Snyder reviews Paul Preston’s new book on the Spanish Civil War.
There was plenty of savagery to go around during the War, and the little I know I do from having spent time in Spain and getting to know a few people whose grandparents fought during that time. The Valle de Los Caidos is seldom talked about, and for good reason (Franco used prison laborers from the other side in order to construct a monument to his fallen fellows).
Perhaps the more conservative, traditional, religious parts of the nationalist coalition weren’t prepared for some of the folks that made up Franco’s forces:
‘First, many of the soldiers fighting under the banner of Spanish nationalism against the Republic were Muslims, mercenaries from Spanish Morocco. Second, Christian soldiers were little interested in the application of ethics to their deeds.
Well, this is war and Franco did amass his army from the Spanish colonies in Morocco. Yet as for the Republicans:
‘The most violent political force in the Republican zone were the anarchists, who fought against Franco but also opposed the Republic. Beyond the reach of the government, and bountifully armed, they were all but impossible to control. They ran the most murderous of the checas, including one squad that decorated their murder van with skulls and their uniforms with death’s heads’
The fight had been brewing for quite some time to get Spain on the path to “modernity” and “progress.” Clearly, not everyone agreed how to get there or where they were going…as other European ideological conflicts and interests consumed the country:
‘And so the Republic itself, when it was re-established in 1931, was bound to provoke determined and articulate resistance. Its new constitution propagated a secular state, which angered the priesthood and the conservatives. The first government purged the officer corps, demoting many officers who had been promoted for their deeds in Morocco. But more infuriating still, it concerned itself with the fate of the peasantry, rather than leaving them under the authority of local notables.’
Our author wants to note that Preston’s book is careful to point out that the Nationalists were worse, however, which raised a bit of suspicion on my part:
‘Preston is concerned to show that violence from the Right was on a greater scale than violence from the Left during the Spanish Civil War. Contemporary accounts of atrocities came from Madrid, the Republican capital, where reporters and ambassadors could observe and criticize the actions of the Republic but not those of the rebels—with certain exceptions, such as that airdropped corpse. Preston reminds us that prevailing opinion in the British establishment (Churchill was a good example) held at the time that right-wing killings were relatively insignificant. But with the help of massive documentation recently published by Spanish historians, Preston shows that roughly 150,000 Spaniards were murdered on territories controlled by the rebel nationalists, compared with about 50,000 in the Republican zones’
Well, everyone has their interests while examining the conflict, but point taken. Snyder goes on:
‘From Poland’s Galicia in the east to Spain’s Galicia in the west, conditions of radical inequality conspired with weak state institutions to turn the energy of capitalism against democracy by generating support for the far Left and the far Right, especially during the Great Depression’
Is “capitalism” really the bogeyman here, a handmaiden to both the anarchic revolutionaries and the fascist mercenaries with “democracy” lost in the shuffle? Implicit in the review are certain assumptions about democracy, which seem pretty liberal by American standards.
In fact, this review is found in “the New Republic”, so, duly noted.
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