A nuanced look at the messy international allegiances forged during the Spanish Civil War.
Accomplished historian and Mother Jones co-founder Hochschild (To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, 2011, etc.) considers every facet of this complicated civil war, using personal narratives of some of the participants, especially the Americans in the Lincoln Brigade, for elucidation and depth. The war was not a clear-cut idealistic struggle between Republican and Fascist, good and bad, although the author delineates well how both sides had hoped it would be. With Francisco Franco’s right-wing military coup of July 1936, launched from Spanish Morocco and amply supplied by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, the Nationalists were on a reactionary mission to purge the country of the democratically elected Popular Front government, communists, union members, and anyone left-leaning and anti-Catholic. Hochschild points out that the revolution was very much a social upheaval, in which the class system was abolished, women were emancipated, and workers were allowed to own the farmland that they toiled. On one hand, the socialist euphoria erupting in the Basque and Catalonia regions attracted many left-leaning sympathizers in America and Europe, such as Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell. On the other hand, that very “virus of bolshevism” scared many conservative governments from offering military aid—e.g., England and isolationist-gripped America, where an arms embargo against Spain was declared and niftily skirted by Texaco’s chief Torkild Rieber, who supplied the oil for the German planes to bomb the country into submission. In desperation, Republican leaders reached out to the Soviet Union for military aid, further complicating the political mix. The author looks at the poignant stories of young American couples who helped galvanize world opinion while sacrificing their dreams for the bitter, brutal, anti-fascist struggle that proved merely the warm-up for the world war to come.
Hochschild ably explores subtle shades of the conflict that contemporary authors and participants did not want to consider.