BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
THE BATTLE FOR SPAIN: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, by Antony Beevor
, November 25, 2006
Dress rehearsal for World War IITHE BATTLE FOR SPAIN:
The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939
by Antony Beevor,
(London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Hardback: 568 pages
Rec. price: $49.95Most accounts of historical conflicts are written by the victors, but most of the accounts of the Spanish Civil War were written by supporters of the vanquished Republicans.
This version of Spanish history has sunk into popular consciousness such that the Republicans are generally seen as "goodies" while General Franco and the Nationalists are seen as "baddies". The civil war has been simplistically depicted - even immortalised in some great works of 20th-century literature - as a struggle between "fascism and dictatorship" and " democracy and freedom".Dictatorial
Similarly, memories of Franco's dictatorial regime, which lasted until his death in 1975, linger in popular consciousness. Obversely, in certain circles, Franco is remembered as the liberator of a Catholic Church, whose clergy and religious followers were massacred by anarchists and Marxists. However, as Antony Beevor's renowned study demonstrates, the truth is far more complex.
Beevor - whose other notable works on military history include Stalingrad
and Berlin: The Downfall, 1945
- originally published this book in 1982 as The Spanish Civil War
. This new, revised version includes extensive use of Soviet archives.
Although his focus is on the military progress of the war, Beevor situates it within the context of Spanish history and contemporary events. The war came about as the result of a failed coup attempt by General Franco and large segments of the Spanish army in response to the left-wing, anti-clerical Republican government being re-elected. This crisis was but the latest in a series of political upheavals that had bedevilled Spain for decades.
After securing large sections of the countryside, the Nationalists soon realised that they lacked the resources to end the war quickly by capturing the capital Madrid.
Franco then directed the campaign to the Basque region in the north. The ethnic Basques, although loyal to the Catholic Church, had sided with the Republicans who had promised them autonomy.
An important turning point in the war was the battle of Teruel in 1938 when Franco was able to split the Republican zone into two. The casualties sustained by the Republic in its attempt to regain its territory in the Battle of the Ebro served to weaken fatally its military forces. The conquest of Catalonia in February 1939 by the Nationalists heralded their imminent victory which was proclaimed on April 1, 1939.
From the Spanish Civil War's inception, most countries were determined not to become involved in the conflict, lest it provide a catalyst for a world war. Franco, however, accepted assistance from Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy which was to be a critical factor in his victory.
The Republicans received support from Stalin's Soviet Union. The International Brigades, composed of foreigners who fought for the Republic, have been immortalised in literature.
Less well known, however, are the smaller bands which fought for the Nationalists. Franco was successful in forging these differing factions into a cohesive force, and this was to be a vital factor in the Nationalists' ultimate victory.
In contrast, supporters of the Republic wasted valuable energy by bickering among themselves at crucial points in the civil war. For example, the Republican cause was especially weakened after pro-Soviet elements suppressed the independent (i.e., anti-Stalinist) Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM).
Particularly striking is Beevor's documentation of the human cost of the Spanish Civil War. Many people were killed, often fairly indiscriminately.
Economically, it was not until the 1950s that Spain was to regain its 1931 standard of living; and it was not until the 1960s, when Spain started to become a popular venue for international tourism, that it began to show signs of significant economic development.