Admittedly, this winner emerges out of a one-man poll, and one man’s experience is limited. So let’s just say that Jonathan Meades’s Telegraph review of the book The International Brigades is the most repulsive article I’ve read in a long time, and certainly this year.
The first paragraph tells you everything you need to know: “In reality, [the Spanish Civil War] was a despicable Catholic crusade against socialists, communists, anarchists, secularists, modernists, liberals and unaffiliated adventurers…”
Take the derogatory adjective out, and the description is accurate. That’s exactly what that war was, and thank God for that. To any normal person, such a crusade would merit adjectives like ‘noble’, ‘gallant’ or ‘honourable’.
Yet to Mr Meades it only rates ‘despicable’ and ‘Catholic’, two modifiers he clearly regards as equally pejorative if not quite fully synonymous. By inference, he finds it appalling that anyone, especially Catholics, would wish to stop the human types he enumerates so lovingly.
I’m always amazed how that war still excites imaginations, especially those inflamed by leftie passions. It’s as if the left, having lost the war on the battlefield, is now trying to win it by retrospective propaganda offensives.
Even after the horrors perpetrated all over the world by those so beloved of Mr Meades became common knowledge, his ilk still can’t control their posthumous hatred of Franco. That’s understandable: he was the first man to stop communism by force in a full-blown war.
However, that’s par for the leftie course. Practically everyone writing about the Spanish Civil War toes the same line, although not everyone defines Franco’s motives with Mr Meades’s commendable accuracy.
That war provides the quickest test of political affiliation. If you want to know where someone stands politically, ask him if he thinks the right side won the Spanish Civil War. Anyone who answers yes is a conservative, anyone who answers no is, well, not.
That Mr Meades’s answer is a shrill no doesn’t by itself qualify him for the distinction in the title above. Yet how he goes about making his point does, for seldom does one encounter such a combination of ignorance, stridency and mendacity.
For those of you who have more important things in life than reading about the Spanish Civil War, the International Brigades were the volunteer shock troops of Comintern (the Communist International), which is to say of Stalin.
The Soviets created it in 1919 for the explicit purpose of fomenting a world revolution. Comintern used espionage, subversion and propaganda to turn the whole world into the blood-soaked, starving, disease-ridden hell the Soviet Union was already.
Those who serve hell are commonly known as devils, and that’s exactly what International Brigade recruits were. True, some of them were merely misguided, meaning they served satanic objectives out of stupidity rather than evil.
That, I suppose, matters to the salvation of their souls, but not for any practical purposes. Those who serve evil are themselves evil – unkind but true.
To Mr Meades, those recruits are something else entirely: “Many merely shared a commitment to democracy and the labour movement… [They were] modest people in pursuit of justice.”
That is, democracy and justice as exemplified by Stalin’s Russia, where millions had already been butchered and the rest enslaved. As to the labour movement, any manifestation of it in the Soviet Union was welcomed with machinegun bursts, kangaroo trials, mass executions and concentration camps.
I keep writing about the Soviet Union because not one of the 3,000 words in Mr Meades’s article mentions the Soviet involvement in that war. He does mention in passing a “bloody war-within-the-war [between the Stalinists and the Trotskyists] in Barcelona”, which sounds like an internecine conflict among Spaniards.
In fact, by that time the Soviets, using the International Brigades as their vanguard, had taken full control of the Republican side. The massacre of the Trotskyists and the anarchists (I’m not shedding any tears for them, by the way) was a purge conducted by the NKVD in parallel with similar actions in the Soviet Union proper.
One of the men murdered in those purges was José Robles, a friend to both Hemingway and Dos Passos, who were at the time producing a propaganda film about the war. Appalled by the murder, Dos Passos quit the project and eventually became a conservative. Hemingway finished that cinematic NKVD op on his own, editing Robles out.
Mr Meades spares no words in fuming about the help Franco received from Hitler and Mussolini, tacitly assisted by “Stanley Baldwin and Anthony Eden, who like most men of their social class dreaded communism more than fascism…”. And yes: “Without [Germany and Italy], Franco would have been defeated and democracy sustained.”
Had Franco been defeated, Spain would have become in 1936 another Romania, circa 1948. That seems to be Mr Meades’s idea of a democracy sustained. However, Franco would have routed the Republicans singlehandedly had they not received massive assistance from Stalin.
Soviet generals advised, and often led, the Republican armies. Soviet pilots flew combat missions in their Soviet Seagull and I-16 fighter planes. Soviet tank crews were employing pincer thrusts in their Soviet BT tanks. Soviet officers ran Republican intelligence and counterintelligence (stealing Spain’s gold reserves in the process).
Since Mr Meades can’t possibly be ignorant of these facts, his failure to mention them even obliquely testifies to the kind of dishonesty that ought to surprise even those familiar with the standards of left-wing journalism. That it’s practised in a supposedly conservative paper should, however, come as a slight surprise.
Mr Meades creates the impression that the Republicans were basically disarmed: “The efforts of the French air minister Pierre Cot, who sold the Republicans aircraft on the sly, were in vain.” Meaning what? That the Republicans had no warplanes to fly?
None of this is to say that Franco was a little angel. But neither was he the fascist he’s portrayed to be by the likes of Mr Meades.
Franco did align himself with foreign fascists in Germany and Italy, and domestic ones in the Falange. But then even Winston Churchill, not commonly regarded as a fascist, said he’d form an alliance with the devil himself if it helped defeat Hitler. No doubt Franco felt the same way about stopping communism in its tracks.
Civil wars are always fought with utmost brutality, and Franco committed his fair share. However, any decent person, especially one armed with the hindsight of the horrors perpetrated by the communists in every country they conquered, would feel that Franco’s cause was just.
Mr Meades doesn’t qualify as a decent person, which he proves by saying: “It’s telling that the senile cretin Ronald Reagan announced that the Brigade’s Lincoln Battalion fought ‘on the wrong side’.”
Living as he does in a glass house, Mr Meades shouldn’t throw ‘senile cretin’ stones too often. But then of course no vile invective is off-limits when someone dares to suggest that stopping the midnight terror of communism isn’t so bad.
Like all lefties, Mr Meades feels he has to end on a didactic note: “[Dictators] are successful in accruing power for power’s sake. They are the ones whom the most unscrupulous and morally bereft emulate, they are the ones whom we must watch like hawks…”
Anyone with a modicum of education will know that Franco didn’t pursue “power for power’s sake”. In fact, he was most reluctant to lead the anti-communist rebellion, and only did so because he wanted to save his country from Mr Meades’s typological precursors. They too must be watched like hawks.