Stephen Loosley

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

The bar­bar­ity of the Span­ish Civil War, in which both Repub­li­can and Na­tion­al­ist (fas­cist) forces com­mit­ted wide­spread atroc­i­ties, is brought graph­i­cally into fo­cus by au­thor Adam Hochschild in a dis­cus­sion of the fate of Repub­li­can women cap­tured by Gen­eral Fran­cisco Franco’s troops.

Rape was em­ployed as a weapon of war by the fas­cists, with of­fi­cers es­pe­cially en­cour­ag­ing their Moor­ish troops. Hochschild writes about an in­ci­dent wit­nessed and re­ported by John T. Whitaker, a cor­re­spon­dent with the New York Her­ald Tri­bune. Whitaker was with Na­tion­al­ist troops at a cross­roads on the main road to Madrid. Two teenage girls were brought be­fore a ma­jor. Their only crime: one of them, a tex­tile fac­tory worker, was car­ry­ing a union card.

Af­ter in­ter­ro­gat­ing them, the ma­jor “had them taken into a small school­house where some 40 Moor­ish sol­diers were rest­ing. As they reached the door­way an ulu­lat­ing cry rose from the Moors within’’.

Whitaker “stood hor­ri­fied in help­less anger”. When he protested, the ma­jor replied, “Oh, they’ll not live more than four hours.”

On the Repub­li­can side, bru­tal killings of real and per­ceived en­e­mies were rou­tine in the months fol­low­ing Franco’s mil­i­tary re­volt on July 17, 1936, against the demo­cratic gov­ern­ment in Madrid, a left-wing coali­tion un­der the um­brella of the Pop­u­lar Front. In par­tic­u­lar, Span­ish an­ar­chists, a prom­i­nent po­lit­i­cal force in Cat­alo­nia, were known for vi­o­lence.

“The peo­ple tar­geted in these early months were Na­tion­al­ist sup­port­ers of all sorts: landown­ers, shop­keep­ers, busi­ness­men — par­tic­u­larly those known for act­ing harshly to­ward the poor,’’ Hochschild writes.

“As in the French Rev­o­lu­tion, the Catholic clergy was also a prime tar­get … The Church was seen as a hand-maiden of the big em­ploy­ers and land­lords, promis­ing abun­dance in the next world to work­ers de­nied their fair share in this one. Al­to­gether, nearly 7000 clergy were put to death, one of the largest such mas­sacres in mod­ern times”.

It was to this bru­tal con­flict that thou­sands of young men and women from around the world were ir­re­sistibly drawn. Most de­clared for the re­formist Span­ish Repub­lic, with its rad­i­cal pro­grams of na­tion­al­i­sa­tion and re­dis­tri­bu­tion, in­clud­ing sev­eral dozen Aus­tralians, who are com­mem­o­rated in a small mon­u­ment by the shores of Lake Bur­ley Grif­fin in Can­berra.

It is with the Amer­i­can vol­un­teers, who made up the Abra­ham Lin­coln and Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton bat­tal­ions of the XV In­ter­na­tional Bri­gade, that Hochschild is mostly con­cerned in Spain in Our Hearts.

The au­thor teaches jour­nal­ism at the Uni- Spain In Our Hearts: Amer­i­cans in the Span­ish Civil War 1936-1939 By Adam Hochschild Macmil­lan, 352pp, $34.99

Repub­li­cans bat­tle for the Al­cazar in Toledo in 1936, left; Ernest Hem­ing­way flanked by fel­low writ­ers Ilya Ehren­burg and Gus­tav Re­gler in Spain in 1937, right

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