Today is the 70th anniversary of the beginning of
the bombardment of the city of Barcelona during
the Spanish Civil War by the Italian battleship
Eugenio di Savoia. The target was an airplane
motor factory three blocks from the small
apartment where my family is now living. None of
the shells hit the factory. They hit residential
areas instead, killing eighteen civilians.
Barcelona was the first modern European city to
suffer what we euphemistically call "collateral
damage." It also was first to suffer intentional
bombardment of civilian populations, a practice
later used widely by Axis and Allied governments
during World War II. Barcelona was bombed 170
times between 1937 and 1939, leaving 2,500 people
dead. Francisco Franco gave the German Condor
Legion permission to practice terrorist bombing
on the Basque town of Guernica in April 1937.
The newspaper La Vanguardia shows an aerial
photograph of the Italian air strike on March 17,
1938, that leveled two city blocks of Barcelona.
It was ordered by dictator Benito Mussolini in
reprisal for the defeat of Italian ground troops
elsewhere in Spain.
A city map in La Vanguardia shows where bombs
hit. Two buildings on our block were blown up. A
nearby stone building front still shows the
damage of fragmentation bombs. Seven citizens
reminisce in the newspaper about living for two
years under bombardment as children. One said she
still reacts with fear at ambulance or police
Residents here have vivid memories and reminders
of the destructive force of war and of a fascist
regime that violated the human rights of its own
men, women and children. This may explain why the
Spanish government is sensitive about events in
Iraq and Afghanistan and concerned whether
international safeguards for the protection of
prisoners are being observed.
The newspaper El Pais recently reported that the
U.S. government and military used Spanish bases
at Roto, Morón and Torrejón to fly illegally
detained suspected terrorists to Guantánamo. This
violated international law and bilateral
agreements with the Spanish government.
Popular political cartoonist Peridis played upon
Spanish Roman Catholic tradition in a cartoon
showing a seated man facing a seated woman. She
holds a rosary. The woman sings the Latin
response that I sang as a young altar boy: "Pray
for us." The man sings the priest's part, but
instead of the names of holy saints, he chants
the names of unholy places: Rota - Guantánamo /
Ora pro nobis. Morón - Guantánamo / Ora Pro
Nobis. He then remarks, "All roads lead to
Guantánamo." And she replies, "Wasn't it to Rome?"
The former president of Spain, who committed
troops to Iraq in 2003, recently admitted there
were no weapons of mass destruction. This
prompted the current president, José Luis
Rodríguez Zapatero, to comment ironically, "Even
now he is mistaken. There is a weapon of mass
destruction in Iraq: war and the hatred it has
American policies cast a less than favorable
light on the values of our society. Last week,
Spain held a day of "blackout." Citizens and
institutions did their part to conserve energy in
a united national response to global warming.
Even the lights of Barcelona's greatest landmark,
the spires of Antoni Gaudí's famous church, La
Sagrada Familia, were dimmed.
In 1997, the United States refused to sign the
Kyoto Protocol, citing among its supposed flaws
that it placed restrictions on developed
countries that it did not place on developing
ones. We continue to export our Hummer-SUV
lifestyle. And I continue to explain to Spanish
friends that Austin has no significant train or
Still, most baffling was our recent refusal to
join in the proclamation made by 58 nations at a
UNICEF-organized conference against the use of
children as soldiers in combat. The European
Union, Switzerland, Canada and Japan signed the
proclamation, but - as was widely noted in the
Spanish news - not the United States.
In June 2005, President Bush called upon longtime
adviser Karen Hughes to help give the United
States' image an extreme makeover. Whatever she
did, if anything, sure hasn't worked.
Thomas G. Palaima is a University of Texas
professor who is a Fulbright scholar now in