n 1936, as Spain’s brutal civil war was raging, Republican-leftist forces were besieging Toledo’s fortress, the Alcazar. They took hostage the 16-year old son Luis of the citadel’s commander, Col. Moscardo.
`Surrender the Alcazar or we will shoot him,’ threatened the leftists. Moscardo replied, ‘put him on the phone.’ When his terrified son came on, Col. Moscardo told him, ‘son, stand to attention, cry out Viva Espana, and die like a man.’
Spain’s Valley of the Fallen is a grim spooky place. A gigantic mausoleum carved into a rocky hill outside Madrid, the monument houses the remains of tens of thousands killed in Spain’s brutal civil war, 1936-1939.
I visited this vast necropolis soon after it was opened as a national war monument. In 1975, General Francisco Franco, Spain’s post-war strongman, died and was entombed on this windswept plateau. After Spain’s cruel civil war, the Francoist fascist regime in Madrid gave way to a constitutional monarchy that had been planned by Gen. Franco.
Under the guidance of King Juan Carlos, Spain became a thriving democracy and economic success. It went from being Europe’s most reactionary society to one of its most liberal. The restrictive influences of both the Catholic Church and militant left were swept away. Spain became Europe’s party central and a truly free nation.
But ever since 1975, Spain’s left has been agitating to remove Franco’s body from the Valley of the Fallen. This year, Spain’s Socialist government finally gave the order to exhume Franco’s remains and have them re-buried in a Madrid cemetery next to Madame Franco.
Spain’s left is cock-a-hoop over this revenge on their nemesis. But many thoughtful Spaniards are concerned that the exhumation of Franco will open poorly-healed wounds from the long ago civil war, and cries for revenge. This is now happening.
We are also greeted by a rush of Franco-demonizing speeches and articles in Spain and in the world’s liberal-left media who have never forgiven the general for winning the civil war and crushing the Marxist regime in Madrid. Those who supported Franco are newly demonized while his opponents are again lauded as democrats and patriots.
An entire generation of idealistic western writers, notably Orwell and Hemingway, contributed to whitewashing Spain’s ‘republicans’ as noble warriors against fascism and dictatorship. The Spanish civil war became the holy grail of the liberal left, and so it remains today.
Forgotten or ignored was the vicious struggle in Spain between Stalin’s minions and those of Hitler and Mussolini. The so-called Spanish republicans were largely directed and armed by the Soviet Union which had just killed at least 30 million people.
In Spain, Stalin’s secret police murdered large numbers of ‘unreliable’ socialists, unmanageable Communists, and renegade Trotskyites. Spain’s Catholic clergy became a particular target of murder and torture by Spain’s Communists. This was the reason that the Vatican quietly favored Nazi Germany in the early 1940’s.
Today, Franco’s exhumation has become Spain’s political football. Everyone in this nation of passionate people seems to be arguing about Franco while they are facing the menacing problems of secession in Catalonia and a struggling economy. All the old arguments and debates over the Francoist era have little to do with today. But the Spanish Socialists cannot resist making hay out of old General Franco.
Unfortunately, much of the western liberal media will continue to perpetuate the myth of wicked Franco versus the saintly republicans. Few will ever tell us that Franco kept Spain out of World War II and paved the way to its vibrant democracy. Ironically, Spain’s noisy Socialists would not be in power today were it not for Franco.
Exhuming Franco’s body and rekindling all the Civil War bitterness and hatred was a very big mistake. The majority of Spaniards today were not even alive during the civil war. The conflict should have been consigned to the history books. As Americans are finding, demonizing statues of civil war generals only opens new, pointless arguments.