Some Thoughts the Spanish Civil War and American Imagination

The TLS had a good review of an interesting book about western Journalists during the Spanish Civil War. It is a good reminder of just how popular the war was as an image of communism, socialism, and fascism. The image would carry that weight for many years into the cold war, long past the books that first spawned those images. Yet those images, too, took on a new life too after World War II, when the cold war began to intensify.

George Orwell, though not American, seemed to best exemplify this. His twin works about the communism, Homage to Catalonia and 1984, are emblematic of an argument that would last until the end of the Cold War. If on the one hand you have the totalitarian state as described in 1984 and Homage to Catalonia , how is it, then, possible to support anything the least bit socialist? Didn’t Orwell show in Homage to Catalonia just how naive he was to support the Soviet side? Although who lost China was a greater rallying cry during the early Cold War, Orwell’s depiction of the perfidy during the Civil War certainly helped crystallize the image of intractableness.The irony has always been that Orwell was still committed to socialism, and throughout Homage to Catalonia is the notion that socialism still has a role in Government.

Hemingway besides giving the reader a grand adventure in For Whom the Bell Tolls, also gives us apolitical novel. The Russian commissar who is so cold and calculating in the novel is a real person and like Orwell, Hemingway is wants everyone to know that the brave were betrayed by the communists. Unlike Orwell, though, he doesn’t really care about defending socialism, just the lost cause and the bravery of man at his finest—at least as Hemingway sees it.

The way a war can change in significance from confused fight between fascism and communism to fight against fascism to fight against communism in the space of ten years is a wonder. It demonstrates a wild swing in politics that I think is sometimes lost when thinking about the American books of that time.