The Spanish Civil War, which broke out in July 1936, was the emotional catalyst that aroused millions of men and women all over the Western world. The war pitted fascists, monarchists, and conservatives of the right against socialists, communists, anarchists, and a few liberals of the left.
As in most great civil wars, there was really no center. It was a quasi-religious war, waged with the great violence that marks wars of principle. Almost from the very start it engaged the emotions of the West through individual foreign enlistments and the active though covert intervention of other nations.
The Spanish Civil War proved to be a rehearsal for the larger war that was approaching, as the fascist nations tested their weapons. One of the first deliberate aerial bombardments of a civilian population rook place in April 1937, when low-flying planes, apparently German, devastated the Basque town of Guernica.
Intervention by Italy and Germany was decisive and effective; it was less determined and effective by communist Russia; and it was feeblest of all by Britain and France. Early in 1939, with the fall of Barcelona, the civil war was over, and once more a fascist-leaning group had won.