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Joseph A. Palermo

Joseph A. Palermo

Posted: January 14, 2007 05:13 PM

The Times' Helene Cooper: Worst Thumbnail History Ever


In her lead editorial, which appeared today in the New York Times' "Week in Review," Helene Cooper gives us a short history lesson of the Spanish Civil War:

"Remember the Spanish Civil War? The best America can hope for, some experts said, would be for Iraq to turn into today's version of the Spanish Civil War.

"For readers without immediate access to Wikipedia, the Spanish Civil War lasted three years, from 1936 to 1939, when the Nationalists, led by Francisco Franco, defeated the Loyalists of the Second Spanish Republic. . . . People in just about every European country were passionate about the fight: the Loyalists got weapons and volunteers from the Soviet Union, while the Nationalists received help from Italy, Germany and Portugal."

Nowhere in Ms. Cooper's little history lesson does she use the word: "Fascist." That is an interesting omission since Adolf Hitler backed Franco and even tested his newly improved Luftwaffe with bombing raids against the Spanish "Loyalists" and their civilian supporters.

It is also interesting that Ms. Cooper uses the term "Nationalists" to describe Franco's fascists. Were not the "Loyalists" (or Republicans) in Spain also nationalists? Franco, with Hitler's and Mussolini's help, destroyed democracy in Spain, yet Cooper remains impartial, which is sort of strange for a New York Times writer since Franco's allies were ultimately responsible for murdering six million Jews and millions of other Europeans, (and our World War Two allies, those nasty Soviets who backed the Republicans in Spain, ultimately defeated most of the Nazi army).

Ms. Cooper is correct that people were "passionate about the fight," but she does not tell her readers why. People all over the world saw the Spanish Civil War as an epic ideological struggle and a dry run for the outbreak of a much bigger war, which is exactly what it was.

The Nazi regime escalated the violence in Spain and gave the world the iconographic subject matter for Pablo Picasso's most famous work, "Guernica." Hitler's air force laid waste to the small town in northern Spain horrifying the world, and displaying the new tactic of aerial bombardment of women and children. FDR correctly denounced the April 1937 Guernica bombing, which killed hundreds of civilians, as an atrocity. (The air war during World War Two would soon make Guernica look miniscule by comparison.)

Still, so compelling was Picasso's mural that when the United Nations was formed in 1945 delegates tacked up a copy of the painting so the world would never forget. The Fascist Generalissimo Francisco Franco went on to rule Spain with an iron fist for thirty years following World War Two. Ms. Cooper's bland: "the Nationalists received help from Italy, Germany and Portugal," downplays the belligerent role of the fascist powers. What lesson Cooper wishes her readers to come away with by mangling the details of one of the most important civil wars in the 20th Century is difficult to ascertain. The "experts" Cooper talked to who see a silver lining in Iraq's civil war if it plays out the way the Spanish Civil War did must be neo-con nincompoops. Bequeathing to the world more Guernicas and laying the groundwork for an even larger bloodbath in my view is not "the best America can hope for" in Iraq.