caused the downfall of the ministry of the Marquis of Alhucemas, and the triumphant military men saw their commanders freed, and proved that the Government could not manage the army as it pleased.

These councils have officially published their aims. They have declared that the army is completely disorganized, and it lacks munitions and rifles and machine-guns; that it would not be able to resist an European enemy, no matter what nation it might be, and that the officers found themselves compelled to make these statements public in order that, in case of a catastrophe, the nation might know that the army was not to blame, but rather the governments which one after the other have ruled in Spain. Although constitutionally the king is not responsible, naturally public opinion realized what a tremendous blow had been dealt to the king by this deplorable occurrence. In order not to be branded as selfish, the councils declared that they would not limit themselves to procure reforms for the army, but would concern themselves with all that was necessary tor the public welfare. In this way the proceedings of the officers achieved popularity.

A few months before this happened the liberal cabinet, presided over by Count de Romanones fell. On the very day after his resignation, before another ministry was formed, he did not scruple to publish a document explaining that he retired from the government because, as the moment had arrived when Spain should abandon neutrality and range herself on the side of the Allies against the Central empires, he was unable to bring this about because he was not permitted to adopt such an attitude. The reference was clearly leveled at the king, although, of course, he was not named.

Señor Maura is the leader of the Conservative party; he is considered the strongest of Spanish politicians. On various occasions after he ceased to head the Government there have arisen crises in which, to judge from public opinion, he should have been reinstated in power. But the king has always passed over Señor Maura. Lately, in a sensational speech, this eminent politician made two statements of immense importance. He said that in his opinion Spain should not abandon her neutrality not only because she should not favor England or France, but because there was not the slightest reason for her declaring war upon Germany. By this second statement he made the king appear guilty of the ill-advised appointment of those whom he called upon to head the Government.

After this speech, and on the occasion of another crisis owing to the fall of Alhucemas, the king, contrary to the forecast of the friends and even of the enemies of Señor Maura, did not call upon him to form a government, but summoned instead the present premier, Señor Dato, a seceder from the party of Señor Maura.

It is said publicly that the crown is slipping from the head of the king, though the monarchists are confident that the army will always support the throne. The officers of the Councils of Defense have adopted an ambiguous form for expressing their sentiments on this point, so that, according to the interpretation made of it, they will be willing to support the throne—or a republic, should this be the form of government chosen by the Spaniards.

Toward the middle of last August the leaders, for the space of four days, succeeded in organizing a general strike, which I myself witnessed in Barcelona. This strike was not started by workmen to assert the rights of their class; on the contrary, its object was to unite its efforts to those of all Spaniards who desire a remedy for the political and economic ills under which they suffer, and to oblige the Government to give its attention to the interests of the country rather than to the personnel of officialdom.

All the factories were closed, no workmen went to work, the street-cars ceased running, not a single carriage, private or for hire, was to be seen in Barcelona, the attendants at the stations disappeared, and travelers were compelled to carry their baggage themselves. The shops closed one after another, only a few trains continued to run, and it was said that the gas and electric-light plants would not be in operation that night. The civil governor, when he saw the extent of the trouble, gave up the government to the captain-general, and shortly after noon a squad of engineers passed along the street with an officer, who proclaimed martial law. At the same moment forces of engineers, cavalry, civil guards, and artillery occupied strategic thoroughfares of the city, placing no fewer than six light cannon in the Plaza de Cataluna, the very heart of Barcelona.

The infantry was rigorously confined to its barracks. The people trusted it, and the Government distrusted it. In view of the attitude of the Councils of Defense, the Government feared that the infantry would take advantage of the strike to assume a threatening demeanor. In order to be able to repress any movement of this kind, the Government had located the above-mentioned cannon to preserve the supremacy of force. It was known that the workmen hoped that the infantry would espouse the side of the people.

The Government had no fewer than twelve thousand men in Barcelona, and it was lucky that, in carrying out their acts of violence, the workmen had nothing but little pocket-revolvers; for had they had a few hundred rifles, the trouble would have reached very serious proportions. With these pocket-weapons some workmen and many ill-intentioned persons fired at the troops, mostly from the tops of houses or from hiding-places behind trees, at very long range. The fire was vigorously answered everywhere, and the houses from which the firing of revolvers did not cease were bombarded by the artillery, which thus did not remain idle. It was said that most of the soldiers killed or wounded were struck by Mauser-bullets, the weapon used by the army, which is not to be wondered at in view of the frequency of their volleys in every direction.

The conflict lasted four days in Barcelona. In Madrid, Valencia, Bilbao, and Santander especially, and also in other towns of more or less importance, there were troubles of the same character. Public opinion accused the Allied governments of having provoked these disorders with their money; it was said that England and France paid the republican, socialist, and liberal leaders of all sorts to foment revolution and overthrow the monarchy. This was the opinion of the Germanophile majority.

Yet neither France nor England have any reason for seeking a change of government in Spain—a change that would bring in its wake the usual disorders, from which those nations could not profit in the least. On the other hand, it was easy to believe that German agents had provoked the disorders, as they had done in Greece, Argentine, Brazil, and the United States, for the purpose of diverting the attention of the Government to matters of internal policy and order, thus driving from its mind the idea and possibility of intervening in the international domain.

The Spanish Government knows full well who fomented these disorders; it is also aware that the German submarines take on supplies along the coast of Spain and in the Balearic and Canary Islands, that vessels from Spanish ports help in every way possible the aforementioned submarines. But how is this to be avoided? The Government has not the means of effectively policing its coasts.

In the meantime the situation of the Spaniards becomes worse. The cost of food-stuffs rises; there is lack of coal, a dearth of wheat. Wages, say the employers, cannot be raised; there are not enough workmen. Postmen first, and later the municipal guards, have formed their Councils of Defense, imitating the officers; but the Government laughs at them, because they do not threaten with rifles and cannon, and the fear of losing their employment keeps them from taking more decisive steps.

The army thinks itself ill prepared to meet a foreign foe, but in the meantime it is strong enough to impose its will at home upon its fellow-citizens and even to continue the war in Morocco. Its officers are perfectly right when they demand efficient organization of the army and remind the Government that public needs are neglected, yet its attitude is not that of an army which obeys, but rather of one that wishes to direct, and to exact obedience. Moreover, it is probable that Councils of Defense may be organized among the soldiery, as in Russia. Should this occur, the officers may possibly wish to rally round the throne; but it would not be at all strange if the councils of soldiers should form the nucleus for the forces which the republic needs in order to be victorious in Spain.

Apparently things in Spain are going very badly, and the consensus of opinion among upholders of the monarchy and among its foes is that the monarchy is in grave peril, which means that a royal crisis is imminent in Spain. In Spain the present war is looked upon as a great struggle between Germany on one side and England on the other; France and Austria are considered secondary figures. With the exception of a few men, few believe that there is in the balance nothing less than the free and democratic institutions of the world, assailed by the autocratic and military power represented by the Central empires.

It is because they do not understand this that the Germanophile Spaniards declare that they do not wish to hasten to the trenches of France in order to defend Franco-English interests. They likewise fail to understand that the Allies wish no such cooperation from Spain, since they are aware of the state of her army. What the Allies hope, if Spain joins them, is that the Germans may no longer be able to secure supplies for their submarines in the Mediterranean, that the German and Austrian merchant steamers held in Spanish ports may be put to commercial uses and, finally, that the Germans enjoying their liberty in Spain may be interned and thus prevented from serving the interests of their country against the Allies, as they do at present.

The troubles of the Spaniards are due to two causes. First, they spring from foreign sources, on account of the World War, of the deficiency in transportation facilities, by which difficulties are placed in the path of exportation and importation, and economic problems become more serious every day. Second, there are troubles traceable to internal causes, to the bad government which each political party wishes to correct by obtaining power, only to give evidence of the same lack of ability as all others; to administrative disorder; to the lack of cooperation from the people, which expects everything from the Government, and lacks initiative for forming a useful and well-grounded public opinion.

It is quite natural that Spain should wish to maintain her neutrality, and nobody is justified in criticizing her for this. That she will be able to preserve this neutrality is a matter on which prophecy cannot be ventured; but it would seem that she may fail in endeavoring to preserve it not only because of the measures adopted by Germany, which may eventually alienate Spanish good will, but owing to the possibility that England, France, or the United States, or the three together, may force Spain to adopt a policy that may displease Germany in order that an end may thus be put to the provisioning of submarines in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands.

At present there is in Spain a large number of Germans (some say twenty thousand) who speak Spanish, who know the country and the customs, uses, defects, good qualities, and idiosyncrasies of the inhabitants, their political views, industries, commercial methods, social ways, etc. These Germans are men of education, capable of taking advantage in every possible way of the interesting practical lesson provided them by their enforced, but fortunate, residence in Spain. One cannot doubt that they are laying their plans for future industrial, commercial, and political domination when international life shall have resumed its normal flow, which will mean that Spain will be a colony of Germany without a flag.

All these Germans serve their fatherland in the ways that may be imagined, for which reason Spain is now the most important news center and focus of activity possessed by the Central powers in the outside world. As I have said, they have the sympathies of the army, the clergy, the aristocracy, and the great majority of the middle class, and as they are ably led by the diplomatic and military authorities of their native lands, the result is that they constitute a genuine obstacle in the path of any Spanish Government entertaining the idea of intervening in the war on the side of the Entente powers.

Whether the Spanish monarchy is to be preserved or a Spanish republic erected is a matter that concerns only the Spaniards; rightly or wrongly, they have the indisputable right of governing themselves as they see fit. But it may be emphatically stated that neither in France nor England nor the United States is there the slightest desire to see the monarchy overturned, but only a wish that the Spanish nation may not suffer much in this conflict which effects all the nations of the civilized world.

The question of Catalonian regionalism is greatly exaggerated outside of Spain. There is no such menace, no such plan of national disintegration, in the minds of the Catalonians. These people, who have preserved and perfected their rich mother-tongue, wish to obtain within Spain the greatest degree of autonomy in their local concerns, being firmly convinced that this will in no wise weaken national unity, but rather tend to decrease the causes of complaint occasioned by an ancient and disastrous centralization. Unfortunately, neither the Government nor the non-Catalonian Spaniards look at the matter in the same way, but maintain that, were such autonomy granted, Catalonia would become separated from the rest of the kingdom, the unity of which, as they see it, is assured by the present form of centralized government. The idea of the Catalonian regionalists is too modern for most Spaniards, and, since they fail to grasp its real significance, they will stand against it in united opposition for a long time.

When a foreigner gives his opinions about the Spaniards, they at least accuse him of not knowing them; at times they say he is slandering them or attacking them through antagonism or envy. Yet Spain by no means lacks men of great talent and a high degree of education capable of recognizing and correcting their shortcomings. In books and pamphlets, in the newspapers and from the speaker's platform, Luis Simarro, Rafael M. de Labra, Azcárate, Baldomero Argente, Luis Araquistain, Gaziel, Federico Urales, Castellvi, Marcelino Domingo, Cambó, and many others have the courage to speak the truth and all the truth, and declare that Spain needs to modernize herself, to enter upon an era of reconstruction and progress.

Up to the present time Caesarism seems to have more partizans in Spain than in Russia, and, even granting that Spain, so far as the legal form is concerned, possesses a constitutional Government, it is also true that in fact and practice she has a Government not of laws, but men, which is so far from being a representative government that, in order to correct its defects and modify its wrong methods, it will not suffice to have recourse to pacific measures of evolution, such as are appropriate to genuinely constitutional governments, but to revolution, as in nations governed by autocratic methods.

If, as some prophesy, a revolution should come soon and create the Spanish republic, then the prophecy may be completed by adding that, with the fall of the monarchy, there will begin a period of anarchy which may even bring foreign intervention. In Spain it is not a question of making a revolution or effecting a change of regime which will bring about a beterment of conditions such as rightly worry and disgust Spaniards; it is a question of the evolution of the people toward a higher plane of education, by virtue of which there may arise a majority of citizens who can cooperate in public life—a majority which, unfortunately, does not exist to-day.

But, to return to the hypothetical cases of revolution, a republic, anarchy, and foreign intervention, I must add that the latter would probably be effected by means of the army which is now in Morocco, and which, led and supplied by the powers, would impose order upon its own country and establish a government capable at least of making itself obeyed.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —


A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury