WHEN THE HEROICS of the Spanish Civil War come up — Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, Hemingway’s fictions or the effusions of various poets — there is a very large and usually unremarked elephant in the room: Orwell, who actually fought, and Hemingway who wrote about fighting, were on the wrong side.
The strategic point is simple: had the Stalinists won war, then during the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact from 1939 to mid-1941, they would have allowed Hitler to cross Spain and seize Gibraltar. Had this happened, the British forces in the Mediterranean, including the British Empire’s last remaining field army in action, would have been cut off. The British army and fleet could probably have been supplied through the Suez Canal, at least for a while, but their positions would have been immeasurably weakened, and the enemy’s position immeasurably strengthened.
There would have been no Force H to sally forth from Gibraltar to stop the Bismarck massacring the Atlantic convoys, eventually the Middle-East oilfields and the Suez Canal would quite likely have fallen into Nazi hands, as would the Jewish population of what would become Israel. Fascism and Nazism would have ruled the Mediterranean and there would have been little to stop them reaching the shores of the Indian Ocean, and perhaps eventually joining up in India with the Japanese. The chances would have greatly increased that Hitler would have won the war, and even if America had come in before that, eventual victory for the allies would have been much more costly. As it was, Franco refused to allow Hitler to attack Gibraltar through Spain, though Hitler met him and harangued him for hours. Franco also later gave the Allies at least passive help in the “Torch” landings on North Africa. Some Franco diplomats were active (unlike the Vichy French) is saving Jews from the Holocaust by issuing them false passports.
It is an interesting exercise to put oneself in Franco’s place — leader of a desperately weak, divided and exhausted country - and wonder if one would have done so well against Hitler — who was not only, by all accounts, spell-bindingly persuasive, but also master of the mightiest Army the world had ever seen, who had smashed France flat in a month and whose flag flew from North Cape in the Arctic to Africa.
SO MUCH HAS LONG BEEN known by any person reasonably historically literate. However, until I read Professor Carroll’s The Last Crusade: Spain 1936, I did not realize the full moral dimension of how wrong Orwell, Hemingway and the rest were. They could not reasonably have been expected to foresee the Hitler-Stalin pact or know that they were fighting to install a government which would have allied with Hitler. Orwell bravely defied the Stalinists who took over the Republican side, but long before that, right from the beginning of the war, the Republicans had been characterized by an insane savagery recalling the anti-Christian persecutions of Diocletian and anticipating the bestialities of the Mau-Mau and the Totenkopf SS.
This was not aberrant behavior by undisciplined mobs, but deliberate and directed most specifically against Christianity (some liberal Republican politicians were mildly distressed by the murder of their secular opposite numbers, but showed no such distress at the murder of religious). While the Republican side gradually came under the control of Moscow-directed Stalinist communists, its leadership in the early part, when the worst anti-Christian massacres took place, was a mixture of old-guard liberal parliamentarians, anarchists, Trotskyites and other non-Party communists of various factions, as well as disciplined Communist Party members, united by anti-Christian fanaticism. There is no doubt that in the event of a Stalinist victory in Spain, in addition to the disastrous geo-political consequences, the ensuing domestic blood bath would have been of an order of magnitude greater than that which actually occurred.
According to Carroll, 6,832 Catholic priests and other religious, including 283 nuns, were murdered in the territory of the Spanish Republic during the war, most of whom, according to another scholar, Stanley Payne, were killed without even “the simulacrum of condemnation by revolutionary tribunals.” This was the greatest clerical blood-letting in the history of the Catholic Church. About 12% of the entire Catholic clergy of Spain and about a quarter of those caught in the Republican zone were murdered. Probably hundreds of thousands of lay people were killed for observing Christian worship or for trying to shelter priests and nuns. Many of the killings were accompanied with torture. In his autobiography Approach March, British politician Julian Amery, of Jewish background, recalls visiting territory captured from the Republican forces and the evidence of their literally Satanic, death-obsessed, nihilism. The extent to which Christianity was targeted is also indicated by the fact that nearly half of Spain’s 40,000 churches were destroyed, this in a European country in the 20th Century which a deep Catholic heritage. For Professor Carroll to have titled this book The Last Crusade is no misnomer.
By the time the Stalinists took over the Republican side there were not many religious left to kill in the territory they controlled, so the anti-clerical massacres were fewer and in any case they turned much of their energy to killing their comrades on the non-Stalinist left, such as Orwell’s formation, the POUM.
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