The Spanish Civil War 1936-9


Map showing the progressive phases of the nationalist insurgency against the democratic Republic, beginning in Morocco and spreading militarily to the north and west of the country. The principal fighting after the incomplete realisation of the initial coup was around Madrid. By adopting the politics of a united democratic front at the price of some controversy amongst its supporters, restraining anarchist extremism and training and deploying a regular army politicised by communists along side the volunteer International Brigades, the Republic managed to keep the field for three years, until Stalin, its sole foreign military supporter, who had advised these tactics of cautious consolidation, cut supplies to relieve his own international isolation by the appeasing powers in the run up to the signing of the Russo-German Non-Aggression Pact.

The Civil War marked a cultural watershed for a generation of idealistic youth as the Vietnam War did later. In 1941 Hemingway published `For Whom the Bell Tolls' whose American hero Robert Jordan operates as a guerrilla behind insurgent lines under communist orders for the duration of the war, because he believes they alone, and not the anarchists, have a strategy which can win the war. When he needs to return to his base to confirm his orders, trigger happy anarchists and a Stalinist commissar present the greatest danger to him, and we see the Republican regular army preparing for an offensive. The novel was a critical and commercial success, and contributed to diminishing isolationist sentiment in the US. Its implicit message was that the war raging in Europe was a second opportunity to fight for the good old cause of democracy and freedom which had tragically gone down to defeat in Spain.

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