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Post Franco's Marginal Role in the 1936 Coup?
Created by John Eipper on 03/31/19 3:53 AM

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Franco's Marginal Role in the 1936 Coup? (Enrique Torner, USA, 03/31/19 3:53 am)

Ángel Viñas’s statement that Franco only had a marginal role in the coup that started the Spanish Civil War is shocking. He mentions primary evidence unknown until now.

Ángel, could you please reveal to us what this new evidence is and where to find it? This is indeed fascinating!

JE comments:  A book (from Ángel) is coming soon!  But perhaps he'll send an "appetizer" for WAIS.

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  • Spanish Coup: Mussolini and the Monarchists' Role (Paul Preston, UK 03/31/19 11:19 AM)

    Ángel's Viñas's forthcoming book is awash with new evidence about the long-term genesis of the military coup of 17-18 July 1936. However, the most novel part is not that Franco played a relatively minor part. That is something that I examined twenty-five years ago in my biography of the man. What is sensational about Ángel's research is what he has unearthed about the role of Spanish monarchists and Mussolini.

    JE comments:  Ángel's new book is going to break open some long-held shibboleths.  Ángel, if you're reading this, can you share the title with us?

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    • Was Mussolini Duped into Entering Spain? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 04/02/19 4:05 AM)
      Mussolini was partially duped into entering the Spanish Civil War, pushed by a number of forces including the Pope (it is taboo to talk about this) and the king of Italy. But he was not so foolish as to get really involved with the divided monarchists with few followers, especially in 1934 when a right-wing Spanish government was in power.

      Mussolini already had enough problems with the Italian monarchists, who were a tremendous brake to his social reforms. However we cannot say the same about the snobbish Ciano. In spite of being intelligent and brilliant, he was fascinated by nobility, the high life, women and what he saw as the British way of behaving. This became useless and self-defeating. In Ciano's defense we may say it was his duty to be informed, but nothing more, on what was happening in Spain. In any case it is very difficult to call Ciano a fascist, not to mention his unprofessional actions with reference to the war against Greece.

      By the way, Pavolini made the right choice in not presenting to Mussolini the request for clemency by Ciano when he had been condemned to death on 10 January 1944. For sure the good-hearted Mussolini would have spared him and the others, which would have been the wrong decision in such a controversial moment of history.

      Probably the Court should have been wiser and found a way of delaying the execution of the sentence for an indefinite period, but this was impossible. Even as a child I remember the general contempt against Ciano, who was later brave when facing the firing squad.

      JE comments: Is it possible for a dictator to be duped into going to war?  Perhaps "partially" so, as Eugenio Battaglia phrases it, but the buck (lira?) stops with the Duce.  It's just a few days until Ángel Viñas's new book on the subject hits the stands.

      Eugenio has long argued that Mussolini was something of a softie with his inner circle, and even with his enemies.  I would agree, but only if you compare him to his unsavory contemporaries in Germany, Russia, and Spain.

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      • Mussolini and Spanish Intervention, Revisited (Angel Vinas, Belgium 04/01/19 5:00 PM)
        I wholeheartedly disagree with Eugenio Battaglia's assessment of Mussolini (2 April). What he says does not stand up to the scrutiny of primary sources.  I'm leaving soon for Athens. If I may be bold enough, I would recommend that Eugenio look up my Tuesday posts in my blog over the next few weeks. He will perhaps learn a few new things. So have I last week. At a conference in Zamora a young Spanish historian drew my attention to a curious coincidence. This doesn't usually happen when a government is behind a conspiracy.

        Likewise, it won't be surprising if I beg to disagree with Nigel Jones (also 2 April). In general, I prefer to comment on subjects I know a little bit about. I write now in haste, because I'm going to bed soon having to get up very early tomorrow, but I would recommend to Nigel the following books: Cifras cruentas, by Eduardo González Calleja and some other books by the foremost expert on political violence in Spain in the early 20th Century.  My Mission to Spain, by Claude G. Bowers, gives a witness account. He was the US Ambassador and his well-known memoirs have been republished in Spanish. I may add with a new preface by Yours Truly. For the Franco story, the Dragon Rapide flight I think I've contributed to dispel the surrounding mythology in La conspiración del General Franco and El primer asesinato de Franco.  In the coming days he can also read ¿Quién quiso la Guerra Civil? [Who Wanted the Civil War?] due to be published on April 9.

        In all of these books he would find numerous references to the kind of history which is being written by academic historians in Spain. All of them contain suitable criticism to a very small number of other authors who claim to write in the wake of a "new political history." Perhaps Nigel would learn something, as he seems to maintain the kind of mythology upon which the 1936 uprising was predicated. Nigel is right however in stating that Calvo Sotelo's murder had nothing to do with the uprising. In effect, it had been in preparation since 1935. Probably he overlooks, I don't know, that Calvo Sotelo was the primer civilian engine of the coup and an extremely canny conspirator in cahoots with the gangster Mussolini.

        JE comments:  Best of success on the Athens trip, Ángel.  And when time permits, I hope you'll tell us about the curious coincidence you heard in Zamora.  Finally, I'll be looking for ¿Quién quiso la Guerra Civil? in a week's time.

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    • Who Wanted the Spanish Civil War? Response to Paul Preston (Angel Vinas, Belgium 04/15/19 2:19 PM)

      In response to Paul Preston's post of March 31st, I wholeheartedly agree with the fact that he uncovered the exact role played by Franco in the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in his extensive Franco biography. What I have added is Franco's own posturing playing up his role with his exact version of events. The book title is ¿Quien quiso la guerra civil? Historia de una conspiracion. Not everything in it is new, but the most important part relating to the organization of the coup since 1933/34 and the role played by Fascist Italy is. I hope that this will go some way in clarifying the real origins of the 1936 coup.

      JE comments:  Here's a very exciting intersection of my two careers:  Ángel Viñas will be "visiting" my Spanish literature and culture class this Wednesday (April 17th), via Skype.  The 13 students are delighted to have the chance to speak with a world-famous historian.  I asked them to spend the next two days practicing their questions!

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  • At What Point did Franco Join the Coup? (Anthony J Candil, USA 03/31/19 3:32 PM)
    I don't know what new evidence our friend Ángel Viñas will bring regarding Franco's role in the 1936 Coup, but I believe that for many of us who have studied the Spanish Civil War in depth, it has been always clear that Franco took a marginal role in the military uprising.

    The real brains behind the coup was always General Emilio Mola Vidal, who was much more brilliant intellectually speaking than Franco, in spite of Franco outranking him, just because he got some promotions during the war in Morocco. Franco was always a lucky man but he wasn't brilliant and certainly didn't plan the coup.

    It is well known already that Franco didn't join the conspiracy until the last moment, July 13 or 14 (the killing of Calvo Sotelo was probably the ultimate reason why he joined the rebellion), but certainly the fact that he took over the command of the Spanish "Army of Morocco" made him the most relevant among all the rebel generals.

    Why he became the military leader and also the head of the Nationalist Spain later on, is another issue that I think has been explained already not only by Ángel, but by many other historians.

    I recall having been told that Franco was even nicknamed "Miss Canary Islands" by some of the rebel generals--especially by General Queipo de Llano, who always disliked him--just for the way he was acting and for the fact that he was delaying continuously his adherence to the coup, to the point that they were asking "Has Miss Canaries made her decision yet?" (I think we all know that at the time Franco was the commander-in-chief of all Spanish forces in the Canary Islands.)

    Franco apparently had even been thinking about leaving the Army and starting a political career and was approached in that sense by some close friends.

    No matter what, I'm looking forward to seeing the new evidence Ángel Viñas will present.

    JE comments:  WAIS has discussed the Spanish Civil War for a very, very long time.  Here's one of the first in our archives:  Ronald Hilton in June, 1998.  Note one of the classic RH turns of phrase:  "García Lorca and his ilk":


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    • At What Point did Franco Join the Coup? (Angel Vinas, Belgium 04/01/19 1:14 PM)
      I'm between conferences (last week in Zamora, tomorrow in Athens and next week in Madrid).

      In reply to Anthony Candil, I'd say that Franco was always in the coup but with a certain status. He had tried a legal coup in February. He found in March that the Santa Cruz garrison had tried to stage another one. He was aware of what being discussed in terms of another coup in April. He was meditating on how to stage his uprising in the Canaries in May. He crossed the Rubicon in June.

      All this can be proved with documentary evidence. His role was to dominate the Canary Islands and to go to Morocco to take over the Army of Africa with which he was in standing contact.

      In my book ¿Quién quiso la guerra civil? (Who wanted the Civil War?) I outline the course of the conspiracy since 1932 counting on Italian assistance. In my previous book El primer asesinato de Franco (Franco's First Murder) I outlined Franco's actions. Both are interrelated.

      Sorry to be so brief. These last weeks have been very busy.

      JE comments:  This is no April Fools...although the more I look at the WAIS Watch, I think we should order some.  Any interest?

      Ángel, what a hectic schedule you've had lately.  Thank you for taking the time to check in, and best of luck with the book launch!

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    • Coups in Spain...UK? (Nigel Jones, UK 04/02/19 7:05 AM)
      As one of the few WAISers who believes that the Spanish army was completely justified in rising against what Ronald Hilton rightly called the "anarchy" engulfing Spain in July 1936, can I say that I totally agree with Anthony Candil (March 31st).

      Franco's hesitation in joining the revolt is well known, based on his innate caution, and it exasperated Mola, who, as Anthony says, was the real brains behind the coup, as its chief planner.

      Where I part company from Anthony is over his suggestion that the murder of Calvo Sotelo was the decisive factor in getting Franco to join the rising. Calvo Sotelo was killed in Madrid on July 13th. On July 11th the Dragon Rapide aircraft that was to fly Franco from the Canaries to take command of the Army of Africa had taken off from Croydon airport in London. That flight was organised in London by Luis Bolin, UK correspondent of the ABC newspaper, and future chief of Franco's propaganda. Bolin had hired the aircraft on July 9th after receiving instructions to do so from Spain, so Franco must have been committed to the coup at the latest in the first week of July.

      It was very interesting to read Ronald Hilton's 1998 recollections of meeting Lorca, as retrieved by John Eipper. I have always thought that evidence from eye-witnesses is much more valuable and likely to be "true" than dusty documents found in archives decades later by historians. Therefore it is significant that Hilton, who was there, should testify to the anarchy which prompted the responsible officers of the Army to rise against the Republic. I believe they were right to do so, and it is a tragedy that the coup was not immediately and swiftly successful all over Spain.

      Two further observations: I have just returned from Andalucía on a book research project. I was struck by the fact that despite Spain being a month away from a general election, I did not see a single election poster nor any other evidence of a closely contested campaign. How very different from the passions of 1936!

      Finally, the chaos engulfing my own country's politics over Brexit has given me a pale glimpse of the bitterness and hatred dividing Spain in 1936. It is no exaggeration to say we are in a state of undeclared civil war, though fortunately fought so far with words rather than weapons. And the pathetic and treasonous performance of our politicians has made me wish that our Army had the vigour and determination to act as the Spanish army did in July 1936.

      JE comments:  Nigel, I trust your last sentence is hyperbole born of frustration.  Is a military coup ever justified?  I cannot think of a single situation when it could be, except to get rid of a bloodthirsty dictator (and then followed by proper elections).

      John Heelan has researched Prof. Hilton's interactions with García Lorca, and sends a comment (next).

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      • Can Military Coups Ever Be Beneficial? (Nigel Jones, UK 04/03/19 6:10 PM)
        John Eipper (April 2nd) thinks I was joking when I wrote supporting military coups in certain circumstances, such as the breakdown and betrayal of democracy by unrepresentative Parliaments. On the contrary, I was being quite serious.

        John added that he could not think of a coup that benefitted anyone, or that he could support. Well, here are a few examples:

        --April 1941: Coup in Yugoslavia deposed pro-German regent Prince Paul, causing Nazi invasion of Balkans. This delayed planned invasion of Russia and arguably saved Moscow and led to Nazi defeat in WW2.

        --Coups that prevented Communism in Brazil '64 and Chile in '73. If these had not happened these countries would have become second Cubas or Venezuelas.

        --Coup in Portugal in April '74 ending Salazar/Caetano regime and colonial wars in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau.

        --Repeated military interventions in Turkey in 1960s and '70s that kept out Islamist dictatorships like the Erdogan regime we see today and preserved Ataturk's secular state.

        --Coup in Indonesia in '65 preventing Communist takeover.

        --Military interventions in Algeria and Egypt foiling Islamist parties who would never have held another election.

        And so on.

        In circumstances when the alternative is Communism or Islamism or anarchy, as in Spain in 1936, I am an unashamed golpista or putschist. Armies are frequently the last defenders of democracy and unlike Marxist or Islamist rule, they usually return to the barracks.

        Speaking of Spain, Ángel Viñas's preferred modus operandi is to quote the titles of his own or others' books as though that settles arguments. It doesn't. My view is that Spain from February 1936 onwards was increasingly in the throes of murderous anarchy and that the Army were right to intervene to attempt to restore order. Tragically the coup was not successful everywhere, and the irresponsible government arming of Communist and anarchist organisations led to a bloody Civil War.

        Franco was an unattractive figure and a tinpot dictator, but he kept Spain out of WW2 and his regime made Spain peaceful, prosperous and ironically paved the way for the democracy we see today--as military rule often does.

        JE comments:  I'm a pax et lux guy, and might be able to convince myself to favor a coup that stops a war, such as Portugal in 1974.  But by any measure I'm able to comprehend, Franco started one.

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        • On Coups; Steve Bannon in Brussels (Carmen Negrin, France 04/05/19 11:20 AM)
          Nigel Jones (April 3rd) wrote about coups he supports. The problem is not only about shedding blood for the pleasure of a few (be they the church, the army or the business community, as in Spain, or even some fanatical ideologues, left or right).  It is also and in particular about stopping a democratically elected government with a coup.

          Of course, this doesn't seem to bother those who don't care about democracy.

          Perhaps if Brexit comes through, Brexiters might not be allowed to interfere in European campaigns.

          Maybe Nigel can explain to us how Bannon has managed to get foreign money through to Brussels.

          JE comments:  I have a number of Brexit-themed posts in the queue.  But for now, who can tell us what Steve Bannon did/is doing in Brussels?  Trying to dismantle the EU from within, yes, but how?  This Guardian piece from last November describes him as a caffeine-fueled whirlwind, intent on slaying the EU "vampire."  (Imagine how a European ideologue would be received if s/he were in Washington, trying to smite the American Beast.)


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          • On Coups d'Etat: Response to Carmen Negrin (Nigel Jones, UK 04/06/19 9:13 AM)
            Allow me to dissect Carmen Negrín's post (April 5th), in which she replied to my support of military coups d'etat.

            Carmen says coups "shed blood for the pleasure of the few." Leaving aside the fact that many coups (eg. Portugal in 1974) are bloodless, I don't think "pleasure" is uppermost in the minds of coup-makers. Those I support are putting their careers and lives on the line in order to save their countries from chaos or worse.

            Carmen is correct that some coups are aimed at democratically elected governments. But those I support, such as Spain in 1936, Brazil in 1964 and Chile in 1973, were all launched because those democratic governments had lost control and were letting the country slip into anarchy or Communism, under which there would have been no more democratic elections.

            Carmen then professes to "care about democracy." This doesn't really square with her support for the EU, an openly undemocratic dictatorship leading Europe into a post-democratic future.

            Finally Carmen writes, "perhaps Nigel can explain to us how Bannon has managed to get foreign money through to Brussels." This puzzled me because neither in this post nor in any previous posts have I ever mentioned Mr Bannon. Perhaps Carmen is confusing me with someone else.

            JE comments: Some coups turn out to be bloodless, but without the real possibility of violence, a coup cannot happen.  And how many coup masterminds are altruistically "saving" their nations?  Many are motivated by ambition or simple greed.  Who belongs to what category?  This depends on one's point of view.

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            • Do Coups "Rescue" a Nation from Disorder...or Cause It? (Carmen Negrin, France 04/07/19 6:48 AM)
              In response to Nigel Jones (April 6th), disorder is often provoked before a coup is unleashed. It is part of the coup process. This was the case in Spain, in Chile (the caseroleras), etc.

              The opposition propaganda then accuses the government of being out of control or hopeless or leading towards a dictatorship, most of the time with no objective basis for such an accusation, and thus promotes the idea of needing to replace it. This is how fake news worked in the Old Days. Then, if necessary, you get the army involved, and, often, foreign allies. I will certainly not fall for the "brave hero who sacrifices his life" narrative, as Nigel puts it, since to start with there was no need to sacrifice it nor that of any other brave person.

              The question concerning Bannon is simply because Nigel seems to follow with enthusiasm and from close up these (extreme) right-wing movements. His "tocayo" Farage, Le Pen, Orban, have all been in touch with each other and with Bannon. Le Pen was with him just before our Gilets jaunes started their "movement," openly encouraged by her (and by Mélenchon, although slightly later), so have those from Vox in Andalucía.

              I would presume that if Nigel supports these people, he probably has his reasons for doing so and I am curious to know how much he knows about them or their funding. It is obvious that Bannon is an intruder, it seems a priori contradictory to see how all these people who say they are such nationalists, even bother to get advice from someone from another country, let alone another continent. I thus deduce, most candidly, that there might be financial interests which come with the advice, or is it Bannon who makes his money like that? After all, not everyone can afford to just come and open a political NGO in a foreign country.

              Brexit hasn't even started and it is already a disaster for all the reasons David Pike pointed out. And Nigel wants more of it and faster and possibly everywhere?

              Europe might not be the best, but it's still pretty good; as for it being a dictatorship, just in case Nigel skipped it, elections are coming up soon, with maybe not the kind of results I would personally want, but don't worry, I won't try to start a coup!

              JE comments:  Carmen Negrín points out one of the paradoxes of our times.  The Eurosceptics of different countries are working together, creating an "International" of ultra-nationalists.  And this is at a time when cooperation among the liberal democracies seems to be in decline.  Yes, it's a paradox.

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              • Post Unpublished - please check back later

        • Two Books: Josephs's Andalusia and Luttwak's Coups d'Etat (John Heelan, UK 04/07/19 4:49 AM)
          We have discussed Andalucía recently. I have now discovered an excellent book researched by Professor Allen Josephs of the University of West Florida at Pensacola. The book traces the history of Andalucía from Prehistory time to the Modern Day, focusing on the cultural distinctions that have set Andalucía apart throughout recorder history: its Oriental origins, its religious practices, its ancient commerce and industry and its varied expression of those practices through music, dance and toreo.

          I learned a lot from this book!

          "White Wall of Spain":  The Mysteries of Andalusian Culture. Allen Josephs

          Another title of interest:

          WAISers planning a coup might like to consult Edward N. Luttwak's book Coup d'etat: A Practical Handbook (Harvard) available from Amazon


          JE comments:  Luttwak's book first appeared in 1968, and the author is still going strong today.  He's a scholar who prefers to tackle the big picture.  Prof. Hilton mentioned Luttwak's Turbo Capitalism:  Winners and Losers in the Global Economy (1998) in this post from August '01:


          Anybody in WAISworld planning a coup...?  Although the first rule of coup-planning must be Don't talk about the coup you're planning.

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        • Who Wanted the Spanish Civil War? Response to Nigel Jones (Angel Vinas, Belgium 04/11/19 1:37 PM)
          I'm still traveling around. Just a short reply to Nigel Jones (April 3rd) on the Spanish military coup of 1936.

          If I mention my own books, it is because I always combine primary evidence and an extensive analysis of relevant bibliography. Nigel's views are traditional. His knowledge of the latter seems full of holes. I recommend Eduardo González Calleja et al., Historia de la Segunda Republica Española, Pasado&Presente for an overview.

          If WAISers are interested I can supply a short list of fundamental books dealing with violence in the spring of 1936 in Spain. However, before Nigel replies, I recommend he have a look at my book ¿Quién quiso la Guerra Civil?, published on April 9, which I'm promoting just now. It's based on the conspirators´ papers and on other primary evidence as well as several pages of bibliography. Nigel shouldn't be shy.

          JE comments:  A big congratulations to Ángel on the new arrival--just two days old.  Here's the link:


          And greetings from Houston--we're here through Sunday for the wedding of my niece, Kristen Simmons, (almost!) MD.

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    • "Lorca and His Ilk": Ronald Hilton and Garcia Lorca (John Heelan, UK 04/02/19 11:58 AM)
      I have always wondered why Ronald Hilton disliked the Lorca, Buñuel, Dalí set so much, blaming them for the outbreak of the Civil War.

      I suspect that RH had been snubbed by Federico in La Residencia de Estudiantes.  (I also stayed in La Resi as a base for my research in the Fundación Garcìa Lorca.)  At that time Federico was at the height of his artistic fame as a poet and dramatist and, as a result could be obnoxious to starry-eyed Brits. I questioned RH about this dislike as he was one of the few people still alive who claimed to have "known" Lorca but never did get a response from RH's notes at the time.

      (As a matter of interest, I also plotted the potential timeline during which they could have coincided at La Resi and found relatively few occasions they could have done so.)

      JE comments:  Prof. Hilton writes in his autobiography that he arrived at La Residencia in 1934.  Lorca had lived there off and on for approximately ten years beginning in 1919, so in '34 Lorca's "aura" was more present in La Resi than his actual person.  John, could you share the dates of your timeline?  Specifically, did Lorca visit the Resi often in the final two years of his life?

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