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Spanish Civil War

Spain is a country in Europe that experienced the horrific effects of a civil war. The war lasted for years, with thousands of lives lost and it took Spain decades to recover from the consequences of these events that took place during the middle of the 20th century. In the early 1930s, a miniscule republic emerged in the country of Spain. At this time most of Europe was already a republic, but this was Spains first attempt at this. Spain had always been a monarchy since before medieval times. It was the last monarchy in a major European nation.

In Spain the failure of the wars in Africa caused an uprising from the military followed by resistance from the Republic that wanted to crush any ambitions of the leader of Nationalists, General Franco whom wanted to seize power. In 1936, the Spanish Army, stationed in Morocco under the leadership of fascist General Francisco Franco, finally rebelled against the new republic. The nationalists/fascist powers had the support of Hitler and Mussolini, while Stalin supported the Republic cause. The Spanish Civil War set the stage for the biggest war humanity had ever have to face in World War II.

By comparing the political situation during the war, the various reasons that led to it, and the political influence from outside political forces, we can see the devastation of this tragic war. The end of the 19th century marked the first time Spain had suffered such a humiliating loss. A one time colony ruled by a king, the Spaniards saw most of its overseas land disappear. In the Spanish American War of 1898, Spain was forced to leave Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. [1] At that time it was unprecedented for Spain to lose a war to a former colony.

This embarrassing defeat was the first sign of political instability in Spain exposing not only the military but also the political and governmental fragility. Internal problems appeared as well in the beginning of the 20th century. Catalonian and Basque separatist movements challenged the domination of the Spanish government in Madrid[2]. The growing support of these two movements combined with the political instability and social disapproval of King Alfonso XIIIs actions, General Primo de Rivera seized power.

Rivera had maintained a military dictatorship between 1923 and 1930 and focused on turning Spain around by having it catch up to the other European powerhouses of that era. However, he wasnt successful and left office when he received notice that the garrisons were against him. [3] But most significant of Riveras tenure was that it paved way for a new type of government in Spain in which the general seemed to favour, which was a fascist military regime.

Although the Second Spanish Republic was established in 1931 through a coalition between the socialists and republicans, the situation in Spain did not improve, this lead to the infamous coup detat of July 17, 1936 by the forces of General Francisco Franco (1892-1975). Even before that the Spanish countryside witnesses naked socialist conflict throughout the Republican era. Three main strands are essential in understanding the struggle of the Spanish Civil War: the general strike, the regional revolt in Catalonia, a northwest province of Spain, and the revolutionary commune in the Asturias.

The general strike was a total failure; it was supposed to create an alliance between the left wing of the Socialists and the several small Marxist parties in Spain. However, it only represented the sheer failure of the working class leadership. In Catalonia the reaction took the form of a regional uprising against the central government. The Catalan government was threatened by the rise of the Fascist movement and on October 5 the Madrid government had declared a national emergency to deal with the general strike. However, the Catalan rising was suppressed with a minimum bloodshed.

The truly grave events occurred in the northern mining province of Asturias. Socialists, Communists, anarchists and Trotskyites managed to unify against the threat of Fascism. On October 5 Asturian miners attacked several Civil Guards and thereafter marched to the main provincial capital of Oviedo where they were met by Moorish and Foreign Legions led by General Franco. The Asturian rising had challenged the entire basis of the parliamentary Republic, and the government suppressed the uprising with troops whom the Spaniards considered savages and foreigners.

Catalan and Basque governments were suspended on the grounds that their political conflicts amounted to a direct attack on the Republic of Spain. It was the ultimate battle between the Republican forces and those of the Nationalists led by Franco. The Spanish Civil war is more complex that than a simply a battle between fascists and republicans or socialists. First, the war might be described as a revolution rather than a civil war. The popular front was mostly made up of leftist worker groups, which include the communists, socialists, and Anarchists, rather than republicans.

These groups each had different agendas for Spain. The communists (P. S. U. C. ), backed by Russia, wanted to set up a centralized communist government, like the one in Russia. The socialists (P. O. U. M) wanted to set up a worked controlled government with the influence of Russia. While the Anarchists (C. N. T. ), also know as the Anarcho-syndicalists, wanted to establish a decentralized workers government. Likewise, Franco’s collation was not completely unified. He was backed by rich landowners, which wanted to return to feudal Spain, Spanish Fascists, which wanted a Fascist Spain, and the military.

In addition, international politics had considerable influence over the Spanish Civil War. The final result of the war is a familiar one. Francos forces were successful, and the General declared that the war had ended on April 1st 1939. Turning over to the political infrastructure of the war, it was clear that the Spanish Civil War served as a model for the events that were to take place in the Second World War. It was a battle not only for political supremacy in Spain, but also of two political ideologies that were to change the history of Europe forever and the world forever.

On one side Francos fascist regime had the full support from the beginning of the war of Adolf Hitler from Germany as well as from Italys dictator, Benito Mussolini. On the other side, although the help came later, the Republicans got some support from Russias Joseph Stalin. In the eyes of European leaders it was the battle of fascism versus communism and the eyes of Europe were on Spain. One of the most famous pictures of General Franco, is the one of him on his desk, while the Fuhrer, is clearly visible in the background.

His strong feelings towards Hitler were well known, and Hitlers support was tremendous to his ultimate goal. Hitlers assistance came several days after the outbreak of the war, when Franco sent a German businessman, who lived in Spanish Morocco, and the local Nazi leader to Germany to request planes and other support. [4] The Germans, along with the Italians, were quick to respond. Hitlers Junker Ju-52 transport planes were responsible for airlifting Francos elite troops across the straits of Gibraltar, marking the beginning of the war on mainland Spain[5].

Hitler did not greatly exaggerate when he said in 1942 that Franco ought to erect a monument to the glory of the Junkers. It is this aircraft that the Spanish Revolution has to thank for its victory. [6] Hitler viewed Spain as an important cornerstone in his long-term goal of fascism dominating the European continent, and with Germany and Italy under fascist rule, one only has to look at a European map to realise the major importance of countries such a Spain, falling into fascist hands and aliening themselves with the German cause.

Germany supported fascist Spain for several reasons. Adolf Hitler, dictator of Germany, feared the spread of communism with the statement, “There is a danger of the Reds taking power in Spain. It is not my intention to let this happen”. Germany was on the brink of starting World War II and an ally in Spain would be very valuable to their goal of world conquest. Germany used the Spanish Civil War as a training ground for its new weapons and tactics in preparation for World War II. The most gruesome example of Germany’s use of Spain for training was the bombing of Guernica.

Guernica was a small town in northern Spain with fewer than seven thousand residents. It served no strategic purpose and was harmless to Germany. On April 26, 1937, German bombers dropped incendiary (fire-starting) bombs on Guernica for several hours completely decimating the town. The number of troops that were sent to the Civil War underlies this importance. Italy supported fascist Spain for the same reasons as Germany. Italy, a fascist state under dictator Benito Mussolini, wanted to ensure that Spain became a fascist ally.

Mussolini, like Hitler, also feared the spread of communism. Italy, like Germany, used Spain as a training ground for its new weaponry in preparation for World War II. Hitler, besides the aerial support, had sent thousands of troops and Mussolini between December 1936 to February 1937 alone, had sent to Franco between 40,000 and 50,000 troops. [7] Turning over to the international support of the Spanish Civil War, even though Franco did have the military support from Germany due to the common political ideology the two sides shared, the same cant be said for the side of the Republic.

France and Britain, the two countries that the Republic seemed to look to for support, opted not to help. The principal aim of both countries was to keep the Spanish Civil War from becoming a general European war. There are several reasons why Britain, France and United States did not intervene in this war. First of all, with the First World War still in everybodys mind a Non-Intervention Pact was signed on August 2, 1936. Introduced by France, it was signed by the five major European Nations of France, Britain, Germany, Italy, and Russia.

The purpose of this pact was to contain the war within Spain by prohibiting the member nations from supplying materials of war to either side of the conflict. In spite of this pact only Britain and France abided to the agreement. Britain was especially determined to improve relations with Germany and Italy while at the same time maintaining the traditional alliance between them and Portugal,[8] rather than risk entering the war. On August 8, 1936, France closed its border with Spain to materials of war and thus deprived the Spanish Republic to its right under international law to purchase arms for self-defence.

Joseph Stalin however, saw this civil war, as something more than just an internal conflict. He viewed this as a military and ideological expansion of Hitlers regime in the rest of Europe, and made sure to act on it quickly. Russia sent the most aid to the republic but most of it was confiscated by the French at the border. Train loads of war supplies, airplane parts, artillery, and ammunition, mostly Russian, bound for the republic, were held up at the French border. Stalin sent thousand there, and thousands were the number of volunteers that flocked Spain from different countries, such as Britain and France.

By March 1937, 35,000 foreigners supported the Republic cause,[9] among them the great novelist George Orwell, whose Homage to Catalonia is an account of his services on the loyalist side[10]. Orwell quickly leans the diverging ideologies of the many groups in the Popular Front have lead to serious tensions and even violent conflict. For example, while Orwell is on leave from the front in Barcelona riots erupt after the Comminutes storm the Anarchist run telephone company. During the next few days that follow there is bitter fight between groups that are supposedly on the same side.

Communists, Socialists, and Anarchists, all members of the Popular Front, ware shooting at each other. As the war progress the divisions become more defined. By the end of the book, the P. O. U. M is declared illegal and Socialists and Anarchists are being rounded up and jailed. Luckily Orwell, with aid of British consulate, is able escape to France and eventually back to England. Near the end of the war, France allowed several trainloads to pass through but it was too late. Most of the supplies were either destroyed or sent back lest they fall into enemy hands.

When the fascists captured Catalonia, in January of 1939, 500,000 republican soldiers and civilians fled to France. The refugees were confined in concentration camps and were subjected to horrible conditions[11]. Britain’s and Frances final blow to the republic came in February of 1939 when it officially recognized Franco’s regime. Another country that Spain depended upon was the United States. After World War I, American foreign policy refused to interfere in the affairs of other countries, especially European nations.

Since the signing of the Neutrality Act of 1935, Americans were prohibited from selling any weapons of war to a country in war. The Americans, as well as British and French international businessmen were afraid that with a strong communist influence all foreign businesses would be nationalized, and they knew under Francos regime would protect these corporations. By end of March 1939 the last standing Republic cities of Valencia and Madrid fell to the control of General Franco and the Nationalists, shortly and thereafter on April 1, 1939 General Franco announces the end of the Spanish Civil War.

This Civil War was truly unique. It began as a struggle within Spain with two different political ideologies tearing the country apart, and although the war remained in the Spanish mainland, it progressed as the catalyst for the events that were to take place very shortly in Europe. The one man that seemed to want to capitalize from this was Hitler. Knowing that after the end of World War I, his country lacked the military experience, he decided to send troops over to Spain to experience the modern fighting conditions[12]. It served as prelude for the war that Hitler knew would be unavoidable.

This was also the case with Stalin whose fear was that of another major country falling in the hands of fascists could seriously jeopardise the stability of the European continent. Essentially the Spanish Civil War turned into an International Civil War, a battle of democratic forces versus fascist forces, which set up the stage for the next great and unfortunately the most brutal war, World War II. The Spanish Civil War was not only important to the history of the country, but also to the events that were to take place internationally, which would change the course of history forever.

In Spain the victory of Francos fascist forces set the course for right wing European domination. This led to the outbreak of World War II, which also saw the battle of two complete opposite political entities, with different political ideologies. A three year epic struggle that cost over one million lives, the Spanish Republic lost the Civil War and Spain was deprived of freedom for several decades afterwards. It is difficult to predict what might have happened had the republic won the war but it is likely that Spain would have become a much more advanced civilization instead of being one of Europe’s poorest nations today.

The cost of the loss to the United States, Great Britain, and France was not great but the cost to the Spanish people was enormous. Therefore by analyzing the political situation in Spain during the war, the various reasons that led to war, and finally the political influence from outside political forces. We clearly notice the outcome of this devastating civil struggle. It was a civil war that began before and led to other major conflicts, it was a battle of ideological supremacy that changed the course of history forever.

In the end Spain fell to Franco, but by then the world was looking at Germany’s expansion into Poland and shuddering at the possibility of a World War. It is believed that had Europe intervened in defence of Republican Spain, Germany and Italy would have been roundly defeated, and the Second World War could have been avoided. Instead Hitler got a chance to practice his blitzkrieg tactics on Spain in preparation for his expansion into Europe. The famous Picasso painting of the German bombing of Spanish civilians at Guernica would foreshadow the horrors awaiting a Europe that had turned it’s back on Spain.

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