Could Franco's Spain have defeated World War II in Germany

Spain : The bloody fratricidal fight

Equestrian statues of the “Caudillo”, the “Generalissimo” Francisco Franco, no longer exist in Spain; but the huge monument in the "Valley of the Fallen" not far from the capital Madrid extends to its full height of 155 meters and marks the place of the underground basilica in which Franco is buried. Two weeks ago, the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War was commemorated, in the awareness and in the hope that the bloody rift through Spanish society was finally overcome and may remain forever.

The Spanish Civil War, which began on July 17, 1936 with an uprising of dissatisfied military, would have remained a national and possibly limited event like so many rebellions in the decades before. Instead, it became an international process, and because it ended in 1939 and was formally declared over on April 1, the calendar almost seamlessly transitioned into World War II, it is - at least outside of Spain - its forerunner. It is the test run because from the beginning the "Axis Powers" Nazi Germany and Fascism Italy on the one hand and the Stalinist Soviet Union on the other were militarily engaged and fought a proxy war from which the Western democracies emerged after the proclamation of their " Non-intervention ”carefully.

Half a million people died

But this view overlooks the internal Spanish dynamics that had triggered the civil war and fueled over four years with tremendous passion. Half a million people died during the civil war, in combat, as civilian victims, of hunger and epidemics. This war made no distinction between soldiers and civilians, just as neither side made a distinction themselves as to who fought with them and by what means, whether in uniform or without, whether with a rifle or bare fist.

Centuries-old tensions, increased around the conflicts of the modern age, came to a head in the civil war. The reconquista, the reconquest of the Moorish principalities by 1492, the establishment of the Spanish central state and the oppression of the independent regions, the omnipotence of the church and its inquisition, the feudal rule and the lack of rights of the peasants, finally the tentative beginnings of industrialization, the rise of The bourgeoisie and liberalism - all of this flowed together and formed the basis of the civil war. He reduced all conflicts to the alternative of red versus white, republicans versus nationalists. The republic, which was only proclaimed in 1931, could not restrain the centrifugal forces on the right and left. The civil war, which broke out after years of rebellions, coups d'état and assassinations, did not mean a big bang, but the increase and spread of a state of war that was already flaring up.

The reason for this was internal Spanish conflicts

General Franco, stationed in the Canary Islands, sent the co-conspirators in Morocco on July 18 his famous telegram with the exclamation “Arriba España!”, “Live up Spain!”. It became the symbol of recognition and greeting of the nationalists and their whole program. Spain above all! But what actually gave the civil war a special dimension was the interference of foreign powers in a country that had been left to its own devices after the end of Napoleonic rule in 1813.

The military intervention on both sides caused the civil war to escalate at the same time, as it probably also shortened it; At least compared to a presumed duration, which was initially equally poorly armed in the struggle of the two, but would have been feared for a long-lasting guerrilla, a "little war" prepared sides. Thanks to the support of the two fascist powers, the nationalists won the classic military victory. This support might not have had such an impact if the republican side had not been paralyzed by political fragmentation, up to and including the “civil war within civil war” that began with the arrival of Soviet NKVD agents and drove communists against anarchists. This struggle occurred at the same time as the "Great Terror" in the Soviet Union. To Stalin, the "exposure of Trotskyist elements" was more important in Spain than the success of the military campaigns, which were largely led by Red Army instructors.

The interference from outside gave the event a special dimension

Two motives came together on the part of the German and Italian regimes. Mussolini dreamed of ruling the Mediterranean. In the meantime, Hitler took the opportunity to test the war machine, which had been in operation for a long time, in an emergency. From the relocation of the insurgents by air transport to the new type of interaction between artillery and air force, the German military gained knowledge that was to be used in the coming World War. A total of 12,000 German and 80,000 Italian regular troops, issued as “volunteers”, took part in the joint intervention.

The bombing of Guernica - Gernika in Basque - on April 26, 1937 by the German "Condor Legion" showed the systematic destruction of a city from the air for the first time - a model case for what was to be used as a means of warfare in World War II. Under the impression of what had happened, the Spanish exile Pablo Picasso painted the famous picture “Guernica” for the Spanish pavilion at the Paris World Exhibition in 1937. The civil war turned into a war for heads waged by all means of propaganda, in Spain itself and internationally Level. The participation of around 60,000 volunteers of numerous nationalities in the “International Brigades” set up in 1936, which included writers, reporters, journalists, but also workers and adventurers, gave the civil war an enormous response worldwide against the background of the inexorable advance of fascist regimes in Europe .

The fight was considered a test run for World War II

While Hitler was practicing the coming war, Stalin tried out the popular front strategy that he had made binding on the communist parties of Europe in 1936. The connection with the bourgeoisie, however, paralyzed the socialist politics of the left-wing republic. Their internal contradictions along the basic conflicts of centralism and autonomy, industrial workers and rural population, church and liberalism were intensified by the bloody conflict between communists and anarchists.

Meanwhile the civil war turned more and more into a regular war. At the beginning of 1939 the nationalists raised an army of no fewer than 340,000 men for the conquest of Catalonia, with 220,000 clearly poorly armed republicans in front of them. The looming complicity with the Hitler regime had already extinguished Stalin's interest in Spain.

Franco took bloody revenge

No pasarán !, “You won't get through,” was the Republic's slogan to hold out for almost four years. But after the fall of the republican strongholds of Valencia and Catalonia and the epically evoked capital of Madrid on March 28, 1939, the history of the republic came to an end with the mass exodus of its last troops and thousands of relatives to neighboring France. Almost half a million Republicans crossed the borders. In Spain itself, unnoticed by the world sinking into a major war, Franco and the nationalists took bloody revenge on their enemies. The executions and secret killings lasted for years, not to mention the secret police and constantly full prisons. Immediately after the fall of the republic, up to 500,000 prisoners were interned in 190 camps. The total death toll in all later years is estimated at 200,000. Franco's victory monument in the Valle de los Caídos, in the "Valley of the Fallen", was built by forced labor of up to 20,000 republican prisoners.

The peaceful transition to democracy was an enormous achievement

To what extent the Franco regime, which lasted almost four decades, was actually "fascist" is the question. During the civil war, the fascist grouping of the “Falange” was absorbed in the “movement” proclaimed by Franco, which lacked a program, but Franco established a more clerical-reactionary regime that was limited to cementing outdated social power and property relations. Franquism maintained a frozen Spain until the late 20th century.

The enormous achievement that the non-violent transition from Franco's regime to parliamentary democracy has meant since Franco's death at the end of 1975 can only be measured by looking at the course and outcome of the civil war. In contrast to the division of Germany, for example, which could be interpreted as an externally imposed punishment on Germany, the perpetrator of the war, the civil war was a war between Spain and itself. The intervening powers contributed significantly to its course and its victims, but they did not trigger it still determines its character. The partisanship of foreign states has provided both sides with some justification; the nationalist side, having defeated Bolshevism, alien to the Spanish nation, with international approval, and the republican side, having lost the struggle for the just cause of the people solely because of the intervention of fascist powers. There is more than a grain of truth in both; but it's just not the whole truth. More than almost anywhere else in European history in the 20th century, the most diverse motifs, reasons and explanations are inextricably interwoven.

The "pact of silence" after Franco's death was inevitable

Just because this is so, the speechlessness after Franco's death, that “pact of silence” that was adhered to by everyone, was not only understandable, but inevitable in order to prevent the decade-old wounds from breaking open and possibly a renewed civil war. The general amnesty issued immediately after the end of Franquismo was a necessary prerequisite. It was not until 2007 that the social democratic government of Zapatero managed to bring a corresponding “law of historical memory” through parliament as part of the increasingly urgent demand for recuperación de la memoria histórica, the “recovery of historical memory”. Only now were the archives made accessible and the mass graves in which the victims of arbitrary acts of revenge and planned shootings had been buried were allowed to be opened. In retrospect, the battles for Toledo and Teruel, on the Ebro and around Madrid do not have to be fought a second time. The German example of dealing with National Socialism suggests that “coming to terms” ultimately only succeeds when the contemporary witnesses are no longer alive. It should not be forgotten that the coup attempt of 1981, which failed quickly, was a warning to believe that the powers of the past had already been finally eliminated. Rather, it reinforced the desire to let the unhappy past rest.

The conflicts within Spain are still having an impact today

The conflicts that are once again calling into question the state integrity of Spain, from regionalism to separatism, neither sparked nor ended the civil war. They are of older origin and have only been instrumentalized by either side of the civil war. The embedding of Spain in the EU has, as everywhere in Europe, promoted the preoccupation with regional idiosyncrasies to the extent that the nation-state has lost importance as a unifying bond. Decentralization remains an issue of Spanish politics, even if the historical regions now enjoy a degree of self-determination that has been unthinkable for centuries. The Spanish Civil War, which began 80 years ago, has long been part of history in its global political position between fascism and Bolshevism; in its domestic Spanish dimension and tragedy, however, a past that continues to have an effect until one day its details have come to light. It remains a job for generations.

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