Book Review: Hell and Good Company by Richard Rhodes
Rating – Three Stars
Rhodes writes an easy read, semi-informative book about the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) that pitted the Fascists forces of General Francisco Franco against Spain’s “Republican” government. The Spanish government was far from a democracy—it was a pseudo-communist government that was suffused with Comintern agents of the Soviet Union. In May 1937, Spanish Communists took over the government.
Fighting with Franco were German and Italian air, artillery, and ground forces. Supporting the government were the military forces of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republic. About two million soldiers were involved in the war—200,000 killed and many thousands more wounded and missing.
Unfortunately, this book has no central theme—it has minimal coherence. Occasionally, Rhodes offers a snippet of the war about and who is doing what to whom, but mostly he focuses his narrative on the volunteer British medical personnel tending to wounded Republican soldiers: their heroism, dedication, and professionalism. Mostly, I reckon he discusses the Western expatriates that pontificated about the horrors of the war and the awful Fascists. Actually, this book is not about the Civil War in Spain, it’s about the expatriates in Spain during the Civil War. Here are a few of these people:
- Ernest Hemingway. An American novelist. Whilst drinking, womanizing, and sending dispatches to the North American Alliance, he worked with Joris Ivens (Dutch artist and Communist) producing the agitprop film titled, The Spanish Earth.
- Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s wife. American novelist, poet, political activist, and war correspondent. Worked trying to get Basque children evacuated to safety.
- George Orwell, British leftist, novelist, and journalist. Volunteered to fight with the people’s militias “The Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification.” Wounded in the throat, he was medically discharged and returned to England. In the following years he wrote the satirical novels Animal Farm and 1984.
- Muriel Rukeyser, American poet, war correspondent for the Daily Worker, and other far-left publications.
- J.B.S. Haldane, British scientist and war correspondent.
- Norman Bethune, thoracic surgeon and firebrand Communist, performed hundreds of operations, some in dire conditions. He was nonchalant about danger and would work in the front lines.
- Man Ray, American Dada and surrealist artist, photographer, and filmmaker, documented the War.
- Patience Darton, British nurse with keen initiative, gritty survival, and mental fortitude in tending to the wounded. Fell in love with an ardent Communist soldier—killed in action.
- The International Brigades composed of Western volunteers.
Rhodes dedicates many pages to Pablo Picasso and his painting “Guernica.” Picasso was horrified by the German Condor Legion’s bombing and utter destruction of this Basque city on 26 April 1937. The commanding officer of the Condor Legion, Lieutenant Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, said, “Guernica must be destroyed if we are to strike a blow against the enemy personnel and material.” Joan Mirό, the Catalan surrealist, painted a large mural titled “Catalan Peasant in Revolt.”
Rhodes does not include pictures of these artworks, and his only overall map of Spain is inadequate. Nonetheless, Hell and Good Company would have an appeal for the literati.