Today I was reminded of one of my favorite stories from history. In 1936, the Spanish Civil War began. On one side were the forces of the slightly left-of-center elected Spanish government, on the other, the hard-right fascists rebels of general Francisco Franco.
After the war began, various journalists went to Spain to cover the action. Among them was the great British novelist George Orwell. Not content with journalism, however, Orwell left his post as a newspaperman and joined a volunteer militia unit fighting against the fascists.
Orwell later wrote a book about his experiences in Spain titled “Homage to Catalonia.” In it, he described his reaction when someone asked him why he left the relative safety of the press corps in order to fight. Orwell said he was fighting for “common decency.”
Common decency. Orwell abhorred authoritarian fascism—its vulgar, uncritical nationalism, its chauvinism, its racism, its scapegoating, its anti-intellectualism, its open militarism and blatant disdain for democratic values.
The nominally democratic powers of the day, the United States, Great Britain, and France, did almost nothing to help the Spanish government. Meanwhile, both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy provided General Franco the military supplies needed to win by 1938. The democracies of the world were more worried by the handful of socialists in the Spanish government than by the oncoming threat of fascism.
The war itself had its brutal moments—it was one of the first conflicts to feature aerial bombing of civilian populations. The most famous of these bombings was at the Spanish town of Guernica, which inspired the epic mural of the same name by Pablo Picasso. Later, a Nazi official met Picasso and asked him if he created the famous piece of art. Picasso’s response was, “No, you did.”Recommended2 recommendationsPublished in