Spain’s Crusade, 1936-39

When news media late last winter reported that a plaque was to be placed in the New Hampshire capitol building to honor natives of the state who served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, it served to illustrate the truth that a decade after the “death” of Communism, the Revolution or, more precisely, the false philosophy at its heart — of which Communism is no more than one expression, albeit the most extreme — is not merely alive. Its sway is nearly universal.

The false philosophy was known and condemned by popes throughout the 19th century and most of the 20th under the name of liberalism. The essence of it is that the life of society, of which all men are members, may and even should be organized without reference to God, as if He did not exist.

When actual placement of the plaque at the state house in Concord was prevented, thanks to the actions of right-thinking Granite-State citizens (notably including friends of Saint Benedict Center), another truth was illustrated: though the sway of liberalism is nearly universal, it still does not extend everywhere and over everybody, not quite. There are still men Catholic enough to stand up against its seemingly ineluctable “progress” toward totality. This even as other men — armies of them — were willing 65 years ago to fight to keep the Catholic country of Spain from becoming permanently Red.

Spain today is not the country she was even 25 years ago, let alone 65, but neither is the U.S. More to the point, most Catholics today are not what they were, neither in the U.S. nor Spain.

In Spain they beat back the Revolution, but their aging grandchildren, who would have been arrested for wearing skimpy bathing suits when they were young enough to try, now know Madrid as a European center of pornography and the drug trade. In the U.S. it was Catholics, led by their bishops (if that can be believed!), who prevented their liberal government of the day (FDR was President) from assisting the Reds so that not much more help was received by them from these shores beyond that provided by the misguided volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

Not even 30 years later, U.S. Catholics would acquiesce when the administration of another liberal President, but one who called himself Catholic (JFK), oversaw (in the cause of “religious freedom”) the killing of the leader (Diem) of another foreign land (South Vietnam) for the crime against pluralism of wanting to make the country Catholic instead of letting it go Red.

Forty years after that, we now have U.S. troops shoring up, not Reds, but Mohammedan power in the heartland of the Faith, Europe (Bosnia and Kosovo), and that action is not seen by more than a handful of Catholics anywhere for what it is: suicidal. If bishops grouse about it, and some have, it is not because it is suicidal, but because it is offensive to their doctrinaire pacifism.

What we want to do in the pages that follow is commemorate, not the New Hampshirites or anybody else who signed up with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, but the Spanish heroes of 65 years ago who, unlike today’s Catholics, were disinclined to let themselves be pushed into a mass grave, let alone jump into one. In a word, we are going to relate some things about the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, a conflict known by supporters of its Catholic, national side as la Cruzada, the Crusade.

We can do no more than relate some things since a few pages clearly will not allow for anything like laying out a complete account of a conflict that lasted three years, was fought in every corner of a country the size of Arizona and Utah combined, involved several foreign powers and cost perhaps as many as one million lives, including those of thousands of murdered priests and nuns. Much less can the conflict’s historical background be traced very far.

Because so many were murdered, including laypersons, specifically because they were Catholic, these days are an appropriate time to recall the Crusade. That is insofar as another 233 of these martyrs were beatified — 238 already had been — just when the latter-day partisans of Red Spain were trying to install their plaque in Concord.

The Catholic Kingdom

Though space will not allow us to go far in exploring Spain’s history before the 20th century, we will not understand why there was a civil war between 1936 and 1939 if it is ignored altogether.

We want to be aware, for instance, of Spain’s first Crusade — the 800-year-long struggle of the Spanish people to end the Mohammedan occupation of their country, a struggle that finally ended in triumph in 1492. Not simply did the Catholic, national side in the 1936-39 Civil War call their effort to expel the Revolution from the country a Crusade in commemoration of the earlier triumph. That success also made world conquerors out of the Spanish. That is, having delivered their own country from Mohammedanism, they set out to save pagan lands all around the world from the spiritual darkness that exists wherever the light of Christ’s rule does not prevail, a darkness always manifested by some degree, here very high and there relatively low, of barbarity.

So it was that, by the beginning of the 17th century, Spain, like the U.S. today, was a superpower with an imperium that extended right around the planet all the way to the Philippines (named for King Philip II) in distant East Asia. Most of the Western Hemisphere, including much of what is now the U.S., was part of it.

The worldwide Empire of the Spanish was not like some others, notably the English one. The Spanish were not bent simply on the exploitation of resources and the peoples they encountered. The salvation of souls, spreading the light of the Faith to others, was always integral to the Spanish colonial enterprise. Spain’s great captains and explorers were always accompanied by missionaries, some of whom, like Bl. Fr. Junipero Serra (see Housetops, No. 49), were equally great. The English could go to a place like India and after three centuries leave it as pagan as when they arrived, or nearly so. The Spanish made their territory of the Philippines the one Christian country in Asia. The same great work was accomplished in Spain’s American lands, including ours — until the Protestant English arrived and undid it.

Calvo Sotelo: his July, 1936 assasination sparked the Crusade.

By the 18th century the Spanish Empire and Spain herself were in decline. How and why are irrelevant to this article. We must say, however, that the influence of the false Enlightenment of that century certainly contributed to it. (We touched on this in another article, “Gabriel Garcia Moreno, Statesman and Martyr,” in Housetops, No. 49.) Yet, even though it would not be too strong to say they were betrayed by their leaders, at the beginning of the 19th century the people of Spain were still able to rise up and, by force of arms, end another military occupation of their country, that of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Their defeat of Napoleon was the beginning of the end of him. The memory of it was also joined in the Spanish national mind to that of the Crusade that was finally victorious in 1492.

We can go further. We can say the memory of the first Crusade and then that of the great civilizing work of their empire-building captains and missionaries, to which was added the recollection of defeating Napoleon, left the Spanish, when the day came that the Empire was gone, with the indelible sense of a glorious past equaled by that of no other nation.

Yankee Invaders

The day when the Empire was gone has a date: July 21, 1898. That was exactly three months after the U.S. declared war on Spain on April 21. Spain’s antiquated navy had been woefully inadequate for the defense of the overseas territories of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines against America’s spanking-new “Great White Fleet.”

On land, however, beating Spain’s army was not quite the walk-over that is fancied today. For example, we may speak of the famous “charge” up Cuba’s San Juan Hill led by Col. Theodore Roosevelt. In fact, the 520 Spaniards defending that position held it for nine hours against the 4,500 well-equipped attacking Americans. Three hundred and twenty of the Spaniards were killed or wounded, but no more than 100 were captured. The rest escaped into the hills to continue fighting. Another Cuban fort, one defended by 700 Spaniards, was attacked by 11,500 Americans. Half the Spanish were killed or wounded before the Americans finally took the fort, but American casualties, despite superior firepower, numbered 1,500.

It remains, as already noted, that no more than three months were needed — from the declaration of war to the surrender of Puerto Rico — to bring the Spanish Empire to its final end by the overwhelming force of the 250,000 Americans mobilized for the task. Still, from this defeat, this end of empire, certain Spanish, looking beyond the defeat to actions like the ones in Cuba we have mentioned, and doubtless viewing those actions in the light of past glorious ones, would draw a conclusion that can surprise us, accustomed as we are (even after Vietnam!) to supposing that the deployment of superior technology is more important than anything else in warfare. It was that the bravery of an individual man can be worth as much as tons of equipment.

If we are surprised by the conclusion, it is because we are not as Catholic as we should be. The Catholic knows, or should, that the spirit, including what soldiers used to call the fighting spirit, always counts for more in battle (and elsewhere) than any array of “advanced” weaponry or mechanical devices. This does not mean, when it comes to war, that the men with greater fighting spirit will necessarily win. It does mean that the cause for which they fight will never be entirely “lost,” at least if it is just. (The heroism with which our own South was defended, for instance, continues to inspire countless Americans in all parts of the country 136 years after Appomattox.)

General Franco

One Spaniard convinced of this truth was Francisco Franco. Born on a December morning in 1892, he was but a boy of five at the time of the Spanish-American War, but he made it clear as a man that the war and the conclusions he and others drew from it could not have had greater influence on him and his career.

This article is not a biography of Franco. However, it is probable that no Crusade would have been launched in 1936 without him, and it might not have been victorious in 1939. Equally, Spain could have become a radically different country without him as Head of State until his death in 1975. If she has become radically different in the quarter-century since, he did what he could before his demise to see that she would not, for it was by his decision that Spain’s monarchy was restored, and the monarch today, King Juan Carlos, was his choice. Franco did his duty. If others have not, their failure cannot be laid to him.

In any event, the history of Spain since Franco, and even of Spain while he still lived, is extraneous to this article. As far as the Crusade is concerned, however, the character, temperament and ideas of Francisco Franco are not.

One place where his ideas can be seen, the place where he expressed them the most creatively, is a film script he wrote in 1940. The film, never produced, was to be entitled Raza, The Race, and its subject was supposed to be the virtues of the Spanish people. They were such, in Franco’s view, that Spain ought to have been victorious in 1898. Raza would have depicted a threefold explanation for why she was not. First, Spain was the victim of foreign powers jealous of her greatness — the vast Empire she forged in her mission to take the light of the Faith to all corners of the world. Second, foreign powers undermined the Empire and Spain herself by promoting Freemasonry, destroying among too many of Spain’s subjects their sense of honor and of duty to the motherland, la patria, whose soul was Catholic. Third, the same alien forces corrupted Spain’s political leaders, who often were not worthy in any case of the positions they held in society.

This writer hopes he will never be guilty of suggesting that any monarch has the status of a mere “political leader,” for the superiority of monarchy over other systems of government, if it is superior, lies in part in the monarch as head of state being above politics and even of government itself. (It is what the Emperor Franz-Josef was getting at when he was asked by Theodore Roosevelt, traveling in Europe after leaving the White House, “What do you do?” The Emperor answered, “I protect my people from the government.”)

That said, I pray I may be excused if I write that Spain’s monarch in 1931, King Alfonso XIII, acted ignominiously when he exiled himself from the country following nationwide municipal elections in April of that year. His self-exile —— an abdication of responsibilities without signing an actual instrument of abdication — seems all the more ignominious when it is learned, as it soon was, that although republicans had been elected in most of the chief cities, including the capital, Madrid, the voting showed that a majority of Spaniards — those who lived in the small towns and villages of a country that was still agricultural — continued to support the monarchy.

We are speaking of the King’s departure because the events leading to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936 can be dated from it and the proclamation of a republic that immediately followed. That republicanism had become a political force in the country was owed chiefly to the lingering influence of the Enlightenment, the defeat in 1898 (as Americans, we know from Vietnam how long-lasting the effects of defeat in war can be), and the play of the kind of forces identified by Franco in his unproduced film script.

The Republic

Leading figures of the new republic included Reds like Francisco Largo Caballero, a Socialist known as “the Spanish Lenin”; the Left Republican and rabidly anti-Catholic Mason Manuel Azana; and Juan Lopez Negrin, a Communist and sexual pervert. These and other men like them alternated among themselves the Presidency, Prime Ministership and other posts during the years of the republic’s existence.

(The reader will note that by “Reds” we do not mean simply Communists. In Spain at the time there were liberals calling themselves Socialists, anarchists and even Liberals, with a capital L, who were as “Red,” and therefore as anti-Catholic, as the Communists on the scene. Indeed, it was Communists under Moscow’s control who finally compelled the Socialists and others to moderate somewhat the ferocity of their persecution of Catholics. This was on the grounds that the murder of so many priests and nuns was creating, it would be said today, a bad “image” overseas.)

Because they themselves have come to regard it as tactically mistaken, most liberals would now agree, and regret, that the greater part of the first efforts of the new republic was dedicated to eliminating the influence of the Church and of Catholicism in Spain’s national life. This was begun with a declaration of “complete religious freedom.”

The language is misleading. Most Catholics — at least formerly, if not always today — would take the words to mean the freedom to practice religion. However, liberals give words new meaning. As, for instance, when they call for “peace” they are really calling for an end of opposition to themselves and their policies, so, when “religious freedom” was declared in Spain in 1931, the declaration was meant as the fulfillment of Manuel Azana’s stated position that “Spain is no longer Catholic.”

To make her that, the new republic’s provisional government enacted a series of measures. Civil divorce was legalized. Schools run by religious orders were closed and crucifixes removed from the walls of public ones. Civil servants and members of the armed forces were prohibited from being present at religious services of any kind except as private citizens. All outdoor religious events — processions, for example — were prohibited. It was promised that a new constitution would absolutely separate Church and state. Then came May 11, not even four full weeks after King Alfonso’s departure.

The Good Were Martyred

On that day, a gang of young Reds, cheered on by a crowd of several hundred, poured gasoline around the principal Jesuit church and adjoining residence in Madrid. They then set the buildings on fire. The Jesuits inside escaped by jumping onto the roofs of neighboring houses while police and firemen stood by doing nothing. The mob then burned a convent, then another church, a Catholic school, a Catholic orphanage, and finally a polytechnical college (also run by the Jesuits). Elsewhere in the country, more than 100 religious houses would be attacked in the next 48 hours, all without interference from the police. A number of attacks, like the one on the Jesuit church in Madrid, were recorded on newsreel film and by newspaper photographers who were obviously alerted beforehand.

In truth, the government itself knew in advance about the attacks, if some of its own members did not actually order them. They were discussed at a cabinet meeting on May 9. One member, the “conservative” Gabriel Maura, actually appealed to his colleagues to order the Guardia Civil, Spain’s national gendarmery, to protect the buildings, but Manuel Azana carried the majority with some of the most infamous words uttered by anyone in modern Spanish history: “A single Republican life is worth more than all the convents in Spain.”

Within Spain, Catholics now had reason to be fearful — if they had not already. Outside the country, even very many who were not Catholic were appalled by the attacks, or, rather, by the Spanish authorities doing nothing to curb them. What they had seen, after all, was a government countenancing civil disorder.

However culpable the government, the military also behaved shamefully that May. For instance, there was an army colonel whose regiment was headquartered in Madrid close-by the Jesuit polytechnical college. He ordered his men to turn out to save the building, but then made the mistake of telephoning the commander of the army for the Madrid region. The general ordered the colonel to have his men stand down, warning that if he did not the new government had “a thick dossier” on him.

Unless we want to produce an article different from the one intended, we cannot go further than we already have in detailing the actions of the republicans who came to power in 1931 — actions bound to trouble the conscience of patriotic, Catholic Spaniards and that finally drove them into rebellion. However, we can say they continued even when more “conservative” elements among the republicans were in the ascendancy for a time, and that it was inevitable that they would. After all, the whole history of liberalism since the false philosophy first exploded politically in France in 1789 has been a record of “conservatives” — i.e., men of the right wing of liberalism — never achieving more than momentarily to impede those to their left. Thus, laws and practices that once would have been unthinkable have been accepted by nearly everybody a generation later, or sometimes in a few years (as with abortion in our era), and what was formerly beyond the pale becomes commonplace. By the same token, yesterday’s “conservatives” now look like reactionaries (sometimes the word “fascist” is used), and today’s “conservatives” are indistinguishable from yesterday’s socialists.

It should go without saying that in the years after the republicans took power in Spain, army officers who resisted their depredations or were judged by them to be unreliable usually quit, were sacked, or shunted into commands where it was supposed they could pose no threat. In 1932 a general, José Sanjurjo, did attempt a revolt, but it was poorly planned and badly executed. He went into exile in Portugal.

Franco, judging Sanjurjo would fail, declined to take a role in his revolt, but government ministers were still suspicious of him. Why?

It is time for us to have a look at his career before 1936.

The Formation of a Hero

The men in his family had been naval officers for several generations. When circumstances dictated that his own military career would have to be in the army, he was sent to the Military Academy for Infantry (different branches of the army had different academies in those days).  This was in 1907. The Infantry Academy was housed in an imposing hilltop fortress called the Alcazar in the city of Toledo. (The reader will want to remember this.)

The cadet’s oath sworn by Franco promised the King “to follow his banners, to defend them to the last drop of my blood, and not to desert those in command in war or in preparation for it.” In response, the Academy chaplain intoned: “And I, in fulfillment of my sacred ministry, ask God that if you do so, He reward you for it, and if not, call you to account theretofor.” The oath was sworn before an altar at Holy Mass.

At the Alcazar Franco became imbued with beliefs that he would hold until his dying day. Two figures, two warriors, were held up before him as ideals: Ruy Diaz (El Cid) and King St. Ferdinand III, both of them heroes of Spain’s successful fight to end the Mohammedan occupation. The two, Franco learned, embodied the virtues and personal qualities that should be his if he was to be a good soldier, a good officer, a leader of other men. The most emphasized: steadfastness in duty, and honor.

“A Lofty Mission”

Further, he was made to understand that, yes, he was sworn to defend the nation’s flag, but the flag was a symbol of the nation, la patria. Defending her was the soldier’s real mission. That would be even against a government, if ever there was one, that invited dishonor on her either by failing to maintain order, the primary task of any government, or by putting the nation under the control of a foreign power; another country need not always be the foreign power under which a nation can fall. Alien ideas and beliefs can also be a force threatening the national life. Alien forces, namely liberalism and its spawn, Freemasonry, had combined with the tremendous material might of the U.S. to produce the defeat in 1898. However, the loss of empire should strengthen, not lessen, a Spanish officer’s dedication to duty, for the present historical moment — the aftermath of 1898 — would pass, and a spiritual son of El Cid and King St. Ferdinand must be ready for that time. In a word, an officer’s duty remained what it was for all the great captains of Spain’s past: to banish barbarism at home when necessary, and to subjugate it elsewhere. So Franco was taught at the Alcazar, and so he would always believe. That was evident when he was interviewed for a documentary film in 1964 when in his seventies. Of his beliefs, he was asked, which did he most hope would be embraced by his countrymen as their legacy from him? “That we are the spiritual reserve of the Western world,” he answered. “We have a lofty mission.”

Knowing as we already do that many among the army’s officer corps did not believe as did Franco (or perhaps had and no longer did), else they would not have continued to serve the Reds when he would not, we may wonder why. They had been taught the same lessons as cadets. They swore the same oath.

We may as well wonder why some men who swear to be faithful to their wives fail in that, and others do not. In the same way, we may wonder, considering all the anecdotal evidence that now exists, why so many of today’s priests are unfaithful to their vows. The answer to this problem of fidelity could be framed in different terms, all of them having to do with grace, but these seem the most straightforward: What he has sworn before an altar at Holy Mass probably will not be easily forgotten by a man to whom staying close to God is important.

That it was important to Franco is suggested by much in his life besides his obvious fidelity to his cadet’s vow. For instance, by 1975, the year of his death, there certainly were not many other heads of state who began their day, every day, with Mass and Holy Communion.

Higher Rank and Virtue

In July, 1910, Franco graduated from the Alcazar as a second lieutenant. He was 17. He immediately volunteered for service in Morocco, part of which, along with the island of Fernando Po and the miniscule territory of Rio Muni in black Africa, was a remnant of the Empire. (Many outside Spain do not realize it, but there is still, right now, Spanish territory on the African side of the Mediterranean — the coastal cities of Melilla and Ceuta with adjacent land.) Some native tribesmen were just then fighting the Spanish in Morocco. Franco’s application was turned down, however. More senior men were ahead of him on the volunteer list. This was the one time in his military career that he was unsuccessful at anything.

By the time he again volunteered for African service the following year, the colonel who was Commandant of the Alcazar during his years there had been given command of a regiment in Morocco. He pulled some strings, and in February, 1912, Franco received orders to join him. By May he would see action. Leading troops in a frontal attack on a village with his sword in one hand and a pistol in the other, he attracted the attention of superior officers on the scene, including one who was a personal friend of King Alfonso. That was not all. Going to the rescue of two of his men who had been severely wounded, Franco was shot through the thigh. He kept going and saved the men. To top off everything, the chieftain leading the tribesmen who occupied the village was killed in the battle. Franco, who had already made first lieutenant, was promoted to captain there in the field.

Much about his entire future career can be seen in this earliest stage of it. He never faltered in personal courage. He also would demonstrate time and again that nothing mattered more to him than the lives and welfare of men under his command, going personally to their rescue if need be, and never asking of them deeds he was not prepared to perform.

Because he never failed to demonstrate that, by the time he became a general there was not an officer in the Spanish army who inspired among the ranks greater loyalty and a willingness to fight than did he. Spaniards had also become accustomed to reading about his exploits in the newspapers.

Perhaps his stature among fellow officers, as well as the troops, was also enhanced, in a paradoxical way, by his physical being. There was nothing heroic about it. His presence was not “charismatic.” He was not tall. His features could not be considered particularly handsome. His voice was rather high-pitched. By the time he was in his thirties, he became and forever remained pudgy. In sum, he could not have been more ordinary in appearance. Perhaps other men looked at him and said to themselves, “If he manages to do as he does, maybe I can do better than I have. I can at least follow him.”

During the next 13 years Franco would cover himself with glory in Africa, would win his nation’s highest military honors, would serve for a time as commander of the elite Spanish Foreign Legion, would take a wife, Doña Maria del Carmen Polo Martinez Valdes, and on February 3, 1926, at age 33, would be a made a brigadier-general, the youngest man to hold that rank in the Spanish army in generations. The brigade of which he was given command was the most important in Spain. It was the First Brigade of the First Division with headquarters in Madrid.

He was close now to the center of the nation’s affairs. More than once he was summoned to the palace to confer with the King. Ever since the latter first heard of him from the friend who saw him in action back in 1912, Alfonso had taken an interest in him. Franco owed his rapid rise in part to that interest. It was by the King’s direct order, for example, that he was given command of the Foreign Legion. Yet, royal patronage by itself does not explain his rise. The man simply never failed at any undertaking, however difficult.

If we are to tell the history of the Cruzada itself, we must end our discussion of its background. But the background we have given thus far must be completed with certain other facts, presented here in summary fashion, so that what we tell in the following pages is put in proper context.

·    Though he would never waver from his own Catholicity (which is to say, he was never “ecumenical”), Franco came to possess a deep understanding of Mohammedans during his years in North Africa and even formed lasting friendships with some – all of them fighting men. That is to speak of Mohammedans who were inducted into special units of their own in the Spanish army. Franco championed these units. Their service would be invaluable in the Crusade. (On their side, the Mohammedan fighters, used to seeing Franco always in the thick of battle and usually emerging unscathed, came to regard him as “blessed by Allah.” His relationship with them is visible in the old news-reels and photographs of the victory parade held in Madrid in May, 1939, at the end of the Crusade. It is Moroccans guarding the base of Franco’s reviewing stand.)

·    Once he and his wife were settled in Madrid, Franco began to read voraciously, especially political writers. In this regard, we need to remember he was still in his thirties, still a young man. He was continuing his education. To be sure, Donoso Cortes, Joseph de Maistre and other counter-revolutionaries were among the writers he read, but so were all the Marxists of note. He even subscribed to their periodicals. This should not be sur-prising. Every soldier worth his salt makes it his business to “know the enemy.” His reading in this area can also be seen as additional proof, if any were needed, of his dedication to duty, for surely there can be nothing in any library more dull than a Marxist journal.

·    In September, 1923, the Prime Ministership had been assumed in a military coup by Gen. Don Miguel Primo de Rivera. Lib-eral writers always refer to it as a dictatorship. That is because he governed with a strong enough hand that under him there did not take place outrages like that of the previous June 4, when anarchists assassinated the Cardinal-Archbishop of Zaragoza. This first act of anti-Catholic terrorism committed in Spain in the 20th century was a portent of the atrocities to come follow-ing the fall of Primo in 1930 and the departure of Alfonso and proclamation of a republic in 1931, and especially in 1936.

The Valley of the Fallen where the remains of José Antonio
Primo de Rivera and General Franco lie side-by-side.

·    In 1927, Franco established a new consolidated military academy in Zaragoza. This was at the behest of Primo de Rivera and King Alfonso. An examination of the curriculum he designed for the cadets would tell us more than we yet know about the ideas that motivated Franco, especially now that he had been steeping himself in the writings of Donoso Cortes, Jaime Balmes, Joseph de Maistre and other leading lights of the Catholic Counter-revolution.

·    In stark contrast with these ideals was the profoundly anti-Catholic constitution of 121 articles that was approved by the Reds’ Constituent Assembly in October, 1931. It was modeled on those of the Soviet Union, Mexico (where the Church had been driven underground), and Weimar Germany; a constitution “guaranteeing,” as all such documents since 1789 have claimed to do, a profusion of “rights,” but all of them “subject to the security of the State.”

·    In 1931, the Archbishop of Toledo and the nation’s Primate, Pedro Cardinal Segura, was expelled from the nation. He was guilty of warning the faithful, in a pastoral letter, that “difficult days lie ahead for the Church.” (Regular readers of From the Housetops may recall that Cardinal Segura interceded with Pope Pius XII on behalf of Fr. Leonard Feeney, in the latter’s defense of “no salvation outside the Church.” See No. 42, Spring, 1999.)

·    Other pertinent facts are deserving of mention, such as the miners’ strike in Asturias in 1934 that became an outright rebellion, and the electoral pact between Left Republicans, Socialists and Communists in January, 1936, following Moscow’s approval the previous July of Popular-Front tactics.

·    Deserving of mention also are the Carlists, without whose arms and sacrifices victory could well have eluded the Catholic, national side of the conflict. It would be desirable to speak of them not simply on account of their importance in the Crusade but because, except for the heroes of the Vendee in the 1790s and the Cristeros in Mexico in the 1920s and 30s, no body of Catholics has struggled and fought against the Revolution, on the battlefield and off, more valiantly than they. Moreover, they still exist. The Carlists, or the Traditionalist Communion (as their movement is formally known), remain a force in Spain and even among men in other lands.

·    Finally, we must comment that we, like most other commentators, have described the Crusade as a “rebellion.” But that is not how Franco and the Spaniards who joined with him saw it. To them the enterprise on which they embarked was less a rebel-lion than a movement of liberation. This is to say they saw themselves following in the traces of El Cid and King St. Fer-dinand when they liberated Spain from the Mohammedans; of Spain’s great captains who went abroad to liberate the Filipi-nos, the native Indians of Mexico and so many others from the demons who enslaved them; and of the fierce guerrillas who liberated the motherland from Bonaparte. They were liberating her from the alien forces whose workings produced the defeat of 1898 and that then consolidated their hold on power in 1931.

It can also be said that in liberating Spain, they would — by their very action — make her glorious past live again.

The Catalyst

The Crusade began on July 17, 1936. This was after the killing (in Madrid on the 13th) of Calvo Sotelo, a monarchist political leader. The Reds had committed other political killings before this one, but this one was so brazen and Calvo Sotelo so prominent, that army men who were already planning a revolt (against the day when one could become necessary) were galvanized into action. Franco by now was among them. They felt still greater urgency when police opened fire on the mourners at Calvo Sotelo’s funeral, killing four. Police with Socialist militia escorts also began raiding the homes of opponents in Madrid, detaining the men without charges. In other words, the Reds had begun to make open war on those who would not support them. Someone had to fight back.

Why? If no one did, Spain would descend into a reign of terror such as France had known in 1793 or under which the suffering people of Stalin’s Russia then lived.

But what of Franco? We know the Reds did not trust him, even though he did not participate in Sanjurjo’s revolt in 1932. However, he was too popular, not merely within the army but among the public, simply to get rid of him. The point did come, as tension grew between the government and its opponents, that his presence anywhere in continental Spain seemed too threatening, but what to do with him? He could not be posted to North Africa. The man was a legend there, among the Moroccans as well as the Foreign Legion. He would have an entire army at his disposal!

The solution, it was believed, was to send him to the Canaries, Spanish islands hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic. By itself, the tale of how he made it from the Canaries to Morocco by means of a small English airplane on July 17, 1936, is worth telling. Still more so is the story of how he rallied Spanish forces in Morocco, once he arrived, and then managed to get them transported across the Mediterranean, sometimes no more than a handful of men at a time, to where they were needed. (Transport was a problem because most of the navy did not join the revolt that July.  On some ships whose officers did wish to join, crews mutinied and threw the officers overboard. These men were among the Crusade’s first martyrs.)

At this juncture what we will do is summarize the course of the Civil War in not very many paragraphs, and then “flesh out” certain points.

Drawing the Lines

Numerous army garrisons throughout continental Spain rose against the government on July 17.  Thus, by the 21st control of much of the country north of the Gaudarama Mountains and the Ebro River was wrested from the Reds. What was not controlled: Asturias, Santander, the Basque Provinces and, in the northeast, Catalonia with its capital Barcelona, which would be an anarchist stronghold during the war. In the south, government forces put down the rising except in some of the Andalusian cities. Outside continental Spain, Franco had, of course, put the Canary Islands and Spanish Morocco solidly on the side of the rising.

Within days the international press began speaking of the two sides as the Nationalists and the Republicans (or Loyalists), and so shall we. After the Nationalists failed to win control everywhere, the two sides set about consolidating their hold wherever it existed. This inevitably involved the suppression of opponents, possible opponents, or suspected ones. We must not pretend, when it comes to this matter of suppressing opposition, that Nationalists, in 1936 or later, never were guilty of reprehensible acts, but the acts did not equal, especially in savagery, the treatment inflicted on their perceived opponents, especially Catholics, by the Reds. Further, Franco’s punishment of Nationalist miscreants was sometimes so severe that he was still being criticized for it by men of his own side years later.

We can speak of him meting out punishment because, apart from his popularity and distinguished record, the strength of the forces he brought from Morocco, including Mohammedan fighters, made him a leading figure among the Nationalist generals, and that leadership was made supreme on October 1. That was when fellow top officers agreed among themselves to name him Generalissimo of military forces and head of state of New Spain, whose seat of government during the war was to be the city of Burgos.

Perhaps, with this mention of the rank Generalissimo, now is the best time to dispel a common myth, i.e., that the rebellion was a rising of the entire armed forces. It was not that. And it was much less a rising of those forces against a determined but unarmed people. An examination of the figures available in any thorough history of the Spanish Civil War — figures on the relative strengths of the various military branches on both sides — will show that the Popular Front government in power in July, 1936, continued to command the loyalty of well over half of the land armed forces.1

On the Republican side, Largo Cabellero, the Socialist known as “the Spanish Lenin,” served as Prime Minister from September, 1936, to September, 1937, when he was succeeded by the Communist and sexual pervert Juan Negrin. The latter would continue in that position for the duration of the Civil War and then, in exile, until 1945. The President of the Republic until almost the end of the fighting was the Masonic liberal Manuel Azana. With “conservatives” now out of the picture altogether, these men set about the collectivization of agriculture and industry in the territory they controlled. When the Soviet Union began to furnish the Republicans with military “advisers” as well as equipment and supplies, there was also collectivization of the Loyalist army, complete with political commissars.

Foreign Involvement

The Soviets became involved in the war when the Republicans, despite having the greater part of Spain’s land forces at their command, realized that quick victory over the Nationalists was not possible. Why not? We should remember the conclusion Franco drew from the war of 1898: that the bravery of an individual man is worth as much as tons of equipment. Apart from his skills as a strategist and tactician, the genius of his generalship lay in his ability to communicate that conviction to his fighting men. Filled with it, they simply generally fought better than the Reds.

Still, the Nationalists could ill afford to let themselves be hopelessly outgunned. Accordingly, they too looked abroad for help, and they received it in the form of troops from Italy (about 35,000 of them at their peak) and aircraft from Germany (eventually about 290).

The help received by the Nationalists from the Axis powers, though significant, was never near what the Republicans were able to obtain from the Soviets and their other friends overseas. To be sure, the Republicans paid dearly for the help — literally. In fact, most of the gold reserves in Spain’s national treasury — 510 tons — had to be shipped to the Soviet Union.

Without doubt, the most important help received by the Republicans, practically speaking and also in terms of mythologizing their side of the conflict, was that of the famous International Brigades, including the one from the U.S., the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. There were eventually 40,000 of these foreigners, nearly all of them political leftists of some kind, fighting in the front lines on the side of the Reds, with another 20,000 serving in support units.

Except for the International Brigades, the war could have been over in November, 1936. That was when Nationalist troops fought their way to the outskirts of Madrid, but then could advance no farther than the University City area after 3,000 foreigners — mostly German and Italian Communists — were thrown into its defense. By the following October, however, Spain’s entire northern coast was in Nationalist hands.

The following April, the Nationalists were able to drive eastward through Teruel and to reach the Mediterranean, splitting Republican-held territory in the south into two. By December they were able to advance into Catalonia. By February, 1939, most Republican soldiers in Catalonia had taken refuge in France. They were followed there, into exile, by the ministers of the Republican government on March 5. In Madrid, a civil war within the Civil War broke out on March 7. It was between Communists and remaining non-Communist Reds. That fighting was over by March 28. The Reds who were still left standing then signaled their readiness to surrender, and Nationalist forces entered and took command of the capital. The war was over. The Crusade was victorious.

A Catholic Cause

Now, let us flesh out certain points, as we said we would. The first and most important is the religious dimension of the Crusade. Quite simply, the men fighting against the Reds defined themselves and their mission as Catholic, especially when the anti-Catholic atrocities committed by the Reds became known to them. It was in the Faith that they found their identity as soldiers. And it was precisely that which kept them from being (or becoming) fascists, as liberals ever since have claimed they were. Of course, in the intellectual universe of the liberal, anyone who seeks to live the Faith, which must entail leading others to live it, is liable to have that epithet applied to him.

Insofar as the Crusade was Catholic, we can say the Civil War was a religious one. The bishops of Spain as much as recognized that — the bishops who were still alive and inside the country (13 had been murdered and two were in exile). They published a pastoral letter on July 1, 1937: “The National Movement has released a current of love which has concentrated around the name and historical essence of Spain, with aversion for the foreign elements [emphasis added] which occasioned our ruin. And as love of country, when spiritualized through the love of Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, touches the summits of Christian charity, we have witnessed an outburst of veritable charity which has found its maximum expression in the blood of thousands of Spaniards who have given it to the cry of ‘Long live Spain! Long live Christ the King!’”

(Those words “foreign elements” were emphasized so we could make it clear that the bishops, like Franco when he spoke of foreign powers and alien forces in Raza, were stigmatizing no one as anti-Spanish on account of mere race. The bishops were speaking of beliefs and ideas foreign to Spain’s national Catholic spirit [her “historical essence,” as they put it].)

Pope Pius XII made that still clearer. This was in an address he broadcast to Spain by radio on April 16, 1939: “The persistent propaganda and the unremitting efforts of the enemies of Jesus Christ lead one to believe that they sought to make Spain a supreme example of the powers of destruction at their disposal and which are disseminated over the whole earth…. The wise people of Spain, with that generosity and frankness that are the two characteristics of a soul’s nobility, rose decisively in defense of the ideal of the Faith and of Christian life…and aided by God…they were able to resist the onslaught of those who, deceived by what they believed to be a humanitarian ideal for the relief of the lowly, were in reality fighting for atheism.”

Fallen Heroes

To recall the defense by Spaniards of “the Faith and of Christian life” is to touch on another aspect of the years of the Crusade: the sacrifices that were made in the defense, including the sacrifice of life. In that regard, another article in this issue of From the Housetops is to tell of the Spanish martyrs — the clergy and religious — who have been beatified, but we may speak of some other lives that were given for Spain and the Faith.

Readers have been told to remember the Alcazar. It is where Franco was trained as an army cadet. On July 17, 1936, the day of the Nationalist rising, Col. José Moscardo, director of the army’s School of Physical Education in Toledo, occupied the fortress with a small force. By July 23, he and the defenders with him were under siege by the Reds.

If readers have been told to remember the Alcazar, they have also heard that Francisco Franco was always ready to rescue fighting men in need of it. He was marching on Madrid when he heard the Alcazar was under siege. He immediately dispatched the Carlist General José Varela to Toledo with a strong force. This weakened his own and also delayed him, as a consequence of which there was time for the International Brigades to reach Madrid and be deployed. We already know the result of that.

Varela was able to drive the Reds from Toledo and end the siege of the Alcazar by September 27, but back on July 23 Luís Moscardo, son of the defending colonel, was seized by the Reds down in the town. They put him on the phone to the colonel.

“They say they will shoot me if the Alcazar does not surrender,” the young man told his father. To which he added, “…but don’t worry about me.”

Moscardo’s reply: “If it be true, commend your soul to God, shout ‘Viva España,’ and die like a hero. Goodbye, my son, a last kiss. The Alcazar will never surrender.”

Luís was shot a month later.

(Entire books have been written about the siege of the Alcazar. It is much less well known that even before Luís was executed, Moscardo’s only other son died similarly. The boy, Pepe, was in Barcelona, the anarchist stronghold, when the July 17 rising began. Disguised as a hospital orderly, he was boarding a train to leave the city when a holy medal fell from his pocket. He was arrested on the spot and soon shot for being a “fascist spy.”)

Another story of heroic giving is not well known, that of Col. Antonio Pinilla. He and 180 of his men tried to secure the port of Gijon on the coast of Asturias on July 18, 1936. When they failed, they fell back to their barracks and there came under siege. Like Luís Moscardo, a son of Col. Pinilla was also captured and also used to try to force the father to surrender. Pinilla also refused. Offshore, a cruiser, one of the few naval vessels on the Nationalist side at that time, tried to relieve Pinilla and his men by shelling Red positions around the barracks, but the siege continued.

On August 16 the cruiser’s captain received a message from Col. Pinilla: “Defense is impossible. The barracks are burning and the enemy are starting to enter. Fire on us!”

The cruiser did fire and the Reds overrunning the barracks were killed, but Col. Pinilla and his men also perished.

Nazi Sympathy?

Other stories like that could be recounted, but we must turn our attention in another direction. We cannot conclude without speaking to the vexing matter of the help received by the Nationalists from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and we can hardly speak of that without reference to the event of the Civil War which is probably the best known, at least to the world outside Spain, the bombing of Guernica by German planes on April 27, 1937. When it was over, few of the town’s buildings were untouched and more than 1,600 civilians were dead with another 850 wounded.

That number of victims bears no comparison with, say, the 100,000-250,000 mostly refugee women and children killed by R.A.F. bombs a few years later in Dresden, but in 1937 the world was shocked by Guernica. So were the Nationalist authorities in Burgos. In fact, they first supposed the news of the bombing was Red propaganda. When it became evident something had happened, a press communique was issued on the basis of incomplete information, one that blamed the destruction on retreating Reds. When the Germans, seeing world reaction, pressed Franco to deny they were responsible, he refused, but he also failed to order retraction of the erroneous communique. The result was the appearance of a Nationalist cover-up of a German atrocity. Many then concluded that if the Nationalists covered up the atrocity, they must have been complicit. That is still widely believed, though it has been established for many years that the Germans acted without the knowledge of Burgos.

How Burgos felt — how Franco in particular would have felt — can be known from memoirs published in 1948 by Roberto Cantalupo, the Italian ambassador to New Spain in 1937. He had been instructed by Rome, before Guernica, to ask Franco why his forces were advancing so slowly in certain sectors. Franco began his reply in the third person (we are adding italics):

“Franco is not making war on Spain, but liberating her. I must not destroy the enemy, nor the cities, fields, industries or means of production. That is why I am not in a hurry. If I hurried, I would be a bad Spaniard; if I hurried I would not be a patriot, I would be behaving like a foreigner.”

When the question arises of Germany’s military assistance to the Nationalists, what should really be asked, especially in light of the rich reward to the Soviets for their help to the Reds, is this: What did the Germans get in return? They ought to have got something, especially if Franco was the friend and ally the United Nations said he was after World War II and that liberals still claim him to have been.

The Germans were granted some mining concessions, but not much else. Above all, once World War II began they were not given the one thing they wanted most: transit across Spain so they could take Gibraltar, down at the bottom of the Iberian Peninsula, from the rear — which would give them, instead of the British, control over the entrance into the Mediterranean. It was all that Hitler had on his mind when he and Franco had their one and only meeting. This was at the railroad station in the town of Hendaye on the Spanish-French border on October 23, 1940.

Incredibly, Franco deliberately delayed his train in order to make Hitler wait for an hour. The delay can be described as incredible if we reflect that Hitler just then was the master of Europe. Every nation on the continent, except for the neutral ones of Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Sweden, was either occupied by his troops or allied to him. Franco explained the delay to an aide: “This is the most important meeting of my life. I’ll have to use every trick I can, and this is one of them. If I make Hitler wait, he will be at a psychological disadvantage from the start.”

At the meeting Hitler promised to turn over Gibraltar, after its capture, to Spain, no strings attached (Gibraltar being Spanish territory that the British have occupied since 1713). Spain could also count on keeping her possessions in Africa, he said. All that was necessary was for Franco, then and there, to declare Spain an ally of Germany.

Franco could not simply say “No.” That would have meant a German invasion. What he could do, and did, was keep smiling amiably, keep nodding his head, keep raising questions, keep suggesting difficulties with the plan Hitler outlined for the capture of Gibraltar, keep avoiding saying “No” without saying “Yes,” while all the time professing himself awestruck before the breadth of vision and sheer genius of his interlocutor.

When the meeting broke up, men on the scene thought that Hitler did not look his usual self, that he appeared discomfited, a little dazed, but Franco was smiling. Back on his own train, the Fuhrer finally said to his foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, “I would rather have three or four teeth pulled than meet that man again.”

Spain remained neutral for the duration of World War II. So much for Franco as a Nazi “ally.”

Yet, in April, 1946, the U.S. State Department published 15 documents, 13 of them pre-Pearl Harbor, purporting to “prove” that Franco was an “accomplice” of Hitler and Mussolini. That same month, a committee of the United Nations issued a report branding Spain as a “potential menace” to world peace, and on December 12, by 34 votes to six against and 13 abstentions, the international organization passed a resolution barring Spain from membership in all UN agencies and recommending that all member states “withdraw their ambassadors and ministers plenipotentiary” from Madrid. It was the beginning of a period of almost total diplomatic isolation of Spain that would last until 1953.

“For Thy Glory”

Franco had fought against the UN resolution, but probably understood it was inevitable. “We Spaniards must be under no illusions,” he said in his victory speech in Madrid on May 19, 1939. “The Jewish spirit, which was responsible for the alliance of large-scale capital and Marxism and was the driving force behind so many anti-Spanish revolutionary agreements, will not be got rid of in a day.”

But those should not be this article’s concluding words. The concluding ones should be words that tell us definitively why Franco could never be an ally of Hitler or anyone like that. They will tell us that if we remember how seriously he took vows made before an altar.

These were spoken in public prayer before the high altar of the Army Church of St. Barbara in Madrid, also on May 19, 1939, when the Nationalist victory was celebrated with a Te Deum.

“Lord, graciously accept the effort of this people which always was Thine and which with me and in Thy name has with heroism defeated the enemy of truth in this age.

“Lord God, in whose hands is all righteousness and power, lend me Thy help to lead this people to the full liberty of Dominion for Thy Glory and that of Thy Church.

“Lord, that all men may know Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

His prayer finished, Franco then unbuckled his sword and laid it before the high altar, promising to God and everyone assembled in that holy place never to draw it again except in defense of Spain against foreign invasion. It was one more promise he would keep for the rest of his life.

This article was originally published in From the Housetops with two sidebars:

One, on Our Lady of the Pillar.

And one on Santiago De Compostela.

1 That is significant in terms of another myth assiduously spun by the political Left these past six decades: that the government lacked the manpower to prevent the massacre of priests, nuns and other Catholics.  The murders were the most wholesale on the first weekend of the rebellion and in the months that immediately followed. The army — or, rather, its “Loyalist” elements — may have been preoccupied trying to put down the rising, but when we speak of the land armed forces at the government’s command, we are including the Guardia Civil, the Carabineros and other paramilitaries.  Apart from none of them being sent to defend the Catholics, the real nature of the killing can be seen when it is understood that most of it was done by members of the armed militias of political parties that were part of the Popular Front or, as in the case of the anarchists, fighting on the Front’s side even if they were not part.