Hemingway on the effects of the Spanish Civil War

For those who came in late — this is another in a series of conversations I have with people who have passed over to the other side. I have found that at least seemingly we can connect with anyone we have a reason to connect with. I call it the Cosmic Internet. The process has been described by some as Active Imagination, which is not the same thing as fantasy. I suggest that you not read this trying to decide whether it is Hemingway speaking, or my idea of Hemingway, or something else, perhaps something we couldn’t even guess. It makes more sense and may prove more useful to you to feel whether the material resonates, in and of itself. Truth is great, and will prevail, but you have to be open to the possibility before it can do so.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Oh, papa, your For Whom the Bell Tolls! Does it not tell the truth! Such a relief from political lying, even by those on our side — so to speak. Upton Sinclair did not tell the truth as you did.

Upton Sinclair told the truth as Claude Bowers told it — as a form of weapon, as a club to beat the fascists and reactionaries with. But I was trying to do a deeper thing than that.

I know – and yours surely had a wider appeal.

You think wider because you think that fewer people would discount it as merely the result of propaganda, or a political agenda. But that isn’t as true as saying that it offended everyone because it attacked their stereotypes, but it got by them because it also seemed to attack their enemies. What was not so easily seen for some reason was that it was a portrait of the idealistic American who genuinely knew and loved Spain. He was in a place that didn’t even see him as an American, in a way: they called him ingles even after he corrected them, even though he spoke their language to them, and could think inside their heads. He was very much a product of America, an America they could never be brought to understand. He was forced to use the terms of the left — which quickly hardened into Stalinist cant — but he knew that he wasn’t really one of them. He just knew that he hated injustice and that while the Russians might not be trusted to hate injustice, at least they pretended to be, and said they were, and they were providing real material assistance to those who were fighting the fascists — and about the fascists there could be no mistake.

So Roberto Jordan was in no man’s land, and by 1937 he was used to it, and saw no way forward but to continue with the only allies he had, or rather to subordinate himself to the only armed organized force that opposed all he opposed.

I liked that you showed what the peasants did in 1936, the complications of their reactions. [In other words, that he had showed the bad as well as the good.]

A story about their war was no place for whitewashing or for the creation of two-dimensional pictures that time would reveal as false. I tried to write it as true as I knew it, because it was already clear that this was going to be an elegy.

I liked that you suffused it with the total foreshadowing of defeat.

It is a very Spanish sentiment. The people know defeat, and they know how to endure. But don’t forget, nobody who read the book in 1940 could be ignorant that the Republic had been doomed, no matter what they felt about it. No, nor in 1941 or 1942 or for a long time afterward, until other events buried the cause with its partisans.

Do you think — from your vantage point now — that the endurance of the Spanish did help defeat the Nazis?

Spain was to be taken in a coup in the month of July, and Calvo Sotelo was to have been the new caudillo. Unlike Franco he understood politics and would have been with Muso and Hitler in a way that might have been very damaging among the Spanish American republics. But more, it would have disheartened the French left — which was a major goal of the enterprise, from the German viewpoint. If the frente popular could be defeated so quickly, how much faith could the workers have in the frente popular of France? [I don’t know the French words and had hoped that Hemingway could put them in. Basically he said, don’t worry about it.]

Much more to the point, the Spanish resistance put the fascist intervention on the world’s front pages — and kept it there. It was supposed to happen in the dark, you see. It was to be a three days’ wonder, not even a nine days’ wonder, and then be done but for the killing. But when the workers took over cities, and the Air Force didn’t come over, and the Navy, suddenly the coup was in trouble. A coup that doesn’t succeed in a few days is doomed, because it means that it has shot its bolt, no surprise remains, and it has not met response. So it could not be presented as the will of the people, even by the boldest lying, which of course was immediately employed.

So then if Muso wouldn’t provide troops and equipment — equipment particularly — the fascists were going to lose.

They couldn’t afford to lose, and Mussolini thought anyway he was going to get another cheap victory. It was the next step up from Ethiopia, you see. First the niggers of Africa — that is how he would see it — then the played-out Spanish, with their reds like the ones he had put down at home, and then who knows? Spain had a big empire and who knows? Also, it would show the frightening upstart to his north that Italy too could play at empire building.

So when the Republic didn’t fall to a coup, it provided an opportunity for Muso to show what his troops could do (which, too bad for him, it did) and for Hitler to give his Air Force practice in actual war conditions, which the British and French later paid for, as did the Poles and Russians who had nothing to do with letting him in there.

All this helped wake up the West, because you have to understand the situation in 1936. The Liberals were paralyzed even more than usual, the Conservatives were firmly against doing anything to stop Hitler, and everybody had their eye firmly fixed either backwards or on the past. [This last clause seems a little garbled to me, but that’s how it came.]

Liberals were split between their anti-fascism and their pacifism. This rendered them totally ineffective against Hitler the master politician who used that masterfully. Conservatives in England and France were not happy to see Germany growing so strong so quickly but they were more afraid of Russia which might be geographically more remote but was actively meddling in politics everywhere and seemed to have, in the poor, a vast fifth column in every country.

If Spain had not resisted — if Spain had not shown that the Republic had not fallen from lack of support but was being murdered, all the clarifying of position that took place between July of 1936 and March of 1939 would not have taken place in the same way. Hitler would have been enabled to do much more perhaps, and have gotten even further entrenched, before the West awoke.

This is a complicated subject because what also happened is that the world saw Russia come to the aid of the Spanish Republic with arms and equipment and experienced officers — but it also saw it bring, commissars and purges and little Stalins, and so there was concrete evidence too that Spain might become a Soviet republic at the gates of the Mediterranean. It wasn’t a chimera. So that hardened the domestic lines as well, and confused the situation.

Still — the war started, and continued. The Western governments refused to sell arms to the Republic, and the peoples of the West gradually learned outrage. The British left in particular learned that their government was their enemy — and they did not forget it in 1945 when they got the chance to overthrow the government and the social system. The Labour government of 1945 and its various socialist reforms is one direct result of the Spanish resistance in 1936, and should be seen as such but generally isn’t.

Politically, too, the war discredited a lot of anti-Communist slogans that otherwise might have gotten quite a bit more use. After three years of lies about Spain resulted in a fascist victory at the time that Czechoslovakia had been swallowed up, people weren’t as willing to hear all the same fairy tales yet again. Truth can get tiresome, but it prevails, though it take forever. Lies though have a definite half-life and after a while people see through them.

See it this way. Suppose Spain had been lost in July 1936. No Soviet intervention. No German Air Force training grounds. No Italian Army fiasco. No Neutrality Act debate at home (in the United States, I mean.) No clarity to the British opposition to the Spanish or the French weakness in the face of threats. Continued pacifism in France without correction by facts. Continued pacifism, in fact, all through the West on the left — leaving a clear field for the fascists.

With Spain absorbed into their coalition, Hitler and Muso [would have] had France surrounded by hostile neighbors as in 1870, and a little before it actually occurred. Hitler’s moves against Czechoslovakia and Poland would have proceeded against a far more tranquil background.

No, don’t ever doubt it. Spain bought time. Time for liberals to decide between anti-fascist and anti-militarism; time for Western statesmen particularly in England to reveal themselves as hopelessly unable to combine with workers against fascists; time for the world’s populations to have their attention fixed on the snake-like advance of fascism. That time was bought with Spanish blood. They didn’t die for that purpose, but that was the result. Also — but it didn’t do as much good — the Civil War showed clearly what Stalinism was, if any in the West on the left were willing to see and didn’t already know. And so it helped to prepare for the impact of Darkness at Noon that, as you know, saved France from going communist after the war.

Thank you. That was quite an interesting discussion. It isn’t where I had thought we would go. I thought it was just one question. But that will have to do for now.



(12:40 p.m.) Wrote it out (I mean entered it into the computer) and prepared it as a post for tomorrow. But let’s go back to the subject.

I feel I am “hearing” some things wrong. I hesitated a long time the other day, between “raised a Catholic” and “converted to become a Catholic” and finally decided on the latter. Similarly something today — I wrote it as I felt it, but suspected that this was a wrong detail. Can’t remember what offhand. But I don’t know what else to do, because if I insist on 100% verification I cut off the hose; if I take anything that comes at least I will see what the track record is. Giving myself permission to get some of it wrong without assuming that the whole process is not valid is a liberating step for me. Oh I know — did the Navy stay loyal to the Republic? It seems to me maybe not, but I don’t know. I just know that I hesitated and went with what I felt was given.

So, papa — and this is because I feel so much closer to you as I read your work and I have now read so much in so short a time, that “Mr. Hemingway” no longer seems appropriate. So — about For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Well, the title gives away the message, of course. The West looked on and thought it didn’t concern them, and then over months that became years they learned that it did, very closely. And in a larger sense, Robert Jordan had learned, and was living, the same lesson. He joined because he loved Spain. He stayed because it wasn’t just about Spain and Spaniards.

I liked, too, that you had him at one point violently enraged with them as a people, such that as you said “if she had spoken at that moment he would have struck her,” or words to that effect.

Anyone could tell you, they are an exasperating people — and that same anyone, if he or she has truly lived among them — would immediately begin to list exceptional individuals, and then countervailing virtues, and reasons to make allowance.

So what was it about them? You said they hadn’t been touched by the Reformation — but neither had Russia, or that end of the Mediterranean world.

It was because they couldn’t really tell the difference between an ingles and an Americano that

[Lost the thread. Try again]

The Spanish were unique to the west in not receiving the corrective of the Reformation or counterreformation. The East — Prussia, Austria and south and east, were either Greek Catholics (to the south) or were the places Napoleon never transformed either.

[Let’s try this again. It doesn’t sound quite right, nor feel it.]

Spain did not receive nor even have to overthrow and defeat the Reformation in its home territories, only in the low countries and east, where it wasn’t particularly successful. At home, church and state remained fused by emotion and identification no less than by mutual self-interest. “His Catholic Majesty” was a great boast, and a reassurance that the faith in Spain was purer, better reverenced and in all ways better — as anything Spanish was bound to be, if one discounted non-medieval, non-aristocratic pursuits as technology, finance and anything the British (particularly) were good at.

It was because Spain was in no way modern that it was so deeply appealing, so deeply human. It had escaped our modern drawbacks and the dwarfing by technological forces and “modern ideas” that killed Europe. But it is also the fact that Spain was not modern that made it so infuriating, so alien, so incomprehensible unless you learned to understand with your heart.

Now, you understand. “Modern” in this case doesn’t mean up to date technologically or scientifically, certainly not militarily. I mean a way of looking out at the world.

You distinguished Spain and France very economically and clearly in The Sun Also Rises, I thought.

You had eyes to see. But I did not try to say why they were different, only one instance of how.

The modern world when it finally came to Spain was very cruel to it — as cruel as la leyenda negra could ask. It was the communists and the anarchists, the POUM and the anti-clericals, the people who would have collaborated with Napoleon to “modernize” Spain who were responsible for some of the hatred that lead to implacable warfare instead of even a vestige of compromise. It was the fascists and falangists and monarchists – the Carlists and the Alfonso-ists (so to speak) and every brand of reactionary who resisted that force; they were the rest of the hatred.

In Spain there was no reconciling force. The middle class, that in our country gave stability even at the price of great inertia, did not exist as a modern middle class. It existed as a sort of middle class in a feudal society, which is why so few of the middle class ever served the Republic. It wasn’t just fear of the peasants and workers. The workers and peasants represented, to them, 1789, and they were sure would be the end. The miniature jacqueries of 1936 seemed to them to prove them right.

So then what of the modern world is poison that they were still exempt from?

They were not economic digits, nor grains of sand in the universe, nor accidents of creation. They were still creatures of God, with dignity and individuality and their own importance regardless how hard their lives or how unjust or incompetent their economic or technical or social arrangements. They were ignorant of trends but immersed in deeper currents, scarcely consciously. You might compare them to yourself, living without television in a hypnotized land. Of course this is only partly true. The modern world was coming in, a bit at a time. But it came not in an overwhelming tidal wave as in France in 1789, nor in a steadily rising tide as in, say, England, nor even in a patchwork as in geographic Italy in the 1800s, or German states. It came only by exception.

The Civil War brought the modern age though it didn’t mean to. So many Italian soldiers, so many German influences, so many foreign novelties on both sides — not gadgets but viewpoints — could have no other effect. War always modernizes while it destroys. It almost doesn’t matter who wins, in that respect.

So the Spain of today would be fundamentally different from that of 80 years ago — fundamentally, beneath changes in technology and economics?

Think of the changes in the American national character in that time and ask again. Some of those changes would have seemed very unlikely, if not impossible.

Just in the past half-dozen years!

No, that has been only the flourishing of them, not their creation or development. War may be the health of the state; it isn’t the health of the country.

Thank you for all of us. Is there a message you’d like to give us? Beyond what you have already?

Read “El Viejo y el mar,” [The Old Man and the Sea] or in English if need be.

That’s on my list. Haven’t read it in a long time.



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