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The Spanish Civil War: A New History

David Gress

"¿Quién no es mejor que su propia biografía?"
“Who isn’t better than his own biography?”
Anonymous Spaniard

"Innocence and honor on both sides is the special pathos and probably the only broad truth of the Civil War.”
William P. Clancy, literary historian

“If the Right wins, there will be no way back; we will be moving toward open civil war.  Let not the Right consider this a threat; it is a warning.  Those on the Right know already that we do not say things just to say them; we say them because we intend in our hearts and minds to carry them out.”
Francisco Largo Caballero, Socialist leader, called “the Spanish Lenin”, in January 1936

“The country was in a condition of open revolution.  Neither life nor property was safe.  It is absolutely ridiculous to explain all this by simple-minded references to feudalism or other superficial nonsense so often found in books about Spain in that time.  It was not only the master of thousands of acres granted to his ancestors by King Tom the Long-forgotten who saw his house invaded and his cattle left starving in fields shorn of crops.  It was the humble doctor or Madrid lawyer with a residence of four small rooms and a tiny plot of land whose house was occupied by farm-hands lacking neither lodging nor food, claiming the right to harvest his fruit using the labor of ten to do the work of one and the right to stay in his house until they were finished.”
Salvador de Madariaga, refugee historian, in 1964, about the spring of 1936

“When Franco appeared on the horizon of national hope with his sword raised, Spain no longer had a state nor any form of legality.”
Alejandro Lerroux, Radical leader, in summer 1936

Opening vignette
Madrid, March 1939

The war was almost over.  In Madrid, a coalition of anticommunist Republicans broke with the communist-controlled Popular Front government, itself in flight towards the French border following the fall of Barcelona in late January.  This coalition fought a mini-civil war against Communist troops in Madrid, established a Military Council in defiance of the Popular Front, and began negotiating with Francisco Franco, head of the Nationalist government and commander-in-chief of the forces which, after having been stalled at the gates of Madrid since December 1936, were finally on the move into the capital.

Before these negotiations could result in an armistice, Nationalist troops were well within city limits.  On March 26, Gen. Juan Yagüe’s Moroccan veterans broke the Republican lines at Peñarroya.  Col. Adolfo Prada Vaquero, commanding the remnants of the Army of the Center, offered its surrender to Col. Eduardo Losas Camañas, commanding the 16th Nationalist Division.  Losas asked Prada and his delegation to appear at his command post in the medical center of the Ciudad Universitaria on the 27th at one p.m.

Late on the 26th, with the war in Madrid still continuing, the head of the Military Council, Col. Segismundo Casado, left his headquarters in the Ministry of Finance to begin his flight to the sea and abroad, safe from both Nationalist and Communist reprisals.  Before leaving, he ran into the new commander of II Army Corps, Lt. Col. Joaquín Zulueta.  Casado later wrote: “He presented himself in my office, seeming very perturbed.  He told me that some of his batallions had wandered into no-man’s-land and were fraternizing with the Nationalists with guitar-playing, wine, dancing and singing.  To get them back to his own trenches, Lt. Col. Zulueta went under flag of truce to the Nationalist commander in the Medical Center, Losas, who explained that to try to do that was useless, because the soldiers had made peace.”

The historian and memorialist Ricardo de la Cierva calls this “the most incredible and beautiful moment of the Civil War.”

Spain, a divided country?

Divided by geography: the Iberian peninsula is unlike any other region of Europe.  Its average elevation is 1000 ft.  Its central portion is a huge plateau with extremes of climate and divided into regions by mountain ranges often impassable in winter before the age of high-speed railroads and freeways.  No other European people has faced comparable differences between coast and interior, north and south, east and west, valley and mountain, which makes Spain’s long history as a unified and stable state – a history usually forgotten and, if remembered, vilified – all the more extraordinary.

Divided by regionalism and nationalism: since the late 1800s, ideologues of separatism in Vascongadas (the Basque country) and Catalonia, and to a lesser extent in other regions, have argued that the Spanish are not a single people, that Basques and Catalans are not Spaniards, and that these regions therefore deserve special treatment and self-government.  In both the Basque country and Catalonia, separatist politicians sought alliance with the Socialists to foment civil war in the 1930s.  Needless to say, most Basques and Catalans do not at all agree that they are not Spaniards or that their home regions are not parts of Spain.

Divided by politics: the rise of messianic political movements from the late 19th century on, promising redemption on Earth through violent or at least drastic revolution, took in Spain a particular form.  Only in Spain did a strong anarchist movement survive into the 20th century.  Only in Spain, therefore, was the revolutionary impulse divided into mutually quarreling factions: anarchists, socialists, communists, and Catalan nationalists.  Also characteristic of Spanish revolutionary movements was their ideological naïveté.  Spain never produced a leading revolutionary thinker; the thoughts and actions of Spanish revolutionaries were usually guided by primitive notions.

Despite these divisions, Spain from the time of the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella to 1808, and again from 1874-1931, enjoyed a history of stability and order unrivalled by any other European nation.  Contrary to the “black legend” of Spanish ignorance and superstition, Spain in 1600 had more universities relative to its population than any other country, not to speak of Spanish art and literature, which flourished not just in the Golden Age of the 1600s, but also, and strongly, in the early 20th century.


Note on Spanish nomenclature, usages adopted in the book, abbreviations, acknowledgments.

The first four chapters, essential to understanding the condition of Spain in the 1930s, provide needed background.  A fault of many histories of the Civil War is that they largely ignore this back story, reducing their account of Spain before 1936 to one of poverty, feudalism, and the bigotry and arrogance of the mighty, as if the ruling class of an ancient and proud people would deliberately intend to oppress and impoverish its fellow-countrymen for no good reason.  Bigotry and unjust oppression certainly occurred but were hardly worse than in other countries.  One is led to conclude from conventional accounts that the Civil War was a war of the just – the Left, those who wanted liberation and progress – against the unjust – the defenders of privilege, clerical power, and ignorance.  This is a caricature, and it is necessary to describe the back story in order that the real story, that of the conflicts leading up to and expressed in the Civil War, be honest.

The fifth chapter tells the story of 1935-36 through the statements and actions of the leading figures of the various camps.  It establishes that there was no deep-seated right-wing or Fascist plot to overthrow the Republic, but that the Republic was disintegrating for other reasons, notably the leftist desire to turn it into something else, either an anarchist utopia or a Soviet-style totalitarian state.  The military plot that matured during 1936 matured in step with the collapse of order and was not its cause.

Chapter 1: A Backward Country?

In 1800, Spain had enjoyed 300 years of internal stability.  It was about half as rich as France, but was not slipping behind, rather growing at the same rate as other European nations. The French invasion of 1808-1813 ended this era and led to 60 years of political and social chaos which retarded growth and exacerbated the three great burdens of Spanish society: illiteracy, hunger, and poverty.  The era of chaos culminated in the disastrous First Republic of 1873-4, the work of excitable liberal ideologues of a peculiarly Spanish variety.

Chapter 2: The First Restoration 1874-1923

The restored monarchy put Spain back on the path of gradual development toward political liberty and economic progress.  The much-maligned turno system of political alternation between pre-selected candidates of liberal or conservative persuasion actually guaranteed stability for all its relative corruption.  At the same time, progressive intellectuals and businessmen established institutions of education and charity; a brilliant example was the Catalan textile magnate Eusebí Güell’s workers’ town near Barcelona.  In the same period, however, the political polarization that did so much to destroy Spanish democracy under the Second Republic began to take on its characteristic shape.  Spanish liberalism split between moderates and exaltados, the latter inspired by the Jacobins of the French Revolution.  Workers’ and peasants’ movements split into anarchist and socialist variants, with Spanish anarchism demonstrating a capacity for survival and violence unmatched elsewhere.  Radical nationalisms in the Basque country and Catalonia won over many intellectuals, activists, and simple bandits.  The loss of Cuba and the Philippines in the Spanish-American War of 1898 traumatized the country, although its effects were more modest than left-wing historians have admitted.  Gradual progress continued, as measured by the decline of hunger as a cause of death to almost nil in 1930.

Chapter 3: Dictatorship and Republic 1923-1934

The so-called “´98 generation” of politicians, artists, and intellectuals – including names such as Pablo Picasso, Pio Baroja, Azorín, Ramón del Valle-Inclán, Ramiro de Maeztu and the philosophers Miguel de Unamuno and José Ortega y Gasset -- reached the peak of its influence in the culturally vital years of the 1910s to early 1930s.  The generation also included politicians such as Manuel Azaña, Alejandro Lerroux and the Republic’s first president, Niceto Alcalá-Zamora.  The chapter introduces these and other characters who were to play leading roles in the drama that followed.  The dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera was mild and stabilizing; the Socialist party, PSOE, collaborated, temporarily calming its own revolutionary impulses.  In 1930, the king dismissed Primo de Rivera, encouraging leftists to conspire to overthrow the government; the conspiracy failed, but the governments had lost their nerve.  In April 1931, municipal elections returned a majority of monarchist town councils, yet the king’s advisors persuaded him to abdicate.  The Second Republic was thus born under a shadow of illegitimacy and as the child of people who, like Azaña, held themselves called to rule whatever the popular will.

Chapter 4: Training for Civil War: October 1934

Socialist leaders such as Francisco Largo Caballero, known as “the Spanish Lenin,” and Indalecio Prieto wished for violent revolution on the Bolshevik model to speed the social and political transformation they deemed desirable.  When center-right parties won the elections of November 1933, Largo and the PSOE began organizing a revolutionary uprising in alliance with the Catalan separatists under Luis Companys who controlled the regional government, the Generalidad, in Barcelona.  They had the support of Azaña and other left republicans.  In October 1934, using as pretext that the right-wing alliance, CEDA, the largest party in the Parliament, had joined the government, socialists and separatists launched that revolution, which failed because “the masses” stayed home, except in Asturias, where the mini-civil war continued for two weeks.  Despite their defeat, Largo, Companys and their allies launched a hugely successful, world-wide propaganda campaign claiming enormous numbers of dead and alleging brutality by the government forces commanded by Francisco Franco, the 41-year old Chief of Staff of the army.  They conceived the attempt as the first act of civil war, a war launched openly by the Left, not the Right.  And the propaganda campaign mobilized leftist intellectuals across the world in a war of words that both predated and outlasted the war itself.

Chapter 5: “Fear engenders hate” (Azaña)

In late 1935, Alcalá-Zamora, the supposedly conservative president, joined forces with the Left to unseat the center-right government of Alejandro Lerroux, exploiting a small-scale corruption scandal known as the straperlo.  This bizarre episode would have been a comical footnote to history had it not resulted in the end of the last government with a chance to hold the country together.  In the following, dubiously legitimate, elections the leftist Popular Front claimed victory and a huge majority in the Cortes (parliament).  Leftist agitators and gunmen took to the streets, burning churches and libraries and killing political opponents.  Right-wing groups responded feebly, again counter to the usual accounts which portray a non-existent “Fascist” threat.  Spain had few Fascists; even the Falange movement led by José Antonio Primo de Rivera, which had no members in the Cortes, was dubiously Fascist; José Antonio himself was jailed and later executed by the Popular Front government.  Early on July 12, gunmen associated with Prieto assassinated a leading monarchist, José Calvo Sotelo.  For many Catholics and conservatives, this was the last straw, although some historians such as Stanley Payne believe that decisive action by the government could yet have saved the peace.  Such action was not forthcoming, however, and a few days later, the military conspiracy of Gen. Emilio Mola recruited a long-standing opponent of rebellion, Francisco Franco, now commanding the Spanish forces in the Canary Islands.  On July 17, troops loyal to Franco defied government forces in Morocco; the Civil War had begun, or rather resumed.  The Republic, too, was at an end.  The government calling itself Republican for the duration of the war was in fact a semi-totalitarian Popular Front regime controlled increasingly by the Communists.  One of the first acts of this regime in response to Franco’s uprising was to order the socialist, Communist, anarchist, and other leftist militias armed.  Peace, in the words of the conservative leader José María Gil-Robles, had become impossible.

The Civil War
Military operations, political intrigues, social chaos

Chapter 6: Francisco Franco

One of the most striking features of mainstream writing on the Civil War and the Franco regime is its ineradicable and extremely emotional hatred of and contempt for the man.  This is something rationally inexplicable, inasmuch as Franco as head of state was a vastly milder dictator than the leftist dictators admired by many Franco-hating intellectuals.  Another odd feature is that much mainstream writing, such as that of the British historian Paul Preston, portrays him as a bloody and simple-minded opportunist; odd, because that implies that the Left, by definition wiser and more far-seeing than others, was defeated by a bumbling fool and an idiot.  The record shows a more interesting and multifaceted character, whose earlier life and attitudes this chapter investigates.

Chapter 7: The Forces in Being

Prieto was entirely right when he, in a speech in response to the military uprising, declared its chances to be virtually nil.  The Popular Front government controlled most of peninsular Spain and almost all its industry and wealth.  The armed militias might not be worth much in combat, but they were numerous, and many military units had not joined Franco and Mola, nor had the navy.  The so-called Republic’s might was overwhelming, rather as that of the North in the American Civil War.  Unlike the U.S. North, however, Popular Front Spain was torn by debilitating internal conflicts between Communists, Socialists, anarchists, and Basque and Catalan nationalists.  Still, Franco’s and Mola’s uprising seemed a quixotic gesture – appropriate to Spanish pride, but doomed to fail.  Yet it did not.  The chapter details the military and economic resources of the two sides at the start of the conflict and explores the reasons that Prieto’s prediction failed to come true.  It also introduces the leading figures in the Nationalist camp.

Chapter 8: Revolutionary Spain

One of the first and most famous casualties of the war was the poet Federico García Lorca.  He became a mythical figure of the Left; the true story of his unhappy end, presented here, paints a different picture.  He spent his last days in the home of a close friend, who happened to be a Falangist.  The chapter continues with an account of events in Popular Front Spain in the first months of the war.  Anarchists, Communists, Catalan nationalists, and many Socialists thought the hour of revolution had struck.  Farms and factories were occupied by workers.  Production collapsed and hunger reappeared.  In September, the government, now led by Francisco Largo Caballero, known as “the Spanish Lenin,” gave the gold reserves of the Bank of Spain to Joseph Stalin in return for military aid.  The chapter tells the true story of this “vast fraud,” as Prieto called it, and of the first huge expropriations of private wealth, as well as of the persecutions and killings of priests, monks, and nuns.  The most decisive event of the early fall, however, was the formation of the People’s Army on the remnants of the old.  Without this army, the Republic would have lost in 1936 despite its material superiority.  The new army was modelled on the Soviet Red Army and, like its model, staffed with political commissars supplied by the Communist Party or its sympathizers.  By November, the new army had largely replaced the willing but incompetent militias in combat.  All knew now the war would not be a brief one.

Chapter 9: The War of the Columns (July-October 1936)

As neither side possessed forces strong enough to form continuous fronts, the first months were those of “the war of the columns”, groups of men moving forward across the land, seizing towns and strongpoints.  In this war, Franco’s columns were spectacularly successful.  Few in number, but strong in morale, they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in defiance of massive Republican superiority at sea and moved 300 miles north to join forces with Mola.  They then turned toward Madrid, but first had to relieve Toledo, the ancient capital, where Col. José Moscardó quixotically (this Hispanic adverb seems particularly appropriate) had occupied the Alcázar or citadel, which was in no state of defense, and which he held heroically against great odds.  The defense of the Alcázar and the proud final communiqué, “sin novedad en Alcázar”, “no news from the Alcázar”, created a Nationalist legend to stand beside the Popular Front legends of García Lorca, Guernica, or the defense of Madrid (see below).  Immediately following the relief of Toledo, the military junta proclaimed Franco head of the Spanish state, not just for the duration of the war, but indefinitely.

Chapter 10: Foreign Intervention

A persistent legend claims that Franco won because he was supplied with arms and soldiers by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.  This is false.  Mussolini had promised aid to the military uprising, and Hitler sent a few planes in 1936, but these were not decisive, nor were the Italian ground troops or German squadrons that later arrived.  Neither were the International Brigades fighting for the Popular Front or Joseph Stalin’s support of that regime, except in one instance, the defense of Madrid in November 1936, where Soviet tanks helped repel weak Nationalist attacks.  Franco persuaded the Germans and Italians to sell on credit and rarely permitted their representatives to interfere either in combat operations or in his government, again unlike the Popular Front, where Stalin’s agents gained ever greater influence.  One type of foreign involvement may well have been vital in ensuring Franco’s survival: the Norwegian-born Thorkild Rieber, president of Texaco and admirer of Franco, sent the Nationalists oil on credit, which was unheard-of in the business, throughout the war.  Another type of foreign intervention was that of the intellectuals, such as Ernest Hemingway or André Malraux, a self-appointed combat pilot described by the Communist chief of the Republican Air Force as a man “with no idea at all of what flying means”.

Chapter 11: The First Battle of Madrid, November 1936-February 1937

“¡No pasarán!” “They shall not pass!” was a slogan that went round the world.  The reality was different, no matter what Ernest Hemingway or other foreign sympathizers of the Popular Front wrote.  The populace of Madrid did not stand shoulder to shoulder with the regime in determined resistance to “Fascists”; in fact, Popular Front men massacred over 6,000 real or alleged Franco sympathizers in the jails of Madrid in true Bolshevik fashion.  One of them, the later Communist leader Santiago Carrillo, continues to lie about his role in these killings.  The chapter details the operations around Madrid during these critical months.  The Popular Front government fled to Valencia, and later to Barcelona, but the fronts held, and in February the People’s Army inflicted a massive defeat on the Italian expeditionary force in the Guadalajara area.  The Italians, emboldened by the easy conquest of Málaga, launched a midwinter offensive without securing their flanks and were crushed.  Nationalists and Leftists agreed: Italians cannot stand up to Spaniards.

Chapter 12: The Other Civil War, Barcelona Winter and Spring 1937

In Popular Front Spain, the Communists and their front men increased their hold on the government while maintaining the fiction that it was a democratic, Republican regime.  Largo Caballero had in the meantime become a liability to Stalin and his agents; with Prieto’s support, which he later regretted, they replaced him with the minister of finance, a doctor named Juan Negrín whose policy was one of close collaboration with the Soviet Union.  The next step was to tame the wild revolutionaries and, under the instruction of Soviet agents of the NKVD, to regularize a Soviet-type regime.  The anarchists, numerous in Catalonia, objected.  Their opposition led to a civil war within the civil war, the events recorded by George Orwell, in which the regime bloodily suppressed the anarchists, assassinating their leading figures, most famously Andrés Nin.  Azaña, now an increasingly impotent president, accurately described the disorder and violence of the “Republic” at war in his book The Soirée of Benicarló.  He was always better at analyzing, which he did brilliantly, than at governing.

Chapter 13: Guernica and the Northern Campaign, Spring 1937

Thanks to Pablo Picasso’s propagandistic painting and to an orchestrated campaign of disinformation, the German air raid on the Basque town of Guernica in April 1937 became the central symbol of senseless Fascist brutality.  The real story is different and is the centerpiece of this chapter.  In March, Franco made the decision that won the war when he voted to break off the attacks in the center and to move on the Basque country and Asturias with the important industries and ports of Bilbao and Santander.  In the following weeks, Franco consolidated his government with a view to winning the war and to postwar reconstruction.  The contrast to the vicious infighting and Soviet influence in Popular Front Spain could not be starker.  As part of the consolidation, the Falange was officially designated the centerpiece of the Nationalist movement; this was in fact purely ceremonial.  Franco remained averse to overt ideologies of any kind.

Chapter 14: The Popular Front Counterattacks, Summer 1937

When Bilbao fell on June 30, Prieto realized the war was lost.  Without the North, the Popular Front no longer controlled all heavy industry or the chief centers of population.  To relieve the pressure on the North, Negrín’s government launched attacks on Brunete and Zaragoza in the Center and Northeast.  Both failed.  The chapter recounts the operations of the summer and early fall, ending in the complete control of the North coast by the Nationalists.

Chapter 15: The War of the Intellectuals

Ernest Hemingway was only once at the front, participating in a minor clash at La Granja in summer 1937 which he romanticized in For Whom the Bell Tolls.  Hemingway was the archetypal Popular Front sympathizer; the most famous of a long list of international intellectuals who turned the civil war into a battle of ideologies, of Fascists against democrats.  As the book has shown and will continue to show, this is a travesty which nevertheless has dominated the international image of the war ever since.  The chapter discusses some of these figures, both international, such as Gerald Brenan, Georges Bernanos, Willy Brandt, and Spanish, such as Ortega y Gasset or Unamuno, who clashed publicly with the Falangist militia commander José Millán-Astray at the University of Salamanca, an event that has been read as Unamuno’s scornful repudiation of Franco, whereas in fact Unamuno from the outset gave the Nationalists his support.  It is another myth of the war that “the intellectuals,” the thoughtful, humane, artistic, and literary people, were unanimously against Franco.  This is not at all the case; among counterexamples are Ramiro de Maeztu, Gregorio Marañón, Roy Campbell and Ortega y Gasset.

Chapter 16: A Cold Winter 1938

The winter of 1938 was the coldest in a century.  The Popular Front, wanting vengeance for the North, attacked in the Southeast toward Teruel, which the People’s Army took after weeks of bloody fighting in below-zero weather, kidnapping and killing its bishop.  This victory, with Teruel being the only provincial capital ever taken by the People’s Army, gave the regime a needed boost.  The chapter recounts this and the other operations from the fall of the North to March 1938, including the campaigns of Belite and Lérida and the naval battle that ended in the sinking of the Baleares, the Nationalists’ most modern and powerful cruiser.

Chapter 17: The March to the Sea and the Valencia Campaign, March-July 1938

In March, the war became one of movement when Franco’s forces broke the Republican lines east of Teruel and in six weeks reached the sea at the estuary of the Ebro, cutting Popular Front Spain in two.  Franco then turned south to take Valencia, which his men failed to do in two further months of fighting.  His numerous critics have seen this decision as driven by a desire to prolong the war until a general European war broke out, since he could, they say, have ended the war by turning north on Barcelona, capital of “Republican” Spain.  Franco’s explanation, supported by the world’s leading Civil War historian Stanley G. Payne, was that he did not want to risk French intervention by marching toward the French border; France also had a Popular Front government, although not Communist-controlled as in Spain, so this may not have been groundless.  In any case, the character who most desperately wanted to prolong the war until a general European war broke out was not Franco, but the Popular Front leader Juan Negrín.

Chapter 18: The Ebro Campaign, July-November 1938

It was to be the finest hour of the People’s Army.  In July, it launched its greatest offensive ever across the lower Ebro, aimed at retaking Teruel, rejoining the two remaining parts of Popular Front Spain, and reopening land communications between Madrid and Barcelona.  Franco decided to stand his ground, initiating a battle of attrition in the terrible summer heat and drought that, over five months, bled the People’s Army’s best units dry and made its ultimate defeat all but certain.  Toward the end of the campaign, the International Brigades disbanded under Stalin’s instructions.  The “Republic” was on its own.

Chapter 19: The Fall of Catalonia, December 1938-March 1939

Negrín’s last hope now was indeed that a general European war pitting the Soviet Union against Germany could somehow save the “Republic”.  What he did not realize was how completely the Western Allies in Munich had sold out to Adolf Hitler and that no one, not even Stalin, any longer cared much about Spain, nor could he of course foresee that the general war, when it came, would see Stalin allied to Hitler.  Yet he, or rather his men, fought on, increasingly outnumbered and out-equipped; the last in large part because the Nationalists were good at re-using captured equipment.  At war’s end, more Soviet-made tanks were serving Franco than the Popular Front.  Having recovered from the Ebro Campaign, the Nationalists in January finally began the offensive on Barcelona, which fell without a fight on January 28, “waiting expectantly for Franco,” as an observer wrote.  The government, taking all the gold, jewels, and other valuables its members could lay their hands on, fled north.  It launched a final offensive in far-west Extremadura to distract the Nationalists; it took much ground to no purpose.

Chapter 20: Madrid and Alicante, March 1939

The front lines around Madrid had not shifted in two years.  In the former capital, anticommunist Socialists rebelled against the Popular Front regime, hoping to end the war as recounted in the opening vignette.  Franco insisted on complete surrender, and before the talks could proceed further, events supervened.  Madrid fell on March 28 amid scenes of rejoicing.  Three days later, the last People’s Army units surrendered in Alicante on the Mediterranean coast, and the next day a fever-ridden Franco could issue his final communiqué: “Today, the Red Army being captured and disarmed, the National forces have achieved their final military objectives.  The war is over.”

Chapter 21: Aftermath

How many died?  Which side was the most murderous?  What did the war cost?  How did the average Spaniard fare in the two regions?  How many fled and where?  Many have ready answers: a million died, the Nationalists were the worst killers, because they killed for fun, whereas the Popular Front only killed when necessary.  Life in “Republican” Spain was freer and better than in Nationalist Spain.  Hundreds of thousands had to flee or they would have been killed.  All these are distortions if not lies.  The best information on the casualties is that they were around 600,000, and that the two sides were about equally responsible for non-combat killings.  However, contrary to myth, Nationalist forces rarely slew at random whereas this was entirely typical of the Popular Front with its competing armed factions.  Another explosive topic is the cost of postwar reprisals by the Franco regime; about 25,000 were killed, likely fewer than if the other side had won.  Of those jailed, most were paroled after a few years.  Also contrary to myth, most leading Spanish intellectuals did not flee the country.  Franco’s Spain remained internationally isolated until the late 1940s, costing severe economic hardship, although the number of deaths from hunger never reached the levels seen in “Republican” Spain.

Chapter 22: The War about the War

Democratization after Franco’s death in 1975 was an organized process.  The regime had faced no serious democratic opposition; its only consistent and relentless enemies were the Communists, who were no democrats.  Since the 1980s, the Communists and many Socialists began to revise history, blackening the story of the regime and asserting that Spanish democracy was not safe unless it made a break with the past and returned to the ideals of the Second Republic.  In this overheated and excited atmosphere, honest discussion of and writing on the Civil War became rare.  With few exceptions, Spanish university historians adopted a quasi-Communist reading of history, leaving the true story to vilified outsiders.  The story outside Spain is somewhat but not totally different.  Stanley Payne sides unequivocally with the revisionists, stating that “there is no free speech about the Civil War on Spanish campuses.”  The book closes in the hope that it has contributed to honest discussion as well as telling an exciting story.

The book includes illustrations, a full complement of maps, both general and of particular operations, a timeline, bibliography, references, and index and is linked to a website with more extensive references and the possibility for readers to comment.