4 min read

Civil War

Civil War
The image is a book cover that features a black and white photo of a soldier throwing a hand grenade. At the top of the cover is the author's name "Antony Beevor" and in the middle is the title of the book "The Battle For Spain" and below that is smaller print it reads "The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939".

When a nation dies to beauty

(Be advised: There is an image of war in this post.)

The first casualty of war is truth, and after a war ends, there is only the mumbled warnings of history.

The image is a black and white photo of uniformed soldiers lined up as a firing squad executing six civilians. 

The following history is simplified, but true, and relevant to where we are in the USA.

Political extremes on the left and right in Spain in 1936 manipulated fearful images of their enemies using print, radio, and newsreels. Both sides used anger, racism, religion, and past grievances to describe others in their country as less than human.

Maybe it's hard to imagine today the powerful effect headlines, newsreels and radio had on vulnerable people. Maybe it's not.

The propaganda pushed the extreme left and right toward violence. There were plenty of true believers willing to trigger this violence.

People died. Buildings burned. There were graphic photographs. The news spread and grievances, real and imagined, hardened into concrete.

Violence convinced the middle, the majority of Spain, to choose a side and defend it. It took time, but in less than a year a large segment of the population in the north of Spain veered hard left and thousands of agricultural workers in the south went hard right.

The violence allowed Franco to raise large amounts of money, much of it from the USA and supporters of the Catholic Church, to finance his rebellion against the elected government. He soon was able to convince Germany and Italy to bomb his enemies in his own nation.

The violence allowed multiple parties on the left to seek money and arms from Russia. In simple terms, democracy was overwhelmed by communist money and influence. There was bloody infighting on the left resulting in assassinations and atrocities.

The extreme right and left killed many thousands, some count millions, of their own people. Spanish institutions were plundered and foreign agents manipulated their way into powerful positions.

After his victory, Franco later shrugged off some of these agents, but some remained. The Catholic Church and the USA were firmly ensconced and more prominent than before the civil war.

In the bestselling book "The Battle For Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939" Antony Beevor introduces the meticulous reporting of his book with a strange and to me, frightening, bit of pretzel logic. "But would a victory of the left in say 1937 or 1938 have led to a comparable scale of executions and imprisonments as under Franco?" He concludes the introduction "... moral judgments should be left to the individual reader."

Amazing way to start a history, by finding equivalency in an imagined proposition. Why did he feel the need to do that? Because civil war is an illness latent in every nation, in all of us, including those that helped Beevor write his book and gather his material.

The promotion of hatred is an infection in our democracy and spread with traditional media and the new tools of internet advertising and social media. Lies are broadcast in political adverts on Facebook and echoed on other platforms.

It is not only the internet platforms that spread fear and distrust. Once noble media outlets known for their journalistic ethics and restraint, such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, today use blatant click-bait headlines that inflame division and incite fear to increase advert dollars.

When facts are dismissed and lies baldly trumpeted, when media does not support the rule of law and the humanity in all of us, words walk us closer to the violence that will permanently damage all of us. Victims and perpetrators alike. Look to Spain. They are still reeling from their national nightmare.

It may seem trivial to some to note this, but it is important. Beevor reports that "Julian Marias, a disciple of the philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, never forgot the hatred in the expression of a tram-driver at a stop as he watched a beautiful and well-dressed young woman step down onto the pavement."

Painting of an elegant woman wearing long gloves at a sidewalk cafe by Konstantin Razumov

The union tram driver saw only entitlement and class privilege and felt hatred.

Marias saw a moment of beauty on a tram. When we allow hatred in our hearts we are at great risk.

We must stand up to fascists and bullies, defend democracy, and hold fast to the rule of law.

It is up to the majority in the middle to do this, most of us, and to demand that those with extreme views understand we will defend democratic values with the full force of our institutions. We don't hate you, we love equal justice for all under the law.

Some on the extreme right and left may sincerely believe they will remain non-violent despite their inflammatory and often threatening rhetoric, but the history of Spain makes it clear that if civil war is to come to the USA, it will come from a violent dance of these two factions.

We must support candidates that are non-violent in their language and in their images; and who clearly state their support for democracy and the rule of law.

We must demand all media outlets tell the truth and stop selling fear and hate. If they do not, we need to aggressively reject those who support those outlets with their adverts and dark money.

We must defend and support those nations that are victims of the violence from the extreme right or left. And we must do this without polluting ourselves. When we surrender to hate and fear, we die to beauty.

After that death, how far do we fall?

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