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Review Article: author's response

Title Deadly Embrace: Morocco and the Road to the Spanish Civil War
Author Sebastian Balfour
Publisher Oxford University Press (2002)
Reviewer Francisco J. Romero Salvadó

I am very happy to read Dr Romero Salvadó's broad-ranging appreciation of Deadly Embrace. I wish however to raise one small point concerning the secrecy with which the Spanish military and the Spanish government conducted the chemical war in Morocco in the 1920s. News of their use of mustard gas and other chemicals did leak out and was mentioned in the odd newspaper report at the time but the government was largely successful in keeping the offensive secret. All military dispatches used secret codes to refer to the bombs and all personnel were enjoined not to refer to the chemicals except in code. British, French and of course German military intelligence knew about the offensive but kept it secret also (British documents about the Spanish chemical war were released for consultation only five years ago). Documents in Spain about the use of chemicals were destroyed or hidden, except those in the military archives, where they are buried in the hundreds and thousands of military reports of the colonial war. None can be found in the royal archives, or those of the President, Maura, despite the fact that the King and Maura dealt directly with negotiations for the purchase of chemicals and their associated technology. So successful was the effort to keep the war secret, that probably 99% of Spaniards had never heard of it until the last year or so. During the launch of my book in Barcelona, the ex-Minister of Defence, Narcís Serra, who spoke at the press conference in support of the book, openly acknowledged that he had not known of this warfare before, despite the fact that it was his predecessors, as Ministers of War, who had launched the offensive in the 1920s. The problem of the secret history of chemical wars extends to Britain as well. How many people know that the British military used mustard gas against Iraq and Afghanistan between 1919 and 1921, in actions sanctioned secretly by the government and the military and supported by Churchill, even though they broke the Versailles conventions? The silence about these offensives is deafening.

August 2002


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