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July 29, 2001

To the editor: I enjoyed reading the various articles and reviews concerning the Spanish Civil War (Book Review, July 15). But my concern is for the young people who haven't read anything about this piece of history and are now faced with contradictory views about what really happened. For them it should be stressed that the American left and the American right have much to be ashamed of and therefore they can't be trusted to tell the truth about Spain.

The left happily recounts the alliance between Hitler, Mussolini and Franco and calls the Civil War the first battle of World War II. The right accentuates the terrible influence of the Stalinist advisers from the Soviet Union (and their Spanish henchmen from the Communist Party) and their crimes against the Spanish people. The left glorifies the Lincoln Brigades and the right tries to smear them as Stalinist murderers. But what both sides try to obfuscate is the fact that they were wrong about the Spanish Civil War.

The right (meaning conservatives of all stripes) supported the Franco revolt against the democratically elected government. They also were overtly supportive of Hitler and Mussolini (Henry Ford was on a first-name basis with Hitler, and Henry Luce was a pal and strong supporter of Mussolini). The American right can't admit this, so it consistently stresses the perfidy and crimes of the Stalinists while overlooking the perfidy and crimes of the Fascists. "Spain Betrayed," edited by Ronald Radosh and others, about the "betrayal" of Spain by the Soviet Union's government, is an example of the right wing trying to cover up its crimes.

The left (meaning the Stalinists and their many supporters of every variety) blindly supported whatever the Stalin regime told them to support. The show trial murders in the Soviet Union and Spain were about hypocrisy and the power-mad Stalin. He would tolerate no dissent and he enjoyed having people, especially former allies, falsely accused and then murdered. Sadism, not Marxism, was his true philosophy. But the American left, for the most part, blindly followed Stalin and his henchmen. Many Lincoln Brigade members were used as cannon fodder in suicidal charges if they were suspected of being against Stalin. The murder of Andres Nin (which was predicted by Trotsky) was a crime which went unpunished. But it is indeed nice, as pointed out by Christopher Hitchens in his review, that there is now a street named after Nin in his beloved Barcelona. The children of Catalonia are being taught all the facts, with both sides' crimes exposed. Can our children here in the United States say the same?

Alfred Garcia Ventura

To the editor: Thanks for the fascinating issue on the Spanish Civil War. After 65 years, it continues to stoke passions and represents one of the few enduring topics out of Spain that the West entertains on occasion.

Christopher Hitchens' (Is there anything this guy can't write about with authority?) piece on George Orwell was delightful. How refreshing to be reminded that Orwell's battle for truth and the historical record unfolded in anonymity, poverty and "in the banal effort to meet a quotidian schedule of bills and deadlines."

Stanley G. Payne's piece on "Spain Betrayed" was also entertaining, if all too characteristic of much writing on the subject that overstates, understates or gets things wrong altogether. To argue, for example, that the Soviet role was more expansive than Italy's and Germany's because "Hitler and Mussolini ... largely limited their roles to military assistance" is to forget that what was at issue was a war, not a parliamentary talk shop. Bernard Knox's informative first-hand account sets him right on this question.

In his memoirs, President Manuel Azana insisted that without termination of foreign Fascist intervention, the legally elected Spanish democracy was doomed. The Soviets' military aid was considerably reduced by the blockade German and Italian naval forces maintained and never served to fill the hole left by the "nonintervention" of the French and British democracies.

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