Writing in the October newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, Helen Graham, professor of contemporary Spanish history at Royal Holloway, University of London, offers various criticisms of Antony Beevor’s “The Battle for Spain” of which the primary one is her accusation that this history is distorted by Beevor’s distate for the comrades. “Relentless anti-communism,” is her verdict.
“In the end the Cold War view of the Spanish Republic is an imperialist one,” she states. But Beevor offers neither a Cold War view nor an imperialist view. He merely strips the varnish off the myths and reveals that the Communists played a pretty disgusting game in Spain. (He makes no apologies for the Francoists, either.) But this even-handed approach will not do for Dr Graham. She notes the “quite fundamental differences between the Francoist and Republican political projects” which she claims “are pretty much empiracally verifiable.” This is an odd formulation. Who can know if a Republican victory would have been followed by a bloodbath on the scale of the one ordered by Franco. It might have been lesser, or worse. Nobody can doubt the taste of the commissars for slaying their enemies.
Dr Graham’s review is oddly self-contradictory. She says the book’s “real value” lies in its military analysis. Yet she comes to the defence of the Republican chief of staff Vincente Rojo, trashed by Beevor as a military adventurer. Rojo was certainly quick to throw away the lives of his men in wild adventures. Yet Dr Graham defends operations like the Ebro offensive as “vital to projecting an image of military vitality and political will.” Frankly, this is an utterly bizarre assessment of a commander who marched ill-equipped men up exposed hills to be shredded by nationalist bombers and artillery, opening the gates of Barcelona in the process.
I know nothing of Dr Graham’s politics but perhaps she protests too much. The excuse that the republic was done in by shortages of material is neither novel nor sufficient explanation for the catalogue of Republican military failures. She complains of Beevor’s lack of interest in non-intervention. But this seems a red herring to me. If the Republicans were ill-equipped it was Stalin who was to blame. Having taken the Republic’s gold, he supplied his clients with scrap metal.
To write off Beevor as a Cold War historian does not do justice to his work and imputes to him an ideology for which there is no evidence (and Dr Graham supplies none). It was always going to be the case that Beevor’s work would unsettle the custodians of the sacred flame. To them, Beevor’s crime seems to be telling it like it was.
My kinsman Morris Miller was killed in the Ebro offensive. His story is here.
I am sorry to report the British war memorial in the Sierra Pandols has recently been vandalised. I was in Catalonia this month and this photo shows where a plaque above Gandesa memorialising 91 members of the British battaltion has been taken and the pediment painted with the slogan “the Falange – still in struggle.” The missing plaque included the name of my kinsman Morris Miller. There are intentions to repair and replace it but difficult to know how to prevent further attacks.
The vandalisation of civil war sites continues on both sides. With Catalonia amidst a plain economic expansion, many ancient antipathies have been put aside in the pursuit of prosperity, but the fault lines remain.
General Franco’s memorial south of Gandesa (below) is thoroughly trashed and painted with anarchist and anti-Nazi symbols. This was the site of Franco’s command post during the battle of the Ebro. Now it is a bit of an embarrassment and no attempt seems to be made to maintain or protect it or even demolish it. Perhaps this was its destiny to finish as an eyesore.
I was walking around the museum of the Ebro battle in Gandesa and fell into conversation with an elderly Spanish man who was only a young teen during the war. I asked if he was a comrade and he put his hand up in a fascist salute. I told him my relative was killed fighting for the comrades. He put his hand on me and shook his head sadly, saying, in English – “it was terrible, terrible.” We agree on that much.
One of the rare places where the dead are remembered in peace is the nearby old village of Corbera which was destroyed by Franco and left in ruins.
Above is a Joan Miró sculpture in the village, one of an “alphabet of freedom” put into the ruins by artists and poets. The site and its art are extraordinary but little visited.
This is the memorial to the British dead in Feb 2006. Below is a facsimile of the plaque. Thanks to Alan Warren for the image. Click to enlarge it to legibility!
Me, at the Memorial to the fallen of Hill 666 including Morris Miller. Alan Warren photo.
July 20, 2007: Dramatic unpublished material from the memoir of Welsh Miner Billy Griffiths has been added to the Morris Miller internet memorial. This throws new light on the events and circumstances of Morris Miller’s death.
The story of Morris Miller is told here.
Please visit http://morrismiller.wordpress.com for a substantially revised and updated version of this posting.