The Politics of Revenge: Fascism and the Military in Twentieth-Century Spain

By Paul Preston | Go to book overview

2

The politics of revenge: Francoism, the Civil War and collective memory

The historiography of modern Spain has been concerned with three major issues-the origins of the Spanish Civil War, the course of the Spanish Civil War and the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. In the interior, history under the Francoist dictatorship was a direct instrument of the state, written by policemen, soldiers and priests, invigilated by the powerful censorship machinery. It was the continuation of the war by other means, an effort to justify the military uprising, the war and the subsequent repression. 1 In contrast, among Republican emigrés and in the oblique writings of those who wrote from a kind of internal exile, there was an all-consuming quest for an explanation, rather than a justification, of the national tragedy. Examinations were undertaken of the Spanish 'mind', to explain the country's plethora of civil wars. Apparent continuities were easy enough to find. The idea that political problems are best settled by violence is a commonplace of Spanish history and literature. The aridity of the land, the harshness of the climate and the stark division of the country by mountain ranges were grist to the mill of this kind of Kulturgeschichte. Pre-Civil War political discourse was peppered with a vocabulary of bloody struggle and exhilarating conquest, legacies both of the reconquest of Spain from the Moors and of the colonial experience. The imagery of a broken Spain and of two Spains was habitual in the nineteenth century.

The consequent cultural/national character interpretations provided implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, teleological versions of Spain's history, characterizing the national past in terms of a propensity to pitiless blood-lust and savage discord. They fed off the similar attempts by the

1 See my article "War of words: the Spanish Civil War and the historians' in Paul Preston (ed.), Revolution and War in Spain 1931-1939 (London and New York, 1984). The most penetrating examination of Francoist historiography remains Herbert R. Southworth, El mito de la cruzada de Franco (Paris, 1963).

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