Monday, April 30, 2007

Directions to Baghdad? No problem. Just take a right at Guernica and go straight for 70 years.

Look, what I don't know about the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) is A LOT. Other than a few famous paintings I studied in Art School, I never knew much. Oh, and there was that trippy movie Pan's Labyrinth... but I don't think General Francisco Franco really enlisted any flesh eating cave trolls... not literal ones anyway.

At any rate, the Spanish Civil War for Dummys summary is this: A democratically elected goverment (Republic/republicanos) was overthrown in a rebellion lead by Franco (Nationalists/nacionales). For the Republic, you had the Soviet Union. For Franco's Nationalists, you had the big dogs of facism: Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Nazi Germany.

America? Well for the most part she was sitting it out, except for a couple of thousand Americans who volunteered to fight in Spain (The Abraham Lincoln Brigade). American talk show host Father Charles Coughlin worked to build Franco support among his listenership. I assume because of the Republican government's crackdown on religons, including Catholics. There were a few more American's involved — The American-owned Vacuum Oil Company refused to help the Republicans, and Texas Oil Company supplied gasoline to Franco.

Some of these folks from The Abraham Lincoln Brigade (now in their 90s) say they went because they saw the struggle between facism vs. democracy was coming, and stopping Germany and Italy in Spain may stop them cold before a larger World War would escalate. So much for that. Survivors returning from the war were seen as communist supporters and were looked at closely by the American government during the "Red Scare" following World War II.

500,000 people died in the war, with standard issue atrocities being commited on both sides for a variety of reasons. In the end Franco won, and he led Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. Franco's legacy is mixed depending on who you talk to. Some think he pacified Spain, other think he was a tyrant. After he died Spain began to work it's way back to democracy.

As I mentioned, several famous pieces of art came from that period. The most famous is Pablo Picaso's Guernica, named for the city of Gernika that was flattened by the German Air Force on April 26, 1937. The painting has become an international symbol of civilian suffering during war.

Harry Belafonte (yeah, the Daaaaaaaaaaay-O "Banana Boat Song" guy... stay with me here) recently spoke in New York to surviving members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He noted their courage in the stuggle against facism and drew parallels between the facists of the 1930s and George Bush's Administration. Personally, I'm not quite prepared to go THAT far, but it's sadly telling that during Colin Powell's famous speech at the United Nations to outline reasons for us to whack Iraq, the large tapestry of Picasso's Guernica was covered up so it would not be visible in the background when Colin Powell and John Negroponte gave press conferences.

"It's only temporary. We're only doing this until the (TV) cameras leave," said Abdellatif Kabbaj, the chief U.N. media officer.

Wonder if Colin had a sense of irony. Maybe the figure on the far right of the painting with his hands flailing in the air represents Powell's reputation.

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