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March 28, 1939: War in Spain
The Spanish Civil War is a reminder of the precious nature of democracy.
Before we know it, America will be celebrating one-hundred-year anniversaries of events that occurred during a rapid rise of illiberalism.
That's how fast time can go.
The Spanish Civil War spurred the interests of fascists, communists, royalists, traditionalists, anarchists, socialists, and republicans. This violent affair also occupied the center of a hollow, near-decimated global empire. Yet, citizens of distant nations viewed the battleground as an international one and supported the war in different ways.
March 28 is the day Madrid fell to Nationalist Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco. Madrid was the capital city of the sitting government and had been under siege since 1936. The city's takeover was crucial to removing the government, the Popular Front of the Second Spanish Republic.
The war began during a failed coup in the summer of 1936, which led to a divided Spain on the brink of civil war. (Coups can have destabilizing, long-lasting effects.) Conservative right-wing coalitions backed the Nationalists and left-leaning groups supported a government they previously critiqued. There were also many non-ideological people left in the middle and in the crosshairs. The Nationalist movement was in communication with fascistic movements in Italy, Germany, and Portugal. In fact, the governments of these nations sent military aid.
Mexico and the Soviet Union supported the republican side. Great Britain, the U.S., and France had a non-intervention policy. America was in a fervor of isolationism while regretting entry into the last global war.
The Nationalists' forces encroached from the west and took cities moving eastward, eventually one being the capital in Madrid. Though it took years, the Nationalists gained the upper hand - one factor being the sustained external support. Military-controlled territory expanded and cut off major economic centers. Despite international appeals and propaganda, the government crumbled under a powerful right-wing insurgency.
By 1939, Franco’s forces had overtaken the most crucial power centers and would rule modern Spain until long after World War II.
Ernest Hemingway was part of a film effort to show Spanish rural life that also works as propaganda for Spain’s republican forces:
The Spanish Civil War didn’t happen in a vacuum. Even though there was a policy of non-intervention in the U.S., there were Americans that participated in the fighting. The Abraham Lincoln battalion, organized by an international communist organization, fought in the Battle of Jarama. Jarama was a stalemate that featured heavy casualties as the Nationalists attempted to soften the republican army lines outside of Madrid. The fighting featured combined arms warfare that was a precursor to larger battles to come.
We can't stay blind to events happening in other nations. Americans easily fall into isolationism stemming from a feeling of disconnectivity. It is more dangerous today as people reflect on reckless foreign interventions in our recent past.
Still, America is a massive nation. It is flesh with fertile land, diverse labor pools, manufacturing centers, and egalitarian principles (in spirit if not always in practice).
This means with great power comes great responsibility.
Our population takes in massive amounts of foreign resources and it projects a lot of outward influence. It is the height of selfishness to believe America (and Americans) can be a part of the world only when it’s convenient. We can’t use the world for its resources and cultural outputs, only to retreat when the going gets tough.
International cohesion relies on diplomatic pathways formed from past traumas. Genocides, societal upheavals, and deadly invasions thrust a past world into a dark period of economic devastation and intergroup violence. That includes America in the 1920s and 1930s.
Also, this still happens today in much smaller nations. Though these nations may not hold a fraction of the global economy, they still look to the shining city on a hill to be an example of democracy, free trade, and human rights.
The Republican Party of 2023 stands with America’s authoritarian impulses. That is why they are able to suggest Ukraine is not worth America’s time on national television. This is how Republican media does the bidding of Putin's propagandists. It is how Republican voters find Putin interesting and inspiring due to his illiberal cultural leanings.
The Nazis appealed to American antisemitism in the 1930s. They also structured their hate operations on the Jim Crow white supremacist South. Once again, antidemocratic forces look to homegrown American ignorance to confuse the largest democracy in the world. That way, authoritarian outlets can spread illiberal tyranny to other international parties in an unhindered manner.
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