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The War and Its Shadow

Spain’s Civil War in Europe’s Long Twentieth Century

Helen Graham is Professor of Modern European History at Royal Holloway University of London and was Visiting Chair in Spanish Culture and Civilisation at the King Juan Carlos Centre, New York University. She has published widely on the Spanish civil war, and co-edited (with Jo Labanyi) the Oxford University Press volume Spanish Cultural Studies. A video interview with the author is available at:

In Spain today the civil war remains ‘the past that will not pass away’. The long shadow of the Second World War is now also bringing back centre frame its most disquieting aspects, revealing to a broader public the stark truth already known by specialist historians – that in Spain, as in the many other internecine wars soon to convulse Europe, war was waged predominantly upon civilians – millions were killed not by invaders and strangers, but by their own compatriots, including their own neighbours. Across the continent, Hitler’s war of territorial expansion after 1938 would detonate myriad ‘irregular wars’, of culture as well as of politics, which took on a ‘cleansing’ intransigence as those driving them sought to make ‘homogeneous’ communities, whether ethnic, political or religious.

So much of this was prefigured with primal intensity in Spain in 1936, where, on 17–18 July, a group of army officers rebelled against the socially-reforming Republic. Saved from almost certain failure by Nazi and Fascist military intervention, and by a British inaction amounting to complicity, these army rebels unleashed a conflict in which civilians became the targets of mass killing. The new military authorities authorized and presided over an extermination of those sectors associated with Republican change – especially those who symbolized cultural change and thus posed a threat to old ways of being and thinking: progressive teachers, self-educated workers, ‘new’ women. In the Republican zone, resistance to the coup also led to the murder of civilians. This extrajudicial and communal killing in both zones would fundamentally make new political and cultural meanings that changed Spain’s political landscape forever.

Helen Graham explores the origins, nature and long-term consequences of this exterminatory war in Spain, charting the resonant forms of political, social and cultural resistance to it and the memory/legacy these have left behind in Europe and beyond. Not least is our growing sense of the enormity of what, in greater European terms, the Republican war effort resisted: Nazi adventurism, and the continent-wide wars of ethnic and political ‘purification’ it would unleash.

Published in association with the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies


Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-510-6
Hardback Price: £60.00 / $75.95
Release Date: May 2012
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-511-3
Paperback Price: £22.50 / $37.95
Release Date: May 2012
Page Extent / Format: 256 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes


The Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies
List of Illustrations


1 A War For Our Times
The Spanish civil war in twenty-first century perspective

2 The Memory of Murder
Mass killing and the making of Francoism

3 Ghosts of Change
The story of Amparo Barayón

4 Border Crossings
Thinking about the International Brigaders before and
after Spain

5 Brutal Nurture
Coming of age in Europe’s wars of social change

6 Franco’s Prisons
Building the brutal national community in Spain

7 The Afterlife of Violence
Spain’s memory wars in domestic and international context


Reviewed by International Affairs 89 (2): 2013 © The Royal Institute of International Affairs

Graham has authored several important works in Spanish history, most notably The Spanish Republic at War. This volume figures in a collection edited by Paul Preston for The Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies, and is mainly devoted to the multiple ways in which the Francoist victors in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) drew upon and magnified fears of change, especially social, religious, and political change. Victory and submission of the population insufficiently secured the future, Graham argues. Determined at all costs to preserve the status quo, Franco’s regime embarked from the outset upon systematic manipulation of fears, thus executing widespread, murderous, and continuous retribution against the losers and all even remotely associated with the fallen Republic. In sum, Spain had to be purged of its sins, especially democratic ones, as brutally as possible. The indictment presented here is very severe. Unfortunately, the use of overly broad generalizations, frequently reaffirmed, and a rather uneven presentation of subjects and supporting evidence weakens its telling. Extensive notes and bibliography. Recommended.
N. Greene, Wesleyan University, Choice

Reviewed by Sasha D. Pack, in the Journal of Modern History, The University of Chicago Press/JSTOR, May 2014

Graham is among those who claim a powerful therapeutic and political value for memory and the non-state movements that advocate on its behalf. While there can be no doubt that a full understanding of its past – which it should be remembered cannot be based on any single memory but requires attention to multiple memories – is important for any society, Graham sees memory movements as “the best holding action we have against resurgent fascism” and nothing less than the means by which we can achieve “our survival as something worthy of the name of ‘humanity’.
Reviewed in LABOUR/LE TRAVAIL, by Adrian Shubert,
York University

The Spanish Civil War was a particularly cruel and brutal conflict. This reviewer’s grandfather was one of an approximately 130,000 executed in Nationalist Spain during and after the conflict. On the Republican side, around 50,000 were killed. After Franco’s death in 1975, detailed provincial research exposed the horrible realities of the Francoist ‘crusade’ against communism and the Republican elimination of ‘fascism’. Yet until 2012 little of this work has been made available to an English-speaking audience. That year witnessed the publication of Paul Preston’s The Spanish Holocaust and the book under review. A glance at the latter’s footnotes reveals Graham’s reliance on what she calls Preston’s ‘monumental study’ (199). But it is not simply the fact that much of Graham’s material is culled from Preston which makes The War and Its Shadow a companion piece to his more extensive book. Despite its title, The Spanish Holocaust did not attempt to place repression in Spain in the wider international context. Graham’s collection of six essays is an attempt to remedy this defect.
Reviewed by
Julius Ruiz, University of Edinburgh, in the Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 2014

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