Hugh Thomas, New Statesman
20 April 1962, p. 568
Hugh Thomas (b. 1931), Professor of History at the University of Reading, author of The Spanish Civil War (1961) and Cuba (1971).
Hemingway, Ilya Ehrenburg, Claud Cockburn and I drove up to the front in a taxi painted in anarchist colours. The olive trees stood motionless like sentries against the grey of the sierra. We gave the password—dignidad—to a bronzed and smiling militiaman, and were shown to Major Mártinez’ command post. Mártinez, peasant son of a long line of peasants, was of the stuff of Goya, Pizarro, Lope de Vega, Cortes. Pointing overhead to where Mussolini’s Capronis were beginning once more to circle in a blue sky reminiscent of the background of Velázquez’ portraits, Mártinez remarked: ‘we are, I fancy, the only European nation who have committed suicide at the hands of others. ’
No one actually wrote these words, but there are about 3,000 books or pamphlets about the Spanish Civil War made up of paragraphs in the genre, and many thousand newspaper articles. Nearly all are so repetitious and ephemeral, however, that a single-minded researcher can get through them at the rate of about 40 a day and, by listing all of them in his bibliography, can gain a swift reputation for great learning. About half a dozen of these books are worth reading carefully for their own sake even now, and the best of these is Homage to Catalonia. It is written with great lucidity and sincerity. It is very perceptive about war. Nevertheless it is very misleading about the Spanish Civil War.
Orwell went out to Barcelona in December 1936 and joined a column organized by the POUM, an amalgamated group of semi-Trotskyist left-wing parties. After a brief training he went to the front, where he stayed—always with the POUM column—until April 1937. Then he went on leave in Barcelona. His leave coincided with the outbreak of open fighting between the Catalan government, the central Republican government and the communists on the one hand and the more extreme Barcelona anarchists and the POUM on the other. After these May riots, he went back to the front, was wounded