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In Many Ways, Author Says, Spanish Civil War Was 'The First Battle Of WWII'

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In Many Ways, Author Says, Spanish Civil War Was 'The First Battle Of WWII'

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In Many Ways, Author Says, Spanish Civil War Was 'The First Battle Of WWII'

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Today, the fight against fascism.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE SPANISH EARTH")

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: This is the true face of men going into action. It's a little different from any other face that you will ever see. Men cannot act before the camera in the presence of death.

GROSS: That's Ernest Hemingway narrating a 1937 documentary shot on location about the men fighting in the Spanish Civil War when supporters of the newly elected democratic government fought against the fascist military coup led by Gen. Francisco Franco. After two and a half years of fighting, Franco with the support of Hitler and Mussolini was able to declare victory April 1, 1939.

World War II began just a few months later that year. About 2,800 Americans went to Spain as volunteers in the fight against fascism. Nearly a quarter of them died there. Many writers went to Spain including Hemingway, who reported on the Civil War for newspapers and then wrote about it in his novel "For Whom The Bell Tolls." Hemingway is one of the people my guest, Adam Hochschild, writes about in his new book "Spain In Our Hearts: Americans In The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939."

Most of the people Hochschild writes about fought on the side of democracy, but some supported Franco, including the CEO of Texaco who supplied the fascists with the fuel for their trucks and bombers. Hochschild's other books include "To End All Wars," about World War I. He co-founded Mother Jones magazine. Adam Hochschild, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Do you see the Spanish Civil War as being the prequel to World War II?

ADAM HOCHSCHILD: Absolutely. I think in many ways it was the first battle of World War II. After all, where else in the world at this point did you have Americans in uniform who were being bombed by Nazi planes four years before the U.S. entered World War II? Hitler and Mussolini jumped in on the side of Francisco Franco and his Spanish nationalists, sent them vast amounts of military aid, airplanes, tanks - Mussolini sent 80,000 ground troops as well - because they wanted a sympathetic ally in power. So I think it really was the opening act of World War II.

GROSS: And just to set the scene - I mean, fascism - it has spread to Germany and Italy. It's trying to take over Spain, and there were other countries in Europe that were either fascist or authoritarian. You want to just run through some of them?

HOCHSCHILD: Much of Eastern Europe - Romania, Hungary, the Baltic states, Poland - were under regimes of the far right that usually had a pronounced anti-Semitic tinge and, you know, were not outright fascists in the way that Germany and Italy were but were certainly leaning in that direction. Also, fascism was on the move. You know, by 1936, Hitler was already talking very loudly about his desire to expand to the east. Mussolini in 1935 went and then in the next year conquered Ethiopia, acquiring himself a colony. So people at the time really saw fascism not just as an evil but as an aggressive evil that seemed to be spreading.

GROSS: Let's get to what the conflict was about in the Spanish Civil War. A democratic government had been elected in 1931, the Spanish king fled and then there was a military coup that tried to take over the country. What did each side stand for?

HOCHSCHILD: Well, up until 1931, Spain had had hundreds of years of almost uninterrupted monarchy mixed with a period of military dictatorship at the end. Then in 1931, the king fled, statues toppled, and the country essentially became a democracy holding national elections. In 1936, the election that year put in power a coalition of left and liberal parties which promised to do much more in the way of land reform, secularizing education.

Previously education had all been in the hands of the Catholic Church. And, you know, this coalition won the election. And this was too much for Francisco Franco and a large group of right-wing army officers who rose up in revolt in July of 1936. They wanted to restore Spain, the Spain of old, the Spain where the dominant institutions were the large estates in the countryside, no more of this nonsense of land reform. There will be no trappings of democracy, no free trade union, the Army would remain - would reign supreme, would be a military dictatorship and education would be handed back to the Catholic Church.

And you can actually see photographs of bishops and cardinals giving the fascist salute alongside nationalist officers. So it was a pretty stark difference between what two kinds of Spain - these two sides wanted.

GROSS: You say that Franco's war was against modernity.

HOCHSCHILD: Absolutely. I mean, he also talked about regaining the Spanish Empire of old, but, of course, it was always very foggy how that would happen because the former Spanish colonies in South America, for example, had been independent for hundreds of years. So exactly how the Empire was to be regained wasn't clear, but he certainly had the idea of an empire on his mind.

And, in fact, after Franco and his nationalists won the war, he bargained with Hitler about whether he was going to actually join the axis in World War II - finally decided not to because Hitler wouldn't give him everything he wanted, which were a huge swath of British and French colonies in Africa and a slice of France. So he was definitely somebody that wanted to expand his power.

GROSS: So after the Civil War started when the military coup was trying to take over the whole country and had already taken over part of it, there were people from different countries around the world who wanted to join forces with the democracy side, the Republicans, including people from the United States. And the American brigade in the Spanish Civil War was called the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. What attracted Americans to fight in another country's civil war?

HOCHSCHILD: Some 2,800 Americans went to Spain, and it was by far the largest number of Americans before or since who've ever joined somebody else's civil war. I think they were primarily people who were deeply alarmed by the menace of fascism.

They saw this on the horizon. I, quote - one volunteer Mourie Colau (ph) of New York who said, for us it was never Franco; it was always Hitler. Another volunteer, Hyman Katz, who was actually a young rabbi who was killed in Spain - before his death, he wrote to his mother saying that he could never forgive himself if he hadn't come to Spain because it would mean that I hadn't woken up when the alarm clock rang. So they saw these were clouds on the horizon. Everybody had the sense that a larger war was coming to Europe, and it would be a war between Germany and Italy and almost everybody else.

GROSS: One of the most interesting characters that you write about in this book is the head of Texaco oil, Torkild Rieber. He was the head during the Spanish Civil War, and he supported the fascist cause, the military coup in Spain. And he made a deal with Franco's regime. What was the deal?

HOCHSCHILD: Here was the deal - before the war, Texaco had been the principal oil supplier to the government of Spain. The moment the war began, Rieber signaled that he would cut off oil supplies to the Spanish Republic, the Democratic side, and would sell oil to Franco's Nationalists. He not only did that, but he gave them the oil at a big discount, which, as far as we can tell, he never told Texaco shareholders or even his board of directors about.

And he violated American law in a couple of ways because U.S. neutrality legislation was pretty strict and said that if you were selling anything to a country at war, the oil couldn't travel on American ships. But he shipped it on Texaco tankers. The Nationalists had no tankers. U.S. law also said you could not sell things on credit to a country at war, and Rieber gave the Nationalists very, very, very generous terms of credit. And he did something else as well.

Texaco, being a major oil company, had offices, installations, agents, tank farms in ports all over the world. And he sent out orders to them saying, send us as soon as possible any information you acquire about oil tankers heading for the Spanish Republic. And this information was passed on to the Nationalists to help submarine captains and bomber pilots look for targets. Twenty-nine oil tankers headed for the Spanish Republic were destroyed, damaged or captured during the war. And in at least one or two cases, we can specifically tie it to information supplied by Texaco. So the United States might be neutral, but Texaco had gone to war.

GROSS: Wow, Texaco was acting - because of Rieber - was acting like a spy.

HOCHSCHILD: Absolutely, absolutely. I don't know of any parallel where a private corporation has supplied a vast amount of intelligence information to a warring government secretly. And this was not known for many years. It was actually discovered in the archives in Spain by a Spanish scholar who wrote a couple of articles about it and very generously shared his - the documents he found with me.

GROSS: How could American intelligence not have known about this?

HOCHSCHILD: Well, you would've had to have somebody inside Texaco to know all of this. There were American intelligence officers who were watching the war very closely. There were several American military attaches in Spain. There was an intelligence agent who was infiltrated into the Lincoln Battalion of American volunteers.

But nobody noticed what Texaco was doing. And the thing that startles me is that it should've been an obvious question for the foreign correspondents on the scene to ask because here they were, dozens of them, hundreds of them over the course of the war, mainly in Madrid, looking up at skies full of Nazi planes bombing them and writing very eloquently about the bombing of Madrid - this was the first time a major European capital had been under heavy sustained aerial bombardment. And they never asked the question, whose fuel is powering those aircraft? And it should've been obvious because Nationalist Spain had no oil wells, Germany and Italy were oil importers, not exporters. It would've been very expensive and difficult for them to supply Franco with oil. The question was never asked.

GROSS: So tell us more what the Texaco oil that was sent to the fascist side enabled the fascists to do in the Spanish Civil War.

HOCHSCHILD: Well, modern armies run on oil, and it's estimated that 60 percent of the oil going to both sides in Spain went to their respective militaries. You know, airplanes run on aviation gasoline, tanks and trucks run on diesel fuel, other kinds of transport run on plain gasoline. And without a steady and guaranteed supply of this, Franco's army would've been stuck. So this supply of oil from Texaco was really crucial.

GROSS: And it also helped Hitler, right, in the war in Spain?

HOCHSCHILD: Absolutely because this oil was fueling German planes flown by German pilots that were doing the bombing of Madrid, Barcelona, Guernica and other cities.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Adam Hochschild. His new book is called, "Spain In Our Hearts: Americans In The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939." Let's take a short break here then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Adam Hochschild. His new book is called, "Spain In Our Hearts: Americans In The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939." As you point out in the book, Hitler's support of the fascists in the Spanish Civil War enabled Hitler to test out new bombers and new artillery that he would later use in World War II. So the American gas helped enable that test.

HOCHSCHILD: Absolutely, you know, many of the principle weapons that the Nazis used during World War II had their first trial in combat in Spain - the Messerschmitt 109 fighter plane for example, the Stuka dive bomber, the 88 millimeter artillery piece, which could be used both for antiaircraft purposes and also shelling on the ground. And American soldiers were the victims of these things in Spain - American volunteers. So this war was really a testing ground for Hitler. And he learned a great deal from it about the strengths and weaknesses of these different weapons.

GROSS: Texaco was not the only oil company that sent oil to Spain or to the, you know, to the fascist side. Why do you single out Texaco in the book?

HOCHSCHILD: I single out Texaco just because they supplied the great bulk of Franco's oil. Other oil companies joined in - Socony Vacuum, Standard Oil of New Jersey, one or two others. But the great bulk of it came from Texaco. And none of the oil companies did what Rieber of Texaco did, which was to extend these very generous terms of credit and to supply the oil at a discount. He priced the oil as if it were traveling in the Nationalists' own oil tankers across the ocean from Port Arthur, Texas to Spain. But in fact, he was sending it in his own ships. Also, none of the other oil companies that we know of supplied this vast trove of intelligence data about oil tankers heading for the Republic that was so useful to Nationalist bomber pilots and submarine captains.

GROSS: Something else that's very interesting about this part of the story is that after this connection between Texaco and the fascist side in the Spanish Civil War was uncovered, Texaco felt that it had to cleanse its image. So Rieber was pushed out. And Texaco ended up sponsoring the Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcasts to get a more positive image. And it kept doing that for decades.

HOCHSCHILD: That's right. Actually, it wasn't the Texaco help for Franco that caused this disgrace. It was the Texaco help for the Nazis.

GROSS: Oh, I see.

HOCHSCHILD: Rieber's help to Franco, which extended throughout the Spanish Civil War, was virtually unknown in the United States at that time. But after the war ended in 1940, which was that twilight period when World War II had begun in Europe, but the United States was not engaged in the war. In 1940, Rieber's propensity for hiring Nazis to work at Texaco meant that there were German Nazis in Texaco's office in New York and Texaco's office in Berlin who were using the company's internal communication system to send intelligence data about American industry to the Nazis. This was discovered by British intelligence, which I suspect must have been eavesdropping on the transatlantic cable. They leaked the story to the New York Herald Tribune. There was a big to-do. Rieber lost his job. But he landed on his feet because General Franco, who was grateful for all the help Rieber had given during the Spanish Civil War, made him chief buyer in the United States for Nationalist Spain's oil monopoly.

GROSS: Among the people you write about are some of the journalists who covered the Spanish Civil War, the most famous of which was Ernest Hemingway - Martha Gellhorn, who was also a famous journalist. And she was there covering the war. She and Hemingway were lovers at the time. They later married. What do you think of his coverage of the war? He also wrote a novelization of it.

HOCHSCHILD: Right, I think his novel, "For Whom The Bell Tolls," is a fine novel. I think his wartime journalism is somewhat overrated. He was writing for the North American Newspaper Alliance, which was a consortium of 50 large newspapers. And he was such a - an enthusiast for the Republican cause in Spain that he was often predicting victory when, in fact, victory was not going to happen. He did like to get close to the action, close to the front. But I decided actually that the best journalist in Spain is somebody who's very little known - a woman named Virginia Cowles, who was 26 years old when she arrived in Spain, never been to college. And if you read the book that she wrote about it afterwards, called, "Looking For Trouble," it's still a fine read today, whereas most of the other memoirs of journalists who were there have a very musty feel. What makes her reporting so good, I think, is that she's one of the very few people who reported from both sides in the war. She reported from the Republican side. Then she set her sights on being able to get into Nationalist Spain, which was very difficult, especially for a journalist who had written from the Republic. But she managed it, traveled all over the place, was the first foreign correspondent in Nationalist Spain to be able to quote Nationalist officers admitting that they had bombed Guernica - because this was something that Franco and Hitler were strenuously denying. So I liked her work a lot.

GROSS: Why was it so difficult for journalists to get into and report on the fascist side in the Spanish Civil War?

HOCHSCHILD: In the Republic, there were very few restrictions on journalists.

GROSS: The democratic side - in the democratic side.

HOCHSCHILD: The democratic side, yeah - there were very few restrictions on journalists. There was censorship. But it was pretty lax. And Herbert Matthews of The New York Times said he noticed that if he called his Paris bureau at the time when the Spanish censure went out to dinner, he could just dictate a story without anybody interfering. On the Nationalist's side, the press authorities there were - kept a very close eye on foreign correspondents. They shepherded them around. Every correspondent had to have a minder with him or her at all times, had to travel in a convoy with Nationalist army cars at the beginning and end. The censorship was extremely strict. So it was hard to do that. And a lot of what Virginia Cowles wrote she didn't write until after she had left Nationalist Spain.

GROSS: And she stayed safe the whole time?

HOCHSCHILD: She did. She did.

GROSS: My guest is Adam Hochschild, author of the new book, "Spain In Our Hearts." We'll talk more about fascism during the Spanish Civil War and about fascism today after a short break. I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Adam Hochschild. We're talking about his new book, "Spain In Our Hearts," about Americans who volunteered to fight against fascism during the Spanish Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1939. World War II began just a few months later. Hitler and Mussolini had supported the fascist side in Spain, which was led by General Francisco Franco, who became Spain's ruler until his death in 1975. In writing about the journalists who covered the Spanish Civil War, you also write a little bit about how it was covered in the United States. And you say The New York Times had a thousand front-page stories on the Spanish Civil War and that there was also, like, a civil war within The New York Times (laughter) about the coverage. What was that war like?

HOCHSCHILD: That's right. Yeah, The New York Times published more than a thousand stories, front-page stories, about the Spanish Civil War during the period that it raged, from mid-1936 to early 1939. And that's more than on any other subject, you know - the re-election of President Roosevelt, the rise of Hitler, the toll of the Great Depression. The Times had correspondents on both sides, and they hated each other. On the Republican side was Herbert Matthews, who was a well-known Times reporter, became a very good friend of Hemingway's in Spain - they used to travel around together - who became a passionate partisan of the Republic, and I think, like Hemingway, was also not willing to recognize when the Republic was losing the war, which it definitely was in the later months. On the Nationalist side was a man named William P. Carney, who was a passionate supporter of Franco's Spain and was completely blind to any faults that it might have. And actually, years later, after he left the newspaper, he became a paid lobbyist for Franco's Spain in the United States. And these guys sniped at each other. You know, in the gray columns of The New York Times, you can't by name attack another reporter but there were a couple of times when Carney, who tended not to get as close to the front lines as Matthews, reported that the Nationalists had captured a particular town. Matthews, reading this, was outraged because he knew the Republic still held that town so he went there, wrote a story datelined from the town and said, in this war, you can only verify something by seeing it with your own eyes. So that was an indirect dig at Carney.

GROSS: So in 1939, after two and a half years, Franco and his fascist army wins the Spanish Civil War and he becomes the dictator for the next 36 years. When he first took over Spain, what was his rule like? What kind of laws did he enact?

HOCHSCHILD: First of all, education was given back to the Catholic Church where it was separate education for boys and girls. Girls' education was very heavy on religion and sewing, and the Nationalists believed that college education was a communist plot of some sort. The laws regarding women were very strict. They couldn't vote. Actually, nobody could vote because there were simply no elections. But a husband had the right to kill his wife if he caught her in the act of committing adultery. A woman needed her husband's permission to travel out of town, to open a bank account, to do various things like that. It was very, very retrograde. There were also all sorts of rules about modesty in dress, you know, no pants for women. The regime that Franco established favored these large landowners, who had been his basic backers from the beginning. And he had tens of thousands of Republican prisoners and he put many of them to work building irrigation canals that would benefit the large landowners and giant memorials to the Nationalist debt of the war. It was a pretty grim police state for 36 years. Torture was routine right up to the very end.

GROSS: And I guess this comes as no surprise since he was supported by Hitler during the Civil War, but, you know, Franco was also very anti-Semitic.

HOCHSCHILD: Absolutely, which is strange because the Jews were famously expelled from Spain in 1492 and very few of them had ever returned, but...

GROSS: I guess he wanted to keep it that way. (Laughter).

HOCHSCHILD: Yeah. The rhetoric of Franco and his generals was always that the conspiracy lined up against them was a conspiracy of Bolsheviks, Jews and Masons. They were very opposed to the Freemasons because this had been a traditionally anticlerical group in Spain.

GROSS: And in terms of returning education to the church, you describe this Spanish Catholic Church as being probably the most conservative of the churches in Europe at the time. I mean, conservative maybe isn't even the right word. You write that the Jesuits in Spain before the Spanish Civil War had republished these anti-Jewish tract, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

HOCHSCHILD: Right. This was the mentality of the church. It was the most conservative Catholic church in Western Europe and remained so really throughout Franco's rule.

GROSS: At the same time, it sounds like the Democratic side during the Spanish Civil War committed some, you know, atrocities against Catholics. They murdered thousands of clergy, they burned down lots of churches.

HOCHSCHILD: They did. The war was very nasty on both sides. Nobody has a monopoly in Spain of virtue here. The Nationalists are estimated to have carried out 150,000 political murders during the war and some 20,000 after the war ended. On the Republican side, mobs killed an estimated 49,000 people including nearly 7,000 members of the clergy. The Republicans hated the Catholic Church because it was looked on as being hand-in-glove with the large landowners and the big industrialists. So there was a lot of nastiness on both sides.

GROSS: It's a complicated war. You know, as you say, some people saw it in terms of black and white. You know, you've got the Democratic side versus the fascist side, but then you also have Stalin's Soviet Union supporting the Democratic side and doing some nasty things. So what were the Soviets responsible for in the Spanish Civil War or in Spain?

HOCHSCHILD: Well, Stalin hoped at the beginning that the United States, Britain and France would sell arms to Spain. But when they didn't do so he jumped in and began sending arms and sometimes, you know, pilots to fly planes, drivers for the tanks and so on, about three or four months after the war started. And this was essential help, it prevented Madrid from being captured. And he continued to send quite a lot of arms throughout the war, although after mid-1937, Mussolini's submarines in the Mediterranean began sinking a lot of ships that were carrying arms to Spain so the supply began to shrivel up. In return for this help, Stalin demanded high positions in the Spanish army and security forces for Spanish and Soviet communists and a lot of these folks came to the fore in that time.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Adam Hochschild. His new book is called, "Spain In Our Hearts: Americans In The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939." Let's take a short break then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Adam Hochschild. We're talking about his new book, "Spain In Our Hearts: Americans In The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939." You asked the question, if the U.S. - if President Franklin Roosevelt had agreed to sell arms to the Democratic side in Spain, that maybe the Democratic side would've won. Spain would not have become a fascist country. Hitler wouldn't have been victorious in Spain because Hitler was aligned with the fascist side in Spain. And maybe he would have thought twice before invading so many other countries, and he wouldn't have had all the military experience that the Spanish Civil War provided for his troops and the tests that it gave to his new bombers and artillery. So do you think it's possible that if the U.S. had been willing to sell arms to Spain, that World War II wouldn't have happened? Or it wouldn't have happened in the same way that it did?

HOCHSCHILD: I don't think World War II wouldn't have happened because Hitler was determined to conquer the world, especially Eastern Europe, the Balkan and Caspian oil fields. This is what he had his eye on. And I think a setback in Spain would not have deterred him from that. But I still think it could've made a difference if the Spanish Republic had won because during World War II, Franco was sort of a de facto ally for Hitler. He was not officially part of the Axis, but he provided Hitler with a submarine base on the Spanish Atlantic coast, where 21 submarines were based that sunk many American ships and caused many American deaths. He provided bases for reconnaissance aircraft, radio facilities. And he encouraged Spaniards to volunteer for Hitler's army. Some 45,000 of them did so and took part in the Russian campaign. So Hitler would not have had all that help if the Spanish Republic had won the war.

GROSS: Do you think FDR ever regretted the embargo against selling arms to Spain, to the Democratic side?

HOCHSCHILD: He did regret it because there was a lot of pressure on him during the war from people who'd come back from Spain. Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway's lover and later wife, was a protege of Mrs. Roosevelt - Eleanor Roosevelt - and was writing to her constantly throughout the war. So there was a lot of pressure on him to do so. And he toyed with the idea a couple of times of getting arms to Spain indirectly somehow or other 'cause the U.S. had a huge industrial base and a big arms industry. But he knew that isolationism was very strong in the United States. He knew there was no constituency here for getting involved in the Spanish War. And so he backed off and didn't do anything. Finally, a couple months before the war ended, he told a Cabinet meeting, we've made a grave mistake by maintaining the arms embargo. So think at the end, he sort of wished he'd done it differently, but I wish he'd had that realization earlier on.

GROSS: Well, it sounds like he was also trying to save his political capital for passing parts of the New Deal that he wanted to get passed.

HOCHSCHILD: Absolutely. And he - he'd suffered some setbacks in elections - the midterm Congressional elections of 1938, for instance - a lot of Democrats lost their seats. And so he was very attuned to trying to stick with things that would be popular with his constituency.

GROSS: The soldiers - the American soldiers who fought fascism and Hitler in World War II - we all consider them heroes. And Tom Brokaw kind of named them the Greatest Generation. But as you say, the Americans who fought fascism in Spain just before World War II were considered suspect when they returned home because the Soviet Union was supporting the democratic side in Spain. And a lot of the Americans who fought for the democratic side in Spain identified as Communists at the time. And therefore, they were considered suspect by the FBI. Can you talk a little bit about about what their lives were like when they returned? Like what that suspicion - how that crept into their lives?

HOCHSCHILD: Well, the FBI was very alert always to anybody who was a Communist Party member or belonged to a Communist front organization. And they investigated these returned soldiers vigorously. And this meant sending FBI agents to question them. It meant sending FBI agents to talk to somebody's employer. You know, are you aware that you have a Communist working for you and so on. And it was a rare person who wasn't hurt by this kind of thing. I consider myself lucky to have known some of these veterans - all dead now, all 30 or 40 years older than me. But one reason I knew them was one of my first jobs was as a newspaper reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. And the paper was very good about giving jobs to people who would've been blacklisted elsewhere. And two other reporters on the staff were Spanish Civil War veterans. And I used to talk to them about it. I think that's where I first got interested in the subject.

GROSS: Did the people who you knew when you were younger who were veterans of the Spanish Civil War and fought for democracy in Spain, did they identify as Communists? And if so, did they identify at that time, in the '30s, as Communists? And if so, what did that mean to them?

HOCHSCHILD: They certainly all did that the time, in the 1930s. But by the time I knew them, which was in the 1960s and '70s, they had long since left the Communist Party. I think what they felt that the time, in the 1930s, is that the Communist Party in the United States and in other countries as well was the only force that was recruiting large numbers of soldiers to fight in Spain. There were a few thousand soldiers who went to fight in Spain who were of other political stripes - others on the left, anarchists and independent leftists and so on - but the big body was recruited by the Communists.

And there are even some non-Communists who deal with this in what they wrote. For example, one of the characters in my book is an Englishman named Pat Gurney who was very much a non-Communist. He said he would never be a Communist because the Communists had no sense of humor and that if you tried to make a political joke at a Communist meeting, you were treated as if you'd farted in church. And he went to Spain. But he said, I did so because the Communists were the only people recruiting soldiers. And then in Spain he fought with the American battalion for many months, got wounded, fell in love with an American nurse who has her own complicated story, and they're some of the characters in my book.

GROSS: And the reason why the Communists were the only people recruiting for the democratic side in Spain is that the Soviets supported the democratic side. And the American government opposed any kind of involvement.

HOCHSCHILD: They did. And the U.S. took a sort of hands-off position. Although curiously, you find a number of instances of individuals in the American government who were clearly very sympathetic. The U.S. military attache in Spain, for example, at one point visited the American battalion. And he left them a present when he - after he visited a couple of days, which was a box of U.S. Army manuals, which he thought might be useful to them. And then when they opened up the box and went through these manuals, they found a couple of pistols at the bottom. So he was actually saying, I'm in favor of what you guys are doing, even though my government is not.

GROSS: Writing about the rise of fascism in Europe, I'm wondering if you feel that the fascist strain in Europe is being revived now, if it's a strain that recedes but doesn't quite go away. I guess I'm asking if you see any connection between the far right now and the fascists that you write about in the 1930s.

HOCHSCHILD: I do, unfortunately. I think both with Donald Trump in the United States and with a lot of these right-wing movements in Europe there is an appeal to a sense of national glory, an appeal to a sense of give me power and I will clean everything up and set things right again. You know, Trump's cap that says make America great again - well, it's not that easy to do any of these things. And I think any time someone is promising sweeping, vague solutions that have a lot of national glory embedded in them, there's elements of that that it shares with fascism as it was known in Europe that time - in the 1930s.

GROSS: And what about in Europe now?

HOCHSCHILD: Well, I'm very worried by the rise of these right-wing anti-immigrant parties everywhere. I was in Hungary recently. And you can just see how they are rewriting their history to basically eliminate mention of the Holocaust and to retell the story of World War II, where the Hungarian nation was the victim of the Germans, not the Jews. And, you know, there are similar movements in so many European countries, you know, people who are threatened by immigrants, feel their own way of life threatened. I find it scary.

GROSS: Adam Hochschild, thank you so much for talking with us.

HOCHSCHILD: Well, thank you, Terry. It was a real pleasure.

GROSS: Adam Hochschild is the author of the new book "Spain In Our Hearts: Americans In The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939." Coming up, John Powers reviews a French film that was a hit at the Cannes Film Festival and has opened in the U.S. He loves it. This is FRESH AIR.

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