Small Wars Journal

War at Its Worst: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 5:00am

War at Its Worst: For Whom the Bell Tolls

by Eric Cummings

On Violence

If you have not seen the day of revolution in a small town where all know all in the town and always have known all, you have seen nothing.

This line comes from Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (Answer: thee), an underrated, under studied novel about a group of insurgents during the Spanish Civil War. (Yes, it is about insurgents and their mindset, based on Hemingway’s real life war experience in Spain, but how many soldiers or marines have read it?)

As the line above reveals, the Spanish Civil War started as a revolution. As we said two days ago, revolutions are violent. Revolutions often can be war at its worst.

Pablo--fighting for the republicans; ironically, the anti-loyalist/fascist, pro-communist side--leads a coup against the fascists in his town. In the morning, the revolutionaries blow up the local garrison and kill the soldiers inside.

This scene takes place in the town square, which abuts a cliff with a 300 foot drop into a river, where Pablo prepares the people of the town to kill the fascists. With the entire town gathered around, Pablo holds his fascists prisoners in their club, called the “Ayuntamiento”.

He [Pablo] placed them in two lines as you would place men for a rope pulling contest, or as they stand in a city to watch the ending of a bicycle road race with just room for the cyclists to pass between, or as men stood to allow the passage of a holy image in a procession. Two meters was left between the lines and they extended from the door of the Ayuntamiento clear across the plaza to the edge of the cliff. So that, from the doorway of the Ayuntamiento, looking across the plaza, one coming out would see two solid lines of people waiting...

They were armed with flails such as are used to beat out the grain and they were a good flail’s length apart. All did not have flails, as enough flails could not be obtained. But most had flails obtained from the store of Don Guillermo Martin, who was a fascist and sold all sorts of agricultural implements. And those who did not have flails had heavy herdsman’s clubs, or ox-goads, and some had wooden pitchforks; those with wooden tines that are used to fork the chaff and straw into the air after the flailing. Some had sickles and reaping hooks but these Pablo placed at the far end where the lines reached the edge of the cliff...



Tue, 01/24/2012 - 8:25am

a war is a war, it's always bad, it's always at it's worst...
i still hope some day we will find a way to solve problems in a different way...
if it is possible at all
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