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Herbert Southworth and the Civil War



     Paul Preston Assures us of his even-handedness:
     Since the list has been treated to my obituary of Southworth, originally printed in the Guardian, and Ronald has mentioned twice my admiration for him in contrast to his own admiration for Bolloten, I feel that a comment is justified.
     I did indeed admire Southworth for the forensic meticulousness of his scholarship and I loved him as a close friend. I met Burnett only once when we spent a couple of days in close proximity. We hit it off instantly and I liked him enormously. Thereafter, we corresponded a little (I am not a great correspondent, it has to be said) and spoke on the telephone a few times. Burnett had the same combination of meticulous scholarship, wry humour and personal warmth that made Southworth so special. I said as much to Herbert Southworth and said that, if only they had met in the right circumstances, they could have been friends. I said the same to David Pike on several occasions, and we both lamented that their entrenched political positions made this impossible.
     Burnett was fiercely anti-communist and Herbert, while not a communist, believed that the communists had done most to keep the Spanish Republic alive. For me, the flaw in Burnett's great work was its lack of contextualization. Burnett's concentration on the misdeeds of the communists against the anarchists and Trotskyists took place in an interpretative vacuum which failed to take into account the fact that the Republic was fighting for its life against Franco, Mussolini and Hitler.
     Herbert's flaw was that he was too Manichaean in his judgements. However, for all their flaws, the Englishman who ended up in Mexico and California, and the Oklahoman who ended up in Morocco and France, between them totally changed the face of Spanish Civil War historiography.


     My comment: Bolloten impressed me as being a much warmer, kinder person than Southworth, whose comments deeply hurt Bolloten, who had the WAIS spirit of civil, friendly discourse. Southworth, not a WAISer, did not.

Ronald Hilton - 11/23/99


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