Monday, March 26, 2012

El Bombardeo de Guernica

On April 26, 1937 German planes appeared in the sky over Gernika, Euskal Herria, Spain. Approaching from the north there was no early warning on that Monday morning and it was market day. The town was bombed, it civilian structures decimated, many citizens killed. Men, women and children were killed indiscriminately. When the smoke cleared, what had been a quaint village with bars, shops apartments and churches had been turned into the earliest image of the effects of Blitzkrieg. Death tolls were small only in comparison to the seven digit figures to which the world would soon accustom itself. If the Spanish Civil War was, as some have said, the beginning of World War II, then the bombing of Gernika was the hinge on which western civilization would swing. Gernika was a harbinger of the atrocities of which fascism, in all its forms, was capable.
On the eve of the 75th anniversary of this horror of mankind, we should not sit idle as most of the world's governments did in 1937. There are evil and despicable men still alive, still seeking destruction in many places in the world. If we can make a difference, do anything to stop them, we should. The bombing of Gernika opened the door to a world of total war and annihilation. It was humanity's first glimpse into the devastation that had lain ahead. Perhaps in looking back upon it, we can open a new door, one that pursues justice and peace.

The next few articles posted here will be devoted to many facets of Gernika, the bombing and representation of the town, bombing, people and culture. It is the focal point of a Master's Thesis in history. Hopefully it may be well represented here.
I would very much love comments from those who have a memory of Gernika in any way, I would like to know social reactions to the event of the bombing, as well as reactions and thoughts on memorials or the town as it is today.

Friday, March 16, 2012

An Simple Explanation

In my previous post I discussed the process of identity construction for those who were involved in the fascist welfare system in Franco's Spain. It was a theoretical analysis of two works by a Catalan researcher named Angela Cenarro Lagunas. I suggested that historians play an important role in the process of identity construction for individuals who have been victimized in some way. In fact, I would like to extend the idea of identity construction and history, because I believe that it may be the only purpose for a historian.

Doing history for history's sake is an idea with which many historians have grappled. I think that some are determined that this is the way that it ought to be: academic historians committed to the institute. Yet it is an extremely selfish perspective. One of my professors was so affected by the history day competition last week that she is changing her curricula. Never again will students be required to write final papers, though they may choose to do so and she is happy to help them along. She has determined to include websites, documentary and film, as well as physical representation (memorials, etc) as legitimate forms of historical research. She even went so far as to suggest that film and the internet are the most valuable tools that historians have. While there are those who must write, simply because that is what they do best, history is meaningless if the public cannot see it. If it is only an academic study, debated through the walls of the academy, printed in journals nobody reads, spoken at lectures nobody attends and conferences only academics consider, written in monographs nobody cares to pick up because they are intimidating, and limited in scope to address the historical significance of mating habits of the Japanese flying squid, then it is without purpose.

I say this because what I am as a person is a composite of identities, former and current, altered by processes that shift identity from what it might have been to what it ended up being. Though as the realist may say, it could have been no other way, and it may not have been possible to have been otherwise, understanding that process that shifted the identity alters my perception, not only of the identity that came to be, but of all identities before it. Since I look back through my life via the identities that I have compiled over time it is entirely reasonable to assume that the identities and processes that have happened more recently could color my perception of what happened prior to that point. Indeed, the very fact that a person can emerge from an event with two conflicting identities as was the case with Aragonese children after Franco's death, suggests strongly that these multiple identities exists. The fact that conflicting identities can, through the process of reflection, merge to define an entirely new identity, suggests that we compile our identities, and the fact that, in the case of Aragonese children for a time held an identity of confusion that limited their ability to recollect clearly other events suggests that those compiled identities, as they compress, blur our vision of the past. It becomes possible then, by introducing a past that is consistent with that blurred vision and altering it slightly and systematically, that a new identity may emerge that is based, not on the reality of the past, but of a constructed reality. Never has this principle been put to greater use than during what may be called the fascist era--that time between 1920 and 1950, years that will live in infamy for the crimes that were committed against humanity.

Why is this important? And how do all these things relate?

Every individual has a right to know his past as it was, or at least as near to as it was as can be approached. If there are events in my life that were positive, but understood as negative because of a filter somewhere else that was the product of another identity, it may cause resentment and bitterness. Conversely, there may have been a very traumatizing event that was very painful that has been suppressed by competing identities and processes. For the children in Franco's Aragon many were not able to draw their own past clearly as a result of the processes of fascist education. One even believed that his father and uncle were put to death because of wrong-doing, when the fact was that those men had not done anything, they had not even participated in the war, they were simply "red" liberals. Their death was part of a show of strength by the Spanish fascist party. The son, an adult now, was so traumatized by the education that he had received that he could not even mourn his own father's death without certain resentment toward him. To recover the past as it was--in the case mentioned, the boys father was shamelessly murdered by fascist military--should be the primary objective of the historian. He takes part in this activity in order that people might be able to understand their current identity.

The historian's job in constructing identity is a two-lane highway that is on a ridge with certain death if errors are made. The historian must see the past as it was, in the past, trying not to force his perspectives or modernity on it. After that, it gets tricky. The historian must construct an image, an image in current time, of what that past was like and communicate it in such a way that people can understand it without current prejudice. It is a process that is extremely tedious and difficult and (though historians hate to admit it) always full of many presuppositions. If all that historians were supposed to do was to analyze and debate within the walls and halls of academia, then the world at large would be left to their own devices to construct the past. Many would do this properly and with a general good will. But many, if not the majority, would turn it into a plot for power. Fascism sought to control history through memory construction, it ultimately did not work, but hundreds of millions had to die before the world figured it out.

To the point. I believe that historians as a whole have a singular, though multi-faceted, duty to the world: to identify the past as it was and provide space for those whose identity is tied to it in a form that can be accessed by those people. The historian should, through the process of reconstruction, provide identity to those who have lost it, or for whom it has been blurred. Yes, this is an idealist's view of it, but I think that it is closer to giving purpose to history than just saying that historians analyze the past simply because it exists, which is far too Edmund Hilary-esque for me. If nothing else, it is less selfish that believing that I do history so that I can be self-fulfilled.

Identity in Aragon, Spain

Commemorating the victims of the fascist regime in Spain presents a number of difficulties for the historian.[1] The primary difficulty in this commemoration lies in understanding the many identities of memories composed by those who experienced the fascist regime. The second difficulty lies in understanding the complex processes that contributed to each identity. Finally there is the very real confrontation that the historian is taking place in the process of constructing an identity for another person, or a group of people. This process, if not addressed with absolute solemnity and with the highest regard for ethical practices, can have devastating consequences. These three difficulties may be overcome in order to provide appropriate space for those whose memories have been repressed to reflect upon their own identity.[2]

In order to begin a discussion of the various identities of the victims of the Spanish fascist regime, it is necessary to understand the processes that were involved in each phase of memory construction. These processes are the pivot points for identity construction. In memorial, they can be understood as filters when an individual tries to understand his or her past. To understand these processes the most important factor is a basic understanding of Spanish fascism.

Stanley Payne, the preeminent historian of national systems in Spain, both dominant and otherwise, posited that though fascism took many faces and forms throughout its reign in Europe, there were several key elements that were present to a greater or lesser degree in every fascist system.[3] Among these were a “positive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use, violence” and “Creation of a new nationalist authoritarian state based not merely on traditional principles or models.”[4] These two elements have been highlighted out of a much larger list specifically because they found their practical outworking in the processes of memory augmentation. Cenarro argued that the fascist regime in Spain had set up the social welfare structure in the Auxilio Social as a device for rupturing the traditional social structure.[5] Not only did it disrupt existing structures by removing children from homes, but also via a persistent threat to those who were allowed to keep their children home. In doing so the auxilio social in particular, but also other fascist structures, became processes of repression.

The second process was the Spanish fascist use of education. Again, via the auxilio social, but this time in the hogares where children were subjected to harsh conditions of discipline. They were not simply taken from their families and indoctrinated with propaganda, but harshly and brutally treated if they did not conform.[6] Elements of both the positive evaluation of violence as well as authoritarian state principles are present in the hogares. It was the difference between relatively peaceful propagandist indoctrination and violent and harsh punishments that led to competing identities when children left the hogar.[7] The fascists saw the great need in controlling children, for they were the generation that would carry on the tradition of fascism. Competing doctrines had to be expelled. In order to own the people, there was a need to reassign the identities of children: from republican past to fascist future.

Identity begins with experiences which are, immediately after they happen, translated into memory. If those memories can be systematically augmented and reassigned, then the one who augments and reassigns them holds a great power over the identity of the person or group who initially had the experience. In the cases that Angela Cenarro documented there were, prior to the democratization of Spain in 1977, five identities that could be observed among the victims. After democratization there are three more identities.

Since Cenarro focused on individuals who became victims as children, the first identity to look at should be that composed of experiences and memories prior to any sort of victimization. For the sake of simplicity this will be called former identity.[8] The first victimization of former identity and the first divergence from a normal memory development was the process of domestic repression—the fear and intimidation of the Spanish republican families that resulted in a lack of open discussion of events within the home.[9] This process of domestic repression led to an augmented identity called repressed identity. The next process was the cause of the third and fourth stages in identity. It was fascist education. Cenarro discussed this in terms of the hogares, a part of the social welfare system created by Franco.[10] The identities which came out of the hogares were duo parte. There was first the state constructed identity—the identity which the Spanish state had hoped to instill in the children in the construction of the New Spain. The second identity to emerge was what Cenarro referred to as the dissident identity, that is an identity developed based on the harsh reality and cruelty to which the children were subjected in the hogares rather than the constructive message that the regime had intended.[11]

The fifth stage of identity prior to the collapse of fascism was present in at least one case documented by Cenarro, but more importantly it was not the product direct external memory manipulation, but of personal reflection upon the divergent memories from the hogares.[12] This identity will be called disoriented identity. It could be posited that this identity was the one that created the crisis that demanded a shift in government from fascism to more democratic principles. With so many influential citizens with their own internal identity crisis, it would have become impossible to continue the façade that had been built by the fascist party. These children would have begun the quest into their past probably in their early thirties—which would have been around 1960, approximate to the time that Franco began having serious problems within his government. Cenarro saw this as well in “Memory beyond the Public Sphere” where she discussed the shift in legitimization on the part of the fascist regime.[13]

It was likely the disoriented identity and a general feeling on the part of individuals of the time that wished to unite rather than fracture that led to the Pacto del Olvido, the Pact of Forgetting in 1977. The result was an attempt at intentional forgetting that left individuals with the need to create a new identity for themselves—one that had left the past behind. Such identity could be labeled Emergent Identity. For the individual who had experienced such diverse identities it can be inferred—were each identity a lens and each process a filter—that getting a clear image of former identity or repressed identity would be very difficult. Thus for the individual to complete the formation of identity there must be help, something that can bypass the lenses and filters and offer a memory of those things that is not bearing the onus of state agenda. Historical commemoration is that aid.

Historical commemoration is the art of looking past the internally created devices that humans construct to shield themselves from hurt and pain and expressing those forgotten or cloudy identities, without which a person may not be able to really answer the question of who he or she is. This process is not without its dangers; it has the potential to exploit a victimized individual if it is practiced without care. Practiced ethically however, historical reconstruction has the ability to provide the individual victim a singular lens and filter through which to see what or who he or she was. It is imperfect; the lens of historical identity born out of the process or filter of historical construction is bound to be incomplete. Historical identity combined with the emergent identity, processed with personal reflection can achieve the final result of what can be called composite identity. An identity, not necessarily complete, but one that has had opportunity to reflect, mourn, learn and understand. The dynamic relationship of historical identity to emergent identity was seen in Cenarro’s accounting of the story of Elías Górriz who struggled to understand the death of his own father through personal reflection of the disparity between his personal account—having come through so many years of state constructed identity and repressed memory—and the account that was held in the historical construction, a construction that he performed himself.[14]

There are difficulties in commemorating the past for the historian: ethics, care in the reconstruction process, an acknowledgement of an imperfect system. But there are also very constructive purposes for the historical commemorative practice. There are difficulties for the historian that are specific to the Spanish fascist regime and their victimization of many: understanding the many identities and processes that are in between an individual’s current identity and his or her early identity, the identity intended for commemoration. If fascists appropriated such a powerful tool as systematic memory augmentation, then the historian, should overcome the difficulties and should spend his efforts taking back that tool and using it for proper and good identity construction.

[1] The word “victims” is itself a less than ideal term, but will be used for lack of a better term in such a short work. In this case it will refer to those of the Spanish left whose identity was in some way altered by the Franco-fascist regime that remained in place for thirty-eight years following the civil war.
[2] These ideas and problems, while thematically they may share some attributes with other cases in memory repression, are unique in their specifics and thus the confines must be defined at the outset. Two articles by Angela Cenarro have provided the case studies that inform this theoretical look at memory.  This study is thus confined to particular cases from Aragon, Spain. The articles cited are:
Cenarro Lagunas, Angela. "Memory beyond the Public Sphere: The Francoist Repression Remembered in Aragon". History & Memory. 14 (1/2, 2002). 165-188. (hereafter cited as “Public Sphere”)
-- "Memories of Repression and Resistance: Narratives of Children Institutionalized by Auxilio Social in Postwar Spain". History & Memory. 20 (2, 2008): 39-59. (hereafter cited as “Repression and Resistance”)
[3] Payne, Stanley. Fascism: Comparison and Definition. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1980. 7.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Repression and Resistance, 40-41.
[6] Ibid., 49.
[7] “Relatively peaceful…indoctrination…” This is not intended to suggest that violence was not utilized in the indoctrination process, but simply to produce a reason for why dual competing identities were constructed. The children did receive an education, and that education is viewed by some as a positive experience according to Cenarro.
[8] This is the term used by Cenarro, and for argument here, the term makes sense. Cenarro, “Repression and Resistance,” 45.
[9] Ibid., 48.
[10] Ibid., 50.
[11] Ibid., 56-57.
[12] Ibid., 43.
[13] 173.
[14] Cenarro, “Memory beyond the Public Sphere,” 174-176.