We have already submitted our absentee ballots for this week’s United States mid-term election. If we have our way, the result will begin to heal the animosity and expanding divisions in our nation’s politics. Here in the capital of Spain, recent history recalls a time when this nation was so deeply divided that it lost all civility.
In 1936, Spain’s left and right came out of their respective corners and began killing each other in the Spanish Civil War. On the left was the liberal democratic government, and on the right was the ultra-conservative nationalist rebellion led by General Francisco Franco.
Franco desired an authoritarian regime, and supported the Spanish monarchy and Catholic Church. His efforts were well-organized and backed by Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Fascist Italy.
Hitler and Mussolini were eager to experiment with their new aerial bombing technologies, and Franco was happy to oblige. During the Siege of Madrid the Germans carried out one of the first aerial bombardments on civilians in the history of warfare.
On Franco’s order, German and Italian aircraft again targeted civilians in the Basque town of Guernica. In his famous painting “Guernica”, Pablo Picasso depicts the horrors of this atrocious saturation bombing of a residential center.
After nearly three years of fighting, Franco and the Nationalists finally captured Madrid and declared victory. Franco installed himself as dictator and ruled Spain for the next 36 years, until his death in 1975.
In the process and aftermath of the war, Franco’s “cleansing of leftism” included the executions of approximately 200,000 civilians and government sympathizers. To honor the soldiers and civilians that died as a result of the war, Franco constructed the monumental Valley of the Fallen as a “national act of atonement”.
We paid a visit to the Valley of the Fallen memorial to see the world’s tallest cross atop a massive basilica tunneled into of the granite mountainside. Ironically, of the 40,000 victims buried here, the only one that did not die in the war is Franco himself.
Today, Valley of the Fallen is a pilgrimage site for fascists and other ultra-conservatives, and has become one of Spain’s most controversial places. As a result, the current socialist government voted this year to remove Franco’s remains from the memorial, and relocate them to a less contentious location.
Here in Madrid, the scars of the divisive Spanish Civil War remain more than 40 years after the death of Franco. This shows that political acrimony can turn neighbors into enemies, and lead to unimaginable atrocities. In light of this recent historical example, let’s stop screaming at our TVs, and go vote!
Video of man painting Franco’s grave in protest on October 31, 2018. We visited the site just two days later. (source: La Opinion)