Alma College Public Affairs Spring Term class on Leadership in Human Rights and Conflict Resolution is visiting various organizations and sites in Western Europe related to the struggles over the last 500 years to develop legal procedures to protect human rights and regulate the conduct of war. This excursion is coordinated by PCM State Council member and Alma College professor, Ed Lorenz. Over the first three weeks in May, the students will visit France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland, beginning with Spain. The first two days were spent in Madrid and Valladolid, Spain.
Here are brief descriptions:
Prado Lawn: Upon the arrival of the students overnight from Canada, they visited the great Prado Art Museum in Madrid, and here are taking a well-deserved break on the Prado’s back lawn. It was a gloriously refreshing spring day. The Prado has many great paintings, especially some by Goya that portray the horrors and foolishness of war and the pompous leaders who often send their country into war.
Reine Sofia Door: On our first full day in Spain we began with a visit to see Picasso’s Guernica, the world’s great symbol of the horrors of modern war. They waited for the Reine Sofia Museum to open on Wednesday morning. Two days later they would visit the Peace Museum and other sites in the town of Guernica. The painting from 1937 is inspired by the April 1937 bombing of the city during the Spanish Civil War.
San Paulo Valladolid: In midday on Wednesday, the class took a high speed train to Valladolid a city about 140 miles northwest of Madrid. Valladolid was the location of what is often called the Great Debate About Human Rights in 1550. Here the students stand in front of the grand Church of San Paulo adjacent to the site of the 1550 debate.
Dramatic Reading: The students were allowed to do a dramatic reading of “The Controversy of Valladolid,” a play by Jean-Claude Carriere that dramatized the effort by Bartolome de Las Casas in 1550 to get the Spanish government and the Church to recognize the humanity and thus the human rights of the indigenous peoples in the Americas. Here the students practice their readings in front of the altar where the debate took place.
Collegio Courtyard Window: After the dramatic reading, the students went to look at the beautiful courtyard of the Collegio de San Gregorio where the great debate took place. Again, the weather was perfect for our visit.
As we continued our human rights and peace leadership class, we visited some additional sites on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (May 7-9). Here are some descriptions linked to the attached photos:
- Arantzazu Sanctuary: On Thursday and Friday, May 7-8, 2015, we visited the Arantzazu Sanctuary near Onati, Spain. This is an old center for pilgrimage that in recent years has become a center for meetings on peace and conflict resolution. The students have read essays and books on the development of cooperatives and peace building processes in the Basque country of northern Spain. The sanctuary is both a wonderful symbol of successful peace making and an absolutely awesome sight up a long mountain road and at the base of cliffs, pastures filled with sheep, cattle and goats, and forests.
- Arantzazu Group: Before departing the Sanctuary for a visit to the peace museum in Guernica, Spain, the students posed against the mountains south of Arantzazu. We then drove an hour to Guernica, the site of the first major incendiary bombing, during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. The peace museum in Guernica does an excellent job of relating four issues together: 1. The Right to Life; 2. The Right to Freedom of Expression; 3. The Right to Equality of Opportunity; and 4. The Right to Peace. Simply working for one of the four leads to general failure to build a good society that will be stable.
- Oradour Street: On Friday evening the group crossed into southwest France and went to Bordeaux for the evening. On Saturday we drove to Oradour-sur-Glane, a town in France that was eradicated by the Nazis four days after D-Day (June 10, 1944), sending a message that the Germans would tolerate no resistance. On the morning of June 10, the Waffen SS surrounded the town, ordered all men into one of several town squares and put the women and children in the church. They then shot all but four of the men (who managed to hide). Then they went to the church, the doors of which were barred. They gassed the women and children, then threw hand grenades into their midst (killing all but one). A total of 642 civilians were slaughtered. France decided to maintain the town as a reminder of human brutality, fencing it a limiting access through a below ground visitor center. In this photo Alma students are walking down the former main street of Oradour.
- Oradour Church: The church in Oradour has been left as it was after the Nazis killed all the women and children and burned the bodies and the whole town. Next to desecrated altar is the remains of a baby stroller. The remnant town identifies itself with all the other towns that faced similar atrocities both during World War II and down to the present. A terrible characteristic of modern societies has been the temptation to brutalize civilians in the name of some distorted crusade. Everyone leaves Oradour silent but hopefully determined to teach these they meet about the horrors we are prepared to bring to others and, thinking back to Arantzazu, that we can change and take steps to undermine hate.
Follow PCM Council Member Ed Lorenz as he leads a group of human rights and international law students to France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland to study and meet leaders and visit sites related to development of international law and organizations to control and reduce conflict.