The Battle For Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, by Antony Beevor
It seems that almost in spite of himself the author has created a fair-minded if not particularly graciously so account of the Spanish Civil War. Unless you have read about the subject at some length, it is impossible to convey just how monotonously biased most histories of the Spanish Civil War are in favoring the leftists and in going out of their way to demonize Franco and the nationalists. Even if this author is by no means favorable to Franco, he is at least intellectually honest enough to admit that there was a rough balance in the behavior of the two sides and in the fears that both sides had and in the way that ordinary conservatives were inflamed by extremist radicalism on the left. The author also points out the atrocities on the left and makes it clear that Spain would have been even worse under Marxist domination than it was under Franco, with poverty and isolation and a loss of political freedom for decades longer than ended up being the case. And the author himself emphasizes that the winning side of civil wars typically kills more than the loser because of the repercussions of victory and cleansing the nation of hostile elements, which takes the sting out of a great many of the leftist propaganda effort against Franco’s regime.
This book is seven parts long with 38 chapters that extends for more than 400 pages. It is a hefty book on a worthy subject. The author begins with a list of illustrations, maps, acknowledgements, an introduction, a list of political parties, groupings, and organizations in the Second Spanish Republic, and a discussion of initials. After that there are five chapters that discuss Old Spain and the Second Republic (I) with a look at monarchism (1), the royal exist (2), the Second Republic (3), the Popular Front (4), and the fatal paradox of the Republic (5). After that there are seven chapters on the War of the Two Spains (II), including the rise of the the generals (6), the struggle for control (7), the red (8) and white terrors (9), the nationalist (10) and republican (11) zones, and the difference between the Army of Africa and the People’s militias (12). The author turns his attention to the internationalization of the conflict (III), with a look at the arms trade (13), sovereign states (14), the Soviet Union’s relationship with the Spanish Republic (15), the international brigades and Soviet advisers (16), and the Battle for Madrid (17). The fourth part of the book then covers Spain as a proxy World War (IV), with chapters on the metamorphosis of the war (18), the battles of the Jarama and Guadalajara (19), the war in the North (20), and the propaganda war (21). After this comes a discussion of the internal tensions of the Republic (V), with chapters on the struggle for power in the Republican zone (22), the civil war within the Civil War in Catalonia (23), the Battle of Brunete (24), the beleaguered republic (25), the war in Aragon (26), and the destruction of the Northern front (27). After that the author discusses the route to disaster (VI), including the battle of Teruel (28), the destruction of hopes for peace (29), the call for the rise of Spain (30), the battle of the Ebro (31), the European crisis that led to the Soviet Union pulling back its advisers (32), the fall of Catalonia (33), and the collapse of the Republic (34). Finally, the author closes with a discussion of the aftermath of the war (VIII) with chapters on the new Spain that followed victory (35), the exiles and the Second World War (36), the unfinished war (37), and various lost causes (38), followed by a bibliography, sources, notes, and an index.
If you are looking for a one-volume book of the Spanish Civil War that strives to be fair even if it is not perfect, this is certainly a good one. If the author’s conclusions are not always wise–such as his approach of blaming the lack of friendly approach to the press on the part of Nationalists for their bad press, rather than viewing the negative attitude as a response to the leftist bias of journos even in the early 20th century–this book’s balanced structure makes it a work that is well worth respecting. And that respect is not something that comes lightly. This book is a challenging read given its contents and the author goes into a lot of the context of the Spanish Civil War in a way that demonstrates the mistakes made by the left in assuming a narrow victory is a mandate for sweeping revolutionary change that prompted a willingness on the part of the right to coalesce behind a military coup that turned into a much more serious civil war. The author’s approach at least makes it possible to learn some lessons and that makes it a cut above the rest in a crowded field of leftist propaganda efforts.