Ever since I tried (probably ineffectively) to teach about the post-WWI rise of dictators, I have wondered why I didn’t know more about Franco. My mild interest became moderate when I learned more about Frederico Garcia Lorca. So when I discovered that Adam Hochschild (King Leopold’s Ghost) had taken it on, I thought this would be my opportunity.

It really struck me how the non-Spanish volunteers and even Hitler and Stalin realized that this was a kind of a dress rehearsal for World War II, but that FDR didn’t or chose not to. Thuogh he apparently later called his arms embargo “a grave mistake,” that doesn’t really change the outcome of the war, nor how Americans who fought in it were treated upon their return. Would Franco’s defeat have had a ripple effect on what Germany and Russia were doing? Japan? Speculative history always troubles, and Hochschild doesn’t spend much time on it (thankfully), but when he does, he seems dubious that anything would have changed.

Hochschild also asks a good question about a woefully unreported part of the war. Spain was trying to re-make itself at the same time as it was trying to fight off Franco. But that effort, smacking of communism (sometimes, rightly so) was not covered by the (celebrity) press. Did one effort hurt the other? Hochschild makes it clear that none of the anti-Franco groups – Republicans, communists, anarchists, etc. – were innocent of dubious tactics.

Lurking throughout this book is the presence of Hemingway – author, macho man, journalist. He can never be reduced to a bit part. And herein lies my one main objection to the writing. I don’t think Hochschild ever found the center. There are so many narratives here – all worthy – that there’s not really much momentum in any of them. But it’s not a major complaint. I will get to Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia one of these days. (He’s in the book, too!)

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