Monday, September 18, 2017

Richard Rhodes: 'Hell and Good Company' (2015)

Richard Rhodes, Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World It Made (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015).  

This is another well-written book about the endlessly absorbing Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Rhodes interweaves personal accounts (of nurses, doctors, artists, officers) with technical observations (types of equipment, processes, construction of air raid shelters) in a winning combination, because he also manages to keep the book fairly short.

"War is chaotic. People come and go. I decided to pin my narrative not to the people but to the chronology of the war itself, starting at the beginning and marching through to the end." (page xvii).

Lots of people make their way in and out of and then back into the narrative as the war moves along. Many have poignant arcs, such as that of Patience Darton and Robert Aaquist: "Love made a space for them, but love doesn't conquer all." (page 221).
There are tales of Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, John Dos Passos, André Malraux, Joan Miró, and much about medical efforts and hospitals. Nearly one in five doctors in the anti-fascist International Brigades were women (page 187).

Rhodes favors the side of the Republic defending against the fascist and Nazi-backed Nationalists, and he shows greatest sympathy where it seems most appropriate. The Spanish people are given their due, but this is mostly a collective story told from the outside in, mostly through the words of international participants or semi-omnisciently.

I like the specificity of detail that Rhodes delves into from time to time. I've learned new things about the war. Not only about the heroism of the various medical corps, but more about the Germans sent by Hitler, too: "The Condor Legion deployed to Spain by ship . . . consisted initially of thirty-seven officers, 3,786 men, and ninety-two factory-new aircraft, including three squadrons of Junkers-52 bombers, three squadrons of Heinkel 51 biplane fighters, two squadrons of Heinkel 45 and Heinkel 70 reconnaissance bombers, and a seaplane squadron . . . Hitler also sent tank companies, antitank platoons, signals units, and submarines to bolster Franco's forces. Mussolini contributed not only planes, tanks, and submarines but also tens of thousands of infantry." (page 29).

One of the legacies of the Spanish Civil War is in the use of air power to bomb civilian targets en masse, with ruthless repetition -- a terrible legacy, indeed, especially when one side gains air supremacy against a virtually helpless enemy stuck on or under the ground. 

Today's Rune: Movement.  


Charles Gramlich said...

I remember how touched I was by reading Hemingway's accounts of that war

the walking man said...

Charles have you seen his painting Guernica? brutally honest for a brutal war of eradication.