07 November 2009

Evil in their blood

Although we tend to single out Adolf Hitler and the Nazis for their evil nature and deeds, we all know that they weren’t the only ones in modern history. In fact, a few years before World War 2, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), hundreds of thousands of Spanish people were brutally murdered by General Francisco Franco, the Nationalists and their allies the Falangists.

British author Jason Webster, who lives in and writes about modern-day Spain, in his 2006 book ¡Guerra!, narrates incidents of atrocities committed by General Franco, his Nationalist side and the right-wing Falangists during the Spanish Civil War. Here’s an excerpt:

“In public, Franco used to declare that Republicans with no blood on their hands would be spared. In secret, at Castuera many were murdered simply for having been on the other side. Grouping the prisoners into batches of ten, the Falangists would tie them together around the waist and then drag them to the mine just outside the camp. There they would line them up at the top of the shaft and push them over the edge. Some fell directly to their deaths, others smashed their limbs at the bottom but remained alive. The Falangists finished them off with grenades.”

Most of these deaths were never reported and it is only now that Spanish and world historians are trying to make sense of the killings during the Spanish Civil War. I’ve read accounts by Professor Paul Preston, eminent British historian and an expert on the Spanish Civil War, in which he suggests that the number of deaths – and missing persons – is likely to be tens, perhaps hundreds, of times more than what has been found, reported and documented.

Where does this violence, this cruelty, this evil come from?

Although all is supposed to be fair in love and war, I wonder what goes on in the minds of the people who mastermind these heinous plans and commit these murders in such large numbers. Laurence Rees, in his 2004 book and the BBC TV series Auschwitz: The Nazis & The ‘Final Solution’ (about which I’ve blogged here), gives us an insight into the Nazi mind, describing the coolness with which the Nazis committed mass murders and how inventive they had been in their methods. It seems evil was in their blood.

Perhaps Franco and the Nationalists/Falangists weren’t as inventive as the Nazis in finding ways of killing people, but they did know how to instil terror within their enemies. Both Professor Preston and author Webster cite the example of General Emilio Mola who was Franco’s counterpart during the Spanish Civil War (actually General Mola had masterminded and spearheaded the Nationalist coup against the ruling Republicans before Franco joined him) and led the attack from northern Spain.

Apparently, shortly after instituting martial law in Pamplona in July 1936, General Mola had addressed a group of mayors in the city with these (or similar) words:

“It is necessary to spread terror. We have to create the impression of mastery eliminating without scruples or hesitation all those who do not think as we do. There can be no cowardice. If we vacillate one moment and fail to proceed with the greatest determination, we will not win. Anyone who helps or hides a communist or a supporter of the Popular Front will be shot.”

Jason Webster in ¡Guerra! narrates the story of another Nationalist General, Gonzalo Queipo de Llano, who had mastered the art of radio broadcasts to effectively instil terror in the people of Seville over whom he ruled ‘like a wicked medieval warlord’ in the early years of the Spanish Civil War. Every night he would come on Radio Seville (then under his control) with his announcements and demoralise the town’s people through a series of threats and insults.

But General Queipo de Llano was known for more than his radio announcements. Webster writes:

“Queipo went on to rule his southern territories through a system of fear, terrorizing the people into a state of submission through violence. Mass executions and torture were the norm, soldiers often dragging men out of their homes and shooting them in the street or bayoneting them to death. At night the sound of gunfire ricocheted around Seville as small groups of union leaders, left-wingers or people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time were taken to the outskirts of the city to be shot. Simply having a callus on your hand or a sunburnt face (which suggested you were a manual labourer or farm worker), or had a tattoo or your shirt undone were reasons enough to be imprisoned.”

Mind you, these narrations and descriptions of violence and evil are about Spanish men acting against their own countrymen – not against another race or religion as was the case with the Nazis or the Japanese during World War 2. In the Spanish Civil War, and perhaps for many years after (as General Franco continued to rule Spain until his death in 1975), the Spanish tortured and murdered their own kind in hundreds of thousands.

[Citation: 1. ¡Guerra! by Jason Webster, chapters 6-9. 2. Paul Preston: The Crimes of Franco – The 2005 Len Crome Memorial Lecture, delivered at the Imperial War Museum on 12 March 2005.]

No comments: