The Spanish Civil War by Helen Graham

I read The Spanish Civil War by Helen Graham – A Very Short Introduction – for revision. It is a short book, perfect size to remember what I studied a few months ago. That is before I went deeper into the notes I made and the essays, to prepare for my exam.

The Spanish Civil War by Helen Graham

I was disappointed to see such blatant bias in the book. By now I’m used to left-wing bias in the books on the Spanish civil war, but Graham makes some awkward comments. I am going to give an example, from page 71:
“… Franco had no doubt that he was justified in using terror against the civilian population. He opened cities and towns to mass aerial bombardment. Spain was the first European country to suffer this acme of modern warfare.”
This is a very problematic approach from a historian. First of all, she makes the assumption that Franco had “no doubts” and I’m wondering where did she get such a good insight into what Franco was thinking. Even with diaries it can be a bit tricky to make such strong remarks. I would have agreed with something like “it is unlikely that Franco had doubts in using terror” as it still leaves the place for maybe it was not, as we just don’t know how much time he spent thinking on this.

On top of that, the last sentence in this short quote is wrong. I was surprised to see an English historian talking about Spain as being the first European country to be bombarded. German Zeppelins dropped a bomb near Dover castle on 24 December 1914. Even that is not the first time an European country was bombed from the air, as in 1849, Austrian forces dropped bombs on Venice from hot air balloons during Festa della Madonna della Salute.

Besides this, she cherry picked the information she wanted to share, talking about some American volunteers, but ignoring quite an important bit of information on the start of the war: the assassination of politician José Calvo Sotelo a few days before the rebellion started. José Castillo (left-wing) was killed by Falangists (right-wing party), in retaliation Sotelo (right-wing) was picked up from his home and killed in a police truck. The authorities decided to make little fuss about this and instead of arresting the killer, they went on to arrest right-wing activists. Practically the war started because the governing party decided to turn a blind eye when a leader of the opposition was killed by government’s employees. I imagine unrest would start in this situation in most countries.

The Spanish Civil War by Helen Graham

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 3/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: no
Published by: Oxford University Press
Year it was published: 2005
Format: Paperback
Genre(s): History – Spanish Civil War
Pages: 176

About the author: Helen Graham is an English historian, the Professor of Modern Spanish History at the Department of History, Royal Holloway University of London.
Website & Social Media Links: –



2 thoughts on “The Spanish Civil War by Helen Graham”

  • Oh dear, this does sound biased, especially since the little reading I’ve done suggests it’s hard to know what Franco was ever thinking since he didn’t commit his thoughts to writing very much. And to omit José Calvo Sotelo’s assassination seems like it must be deliberate bias… Thanks for the heads up, I’ll resist this one!

    • I agree that you should leave it out. It’s not brining a lot of new details. I just read it because it’s short and I needed a quick refresher before starting the revisions.

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