Go and get killed, comrade
- Unlikely Warriors: The British in the Spanish Civil War and the Struggle against Fascism by Richard Baxell
Aurum, 516 pp, £25.00, September 2012, ISBN 978 1 84513 697 0
- BuyI Am Spain: The Spanish Civil War and the Men and Women Who Went to Fight Fascism by David Boyd Haycock
Old Street, 363 pp, £25.00, October 2012, ISBN 978 1 908699 10 7
In the introduction to the third revision of what was once called A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War – it’s no longer said to be concise – Paul Preston points out that this prelude to the Second World War has generated as many books as the Second World War itself. During the Cold War, with the CIA busy collaborating with anarchists and Trotskyists to try to obscure ‘the fact that Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Chamberlain were responsible for the Nationalist victory, not Stalin’, it made sense that foreigners continued to fight the war out in print. The unabated rehearsal of the conflict since then is harder to account for. Preston suggests various reasons: the sheer length of time that Franco remained in power, along with the tolerance of his regime by democratic governments; the parallels between what happened in Spain and national liberation struggles in Vietnam, Cuba, Chile and Nicaragua; and the hope that in the Spanish experience we might find ‘the idealism and sacrifice so singularly absent from modern politics’.
Vol. 35 No. 5 · 7 March 2013
From Karl Dallas
Gideon Lewis-Kraus makes a few errors in his piece about the Spanish Civil War (LRB, 21 February). The Germans didn’t ‘perfect the Blitzkrieg in Spain’. The ‘lightning war’ required a good road system, which is why it worked in France but not in Russia. Lewis-Kraus is presumably thinking of the term ‘blitz’, which was misapplied to the air attacks on London in 1940, but which could be applied, retrospectively, to the German and Italian attack on Guernica of 26 April 1937.
Messerschmitt fighter-bombers played only a small part in the German Condor Legion. Some prototype models arrived in 1936, but most got there in 1939, too late to be used in the fighting. The seven hundred or so Italian aircraft were mainly Fiat CR.32 fighters and Savoia-Marchetti bombers. The archetypal Nazi attack aircraft was the Stuka, as Lewis-Kraus says, but with its single bomb and ‘Jericho trumpet’ siren, it was more effective as a terror weapon. Deployed where it did not have undefended airspace, it was very vulnerable to fighter attack.
Bradford, West Yorkshire
Vol. 35 No. 6 · 21 March 2013
From Clancy Sigal
The drift of Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s piece about the Spanish Civil War is that it was ‘one wake-up call after another’, in which the untrained, poorly armed volunteers had their optimism shattered by the reality of battle (LRB, 21 February). The tone is one of disillusionment. The Loyalist side of the Spanish Civil War was my first ‘cause’, at age ten or 11, because my favourite cousin, Coleman (Charlie) Persily, fought on various fronts with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Over the years I’ve spoken to Cousin Charlie and other American ‘Lincolnistas’ and found their youthful commitment unchanged. Maybe it’s old guys putting a romantic gloss on a bad experience. Or maybe, even in the face of the Loyalists’ ugly factionalism and incompetent leadership, they believed in the Republic despite everything. I found these ageing guys full of piss, vinegar and militant optimism. Happy to have survived, happy to have been there.
Vol. 35 No. 7 · 11 April 2013
From Christopher Farman
Gideon Lewis-Kraus states that Harry Pollitt turned down Orwell’s request to join the International Brigades (LRB, 21 February). In fact, Orwell wasn’t prepared to make a decision about joining the Brigades until he had been to Spain and seen for himself what was happening there: his request to Pollitt was for some kind of Communist Party documentation that would get him into the country. None of the other volunteers asked for any such privilege, and it isn’t surprising that Pollitt refused to help him. It wasn’t until the spring of 1937, after he’d become disillusioned with the POUM militia, that Orwell requested a transfer to the Brigades. By then, however, he would have been marked down as ‘politically unreliable’ and so was still serving with the POUM in ‘the civil war within the Civil War’ in May 1937.