The Spanish Civil War: Sadly, Still Relevant

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On Sunday I received a request from a Catholic blogger for my suggestions for readings in regard to the Spanish Civil War, a subject which I have always found fascinating.  Here is my response:

The go to man on the Spanish Civil War is Stanley Payne.  He has been writing on the conflict since the Fifties.  He interviewed many of the leaders of the various factions in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.  Originally a man of the Left, I think it would be fair now to call him a conservative, but what he is above all is a first class historian.

I would recommend his The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union and Communism, and for background his Spain a Unique History, which is not only an overview of controversies in Spanish History, but also a memoir of his life spent studying Spanish History.  His look at how the present Spanish Socialist government is using the Civil War for political purposes is biting and  incisive. 

Here is a link to his books on Amazon.

Anthony Beevor, although somewhat sympathetic to the Anarchists, did an excellent one volume history a few years ago which is superb about showing the military mistakes of the Republic.

The best memoir of a participant that I have read is Combat Over Spain by the Duke of Lerma.  He served as a nationalist pilot during the war.  Growing up in a bi-lingual family, he wrote his memoir in both English and Spanish.  His descriptions of life in Spain prior to the Civil War and during it give the reader a feel for the conflict lacking in other works.

I have learned more about Spain and the Spanish Civil War from Gironella’s trilogy of novels, however, than I have from all the hundreds of histories I have read on that conflict.

The response took only a few minutes to draft and I didn’t think more about it until I came across this story on Midwest Conservative Blog, the blog of Christopher Johnson, a non-Catholic blogger who has taken up the cudgels for the Faith so frequently that I have named him Defender of the Faith, and who recently won our prestigious Cross and Eagle 2011 award for most Catholic Non-Catholic Blog:

The Spanish left wins friends and influences people:

We went in and people were shouting filthy slurs and cursing the Pope and it was awful.So we knelt down and prayed a Rosary for them in the crowd and got surrounded by angry protesters, shouting and threatening and spitting and filming us and mocking us and trying to burn our flags.A gay couple came and made out in front of us but whatever.Anyway, Dominic made us stand up because he felt threatened so we finished our Rosary standing but on the last decade, a fight broke out right next to us between the Catholics who had been standing behind us and and the protesters so some of the other Catholics lead us out of the crowd.We went back and dropped our bags with Louise and this time Mim stayed back so it was just Me & Dominic & Greg & Billy who went back and prayed a second rosary on the side of the crowd and we got more of the same, people getting up in our faces screaming.

Yeah, I noticed the rainbow flag.  Probably just a coincidence.

Go here to read the comments.

When it comes to endless murderous hatred of the Catholic Church, no one can beat the Spanish Left.    At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, forces on the Left in Spain massacred 283 nuns and sisters, 13 bishops, 4,172 diocesan priests, and 2,364 monks, friars, brothers and priests of religious orders.  Their deaths were often accompanied with every cruelty and sacrilege the fertile minds of their tormentors could conjure up.  There were atrocious massacres on both sides of the Spanish Civil War, but this mass murder of totally innocent men and women of God set the tone for the bitterness with which the War was conducted.  Apparently the modern Spanish Left has not fallen far from the hatred of the Church that led to the crimes of their ideological forebears.

36 Responses to The Spanish Civil War: Sadly, Still Relevant

  • T. Shaw says:

    A much-touted personal account is Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia.” To me, it proved less than the touting.

    Tolerance for me not for thee.

    I used to “see red” whenever a US MSM commie propaganda outlet would cover a reunion of “Lincoln Brigade” murderers.

  • Tito Edwards says:

    I am fascinated by the Spanish Civil War and have had a difficult time finding good books on the Subject. Warren Carroll’s the Last Crusade is excellent reading.

    I’m already scouring my nearby book stores for your recommendations, thanks Don!

  • c matt says:

    One of the disappointments I had with There be Dragons is that it did not delve into the whys and whatfors of the SCW as much as I would have liked, and likewise not in depth as much regarding St. Josemaria. It gave a little of both, but the rather superficial treatment left you feeling somewhat robbed. It seemed the director couldn’t decide whether it was a movie about the war or about the saint, and ended up really being about neither – it seemed to use them both as props or settings to tell the story about the saint’s fictional friend. Not a bad movie if you have that understanding going in, but a bit disappointing if you don’t.

  • Pinky says:

    The Spanish Civil War seems to be one of those historical events that everyone is supposed to interpret the exact same way. It’s depicted as WWII on a smaller scale. I know very little about the war, but what bothers me is that I’ve only seen Franco’s side defended by extremely anti-communist Catholics. I’m wondering, is this just one of those rare moments with two bad sides (like Mubarak versus the Muslim Brotherhood)? Is it possible to view the world as a Catholic and still accept the common interpretation of the Spanish Civil War?

  • “Is it possible to view the world as a Catholic and still accept the common interpretation of the Spanish Civil War?”

    From an American perspective few of the sides in the Spanish Civil War are too appealing. On the Republican side the main factions were Communists, Socialists (who were often harder Left than the Communists) and Anarchists. There were some moderate Republicans but they were quickly pushed to the side lines. In the areas controlled by the Basque nationalists in Northern Spain the Church was not persecuted and the Basque Republicans were fervent Catholics. They were subdued by the Nationalists in 1937.

    On the Nationalist side we have Falangists, basically fascists modeled after Mussolini’s black shirts, most of the Army, monarchists, fervent Catholics, and the Carlists of Navarre who were probably the most fervent Catholics as a group in the world and who provided the Nationalists their shock troops.

    Of the factions on both sides, my favorites are the Carlists and the Basque Republicans.

    The Republicans were mostly fighting to implement a Revolution and bring to Earth a Leftist utopia, of some Communist, Socialist or Anarchist variant. They wanted to smash the Church and anyone else who stood in their way of bringing this about.

    The Nationalists were mostly fighting to crush the Left and sepratist movements like the Basques and the Catalans, and restore Spain to the glory it had known in the past. They detested democracy, as Americans understand it, as much as their Leftist adversaries.

    A fairly bad choice from an American perspective. However, one point can never be overlooked by a Catholic: on the Nationalist side of Spain Catholics worshiped freely; on the Republican side, outside of the Basque regions, the Churches were shuttered and turned into warehouses, garages, town halls, and the clergy, and faithful Catholics, murdered. I do not think that any faithful Catholic can overlook that.

  • Tom McKenna says:

    I often wondered that there were not “Lincoln brigades” of Catholics… why apparently no organized Catholic military units went to aid the Nationalists. Perhaps for the same reason that none aided the Cristeros in Mexico, an indifference to things Hispanic in the English speaking world, which itself seems to be in part a vestige of the Black Legend. Certainly the “main-stream media” was a formidable roadblock for Catholics trying to find out the truth of what was happening in Spain and Mexico.

  • Irish Catholics sent about 500 men. They saw very brief action and then were sent home by the Nationalists as being fairly useless. American Catholics sent over a fair amount of money to aid the Nationalist cause, and lobbied hard, and successfully, against any US aid to the Republic. Portugal sent about 20,000 men to fight for the Nationalists, and allowed the Nationalists use of their ports and to use their territory to transport supply. The aid that the Nationalists received from Italy and Nazi Germany is of course well known. There were also White Russian and other right wing volunteers fighting for Franco. The study linked below has a strong Republican bias, but it is one of the very few volumes I am aware of that looks at foreign volunteers for Franco:

    http://www.amazon.com/Fighting-Franco-International-Volunteers-Nationalist/dp/0826465382

    Roy Campbell was an English war correspondent who followed Franco’s armies and was sympathetic to the Nationalist cause:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Campbell_(poet)

    Outside of Mexico, almost all of the Latin American states were sympathetic to the Nationalists and extended early diplomatic recognition to the Nationalists.

  • “What about the Hugo Thomas one volume history?”

    Good but dated. We know far more from released Spanish archive records than when he initially wrote it in 1961 and even with updates it is not up to snuff with current scholarship. It still has a warm spot in my heart as it was the first book I read on the conflict.

  • Very pricy is Burnett Bolloten’s The Spanish Civil War. It is worth every penny however for the serious student. The late Mr. Bolloten made an in depth study of magazines, newspapers, pamphlets and other publications published in Spain during the war. You find material in his history you find nowhere else. He is especially good on the byzantine Republican factional infighting.

    http://www.amazon.com/Spanish-Civil-War-Revolution-Counterrevolution/dp/0807819069

  • Bolloten began as a man of the Left Tito and by the end of his career the Franco regime was touting his books as a great scholarly study of the War. Bolloten was an honest man and the facts he brought to light tended to paint the Spanish Republic in a bad light. His scholarship is impeccable and he had no axes to grind.

    I would add that I would not recommend it to general readers. A fair amount of knowledge of Spain in the thirties and Spanish politics of that period is helpful before tackling Bolloten’s works.

  • T. Shaw says:

    You want even-handed?

    The following is paraphrased from De la Salle Christian Brothers and Marianist sources.

    The holocaust within the Spanish Civil War has been denied far too long. Almost no one in America knows that during the 1930’s Spanish “Civil” War the “republicans” massacred of tens of thousands of Roman Catholic religious and lay people. For decades, the MSM, publishers, and the academy have sold the one-sided idea that Franco and his government (World War II neutrals) were merely fascists. The MSM, et al, egregiously deny the mass murders of Spanish Catholic religious and lay persons committed by the Soviet-led Spanish and international gangsters like Hemingway, Robeson and the so-called Abraham Lincoln brigade.

    There was a general massacre of Roman Catholic clergy and laity in the areas under communist control during the 1936 to 1939 Spanish Civil War. Four thousand Roman Catholic bishops, priests, brothers, and nuns, and tens of thousands of lay Catholic people were martyred. The Lord had called the Spanish religious community to a radical witness. When the republicans found them to be religious, they were arrested and executed. For example, the bolshevists murdered 165 of the order of Catholic school teachers, the De La Salle Christian Brothers, whose brothers have, for over 150 years, served their vocations at Manhattan College. On October 10, 1993, Pope John Paul II proclaimed “blessed”, seven Spanish Christian Brothers and three Spanish Marianists (Carlos Erana, Jesus Hita, Fidel Fuidio). The Marianists are dedicated priests and religious brothers who serve Long Island Roman Catholics at Chaminade High School and Bishop Kellenberg Memorial High School.

    About ten years prior in Mexico:

    Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J. – martyred in Mexico in November 1927

    A picture is worth a thousand words. One of the things that brought the attention of the world to the anti-Catholic persecutions in Mexico was the distribution of the photographs of some of the executions.

    At ten o’clock in the morning, Father Pro was the first to be led out to execution. Carrying his small crucifix and his rosary, he walked steadily across the yard.
    As his last request, Father Miguel asked to be allowed to pray. He knelt in front of the bullet-pocked walls and fervently prayed briefly. He kissed his crucifix and stood.
    Rejecting the traditional blindfold, Miguel stretched his arms out in the form of a cross and facing the firing squad said, “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you. Lord, You know that I am innocent. With all my heart I forgive my enemies.”

    As the firing squad took aim, Father Pro spoke his last words. In a firm, clear voice, he said: “Viva Cristo Rey!” Long live Christ the King.

    I guess that was “one-sided.”

  • Paolo Pagliaro (Italy) says:

    Mr. McClarey’s advice about Burnett Bolloten’s book is really commendable.

    The Spanish civil war has been a very complex event, and the author’s long and (relatively, as is inevitable) unbiased research unfolded and pondered upon lot of documents, some of which – like newspapers – rarely used (at least intelligently) in other books. Bolloten was really able to give voice to the many, conflicting parties involved in this tragedy.

    It is too convenient to write Manichean books, were the righteous persons stand unerringly on one side only. Communism has been a cancer which exploited and exacerbated very real social problems, and this civil war is no exception. So one has to understand the concrete situation, the human plight in which those events could unfold: in this even conservatives and Catholics had their sins. Real life is not easy and is always more complex than ideology or partisanship would like it to be.

    So, if it is certainly true that the left lied for a long time about what happened (and still does), it is a Christian duty to always try to understand the whole: without hiding anything and certainly without feeling ashamed for politically correct reasons, it is God who must prevail, not our faction.

    ***

    As far as Mr. McKenna’s question, I would like to add this: many, many Italians went to Spain with the sincere intent to help that Catholic country wihch they knew was being devastated. Of course, they were part of the Fascist army, sometime proudly so, then they are easily dismissed in block as mean people.

    Again, reality is different from historical hyper-generalization. Similarly, most Soviet soldiers fought animated by the love for their country and even religion, whatever the Party could say in the propaganda. So much more it was the case in Italy, where the regime’s propaganda never attained the level of brain-washing reached in the USSR.

  • John Nolan says:

    There is still a tendency (largely on the Left, it has to be said) to continue to view the Spanish Civil War through the prism of 1930s ideological assumptions rather than in the context of Spanish history. In hindsight it is difficult to see how Spain could have made a peaceful and swift transition to democracy in the mid-1970s had Franco not provided her with four decades of stability. Although his regime was oppressive and stifling, it was far preferable to those the Soviets imposed in eastern Europe.

  • Tom McKenna says:

    Great info, Don, I look forward to delving into some of the contemporary histories you mention. Hugh Thomas was really my one and only source about this, and of course, Dr. Carroll under whom I studied, and who was a great proponent of the Carlists.

  • Dr. Carroll Tom wrote a passionate book in The Last Crusade which I enjoyed but it was basically derivate of other books. His tome is a useful corrective to most works on the Spanish Civil War due to their Leftist bias. Hugh Thomas managed a considerable feat of scholarship in 1961 with his volume, especially for one so young and in a field that was not his major subject of study. More amazing is that his account is almost completely neutral, not something you commonly find in books on this conflict.

  • Pinky says:

    Yikes, T Shaw, I don’t think anyone’s calling for equal respect for martyrs and their killers. But the war was fought between fascists and communists, or more accurately between one side which included and was supported by fascists and one side which included and was supported by communists. As Don describes it, there were faithful Catholics on both sides. There’s got to be some hesitation in portraying either side as the heroes.

  • John Byde says:

    Hi folks,

    Wonderful comments about a fascinating and tragic historical event. It is truly shocking seeing how hate-filled and bigoted the anti-catholics are in today’s Spain. However, secular Spain is pretty much going over the cliff so a lot of their anger is probably because they know they’ve lost the war.

    Concerning SCW books – don’t write off Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia! Orwell was far too complex and individualistic a man to be a straightforward pinko. He hated what he saw of Moscow’s manipulation of the Republican side and was very clear that there would have been a dictatorship whoever won. His book gives a superb personal, “you’re here too” account a part of the conflict.

  • Dan says:

    After all these years ones grows very tired of this updated Black Legend of Spain and as is so often the case in these discussions the usual cliche seems to be that “both sides” committed atrocities and that there were no “good guys”. No, both sides did not commit atrocities. Only one side did, the leftist one. If you wish to maintain the fiction that Franco’s defending his country against these monsters by shooting back at them constitues “atrocities”, well, there is nothing I can say.

    Some are saying the Spanish Civil War was “complex”, which is a word used, I presume, to avoid really seeking out the truth and coming to a sensible conclusion. No, there is nothing complex about that war. It was the attempt by the Socialist/Communist forces to utterly stamp out the last vestiges of Catholicism in the land and as a revenge carried out by International Finance against a nation that was not dancing to their tune. And we Americans, both publicly in Hollywood and privately in the secret halls of government, were huge supporters of that Catholic extermination so sought after by the Left.

    It would seem that now, in the era of Zapatero and a frightened and weakened Chuch, that the Left has the last laugh because they are accomplishing just about everything they wanted in the ’30s. The modernist madness of Vatican II and creepy prelates like the unspeakable Casaroli paved the way for the Zapateros of this world. Sad…but there it is.

    Since we’re all recommending books about that terrible conflict allow me to suggest that we seek out and read the life and works of the Scotsman Hamish Fraser, a Communist fighter in that very civil war who ultimately converted and became one of the greatest Catholic journalists of the last century. It was my signal honor to know him and to learn from him what really happened there.

    And as for Gen Franco? God bless the memory of that great man who at least, if nothing else, bought some time and some peace for his beloved Spain.

  • “No, both sides did not commit atrocities. Only one side did, the leftist one.”

    Completely untrue. A typical example of a Nationalist massacre:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_Badajoz

    There have been few firmer Catholics than the French author George Bernanos. He goes into great detail in regard to Nationalist massacres he witnessed while staying on Majorca during the Spanish Civil War in his A Diary of My Times:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_grands_cimeti%C3%A8res_sous_la_lune

    Historical facts are historical facts no matter what our ideological predilections might be.

  • Gabriel Austin says:

    The late David Eccles was the English representative of one of the Spanish railways at the time. He read of Guernica; as it was within his jurisdiction he asked one of the engineers what was to be done to repair the damage. “Nothing” was the reply. “There was not much damage”.

    It seems that an English reporter in a nearby town had nothing to report. Then he heard of the bombing [some German bombers getting rid of their bombs?] and made up a report of horrendous massacres and damages. “It was written by George Steer, whose familiarity with Basque traditions, passionate support of the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War, and outrage over the bombing may have led him to exaggerate some details, and to emphasize that Guernica was far behind the battle lines and not a military objective”.

    Having been told of this, I tried to do some little research on the subject. The eyewitnesses later interviewed [some two decades later] were across the Pyrenees, and of the Republican persuasion. The earliest book I found was Rudolf Arnheim’s 1973 book, based on the later accounts of eye-witnesses.

  • The Republicans exaggerated the damage to Guernica for propaganda purposes. The Nationalists said that there had been no bombing and the damage was caused by retreating Republican troops. Both of these positions were meretricious. There had been heavy bombing of the town and there was nothing wrong about that. The town had not been declared an open city, there were Basque troops in it in an active theatre of war, and therefore the bombing was completely legitimate.

  • Gironella who fought for the Nationalists during the War, wrote about both the red terror and the white terror in his trilogy: The Cypresses Believe in God; One Million Dead; and Peace After War. These books were published in Spain under Franco. No one could deny, with a straight face at least, that both sides had committed atrocities during the War, even at that time in Franco’s Spain. Leftist historians attempt to maximize the Nationalist atrocities and minimize, or ignore, the Republican atrocities. That is both a sin against history and the truth, and those who are appalled at Republican atrocities, as I am, should not ignore the massacres and atrocities of those fighting against the Republicans.

  • Americans who want to understand Spain and the Spanish Civil War should take to heart this preface that Gironella wrote in the American edition of The Cypresses Believe in God in 1954:

    “Author’s Note for the American Edition

    Spain is an unknown country. Experience proves that it is hard to view my country impartially. Even writers of high order succumb to the temptation to adulterate the truth, to treat our customs and our psychology as though everything about them were of a piece, of a single color. Legends and labels pile up: black Spain, inquisitorial Spain, beautiful Spain, tragic Spain, folkloric Spain, unhappy Spain, a projection of Africa into the map of Europe.

    I defend the complexity of Spain. If this book attempts to demonstrate anything it is this: that there are in this land thousands of possible ways of life. Through a Spanish family of the middle class–the Alvears–and the day-by-day living of a provincial capital–Gerona–I have tried to capture the everyday traits, the mentality, the inner ambiance of my compatriots in all their pettiness and all their grandeur. In Spain the reaction to this novel has been that it is “implacable”. Nothing could satisfy me more.

    This book spans a period of five years, five years in the private and public life of the nation: those which preceded the last civil war, which speeded its inevitable coming. The explosion of that war, its scope, and its significance are described in minute detail.

    A single warning to the American reader: Spain is a peculiar country and its institutions therefore take on unique coloration. Certain constants of the Spanish temperament operate under any circumstance. A Spanish Freemason is not an international Freemason. A Spanish Communist is not even an orthodox Communist. In every instance what is characteristic is a tendency toward the instinctive, toward the individualistic, and toward the anarchic. Spaniards follow men better than they follow ideas, which are judged not by their content, but by the men who embody them. This accounts for the inclemency of personal relationships, the small respect for laws; this, too, is what causes our periodic civil wars.

    To bear all this in mind is important in understanding this book. When the narrative deals with a priest, a policeman, a Socialist, a bootblack, it is essential to remember that it is dealing with a Spanish priest, a Spanish policeman, a Spanish Socialist, a Spanish bootblack, not with generic types. This warning is doubly necessary with reference to Freemasonry, Communism, and Catholicism, the interpretation of which will undoubtedly clash with the American reader’s concept of these doctrines.

    The book’s protagonist–Ignacio Alvear–is a type of young man who abounds in present-day Spain.

    Palma de Mallorca, Spain
    August 1954

    José Maria Gironella”

  • Just to follow up on Donald’s recommendation: You really can’t do better than to read Gironella’s trilogy. Thus far I’ve read the first two, and I want to read the third. They are truly brilliant, and they give you the more immediate sense of the war, and the way that sin begets sin. The sinned against, if they are not killed, often themselves become the sinners. Righteous anger begets unrighteous revenge.

    You don’t for a moment forget what side Gironella fought on, and yet he loves Spain so much he can’t help but make you understand and love even the people who would have shot at him.

  • Pinky says:

    I was flipping around the radio dial last night and I ran across Michael Savage (who I wouldn’t normally listen to). He was discussing the Spanish Civil War. Odd coincidence.

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