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Micah Reader in June 2018 by Brenda Levenson
Published in 2016, Adam Hochschild’s Spain in our Hearts “is written through the experience of the people” noted one of our readers, while another mentioned how difficult reading it was at times. Some of us needed to put the book down for a while when overcome by emotion.
Two thousand eight hundred Americans fought in the Spanish Civil War. A number of Jews were part of the group, including Doctor Barsky who once performed surgery by flashlight. Some of our readers speculated that they were probably either Socialist or Communist, but others like to think that idealism rather than politics prompted their decision to join a battle that would be “a useful testing ground” for Hitler and Stalin, writes Hochschild, as World War II was to prove.
One of our readers deplored that little was written about the people of Spain, but actually Hochschild describes the extreme poverty of the masses, singling out the agricultural population of the country, as he contrasts it to the extreme wealth of the Church, shacks without running water for peasants, and nearby luxurious stone buildings for nuns. That the Church sided with Franco explains the people’s abandon of religious practice. Young couples with small families of one and perhaps two children in neighborhood parks of Spanish cities demonstrate how little influence Catholicism has on their lives today.
Our readers brought up George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, another book about the Civil War to which Hochschild refers, along with Antony Beevor’s The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War: 1936-1939 which left me, for one, disoriented. Spain in our Hearts Is by far the best. Intimate portraits of the people who traveled from the United States and European countries helped us keep track of battles, and to mourn those who were killed, such as Bob Merriman who had assumed leadership of one of the groups and many others. Journalists are often mentioned, along with the inevitable Hemingway and the contingent of American and British men and women who covered the war. Their articles were not always published in the United States press, but provide good reading.
Many in our group expressed shock at the role American business played in helping Franco. Texaco sold 20 million dollars worth of oil during the Civil War (the equivalent of 325 million today, writes Hochschild). For his contribution, Franco made Rieber, the Texaco executive, a Knight of the Grand Cross of Isabella the Catholic.” “Without American Petroleum and American trucks, we could never have won the Civil War,” a Spanish foreign minister told a journalist. DuPont sold about 40,000 bombs to Germany, a sale “not considered a violation of the porous US neutrality law,” writes Hochschild.
A new government in Paris allowed Soviet arms and some weapons bought in France to cross the border to Spain, but “without support from Britain, France would go no further,” writes the author. Long after the facts, Franklin Roosevelt told at a cabinet meeting that the arms embargo had been “a grave mistake.” Neville Chamberlain joins Roosevelt as one of the people who helped Franco whose authoritarian government was “more feudal than dictatorial” as our readers quoted from the book, limiting the rights of women among other rules harking back to medieval times.
Spain in our Hearts is an important book from which we learned a lot about a civil war that ought to have been won, but wasn’t. Have governments learned anything from what happened then, our readers asked? The answer is unfortunately “no” –