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SPAIN: The shadow of Franco

References to Franco and the Spanish Civil War are rare in formal Spanish utterances, but they are in the back of the minds of all Spaniards, and certainly are discussed in conversation. Resentment is still evident in Catalonia. but the situation is much worse in the Basque provinces, with its ETA terrorists, than in Catalonia, where life goes on normally. Both areas suffered from the Franco takeover, but in Catalonia there was nothing like the bombing of Guernica.

I was in Madrid when the Republic war proclaimed on April 14, 1931 in an atmosphere of euphoria. Alfonso XIII simply said he had lost the confidence of his people and left Spain. The Republicans were so happy they failed to get him to sign a statement of abdication. The atmosphere deteriorated until Civil War broke out in 1936. I was evacuated after the first siege of Madrid, on July 31. The reasonable republicans were caught between hard-line reactionaries and the wild, nasty people on the left. The center could not hold.

These years are well covered in the film "Caudillo: The History 0f the Spanish Civil War", distributed in the US by Films for the Humanities and Sciences It is two hours long, with very little explanation, so people not familiar with the war could not follow it without a manual, which does no seem to exist. They could, however, get the feeling of the war from these clips of newsreels taken at the time. Little space is devoted to the parliamentary history of the republic, but the film does cover the rise of Franco, whose performance in Morocco earned him promotion to the rank of captain at the age of 22, the youngest officer in the Spanish army. War scenes make better TV material than peace scenes, and the spectator, if not precisely enlightened by the film, is at least purged in the Aristotelian sense. It all seems so tragic and so silly. Both sides were alike in their behavior. Men toted guns, eager to use them. They paraded in different ways, shouted different slogans, and gave different salutes, but the pattern was the same. Above all, both sides killed with gusto, and the Franco troops even proclaimed their desire to die for the cause. The people suffered and hid or fled, cities were destroyed. If only both sides could in 1931 have seen where their behavior would lead them and Spain, they doubtlessly would have acted differently. Doubtlessly? Given man's perversity and the stupidity of crowds, we cannot be sure.

The film clips are old and quaint. It seems to take us back to a distant epoch, but a similar history is developing in Colombia and in other Spanish American countries. Perhaps if the people of Latin American countries could see this film, they would stay away from the abyss. But...See "doubtlessly" above. In Cuba, on the fortieth anniversary of the Bay of Pigs and his proclamation that he was a Marxist-Leninist, Castro has just boasted to cheering crowds about the achievements of his revolution, especially in health and welfare. He and the crowd waved their guns, the symbols of Cuban machismo and independence. What was the reaction to these scenes in the rest of Latin America?

Ronald Hilton - 4/17/01