10/9/12 - the atrocities of the spanish civil war

In today's selection -- the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939. The war began when a group of generals -- supported by monarchists and the Catholic church -- sought to overthrow the democratically elected government of Spain, which was struggling in the depths of the Great Depression. It ended when those generals succeeded and General Francisco Franco established a dictatorship that lasted until his death in 1975. The rebel movement led by the generals was known the Nationals, and was supported most notably by Nazi Germany, but also by Italy, Portugal, and Mexico. The democratically elected government was known as the Republicans, and was associated with socialist and communist movements. Both sides were guilty of atrocities which reverberate in the memories of its citizens to this day. In bringing their reign of terror, the generals relied on tactics refined during their repression of neighboring colony Morocco in the period before the Civil War:

"Behind the lines during the Spanish Civil War, nearly 200,000 men and women were murdered extra-judicially or executed after flimsy legal process. They were killed as a result of the military coup of 17-18 July 1936 against the Second Republic. For the same reason, perhaps as many as 200,000 men died at the battle fronts. Unknown numbers of men, women and children were killed in bombing attacks and in the exoduses that followed the occupation of territory by Franco's military forces. In all of Spain after the final victory of the rebels at the end of March 1939, approximately 20,000 Republicans were executed. Many more died of disease and malnutrition in overcrowded, unhygienic prisons and concentration camps. Others died in the slave-labour conditions of work battalions. More than half a million refugees were forced into exile and many were to die of disease in French concentration camps. Several thousand were worked to death in Nazi camps. The purpose of this book is to show as far as possible what happened to civilians and why. All of what did happen constitutes what I believe can legitimately be called the Spanish holocaust. ...

"To this day, General Franco and his regime enjoy a relatively good press. This derives from a series of persistent myths about the benefits of his rule. Along with the carefully constructed idea that he masterminded Spain's economic 'miracle' in the 1960s and heroically kept his country out of the Second World War, there are numerous falsifications about the origins of his regime. These derive from the initial lie that the Spanish Civil War was a necessary war fought to save the country from Communist take-over. The success of this fabrication influenced much writing on the Spanish Civil War to depict it as a conflict between two more or less equal sides. The issue of innocent civilian casualties is subsumed into that concept and thereby 'normalized'. Moreover, anti-communism, a reluctance to believe that officers and gentlemen could be involved in the deliberate mass slaughter of civilians and distaste for anti-clerical violence go some way to explaining a major lacuna in the historiography of the war.

"The extent to which the rebels' war effort was built on a prior plan of systematic mass murder and their subsequent regime on state terror is given relatively little weight in the literature on the Spanish conflict and its aftermath. ...

"The leaders of the rebellion, Generals Mola, Franco and Queipo de Llano, regarded the Spanish proletariat in the same way as they did the Moroccan, as an inferior race that had to be subjugated by sudden, uncompromising violence. Thus they applied in Spain the exemplary terror they had learned in North Africa by deploying the Spanish Foreign Legion and Moroccan mercen­aries, the Regulares, of the colonial army.

"Their approval of the grim violence of their men is reflected in [General] Franco's war diary of 1922, which lovingly describes Moroccan villages destroyed and their defenders decapitated. He delights in recounting how his teenage bugler boy cut off the ear of a captive. Franco himself led twelve Legionarios on a raid from which they returned carrying as trophies the bloody heads of twelve tribesmen (harquenos). The decapi­tation and mutilation of prisoners was common. When General Miguel Primo de Rivera visited Morocco in 1926, an entire battalion of the Legion awaited inspection with heads stuck on their bayonets. During the Civil War, terror by the [Spanish] African Army was similarly deployed on the Spanish mainland as the instrument of a coldly conceived project to underpin a future authoritarian regime."


Paul Preston


The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain


W. W. Norton & Company


Copyright 2012 by Paul Preston


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