The Spanish Civil War: A Very Short Introduction, by Helen Graham
Short introductions certainly have their place. Despite long having at least some interest in civil wars, I have been surprised to find that some twenty thousand books or more have been written about the Spanish Civil War, nearly all of them by people who took the wrong side. Reading about the Spanish Civil War is a lot like reading about the Civil War in that there are all kid of lost cause myths about the worth of the losing side and beliefs in the moral superiority of people whose political beliefs and behavior were absolutely reprehensible and whose division was a major factor in their defeat. I have next to no sympathy for anti-Christian regimes whose ghoulish behavior about the graves of nuns and other believers demonstrates a total lack of respect for both the dead and the living, and the author is a partisan of those who I lack any sympathy for whatsoever, and that means that this is not a book I can recommend at all. The author wants to write a short guide but cannot muster anything approaching balance, and that makes this book an unworthy addition to a large body of mostly overrated books.
This book is a short one at about 150 pages and its brevity is about the only virtue it has. The book begins with a preface and acknowledgements and a list of maps and illustrations. The book begins, as many books do about this subject, with a discussion of the origins of the war, which discusses the political dislocation that followed the loss of Spain’s colonial empire in 1898 (1). After that there is a look at the rebellion, leftist revolution, and acts of repression on both sides that followed the initial coup attempt by Spain’s generals (2). After that the author discusses the attempts of Spain’s republic to mobilize the leftist activists of the country to defend a corrupt leftist regime and survive the threat of Civil War despite limited support from democracies that rightly saw the Spanish leftists as not being worth their support (3). The author then turns her attention to the making of rebel Spain, which would become all of Spain over the course of the war (4). The author tries to draw sympathy for the besieged of Madrid (5) and then discusses victory and defeat and the wars after the war (6), where the author unsuccessfully tries to consider Franco as being just like Hitler, and then manages to mess up the uses of history (7), before ending with references, suggestions for further reading, a chronology, glossary, and an index.
Among the most fundamental problems of this work (and many other works on the Spanish Civil War) is the way that it views works that present Franco in a fair and reasonable light as being acritical. It takes a great deal of critical seriousness to adopt a view that is counter to a dominant narrative, and when that dominant narrative tends to be as biased as that concerning the Spanish Civil War, it reminds us of the way that projection has always been the stock and trade of the pseudointellectuals of the left. When the only critique allowed is an inveterate hostility to Franco because he was able to successfully combine militarists, far-right extremists, moderates and conservatives, Catholics, and several strains of monarchists in a cohesive unity that avoided the fractious hostility shown by the left and manage to turn that cohesion into a successful military victory in a bitter civil war and several decades of peace despite the losses suffered by isolation. Leftists like the author wish, in vain, that leftist regimes could govern as successfully in the face of international disapproval as Franco did, and that leftist amateur soldiers could fight as well as his army did. But such wishes do not make for successful histories in times like our own.