August 7, 2007


Orwell's Bad Republicans: a review of The Last Crusade: Spain 1936
By Warren Carroll (Hal G.P. Colebatch, 8/7/2007, American Spectator)

WHEN THE HEROICS of the Spanish Civil War come up -- Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, Hemingway's fictions or the effusions of various poets -- there is a very large and usually unremarked elephant in the room: Orwell, who actually fought, and Hemingway who wrote about fighting, were on the wrong side.

The strategic point is simple: had the Stalinists won war, then during the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact from 1939 to mid-1941, they would have allowed Hitler to cross Spain and seize Gibraltar. Had this happened, the British forces in the Mediterranean, including the British Empire's last remaining field army in action, would have been cut off. The British army and fleet could probably have been supplied through the Suez Canal, at least for a while, but their positions would have been immeasurably weakened, and the enemy's position immeasurably strengthened.

There would have been no Force H to sally forth from Gibraltar to stop the Bismarck massacring the Atlantic convoys, eventually the Middle-East oilfields and the Suez Canal would quite likely have fallen into Nazi hands, as would the Jewish population of what would become Israel. Fascism and Nazism would have ruled the Mediterranean and there would have been little to stop them reaching the shores of the Indian Ocean, and perhaps eventually joining up in India with the Japanese. The chances would have greatly increased that Hitler would have won the war, and even if America had come in before that, eventual victory for the allies would have been much more costly. As it was, Franco refused to allow Hitler to attack Gibraltar through Spain, though Hitler met him and harangued him for hours. Franco also later gave the Allies at least passive help in the "Torch" landings on North Africa. Some Franco diplomats were active (unlike the Vichy French) is saving Jews from the Holocaust by issuing them false passports.

It is an interesting exercise to put oneself in Franco's place -- leader of a desperately weak, divided and exhausted country - and wonder if one would have done so well against Hitler -- who was not only, by all accounts, spell-bindingly persuasive, but also master of the mightiest Army the world had ever seen, who had smashed France flat in a month and whose flag flew from North Cape in the Arctic to Africa.

SO MUCH HAS LONG BEEN known by any person reasonably historically literate. However, until I read Professor Carroll's The Last Crusade: Spain 1936, I did not realize the full moral dimension of how wrong Orwell, Hemingway and the rest were.

Our friend, Burt Boyar (along with his late wife, Jane), does an excellent job of imagining what it must have been like in his fine novel, Hitler Stopped by Franco. Rather than a last crusade, the Civil War is best thought of as the first battle of the Cold War, with the Western Left, not atypically, on the wrong side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 7, 2007 11:16 AM

I've barely started on "The Last Crusade" so I can't comment on it, but my take on "Hitler Stopped by Franco" wasn't that the left would have let Hitler take Gibraltar, but that it would have been a disaster in it's own right to allow Russian backed communists to take over Spain. Franco was a hero because he saved Spain from falling to the communists, acted as a conduit to help European Jews escape the Nazis and repeatedly refused to do Hitler's bidding on Gibraltar and other issues. In no way would it have been a good thing had the Nazi's been in control of Gibraltar, though analysis of the amount of damage it would have done to the Allied forces is out of my league.

Posted by: Patrick H at August 7, 2007 2:22 PM

Also, there was no chance that the Soviets would let their clients win, once the Spanish government's gold had been shipped to Moscow for safekeeping.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at August 7, 2007 9:06 PM

Folks continually overestimate Stalin, not least in the notion that he didn't trust Hitler. He'd have ordered Spain to give the Reich a free hand.

Of course, all that would have done is overextend Germany even further and sped the end of the war.

Posted by: oj at August 7, 2007 10:37 PM

Stalin considered Hitler a personal friend, and did not simply believe either British warnings of impending attack or the attack itself in June 1941 for several days.

After which he went into a fugue state and was basically a zombie for two weeks.

Would he have ordered a leftist government to cooperate with Hitler? Certainly.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at August 8, 2007 12:06 AM

If Hitler takes Gibraltar, the Italian and Vichy surface fleets can get out into the Atlantic. Base a squadron or two in the Bay of Biscay under Luftwaffe air cover and you've made it a lot harder for the RN to control England's sea lanes and keep the bad guys on the other side of the Channel.

Posted by: Mike Morley at August 8, 2007 5:59 AM

Gibralter also could have served as a U-boat base

Posted by: George at August 8, 2007 9:37 AM

Of course, if Britain and the US had supported the Republic instead of Franco, i.e., if the Royal Navy and Chamberlain had not aided Franco, if the US gov't had not allowed Standard and Texaco to supply oil, Ford, Studebaker and GM trucks, DuPont munitions, and US banks to supply credit to foot the bill, then the Soviet Union would not have been the only major power of influence, the liberal forces would have been strengthened, Franco weakened, and we would not be having this conversation today.

Franco was very blunt in giving credit where credit was due. When, after the war, he was asked what was the most important factor that allowed him victory, he replied, "Why, Mr. Ford's trucks, of course."

The butcher's bill has yet to be tallied in Spain. So far, the number murdered by Franco is estimated at 200,000 and still rising as mass graves are uncovered. Franco is only a hero to Fascists and the ignorant. Jews that escaped to Spain were smuggled into the country, not offered refuge by Franco. He also allowed German ships and subs to refuel and resupply in Spanish ports, sent troops to fight with the Hitler on the Eastern Front, and cooperated with German intelligence and war aims all through the war, while maintaining the patina of neutrality. The answer to Gibralter is simple - Spain has always claimed the Rock, its a point of national pride. No Spanish gov't, left or right, would have allowed a German foothold there. If they had they would not have been the gov't for long.

Posted by: Grif at August 8, 2007 4:03 PM

The Spanish Left wasn't Spanish, it was Communist. Like all such they'd have murdered millions of their countrymen and served Moscow's wishes, including doing Hitler's bidding.

200,000 was a trivial cost for the Spain he saved and bequeathed to the future. One need only compare the post-war living standard of Franco's Spain to the Soviet bloc nations to see how great his achievement was.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2007 6:09 PM

OJ is a good name for you, you're as bloodthirsty and mindless as he is. The word "communist" refers to a political belief not a nationality. The Spanish Left was indeed Spanish and composed of anarchists, socialists and communists. As to the great boon Franco bequeathed Spain - under Fascism Spain was the poorest country in Europe. It wasn't until the bastard died and the Republic returned that the economy began to grow.

Posted by: Grif at August 23, 2007 4:07 AM

Exactly, all that mettered about them was their inhuman beliefs. Where they weren't put down they murdered hundreds of millions. Franco put them down, to Spain's eternal credit.

That's simply false. Franco's economic reforms made Spain a normal free market country with an economy, obviously, substantially better than those of the countries where the Francos lost--Eastern Europe--but with growth rates that were the envy of Western Europe.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2007 7:09 AM