My seemingly never-ending quest for books to read for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge prompted me to read Richard Rhodes’s 2015 book Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made. Like so many books I’ve featured over the years on this blog I discovered Rhodes’s book when I came across a copy at the public library. Figuring anyone who could craft a masterpiece like The Making of the Atomic Bomb could also write a decent book on the Spanish Civil War I decided to give Rhodes’s book a try.
It took me several weeks to finish Hell and Good Company, mostly because I was reading two other books at the same time. Some publications like the Wall Street Journal, The Economist and the Washington Post praised the book and while I enjoyed portions of it, overall I thought Hell and Good Company was good, but perhaps not great. But hey, it counts towards Rose City Reader’s challenge so I guess I can’t complain.
Called by many as the dress rehearsal for World War II, from 1936 to 1939 the Spanish Civil War pitted Franco’s rebellious Fascist army against the forces of Spain’s leftist government. Aiding Franco were Moroccan mercenaries, and the air forces and tank divisions of Germany and Italy. On the other side, the USSR supplied the Spain’s Republican regime with planes and tanks and legions of foreign nationals from around the world fought alongside the Spanish leftists in hopes of defeating the forces of Fascism. In the end however, Franco’s well-supplied forces defeated the Republicans and their international allies leading to three decades of Fascist rule.
According to Rhodes, the Spanish Civil War, though relatively short and overshadowed by World War II would nevertheless have a lasting legacy. In arts and letters, it would inspire the great Spanish painter Picasso to create his masterpiece Guernica and provide powerful material for a host of mid-century writers including Hemingway, Orwell and Dos Pasos. The war also saw advances in battlefield medicine in the areas of triage, blood transfusion and plaster casts. Militarily, even though tanks had been around since World War I, it was during the Spanish Civil War they were first utilized to anything resembling their full potential. Lastly, perhaps the war’s gravest legacy was the use of airplanes to deliberately target population centers with waves of bombs both explosive and incendiary. Before long, residents of Warsaw, Rotterdam and London would experience the horrors of the Luftwaffe’s terror bombings. Eventually, Germans in Hamburg and Dresden would experience a similar fate at the hands of the British and Americans.