La Sangre de Espana (The Blood of Spain)
Adam Hochschild’s beautifully written, if somewhat biased book, tells the story of the Spanish Civil War though the eyes of several of its participants mostly on the Republican side. It is clear where his biases lie, but then again, it is hard to cuddle up to Franco and his henchman. It is not what he leaves in, but rather what he leaves out. Although he discusses the role of the Soviet NKVD in Spain he doesn’t give full treatment to its perfidious role. As I have written elsewhere many of the participants in the civil war were pawns in a larger geopolitical struggle.
That said there is no question about the heroism of the Republicans he portrays. His heroes are Robert and Marion Merriman, American communists who go to Spain to fight against the growing fascist menace. In the lingo of the day, they were premature anti-fascists. Merriman is the model for Hemingway’s hero Robert Jordan in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Merriman would ultimately lead the Lincoln Brigade and die in a fire fight towards the end of the war. Unlike, “Hotel Florida” which deals with the comings and goings of the journalists covering the war, Hochschild focuses in on the war fighters and the daily tribulations they suffered from.
The villain of the piece is Texaco chief Torkild Rieber who turns his company into an oil depot for Franco. It was Texaco aviation fuel that powered the German bombers over Guernica. And it was Texaco personnel throughout Europe who alerted Franco of incoming supply ships to Republican Spain.
A failing of the book for all of the leading personalities he discusses, he leaves out Steve Nelson, an American Communist who was the political commissar of the Lincoln Brigade. To see the world through his eyes and the purges that were undertaken both in Spain and later in Moscow would have offered a much greater insight into the day-today role of the Russian security services in the war.
Hochschild ends his book by discussing a counterfactual where the Republicans win the war. Would European history be fundamentally different, Hochschild generally thinks not and he doesn’t believe that Spain would have become a Soviet satellite given its inability to occupy the country. However, Cuba proves that the Soviets could have a satellite without military occupation.
My own counterfactual is what would have happened if Franco won quickly in late 1936 or early 1937. Had that happened there probably would have been no story, Hitler would not have been able to test his weapons in combat, there might have been less fear of aerial bombardment in London and maybe a million Spanish lives would have been saved. Or alternatively it would have been another signpost that fascism was on the march and the Western democracies had better get out of the way.
All told Adam Hochschild has written a terrific book that takes you back to an era when politics meant something.
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