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Conflicting Interpretations of History



     Having gone to Madrid in early 1931, I witnessed the fall of the Spanish monarchy. Then came the republic and the Civil War (1936), during which I was evacuated. I had known many of the leading political and intellectual figures, including Ortega y Gasset and García Lorca. Although my sympathies lay with the republic, I felt it was betrayed by the group represented by García Lorca and his group and by Picasso, whom I view as clowns fooling the gullible.
     In 1937 I came to the University of California at Berkeley, then regarded as the leading center of Hispanic studies in the United States,. Wandering through the library stacks, I came across the works of Emilia Pardo Bazán, who was commonly dismissed as the author of two or three novels. Her complete works number almost ninety volumes. Only a few of them had been read; I had to cut the pages of all the rest.
     I was amazed to discover a highly intelligent, well-read woman, who threw light on the whole history of the Spain of her period. I wrote a volume entitled Pardo Bazán, Spain and the World and submitted it to the University of California Press. On the reading committee there was one professor of Spanish, who strongly supported my book, and professors of French and other literatures, who despised Spain. I withdrew the manuscript. Later I submitted it to Stanford University Press, who appointed as reader a French anticlerical, who promoted art for art's sake and spoke scornfully of the neo-Catholic Pardo Bazán. Meanwhile I had published the chapters as articles. Widely quoted, they vindicated Pardo-Bazán. Now her merits are recognized, and a statue of her has been erected in Madrid.
     Now history repeats itself. After the death of my good friend Burnett Bolloten, I am now probably the only Hispanist who lived through the critical 1931-36 period of Spanish history. The period is important as a prelude to World War II, so I have written an account of it entitled Spain, 1931-36: from Monarchy to Civil War. I approached several publishers, most of whom rejected it unseen, saying there was no interest in the Spain of that period. Two agreed to look at the manuscript. The anonymous readers expressed interested in the book, but objected to my politically incorrect criticism of García Lorca, Picasso and co, and my eulogy of Burnett Bolloten, who, although a Marxist in his youth, reached conclusions similar to mine in the magisterial works for which he too had difficulty finding a publisher.
     Part of the politically correct thinking about the Spanish Civil War is that the Abraham Lincoln Brigade went to fight for western-style democracy, although it is now well documented that there were mostly Stalinists. Very few people are now interested in the Spanish Civil War, so I was surprised to receive this announcement:


     Annual George Watt Memorial Prize for the best student essays on the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)


     The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) is pleased to announce the continuing annual competition for the ALBA George Watt Memorial prizes for the best college student essays about the Spanish Civil War, the anti-fascist political or cultural struggles of the 1920's and 1930's, or the lifetime histories and contributions of the Americans who served beside the Spanish Republic from 1937-1938. Two prizes of $500 each will be awarded each year - one to the best undergraduate paper and one to the best graduate student paper written on one or more of the above topics. Papers will be judged on the basis of originality, effectiveness of argument, and quality of writing. The paper must have been written to fulfill an undergraduate or graduate course or degree requirement. Submissions are encouraged from U.S. and international contestants.
     The deadline for receipt of essays is April 1, 2000. Essays written either during the year of submission or during the previous calendar year are eligible for the competition. Essays must be at least 5,000 words long to be considered for the prize. Applicants should email entries to Eunice Lipton. Her email address is: eunicelipton@earthlink.net
     The award winners will be announced each spring. The Executive Committee of ALBA will appoint the judges for the contest.
     ALBA is a non-profit organization devoted to the preservation and dissemination of the record of the American role in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. ALBA supervises the most comprehensive historical archive documenting the American involvement in the Spanish Civil War and supports cultural and educational activities related to the war and its historical, political, artistic, and biographical heritage. Some 2,800 American men and women, realizing the danger international fascism presented to the world, came to the defense of the Spanish Republic in the years just prior to the Second World War. On the other side were forces led by rebel Spanish generals supported by Hitler and Mussolini.
     The prizes honor the memory of Abraham Lincoln Brigade veteran George Watt (1914-1994), not only for his own long anti-fascist record but also as a symbol of the many American men and women who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives in this struggle. Watt himself was a veteran of Spain who then served in the U.S. Army Corps in World War II. An effective voice for a variety of social causes in his lifetime, Watt was also a driving force behind ALBA.


     It is interesting that, at a time when interest in the Spanish Civil War is about dead, prizes should be offered to students (not qualified historians) to study the Abraham Lincoln Brigade´s version of it, with no apparent reference to conflicting accounts.
     The truth will slowly assert itself. I have just received an e-mail from Stanley Payne, the leading American authority on modern Spain. He says:
     "You will be interested to know that I am currently reviewing for Yale the volume "Spain Besieged," the excellent volume of Soviet documents on the Soviet intervention in the Spanish war edited by Mary Habeck and Ronald Radosh, to be published in the Yale "Annals of Communism" documentary series. It magnificently vindicates Burnett Bolloten's lifework."

Ronald Hilton - 2/10/00


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