Today, and I’m in a talk on the different ideologies of the Spanish Civil War. Looking around, there doesn’t seem to be anyone standing, Marx in overall pocket, ready to join the rebellion or the defence of Syria. In fact, I think I’m the only person here after this particular conflict.
Then I take off my young-person-snob glasses. There aren’t a huge amount of students, and the audience seems to be more composed of a strange mix of Leicesterians, who thankfully move up so my friend can sit next to me.
The speakers, although each interesting, seem to come under the heading “anyone with any kind of connection to the Spanish Civil War, in any way”, rather than having any particular knowledge of the ideology itself. For this, I must refer to residual knowledge left over from the A level history lessons I took, now over two years ago.
The speakers in front of me seem to generally focus on the British perspective of the war. One looks at the BBC- this was the first war where there were radio reports. Naturally, the Daily Mail was critical, and it appears that the British government tried to make sure that the BBC was absolutely, totally and utterly neutral (or ever so slightly pro-Franco. Just in case). The left wing newspaper, the Daily Worker, were also critical. Poor BBC. You never could make everyone happy. But apparently, they were doing their best to keep things neutral, be balanced and generally not piss off anyone too much, and certainly for the former, it appears they did so to the best of their ability.
The other British-perspective speaker was, it appears, the nephew of an International Brigade volunteer, and leading trade unionist. He was simply referred to as “Jack”, or “Uncle Jack”. He didn’t actually speak much about the Spanish Civil War, but more on his uncle, and what he’d got up to. Which, as it happened, was rather a lot. I could have probably spoken to him for hours- but more on the British Left Wing, and trade unions. He was the final speaker, and I left thinking more about the CND than the Spanish Civil War.
Because I’m unconventional and kooky, I would like to now talk about the first speaker. Not quite chronological I know, but it made sense to me. The first speaker was a tiny looking lady, with an accent that I fell completely in love with. The descendent of Spanish immigrants, she had decided to trace her ancestry back to a little village near Seville, and ask them about their experiences. Here I rather admire her. I’m part German, and would never dream of asking anything too obvious of my relatives over there (inside my head, last time I went, was a tiny John Cleese from Faulty Towers, marching up and down shouting “don’t talk about the war! Don’t talk about the war!”). Later, during the questions, one man comes forward and asks how she got people to speak in the first place. The Spanish, it appears, are notoriously difficult to get to talk about their war. Later, phrases such as “pact of silence” are thrown about. It appears that the way you get the Spanish to talk is to tell them that if they don’t, their stories will be lost. Personally, I feel that there’s a lot to be said for those who do not understand the past being condemned to repeat it- and therefore, those who fought in any conflicts should come forward with their stories. But then, I’ve never lived through a civil war, and can’t imagine what they went through.
Our speaker shows us, too briefly to read in full, quotes from people she’s spoken to. Their stories are incredible: one woman tells of how soldiers rounded up the women, including her mother, and held them captive. The woman, only a baby at the time, was subsequently rejected by her mother and was fed instead by another woman. The speaker doesn’t tell us which side the soldiers were on, although they were presumably the Nationalists.
But perhaps that’s the key. That really, by the time a civil war breaks out, there’s almost no difference between man and pig, or pig and man. That actually, when the fighting starts, you’re just trying to stay alive. Debates are a luxury that won’t help you load your gun: being in a stronger moral position is meaningless if it can’t hide you, feed you, protect you.
In my A level course, I read a report about one village, where Nationalist soldiers shot anyone who had read a left wing newspaper. Or whose family had read a left wing paper.
The first time I heard of the Spanish Civil war was when I was 11, and looking at old paintings by Dali. He was moved- inspired, I think would be the wrong word- by the war, and as I looked at the confusion and carnage, my dad looked at me and said “oh, the Spanish Civil War? That was nasty. Really, really nasty.”