on April 15, 2015
This book could be described as magnificent on several levels. After reading a number of Beevor’s books, I imagine him as a man with a head the size of a mutant giant pumpkin. The level of detail at his command is truly astonishing even though he tries manfully not to burden the reader with trivia.
As is often the case, political polarization led to irresponsible rhetoric in which both sides of the political spectrum were radicalized. This radicalization spiralled Spain into an incredibly destructive civil war—the principal actors were like sleep walkers moving toward a cliff. Or, as Beevor suggests, people took their apocalyptic political visions so seriously that they thought it was better to see the country ruined than to have it go over to the other side.
Essentially all of the data on the Spanish Civil War are now in. The publication of secret Soviet documents and relentless investigations of Spanish historians allow us to see clearly the lies, half-truths, and propaganda in the contemporaneous context of the war and the republican-dominated historical accounts that followed. Beevor treats all this with studied even-handedness. As a result, one is at a loss as to whom to despise most—the ruthless, duplicitous, and vicious left, the nutty, callous, and brutal right, or the hypocritical and impotent middle. The hopelessly romantic and impractical anarchists did predictably poorly in this mix while the criminal elements (many “liberated” from prisons) did rather better.
There is a very perceptive selectionist explanation of how the newspaper accounts were shaped. For example, in places where the reporters spoke no Spanish, the news stories were shaped by the upper classes because only they (not the peasantry) spoke the reporters’ languages. Because reporters were “imbedded” usually on the republican (left) side, they naturally slanted their stories from that perspective; they did so as well because of prior conviction—a number were communists, sometimes secretly, sometimes openly. There was a great deal of media manipulation on both sides. The republicans eventually won the global propaganda war but the nationalists had already won over the constituencies that really mattered—the conservative elite of America and England.
The backwardness of Spain relative to other European countries at this time is remarkable. As just one pathetic example, the Spanish were too proud and too dumb to dig trenches!! There was boundless incompetence, petty infighting with tragic consequences, and a lot of corruption on both sides. The German, Italian, and Russian “advisors” treated Spain like a banana republic governed by idiots.
To see more of my reviews go to: http://vernquinsey.weebly.com/book-reviews.html