Homage to Catalonia
The author of ‘Homage to Catalonia’ did not grasp the wider context and provided a partial, partisan versionUnleashed on 17 July 1936 by a military coup against the democratically elected government of the Second Republic, the Spanish civil war was a rehearsal for the second world war. The British, French and American governments stood aside…
I think that this criticism of Orwell’s book has missed the fundamental thing that makes autobiographical writing powerful: they are human. With their essential humanity comes all the flaws that this article discusses, but I think that what they offer far out weighs this short coming. Historical writing is done after the events have concluded, when data can be collected and multiple view points can be considered. But this was not a historical work. This work was a raw and angry telling of a man’s experience in a war torn country.
Yes, it is full of political opinions and speculations. I am sure that most of the people living in that era had their own collection of thoughts on the things that were going on around them. And like him and all of us living in a moment of time, the view is narrow. It is unreasonable to expect his book to have a large scope or to consider things from a vantage point higher in the power structure then he was. He could only offer us the perspective that he had: his own.
It may not be an all inclusive history, but that does not equate with bad history. Because history is the human experience. Works of this nature allow us to look into the these historical moments in a more human way. Reading about events in a history text book is akin to doing math problems. It is an intellectual exercise filled with nothing but data and dates. But when you read these first hand accounts, it brings you into the real human experiences that came with that time. And when we are talking about war, I think it is essential that the human experience (as the highest price paid) is understood by those of us who have never been in battle.
I love this book and many that are like it. Their historical accuracy is irrelevant to me. It is their humanity and the raw emotion that oozes from the pages that makes them wonderful. If you want to teach our children the facts and politics of a war, bring out the text book. That is not the purpose or role of this book. If you want your children to understand the horror of war and to know the cost that both sides pay in both the living in the dead: this is the kind of book that you give them.
I would say that of the 2 lessons to teach, this book’s lesson is more important.