restricted access 2. Ideology and Memory: The Continuing Battles
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2 Ideology and Memory The Continuing Battles The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past. William Faulkner The pain of the great historical wounds flows on, taking advantage of whatever occasion. Francisco Nieva, member of the Spanish Royal Academy, 2006 The bloody conflicts in Spain and the United States would not be forgotten . As costly internecine conflicts they demanded postwar justification and explanation. The death toll produced psychic pain. The scale of destruction challenged national pride.What had gone wrong to produce such conflict? Before their civil wars, both Spain and the United States were proud nations in an era of nationalism. Spain, once Europe’s dominant imperial power, entered the twentieth century mindful of its great heritage and troubled by its precipitous decline. Long before the disaster of 1898, when Spain lost virtually all that was left of its once vast empire,leaders had been debating the causes of national weakness.The conservative and reactionary elements in Spanish culture blamed departures from tradition and changes in the nation’s character. They saw the Enlightenment, and even before it the influence of humanists such as Erasmus, as insidious cultural forces that had undermined Spain’s strength. More forward-looking and secular forces in Spanish culture felt a need to modernize the nation and align its life more closely to that of Western European nations that were gaining in power. The chasm between these opposed diagnoses of Spain’s decline as a world power reflected the forces that led to civil war. Ideology and Memory: The Continuing Battles · 45 The United States, though a newcomer to the world of nations, had yielded nothing to ancient Spain in respect to national pride. The colonists had wrested their independence from England, then the greatest of European powers, and citizens and leaders of the new nation took enormous pride in their ideology of political liberty and representative government. A bumptious conviction that the nation was the new model for human progress expressed itself among southern planters, northern businessmen, and small farmers of both sections. Although the divergent social systems of North and South were on a path that would lead to war, national pride was potent and growing even in the 1850s. With striking casualness, leaders of the South could talk of extending the virtuous American system to Mexico and the Caribbean, while their counterparts in the North could mention the annexation of Canada as a likely future event. When such deep-seated attitudes had to confront the reality of fratricidal slaughter and division, national pride collided with national failure of an essential kind. The contrast demanded both explanation and expiation, for the hugely destructive civil wars were an offense against the national ideal. At the level of national culture efforts would have to be made to explain and justify what had taken place. To rescue the national narrative, civil war would have to be reinterpreted as something positive both for Spain and for the United States. For individuals, too, a challenge of reorientation lay ahead. Deep and bitter conflicts like these do not resolve themselves cleanly or with finality . Although military battles identify the victor and the vanquished, longlasting and painful emotions remain. No matter how severe the ramifications of victory or defeat may be, the arguments about who was right and who was wrong, who should be honored and who should be condemned, continue. Quickly or eventually, the contest moves to another plane—that of morality—where for many combatants and their descendants consensus becomes extremely difficult to reach. Ideology magnified the bloodshed and destruction of internecine conflict . For Spain the ideological conflicts between bolshevism and fascism that soon engulfed all of Europe obviously were of great importance, but across the Atlantic the racial issue had a similar intensifying impact. A set of beliefs was necessary to justify the extent of slaughter, and each side relied on an ideology to explain its cause and sustain its mounting sacrifices. 46 · Uncommonly Savage In both countries it identified each side with some transcendent good. As a result, the men and women who sacrificed but survived, who fought and absorbed losses, were not likely to abandon their ideology lightly. It made sense of their commitment and justified their descent into violence. Once the shooting stopped, their wartime ideologies would be transformed into historical memories and commemorations.These collective acts of memory and commemoration would elevate individual acts to the plane of virtue and explain away vast societal failure. Divisive experiences and emotions extend...


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