viernes, 4 de marzo de 2011

The Battle For Spain by Anthony Beevor

Occasionally, very rarely in fact, one comes across a thoroughly outstanding book. From beginning to end it’s authoritative, clearly written, lucid and somehow both committed and balanced. Eventually such a work will take a clear position, but it will never approach polemic. Such books are indeed rare, but Anthony Beevor’s The Battle For Spain is without doubt one of these few great works.

The Battle For Spain chronicles the Spanish Civil War, 1936-9. Anthony Beevor examines the political, economic and social background of the country prior to the war. He identifies historical context and offers explanation of why Spain found itself in a position of near-irredeemable political impasse in the 1930s. He also examines the movements, parties and associations that existed at the start of the struggle, alongside institutions such as the Church and monarchy that also played significant roles.

So well portrayed is all the in-fighting, intrigue and manoeuvring that we feel we almost get to know the characters involved. The reader constantly has to remember that this is not mere fiction. Its immediacy almost tricks us into thinking that these events might be just some thought-up plot created merely to keep us involved. But then the casualty figures start to stack up and we are reminded by the executions and the refugees that this is a bleak and stark reality. The story’s detail may come as a surprise to the casual reader who remains unaware of just how intense and bloody this conflict was.

Anthony Beevor also provides the essential geopolitical context of the Spanish Civil War. He identifies how the rise of fascism and communism in the years preceding the war both played their perhaps inevitable roles by backing their favoured sides in the conflict. It was inevitable in a Europe that was already unstable. Spain was a prize that would add weight to any interest.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Battle For Spain is its description of the role played by the northern Carlists. Much has been written about the Falange, the POUM anarchists and the communists. But little usually emerges about the religious conformists who played a significant role on the Nationalist side.

The character of Franco eventually comes to dominate proceedings. He is revealed as obviously victorious and without peer, but he also sometimes dithers, lacks judgment and seeks rather unsuccessfully to play off one side against another. He is not alone, however, in that the British and the French displayed the same skills or ineptitudes, depending on which side you take.

But where The Battle For Spain excels is in its catalogue of the horrid events of the war. The detail of Anthony Beevor’s account really brings out the confusion of conflict alongside the luck and opportunism on the one hand and incompetence and chance on the other. It’s a cocktail of these that grant both victory and defeat. Just ask the dead, the wounded and the refugeed.

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