Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Spanish legacy

The U.S. is not the only country with a problem about what to do with statues that honor people and events we subsequently condemn. This picture shows what Spain has done about monuments to the dictator Francisco Franco who ruled brutally from 1936 to 1975. I ran across a description in a Washington Post round up of what other countries do about ugly but contested parts of their history:

In Spain, authorities have set about renaming streets that commemorate Francisco Franco. In 2006, the Spanish parliament passed a law requiring every province in the country to remove Franco statues. (Most were already gone.) But the dictator's body is still housed in a shrine called the Valley of the Fallen; critics say the prominent placement serves only to glorify his reign.

It's hard for democratic countries to win the argument against fascists definitively.

Like many good late 20th century lefties, the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) in which the right wing General Franco successfully overthrew a weak elected Republic served as a sort of political touchstone for me. Hitler and Mussolini played a huge role in Franco's successful rebellion/coup -- might the horrors of the European war been avoided if people of good will had stood up against fascist barbarism in Spain? That's not a question with an easy answer, but there were people who had done exactly that among us, elders in our communities who were veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. I've written about books on this period on this blog here and here.

So when I saw that our pilgrimage began in Oviedo, the capital of the Asturias region of Spain, faint bells went off. Wasn't this the site of one of the earliest atrocities committed by troops led by Franco? Yes, it was. Before the generals revolted against the Republic, Franco commanded a professional army which had honed its craft through torture and mass murder in Spain's African colonies. In 1934, the weak Republican government was more frightened of striking miners in Asturias than of the generals, so called in Franco to lead the repression of their own citizens. According to Franco's New York Times obituary:

He exhibited [his] methodical cruelty in 1934 when he imported legionnaires and Moors to crush an Asturian miners' uprising. At least 2,000 miners were rounded up and executed, many of them in the Oviedo bullring. Some officers reportedly sought to halt the slaughter, but Franco sent word that the officers must continue or face execution themselves.

As I wrote in my previous foray into Spanish history, we are about to travel in a "very contradictory country." I doubt this massacre is much commemorated in Oviedo today, at least on the pilgrim trail. We may find out by the end of this week. But this too happened here. Spain's story includes so much cruelty, so much beauty, so much passion, so much wisdom. I guess Spaniards are human.


Rain Trueax said...

I have not spent much time in the South, only when my daughter lived there did I visit-- didn't seen any statues during that time. But I have seen a lot of them in Northern cities, of those the citizens at one time admired and a lot are on horseback. I never bothered to check their names but shouldn't we now do that and then find out if these men (they are men if they are not fictional) were good citizens, kind to their kids, got their money honorably, abused no one-- or did they buy their way into getting their image in a town square somewhere? When I was looking at my husband's geneaology some years back, lo and beyond there was a statue of one of his ancestors as a hero of the Civil War (fought on the winning side luckily). Was he an honorable man? I have no clue and neither does my husband.

What has gotten me, with accusations flying over the Southern heroes and their images, is how it is so badly misunderstood why they are there. Maybe the white supremacists created this situation. I don't know but they were not put there to celebrate slavery. They were there as the ones the citizens admired, thought were strong and good men, standing up for what they believed (which was states' rights for most of them and not slavery-- an example if the soon to be vilified Stonewall Jackson. For all them, the situation was not simple as many today would like to make it. If you have had reason to research the period, you know that.

As people tear down one hero of the past after another, it's important to remember that humans like to create heroes (I do it all the time but they are fictional and I know it). I wonder if there will be any heroes come out of our era. I tend to doubt it because we know too much...

janinsanfran said...

Hi Rain: I'd be more sympathetic to keeping up statues of Confederate leaders if they had been erected in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War which was a devastated time for white landowners -- though the best of times for their former property, the freedpeople.

But most of these monuments date either to 1890-1905 or to the 1920s, both periods when white people, actually south and north too (see especially Oregon KKK), were disenfranchising and terrorizing Black people in order to impose Jim Crow rule. These statues aren't really about Confederate nobility -- they are an endorsement of a legal and moral order which the country has largely moved beyond. Insofar as we haven't moved beyond, we've still got work to do.

Rain Trueax said...

That is the talking points from the left. I wonder if in the end, it will prove politically beneficial. Vandals just destroyed one of Columbus. We'll see how this all works out. A lot of the statues in Portland probably went up in that period when there was more money. I am not sure it relates to Jim Crow. I guess time will tell if this wins elections in the end.

Rain Trueax said...

Here's a link to some of portland's although the one in a downtown square, I'm still not sure about. They were of the same era and had a variety of reasons for being. One was an early leader for the Republican party in Oregon and he has places also named after him. Teddy Roosevelt is definitely suspect in today's mood. Outdoor sculptures in Portland

I don't have a dog in this fight as they say because I don't really care if they remove the art. I just wonder why now when so many things seem more critical. Even weirder is how the amusement park in Texas removed the confederate flag because they call their park-- Six Flags over Texas for all the governments that ruled over Texas and if they take out the Confederate flag, they had to remove all but the US... maybe a new name is in store.

Here's a question-- since all the early leaders in the US were slave holders-- do we get rid of them all in statues and then... what about the Constitution since it didn't address slavery out of wanting the Southern states to sign it... I think it's a weird time and a lot of those who want these statues removed have no idea where it will end or maybe they think that they do... It's not addressing any of the real problems but maybe that's the idea.

When I chose to have a hero who fought for the South, not for slavery but for his family, I used his history of being Scottish and all that had taught his family-- then what it was like in Oregon when he got back here. Racism is not a statue and doubt destroying Christopher Columbus' in Baltimore will deal with the Native American issues. I get it that as a moderate, I am not sharing in the viewpoint of the left on this. I think though that sometimes what seems like a win ends up a loss.

Hattie said...

There is quite an ugly statue in SF dedicated to a forebear of mine, Peter Donahue. I forget what he did, and I'm too lazy to look it up.

janinsanfran said...

Hattie: San Francisco has its share of ugly war memorials from the turn of the 19th century baroque/imperial enthusiasm. Here's one. Just discovered that Peter Donahue is connected to the Mechanics Monument, also in this overwrought style.

Rain: There is a difference between honoring Confederates and honoring figures who, though slaveholders, never fought to end the American experiment with freedom and democracy in order to preserve property in human beings. That's what Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is about, if you go back to it. It's so short, I'll throw the text we all read once upon a time in here. :-)

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate-we can not consecrate-we can not hallow-this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Hattie said...

I can salvage some pride as an American when I read those words.

Rain Trueax said...

The reasons behind the Civil War are more complex than most want to research. The motives in those generals equally so (when you read their writings).

I wrote a ton more on this but probably best I let it go. You are on a pilgrimage to find peace. I think most of us want that and sometimes speaking our mind is not the way to get it-- and I almost never find it changes anyone's mind. We all look at what is happening and interpret it based on our own ideas and experiences.

joared said...

I've lived in the south and can assure you, even among many today, the Confederacy for many is about racism and state's rights -- for some intertwined, for others maybe separate issues -- but "state's rights" is the language masking real beliefs that go much deeper. This is not a view being espoused with some ideological agenda in mind, it is, unfortunately, a fact in many instances. Once this fact is recognized, then the appropriateness of various statues disposition can be better considered.

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