I’ve been on vacation with my wife the past week in Spain. Today we’re in Madrid, and I wanted to see Picasso’s Guernica in the Reina Sofia museum. So we went.
The town of Guernica was bombed in 1937 by the Germans and the Italians during the Spanish Civil War at the behest of Franco, who eventually won, and ruled Spain as a dictator for almost 40 years. Picasso had been commissioned by the Spanish Republican government to paint a mural for the Paris International Exhibition, and decided to paint a mural about war and destruction. I won’t try to write about the experience of seeing the painting, other than to note that it is a moving experience. The best that I can do is to provide a small reproduction of it here. The original is approximately 11′ x 25′, and is actually painted in black and white, with very little discernible color.
The display of Guernica in the museum was complemented by other artworks from the time, as well as propaganda posters from both sides in the Spanish Civil War.
The icky part, and the reason I’m writing about it, is that some of the factors that led to the Spanish Civil War are very much with us in the United States.
In contrast to the American Civil War, where the two sides were split geographically (North vs. South), the Spanish Civil War pitted the Republican civil government against the Nationalists: an array of clergy, businessmen, and others who thought the Republic wasn’t doing a good job. But instead of mere partisan debate, the Nationalists found supporters in Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. When part of the Spanish armed forces followed the Nationalists instead of their own civilian government, the war began. We talk about ‘class warfare’ as a particular flavor of political debate, but this time, class warfare was real warfare, with no neat geographical divisions between the two sides.
Today, we have the ‘conservatives’ who believe that our current leadership is not true to our ideals, and will bring about a socialist tyranny. Some people imagine a governmental collapse, with fighting in the streets and looting and chaos. Another vision is the overarching police surveillance state. It’s true that the principle embodied in the Posse Comitatus law, which prevents the military from engaging in civilian law enforcement, has faded in recent years.
On the other side, there are the ‘liberals’ who support our current national leadership, who look around and don’t see anything that can’t be fixed with a few trillion worth of deficit spending.
One big difference is that the outsiders, who believe that our government is on the wrong path, do not have supporters like the Spanish Nationalists did, who could provide military support.
Our government cannot fix the economy, and this is true regardless of which party is in power. The best they can do is create an environment in which the economy will fix itself, but I doubt they can even do that.
If things get worse, our government will have a challenge meeting the first obligation of every functioning government: maintaining civil order.
And then, our ‘elected, constitutional government’ will do the only thing governments know how to do in such circumstances: drop the hammer on us.