Wednesday, March 22

Orwell in the Ukraine

Given the real military situation and the suffering of the Spanish people (…) what was truly shameful was having allowed the war to last so long.

George Orwell, about the Spanish civil war.

During these days, regarding the question of whether or not we should send weapons to Ukraine, the Spanish civil war has been brought up. The argument goes that, in the same way that the political and moral obligation of the democracies of the time was to have helped, after the military coup d’état, the legitimate government of the first Spanish democracy, now, for the same reasons, it is imposed on us the duty to send help to the Ukrainian defenders. A priori it is difficult not to agree.

But the issue is much, much more complex. Is it “in the Spanish civil war”, thus in the abstract, where such support would have been justified? Depends. In July 1936, at the beginning of the war, it would undoubtedly have been an enormous boon to Spanish democracy. Italian fascism and the German Nazis did not hesitate to support the putschists, and that probably led to the war. Although it implies delving into counterfactual arguments, and therefore unprovable, it seems logical to suppose that, if France and Great Britain had supported the Spanish authorities elected at the polls, perhaps we would not have suffered four decades of Franco’s dictatorship. But the fact is that that same decision, had it been made in March 1939 – when, from a strictly military perspective, the legitimate government of Spain was clearly defeated after three years of war – it would not have made much sense. An allied military support – I’m not talking about entering the war, but something similar to the German and Italian contingent – would have served to lengthen the war and increase the number of deaths, but not to decant in any sense the end of it. A conclusion that becomes even more evident if we move it a few years back in time and imagine that some foreign power had thought to support the Maquis militarily, the anti-Francoist guerrilla that maintained a certain presence in the Pyrenees until the 1950s and even 60. It would have been nonsense.

Orwell’s sentence that opens this article takes place in March 1939, when Colonel Casado, faithful to the legitimate government of Spain until then, staged a coup in order to surrender Madrid to Franco. Orwell assumes that at that moment Casado’s decision was the correct one, the only one that he could fully take, since continuing the war no longer made any sense. Why? Orwell cannot be blamed for anything. He was fighting, on the side of democracy, with the International Brigade members, totally voluntarily. He left his skin, and there is no doubt about the commitment he acquired with his time. And yet, at a certain moment he assumes that he has to surrender. What reason pushes him to it? As always in him, he could not be more honest: “the real military situation”, he gives as any reason. “The real military situation”, that is, the abyss without law or right that mediates between what is just and what is possible and that places us in front of dilemmas as ruthless, as atrocious and as unjust as they are inevitable. Camús put it very well: “It was in Spain where my generation learned that one can be right and be defeated, that force can destroy the soul and that sometimes courage is not rewarded.”

What is “the real military situation” in Ukraine right now? Are we in the 1936 moment or are we in the Married moment? I think we don’t know, and I also think we are far from being informed. The difference between nail news and others it is so overwhelming that I at least assume that what mostly reaches us is propaganda. But there is one thing we do know: at some point, an agreement will be reached. Zelensky is demonstrating a colossal human stature, and, as if in a flash, he has returned to an area as discredited as politics an aura of admiration. The traps about his supposed philo-nazism and similar shadows are infamies, pure rubbish. His political record is impeccable. He is a democrat and represents democracy against a tyrant who has trampled International Law and the Charter of the United Nations. But precisely because of this, he fights against a brutal military machine that has no reason to stop. The moment of him Married of him will come. Perhaps he has already arrived.

Franco wanted it all: all of Spain, and after an ideological cleansing, in addition, half of the Spaniards he considered traitors. It is not clear – or at least I am not clear – what Putin wants. Do you want Crimea, the Donbass and a compromise of neutrality for Ukraine? Do you want all of Ukraine? Do you want Europe, and this is only the first step, as some say? Here, too, propaganda reigns more than information. I believe that “the real military situation” and Putin’s final objectives – both of which I repeat that I ignore – go hand in hand, and I suspect that seeing a map of Ukraine with the current fronts of the Russian army brings the answer quite close. But, be that as it may, I hope that, when the fateful hour of the Married moment arrives for Zelensky, Western governments will make him see that at that moment the few spoils that war, horror and human misery leave behind for morality and Political responsibility always falls on the side of the abyss that borders on what is possible, never on the side that demands reason and justice and therefore irredentism, glory and pride. Because those same governments, until now, I don’t know if they have been up to the task, quite the contrary.