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SPAIN: The Civil War and historians

Regarding Franco Spain, Christopher Jones thanks Stanley Payne "for his serene comments", but disagrees with Rosa de Pena, Carmen Negrín and Christian Leitz. "They were so upset that anybody had dared to state the obvious (that a fascist dictator was more successful than a communist one) that they attributed to me Pío Moa's remarks to El Mundo, comparing the success of Franco's Spain to the dismal record of Castro's communist prison-island . Of course I share Moa's view, but I would go even farther and proclaim Franco one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. On just one little point, I wonder if we all could agree on one very positive aspect of Francisco Franco's amazing career. In Hendaye in 1941, Franco met with Adolf Hitler to discuss the possibility of Spain entering the war on the German side. Franco clearly saw that Spain was exhausted after the civil war and just stalled, letting the Nazi leader go home empty handed. I believe that Franco may have won the war for the Allies right then and there. (Think of it: if Gibraltar had fallen to the Nazis, all of North Africa would have quickly fallen into Hitler's pocket!) Whatever you may think, he certainly recognized that the wounds of the civil war were so deep that the country was in no shape for another conflict. Carmen, Rosa and Christian all see Franco's Spain as a dictadura -- a classic dictatorship. There were many abuses that happened and in particular in the Basque country and Cataluña. But that Spain slowly ceased to exist sometime in the early sixties and was transformed into what became known as the dictablanda -- a soft dictatorship that made possible the changes that Stanley Payne so admirably describes. I first came to Spain in the period of the dictablanda and I can assure all WAISers that as long as you didn't talk about politics, it was heaven on Earth. Frankly speaking it was a marvelous place. That Franco ran an extraordinarily repressive regime after the 1936 putsch, is well known. But what about the abuses under the so-called republican government that had descended into either anarchy or an outright Soviet style dictatorship? For those open minded enough, I suggest they read Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and in particular the passage which describe the village revolt. That too was the República. Another point is that Franco knowingly prepared the country for democracy. Although he didn't prepare Spain for the democratic transition, he did however tell the future king Juan Carlos that he should do as he likes when the time comes. Finally, Franco is one of those leaders everybody loves to hate because it is the politically correct and fashionable thing to do -- a little bit like the current tattoo fad. Moa's extraordinarily successful book (19 editions since January) shows that inside the country, Moa struck a profound chord and managed to say something that had been suppressed for years -- even while Franco was alive -- namely that Franco was a popular leader (in particular in the pueblos.) And that brings me to a little joke that went around while Franco was still in power:

As usual, a foreigner enters a tapa bar too early and finds it deserted. The tavernero serves him a caña (beer) and they start to talk. Nobody is around. Finally the foreigner discreetly asks the barman his opinion of Franco. The man looks around and puts his finger to his lips: Hush! Sshh! And then he gestures to the foreigner to follow him into the cellar. He follows the apprehensive barman. Finally in the dark of the bodega, the incredulous foreigner asks him again, "What do you think of Franco?" Again the barman looks around in the dark to make sure nobody is there and then whispers . . . . "you know, I like him.">>

RH: I am distressed that the tattoo fad has hit Europe. I thought it was limited to benighted places like Oakland, California.

Ronald Hilton - 7/20/03