Spain after the Civil War. International Relations.

Post-Civil War Spain and the International Community.
The Second World War began in early September 1939, four months after the Civil War ended in Spain.  Given that Germany and Italy had assisted the Nationalist cause, Franco’s sympathies were predictably with the Axis powers.

But with his country exhausted and half of it against him he was hardly in a position to offer much concrete help.  Nevertheless, for both Hitler and Franco there were benefits if they could reach an agreement.

Hitler wanted land access to Gibraltar; Franco wanted food, war material and above all a substantial share of France’s North African colonies, with a view to replacing France as a Mediterranean power.  The two leaders met in the French Pyrenean town of Hendaye on October 23 1940.

A myth has grown up around the scheduled time for the meeting. To Franco’s great embarrassment, his leaky, rickety train arrived a few minutes late, a most inauspicious start when facing the most powerful man in Europe. 

When the war was over, Francoist spin doctors put it out that the caudillo had deliberately kept the Fuhrer waiting for an hour as evidence of his independence and as a ploy to keep the German leader off balance. Detractors quickly pointed to the dreadful state of the Spanish railways as the cause of any delay. 

Whatever the case, Franco irritated Hitler by obstinately reiterating his conditions for Spanish entry into the war. These proved too demanding and all that the Fuhrer was able to extract from the caudillo was an ambiguous promise that Spain would enter the war when the moment was right.  Hitler summed up his frustration later to Mussolini when he remarked that he would rather have three or four teeth removed rather than repeat the experience with Franco.

The right moment to join the war never did materialise.  Franco did declare a vague state of “non-belligerence” and granted refuelling facilities to Axis ships/ submarines in Spanish ports. 

But the closest he got to action in the Second World War was to send a division of Blue Shirted Falangist** volunteers to the Russian front in 1941 as a gesture of goodwill and a means of avenging communist interference in the Spanish Civil War.

**Falange: Spanish right wing party which
appropriated some of the ideas expounded
by fascism (e.g. exaltation of the nation,
with racial overtones, autocratic government).
Founded in 1933 by José Antonio Primo de
Rivera, son of the dictator, General Primo
de Rivera (1923-30).

It also satisfied Falange wishes of supporting the Axis without offending Monarchist sentiments, which were on the side of the Allies.

By 1943 the tide had turned in favour of the Allies and Franco began to change tack. To the delight of the Monarchists in his camp, he withdrew the Blue Division from the Russian front (it had suffered heavy casualties in the battle of Stalingrad), and for the first time announced Spain to be “neutral”. 

Nevertheless, Spain continued to sell wolfram and other metals to help the German war machine, German radar installation still operated in the country, and German agents still operated on Spanish soil. Also volunteers from the Blue Division still fought in Russia.

A cosmetic change took place within Franco’s office after the invasion of Normandy in June 1944  reflecting new priorities: autographed photos of Hitler and Mussolini –which had shared pride of place with a similar tribute from the Pope– suddenly vanished.

At the same time Franco’s publicity machine started to crank out anti-Bolshevik messages in an attempt to convince the Allies that sympathy for Germany had been inspired by hatred for a common enemy: communism.

Spain’s Isolation.
Franco’s change of heart was patently opportunistic, and when the Second World War ended in 1945 Spain found itself isolated and an international pariah. Britain had elected a socialist government in 1945, France was leaning to the left, and President Roosevelt –and later Truman– of the United States were no admirers of the caudillo. To all he was an unrepentant fascist, an argument to which the Soviet Union also subscribed.

The full extent of Spain’s isolation became clear when the newly created United Nations adopted a resolution moved by Mexico (which had a large contingent of influential Republican exiles) to exclude it from the new organisation. And there was more. In February 1946 France closed its border to commerce with Spain, following the execution of an exiled Republican who had fought in the French Resistance.

In December 1946, the United Nations recommended that all members withdraw their ambassadors from Madrid. In the following year (1947) Spain was excluded from the Marshall Plan for the economic recovery of Europe as long as the dictatorship remained. In the meantime, exiled Republicans were agitating vigorously for the overthrow of Franco, and Spanish maquis (resistance fighters) were engaged in guerrilla activities in the north east of the country (the Pyrenees).

Franco’s position seemed precarious, but in fact the threat was more apparent than real.
1. In the first place, he knew from public statements made by members of the United Nations that they had no intention of intervening to overthrow him.  Not only did this strengthen his position at home, it also left exiled Spaniards dispirited and disillusioned. 

2. Secondly, he did have support in a few quarters: the Vatican, Portugal and Ireland recognised his regime, and President Juan Domingo Perón of Argentina was a staunch ally whose gifts of wheat on credit were vital for Franco’s survival for a number of years. 

3. Thirdly, Franco successfully turned diplomatic ostracism into a rallying cry for Spanish patriotism, generating a “them” versus “us” mentality. The state controlled press played this to the full, portraying Spain as a Catholic country, fighting alone against the poison of world communism, rampant freemasonry, and an international conspiracy working to keep Spain weak. The siege mentality was easy to cultivate in a country that had long crusading history.

For Franco, the essential message was that Spain was the first country to successfully crush the Marxist menace. It was a successful ploy, and before long the Western powers turned him from pariah to valuable ally, not because of any change in his politics but because of Spain’s strategic position and his proclaimed battle against the Marxist threat.  In this, Soviet expansionism came to Franco’s aid.

Background to the change of international attitude towards Spain.
In a celebrated speech in March 1946, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, declared that an “iron curtain” had fallen across Europe. Two years later (February 1948) Czechoslovakia was swallowed behind that curtain and shortly after (June) the Russian blockade of Berlin got started.

By now the Cold War was well under way, pitting the Soviet Union against its former Western Allies. In April 1949, the Western Powers created the North American Atlantic Organisation (NATO, from which Spain was excluded)  to contain the Soviet threat.

A few months later (August), the Soviets successfully exploded their first atomic bomb. Before the end of the year (October) China had joined the communist family, and although Mao Tse Tung steered an independent course from Russia, it seemed to the West, and especially the United States, that the sphere of Soviet influence was spreading ominously.

In the United States itself the discovery of a communist spy ring triggered the notorious, countrywide hounding of anyone associated in any way with publicly expressed left wing views.  With the witch-hunting senator Joseph McCarthy given a public forum, Americans were fed a daily diet of the imminent dangers of communism. 

Finally, in 1950 in a move sanctioned by Stalin, North Korea invaded South Korea, under American control since the defeat of Japan in World War II.  This was a challenge the West could not ignore. The Korean conflict was to keep it busy for three years.

To Western observers Soviet imperialism was running rampant, and war in Europe now seemed a distinct possibility.  Suddenly Franco’s repressive regime and fascist connections were conveniently forgotten in favour of his staunch anti-communism, particularly for the Americans. But even more important was Spain’s strategic position, mid way between Europe and Africa and controlling the western end of the Mediterranean.

Result of the change of attitude.
Moves started immediately to end Spain’s isolation. By the end of 1950 the majority of members of the UN voted to reopen embassies in Madrid, with the USA doing so in December. 

On a very tangible level, Washington also authorised a loan of over $62 million to rearm the Spanish army. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Franco’s enemies.  Not only was the caudillo’s position now virtually unassailable, it also allowed him ample opportunity in his end of the year address to the country to justify his past stance and boast of his accomplishments.

More international recognition was to feed Franco’s vanity: in November 1952 Spain was admitted to UNESCO, in August of 1953 a Concordat was signed with the Vatican, and finally in 1955 Spain was received into the United Nations.

In the meantime, a mutual defence pact was signed with the USA in 1953, allowing four air bases and one naval base to be established on Spanish soil, as well as refuelling facilities in Spanish ports.  The pact also included $226 million in military and technological aid.

The decision was not without opposition in Spain, however.  Cardinal Segura  –a religious fanatic who had fanned the flames of discontent in the early years of the Second Republic (1931-39)– now crusaded against the betrayal of Spain’s Catholic identity for heretical dollars. The thought of protestant soldiers contaminating the Catholic purity of the country was enough to drive the aged churchman to distraction. It also earned him the attention of Franco’s secret police from then on.

The Falangists were also uncomfortable with the military pact. For them –and other nationalists– the presence on Spanish soil of troops from the most powerful military nation in the world was a threat to Spain’s sovereignty. 

However, over mutterings of new Gibraltars and grumblings of fraternizing with the enemy that in 1898** had finished off the empire, Franco presented the bases pact as both an alliance of equals and a great service to the West against communism.

**Spain’s defeat at the hands of the USA in 1898
signaled the loss of its three remaining transoceanic
possessions: Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
It also plunged the country into a heated,
soul-searching debate over its decay and loss of power.

The caudillo was not above basking in the praise of his own greatness in the way things had turned out, and no doubt preened with pleasure when an editor of the Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia Espanola  acclaimed him as the Caudillo of the West, the only truly great man of the twentieth century, a giant by the sides of such dwarves as Churchill and Roosevelt (Preston 626)!

Franco undoubtedly felt such praise more than justified when he was visited in December of 1959 by the President of the United States, General Dwight Eisenhower. It was the high point of his international career, a meeting of two military leaders, and he talked of nothing else during the weeks that followed.

Although there were subsequent visits from Presidents Nixon and Ford, there was no rush by other distinguished political leaders to follow the American example. As leaders of the West, and the driving force behind the creation of NATO, the Americans tolerated Franco because of their strategic interests. 

In return Franco received military aid (even if it was outdated or surplus stuff), but was unable integrate Spain into the North Atlantic military club. Here other members, e.g Britain and France, dug in their heels denying the caudillo valuable propaganda material.

Franco was less concerned with membership of the newly created European Economic Community (EEC). He believed it was a political body run by freemasons and liberals who would demand political liberalisation, which he refused to contemplate.  Nevertheless, persuaded by economic reformers within the Movimiento**, he agreed to open negotiations in February, 1962.

Movimiento (Nacional): a merger in 1937
of right wing factions or “families.” Controlled
by Franco.

The EEC’s refusal to negotiate, however, wounded his pride and justified his subsequent reaction that Spain was still surrounded by enemies.  It continued the rhetoric of post Civil War ostracism, and reaffirmed the “them” versus “us” mentality.

What Franco failed to recognise was that he was an anachronism, and that as long as he insisted on running the country it would remain on the periphery of the European Community. Though Spain’s strategic location was important, Franco’s insistence on retaining power and on executing political opponents (e.g. the notorious case of the Communist activist Julián Grimau in 1963, or Basque rebels in September 1975) ensured that Spain would remain politically on the side lines.

It also ensured that when he died on November 20, 1975, Franco’s funeral would be attended by very few foreign dignitaries. There were representatives of almost 100 foreign countries, but only one head of state, his fellow dictator General Augusto Pinochet of Chile.

This says much of what Franco meant on the international stage. Fossilised in the past, he took his leave of the world with words –to be addressed to the nation as his political testament after his death– that reflect an unchanging and uncompromising attitude: do not forget that the enemies of Spain and of Christian civilisation are on the alert (Preston 779).  In the world community, the majority did not forget that Franco was the enemy of freedom and in the end denied him the reward of international respect.


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