Russia’s Repeat Failures
Moscow’s New Strategy in Ukraine Is Just as Bad as the Old One
UNLESS Goebbels writes it, history will properly apportion the responsibilities for the murder of the Spanish Republic. Then it will have to be said that non-intervention and the arms embargo made the Fascist victory possible.
In their approach to the Spanish problem the British and French Governments, acting from most praiseworthy motives, made an initial blunder. Neither of their peoples wanted war. In the first place, neither had persuaded itself that war was inevitable. In the second place, both felt that if war had to come they needed more time to complete their rearmament. Consequently, the diplomacy of the British and French Governments consisted of an effort to localize the Spanish conflict. In theory and on paper this policy was sound. Furthermore, at the beginning neither the Germans nor the Italians liked the policy of non-intervention. Both had already intervened in Spain. Both felt that the issue of the Spanish Civil War would decide the ultimate success of their own schemes for world conquest. Both feared that non-intervention would force the ejection of the military experts and air men whom they had already sent into Spain. They set out to defeat it, and thanks to the German technique of propaganda, and thanks to the spirit of appeasement latent in the great democracies, they succeeded. They twisted non-intervention into an instrument of Fascist victory.
Our Government had as excellent intentions as the British and French, but the course it adopted towards the Spanish Civil War also was a blunder. That blunder, in present circumstances, stands out as clearly as the silhouette of a dive bomber -- not a dive bomber you are reading about, but one you are actually under! The Neutrality Act of 1935, as amended, related only to international wars. It did not force our Government to invoke an embargo in a civil war. Nothing in our history or traditions justified such an embargo. Yet we began bringing pressure (so-called "moral suasion") on American exporters not to sell arms to the Spanish Republic as far back as August 21, 1936; and on January 8, 1937, Congress passed a formal arms embargo.
When I went to Spain as a correspondent I already knew something about war and about what the Germans and Italians were up to. I had been under fire during the Dollfuss putsch in Austria, and I had been a war correspondent in Ethiopia. I went to Spain remembering the Ethiopian War as an adventure. I remembered only the excitements of patrols in the Ogaden Desert, where at noon each day the temperature got to 130 degrees or 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and you put your hands under your armpits to cool them because in Somali, the Ogaden Desert and Danakil the air is hotter than body temperature. I remembered the high Tempien Mountains, where the temperatures each night fell below zero. But the jumble of vignettes which remained of the things I had seen and scrawled out in hurried news dispatches was no preparation for war in Spain. I had seen horrors, but even they were no preparation for Spain. Civil wars are notoriously brutal; and there is something awesome and unearthly about the way a Spaniard kills without malice.
The worst part was not the fact of being scared all the time in that curious land of El Greco colors where men talk constantly and knowingly and lovingly of Death as if it were a woman and where the smell of rotting corpses was with us so steadfastly that once I put brandy in my nostrils. It was the shooting in cold blood of innocent men and women that got me. For two months of the time that I was with the Franco forces I kept a room in Talavera de la Reina as a base camp. I slept there on an average of at least two nights a week. I never passed a night in Talavera without being awakened at dawn by the volleys of firing squads in the yard of the Cuartel. There was no end to this purge. They were shooting as many at the end of the second month as in my first days there. They must have averaged thirty killings a day. I watched the men and women they took into the Cuartel each day to provide their quota for the next dawn. They were simple peasants and workers, most of them Spanish editions of Caspar Milquetoast. It was sufficient to have carried a trade union card, to have been a Free Mason or to have voted for the Republic. If you were picked up and denounced for any one of these grave offenses you were given a two-minute hearing and capital punishment. It was called the "regeneration" of Spain. It happened to the poor innocents who belonged to neither side. Non-combatants, they were driven out of villages which the fighting had reached. They would hide for two or three days in the hills or fields, trying to escape the shells and bombs, but they would come back when the hunger or cold was too much for them. Franco had a simple rule -- "Those who are not for us are against us." In the gullies along all the highways the corpses of uniformed Republican soldiers lay. If your journalistic curiosity made you stop your car to examine them, you found that more than half the time they were tied. José Sainz, the leader of the Falangistas for the Province of Toledo, showed me a neatly kept notebook. "I jot them down. I have shot 127 Red prisoners with my own hand," he boasted, fondly patting the heavy German Luger pistol on his hip. Sainz had been at work only four months when he showed that notebook.
I shall never forget the first time I saw the mass execution of prisoners. Few correspondents saw what had become a normal procedure. Most of them went to the front on escorted tours, organized by Franco's propaganda bureau, to arrive well after a battle. They saw nothing. I went into the field alone with General Varela, Colonel Yagüe, Colonel Castejon and other officers who helped me hide from their own propaganda bureau. I also went freely over the front with Captain Roland von Strunk, Hitler's key agent in Spain, whom I had known for years and whose military passes took us anywhere. We used to watch the Moors looting. It is uncanny how both sides know when a battle is won. For a few minutes an awesome quiet would fall on that sector of the front. And then suddenly the noises of hell would be raised as the Moors smashed in doorways and began the looting. They were like children with their spoils. One would have a side of meat under one arm and a Singer sewing machine under the other, while his hands would clasp a bottle of brandy and a picture off the wall of some home. One Moor found a saxophone and carried it for two days before wearying of it. I first saw the prisoners mowed down in the main street of a little village called Santa Olalla. The Republican prisoners were herded into the street like cattle. They had that listless, beaten look of troops who can no longer stand against the steady pounding of German bombs. Most of them had a soiled towel or a shirt in their hands -- the white flags with which they signaled their surrender. Two Franco officers passed cigarettes among them and several Republicans laughed self-consciously as they smoked their first cigarette in weeks. Suddenly an officer took me by the arm and said, "It's time to get out of here." At the edge of this cluster of 600 prisoners, Moorish troopers were setting up two machine guns. The prisoners saw them as I saw them. The whole 600 men seemed to tremble in one convulsion as those in front, speechless with horror, rocked back on their heels, the color draining from their faces, their eyes opening wide with terror. I ducked into the ruins of a wrecked café. There a Moorish soldier had found a battered player piano. It had roll music and his feet worked the pedals frantically. He cackled and shrieked in delight and the piano tinkled out the popular American movie song, "San Francisco," as the two machine guns suddenly roared in staccato, firing short lazy bursts of ten or twelve rounds at a time, punctuated by silences from the street that I could hear over the piano. Then or later, I have never understood why the prisoners stood and took it. I always thought that they might rush the machine guns, or do something, do something, do something. . . . I suppose all volition is beaten out of them by the time they surrender.
These atrocities were always denied abroad by the propaganda bureau. They were rarely denied in Spain by the Spaniards or by the Germans and Italians. Captain Strunk told me twice of protests he made personally to Franco, who made a pro forma denial. Franco's answer in each instance was the same. Franco said, with a knowing smile, "Why, this sort of thing can't be true -- you have got your facts wrong, Captain Strunk." Similarly, there was a denial of the butchery in the Badajoz bull ring, first reported by Jay Allen who had already interviewed Franco and generally proved himself the best-informed journalist in Spain. Colonel Yagüe, the commander of the Franco forces at Badajoz, never denied the story to me. "Of course, we shot them," he said. "What do you expect? Was I supposed to take 4,000 Reds with me as my column advanced, racing against time? Was I expected to turn them loose in my rear and let them make Badajoz Red again?" The men who ordered the Moors to do it never denied killing the wounded in the Republican hospital in Toledo. They blew up more than 200 screaming and panicked men with hand grenades and they boasted about it. These "regenerators" of Spain rarely denied, too, that they deliberately gave white women to the Moors. On the contrary, they circulated over the whole front the warning that any woman found with Red troops would meet that fate. The wisdom of this policy was debated by Spanish officers in a half-dozen messes where I ate with them. No officer ever denied that it was a Franco policy. But some argued that even a Red woman was Spanish and a woman.
The Moorish mercenaries fought methodically and well, always showing remarkable calmness and sometimes considerable gallantry. But they never knew what it was all about. These Moslems wore on their tunics the Sacred Heart of Jesus -- I don't know where Franco got those uniforms. They were paid, at least during the period of the march on Madrid, in worthless marks dating from the period of German inflation. I have watched these soldiers sit calmly in an olive grove under heavy, even murderous, artillery fire, counting their worthless marks.
The use of Moors and the wholesale execution of prisoners and civilians were the trump cards of the "best" elements of Spain -- the ruling classes of whom that hardly Bolshevik publication, Life, wrote that they "were probably the world's worst bosses -- irresponsible, arrogant, vain, ignorant, shiftless and incompetent." They were the Royalists, the landowners, the generals and the Catholic hierarchy, as distinct from the Catholic masses or, for that matter, from the Catholic middle classes of Catalonia and Vasconia. They represented the one percent of the population which owned fifty-one percent of the land. They represented the 21,000 officers (700 of them generals), against whom the Republic was said to have acted so "harshly" when it retired from among their numbers 7,000 known enemies of the Republic -- relieving them from their active commands but giving them full pensions. They represented the 40,000 priests and the clergymen and the religious orders which, in a country second only to Portugal for illiteracy, owned mines, industries, shipping, public utilities, banks, transportation systems and great agricultural enterprises. I talked with all varieties of them by the hundreds. If I were to sum up their social philosophy, it would be simple in the extreme -- they were outnumbered by the masses; they feared the masses; and they proposed to thin down the numbers of the masses.
"We've got to kill and kill and kill, you understand," one of Franco's chief press officers used to say to me. He was Captain Aguilera, the seventeenth Count of Yeltes. A great landowner and sportsman, Aguilera had served as military attaché in Berlin during the last war and he perfectly mirrored the mentality of the Spanish militarists who would have brought Spain in against the Allies during that war if King Alfonso had been less a friend of Great Britain and France. "You know what's wrong with Spain?" Aguilera used to demand of me. "Modern plumbing! In healthier times -- I mean healthier times spiritually, you understand -- plague and pestilence used to slaughter the Spanish masses. Held them down to proper proportions, you understand. Now with modern sewage disposal and the like, they multiply too fast. They're like animals, you understand, and you can't expect them not to be infected with the virus of Bolshevism. After all, rats and lice carry the plague. Now I hope you can understand what we mean by the regeneration of Spain."
Aguilera suffered that harshness of throat so noticeable among Spaniards. I don't know whether it comes from the aspirates in their language or from the quality of the tobacco they smoke. Aguilera would wet his throat with another tumbler of brandy and proceed, to the approving nods and comments of other leading officers of Franco's army. "It's our program, you understand, to exterminate a third of the male population of Spain. That will clean up the country and rid us of the proletariat. It's sound economically, too. Never have any more unemployment in Spain, you understand. We'll make other changes. For instance, we'll be done with this nonsense of equality for women. I breed horses and animals generally, you understand. I know all about women. There'll be no more nonsense about subjecting a gentleman to court action. If a woman's unfaithful to him, he'll shoot her like a dog. It's disgusting, any interference of a court between a man and his wife."
"The people in Britain and America are beginning to go Communist the way the French have gone," Aguilera would say. "But it goes back further than Baldwin and Roosevelt. It begins with the encyclopedists in France. The Age of Reason! The masses aren't fit to think. Then you pick up with the liberal Manchester school in England. They are the criminals that made capitalism. You ought to clean up your own houses. If you don't, we Spaniards are going to join the Germans and Italians in conquering you all. The Germans have already promised to help us get back our American colonies which you and your crooked Protestant imperialism robbed us of. And we're going to act pretty soon, you understand."
Aguilera was one of the bravest men I have ever seen. He was actually happy under fire, and when I wanted to get to the front he joined me on trips of our own, even after the propaganda bureau had vetoed them. Then when I got to know the field commanders, I gave Aguilera himself the slip. He began to feel that I was seeing too much of the Franco methods first-hand and suddenly he began to doubt my political reliability. He and a German Gestapo agent woke me up one morning at two a. m., when I had just tumbled into bed after returning from the front lines. "Look here," said Aguilera in his hoarse voice. "You are not to go to the front any more except on escorted tours. We've arranged your case. Next time you're unescorted at the front, and under fire, we'll shoot you. We'll say that you were a casualty to enemy action. You understand?"
I quote Captain Aguilera at some length because his social and political ideas are perfectly typical. I heard them voiced by scores and hundreds of other Spaniards on the Franco side. They had their own divisions and cleavages. There were the Alfonso Royalists. There were the Carlists -- those who wanted the other line of succession to the throne (now extinct). There were the landowners and the Catholic hierarchy with their sixteenth century mentality. And there were the Spanish Fascists, the Falangistas, who resembled the German Nazis. These groups could agree only on the necessity of "purifying" Spain by liquidating Reds, a word used to describe anyone who had voted for the Republic. Of these groups, the worst -- because the most ruthlessly successful -- was the Falange. When the revolt against the Republic began, the Falange membership numbered less than 50,000. Within six months, their enrollment stood at 500,000. Why? Because while the army officers, the Carlists and the Moors were fighting, the Falangistas were busy organizing behind Franco's lines. The Italians liked the Carlists, led by the recklessly brave landowning gentry, but the Germans played with the Falangistas, small shopkeepers and the like -- the little disappointed men of each community, the equivalent of the Americans who have listened to Coughlin and Townsend. The German Gestapo instructed the Falangistas in the technique of terrorism. In order to preserve themselves for the ultimate political control of Spain, the Falangistas stayed away from the front. It is doubtful whether they killed 100 Reds in battle. They murdered not less than 500,000 behind the lines.
Colonel Yagüe, for political reasons, had joined the Falange; but he knew them. I was in his headquarters one night when for the fourth time he telephoned Franco urgently insisting upon reinforcements if he was to hold his position against a Republican counterattack expected on the morrow. On the fourth call Franco said that he was sending up a regiment of Falangistas. Yagüe cursed for a full minute. "Are you trying to destroy my army?" he demanded of Franco. "These Falangistas will withdraw from the line and they'll panic my whole column by their example of calculated cowardice." He told Franco that he preferred to fight the battle without reinforcements. Turning to me with a scowl, he indulged a full five minutes of profane but fairly accurate description of the Falange -- his own political organization.
The Spanish Fascists nevertheless proved the political wisdom of running away in order to fight another day.
Those were some of the things which I did not like while I was in Spain. Almost worse was to come out of Spain and watch the American, British and French Governments help win the war for Franco. I had to come out and see the American, British and French publics divided by the German propaganda technique, which made us believe that there are two sides to murder. I used to be told that there were no German and Italian troops in Spain -- when I had been in battle with their troops, when I had been on enormous German airdromes, when I had been saved by Italian tanks, when I even had driven from the front to headquarters with the German agent who telephoned directly to Hitler himself to demand the immediate dispatch of 10,000 Germans because -- said Strunk -- Franco would be defeated without them. I used to hear that there were no Germans in Spain when my ears still rang with the tramp of their boots as they marched through the streets of Burgos and Salamanca, surly-faced Visigoths beneath the Gothic purity of one cathedral and the rococo excesses of the other.
I would like now to summarize briefly the truth about the Fascists in Spain -- not the whole truth, but only that part of the truth admitted by the Germans and Italians themselves in official statements or publications.
First a little historical background. The Spanish Republic came to power on April 14, 1931, without the shedding of one drop of blood, and under it various governments came in and went out of office. At first the Right was in power, but in the elections of February 1936 it was beaten by a Popular Front coalition. Out of this election a government was formed which was described as "Red," though it included neither Socialists nor Communists. The Franco elements began to plan armed rebellion and the destruction of the Republic from the day they were voted out of office. Count Romanones, once Alfonso's ablest councillor, said to an ambassador who shall be nameless: "The rebellion? We began to plan it the day we lost the election."
In planning the rebellion the reactionary elements got in touch with the German and Italian Governments on the one hand and, on the other, began to create incidents and spread terrorism which was answered in kind by the Left. The Right murdered a popular Leftist leader and the Left answered in swift reprisal, killing Calvo Sotelo, whose political ability made him outstanding. His death served as the signal for a military coup d'état which went off prematurely in Morocco July 17, and became nationwide on July 18, 1936. In May of 1939 -- three years later -- Herman Göring and Galleazo Ciano revealed that German and Italian troops, many of them disguised as tourists, went to Spain to aid this revolt from the day of its outset and that these forces had been prepared for action long before the proclamation of revolt in Morocco on July 17. Through the whole of the "Civil War" the Germans and Italians denied their complicity. Once the war was won, they boasted of having made their preparations even before it began. The official Italian Informazione Diplomatica said: "Italy replied to the first call of Franco on July 27, 1936; first casualties date from this time." In Mussolini's own newspaper, the Popolo d'Italia, the Duce himself wrote: "We have intervened from the first moment to the last."
In the first weeks of fighting, numerous German and Italian airplanes flew Foreign Legion and Moorish troops from Africa to the mainland. As early as July 31, twenty Italian airplanes flew to Africa to reinforce Italian planes already in Morocco and two were forced down in French North Africa. They had not bothered to disguise the markings of the Italian air force and their pilots carried military papers. Later, according to the Italians themselves, Mussolini's pilots made 86,420 air raids on Republican Spain. In some 5,318 bombardments they dropped 11,584 tons of explosives. Though the Italians and Germans have treated the totals of their effectives as more or less military secrets, I estimate that at one time Italy had not less than 140,000 men in Spain, while the Germans had not less than 10,000 technicians and 10,000 troops.
The Spaniards paid through the nose for this assistance. In 1938 alone Germany imported from Spain 1,000,000 tons of iron ore, 25,563 tons of copper, 13,167 tons of zinc; while Italy, in addition to wool, olive oil and the like, got the quicksilver of Almaden. The Germans and Italians said -- and persuaded millions in the democracies to believe -- that they intervened in Spain only after the Russians were there and in order to save Spain from Communism. There was not a single Communist in the Popular Front Government when the Franco forces launched their rebellion. There were disorders and atrocities on the Republican side. But these came from anarchists and criminals whom the Republican Government let out of the jails and armed when the army was found to be in rebellion. No Russian help reached Republican Spain before October 20, 1936, and no Russian troops or "volunteers" were ever sent. The Spanish Republic had a large gold reserve, possibly the third or fourth in the world. It bought arms and planes in France or wherever else it could find them. Nothing arrived from Russia before October. I know personally that the Republican records can be trusted on this because I was at the various fronts with the German and Italian tank and artillery units when we saw the first Russian equipment used. Until the end of October the Russians had sent not one shell or bomb. Later, when I was in Barcelona, an official of the Spanish Republic told me an amusing story. "A ship arrived in Valencia from Russia in September," he said. "There were cases on the deck and in the hold marked as marmalade and oleomargarine. I clapped my hands. 'At last we are getting machine guns,' I thought. Jesus, Mary and San Sebastian! We ripped open those cases. They really were marmalade and oleomargarine!" I talked in October with the German pilots who flew to Cartagena to attack the first shipments from Russia. A German pocket-battleship lay off the harbor and signaled objectives to the planes.
Franco alone never had a chance to win in Spain. The victory was won by the Germans and Italians, who twice saved Franco from imminent disaster; by the policy of non-intervention; and by the American policy of denying arms to the Republic in the one moment when its armies were in a position to take the offensive and sweep even the Germans and Italians into the sea.
Nothing went wrong with Franco's coup d'état when it started on July 17-18, 1936. The various garrisons rose in rebellion as planned (except Valencia, Frasco and Barcelona). The mass of the army officers turned against the Republic as arranged. Everything went like clockwork. Only, like some vaccinations, the coup d'état failed to "take." Deep in the body politic of Spain there ran a healthy self-respect and a passionate love for the Republic. Not very efficient, the Republic had given the people of Spain, nevertheless, the feeling that now it was their Spain -- a new Spain of schoolhouses and food for all and public sanitation and freedom from police spies. When the reactionaries delivered their well-planned and well-timed blow, the Republic was struck to the ground. There was chaos from one end of Spain to the other. But the simple man and woman, the peasant and the worker, the newly rising middle class, the professors, the journalists and the intellectuals, rose as a mass, leaderless and chaotic, but angry. They did not know how to restore the Republic but they knew how to strike down its assassins. They went out into the streets with pistols and knives and paving stones and they fought, not in the spirit of revolutionaries, but as the true conservatives and Loyalists of Spain -- preserving the dignity and the homes of a nation with the tradition of the hidalgo. As a result, Franco was beaten then and there.
During the first month after this failure Franco's small columns of trained men, utilizing the armaments they had seized, made progress in the rural regions. But in Spain generally, especially in the cities, the Spanish people were mobilizing. It was the invasion of Spain by the Moors, transported across the straits by the Italians and Germans, which saved Franco and his fellows from the hangman's noose. Rushed over from Africa in German and Italian planes, and aided in the field by those planes, these professional mercenary soldiers crushed such "armies" as the Republicans could fashion out of undrilled men, hastily armed and sent into the field. Marching with these Moors, I watched them flank, dislodge and annihilate ten times their numbers in battle after battle. Individual heroism among untrained soldiers is futile and empty in an army where no man knows whether he can count on the men around him once they undertake the simplest manœuvre. Once such "armies" are gotten into the open, no amount of individual heroism can save them. The Republicans used to fight stubbornly in open trenches until they could no longer stand under the fragmentation bombs and artillery fire of the German and Italian "specialists;" then the Moors would charge and dislodge them. With no officers and no training in the simple tactic of changing front, the beaten Republicans would mill into some village, rushing madly for the illusionary protection of stone houses. Then the German and Italian bombers would go for them. Droning backwards and forwards at 6,000 or even 3,000 feet, with neither anti-aircraft fire nor interceptor planes to worry them, the great black bombers would unload their high explosives in leisurely fashion. I used to watch the big bombs turning over and falling slowly. The hundreds of Republicans who died under the blasted masonry might have lived had they been trained and officered to manœuvre in the open.
Having lost the coup d'état, only to be saved by the Italian and German planes and specialists and the Moors, the Franco crowd next all but lost the war by their vain and costly assault on Madrid. This time they were saved by German and Italian troops. I stood in the suburbs of Madrid with the Moors and saw Franco try to destroy himself and his cause in a futile frontal attack against that proud city. With their backs to the walls of Madrid, the Republicans needed no officers and no knowledge of tactics. When Franco first reached the outskirts of the capital he could have taken it, but he delayed in order to consult with his German and Italian advisers. He asked the classic copybook rules for such an attack. General Faupel, the special German ambassador, who was also in charge, incidentally, of German cultural relations with Latin America, acted like an old-fashioned Prussian. There were machine-gun nests in the approaches to Madrid? Very well. Then bring up artillery and tanks to clean them out. Franco might have resorted to the painstaking and slower approach to Madrid used by the British general who later became the Duke of Wellington, or he might have repeated the immediate frontal attack by which General Varela had swept into Toledo, counting on swiftness and audacity. But Franco listened to Faupel and waited two days for the guns and the tanks. In those two days some 1,900 International Brigade volunteers streamed into Madrid, to be followed a few days later by 1,550 more. They were true volunteers -- anti-Fascist Germans and Italians who hated the Nazi and Fascist régimes, but mostly tough Frenchmen who served the machine guns while joking about blondes. They held Madrid. How they held Madrid I saw with my own eyes. I crawled down to the Frenchman's bridge hoping to be the first correspondent to cross the Manzanares River into the city. The fire was too heavy and I lost my nerve. But through field glasses I watched the Moors clean out the six- and seven storied dwelling houses just across that narrow and bloody little river. A detail of 50 Moors would surround the building, silence the ground-floor defenders and rush in. They would then clear the second story with submachine guns and hand grenades. These Moors were calm, tightlipped, expert workmen. They would clear a building floor by floor. There was only one trouble with this work. By the time the Moors had done the job, there wouldn't be any Moors left.
This stubborn Republican resistance took the starch out of Franco's troops. It was the first time in their long triumphant procession from Badajoz through Talavera de la Reina to San Martin de Valdegleisias and Navalcarnero, and thence on to Madrid itself, that the enemy had stood against them successfully. One of the hardest things in war is to change the psychology of troops from offensive to defensive operations, or vice versa. Franco's army could not believe that the resistance they met at Madrid required that they entrench. They lay in open shallow ditches. Somehow, somewhere, the Republicans got guns and planes. They massed everything they had. On one day they achieved the impossible. They put 127 planes in the air at once -- almost a third of the calculated preponderance which Berlin and Rome maintained. Franco's Moors were killed. Colonel Castejon, his hip shattered, told me that reports in Franco's own headquarters estimated that out of 60,000 Moors not less than 50,000 were casualties. He added: "We made this revolt, and now we are beaten." The Falangistas were unfit for front line duty and the Carlists -- bravest of all Franco's soldiers -- were already destroyed. Franco had no army left. I stood with Captain Strunk when General Varela and Colonel Yagüe told the German: "We are finished. We cannot stand at any point if the Reds are capable of undertaking counterattacks." The Spaniards behind Franco's lines knew this too. Revolts against the Franco occupation took place in towns like Cáceres and in many parts of Andalusia. But while the Republicans dreamed of gathering strength to prepare an eventual offensive, Mussolini sent Franco an army of 100,000 Italians. German and Italian money, given the penniless Franco, brought 70,000 more Moors from Africa, at least 40,000 of them recruited from French Morocco. Once again the foreigners imposed upon the Spanish nation a new succession of victories for a group of rebels who had not even been able to rally an army of Spaniards to their cause.
This Franco who was never able to raise a Spanish army aroused the most lyrical enthusiasm among many foreigners. The Paris newspaper, Candide, for instance, wrote: "Franco is not tall, he is a little heavy, his body is timid. Ah! His glance is unforgettable, like that of all rare beings. A troubled and trembling glance, full of sweetness; the man is delicious and mysterious. He is a miracle of tenderness and energy. . . . The ravishing thing about Franco is his purity." Most American apologists did not go quite this far, though some did catch the lyrical note.
Personally I found Franco unimpressive but shrewd. I talked with him when he was still slender and later after he had gone to fat. A small man, his hand is like a woman's and always damp with perspiration. Excessively shy, as he fences to understand a caller, his voice is shrill and pitched on a high note which is slightly disconcerting since he speaks very softly -- almost in a whisper. He was effusively flattering, but he did not give a frank answer to any question I put to him. A less straightforward man I never met. When I discussed Franco with his fellow officers I got something more than the picture of an able soldier who fought with distinction against the Riffs, studied in Paris under Marshal Pétain and became the youngest general in the Spanish Army. These officers, speaking with the frankness which comes with a generous resort to brandy after a day's fighting, described an inveterate careerist. To them, Franco was a combination of the sly Gallego, with the reticences of the people of that heavily Jewish province, and the puritan who, on the excuse of helping renovate the Spanish Army, at one time or another bore witness before his superiors to the gambling debts or marital infidelities of a score of his comrades. I talked many times with the late King Alfonso of Spain about Franco. While the war was going on, Alfonso said, "I wish well to Franco for I am a simple soldier in the ranks." Some years later, when Alfonso, before his fatal illness, was arranging to renounce his throne and provide for the succession of Don Juan, a prepossessing young man of character and ability, Alfonso was more outspoken. "I picked Franco out when he was a nobody," said Alfonso, who liked the American argot. "He has double-crossed and deceived me at every turn. In him you see what we Spaniards mean when we are suspicious of the type which comes from Galicia." When I try in my own mind to make an estimate of Franco's character, I am reminded of a phrase used by the London Times. Describing another dictator, the Times admitted that he was a dictator but said that he was "a Christian dictator." I suppose the people who grew lyrical about Franco made the same sort of distinction. As for myself, I cannot forget the 1,500,000 Spanish dead, Guernica and the other blackened ruins, or the 300,000 Spanish "Reds" who have been slowly starving to death in Franco prisons and the others in the French concentration camps. The notion of a dictator who is a "Christian" dictator leaves me cold.
It was less difficult to understand the "Reds" whom I saw when I went to the other side in the spring of 1938. By then the Republican offensive had failed for want of arms. The Republican Government had been driven from Madrid to Valencia and from Valencia to Barcelona. So long as the embargo of arms continued, the Republic had only one chance. It could hold on and continue fighting until the Germans launched against Britain and France the war which had become inevitable and which might give allies to the Spanish democracy. This the Republican leaders were determined to do. But they could not help asking their consciences (as they asked me) if this policy -- sound strategically -- was too cruel to impose upon the Spanish masses who were dying and starving so bravely. In America, Britain and France meanwhile, millions said, "One side is no better than the other." The German propagandists taught us to say that. They taught us to make no distinction between "Red" atrocities, committed by groups that got out of hand but subsequently were punished by the Republic, and Franco atrocities, committed with discipline as part of a fixed policy.
I had known Alvarez del Vayo when he was the correspondent of the Manchester Guardian -- long before he became Foreign Minister. I took him from France some soap, cigarettes and marmalade. He and his wife were delighted at the sight of them. They gave the cigarettes to the troops; they took the soap and marmalade to the military hospitals. "But you are a chain smoker," I protested. Del Vayo shook his head, "I haven't smoked a cigarette in six months," he said. "When the troops can't get them, I don't think I have a right to smoke." Into my mind there flashed a contrast. I remembered how during the Ethiopian War the Italians were asked to give up lipstick and other things imported from Britain and France. "I don't mind," said Edda Ciano, Mussolini's daughter. "The pilots of the Italian Air Line who fly to Paris will bring me my lipstick."
There is a contrast in my mind, too, when I think of Captain Strunk intervening vainly with Franco to stop the mass execution of prisoners. Franco shrugged his shoulders. By contrast, I remember talking, after he was already in exile, with Dr. Juan Negrin, the last Premier of Spain. This professor of biology, with his profound culture, his modest manners and his lively sense of humor, struck Winston Churchill as one of the ablest statesmen in Europe. I asked Negrin why his government had not been more effective in cleaning out the fifth column behind his own lines in Spain.[i] "The fifth column used to be the cause of more worry to me than anything else," said Negrin. "You would see a man day after day and be absolutely sure that he was working for the enemy. But you couldn't do anything about it."
"Why couldn't you do anything about it?" I asked.
"Because you couldn't get proof," answered Negrin. "You couldn't get proof before the judges."
"But surely in such a crisis you suspended normal court procedure," I suggested.
"Oh yes, we had to have special courts," said Negrin. "But we couldn't arrest a man on suspicion. We had to keep to the system of evidence. You can't arrest an innocent man just because you are positive in your own mind that he is guilty. You prosecute a war, yes; but you also live with your conscience."
This is the man in whose place we and the British and the French helped to put General Franco.
The best comment on the continuance of the non-intervention policy of the democracies at a moment when the Fascist legionaries were consolidating their invasion was offered July 20, 1937, by the Italian newspaper Stampa: "While the diplomats play for time, the legionaries cut the Gordian knot with their swords." The best comment on appeasement was offered by Mussolini himself. After the victory in Spain, he declared: "Foreign anti-Fascism is truly incurably, stupendously ignorant of Italian ways -- all of which does not disturb us in the least. After all, it is better not to be too well-known, for surprise will then have its full effect. Our enemies are too stupid to be dangerous." There is an even more pertinent summary (if for the words "the British Government" we will read "the Governments of Great Britain, France and the United States") offered in the British Parliament by Clement Attlee, speaking for the opposition to Neville Chamberlain's cabinet at the time Franco was being recognized. Attlee said: "The Government's sham of non-intervention was really devised to prevent the Spanish Government from exercising its rights under international law. The British Government connived at the starving of women and children, the bombing of open towns and the slaying of men, women and children. Now it is scrambling with indecent haste to try to make friends with Franco. This is not in the interests of democracy or of the safety of the British Empire . . . ."
Engaged now in a war for their own survival, Americans ponder Attlee's indictment and wonder if it is not equally applicable to their own past conduct. Franco's brother-in-law, Serano Suñer, told a former American Ambassador -- and it is no indiscretion to repeat it since that Ambassador has been replaced -- that he "believed in, desired and worked for German victory." He meant a German victory in which Spain would have a share. The Spanish press has left no doubt that Spain looks forward to an Axis victory over the United States and expects that it will enable Franco to reëstablish Spanish hegemony in Spanish America, where already his agents are busily making propaganda for Fascism.
More than a century ago, the reactionary forces of Russia, Austria, France and Prussia were threatening to restore the former Spanish colonies in America to Spanish monarchial rule. These anti-democratic forces were linked in the Holy Alliance which Castlereagh described as a "piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense." Great Britain, with American help, checked those forces. President Monroe declared to the reactionary Powers that "we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this Hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety." Today this Hemisphere is threatened by the Unholy Alliance of Germany, Italy and Japan. And we by our own efforts made it possible that, in case Hitler sweeps down into North and West Africa, Spain will be added to the forces ranged against us.
[i] The phrase, it will be remembered, was born in Spain when Franco's four columns were marching on Madrid and General Mola announced proudly to us journalists that within the city he and Franco had a fifth column which would strike the Republicans in the back and deliver Madrid to the attacking Moors.