Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Every week I read the Times Literary Supplement and get paid for it. This is one of many reasons to like my job at the library, where I am obliged to go through a couple of dozen sources each week, picking out fiction and poetry and books on the arts that we should be ordering.

One of my favorite things about the Times Literary Supplement in particular is the predictability of certain feuds breaking out in its pages – the same few historical controversies rehashed regularly every couple of years with great verve and bitterness. One of the most popular and frequent is the question of how many millions of his own citizens Stalin actually managed to murder in the course of his long career in public life.

Competing for popularity with Stalin's murders is the perennial question of atrocities committed (or not committed, or ignored, or exaggerated) during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). A recent TLS issue reminded readers that although Hitler and Mussolini both backed Franco's right-wing Nationalist forces throughout that war, neither of them did it for free. All those tanks and aeroplanes and machine guns and what-not were sold to Franco, not given.

Germany got most of its money back in Spanish raw materials, but Italy got cash. The weird fact that caught my attention in the most recent recounting of these events is that Franco continued to repay the Italian debt for twenty years, long after Mussolini's corpse had been hanged upside down from a lamp post. The Vatican kept Franco up to the mark, with or without the help of Fascism.

Above, Franco and Mussolini shaking hands. Below, Mrs. Franco (in Persian lamb cloak, from a photo-spread in Life Magazine) looking very much as if wishing she had married somebody else.

I wonder if they had a little party, just Mr. & Mrs. Generalissimo, on the day the last installment was paid over to Italy (round about 1960) when they became a debt-free couple at last.