Franco’s International Brigades FAQ

fib-shelfCrusading Catholics, foreign Fascists, and Muslims with a grudge. The Spanish Civil War set right against left when centuries of grievances erupted into a bloody settling of accounts in 1936. The left-wing volunteers who came from around the world to fight for the Spanish government are well known but foreigners also joined the other side. I wrote a book about it. Here’s a FAQ.

Q. What was the Spanish Civil War?

A. In July 1936 a cabal of right-wing generals tried to overthrow the Spanish government by force. The generals believed the recently elected hard-left government was speeding the country towards anarchy and Marxism. The government saw the generals as Fascists. The overthrow was meant to be a short, sharp coup d’etat, over in a few days. Instead the country was plunged into a bloody and divisive Civil War that lasted three years.

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Raymond Chandler vs Ross Macdonald

chandlerconpipaIn 1949 Raymond Chandler wrote to a friend who worked as a literary critic. Chandler was a lonely man who drank too much and the letter was long, rambling, and indiscreet. Among the industry gossip and small talk in this one were his opinions about a new kid on the block. They weren’t positive.

At the time, Chandler was the best known detective writer in the anglophone world. This British-American mongrel had set the template for the modern private eye in fiction: a cynical, bruised-heart romantic who uses the wrong methods to do the right thing in a futile battle against a world in which corruption grows like mould.

“Down these mean streets must go a man who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

The note perfect evocations of 1940’s Los Angeles in Chandler’s novels were the icing on the cake. He was such a towering presence in the genre that other writers had to try hard not to sound like him. Some didn’t bother. Earlier in 1949 Ross Macdonald (born Kenneth Millar in California but raised in Canada) published his first novel about detective Lew Archer. The Moving Target would be followed by another 17 books about Archer, each more popular than the last. Archer was clearly and unapologetically modelled on Chandler’s Philip Marlowe.

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Tintin in Abkhazia

tintin-russia-abkhazia-sheet-5-tintin-animation-cartoon-dibujosAbkhazia is either a ruggedly independent state on the Black Sea or a renegade province of Georgia, depending on where you stand on Russian imperialism. It also issues Tintin stamps.

The country has been de facto independent since it split from Georgia in a bloody 1992 war. The Georgians treat Abkhazia (and fellow secessionists South Ossetia) as a bunch of misguided locals led astray by Moscow. Periodic attempts to bring Abkhazia back under Georgian control have resulted in bloodshed, war crimes, and finger wagging from the UN. Russia insists its troops are only there as peacekeepers. The Abkhaz insist they’re an independent state that needs all the friends it can get.

That may be why Tintin is on a set of Abkhazian stamps.

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Black Sheep Of The British Empire

dolce2Sitting comfortably? Then put a new cigarette in its ivory holder and refresh your whisky and soda. Get the servants to stoke the fire because these old houses can get so cold at night. And make sure your service revolver in the desk drawer is loaded. Captain Grimes is coming round tonight to discuss the accounts.

The little matter of those post-dated cheques in the mess tin. You might be forced to take the gentleman’s way out. Or you might be forced to shoot Captain Grimes.

The wealthiest stratum of British society has always prided itself on loyalty and devotion to duty. But too many of the aristocrats, trust fund beneficiaries and members of the officer class who sit at the apex of Britain’s social triangle have a moral backbone like a bit of wet spaghetti. From Rupert Bellville to Simon Raven, the Earl of Erroll to John Aspinall, the most respectable part of the country has churned out black sheep on a production line scale.

So put away that portfolio of artistic French photographs and leave answering the love note from your brother’s wife until later. Let’s take a stroll through the last one hundred years of bankrupt aristocrats, corrupt golden youths, and frankly untrustworthy remittance men. Books and the odd flick will be our signposts.

We’ll start gently, with some flawed heroes. Let’s go back to the days when we still had an Empire … .

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Girl With A Gun

ms2Hundreds of foreign volunteers have joined Ukraine’s eastern separatists in the last few years. The Kiev government claims they are puppets of Putin, used to expand the Russian empire. The volunteers describe themselves as modern versions of the International Brigades from the Spanish Civil War.

Serbs, Czechs, Poles, Spaniards, Brazilians, and others can be found in the ranks of separatist militia units. Despite the guns and uniforms, few get to see the front lines. The separatists prefer to put them to work in ruined villages away from the fighting where they soak up Novorussia propaganda and take pictures of homeless refugees. They tell their compatriots back home about the horrors of a united Ukraine in internet chats and interviews.

The volunteers are men, mostly young and right-leaning despite the rhetoric about fighting fascism. Margarita Kaempfer-Seidler is a rare female volunteer. This blonde 45-year-old German former paramedic has been all over the internet condemning Kiev, fascism, NATO, the EU, and America.

Who is she and why does she support Ukrainian separatism?

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