We Saw Spain Die

We Saw Spain Die

By Paul Preston

Constable – £9.99

‘’The Western democracies had two commanding obligations: they must save their honour by assisting a young, attacked fellow democracy, and they must save their skin, by fighting Hitler and Mussolini, at once, in Spain, instead of waiting until later, when the cost in human suffering would be unimaginably greater.’’

So wrote Martha Gellhorn, just one of a plethora of writers and correspondents covering the Spanish Civil War, in relation to ‘’the blind complacency of the policy-makers of Britain, France and America.’’

Had her words been heard, let alone acted upon, the colossal human suffering of the Second World War might well have been averted. Who knows?

The one thing we do know for certain, is that (political) history repeats itself. For just as nothing was fundamentally learnt from the horrors of the First World War, so too was nothing learnt from that of the Spanish Civil War – wherein both the German and the Italian dictators, openly partook in the savage murder of ordinary Spanish civilians.

One cannot help but wonder just how much more bloodshed and murder would have had to have taken place, before the aforementioned, so-called ‘world powers,’ would have acted in the defence of democracy.

And decency.

As is well known, the conflict enticed a veritable barrage of correspondents and renowned writers from around the world to convey the truth behind the murder, the mayhem and the ultimate madness of the Spanish Civil War.

Writers such as Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, W.H. Auden, John Dos Passos, Andre Malraux and Martha Gellhorn (among others), all wrote very eloquently, on what many consider to be the real kernel behind Hitler’s quintessential quest for power. And while We Saw Spain Die brings many of these writings together in one tomb, it is surely author Paul Preston’s pain-staking assimilation thereof, that accounts for this book being described as a ‘’pioneering investigation’’ by the Literary Review.

Time and again, one is reminded of just how dangerous, frustrating and heart breaking much of the coverage must have been.

Reflecting upon the assault and eventual siege of Madrid, Arthur Koestler – who suffered the city’s bombing raids during the last week of October and the first days of November in 1936 – wrote: ‘’Anyone who has lived through the hell of Madrid with his eyes, his nerves, his heart, his stomach – and then pretends to be objective, is a liar. If those who have at their command printing machines and printer’s ink for the expression of their opinions, remain neutral and objective in the face of such bestiality, then Europe is lost. In that case let us all sit down and bury our heads in the sand and wait until the devil takes us. In that case it is time for Western civilization to say goodnight.’’

How prophetic Koestler’s words were; by the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, it was indeed ‘’time for Western civilization to say goodnight.’’ Yet had the Allies not eventually destroyed Nazism and Fascism almost six years later, it might have been goodnight forever.

If nothing else, We Saw Spain Die substantiates the degree to which censorship of the truth is as much a killer as bullets and bombs.

David Marx



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