Your RDA of Irony

For Whom the X-Box Tolls

By Victoria Burnett

MADRID: A new video game that invites players to rewrite the course of Spain’s devastating civil war has touched a nerve in a country that is often reluctant to revisit its past, let alone play with it.

“Shadows of War” bills itself as the first video game based on the 1936-39 war, which erupted after rightist forces loyal to Francisco Franco staged a coup against the elected Republican government. It went on sale in Spain on Thursday in the midst of a bitter debate about how to deal with the country’s past, prompted by a new law that would authorize reparations to civil war victims and ban monuments to Franco.

Even before it hit the stores, the game drew criticism from both sides of the political spectrum as a divisive trivialization of a war whose wounds, for many Spaniards, have yet to heal.

Manuel Contreras, a columnist for the conservative newspaper ABC, said in an editorial that the game would “fuel political conflict and reinforce the split between the two Spains.”

In 1936, by a two-thirds majority, the Spanish voters were so tactless as to elect a liberal-leftist majority to its Cortes. Unfortunately, that two-thirds majority did not include the Spanish army which wanted to contest the election results. (No doubt, Antonin Scalia would have ruled in the Right’s favor but at the time he was only four months old and his legal briefs still were diapers.) So, in order to overturn the election, the army decided to overturn the government. However ironic it sounds to us, the liberal and leftist supporters of the government were the Republicans. The supporters of the Army called themselves the Nationalists, but Fascist is more descriptive.

In planning the coup, the Spanish army underestimated the government. Its liberals and leftists were at each others’ throats over zoning laws; those civilians could hardly be expected to mount and coordinate a defense. But the government’s fractious, squabbling nature proved the core of its resistance. However overwhelming the odds, the Republic–and the Spanish majority who supported it–refused simply to surrender. Crushing that heroic obstinacy took three years and as many as a million lives.

The leader of the victorious Nationalists was Francisco Franco, and he remained Spain’s dictator for the rest of his life: until 1975. He certainly was one of Fascism’s most successful tyrants: ruling 36 years, dying of old age, and leaving behind a stable country. As his legacy, Franco had hoped to perpetuate his “conservative” values by supporting the restoration of the Spanish monarchy. Juan Carlos was the descendant of Philip II, and the hand-picked successor of Franco, but he proved to be the heir of the 20th century. To the chagrin of the Old Guard, His Most Catholic Majesty supports a democratic Spain. Juan Carlos personifies Spain’s transition after Franco: a historic, conservative institution adapting itself to a modern, more liberal world.

But this peaceful transition required a compromise between the Right and the Left. The Spanish Civil War would not be discussed or even acknowledged. The Right would never apologize. The Left would not demand justice. Those who had survived would be as silent as those who had not. Contradicting the maxim of their countryman George Santayana, the Spanish wanted to forget the past, in order not to relive it.

This silence has been observed until now. Franco has been dead for 32 years. Early this month, the Spanish Cortes passed “the Law of Historic Memory”, establishing a commission to examine and record both sides’ atrocities during the Spanish Civil War as well as the crimes of the Franco regime. History and justice will finally be heard.

And now you can also buy the video game….

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