The Last Great Cause
Between the Bullet and the Lie
The Fifth Column and four unpublished stories of the Spanish Civil War
The events of the Thirties are sufficiently remote to be “historic” while at the same time sufficiently near to be discussed among people—some of them still not old—who participated in them. They are therefore a wide-open subject for research. Today, moreover, they interest the young in America and Europe, some of whom feel that there is a parallel between the political-moral issues of that decade—in which politics seemed suddenly concerned with choices between life and death, civilization and barbarism—and issues such as those of Vietnam, racism, and the manipulation of the society by vast military and industrial interests today. Some young people begin to feel that they live in a society influenced by powers—such as those in the Thirties that permitted the Fascists to strangle the Spanish Republicans—which can be met only by their totally committing themselves to an equally all-inclusive counter-political activity.
It is scarcely surprising then that there is a steady flow of books about the attitude of intellectuals to politics in the Thirties. Two outstanding examples, about English and American writers during the Spanish Civil War, are Stanley Weintraub’s The Last Great Cause and Katharine Bail Hoskins’s Today the Struggle (which is exclusively about the English writers).
Both these books, covering much the same ground, are in their ways helpful and interesting. Stanley Weintraub has the advantage that he relates the unfolding events of the war with the parallel activities of the writers. Miss Hoskins consigns the issues of the war to a somewhat thesis-like Appendix. However, in keeping the events separate from the literature she allows herself room for a thorough discussion of some writers and their works: for example, her account of the changes of Wyndham Lewis’s political front (surprising they are, too), and her excellent analysis of his novel largely concerned with Spain, The Revenge for Love.
In the main, these authors simply illustrate the stated attitude of the writers toward the war without venturing far beyond this. Although they give some biographical information, they do not—as Peter Stansky and William Abrahams did in their remarkable book, Journey to the Frontier, about Julian Bell and John Cornford—go into matters of class, education, and upbringing, or of literary relationships, which influenced—sometimes unconsciously—the attitudes of the writers. An exception is Stanley Weintraub’s discussion of Hemingway’s attitudes during his Spanish visits. (Hemingway also receives much intelligent attention by Cecil Eby, in his Between the Bullet and the Lie, which I will discuss later.) Hemingway went to Spain as a war correspondent hypnotically drawn to wars but also having a great love of Spain.
He was not a communist, but whole-heartedly supported the Republic, toward which his attitude was benevolent and rather paternal. He interested himself greatly in the personalities and the activities of International Brigaders. He had a strong disagreement with his colleague John Dos Passos in Valencia. Dos Passos had shown excessive concern when he discovered that his friend and translator …
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