To the editor: I enjoyed reading the various articles and reviews concerning the Spanish Civil War (Book Review, July 15). But my concern is for the young people who haven't read anything about this piece of history and are now faced with contradictory views about what really happened. For them it should be stressed that the American left and the American right have much to be ashamed of and therefore they can't be trusted to tell the truth about Spain.
The left happily recounts the alliance between Hitler, Mussolini and Franco and calls the Civil War the first battle of World War II. The right accentuates the terrible influence of the Stalinist advisers from the Soviet Union (and their Spanish henchmen from the Communist Party) and their crimes against the Spanish people. The left glorifies the Lincoln Brigades and the right tries to smear them as Stalinist murderers. But what both sides try to obfuscate is the fact that they were wrong about the Spanish Civil War.
The right (meaning conservatives of all stripes) supported the Franco revolt against the democratically elected government. They also were overtly supportive of Hitler and Mussolini (Henry Ford was on a first-name basis with Hitler, and Henry Luce was a pal and strong supporter of Mussolini). The American right can't admit this, so it consistently stresses the perfidy and crimes of the Stalinists while overlooking the perfidy and crimes of the Fascists. "Spain Betrayed," edited by Ronald Radosh and others, about the "betrayal" of Spain by the Soviet Union's government, is an example of the right wing trying to cover up its crimes.
The left (meaning the Stalinists and their many supporters of every variety) blindly supported whatever the Stalin regime told them to support. The show trial murders in the Soviet Union and Spain were about hypocrisy and the power-mad Stalin. He would tolerate no dissent and he enjoyed having people, especially former allies, falsely accused and then murdered. Sadism, not Marxism, was his true philosophy. But the American left, for the most part, blindly followed Stalin and his henchmen. Many Lincoln Brigade members were used as cannon fodder in suicidal charges if they were suspected of being against Stalin. The murder of Andres Nin (which was predicted by Trotsky) was a crime which went unpunished. But it is indeed nice, as pointed out by Christopher Hitchens in his review, that there is now a street named after Nin in his beloved Barcelona. The children of Catalonia are being taught all the facts, with both sides' crimes exposed. Can our children here in the United States say the same?
Alfred Garcia Ventura
To the editor: Thanks for the fascinating issue on the Spanish Civil War. After 65 years, it continues to stoke passions and represents one of the few enduring topics out of Spain that the West entertains on occasion.
Christopher Hitchens' (Is there anything this guy can't write about with authority?) piece on George Orwell was delightful. How refreshing to be reminded that Orwell's battle for truth and the historical record unfolded in anonymity, poverty and "in the banal effort to meet a quotidian schedule of bills and deadlines."
Stanley G. Payne's piece on "Spain Betrayed" was also entertaining, if all too characteristic of much writing on the subject that overstates, understates or gets things wrong altogether. To argue, for example, that the Soviet role was more expansive than Italy's and Germany's because "Hitler and Mussolini ... largely limited their roles to military assistance" is to forget that what was at issue was a war, not a parliamentary talk shop. Bernard Knox's informative first-hand account sets him right on this question.
In his memoirs, President Manuel Azana insisted that without termination of foreign Fascist intervention, the legally elected Spanish democracy was doomed. The Soviets' military aid was considerably reduced by the blockade German and Italian naval forces maintained and never served to fill the hole left by the "nonintervention" of the French and British democracies.
Payne concludes that the Spanish Civil War was unique and not a prelude to World War II, "for Franco never entered the wider war." Well, Spain was in ruins and Franco didn't have much to work with. What he did have, he used. Payne doubtless has heard of the Blue Battalions, which the dictator sent to do battle alongside Nazi forces. The bombing of civilian populations, Guernica being the most infamous, was rehearsed by Hitler's Condor Division for the first time in Spain, and it's hard to see how fascism might not have been thwarted had the Western democracies acted forcefully rather than hide behind the since-discredited strategy of appeasement. Where does one war begin and another end, anyway? The time elapsed between La Republica's collapse and the Nazi move into the Sudeten province of Czechoslovakia was but a year, with machinations leading up to it beginning just after the fatal fall of Barcelona. Spain's a lot closer to Central Europe than the Pacific Theater, which is considered a part of the larger conflict.
In the end, Payne may be right. The Spanish Civil War was not a prelude to World War II; it was an integral part of it. A scholar of Payne's achievement should know better than to say the "root cause" of the Civil War was that "each of the Spanish leftist parties desired its own form of a 'People's Republic' or all-left Republic, with all conservative political and economic interest liquidated." Roots go much deeper than the precipitating factor isolated by Payne. More significant was Philip II's counter-reformation, personified by the Catholic Inquisition and the stifled, Gothic society that grew out of it. Now that's a root that runs deep.
Stephen Siciliano Los Angeles
To the editor: Stanley G. Payne and Christopher Hitchens were not as emphatic as they might have been about the principal antagonists and villains of the Spanish Civil War: the Fascists! A good understanding of the Spanish conflict is not best observed as an occasion for interpretation of Soviet international politics or communist strategy. Instead it is an opportunity to examine the specific circumstances of Spanish society at the time and the failings, across a broad allied front, that may have contributed to the triumph of fascism in Spain.
The political right has always attempted to characterize the genuine enemies of Spain as the Communists, while a part of the political left, have long wanted to blame the Spanish Communist Party for defeat. Their role has frequently been labeled a kind of betrayal, absolving all others. Those who criticize the Communists never catalog the endless blunders and intransigence of the anarchists, anarcho-syndicalist, socialists and others on the Republican side.
The experiences of George Orwell in Spain are often cited as bearing witness to communist excesses during the war. Orwell, though specific in his criticism of the Communists, tried to stay above the level of too much internecine argument. He is clear about this in his essay "Looking Back on the Spanish War."
As for the Soviets, their material support for the war against fascism in Spain was significant, while the Western democracies did nothing. Payne acknowledges that Soviet arms helped save Madrid in the early months of the war, but he is quick to believe anything else, as long as it is anti-communist. While Hitchens seems to appreciate Orwell's cautious summary of Spanish politics, he too grasps at anything in "Spain Betrayed" that builds a case against the Communists. Neither reviewer ever mention the obvious: that without the Communists and Soviet support, a Franco victory would have come much more quickly. And that no change in Communist behavior in Spain was likely to produce a Republican success.
Orwell said, "The broad truth about the war is simple enough. The Spanish bourgeoisie saw their chance of crushing the labour movement, and took it, aided by the Nazis and by the forces of reaction all over the world. It is doubtful whether more than that will ever be established."
Orwell was right, or at least correct that this must be understood before undertaking more complex arguments. And in an era when few know much about the Spanish Civil War, it is important to write about it with discretion, emphasizing the broad truths.
To the editor: Ronan Bennett makes excellent points in his review of "The Assassination of Lumumba" (Book Review, July 15) on the evils committed by Belgians in the Congo in the 19th century and in their self-serving statements on leaving Congo.
However, I take strong issue with his criticism of Belgium sending in paratroopers within a few days of independence.
I was in Kinshasa at the time when law and order completely broke down. The Force Publique raped and murdered rather than protected Belgians trying to flee the country. Susan Brownmiller in her "Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape" quotes extensively from my first-hand reports for the American Universities Field Staff.
Before the paratroopers came in, I went for a walk with an Israeli colonel. After a few blocks I got nervous with the situation and turned back to the hotel. The officer continued and was shot dead at the next corner.
Lumumba had every reason to fight for independence. His subsequent murder with American connivance is not forgivable. Nor do I forgive the Belgians I saw on the mezzanine of the airport building spitting on Lumumba (and myself) and calling him a "macaque" or monkey.
The intervention of the Belgian paratroopers, long before the United Nations could act, saved countless lives among the white and black citizens of Kinshasa and other Congolese cities.
But the general theme of the review is on target. In 1955 I heard Gov. General Ryckmanns warn the assembly of white colonialists that they must face up to independence within 50 years! Only five years later, Ryckmanns' son saved the lives of many Belgian women and children.