Posts Tagged ‘Spanish Civil War’

Barcelona v. Berlin in 1936

September 9, 2018

When it comes to European civilization, Greece is where the  legacy originated about 2500 years ago.

Among the many enduring contributions  by which the early Greeks set Europe into cultural motion, I find two, in particular, that have demonstrated incredible longevity:

Democracy, and Olympics.

Those early Greeks were incredibly active in their sporting competitions, and also in their zeal to launch the world’s most notable experiment in governance by “the people.”

Their idea of Democracy was later amended by the Romans as a form of governance known as Republic, which was perhaps a more practical working out of the egalitarian concept, because groups of citizens could, by vote, select representatives to do the actual decision-making.

Many centuries later, the notion of democracy ascended on a fresh new wind of modern life. Most notably in the 1700’s, certain forward-thinking individuals in America and central Europe used the ancient democratic ideal as a basis for updating and improving human governance. The working out of it has been, over the last two or three centuries, somewhat messy and unsure, but the idea of government by the people for the people is still widely considered to be the best and fairest framework for doing collectively whatever it is that we humans are trying to do to improve our situation here on earth.

A lot could be said here but I’ll just toss up an example of how the idea of democracy continues to capture Euro imagination. Here’s a photo I snapped a few days ago while walking through a public square in Barcelona.

Democracia

As we can see here, democracy seems to be a readily attractive notion, worthy of public mention. However, the prospect of promoting democracy has not always been easy here in Espanya. Spain has had a rough history in which Democracy and Authoritarian governments have bloodily contested each other.

Following their rejection of a King in 1931, the Spanish people fought a civil war, 1936-39; it began in a political competition between zealous advocates of these two opposing models of governance.

But during those tumultuous years, the people of Spain were not the only nation who were grappling with such controversies. A few European borders away, the people of Germany were in a similar contest.

After the Germans suffered the defeat of World War I, they had a massive reconstruction project going on, as they were striving to re-assemble not only their physical nation and its infrastructure, but also their way of governing themselves.

During the 1920’s and ’30’s, both the Germans and the Spanish  wrestled with themselves to establish a democratic Republic. Both attempts ended in failure.

When the Nazis took over Germany in 1933, they ditched the Weimar Republic and degenerated into Third Reich bellicosity. Also in the 1930’s, the people of Spain ousted their King and declared a new Republic. But in 1936, the Franco-led Falangists attacked their own people. By 1939, they had driven the Republicans out of office.

Meanwhile, back at the crunch, there was an athletic contention going on between these two violence-torn countries–Germany and Spain. This  competition gets back to the other great contribution that I mentioned earlier from ancient Greece:

the Olympics.

At the meeting of the International Olympic Committee in 1931, Spain had proposed that the 1936 Olympics take place in Barcelona. But, by a process of democratic voting among the member nations, the IOC awarded the hosting to Berlin.

That was an ill-fated turn of events. Germany was at that time being taken over by the Nazi Third Reich. Hitler and his Nazi thugs were striving to use the Olympics as a showcase of their supposed bullshit Aryan supremacy.

Down in Republican Spain, the leftist government caught wind of what the Nazis were up to. They smelled a rat in Europe. So they launched an attempt to conduct an alternate Olympics, which they thought would express more appropriately the sporting competition of  classic  events.

BarcOlyPop

But the so-called Olimpiada Popular in Barcelona never happened. As it turned out, the Spanish people were having a war among themselves in 1936 instead of inviting the world in for some friendly sports.

Later, during and after the Second World War,  the civilized world  awakened to the disastrous truth of what Nazi Germany had been doing behind the scenes while they had been hosting their facade of pseudo-Olympic propaganda back in ’36.

Spanish Catalunya Barcelona did, however, ultimately have its day in the Olympic sun. That came 56 years later, in 1992.

A few days ago, here and now 2018, we visited that Olympic site in Barcelona where the competitive events were conducted in ’92;  quite an impressive sight it still is:

BarcOlymp

My hope is that both ancient institutions—Democracy and Olympics will survive and thrive in this century we live in now—the 21st.

 Smoke

Advertisements

Listening to Rodrigo’s masterpiece

November 19, 2012

You may enjoy listening to this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9RS4biqyAc&feature=related

Many years ago, while I was taking guitar lessons at the tender age of 14, my teacher recommended I attend a concert by the renown flamenco artist, Carlos Montoya. Hearing his music that night changed my life.

I spent many years obsessed with the guitar. But these days, the instrument is on a back burner, as I work on writing a novel, my third. The book’s tale begins on May 12, 1937 in London, on the day that George VI was crowned King of the United Kingdom.

But the story, as it has developed through my study of the volatile historical events of that time, gravitates to a place of passion, a land of expressive music, art and precious human blood–a nation on the other side of  the English Channel–Spain. During the late 1930’s, that nation was torn in a terrible civil war.

During the last few weeks, my novel’s historical focus has landed the characters, Philip, Itmar, and Mark, in a dockside diner in London, where they are talking about Spain, and the terrible, bloody events that were happening there in May of 1937.

A week or so ago, while my mind and the keyboard were hovering around this scene written on page 100 or so, I happened to be listening to my favorite radio station, WDAV. As chance or Providence would have it, Joaquin Rodrigo‘s musical masterpiece, Concerto de Aranjuez went out across the airwaves and landed upon my brain.

This evocative, tender music, written by Señor Rodrigo in 1939 at the end of the Spanish civil war, expresses passionately the essence of that unique place. You may enjoy the eleven minutes that listening to it occupies in time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9RS4biqyAc&feature=related

CR, with the novel, Smoke, in progress

Ghosts of Civil War, Spain 1936

August 5, 2012

My current study of history during the years 1936-1938 has revealed an alarming similarity between the Spanish Civil War of that era and the present civil war in Syria today.

During the 1930s, the nation of Spain was dragging itself out of its deep, dark past, into the perilous, polarizing politics of 20th-century Europe. But the two main ideological forces of that era were not content to let Spain work its own bloody identity crisis out.

International Communists, propelled by Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia, and led by Josef Stalin, were strategizing for control of Europe; their struggle was directed primarily against the Fascist/Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy.

Neither of these two ideological poles were content to let Spain work out its own destiny. Rather, both the Communists and the Fascist/Nazis strove to manipulate and control Spanish political/cultural factions.

In 1936, as General Franco’s armies mounted rightist insurrections against the leftist Popular Front government, Mussolini, the Italian dictator, began providing serious military support for Franco and the Spanish fascists. This provoked Stalin and the Moscow communists to bolster the Spanish government in Madrid with armaments to resist Franco’s military campaigns.

As military capabilities and clashes became bloodier and more atrocious in Spain, the mercantile-minded democratic nations found themselves having to make unpleasantly complicated decisions about how to neutralize the two warring sides of Spanish bloodletting.

So Britain, United States, and France found themselves, inconveniently having to take a stand one way or the other.

The solution they arrived at, in August of 1936, was a non-intervention pact, designed to prevent further transferral of armaments into bloody Spain.

This did not work, because Hitler and Mussolini violated the non-intervention agreement by continuing to supply weapons, and even soldiers, to the fascists in Spain. Consequently, Largo Caballero, Prime Minister and leader of the Popular Front government of Spain, was required to cultivate more radical leftist, specifically Russian Communist, support in order to sustain the Spanish government against General Franco’s fascist insurgency.

In the midst of all this contention, both political and military, neither side was merciful. Slaughters and atrocities were happening at various hot skirmish points across the countryside and cities of Spain.

Douglas Little, in his 1985 book, Malevolent Neutrality, (Cornell University Press), wrote on page 248:

“Ironically, the British and American arms embargoes had ensured the very thing they were designed to prevent: the expansion of Soviet influence in Spain.”

Business and political leaders in Britain and U.S., noticing the leftward drift of Caballero’s Madrid government, unwittingly facilitated the surreptitious Fascist/Nazi domination of Franco’s militarism in Spain. The Spanish Civil War, as it subsequently erupted during autumn of 1936 and onward, became a training ground for Mussolini’s  fascisti ground troops, and Hitler’s luftwaffe air force.

As it turns out then, history demonstrates that military neutrality can prove disastrous in the convoluted treacheries of world politics.

In Syria today, rebels are storming the gates of Damascus and Aleppo, fighting to overthrow the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad.

But the insurrection boot is, this time, on the other foot. We democratic nations want to believe that the rebels represent possibilities for future democracy and popular government. But do we know this?

We don’t know. We don’t know for sure. Meanwhile, the two principal bully-states (bullies toward their own citizens) of the civilized world, Russian and China, refuse to permit international support for the Syrian rebels against the al-Assad regine, itself an oppressive bully-state.

It could be that this armed struggle in Syria is, as I heard a caller say recently on a radio talk show, “the Spanish Civil War of our age,” in which the political/military forces, striving to align themselves, establish a deadly framework for larger eruptions of militarism yet to come.

If it is true that ignorance of history dooms us to repeating history’s mistakes, then we may be stumbling toward another vicious tarbaby of world war. On the other hand, maybe the supposed awareness of strategic options that arise from history’s lessons  is nothing more than a naive fallacy.

I don’t know whether historical intelligence can be truly beneficial for mankind or not, but then I, like most folks, am not in a position to do much about it anyway.

However, I am writing a novel, Smoke, that pertains to these issues as they existed in our world in 1937. And I hope that history does not repeat itself.