World War II Didn’t Begin in 1939. It Began in 1936 — In Spain.Roundup
tags: Spain, World War 2
Paul Richard Huardn is a reporter and military historian.
“That it all started here,” Mario replies. “The fight against fascism. The fight against dictators. World War II. That it started with us.”
“It all started here” might be the beginning of more than a historical analysis. In a country that would rather forget its most searing historical event, re-examining Spain’s place in the history of World War II could start the conversation. It would not only redefine when and where history’s worst war really began. It could also prompt many in Spain to finally address that most complicated of Spanish topics in a way that minimizes animosities and places the Civil War in a global context rather than a personal one.
It would take a miracle for all sides in Spanish politics and society to lower their guards and start a civil dialogue about the Civil War. But a miracle has to start somewhere.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War and the beginning of the Franco dictatorship. That milestone is a call to consider the significance of the war as a global as well European event. But today, many people in the United States do not even know about the Spanish Civil War or understand why wrestling with its importance is worthwhile.
Fought from July 17, 1936 — the day conspirators launched their coup in Spanish Morocco a day before the Madrid attacks — to April 1, 1939, the war pitted the fascist Nationalists comprised of monarchists, landowners, most Spanish business owners, the majority of Roman Catholic clergy, and much of the Spanish army against the Republicans, who were backed by elements of the army loyal to the Second Spanish Republic, workers, the trade unions, socialists, and peasants.
The violence, cruelty, and ideological underpinnings on both sides prompt many historians to say the war was the first of many during the 20th century between liberal democracies and dictatorships, as well as a prefiguration of World War II. The exact death toll from the Spanish Civil War will probably never be known. Estimating casualties is a controversial exercise to this day. Historians have ventured figures ranging from 250,000 to more than 1 million dead from the combat, atrocities, and executions.
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