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The War Nerd March 18, 2004
 
Basques My Ass!
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 3
 
These aren't armies -- they're little ethnic gangs, like Crips for white guys with a grudge and a lot of free time on their hands. Even the Spanish police, who do their best to hype the ETA the same way the British do the IRA, admit that there are only a few dozen guys active in the ETA.

In this kind of war, the rebels go way out of their way to see that they only hit the right people. Spain is a rich Western country, with lots of videocameras wandering around. The last thing the ETA wants is to lose the propaganda war by shredding a bunch of civilians. They'd rather do nothing than deal with bad publicity like that. So they spend months and months setting up some poor Spanish Guardia Civil cop or pro-Spanish Basque politician, then hit him when they're sure nobody else will get hurt. They mess up sometimes -- these aren't the brightest guys in the world -- but the whole notion they'd set off a dozen no-warning bombs in the Madrid train system was just totally ridiculous.

The ETA has been a long, long time without doing anything like that. They started up in 1959, back when the whole "national liberation" thing was going strong. The "ETA" name is in Basque, which is supposedly the oldest and weirdest language in Europe. They say it means "Basque Fatherland and Freedom," and who am I to say it doesn't? The only Basque word I know is "izquierda," Spanish for "left," which my fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Hill said was borrowed from Basque.

If you want to see how scary and bad-ass ETA is, you should just look at their first big operation: in 1961, they "attempted to derail a train" with Spanish politicians on it. Two years of planning, and the biggest caper they could come up with was attempting to derail a train. Maybe they put a couple of pesos on the track and hoped the train would slide off. Maybe it was Crisco on the rails. All I know is that's a pretty pathetic start for a bigtime terrorist "army."

ETA got a little more serious in the hippie days, when anybody with a beard and a grudge could act bad and get away with it. In 1973 they hit their high-water mark by murdering the Spanish Prime Minister in retaliation for the execution of a few ETA killers.

Back then ETA had a big advantage because Spain was still under Franco, an old pal of Hitler's from back in the 30s. Nobody cried too much when a Prime Minister, an Admiral in Franco's navy, got whacked. It was good riddance to the old fascist as far as most of the flower children were concerned.

Life got harder for the ETA in 1975, when Franco finally died and Spain got a king again. For the first time in 40-odd years, Spain held free elections, got a new constitution and generally rejoined the country-club countries. That made it harder to operate as pure outlaws, so the same guys who carried out hits as ETA members put on their democratic hats and became politicians in the "political wing" of the Basque nationalist movement, starting a party called "Herri Batasuna," which sounds like a high-school PE teacher I had once but probably means something like "Glorious Basques, Kill the Spaniards."

From about 1980 to the 90s, ETA was really quiet. Every year they'd pop a cop or two, but that was about all. Meanwhile they were knocking on doors trying to get their political party going. The idea was to have it both ways: if the political party got popular, they could push for their Basque Homeland that way, and if not...well, they'd just change into their ninja suits and skulk around following a cop or mayor around for months before getting up the nerve to shoot him or blow him up in his car.

If you followed the whole weirdness up in Northern Ireland, you know the pattern here. The IRA political party is called "Sinn Fein" -- don't ask me how to pronounce it -- and it's the same deal, with "activists" in the daytime who change into their dark sweats to set off their sneaky little bombs at night. They even had a slogan, "a ballot in one hand and a rifle in the other," which is their way of bragging about the chickenshit double game they and ETA like to play.


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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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