Spanish Civil War

The Road Warrior: fun, but also stupid

The Mad Max series gave a big boost to the genre of "post-apocalyptic" fiction.  Foremost among them was The Road Warrior, which veered away from the Death Wish style social commentary of the first movie and dove straight into life after civilizational collapse.

I'll be honest: this is a pretty stupid movie.  It has plot holes the size of semi trucks and all sorts of hand-waving to push things forward, but it has had a huge impact on the public imagination. 

Which is funny, because the story makes no sense.  For example, there is no reason the protagonists and Lord Humongous can't simple do some sort of barter trade.  Even the most violent barbarian peoples - the Mongols, the Huns, the Vandals, the Goths - were wiling to trade when it was profitable.

Also: where are the firearms?  No, I don't expect craft weapons, but they clearly have the metallurgy to soup up engines - machining barrels and bolts to make crude firearms is no great stretch.  In fact, we know these things exist in places like the Khyber Pass - which is a pretty anarchic place.

All that aside, the movie's distinct look has become part of popular culture, which means that even though it's deeply silly, it can't be classified as anything other than a smashing success.

Truth be told, the whole point of the film is to do a bunch of violent car wrecks.  That's what we really want to see and that's what we get.

There is also a lesson insofar as the people who work to overthrow the existing order often have no clear notion of what comes next.  In that sense, the plague of ultraviolent punk rocker biker dudes serve as a cautionary tale for our present age.

 


Self-defeating Tactics 101: Attacking Catholic Churches

One of the (many) mistakes made by the Popular Front in the run-up to the Spanish Civil War was its decision to target Catholic churches and clergy.  By 1936, Spain was well on the way to being a secular society.  Mass attendance was low and falling, and there was little reason to believe the situation would change.

One of the many unique things about Francisco Franco was that he was a religious military officer, which was all but unheard of at that time.  Unless it was a wedding or a funeral, Spanish men didn't go to church. 

This changed when the Popular Front gained control of the Republic and its militias began a large-scale campaign of arson and murder.  As Stanley G. Payne has noted, in the run-up to the war and in the chaotic months that followed its outbreak, the Spanish clergy lost a higher percentage of its members than the Orthodox Church did in Communist Russia.

With historic cathedrals in flames, it was not surprising that the surviving Church leadership agreed that it was time to fight to defend what remained of Spanish Christianity. 

One could argue that this was the final straw in turning popular opinion decisively against the Republic.  As I note in Long Live Death, one did not have to be a practicing Catholic to find someone burning your home parish down and killing the local priest abhorrent.  Acts of desecration likewise stirred powerful - and ultimately homicidal - emotions.

This also had to have factored in the decision of the Carlist militias in Navarre to side with the Nationalists.  It is important to recall that the July Rising was originally to "save the Republic."  It was only later that a Nationalist ideology was developed.

The Carlists correctly reasoned that while neither side represented their interests, the annihilation of the Church was unacceptable.  The Requetes from Navarre would become the true elite of the Nationalist Army, outstripping even the Spanish Foreign Legion in their tenacity and determination.

It was a self-defeating tactic, but also an inevitable one.  Having decided to destroy traditional society, the Anarchists would also have to target the Church as well.

While the Orthodox Church was unable to mount much of a defense in Soviet Russia, history shows that Catholics often offer very effective resistance.


Even bad sources have good uses

My writing on China has slowed to a crawl because I've been so busy reading new books.  Some are excellent, while others have been questionable.

The situation is not quite as bad as researching the Spanish Civil War, where a uniform scholarly bias exists that has only recently been challenged.

With China, the situation is more complex.  The crimes of Communism are undeniable, which makes it difficult to shower the Peoples' Republic with the same sort of soft-focus fan service rendered to the Second Spanish Republic.

The language barrier is also difficult, particularly with two translation schemes.  What this does is make it much easier for modern pro-CCP scholars to obscure unpleasant facts since the English renderings of most of the place-names have been changed.

Still, I'm reaching a point where I'm getting quite good at detecting the presence of revisionist propaganda, which is particularly important as my account has now reached the modern era.

Just as the bombing of Guernica has served as a useful litmus test on a source's reliability regarding the Spanish Civil War, the treatment of China's brutal imperialist history has provided a useful guide to gauging a source's reliability in other areas.

As a sidenote, I still don't have a title.  I'm sure one will come to me...eventually.


Is the peace movement extinct?

My decision to tune out the news for a few weeks has been a fruitful one.  Instead of fuming over various "hot takes" or arguing in comment sections, my China project has been moving at its fastest pace since December.  At this point, it's a given that it will be longer than Long Live Death, but even if it equals my longest book, I'm at least halfway there.

All of which is to say that I haven't tuned out the news entirely, and one thing I've noticed is the complete absence of any kind of peace movement.  With the exception of the Catholic Church and other religious leaders, everyone seems to be demanding that the combat become fiercer and bloodier. 

I've never seen anything like it.

All my life there have been vocal and high-profile politicians and activists whose response to any form of violence has been to call for immediate cease-fires and negotiations.  Again, I'm not following this closely, but even my cursory glances would have noticed something.  Where are the streets-filling "peace marches?" 

I don't think a single interventionist has been denounced as a war monger or had their office occupied by protestors. 

Did all those people change their minds?  Is violence now the answer?

I'd love to talk with someone who carried a "no blood for oil" sign and find out what they think.

 


A little vacation from China

Writing the last chapter of my book was a real chore.  The period between the fall of the Han Dynasty and the reunification of China under the Sui and then the Tang is pretty complex, and I was moving at a crawl.

I've finally finished and feel the need to get away from it for a few days.

I found Long Live Death very easy to write, but I was also dealing with a much narrower topic.  China's history is a lot broader, and trying to be focused takes a lot more effort.  Not only that, there's the language and name difficulties.

I'm also working on the index as I go which is slowing my down now, but should save me time on the back end because I won't have to go back through the manuscript to build it from scratch.

My timeline for completion is slipping a bit as a result, but since I don't have a firm deadline, it's somewhat irrelevant.  I was hoping to have the draft done by March, but that was when I thought I'd have 20,000 pages by the end of 2021.  I'm still 5,000 pages short of that goal.  I'm thinking April-May might be more realistic.


Next Project: Chinese Military History

Over the past year, I've been all over the place on my next book project.  I looked at a sequel to Battle Officer Wolf, pondered writing The Vampires of Michigan: Pandemic, dabbled in doing a series of essays on spiritual warfare, and even took yet another stab (or two) at writing something in the fantasy genre.

Instead, I've settled on writing a concise, quick-moving military history of China.  I'm not sure how long it will be, but if you know me, you know it will be short.  Long books bore me.

I feel that Long Live Death was the right length for the topic and I'm very happy with it's reception.  It goes into just enough detail to make its point and inform the reader, and also points you to more detailed information in case you want it.

That's what I want to achieve with this new book.  At the moment, it's working title is "Something Something Dragon," because books about China almost always have "dragon" in the title.  You know, something like "The Dragon's Brittle Claws," because one of my themes is that Chinese military track record is uneven at best.

Hey, it took me a while to come up with Long Live Death, so no hurry.

I've not yet put together a deadline, or a projected completion date, but unlike other efforts, there is significant momentum.  I'm starting to get some good writing sessions and acquiring additional sources.  The mania is setting in.

I should note that like the Spanish Civil War, Chinese military history is another area that fascinated me in my late teens.  It was always somewhat obscure, and I found that a challenge.  At one point in college I came up with a Chinese version of Milton Bradley's Shogun game (which has been renamed a bunch, not sure what they call it now).  So a lot of my research is already floating around in my head, it's just a question of organizing it.


Loss of Legitimacy, Spanish Style

One of the crucial failures of the Second Spanish Republic was in maintaining a sense of law and order.  With the victory of the Popular Front, many of the Anarchist and Socialist movements began organized campaigns of theft, intimidation and murder against their political opponents.

The response of the Popular Front was largely to let it happen.  What this did was radicalize the center - not to become fascist, but to see the government as no longer legitimate.

This view spread abroad as well.  By mid-1936, the electoral shenanigans (forced re-votes that brought the Popular Front from a narrow majority to a 2/3rd one), systematic campaigns of church burnings, lynchings and land seizures gave the impression that the rule of law was completely lost in Spain.

The final straw was of course the murder of center-right politician Jose Calvo Sotelo.  It wasn't that a leading legislator was dragged out of his home at night and shot to death - it was that it was done by the police with impunity.

The halting, half-hearted conspiracy led by disgruntled generals was instantly galvanized into concrete action by the deed.  Fence-sitters like Fransisco Franco now realized that it was only a matter of time before they themselves were shot to death.  Better to die fighting.

At this point, the government's legitimacy was gone.  Everyday people who just wanted to get on with their lives and who otherwise took little interest in politics now pined for some relief from the growing fear and disorder.

As I pointed out in Long Live Death, the blow against the government's reputation was so powerful that instead of following established international law and allowing the recognized government to import arms, the League of Nations declared an embargo against both sides.

I mention this because a great many people think that foot-stomping and chanting "rule of law" somehow absolves lawless actors of their deeds.  It doesn't.  Even duly-elected governments are expected to conform to certain standards of justice.  The more these standards are perverted, the less legitimacy remains.

The great mistake of the Republic was not only in abandoning those standards be in flaunting their abandonment.  Calvo Sotelo's murderer wasn't even subjected to a fake trial.  Under the existing constitution (drafted by the left, by the way), sitting legislators had immunity from arrest.  Thus the crime blasted through every theoretical safeguard. 

The message was obvious:  "Even this person, protected with a special degree of legal immunity, can be cut down in cold blood.  No one is safe."

Was it not understandable that some people would then move to use their own extra-judicial means to guarantee their personal security?

It's also worth pointing out that July 19 Rising was originally claimed to be in defense of the Republic, not to overthrow it.  That came later.  This was a solid rhetorical move, because the Popular Front had no easy way to reply.  The Republic was dead, and they had destroyed it.

Historian Stanley G. Payne has repeatedly pointed out that the Popular Front didn't have to do what it did.  There were many opportunities for them to check their actions and these would likely have helped them both consolidate their power and avoid imminent conflict.

However, I think there's something about the rush of power that comes from openly flouting the rules with impunity that quickly becomes addicted.  Add to the fact that unstable people quickly gravitate to a movement that they think will allow them unlimited license and pretty soon all the guardrails will be removed.


Comparing The Year of Living Dangerously with The Killing Fields

I've fallen out of the habit of cross-posting my articles from bleedingfool.com, but I think it's necessary in this case because what I wrote about The Year of Living Dangerously goes to the heart of what I didn't like about The Killing Fields.

I'm going to assume by now that you've checked out the article and move on with my critique of The Killing Fields.   The films are of course quite similar, being about the spread of Communism in Asia during the Cold War.

In fact, they films bookend Vietnam, with The Year of Living Dangerously taking place in 1965 while The Killing Fields begins in 1973.

Both center around Western journalists striving to get the truth out to the larger public.  However, the portrayal of them is profoundly different.

The journalists in Indonesia are, as I've noted, a bunch of heavy-drinking perverts.  They may be good at their craft, but they are hardly role models.

By contrast, Cambodia's press establishment is remarkably noble and altruistic, particularly Sam Waterston's Sam Schanberg.  The only hint of criticism he gets his how failed to ensure the safety of his translator/friend Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor, who is amazing) and reaped the benefits of the subsequent publicity.

In fact, while approving of the subject matter, I found the presentation of The Killing Fields to be heavily at odds with the facts.  I get that by 1984, there was still a lot of Nixon hate out there, but it's obvious that the production team has let it completely cloud their judgement.  Late in the film Schanberg admits that the Khmer Rouge were worse than he thought, but then tries to blame Nixon for radicalizing them!

Uh, no.  Every single time Communists take control of a country they kill off huge numbers of people. (In Spain, they couldn't even wait until they won the civil war.)

The Khmer Rouge were just really good at it.  The notion that the Communists would have been peaceful and inclusive if only those pesky Americans weren't there is nonsense on stilts.

It;s possible that his answer isn't an attempt to preach but instead shows how far removed from reality his thought process has become.  I suppose there's also implied criticism in how Schanberg sits in his comfy chair talking about mailing photos while his dear friend eats lizards and climbs over corpses.

Even understanding the difficulty of the logistics at the time, I can't wonder why Schanberg didn't go to the refugee camps and write about them personally, maybe mount a vigil for his friend there rather than rage-watching Nixon administration footage while listening to his high-fidelity stereo.

The most tone-deaf moment in the film is when Schanberg is reunited with Pran and the production team plays of all things John Lennon's "Imagine."  Seriously?!

The Khmer Rouge was the embodiment of everything in the song!   They denied God, wiped out family ties and literally made everyone live for the day, every day.  The fact that their "brotherhood of man" was a nightmare only illustrates the inevitable outcome of nihilistic fantasies.

My resulting rage stroke almost wrecked the movie for me.

I will re-watch The Killing Fields at some point, looking for greater detail.  Also, the dialog wasn't very clear in places, so I'm sure I missed things.

Even so, The Year of Living Dangerously is a much better film.  The characters are more fully developed and the moral questions are presented with greater skill and complexity.  The Killing Fields gets very preachy at times, which it doesn't need to be.  The story speaks for itself, we don't need Waterston's sermonizing to make the point for us.

 

 

 


Sudden military collapse

If one looks purely at the strategic position and numbers of troops under arms in early 1939, the Republic's fate appeared far from sealed.

True, the Ebro offensive had failed, but the losses for each side were roughly equal.  Economic conditions were deteriorating in the Republic, but the burden of attack remained on Franco and the Nationalists.  Whether they chose to strike at Madrid or Barcelona, the fighting was sure to be slow and costly.

The subsequent Republican collapse took everyone by surprise.  There was tough fighting at first, but then the Republicans fell back in total disorder.  The Nationalists advanced as fast as they could march.

Despite having multiple prepared defensive lines in place, Barcelona was yielded without a fight. 

This once again demonstrates how important - and fragile - morale can be.

My analysis of the war in Long Live Death puts great emphasis on fighting spirit and the factors that sustain it, but the importance of morale is featured to one degree or another in all of my books.  People rarely fight to the death - particularly if they know it won't make a difference in the ultimate outcome.

We tend to think of battle fronts moving gradually and incrementally, but just as often they slip only a little before coming completely apart.  Once that happens, it's very hard to turn things around.

The blow to prestige can also be catastrophic.  Even unengaged troops can be affected by a rout.

That's also what happened in Spain.  Even though the forces on the Madrid front were fully intact, watching their comrades in Catalonia flee to France destroyed their fighting spirit as well.  The Republic lost the will to fight and Franco's victory was complete.


Stanley G. Payne's Civil War in Europe, 1905-1949 is a very useful book

Without a doubt, Stanley G. Payne is an invaluable source of information on the Spanish Civil War.  This book (titled, like all the other ones on the topic, The Spanish Civil War) is a badly-needed corrective to the prevailing leftist narrative on that conflict.

Payne's expertise extends beyond Spain, and in his book, he dropped tantalizing hints of his research in other civil conflicts.  His Civil War in Europe, 1905-1949, fleshes out his references and gives the reader a quick and accessible study of war and revolution during the period in question.

With a title like that, one might expect a massive Hugh Thomas-sized doorstop, but in fact it is a slender volume with less than 250 pages.  It is densely-packed with information, however, and Payne peppers his book with footnotes pointing the reader to more detailed accounts of the various topics he touches on.

In a sense, this book serves a similar purpose to Long Live Death, which is to say it serves an accessible bridge to other, more comprehensive sources.  Of course, it's more than just a bibliography or reader's guide to the topic - Payne traces common themes that connect the various revolutions (or attempted rebellions) and does so in a fair-minded way, free of bias.  As with his biography of Franco and The Spanish Civil War, this sometimes makes him appear an apologist for fascism or the right.  He is not.

His is honest.  He doesn't flinch from noting that leftist atrocities are almost always worse than those on the right and he also notes that a great many historians are willing to downplay Communist crimes while highlighting (and often exaggerating) those done by their enemies.

His examination may be brief, but he's thorough, and touches on subject often ignored, such as the religious aspect of the conflicts.  He is one of the only sources to note the feebleness of the Eastern Orthodox Church in resisting Communism, which contrasts sharply with the Catholic response to it, particularly in Spain.

For those who were wondering, Spain does get a detailed treatment in the book, largely because the conflict was a culmination of the other civil wars.  Even if you know quite a bit about that topic, it's useful to see it brought into direct comparison with the other wars.

I have but one minor quibble with Payne's analysis.  In his introduction he notes that the American Civil War wasn't really a 'civil war' at all, but an attempted war of liberation by the South.  Such wars almost always succeed, which makes the conflict unique.

I believe Payne is only partially correct.  Yes, the war was about preventing secession, but this issue of slavery (particularly emancipation) added a moral aspect to the conflict, and that was ultimately what sustained the Union war effort.  I would therefore characterize the US Civil War as a hybrid of the two, mixing religion and liberation and this was why the South was defeated.

Other than that, it's a great book, and worth reading. 

I've noted before that the current situation reminds me of Spain in 1936, but Spain itself hearkened back to earlier crises.  It's good to have them all brought together in a single place.