Hemingway portrays the Fascist Lieutenant Berrendo as a sympathetic character, which complicates our tendency to identify the Republican side as good and the Fascist side as bad. Lieutenant Berrendo’s grief at losing his friend Julián humanizes him. We identify with and admire him for his disapproval of his pompous, incompetent captain. Berrendo is introspective even in his somewhat half-hearted remorse in ordering the beheading of El Sordo and his men. In this light, the battle on El Sordo’s hilltop is a struggle not between impersonal opposing armies but between sympathetic human beings like Lieutenant Berrendo and El Sordo. Hemingway’s description of the battle calls into question the reasons the war is fought in the first place and poignantly renders the deaths of the men useless.
Our sympathy with Lieutenant Berrendo becomes more complete during his interior monologues, which are startlingly reminiscent of Robert Jordan’s. Like Robert Jordan, Berrendo questions his motivations and interpretations of the difficult decisions that he must make. The main difference is that Robert Jordan is both more competent and more cynical; he has progressed beyond trite phrases like Lieutenant Berrendo’s “What a bad thing war is.” Nevertheless, Hemingway’s complicated presentation of war as a conflict between two imperfect sides consisting of imperfect yet sympathetic individuals is another form of innocence destroyed by the war—the innocence of readers who expect their sympathies to be guided by easy moral choices.