Hugh Thomas’ “The Spanish Civil War”

Spanish WarI just reread Hugh Thomas’ “The Spanish Civil War” after a lapse of many years. Thomas has the ability, rare in our times, to write histories peopled by human beings, rather than good guys and bad guys. In this book he portrays an event that is still well within living memory, but seems as remote as the middle ages. It is well worth reading, if only to recall what human beings are capable of. It was a war marked by furious ideological passions, a version in miniature of the titanic struggle between fascism and Communism that was to follow it. Especially in the beginning, but throughout the war, both sides systematically hunted down and shot any person of talent they had any reason to believe might favor the other side. Many tens of thousands of Spain’s best and brightest were squandered in this national decapitation that is such a trademark of the 20th century, mimicking the even more devastating self-immolation that reached its peak of fury in the Soviet Union at the same time, and decades later in Cambodia. Imagine what it would be like if people in a town 20 or 30 miles from yours grabbed weapons, climbed onto trucks and drove to where you live, and then began systematically going door to door, shooting down 100’s of your neighbors for the flimsiest of reasons, including pure malice and personal revenge. That’s what it was like. We forget such events at our peril. They are still quite recent, and could easily happen again.

One wonders how many of the later dictators of central and South America were “inspired” by Franco and his fascists. After all, in the end, he “won,” in the sense that his will prevailed. How many of the organizers of death squads, the “revolutionaries” who murdered and still murder whole villages, and the military thugs responsible for the “disappeared ones” learned their lessons from him? It’s ironic to consider what has become of his “victory,” paid for with the blood of so many of Spain’s most talented children.  Today she is ruled by a socialist he certainly would have shot back in July or August of ’36.  Franco posed as the defender of outraged Christianity.  Recently, I saw the Spanish film “Talk to Her,” in which one of the characters claims that those priests who don’t rape nuns are pedophiles.  The wheel of Nemesis rolls on.

There is a fine sentence in Thomas’ Epilogue that epitomizes both the war and the century:

The Spanish Civil War was the Spanish share in the tragic European breakdown of the twentieth century, in which the liberal heritage of the nineteenth century, and the sense of optimism which had lasted since the renaissance, were shattered.

Wars arouse passions, and passions spawn music. The Spanish Civil War was no exception. Here are examples from the right:

and the left:

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

13 thoughts on “Hugh Thomas’ “The Spanish Civil War””

  1. As the son of survivor, I can tell you that the “Fascist” Franco saved the lives of many people who were destined to die in the hands of the Republican/Communist army. My grandfather was executed for helping the local priest escape from the Communists. If the Communists had won, the death squads of Stalin would have swarmed across Spain as in Russia. The Spanish Civil War was a tragedy for all sides and the only “winners” were those left with the least amount of scars. Funny, how we glorify the Lincoln Brigade, who sided with the Communists, while the U.S. was trying to crush Socialism within its own borders. And as to examples for future dictators, there isn’t a shortage of historical examples. Everyday, Americans allow our government to do business with countries that torture and terrorize their citizens, which leads to problems in the future when those citizens rise up against their government. Or have you forgotten about the Shah of Iran?

  2. your forgetting that there would be no war if franco and the army hadn’t attempted a coup and that the communists attempted to save bourgeois liberal society during the war. the ideology of franco was unacceptable you may aswell say hitler was trying to save many lives that would have been lost to the communists. have a word with yourself

  3. Hey Jake,
    We all have family stories. One of my grandfathers was executed by the fascist because he refused to fight and kill his brothers in the field, and my other grandfather was jailed and tortured for the same reason. My uncle (just 17 at the time) just simply desapeared. The priests sold out the people that trusted them, they were the ones who would write the list of the next ones to be jailed or executed in small towns…they betrayed their own faith and the faith the people had in church. There was wrong in both sides, I agree, but in history will be very hard to top Generalisimo Francico Franco’s war crimes….in the 5 years following the end of the war over 200 000.00 people was assassinated by the fascist with the blessing of the Catholic church, and people kept being jailed and executed for their political believes even a few months before the Generalisimo died in 1975. On top of all that, his other great crime was to set the economy and education (among other things) of Spain back for 40 years. It is unacceptable that more than half of adult Spaniards had not finished elementary school by the time your friend died.
    Please get a reality check.

  4. Franco saved Spain from communism. He also kept Spain out of ww2. If the so called republic had won the war Spain would have been controlled by the stalinist’s.
    The idea that the international brigades were fighting to save the republic is simply not true. The majority of them were dedicated communist’s who had been recruited by the comintern.
    Franco’s regime was not democratic & innocent people were killed & victimized, however he was the lesser evil.

  5. Reminds me of just how alike is the wholesale homicides we see now in th islamic world..again.
    Religious slaughter prevails in roman catholic Europe as it does in any islamic, communist, facsist nation(s). Personally, I see Rome & Mecca as twins. Both have a long history of atrocities and horrors, dictators and mindless wars as each other. Seems the reality is (Or once was ? )- when the British & Americans put an end to them, especially in 1945. After all Franco, Mussolini and Hiter were not salvation army were they ! With political-correctness now constipating USA & UK – we can all sit back now and watch it all repeat itself, at home and abroad. History tells us we learn nothing from history.

  6. Franco keeped Spain from enter in WWII? Franco made Spain a test ballon for the WWII! Stukas, blitzkriegs, mass murders, every devilish Hitler’s dream in one package! Well, maybe the fear of communism was so frightening that spanish reationaries accepted destroy the country to avoid be destroyed… The leflists got the power by elections; Franco actually was the leader of the bloodiest coup d’etat in Europe in the last 80 years. The truth is, Spain returned to womb and remain there for 4 decades. What a waste.

  7. Franco WANTED to be a part of WW2!!! There’s documented evidence that proves he met Hitler in Hendaye, France after he allowed the German military to bomb the crap out of Guernica. He ASKED Hitler if he could join forces and help him because he believed Hilter would win the war. However, much to Franco’s dismay, Hitler told him NO because he knew that Spain was in a bad financial situation because Spain was already in the middle of a civil war and that if he allowed Spain to join him that Germany would pay for everything. Then, Hitler was quoted as saying that he would rather have teeth pulled than work with Franco. THAT is why Spain was not directly involved in the war… but he DID provide weapons and other assistance that he could to Germany and Italy. However, when the allies won and took over Germany, Franco flipped the switch and spoke about how he kept Spain out of the war… and of course that’s what is in the Spanish history books. NOT because it’s true… but because Franco wrote the Spanish history that most Spanish children learn in school. Bottom line, the only reason people “learned” that Franco saved Spain from joining WW2 is because he was DENIED by Hitler… he WANTED to be part of the war and if you think otherwise you’re an idiot… try getting your “history” from somewhere other than the books Franco and his regime wrote. Franco was a war criminal who killed/assassinated anyone that stood in his way. The man was a lunatic and managed to brainwash millions of fanatics… kind of the same way that Hitler did. Hitler used Franco and then denied him… Franco’s not a “hero” he was the guy that Hitler didn’t want to play with. Fortunately for Franco, it worked in his favor and he was able to use it to his advantage after Hitler lost the war.

  8. On balance it seems that the good guys ( or the least bad guys ) won the Spanish Civil War. We know the genocide that Stalin visited on his own people, so undoubtedly the same would have been visited on the Spanish people. Having just recently read of some of the depravities carried out against the Church – a bishop castrated ; a mother & her four daughter’s ( nuns ) collectively executed ; rosary beads forced down the necks of mothers of Priest etc. it’s hard to conceive of such savagery. Please God, never again.

  9. I agree that the least bad guys won. Franco was no angel, but the Stalinists would have been much worse, and they were the only realistic alternative. It’s interesting to read what the public intellectuals of the 30’s and 40’s thought about the outcome. Most of them associated Franco with Hitler, and none of them had the least clue about how things would eventually turn out. Today’s generation of pundits should read them. It might teach them some humility.

  10. It must be remembered that the Uprising of July 18,1936 by General Mola, General Franco and several others was a reaction to the outrages perpetrated on the people of Spain by the Republic and by the fanatical Communist and Anarchist parties which siezed the initiative. This concept of class warfare (which we are seeing right her in the U.S. through the instigation of people currently in power) was encouraged by the powers in Spain during the Republic. People who were considered “rich” (owning a car, wearing a hat or a necktie or having a nice home were identifying marks of the rich). Many people were murdered and their homes and lands confiscated by the communist and anarchist fanatics for being “rich”. To consider Franco the greatest war criminal of the period is insane and ill informed – take a good look at Stalin’s record (he was the worst human being within the last few centuries) and then Hitler’s record (he was #2). Franco saved Spain from Soviet domination and the greater atrocities done by the Soviets. It was part of the Comintern’s (they financed the International Brigades) plan to create a Soviet style state in Spain; Franco prevented that.

  11. It’s interesting to read the essays of George Orwell about the Spanish Civil War, penned in the middle of World War II. Of course, Orwell fought on the Republican side, and got shot in the neck for his trouble, so it’s to be expected that he had a certain bias. He predicted all sorts of dire consequences that were to result from the failure of the western democracies to intervene on the Republican side. With the hindsight of more than 70 years, it’s obvious enough to us now that none of them came true. Franco was no angel, but he was better than the alternative; a Stalinist dictatorship that surely would have been the result of a Republican victory. And yet Orwell was one of the most brilliant men who ever lived. When tempted to predict the future, one does well to remember his example.

  12. Helian: Very nice and a quite accurate entry; one of the problems with “brilliance” is that it is often bookish and ideological and frequently doesn’t have its feet firmly planted in practical reality. We could say such people have lots of horse power but little traction and end up being a negative rather than a positive force. As to General Franco, the socialists under Zapatero basically closed down Valle de los Caidos and were discussing removing Franco’s body from his tomb. In the meantime, their policies have put Spain on the brink of economic collapse and they also have social problems due to huge illegal immigration from North Africa, Easter Europe and South America about which they have done nothing. These immigrants flee corruption, violence and crime but they bring it with them and infect Spain with it. A friend of mine from Sevilla said “yes, bring Franco out of his tomb, but ALIVE because Spain needs him again”. Arriba Espana y viva Cristo Rey!

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