Category Archives: Spanish Civil War

UEFA Championship: the Generalisimo’s Legacy Lives On

FutbolThis is the day that rabid futbol fans look forward to all year. The UEFA Champions League Final is the culmination of a season long tournament between the best clubs from the best leagues from across Europe. This year’s tournament has seen some big surprises— the two favorites (reigning champ FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich) were both eliminated by an under the radar Atletico Madrid club. One thing that is not a surprise though is the total dominance of Spain’s La Liga. In fact both finalists in today’s big match are from Madrid! Later today scrappy Atletico Madrid will try to keep long-time powerhouse Real Madrid from taking a record 11th European championship. Sevilla has already won the Europa Cup (which might be compared to the NIT tournament in American basketball for reference). Amazingly Barcelona, arguably the best club in the world, winner of La Liga and the Copa Del Rey, is out. So how did Spanish futbol become so powerful?

Soccer has the unique ability to represent and strengthen different cultural identities and ideologies throughout the world. Perhaps nowhere can this be seen more prominently than in Spain. Importantly, many of Spain’s soccer clubs reflect the politics of the region they represent. The story really begins with the Generalisimo– Francisco Franco. It centers around what might be the most hated rivalry in sports, known as el clasico, between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. A rivalry that has at times seen such brutality, including state-sponsored murder and imprisonment, that to this day it is as much political, maybe more so, as it is sporting (see Catalonian separatist movement).

 The Spanish Civil War has been described as the warm-up for the Second World War. The end came in 1939 when the insurgent rebel Nationalist forces of General Francisco Franco finally defeated the army of the popularly elected Republican Government to take control of the country. The unmerciful civil war, fueled by political, religious and sectarian hatred, had dragged on for three terribly bloody years. Franco’s allies in the war had been Mussolini, Hitler and the Catholic Church. When Franco’s troops captured Madrid on March 28th to end the war his primary task, after executing tens of thousands of his enemies, many in Barcelona, was to forcefully unify his new Spanish state. A long campaign of murder, torture and political oppression ensued leading to decades of fascist-style dictatorship. Separatists from previously autonomous regions, especially those in Catalonia and Basque country, came in for extra harsh scrutiny. Both fought Franco’s policies very bitterly, so his gaze was squarely fixed upon them.

From the start the Generalisimo brilliantly co-opted the beautiful game as one of his most successful propaganda tools. He had seen how his benefactors, Mussolini and Hitler, had manipulated the sport in their own countries to great advantage and quickly followed suite. Immediately he adopted Real Madrid as his, and hence the nation’s, club. He then used the club masterfully to build domestic support for the Falangist state, to build positive exposure for the regime in the eyes of the world, to divert domestic attention from the economic dislocation and bankruptcy that plagued the regime, and most importantly for this discussion, as a vehicle to crush the persistent Catalonian resistance and suppress Catalan language and culture. He did this in part by stigmatizing (criminalizing?) support for the other great Spanish club, FC Barcelona, the symbol of Catalonian pride. Barca, in turn, would become arguably the single most important symbol of republican resistance against the regime for decades to come. The rivalry was quite literally about life and death, and it escalated accordingly over the years with each side always striving to outdo the other.

Today most of the clubs competing professionally in Spain are listed under the legal status of sports companies, whose ownership is in the hands shareholders. With the appearance in recent years of mega-dollar private television deals many clubs have drastically increased income, allowing for the hiring of many of the best players in the world. But as these things go many clubs over-spent and with the collapse of the world economy in 2009 many have fallen into financial turmoil. The two powerful clubs, Real and Barca, have weathered the storm with great success, but many others have not been so lucky. Atletico Madrid, Sevilla (and occasionally Valencia) continue to be very competitive but have tiny war-chests by comparison.

So in a few hours from now, at San Siro stadium in Milan, built by the industrial kingpin Pirelli during Mussolini’s fascist rule, Atletico Madrid will try to derail another title bid by Franco’s club, the world’s most valuable sports franchise. GO ATLETICO!

 Check out this excellent BBC documentary on these times:

Read about more recent history of the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

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John G. Morris – 20th Century Little Big Man

Capa,_D-Day1In 1964 Thomas Berger published Little Big Man. Filmed later as an anti-war parody by director Arthur Penn, the satirical novel recounts the exploits of 111-year-old Jack Crabb, as he wanders through the history of nineteenth-century western America. Along the way his life intersects with the likes of Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, and Custer. Through it all he has a front row seat to the so-called “winning of the West”— and he doesn’t like what he sees.

Crabb was a fictional character but each era seems to have its real life Jack Crabbs–  people whose long lives spanned critical historical events, and whose actions, usually associated with their work, influenced events behind the scenes. One such real life character is John G. Morris (1916 –  ). Quietly Morris became a key figure in the story of the 20th-century through his photo editing. He was on the scene in downtown Los Angeles early in 1942 to photograph the first wave of Japanese men, women and children being packed off to internment camps in the high desert. He then went to London as Life magazine’s lead photo editor in Europe during World War II and was in charge of coordinating the visual coverage of the Western Front. It was Morris who managed to save a handful of historic images shot by Robert Capa at D-Day when it was feared the entire set had been lost when damaged in development. Morris went to Normandy himself shortly after the invasion and snapped some memorable photos of his own. After the war, while at Ladies Home Journal, Morris published Women and Children of the Soviet Union with photos taken by Robert Capa. The photos provided Americans with a rare glimpse behind the Iron Curtain at the onset of the Cold War.

His career spans tenures with Life magazine, the Magnum photo agency, Ladies’ Home JournalThe Washington Post, The New York Times, and the National Geographic magazine. He knew and worked with the most celebrated war chroniclers of the times– Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smith, Ernest Hemingway and David Duncan to name just a few. While he was the photo editor for The New York Times during the Vietnam War, Morris put Nick Ut’s “Napalm Girl” and Eddie Adams’ Saigon execution and John Filo’s student crying at Kent State on the front page — photos that greatly affected public perception of the Vietnam War. Morris is passionately anti-war, and much like Jack Crabb, it becomes abundantly clear upon listening to him speak that he doesn’t like what he sees. View an excellent documentary about John G. Morris called Get The Picture.


Daily Maroon (The Chicago Maroon), University of Chicago student newspaper, 1933-37

Pulse, University of Chicago student magazine, Editor, 1937-38

LIFE (magazine), Editorial Staff, 1939-46 : New York, Los Angeles, Washington, London, Chicago, Paris

Ladies’ Home Journal, Associate Editor (Pictures), 1946-52

Magnum News Service, Editor, 1952-63

The Washington Post, Assistant Managing Editor (Graphics), 1964-65

Time/Life Books, editor, 1966-67

The New York Times, Picture Editor, 1967-74; Editor, NYT Pictures, 1975-76

Quest/77-79, Contributing Editor, 1977-79

National Geographic, European Correspondent, 1983-89


George Orwell in the Spanish Civil War

George Orwell makes tea in a trench

Spanish Civil War Poster:

English: Poster of the catalan JJLL during the...