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SPAIN: The Civil War and Paul Preston

WAIS has among its members several leading specialists on the Spanish Civil War. Perhaps the best known is Paul Preston, because his books appeal both to scholars and the general public. He writes with a familiarity of the period which would suggest he lived through it, but he was not born at the time. We may think of the writers involved in the Civil War as belonging to three generations. The first was that of my Oxford mentor, Salvador de Madariaga. thanks to whom I first went to Spain in early 1931. I was there through the first part of the Civil War, and was evacuated about the same time as Madariaga, who afterwards lived for years in exile in Oxford. One of the pillars of the republic, he became disillusioned, bitter and conservative.

The second generation was that of those who, like me, observed the war and saw our lives changed. It is hard now to understand the passions this engendered among non-Spaniards, especially those who had been on the left and felt they had been fooled by the communists. Among them was one of the founders of WAIS, Burnett Bolloten, to whose scholarship Paul Preston pays deserved tribute. Many remained faithful to the left, by now in exile in Mexico and elsewhere.

Paul Preston belongs to the third generation, which can view with the Civil War with the objectivity that comes from time. and the scholarly perusal of the vast literature which the Spanish Civil War generated, well over 15,000 books and pamphlets. Paul has made many contributions to that number. The most recent ones are first, A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War (1996) is a revised and updated version of The Spanish Civil War, 1936-39 (1986). The second is a Spanish translation (2000) of this work, entitled La Guerra Civil Española, published by Plaza& Janés, which had published his earlier best-seller Las tres Españas del 36 (1998) , a collection of nine biographies of Civil War figures. The first of these is Francisco Franco, to whom Paul had devoted a full-scale book, Franco. A Biography (1993).

Perhaps we should add a fourth, younger generation to whom the Spanish Civil War, indeed World War I, are pre-history, as the Boer War was to me as a child. Time, alas, marches on. Please ask the younger generation what they think of the Spanish Civil War. the answer might be "Spain???"

Spain, now a democratic monarchy, is conducting itself admirably except for ETA, which would be quite happy if it could start another civil war. It is the memory of the last one which makes Spaniards behave with such admirable restraint. How will ETA celebrate Christmas?

Ronald Hilton - 12/19/00