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The Truth about Spain!

Mobilizing British Public Opinion, 1936–1939

In the Series
Studies in Spanish History

Hugo García received a Ph.D. in Political Science from UNED (Spain’s Open University) in 2005 and until recently worked as a research fellow at the Department of History of Political Thought and Social Movements at Complutense University, Madrid. His research focuses on the history of propaganda and political ideologies in interwar Europe. He has published articles on the topic in leading Spanish and British historical journal, and given papers at conferences and seminars both in Spain and in Britain.

Based on a combination of a wide range of second-hand sources with previously unknown archival material from Spain, Britain, France and the United States, this book explores the Spanish Civil War of 1936–39 as a propaganda battle aimed mainly at foreign public opinion. It shows how both Nationalists and Republicans used the experiences of previous conflicts such as World War I, as well as that of their totalitarian allies, in order to set up a number of propaganda and censorship services with the goal of persuading foreign – and specifically British – audiences of the legitimacy of their causes, and of the need to give them political, military, and relief assistance.

The propaganda messages designed by both sides – ranging from the atrocities committed by the enemy to illegal foreign intervention on its behalf – are analyzed in detail, together with the techniques that were employed to transmit these messages: eye-witness accounts, official commissions, unofficial missions of investigation, documentaries, art exhibitions, etc. As to the impact of both campaigns on the British population, the author argues that their crude nature helped to mobilize both the extreme right and the extreme left, but alienated the great majority, who preferred to rally to the Non-Intervention policy adopted by the Baldwin and Chamberlain governments. The chronicle of this relatively neglected topic demonstrates not only the utter modernity of the Spanish conflict, but also the origin of some of the arguments still employed by current historians of the war.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-332-4
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $34.95
Release Date: July 2010
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-644-8
Paperback Price: £24.95 / $34.95
Release Date: October 2018
Page Extent / Format: 272 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes



Introduction: The Truth about Spain

Chapter 1 – The Age of Modern Propaganda, 1896–1939

Protagonists in the Battle
Chapter 2 – The Nationalists: Between Intransigence and Pragmatism

Chapter 3 – The Republicans: Triumphing over Chaos

Disentangling the Truth
Chapter 4 – Defining the War

Chapter 5 – The Battle of Atrocities

Chapter 6 – The Battles of Civilization: Religion, Art, Culture

Chapter 7 – The Battle over Foreign Intervention

Outcome of the Battle
Chapter 8 – The Converted and the Unconverted: The British and the Spanish Conflict

Epilogue: Echoes of the Battle


An important and stimulating reading for those interested in the Spanish Civil war, its significance for Britain and the development of propaganda in the twentieth century.
Twentieth Century British History

Meticulously researched, carefully articulated, lucid and balanced in its treatment of what remains for many a touchstone issue in making political choices and attaching labels (…) an exemplary monograph of its kind.
Journal of Contemporary History

García ably studies the production, content, and effects of both Nationalist and Republican propaganda in Great Britain.
The English Historical Review

The aim of ‘The Truth about Spain’ is not to establish the veracity or otherwise of the Spanish propaganda campaigns, but to reveal their inner workings and how these impinged upon their efforts to sway British public opinion. Furthermore, García quite rightly highlights a consequence of the propaganda that has been either deliberately ignored or greatly underplayed: the extent to which “the words and images of those years have set the agenda for historical debate ever since the war’s end, and the arguments constructed at that time have been revived and re-elaborated countless times.
From the General Series Editor’s Preface, Nigel Townson, the Complutense University of Madrid

The revolution and civil war in Spain was pathologically brutal and characterised by the use of powerful propaganda. The religious extremism, vicious sectarianism and foreign intervention that fuelled much of the violence has been well documented by Pierre Broué (The Revolution and Civil War in Spain 1934–1939), Anthony Beevor (The Battle for Spain), Paul Preston (The Spanish Civil War) and Ken Loach (Land and Freedom).
... The tsunami of propaganda that poured out from nationalist and republican war rooms in the shape of news footage, photography and radio messages has been covered before, but the propaganda campaigns launched in Britain by both nationalists and republicans have not. Hugo Garcia is an academic and roots his analysis in empiricism and scientific method but still manages to fill this knowledge gap engagingly. The narrative is at its most enjoyable when talking about the artistic and political talent that flocked to Spain to involve themselves in the war. Some of Europe’s most prominent figures were recruited: Picasso, Arthur Koestler and Ilya Ehrenberg all supporting the republican effort while Sir Charles Petrie and Edgar Neville were staunch nationalists.
... Garcia takes us through the complex and crude propaganda techniques waged by both sides in their bid to garner support, but it soon becomes clear that neither side really won the propaganda war in Britain. Demonstrations up and down the country against the nationalists and their methods, as at Guernica, were seen as a sign of failure – the British government had recognised the Franco government by February 1939 – and while it could be argued the republicans won the propaganda battle, their victory was purely technical and perhaps prolonged the war.
... The lessons have not been lost on today’s political activists. A clear ideology and simplicity of message routinely bushwhacks nuanced pragmatism, just as emotion so often trumps reason and enlightenment. Garcia’s execution of detail is near perfect and it is always a pleasure to be in the hands of a writer who knows his subject. This is essential reading for everyone who wants to understand one of the 20th century’s most influential wars but, more importantly, it encourages everyone to challenge the filtered and distorted version of the world delivered daily by newspapers and broadcasters.

García believes that the reportage of the horrors of the Spanish war was most effective in convincing neutrals of the horror of war in general, rather than of one particular side, and thus consolidated support for non-intervention. In a depressing conclusion, he argues that, even if the Republican propaganda had been better, it would probably still not have achieved enough to be able to save the Spanish Republic. Sadly, it is difficult to disagree with García’s view that “this was, from very early in the war, a lost cause”. Once Britain and France were determined to pursue non-intervention, despite ample evidence of a huge German and Italian presence in Spain, the Spanish Republic was effectively doomed.
Richard Baxell, International Brigade Memorial Trust

Reviewed in the European History Quarterly under books dealing with “Spain from the First World War to the Civil War”

From a review of the Spanish edition:
In the conflicts of the twentieth century, the propaganda battle became increasingly important in determining who could emerge victorious. This was certainly true for the Spanish Civil war (1936–39) where both sides recognized the need to ensure that their version of events prevailed on the international stage. Indeed, as Hugo Garci´a points out, with the Germans and Italians providing various propaganda services for the Nationalists and the Soviet Union doing similarly for the Republic, the propaganda aspect of the conflict was as international as the rest of it (p. 113). The beleaguered Republic needed the lifting of ‘Non-Intervention’, the Nationalists its continuance, and in this context Britain, as one of Non-Intervention’s architects, was a crucial propaganda battle ground. This is also something of a growth area in studies of Britain and the Spanish Civil War, as 2008 also saw the publication of David Deacon’s study of the way the conflict was represented in the British news media (though there is only a limited overlap with Mentiras Necesarias). Hugo García’s valuable study breaks down into three sections, concentrating first on the structures that both sides created to censor information and provide propaganda and the personnel who operated them; second on the nature of this propaganda; and finally on its effects on British public opinion. The first two sections are exhaustively researched and impressively detailed.
... Yet, notwithstanding the thorny issue of precisely who in Britain thought what and when, how strongly and whether they constituted the ‘majority’, it remains clear that the Spanish Civil war captured the popular mind in Britain in a way that no similar conflict has managed to before or ever since. In this respect, the propaganda battle the Republic and Nationalists engaged in did matter as people concerned about the gathering war clouds over Europe had to get their information from somewhere. Thus, Mentiras Necesarias – albeit, perhaps, inadvertently – poses more questions than it answers. For this reason it is important and stimulating reading for those interested in the Spanish Civil war, its significance for Britain and the development of propaganda in the twentieth century.
Twentieth Century British History

Garcia’s book was originally published in Spanish as Mentiras necesarias (Necessary Lies), a title that gives a clearer indication of the content of the book than the English version. The Truth about Spain! would certainly have benefited from a question mark. As Nigel Townson, the series editor, points out in the preface, ‘The aim of The Truth about Spain is not to establish the veracity or otherwise of the Spanish propaganda campaigns, but to reveal their inner workings and how these impinged upon their efforts to sway British public opinion.’ In this, the author succeeds admirably, presenting a dispassionate and detailed study of the forms and functioning of those campaigns.
… García’s well-argued conclusions are depressing. He writes, ‘the words and images of those years have set the agenda for historical debate ever since the war’s end, and the arguments constructed at that time have been revived and re-elaborated countless times.’ Recent evidence of this can be seen in the ‘Obituary Wars’, fought out in the Spanish press as the families of the victims of atrocities still struggle to come to terms with the denial of their right to mourn their dead (see Ignacio Fernández de Mata, ‘So That We May Rest in Peace: Death Notices and Ongoing Bereavement’, Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, 12:4, pp. 439-462). Despite the fact that the Republicans knew the strength of appealing to the British traditional support for the underdog, and that their propaganda compares well against the ‘ideologically antiquated, aesthetically mediocre’ Nationalist offerings, their defeat was almost inevitable; their fate sealed by powerful vested interests in Britain who supported the charade played out in the name of non-intervention. We are left, gloomily in agreement with Kate Mangan who wrote soon after she left Spain, ‘Issues of war, peace and commerce are manipulated by very few people without regard for public opinion and very little for governments.… Decisions are made, then a publicity campaign [is launched] to reconcile the public to them’ (p. 229).
Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies

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