In Hollywood’s 1943 rendition of Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bells Toll (1940) we are treated to another of Hemingway’s portrayal of the adventurous, selfless Americano. The setting is sometime after the Republicans have lost their handle-hold on the Spanish government (1938-1939) and pro-Republican rebels are making a last-ditch, almost suicidal, attack on Segovia, just north of Madrid. The characters, largely, a loosely stitched guerilla band, are often at odds with each other. Perhaps because they all know that this will very well be their last futile stand against the Spanish fascists (then supported by Nazi Germany). Death is certain. But it is the Americano (whom the guerilla leader, calls “English”) who assuredly is risking certain death as he sets out to blow a mountain railroad bridge. What drives (indeed, drove) many volunteers from across the United States, Mexico, and other countries to join the international brigade to save the Spanish Republican State?
“If we win here, we will win everywhere. The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.” Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bells Toll
Hemingway’s protagonist, Robert Jordan, represented that idealist of the 1930s, influenced by a mix mash of ideas, including liberalism, socialism, communism, democratic ideals, utopian visions…. At that diminutive social setting (the guerilla’s band’s mountain cave), the group band portrays, in a sense, the disarray of emotions to which ill-defined movements tend to disintegrate upon realization that the “good fight” has been lost. But personal honor remains: a final personal sacrifice to the cause seems fitting.
As a voluntary act, Robert Jordan’s personal sacrifice, knowingly and willingly, is understandable. Sadly, the sacrifice of the Spanish people as a result of the Spanish Civil War was not knowingly and willingly accepted. Pablo Picasso would be one of Spain’s exiled who espoused no ideology, an iconoclast artist who would contribute to the historiography of that time and place by portraying his country’s pain from the civil war. In “Guernica,” a black and white mural painted in Paris in 1937, Picasso’s symbols are ambiguous, but the horror requires no interpretation. Nazi fighter bombers undertook the first aerial blitzkrieg of a civil population as Hitler announced his support for the Spanish fascist state.