Saturday, November 11, 2006

Junior Caligula sez:

"Years from now, when America looks out on a democratic Middle East growing in freedom and prosperity, Americans will speak of the battles like Fallujah with the same awe and reverence that we now give to Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima."

- George Bush, speaking at the dedication of the National Museum of the Marine Corps
Nerdified link. To take a line from the great character Jules Winnfield: "Well, allow me to retort." Americans will likely speaking of Fallujah as their Guernica. Just to give you a flavor for how Guernica went down, here's an excerpt from an oral history of the Spanish Civil War that I posted almost two years ago:
What follows is a passage from Ronald Fraser's excellent oral history of the Spanish Civil War, Blood of Spain: The Experience of Civil War 1936-1939, published in 1979 and released in paperback by Penguin Books. The account of the bombing of Guernica, which became a symbol of fascist terror, appears on pages 398-401:
Amatxu, the church bells are ringing,” Ignacia OZAMIZ’s three-year-old son kept saying as, from the early morning, the bells tolled out warnings of enemy planes in the vicinity. The front was barely 20 km to the east at Marquina as the crow flies. Four months pregnant, she had put her child – the youngest of four – to bed after lunch when her husband, a local blacksmith, sent her a message to go down to the shelter. People had seen a big plane – the abuelo – over the mountains.

Until the past week, she thought, with the exception of food shortages and the dead being brought from the front for burial, the war had hardly affected Guernica. Six months before, José Antonio Aguirre, newly elected head of Euzkadi’s autonomous government, had knelt under its famous oak tree, where in the past Spanish monarchs or their representatives had sworn to respect the Basque fueros (
note: fueros are the rights of self-government in Basque country and Navarro). Guernica, a town of 6,000 inhabitants lying between the hills 30 km to the east of Bilbao, was a symbol of liberty and tradition to the Basques. In a few hours it became the universal symbol of fascist terror.

Monday, 26 April was market day. The livestock market had been suspended for the duration of the war, but the ordinary market, Ignacia OZAMIZ recalled, continued as usual. Father Dionisio AJANGUIZ was on his way to his home town from his parish of Aulestia, halfway to Marquina, to spend the afternoon chatting and playing cards with fellow priests. One of them, whose mother that very morning had offered them a glass of cognac each not to go to Guernica, was accompanying them. They had drunk the cognac and set out. He had taken no heed even of his own brother’s admonitions; Father José AXUNGUIZ had been warning his parishioners at Marquina not to continue the traditional practice of going to Guernica on market day.

It was the outing for the youth; buses brought people from as far away as Lequeito on the coast. The people lacked war training. I blame the Basque authorities. They shouldn’t have allowed the practice to continue and were responsible for a great number of deaths. Those of us who lived virtually on the front, as in Marquina, had learnt the importance of building good shelters. But in Guernica they hadn’t taken adequate precautions; the shelters were rudimentary. I kept telling my mother: “Build a good one.” “Poor child, poor child,” was all she could say…

As Father Dionisio AJANGUIZ walked into Guernica, a solitary Heinkel III flew over and dropped half a dozen bombs. “It was the people’s salvation; they ran from their houses to the shelters.” He was still half a kilometer from the centre when he saw nine planes appear, flying low, from the direction of the sea. He threw himself on the ground as the first bombs fell.

Hearing the explosions, Ignacia OZAMIZ, who had taken her husband’s advice and gone to the shelter next to her house, thought the end had come. So did others.

“Ignacia, where have we come to die?” the church organist from my home village said. “Here ,” I replied. The shelter was packed: 150 people at least between neighbors and people who had come for the market. The bombs had crashed on the near-by hospital, killing twenty-five children and two nuns. Debris fell on the shelter, and we thought it had been hit. It was little more than a roof of sandbags, narrow and short, in the patio next to our house. Soon it was filled with smoke and dust. “Amatxu, take me out,” my son cried in Basque. “I can’t breathe…”

Her eldest daughter, Manolita AGUIRRE, had gone with girlfriends to the plain that began at the edge of the town. There had been no school that day. As they were playing, they saw the planes coming. Workers shouted at them to get into the shelter close by the small-arms factory. As they ran in they heard the tat-tat-tat of the fighters’ machine guns. An old man pulled out a religious medallion and gave it to her to kiss. “Pray, child, pray, the planes are bombing us…”

The fighters dived down and machine-gunned people trying to flee across the plain. The bombers were flying so low you could see the crewmen, recalled Father Dionisio AJANGUIZ. It was a magnificent clear April evening after a showery morning…

Between the waves of bombers, the priest scrambled to look for a safer place than the road. Amidst the crash of bombs, Juana SANGRONIZ hoped she could die without seeing the cause of death. When she ran into the shelter people had shouted, “Don’t let her in.” She was a Carlist (
note: the Carlist movement was an extreme right-wing movement of the period), had been arrested with a number of others and kept in gaol for three weeks in Bilbao. She hadn’t been out of her home, not even to go to mass, since her release, unable to face the indignity of being seen under guard like the other women. But her novio had dragged her into a house near the church of Santa María where people were sheltering. She was sure she was going to die. She heard the bombs whistle, the frightening explosions. People cried that it was dangerous to keep the mouth shut.

One had to put a stick or something between one’s teeth. My novio (
note: boyfriend) tried, but I kept telling him, “Leave me in peace.” He was a strong man, but he was trembling with fear…

The house on one side of the shelter, and then Ignacia OZAMIZ’s house on the other, began to burn. The smoke poured into the shelter. Someone drove a cow in. It started to shriek.

All the smoke came in with it. We had to keep our mouths shut, we could hardly see each other, and the smell was awful, remembered her seven-year-old daughter KONI. I didn’t think of dying, I was too young perhaps. But I thought we were going to suffocate.

People started to panic, recalled Ignacia OZAMIZ. “The house is on fire, we’re going to be burnt alive,” they screamed. Gudaris (
note: Basque Nationalist Soldiers) guarding the shelter let no one leave. One man tried to force his way out with his young child. “I don’t care if they kill me, I can’t stand it here.” He was pushed back. “Keep calm,” the soldiers shouted…

The town was beginning to burn, the wooden rafters catching alight. After the high explosive bombs, successive waves of planes dropped incendiaries.

From the shelter of an iron-ore bore hole about a kilometer from the town, Father Dionisio AJANGUIZ saw the roofs catch alight. Even at that distance he found breathing difficult because of the smoke. He feared that at least half the town’s population must have been killed. “And that’s what would have happened if they had dropped the incendiaries earlier instead of towards the end”…

A pall of smoke rose into the sky. Between waves of bombers, Juan Manuel EPALZA, now serving in the war industries’ chemical section, who by chance was lunching at a factory on the outskirts of town, came out of an air raid shelter to look. Thoughts of Nero crossed his mind. The bombing was of a different intensity to any that he had suffered.

After some three hours it ended. As Ignacia OZAMIZ and her two children emerged from the shelter, she saw the town was alight. “Don’t cry,” her husband consoled her. “We’ve got our hands, we’re unharmed, alive.” But she could think only of her eldest daughter and her mother, neither of whom had been in the shelter with her. Her house in Asilo Calzado was burning from the roof. Her husband rushed in to rescue papers and money.

“Oh, if only you’d managed to save my sewing machine,” I said. He went back in. As he came down with the machine, he found the staircase alight. He threw the machine out of the window, only just managing to jump out himself. “Woman, I got your machine but it nearly cost me my life.” “Why did you go up?” “To do you a pleasure.” The machine broke in its fall on the air raid shelter we’d just left, but I picked up the head, and I’ve got it still…

As her eldest daughter, Manolita, came out of the shelter on the edge of town, where none of the industrial plants, including the small arms factory, had been hit – a wave of heat struck her face. She told a man that she had to join her parents who were in the blazing ruins she could see beyond the railway station. Together, they skirted the town along the railway track to reach the main road. A gudari carried her on his shoulders to reach her burning house, one of the first on the street into the centre.

Everywhere people were fleeing. The water main had been broken in the raid, and there was little to be done to put out the fire. Juana SANGRONIZ was led out of the blaze by her novio. Crying uncontrollably, she refused to look back at the burning town. Ignacia OZAMIZ’s husband ran to rescue his crippled mother; he arrived too late. She and three other old women had been burnt alive. Leaving their house burning, the family made their way out of the town by a path known as El Agua Corriente; the main street through the centre was impassable. As they reached the higher part, they saw the area around the oak tree had not been hit. That night, given shelter outside town at the home of the Count of Arana, one of whose sons her husband had managed earlier to get released from the gaol, she had a miscarriage. Her husband took her to a relative’s farm. She left her four children with her mother. Little did she think it would be three years before she saw them again.

As Fraser footnotes at the end of the passage, Franco's fascist regime would blame the conflagration in Guernica on the Basque militia - a claim that was debunked. The fascists, with the aid of Hitler and Musolini were behind the bombing and burning of Guernica - a fact that even the right-wing in Guernica (such as the Carlists) would acknowledge years later.

I wonder what kind of oral histories we'll get from Fallujah.

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