I didn’t plan to write about Gaza. The conflict is too dire, with no clear path forward. But the final lectures in my Spanish Civil War series seemed to echo painful current newscasts. Unprovoked mass murder. Carpet bombing of cities, a novelty in 1937 when Picasso painted Guernica in protest. Attacks on refugees trying to flee.
My sympathies always lay with the Second Spanish Republic’s failed attempt to resist military rebels led by Francisco Franco. I’d read Hemingway and Orwell. Franco’s authoritarian dictatorship lasted well into my lifetime. Imagine my shock this month to learn the Spanish Republicans committed atrocities too. Their sympathizers slaughtered thousands of Catholic priests, monks, friars, and nuns early in the war. George Orwell described affluent citizens dressing as laborers for safety in the streets of Barcelona. Republicans killed fewer innocent civilians than did Franco’s Nationalists, but that doesn’t erase their crimes.
An attorney speaking at my college long ago said choices are never between right and wrong. They are between alternatives that are each part right and part wrong. That doesn’t free us of responsibility to weigh imperfect options. The choice to stand back has consequences, too. Democracies in the 1930s declared neutrality toward Spain. Their isolationism left the fragile anti-fascist coalition dependent on the USSR for aid, while Germany and Italy sent bombers to help Franco win.
Today my sympathies lie with Israelis and Palestinians killed, captured, or driven from their homes in and near Gaza. I hope someone wiser than me will find a way to make the suffering stop. There’s plenty of blame to go around. That's no reason to say, “A plague on both their houses.”
Image: The ruins of Guernica, 1937 (cropped). German Federal Archives.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.