Bernard Knox, SCW vet (1914-2010)

August 21, 2010

Bernard Knox, renowned classicist and Spanish Civil War veteran, died this week, age 95. From the New York  Times obit:

An American born and raised in Britain, Bernard Knox led a life as richly textured as the classics he interpreted for modern readers. After studying classics at Cambridge, he fought with the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. While serving in the United States Army during World War II, he parachuted into France to work with the resistance and went on to join the partisans in Italy.

In 1998, Knox delivered ALBA’s annual Susman lecture, the full text of which can be read here, in which he explained how he joined the International Brigades in reaction to a letter from his friend John Cornford:

I knew no more about Spanish politics and history than most of my fellow-countrymen, that is to say, not much. I had read (in translation) much (but not all) of Don Quixote, and seen reproductions of the great paintings of Velázquez and Goya. I knew that Philip II had married an English reigning Queen — Mary — and on her death claimed the throne of England, but had been defeated when in 1588 he sent the great Armada to invade England and enforce his claim. I knew that the Duke of Wellington had fought a long, hard campaign against Napoleonic armies in Portugal and Spain and that guerrilla (which was to become my military specialty in World War II) was a Spanish word. But I had no real understanding of the complicated situation that had produced the military revolt of July 1936. What I did know was that Franco had the full support of Hitler and Mussolini. In fact, that support had been decisive at the beginning of the war. The military coup had failed in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain’s principal cities. Franco’s best troops, the Foreign Legion and the Regulares, the Moorish mercenaries recruited to fight against their own people, were cooped up in Morocco, since the Spanish Navy had declared for the Republic. Planes and pilots from the Luftwaffe and the Italian Air Force, in the first military airlift in history, had flown some 8,000 troops across to Sevilla, Franco’s base for the advance on Madrid. And this was all I needed to make up my mind.

Knox also wrote on the Spanish Civil War for the New York Review of Books–see for instance two 1994 review essays (here and here) on a series of SCW-related books including Peter Carroll’s history of the Lincoln Brigade and Carl Geiser’s Prisoners of the Good Fight. His reviews prompted a spirited exchange in in the Letters section.