Spanish Civil War

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A Nation Riven: A Brief Oral History of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco Dictatorship

Editor's Note - The Spanish Civil War

One need not look far, in Spain, to find traces of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the dictatorship of Francisco Franco that ended with his death in 1975. And if one probes just a bit, the legacy of that period is apparent, and just as clear is the fact that the country still grapples with the aftermath.

The evidence of the conflicted memory is ubiquitous; one stumbles across the markers when one least expects it: in Jáen, at the Cathedral there, is a marker, dedicated to the priests who died in the “Marxist Revolution” of 1936-1939. At another cathedral, in Granada, on the front of the church is etched the name of Jóse Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falangist party, who was executed by the Republican government in 1936, for his purported role in the military uprising. To call the period from 1936 to 1939 a “Marxist revolution” is at odds with historical accuracy, it was quite the opposite. But the etchings underscore the involvement of the Catholic Church in that civil war. The undisputed facts are thus: on June 18, 1936, there was a military uprising by a handful of generals against the democratically-elected leftist government. But after those barest of facts, there are interpretations of what led to the uprising, what transpired in the resulting three-year civil war, and what exactly transpired during the Franco dictatorship.

Our UT class of students enrolled in Oral History as Journalism arrived at the University of Cádiz in the summer of 2008. Our goal was to seek to understand some of that history, to talk to Spaniards about their memories, their interpretations of those years, and to learn how they were trying to resolve some of the lingering unease. Students enrolled in this class were expected to have some Spanish-speaking skills and were all taking another class in Spanish at the same time. Our readings were in English, and we mixed Spanish with English in class, to try to gain some fluency. And, as you’ll hear in the audio clips on our website at <http://journalism.utexas.edu/facultywork/spanishcivilwar/>, the interviews were in Spanish. The interviews were, for the most part, conducted and recorded during class time, with one student assigned to lead the interview for her own story. The story was written in English, and edited by me, the professor, then it was translated into Spanish for the interview subject to fact-check. Then any corrections made by the interview subject were incorporated into the English version of the story, which is presented here. On the website, you’ll see the English story, the transcript of the Spanish interview excerpt, and the English translation of that excerpt. Students were also responsible for editing the audio clips, transcribing them and translating them, taking photos and scanning any historical photos we had available.

We’ve worked hard to understand the history and to bring as sensitive and honest a perspective. Our thanks to those who have served as intermediaries between our class and the small group of men and women we have interviewed: Rob Perkins, of the International Oral History Association; Francisco Espinosa, a Spaniard who put us in touch with Salustiano Gutierrez and others; Leonor Gutierrez Montañes, of the Universidad de Cádiz, who introduced us to other faculty members who also helped; José Luis Gutierrez Molina, a historian, who also came in from Sevilla for us to interview him; José Luis Laplaza, the API regional director, who drove his 88-year-old father, a Nationalist veteran, from Sevilla to Cádiz so that we could interview him.

Thank to these men and women, and to all those Spaniards who patiently explained their experiences and their views.

Our oral history class is scheduled to move to the northern coast of Spain in 2009 and we will again tackle the civil war and the Franco years and try to understand the period more fully.

Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Associate Professor of Journalism

Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez and students

University of Texas at Austin