The Politics of Neutrality: Quaker Relief and the Spanish Civil War 1936–1939

TitleThe Politics of Neutrality: Quaker Relief and the Spanish Civil War 1936–1939
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsMaul, Daniel
JournalEuropean Review of History
Date Published03/2016

From the early months of the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the American Quakers’ central service organization, was engaged in a large-scale relief operation on both sides of the front line. While Quaker aid workers on the ground were running hospitals, orphanages and child feeding stations on the Republican and Nationalist side, the operation triggered a sometimes heated debate at home. Quakers had to bridge the tension between the universalist ethos of a transnationally connected and internationally active religious group whose individual parts, in turn, closely integrated into, and were largely dependent on a national framework of action consisting of governments, the media and national-based groups of donors and supporters. Against this backdrop the article reflects on the complex and shifting meaning of humanitarian neutrality. The author shows how the claim to neutrality, always contested and precarious, could work as a gate opener for humanitarian aid vis-à-vis state and non-state actors alike, as a platform for co-operation with international institutions, as well as a deliberately used capital on an increasingly competitive ‘humanitarian market place’.

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