May 7, 2016


The War in Spain Has Ended Long Ago : Review: Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, by Adam Hochschild (Joseph Bottum  , May 7, 2016, Free Beacon)

More interesting have been the reviews by the oldsters, the ones who remember the days when--even forty, fifty, sixty years after Generalissimo Franco's victory ended the fighting--we took the Spanish Civil War as a living symbol for something important. The review in the New York Times, for example, was by Michael Kazin, co-editor of Dissent, an old leftist magazine whose very existence in these late days resounds like a call from a distant and dying trumpet. Bob Drogin, a longtime and old-fashioned newspaperman, reviewed the book for the Los Angeles Times, and "few distant conflicts are so burned into our culture and consciousness," he notes. Which is perfectly true, if one is of an age. I suspect his younger colleagues at the Los Angeles Times lack a consciousness seared by the bombing of Guernica and the street fighting in Madrid.

In reviews such as Kazin's, matching the line Hochschild himself takes in the book, we can discern something that might be called Orwell's posthumous victory. As Spain in Our Hearts notes, nearly 40,000 foreigners dodged the international non-intervention regulations and journeyed to Spain to fight on the Republican side. Among them was George Orwell, who arrived in Spain at the end of December 1936 to join the mixed brigades of Stalinists, socialists, Trotskyites, and anarchists supporting the Spanish Republican forces. After being caught up in intra-left battles in Barcelona--and called a fascist by the Spanish communists, who would later try him in absentia for treason--he was wounded by a sniper's bullet. Returning to England to recuperate in 1937, only seven months after he left, he wrote a book about the whole sad mess, published in 1938 as Homage to Catalonia.

The naiveté of leftist forces that Orwell chronicled quickly became the standard narrative about foreign fighters during the Spanish Republicans' defeat in 1939. But before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was still resistance to Orwell's claim that the Russian-backed communists were determined to lose the war if winning came at the price of allowing non-Stalinist radicals to gain power in Spain. Nowadays, reviewers such as Kazin simply take it as read: The Soviets demanded control in return for material aid--a "devil's bargain," as Hochschild puts it--and their attempts to purge the ranks of Republican forces contributed greatly to Franco's Nationalist victory

Naiveté was certainly a dominant feature of the 2,800 Americans who traveled to Spain to support the leftist government. Many of them formed the Lincoln Brigade, which later generations of American radicals would mythologize in story and song, and about 800 of them would die in the war. (The last surviving confirmed member of the brigade--a self-proclaimed "unreconstructed communist" named Delmer Berg--died this February at age 100.) Focusing on individual stories about those Americans, Hochschild uses Spain in Our Hearts to explore the inexperience and impracticality of those who felt that the Spanish struggle demanded their involvement.

"There seemed a moral clarity about the crisis in Spain," Hochschild notes, but in history as it actually unfolds, many claims of moral clarity have a large share of moral myopia. Spain in Our Hearts recounts the tale of Lois Orr, for example, who traveled to Spain with her husband Charles and in 1936 wrote home that they were "living the revolution," in a world where "anything was possible, a new heaven and a new earth were being formed." All this, while she spoke barely a word of Spanish and was living, not so much among the peasants and proletariat, but in a luxury apartment the Republicans had seized from the local German consul.

...just compare the modern history of Spain and its nearly $30k per capita GDP to any of the middle/Eastern European states that fell to communism (just to take one at random, Romania's GDP per capita is less than a third of Spain's).

Franco was the best thing that ever happened to Spain.

Posted by at May 7, 2016 9:44 AM