spain in flames -- 4/18/16

Today's selection -- from Spain in Our Hearts by Adam Hochschild. In 1936, Spain was still a new and fragile democracy when Francisco Franco led a military uprising of "Nationalists" against the government's "Republican" army, inaugurating the brutal, three-year Spanish Civil War. The government was the left-leaning Second Spanish Republic, and the Nationalists were supported by a number of conservative groups, including monarchists such as the religious conservative (Catholic) Carlists, and the Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups. An estimated 500,000 people died in the war, including thousands upon thousands of civilians from murder, torture, and starvation. It is believed that the government of General Francisco Franco executed 100,000 Republican prisoners after the war, and another 35,000 Republicans died in concentration camps in the years that followed the war. The war was the chilling inspiration for such works as Picasso's painting Guernica and Hemingway's novel For Whom the Bell Tolls:

"[In 1938, Spain] is in flames. For nearly two years, the fractious but democratically elected government of the Spanish Republic has been defending itself against a military uprising led by Francisco Franco and backed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Franco, who has given himself the title of Generalissimo, has a framed photograph of Adolf Hitler on his desk and has spoken of Germany as 'a model which we will always keep before us.'

Guernica, Pablo Picasso

"The skies above the Ebro this dawn are dark with warplanes, state-of-the-art fighters and bombers, flown by German pilots, that the Fuhrer has sent the Generalissimo. On the ground, tanks and soldiers from Italy, some of the nearly 80,000 troops the dictator Benito Mussolini will loan Franco, have helped launch the greatest offensive of the war. A powerful drive from the western two thirds of the country, which Franco controls, its goal is to reach the Mediterranean, splitting the remaining territory of the Spanish Republic in two.

"Franco's prolonged battle for power is the fiercest conflict in Eu­rope since the First World War, marked by a vindictive savagery not seen even then. His forces have bombed cities into rubble, tortured political opponents, murdered people for belonging to labor unions, machine-gunned hospital wards full of wounded, branded Republi­can women on their breasts with the emblem of his movement, and carried out death sentences with the garrote, a medieval iron collar used to strangle its victim.

"Battered by the new offensive, the Republic's soldiers are retreat­ing chaotically, streaming eastward before Franco's troops, tanks, and bombers. In some places, his rapidly advancing units have leapfrogged ahead. The Republican forces include thousands of volunteers from other countries, many of them Americans. Some have already been killed. Franco has just announced that any foreign volunteers taken prisoner will be shot."


Adam Hochschild


Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Copyright 2016 by Adam Hochschild


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