Wound in the Heart: Yet Another Casualty of the Spanish Civil War

by Martin Peretz | August 20, 2009

 The Spanish Civil War was the iconic international struggle of the thirties. Franco and "los cuatro generales" were the villains. And the Spanish people were the victims. Their songs were our songs, Pete Seeger our medium. We did not travel to Spain; we boycotted Spain. We paid homage to Guernica by visiting Picasso's gruesome mural of that name at MoMA (and hanging posters of the painting in our dorm rooms.) We choked up whenever we saw Robert Capa's famous photograph "Falling Soldier." This was the first war against fascism, and democracy was defeated.

Robert Capa's

The image of heroic Republican Spain has long since been compromised. George Orwell did it first in Homage to Catalonia. The Communists actually murdered comrade Trotskyites and anarchists in battle. The International Brigades, of which the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was the American unit, were under Stalinist discipline, and Stalinist discipline meant killing, random killing and targeted killing and just plain killing.

Proper history has now put the legend of Republican Spain to bed. Read Ronald Radosh et al, Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union and the Spanish Civil War and a review of it by David Pryce-Jones in National Review. There is by now a vast scholarship taking apart the legend of the virtuous republic.

Now, don't get me wrong. Virtue was on the side of the Republic in many ways and among many of its loyalists. There were true democrats and socialists and liberals in its ranks. But they were all overtaken by communists and the Communist power to the east.

Yesterday's Times ran an article by Larry Rohter headlined: "New Doubts Raised Over Famous War Photo." It was sub-headed: "Battle lines are drawn over Robert Capa's ‘Falling Soldier'." This is the famous image seen above. The report details the research of José Manuel Susperregui, published in his book Shadows of Photography. It concludes that the September 1936 photograph was not taken in Cerro Muriano, near Cordoba, but 35 miles away at Espejo where, as Rohter writes, "the current skyline seems an almost perfect match with what is seen in the background of Capa's photographs."

This is not exactly old hat. But in a review of Blood and ChampagneAlex Kershaw's biography of Capa, in TNR, David Thomson questioned the authenticity, the veracity of "Falling Soldier." I think it is a gorgeous photograph. But, alas, it is not a true photograph. Thomson thought the falling soldier had neither been shot at nor was he dead.

It is to be expected that when the outlines of a great legend fall into disrepute that also its icons will crumble.

Today is the 73rd anniversary of the murder of Federico Garcia Lorca, near Granada. Yes, he was taken in a lorry with three other men, shot, really assassinated, and thrown into a common pit. He was Spain's greatest talent of the age. And also, yes, he was killed by fascists, a victim of a vicious state of mind.

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