Prologue to the cataclysm: Anthony Beevor’s The Battle for Spain

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Antony Beevor has written fine accounts of the battles of Stalingrad, Berlin and Normandy. However this book must rank as his masterpiece. It is a gripping narrative history of the Spanish Civil War, updated from an earlier account he wrote, with new material from former Soviet and other sources. At just over 450 pages (excluding references and notes) it is a substantial volume, but still only half the length of the Spanish language version of the work.

The author is clearly sympathetic to the cause of the Spanish Republic, but this does not stop him from being scathing about its failings, particularly its military ones. He is clear-sighted also about the atrocities of the Republicans but these pale in comparison with those of the Francoists, which were systematic and often chilling in their brutality. In one instance an American journalist was present when a fascist officer handed over to his troops two young girls. The officer “told him calmly that they would not survive more than four hours” (p. 92).capa_essay_01

The Spanish Civil War prefigured the cataclysmic struggle of the Second World War, both in terms of the ideological conflicts and as well as the pitiless violence. Yet it is also a conflict which is important to understand in its own terms and for its influence on contemporary Spain and Europe. This is something that Beevor manages seemingly effortlessly. It is a great work of narrative history.

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