I went on a bit of war exploration today, but really it just raised questions without answers.
One of my teachers had pointed out the existence of the General Archive of the Civil War just around the corner from the Cathedral. The Archive has a little museum containing glimpses of life during the Civil War, which was mildly interesting. But two things stood out.
The first was that in addition to persecuting the communists Franco had another significant target – the Masons. This surely must be one of the only times the communists and Masons have found themselves solidly in the same basket. And as part of the Archive they have a Masonic meeting room and tons of Masonic items and regalia – that was fascinating in itself.
The second thing that stood out was the nature of the Archive itself. Now it is a trove of information on people and events in the Civil War. It started out as the Office of Information and Anti-Communist Propaganda and then became simply the Office for the Recovery of Documents. That’s not so sinister until you read this quote from Franco explaining that there would be no amnesty at the end of the Civil War and the the Republicans would be imprisoned in camps: “We have more than two million persons card indexed with proofs of their crimes…”
In the evening I walked down to the fabulous Roman bridge over the Tormes River (and yes that Bridge was built by the Romans 2000 years ago). I’m reading a book about the Battle of Salamanca in the Peninsular War and there is a bit about the British storming over this bridge into the French held fortifications. The French had built the fortifications by razing the South West corner of the town and heavily fortifying two monasteries. There is absolutely no sign of any of this today.
And that’s the common thread in this story. The Peninsular War and the Civil War were hugely significant events in relatively recent Spanish history and yet they get hardly a mention anywhere. In the case of the Civil War it was horrible and personal and the only way to let recent wounds heal was to not talk about things. I think in the case of the War of Independence, the Spanish look askance at both the French and the British and again find it easier to deal with them by not making a big thing, or often any thing, of it.
The French devastated Spain and the ‘liberating’ British weren’t much better. The two famous battles that preceded the Battle of Salamanca were followed by the British army savaging the Spaniards in the captured cities. Yet now this part of Spain is flooded with French and British tourists. So maybe quietly passing by these events is just good manners and the best way to get on with things.