A Mockumentary About General Franco

I.

A few weeks ago, I saw a National Geographic documentary about Franco, in their series about dictators. They had just shown one on that channel about Mussolini, which was simplistic, but acceptable. When they announced this one about Franco, I stuck around to watch. I started perplexed, I continued indignant, and I ended hilarious with laughter – because it is actually quite difficult to put together so many inaccuracies, lies, misrepresentations and nonsense.

But as this type of product is precisely what forms the consciences of the semi-enlightened population, which is the scourge of our time (you only have to see a session of the Congress of Deputies), the matter must be taken very seriously. After all, the little that most Spaniards today know about our own history is what they tell us there. And even worse – it is precisely the version that the Spanish left wants to impose on us by law. Interesting, this convergence of the media-financial oligarchy and the cultural left. But let’s get on with Franco.

Something that was surprising as soon as the documentary began was the limited number of specialists who contributed their knowledge and insight. The only historian with a known work on Franco was Paul Preston, which is not exactly an example of balance. The rest of the specialists turned out to be, if Spaniards, people linked to the groups of the socialist “historical memory,” and if foreigners, likely notable professors at home, but completely unknown in the extensive bibliography on Franco and the Franco regime. Plowing with such oxen, it could already be assumed that the furrow was not going to come out very straight.

Right off the bat – National Geographic informed us that Spain is the second country in the world, after Cambodia, with the highest number of mass graves, which is attributable to Franco, naturally. Source of authority: Amnesty International. But this, as everyone should know by now, is a lie. And the author of this whopper is Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Arias, who has confessed his falsehood (by the way, he did not tell Amnesty International, but a group of people working for the UN).

Within those non-existent graves more than 114,000 disappeared. But this, which the National Geographic piece gives as fact, is also a lie. This figure corresponds to a highly debatable estimate of forced disappearances of children and adults between July 1936 and December 1951, and no doubt many of them were victims of postwar repression. But there is no documentary evidence of the fate of the vast majority of them. From here, however, the narrative framework of the documentary is established – what they are going to tell us is the life of a criminal named Francisco Franco.

A Morocco That Did Not Exist

A veritable criminal – a self-conscious subject, clinging to an intransigent Catholicism, who found in war a channel to give way to his psychological problems. What war? That of Morocco, in whose savagery Franco acquires a taste for “killing his own people,” as we are repeatedly told in this documentary. It is interesting to note how the National Geographic depicts the war in Morocco – as a barbarous exercise of cruelty upon the civilian population, where Franco’s soldiers cut off ears and noses and raped wildly. Is that true?

That war, as every Spanish should know, was not a war of Spain against Morocco, but of Spain (and the Sultan of Morocco) against the rebellious tribes of the Rif. Spain acted there as a “protective” power, and, consequently, had in its ranks thousands of Moroccan soldiers. That is the origin of our troops of regulars, with their red hats, their white capes and their majestic marching formation.

The only function of our army in that Morocco was to control the territory and, therefore, to dominate the Kabyles in Rif who occasionally rose up here and there, so that, in effect, the civilian population was frequently crushed, with the caveat that, equally frequently, in an “irregular” war like that one was, it is rarely possible to distinguish the civilian population from combatants.

But what about all those mutilations and ears and cut-off, and so on? First of all, there is a single photo of legionaries displaying the heads of Riffians. But this photo must be put in context. After the Annual disaster (1921), where the Rif Kabyles annihilated some 11,000 Spaniards (3,000 of them of Moroccan origin), the rebels indulged in a savage orgy of blood.

When the Spaniards recovered places like Monte Arruit or Zeluan, they found that their companions had been tortured, mutilated and burned alive. From then on, it is true that certain units did practice an eye for an eye. But the implicit message of the documentary – raised in such a terrible “school,” Franco became a kind of bloodthirsty beast. But, despite all that, what was Franco’s real part in this story?

Franco – National Geographic tells us – had arrived in Morocco as an officer of the “Regiment of Africa,” where he remained for his entire military career. The fact is Franco was only in a regiment called “Africa” at the beginning of his stay in Morocco, under the command of Colonel Villalba Riquelme, and he did not last more than a year, as he immediately asked to be transferred to the Regulars, and then by 1920 to the newly formed Spanish Legion.

However, the name “Regiment of Africa” remains unchanged throughout the documentary to designate the entire Army of Africa. And thus, we are informed that in 1936, the 30,000 “Moors” of the “Regiment of Africa” came over into Spain. With such figures, it must have been the largest regiment of all time. The documentary, however, is not characterized by the love of accurate detail.

By the way, in that Army of Africa (which is its real name, and not that of “regiment”) there were more Spaniards than Moroccans: 19,624 of the former, 15,287 of the latter. But all that is not of interest for a story like that of National Geographic, where the only objective is to show Franco as the criminal leader of a horde of murderous Moors, looters and rapists, in the same way that established the war propaganda of the Popular Front. Yes, the story oozes blatant anti-Moroccan racism. Is there a progressive lawyer in the room who wants to file a hate crime complaint? A guaranteed win.

The Imaginary Republic

There’s more. It is very funny to see how the documentary next moves to tell us about the advent of the Second Republic. Basically, we are told that the people were not against the Crown, but against Alfonso XIII. As an argument to explain historical change, it is astonishingly frivolous.

Then we are told that, with the fall of the monarchy, a democracy with constitutional guarantees and freedom of the press dawned in Spain, a democracy voted by “men and women all together.”

Let’s see now. First, men and women could not vote “all together,” because until 1933, there was no female suffrage in Spain for legislative elections (and this was because of the opposition of a large part of the left that did not want to grant the vote to women). As for the “constitutional guarantees,” the truth is that during almost the entire Second Republic, such guarantees were suspended, first by the Law of Defense of the Republic and later by the Law of Public Order of 1933, both arising from the imaginings of Azaña.

The Constitution of the Second Republic was only really in force for more than a few months, in the period from its approval in December 1931 to the end of the Civil War in 1939. Preston knows that, but he doesn’t care. And we know you don’t care. I’m afraid National Geographic doesn’t care either. But that reality doesn’t spoil a good story for you, right? Even if it’s a documentary.

And what did happen during that Republic? The National Geographic speaks, yes, of the furious anti-Catholic wave that shook the left, and does not mute the shock of the burning of convents in 1931. But Preston explains it all to us immediately: “In the churches there were golden altars while the people were starving.”

So those people, deep down, deserved what happened to them, right? It is the only time that the documentary talks about religious persecution. It does not say a word about the genocide – which was perpetrated by the Popular Front at the beginning of the Civil War. It is not interested because that might mean that Franco actually had some valid reason to revolt.

More grist in the mill: the documentary talks about the 1934 revolution in Asturias and presents it as a trade union conflict. Not a word about the involvement of the PSOE in the matter, nor about the failure of the uprising in other places (Madrid, for example) nor about the simultaneous separatist uprising in Catalonia.

Of course, it tells us immediately that Franco and “his Moors” were sent to quell the “union protest,” and they did so with the bloodthirsty spirit that characterized them. Not a word about the army of 30,000 armed men that socialists, communists, and anarchists had fitted with arms taken from the Trubia factory and who intended to march on Madrid.

For all that, Franco, did not set foot in Asturias. He was in the capital, on the General Staff, summoned by the (legitimate) Government of the Republic. But that, once again, does not matter. What matters is to blare out the message that Franco massacred “his own people.” The victims of the revolutionaries were not people, apparently.

Thrown at full speed into the void, the National Geographic script informs us that 30,000 prisoners of the Asturian revolt were deported to Africa. Nothing less. I confess that it is the first time in my life that I have heard such a thing. I knew that in 1932 a hundred anarchists were confined to Africa, but that was obviously for other crimes, and also by order of Azaña.

In fact, no one knows exactly how many people were arrested and kept in prison after the 1934 revolution. Why? Because the figures of the repression were exaggerated by the left for propaganda purposes; and then, when the left won in 1936, it was the left itself which obstructed any commission of inquiry. And the fact is that the repression of 1934, although it endured and in some cases was even savage, was far wide of the legend that the Popular Front created. But exactly that is the legend that National Geographic assumes to be historical truth. The way in which the documentary leads us to 1936 is just hideous.

II.

While some charitable soul might want to keep count of the consciences affected by this monstrosity, let’s continue gutting the documentary that National Geographic (via Movistar) has dedicated to Franco in its series, Dictator’s Playbook. We have already seen that its version of the war in Morocco and the advent of the Republic is simply fallacious. The rest of history is yet far falser.

Basically, what the documentary tells us is that Spain was a full democracy that the left had won – not a word about the proven electoral fraud of February, nor about the violence of the spring of 1936-, to the chagrin of the landowners, the bishops and the generals. What was that left like? The documentary doesn’t tell us. The only thing that it does tell us is that the new government did not trust many generals and chose to remove them. From that moment on, the documentary speaks of the “exiled generals” as the main engines of the conspiracy. Wait… Exiles?

As far as I know, only Sanjurjo was exiled after his failed coup in 1932 (which Franco, by the way, did not join). The rest had been taken to distant destinations (Franco to the Canary Islands, Goded to the Balearic Islands). But exiles? Perhaps in the National Geographic they ignore the fact that the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands are Spanish territory? So this is geography, according to the National Geographic…

But let’s continue with the generals. Because the reality is that, at the time of the Uprising, the majority of the generals preferred to join the Popular Front. Nor does the National Geographic documentary say a word about the murder of Calvo Sotelo, which was decisive for Franco – like many others – in joining the uprising. The story limits everything to Franco’s concern for the threats looming over the Church. It is not a lie, but obviously it is not the whole truth either.

Ruthless Butcher

More caricature… the National Geographic version of Franco’s proclamation as head of the national camp is, quite simply, hilarious. It is difficult to gloss a version in which nothing is true. Therefore, let us limit ourselves to summarizing what actually happened. In a militarily precarious, politically uncertain and economically desperate situation, and seeing the damage that the division of power was causing on the other side, the rebels decided to choose a single leadership. It should have been Sanjurjo, but he died in a plane crash.

Against the opposition of the generals, most closely linked to the republican order, such as Queipo and especially Cabanellas, the majority of the leaders chose Franco as their political and military leader. Why? For his service record and for his good external contacts. Franco’s supporters also made sure that the leadership included command over the entire nascent state. Not everyone liked it, but they all folded. And everything else is literature.

The documentary says that Franco deviated from his route to Madrid to liberate the Alcázar of Toledo, instead of dedicating those troops to the capture of the capital. For what reasons? For propaganda purposes. Old story. It has always caught my attention that, when this episode is recounted, no one realizes that, besieging the apparently irrelevant Alcazar, there were also a good number of Popular Front troops (15,500 militiamen), and that they did not come to Madrid either, but stayed around their goal.

The Alcázar was so important to the Popular Front that Largo Caballero had himself portrayed disguised as a militiaman, at the head of his hosts, marching against the Toledo enemy. Of course, it was a propaganda goal. Everyone wanted to take it.

And the war? Well, the fact is, Franco won it. The documentary admits only once that Franco was effective, but immediately adds the qualifier “ruthless.” It just won’t do that the “evil general” was a good professional. As Preston and his boys tell us, the Popular Front lost the war because the Soviet Union withdrew its military support.

But the truth is that this did not happen until the fall of 1938, and in fact it would not be fully verified until February of 1939. By then the war was already over, after the collapse of the Popular Front at the Battle of the Ebro.

In any case, the National Geographic account has little interest in any of this – its narrative focuses on explaining that Franco (and “his Moors”) went from city to city murdering people. “Massacring his own people,” which is the “heart-rending” message of the documentary. Of the people who died on the other side, not a peep.

Tons Dead And Stolen Children

The documentary gives as fact the figure of 450,000 victims of the Civil War. It is very reckless. To date, no one is in a position to say with total precision how many people died in our war, either in combat or as a result of repression, and only by approximation can we get an idea of the victims of the subsequent repression (this one, yes, attributable to the Franco regime). Why is it so difficult to get the exact number of victims? For multiple reasons.

At the time, no one had a national ID card, which is an invention of 1944. Many of the censuses and registers were burned by the “revolutionary justice” during the first months of the war, both in official buildings and in churches that burned completely (because in the churches there weren’t just the “golden altars” that Preston talks about). There are also numerous examples of people who changed their identities after the war, of people who appear repeatedly in several lists of victims, even of people who appear as victims of one side and on the other at the same time.

Approximate and provisional figures? Some 140,000 fallen in combat, to which must be added around 60,000 victims of the Red Terror and around 80,000 victims of the repression of the victors (until 1959). Those are the ones that more or less generate some consensus. No, not 450,000 deaths. And the once famous “million dead,” as everyone should know by now, does not refer to the actual dead, but adds up the number of births that would have occurred under normal conditions and that the war situation thwarted.

Regarding figures, the documentary supports the thesis of the 300,000 “children stolen” by the dictatorship, a completely absurd thesis that, once again, has been objectively refuted by reality: the case of Inés Madrigal, decided in court in July 2019, showed that this woman, as a child, was not stolen, but voluntarily given up for adoption. And it is relevant because it is the only case – the only one – that has come to trial. The others have not even passed first muster. But this also does not matter. What National Geographic tells us, in the approach inaugurated by former judge Garzón, is that the Franco regime designed a system to snatch their children from pregnant Republican prisoners and give them to families addicted to the regime. Is this true? Is it a lie?

Let’s see. The Franco regime, after the war, chose to give up the children of female prisoners for adoption, but that was a common practice at the time and continues to be so today in many countries (the United States, for example). The same happened with war orphans. In addition, there is the issue of the “children of war” who were deported by the Popular Front to other European countries to keep them away from the war and who immediately found that the war was reaching them. These children were returned to Spain and in many cases their parents were not found.

And then there is, finally, the issue of children given birth by mothers with problems (or without them) and given up for adoption in an irregular way. It is these cases that fed the suspicion of a plot, but, in general, these are events that happened long after the end of the war, happened even in the post-Franco era. If we mix everything with everything and dispense with documentary support, the hypothesis that the Franco regime set up an organized plot to abduct children can emerge, but that falls as soon as one asks for proof that such a plot actually existed. So far, the proof has not been shown and is not likely to be shown. So, everything is a lie. But trying telling that to the National Geographic.

And So We Come To Delirium

For the audacious makers of the documentary, this matter of the supposed “stolen children” serves to establish a surprising thesis, namely – Franco – they say – implemented a system of social engineering (sic) to raise young fanatics who were those kids stolen from their mothers. Any Spaniard who has lived at the time knows that this is an invention (and also very recent). But there are fewer and fewer compatriots who can attest to it, so, once again, National Geographic does not care. And so it goes.

Naturally, and to ensure that nothing is lacking in the repertoire of topics, the documentary tells us that the Valley of the Fallen was built with “slave labor” of political prisoners (Republicans). It is suggested that they were sentenced to forced labor.

As this is a fallacy that no longer holds water, in the same documentary an archaeologist from the CSIC shows up immediately afterwards, and without fear of contradiction, to explain to us that it was actually a penalty redemption system that allowed the inmate to reduce five years of condemnation for each year of work, and that is why many asked for such voluntarily labor. “But not because they liked it, but because the other was worse,” adds the archaeologist immediately, in case we had not understood. Nor does the National Geographic tell us, of course, that in addition to reducing sentences, these prisoners received a salary, and that the inmates were only a small part of the personnel who worked in the Valley. But the script could not put up with any more contradictions.

Is there more? Of course. The learned scriptwriters at National Geographic maintain that Franco froze (sic) Spain for forty years, and they illustrate this assertion with strident images of an eighteenth-century float going around a bullring. It is remarkable because, however you look at it, those forty years were the time of the greatest socioeconomic transformation that Spain has experienced in its entire history, including the last four decades in democracy. Here’s data from the National Statistics Institute on productive sectors:

At the height of 1940, the primary sector (agriculture) occupied 50% of the population, the secondary (industry) 22% and the tertiary (services) 28%, proportions very similar to those of ten and twenty years ago.

But on Franco’s death, in 1975, these proportions were, in approximate figures, 22%, 37% and 36% respectively.

So, Spain had become an industrial country. That is not to mention many other changes that any Spaniard over 55 years of age may remember as part of their own life: the impressive growth of GDP in the 1960s, home ownership, paid vacations, Social Security, the practical disappearance of illiteracy, etc. Or the nationalization of Telefónica, Movistar’s mother company, which is the television platform where National Geographic broadcasts (what a world…).

Regarding illiteracy, the National Geographic documentary, to support its own fallacy of a “frozen Spain,” ends by telling us that the first democratic elections after 1975, which were the 1977 legislative elections, were won by “the left wing.” In other words, Spain, as soon as the terrible tyrant died (as an old man and in his bed, in a public hospital), returned to the Popular Front.

The truth is that in those elections between the UCD of Suárez and the AP of Fraga (both, by the way, Franco’s ministers) garnered about 8 million votes, while the PSOE, the PCE of Carrillo and the PSP of Tierno Galván did not reach that figure. In subsequent legislative sessions, in 1979, the proportions were very similar. Where is the “left wing?” Who the hell documented this documentary?

I better stop, because there is no reason to bore nice people. There is only one question: What have we done to deserve this?

One last note: the head of National Geographic is a man named Gary Knell, who ran the Sesame Street production company for many years and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a famous think-tank linked to the Rockefellers and entirely devoted, for over a century now, to providing intellectual ammunition for US foreign policy and what is called “global governance.”

Perhaps it is just coincidence that the general tone of National Geographic historical documentaries always, always conveys the idea of European guilt in all the ills of the world. And how can these people be interested – you may wonder – that the ultra-left version prevails about Franco and the History of Spain? The answer is so interesting that it deserves another article. There’s no room for it now. But maybe you have already drawn your own conclusions.

José Javier Esparza, journalist, writer, has published around thirty books about the history of Spain. He currently directs and presents the political debate program “El gato al agua,” the dean of its genre in Spanish audiovisual work.

The image shows a self-portrait by general Francisco Franco.

Miguel de Unamuno vs. Alejandro Amenábar

After two box office successes, The Sea Inside and The Others, followed by two commercial failures, Agora and Regression, and a series of advertising films, notably for La Loteria Nacional, the Spanish director of Chilean origin, Alejandro Amenábar, returns in cinematographic news with a feature film about the start of the Spanish Civil War. While at War (in French release, Letter to Franco), is a film well put together and remarkably well-served by the performance of the main actor, Karra Elejalde, but whose crippling defect is to claim to be based on works of serious historians when it is pure fiction.

Centered on the figure of Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), an illustrious Basque-Spanish philosopher, linguist, poet and playwright of the Generation of 98, whom some consider to be the most significant Spanish intellectual of the turn of the 20th century, the film strives to show that the rector of the University of Salamanca was unable to understand the military coup of July 18, 1936 correctly, that he lacked foresight, and that he did not understand the real intentions of the insurgents.

According to Amenábar, Unamuno was saved in extremis for posterity, thanks to his late realization and then enormous courage during the critical speech against the national camp given at the Paraninfo (large amphitheater) of the University of Salamanca, in front of Brigadier-General Millán-Astray, the famed founder of the Spanish Foreign Legion, a war cripple (one-eyed, one-armed and lame), and a luminary among university and military officials.

The incident occurred on October 12, 1936, Columbus Day, or Día de la Raza (a day marking “Hispanity”), a holiday that commemorates the discovery of America and the birth of the new cultural identity born from the fusion of indigenous peoples of the New World and peoples of Spain. Miguel de Unamuno was, it should be remembered, the first author to suggest using the word “Hispanity” (Hispanitatem) in an article entitled, “Sobre la argentinidad,” published by La Nación de Buenos Aires, March 11, 1910.

The highlight of the film is obviously the mythical version of the incident when the philosopher and the general met. Amenábar largely, if not almost exclusively, bases his view on the Biography of Miguel de Unamuno that the French Hispanists, Colette and Jean-Claude Rabaté, published in 2009 at Taurus (a publishing house which is part of the Santillana Group, itself close to the newspaper El País, one of the most loyal supporters of the PSOE governments).

From their account of Unamuno’s speech, Amenábar retains, adds or moves a few sentences, no doubt in the name of artistic freedom. According to the two French Hispanists on whose work the film is based, Unamuno declared on this occasion: “We talked about international war in defense of Western Christian civilization; a civilization that I have defended myself on many occasions. But today it is only an ‘uncivil’ war … (between the supporters of fascism and bolshevism, Amenábar here adds).”

Directly referring to the words of one of the speakers, the professor of literature, Francisco Maldonado, Unamuno also said: “I take it personally when it is assumed that the explosion against the Basque and Catalans qualifies as anti -Spain; with such reasoning they could also say the same thing about us… Spain is nothing more than a madhouse.”

Foaming with rage, in particular after Unamuno’s allusion to the Filipino national hero, José Rizal, against whom General Millán-Astray had fought in his youth, the founder of the Spanish Legion (Tercio de Extranjeros) got up, shouting “Long live death! Death to intellectuals!”

And, ever-unflappable, the old philosopher replied at once: “Here, it is the temple of intelligence and I am its high priest. You desecrate this sacred place. You may win because you have the necessary brute force, but you will not win. To convince, you have to persuade, and to persuade you need something you don’t have for the fight: reason and being right… I have said what I came to say!”

This admirable and courageous speech in the film, however, is pure literary invention. Obviously, Amenábar did not bother to read a small footnote included in the book by Rabatés, which says the following: “There is no written or engraved record of this famous exchange. We took the liberty of reconstructing Unamuno’s possible speech from notes scribbled by him.”

The primary source is about thirty words feverishly penciled by the philosopher on the back of an envelope: “international war; western Christian civilization, independence, overcoming and convincing, hatred and compassion, Rice Rizal, concave and convex, struggle, unity, Catalans and Basques, language imperialism, hate intelligence which is critical, which is examination and differentiation, investigative curiosity and not being inquisitive.”

If Amenábar had been more rigorous and better informed, he would have compared the mythical version with the most balanced testimonies of the academic personalities then present. There could also have been a warning before the credits. The personalities present in the audience, such as the writer, José Maria Pemán; the deputy of the Republic, future Minister of Education of Franco, Pedro Sainz Rodríguez; the jurist and political theorist, Eugenio Vegas Latapié; the psychiatrist, José Pérez-López Villamil; and the vice-rector, Esteban Madruga, along with the writers, journalists and historians, well-known throughout Spain, such as, Emilio Salcedo, Ximenéz de Sandoval, Víctor Ruiz de Albéniz, Alfonso Lazo, Luis E. Togores and Guillermo Rocafort, to name a few. All of them stressed the fallacious character of the remarks put in the mouth of Unamuno.

But it is even more regrettable that Amenábar did not deem it useful to refer to the final works of the librarian of the University of Salamanca, Severiano Delgado Cruz, published in 2019, under the title, Arqueología de un mito: el acto del 12 October in el paraninfo de la Universidad de Salamanca. And all the more so since the main Spanish media (including the newspapers ABC and El País in their editions of May 7-8 and May 27, 2018) have largely echoed the filmmaker.

At the end of a long and patient research, Severiano Delgado Cruz was able to clearly affirm that Millán-Astray never said, “Death to the intellectuals” – but rather, “Muera la intelectualidad traidora” (Death to traitorous intellectualism) and that Miguel de Unamuno, who focused his brief speech on compassion, did not answer him in such an indignant and haughty tone.

It was, according to Delgado, a mundane exchange, followed by the usual uproar that accompanied speeches of the 1930s during which people were easily fired up. There was no solemn retort or arms brandished to threaten the rector. “The meeting was dissolved in the midst of shouts and bluster.” Nor were there “the cries of harsh severity” of Francoism, such as, “Arriba España,” (“Spain over all”), “España, grande” (Greater Spain), and “España, libre” (Free Spain). Millán-Astray asked the old professor to go out on Madame Franco’s arm (and not by taking her hand as in the film).

The philosopher and Carmen Polo Franco, accompanied by Mgr Pla y Deniel, Bishop of Salamanca, and three soldiers from the general’s personal guard, then headed for the door. Before getting into the official car, in which Madame Franco was already seated, Unamuno shook hands with Millán-Astray and the two men took leave of one another. (A photo published in El Adelanto de Salamanca dated of October 13, 1936 attests to this fact).

It also appears that Unamuno did not attach any particular importance to this incident because he did not change his routine. As usual, after his meal, he went to the “Casino” for coffee. And it was then that members and adherents of this cultural club – civilians and not soldiers – insulted and booed him.

The legend of the “Paraninfo Incident” came into being, as Delgado demonstrates, in 1941, when Luis Portillo wrote a fictional narrative entitled, “Unamuno’s Last Lecture,” for the London magazine, Horizons. This young teacher from Salamanca, who was employed by the BBC, had worked in Valencia on behalf of the Information Office of the Government of the Spanish Republic.

In his literary recreation, Portillo voluntarily emphasized Millán-Astray’s brutality towards Unamuno, extolling the dignified and courageous attitude of the intellectual, who dared to oppose the infamous military leader. But the myth did not really take hold until later, when Portillo’s account was taken up, uncritically, by historian, Hugh Thomas, in his world-famous book, The Spanish Civil War / La guerre de Espagne (1961).

Unamuno’s enormous international prestige protected him from any repressive or coercive measures. But the brief quarrel was not without consequences. The Municipal Corporation of Salamanca met the same day to propose that his duties as a municipal councillor be terminated. On October 16, the Governing Council of the University of Salamanca asked for his dismissal from the rectorate. General Franco announced his dismissal on October 22.

Ironically, Unamuno had also been successively dismissed from the vice-rectorate for antimonarchism and insults to the king in 1924, then appointed rector by the Republic, then dismissed again by the Popular Front government for joining the national uprising (this was the purge of university professors ordered by the decree of 23 August 1936 by Manuel Azaña) – and then finally he was quickly reappointed by the National Defense Committee, but again dismissed on October 16.

The institutional vacuum having been created around him, Unamuno, whose precarious health became increasingly shaky, then lived on as a recluse, until his death on December 31, 1936, at the age of 72.

At the end of the film, Amenábar suggests that after his acquiescence, even his “redemption,” the old philosopher at last and finally distanced himself from the National Movement, fiercely criticizing the actions of the military and their right-wing civilian supporters. But Amenábar’s expeditious conclusion has nothing to do with historical truth.

The initial enthusiasm of Unamuno for the insurgent camp clearly cooled in the light of information that reached him about the repression exerted in the rear-guard, which was ultimately quite similar to that which occurred in the camp of the Popular Front. Especially since close friends, like Casto Prieto, Republican mayor of Salamanca; José Manso, Socialist deputy; or Atilano Coco, Protestant pastor and mason, had been victims.

But that said, with a spirit that was free, independent, stubborn, rebellious, fond of justice and reason, eager to reconcile progress with the best of tradition, Unamuno continued to oppose, head-on, the government of the Popular Front (and not to the Republic). He criticized very severely the extrajudicial executions of the two camps, the curse of los (h)unos y los (h)otros (the Huns and the [H]others, i.e., both sides), the lack of compassion of the parties of the Right.

But, contrary to what Amenábar suggests, Unamuno supported, justified and legitimized the National uprising until his death. His interviews, letters and other documents after October 12, 1936 leave no room for doubt (see in particular the interviews with Jérôme Tharaud and Katzantzakis on October 20 and 21; then with Norenzo Giusso, on November 21; the letter to his translator, Maria Garelli, on November 21; the interview with Armando Boaventura at the end of December; or, the last lines of El resentimiento tragíco de la vida (the Tragic Bitterness of Life), written three days before his death, which are notes that should not be confused with his famous book, Tragic Sense of Life).

The press favorable to the Popular Front poured out torrents of insults against Unamuno. He was for them the “mad, bilious, cynical, inhuman, mean, impostor, and great traitor,” and even, the “spiritual inspirer of fascism.” The question was nevertheless perfectly clear to the old rector – it was “a struggle between civilization and anarchy… not a war between liberalism and fascism, but between Christian civilization and anarchy. What has to be saved in Spain is Western Christian civilization and national independence.”

Shortly before dying, he described “the red hordes” as “pathological phenomena, criminals and former criminals,” as “ferocious beasts,” who conspired “the barbarity of the Popular Front.” He said, “Franco is a good man and a great general.” He prophesied, “internal or external exile which awaited many intelligent and pure-hearted Spaniards.” And he admitted “his discouragement… I am disgusted with being a man.”

He went on to explain: “In this critical moment of suffering in Spain, I know that I must follow the soldiers. They are the only ones who will bring us order… I have not turned into a Rightist. Pay no attention to what is said. I have not betrayed the cause of freedom. But for the moment, it is absolutely essential that order be restored. After that, I can quickly rise up and get back into the fight for freedom. No, no, I am neither fascist nor Bolshevik. I am a loner.”

There are so many other errors or untruths in While at War, which deserve to be corrected. Here are some of the more egregious:

  1. The red and gold flag of the Spanish monarchy is associated with “fascism,” while the red, yellow and purple flag of the Republic is associated with “democracy.” In reality, in Salamanca, as in most regions of Spain, the insurgents left the barracks waving the tricolor of the Republic (except in Pamplona and Vitoria). The red and yellow flag became the official flag of the National zone only later, under decisive pressure from monarchical, Carlist and Alphonsine circles, and by decree of the National Defense Council of August 29, 1936.
  2. At the start of the film, an officer declares a state of war “with the help of God” which is quite incredible. In the National camp, the combat did not initially have its religious character of a crusade. That only happened after the failed military coup, when civilians mobilized on both sides, and transformed the into a civil war.
  3. Millán-Astray praises a Franco who is supposed to have had the luck to dodge all bullets during the African campaign. That is just ridiculous and grossly ignorant. Franco was seriously injured in the abdomen during a bayonet charge in June 1916. He was picked up from the ground and saved by a Moroccan soldier from corps of “regulars;” and for several days, his death was considered almost certain by his comrades in arms. Astray, who was a hothead and a fanatical patriot, was probably not as uneducated as they say. He wrote the prologue to the Spanish edition of Inazo Nitobé’s Bushido and collected most of the essential samurai precepts to write a code of the legionnaires.
  4. It is not clear if Unamuno gave 5,000 pesetas to finance the coup. The question is not clear.
  5. At Paraninfo, Unamuno was not seated at the far right of the conference table but in the center because he presided over the gathering as rector with Madame Franco and the Catalan bishop on his right and Pla y Deniel to his left.
  6. It was not the daughters of Unamuno who were present in the large amphitheater but his son, Rafael.
  7. The ambiguity of the connection between the Falangists and Unamuno is completely overlooked. The Falangists, rightly or wrongly, believed that the regenerationist theses of Unamuno were close to their own ideas. But the film prefers to emphasize the confrontations between members of the Falange and Unamuno, rather than to show the subtle connections that existed between them. Unamuno severely criticized the “fascism” of the National Trade Unionists or Falangistas and their repressive actions during the Spanish Civil War. Nevertheless, he always held in high esteem the head and founder of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who was then incarcerated in Alicante (whom he called “a privileged brain; may be the most promising in contemporary Europe,” in a letter to Lisandro de la Torre, August 1936). On February 10, 1935, Unamuno even received José Antonio at his home and went with him to that celebrated Falangist meeting held the same day in Salamanca. Some authors are also of the opinion that the controversies raised by this assistance caused him to be deprived of the Nobel Prize for literature the following year. On December 31, 1936, a young Falangist, Bartolomé Aragon, while visiting the old master, received his last words, his last sigh and who then informed the family of his death. It was also a Falangist intellectual, Victor de la Serna, who organized the funeral vigil at the University’s Paraninfo (because, despite his dismissal, Unamuno was considered by them to have died in the exercise of his office). Finally, during the burial, the coffin was carried by four Falangists.

I understand that these facts are embarrassing for the image of the philosopher that Amenábar wants to give. The filmmaker is convinced that the Spanish Civil War can be reduced to the Democrats’ struggle against fascism, to the people’s struggle against the army, the church and the bank – an interpretation which, after all, is not very different from that of the Komintern of the 1930s. Everyone is of course free to have their opinions.

But was the Spanish Popular Front really democratic? Therein lies the heart of the problem. In truth, in Spain in 1936, no one believed in liberal democracy. And certainly not the Lefts. The revolutionary myth, which was shared by the entire Left, was that of the armed struggle. Liberal democracy was seen by the Bolshevized Socialist Party (whose leader, Largo Caballero, was the “Spanish Lenin” for the socialist youth), by the Communist Party and by the Anarchists, only as a means to achieve their ends – “popular democracy,” or the socialist state. The liberal-Jacobin Left, secularist, dogmatic and sectarian, dominated by the personality of Manuel Azaña, had engaged in the Socialist uprising of October 1934 (against the government of the radical Alejandro Lerroux, whose moderate party was supported by the a large number of Freemasons) – and it did not believe in democracy either.

It is not surprising therefore that the most prestigious Spanish intellectuals of the time, liberals and democrats, such as, Gregorio Marañon, José Ortega y Gasset and Ramón Pérez de Ayala, the “founding fathers of the Republic,” who had founded, in 1931, the “Agrupación al servicio de la República” (a group of intellectuals who defended the Republic), rallied, like Unamuno, to the cause of the National camp.

In conclusion, being a supporter of a politically correct globalism, representative of a technically successful cinema but always more predictable and more conformist, Amenábar declared, during the presentation of his film, that he also wanted to refer to the present and call the attention of the viewers to the dangers of the resurgence of extremism, fascism and populism.

I bet that Miguel de Unamuno, both Basque and Spanish, a Christian philosopher, a liberal, democrat and a man with a big heart, would have called for more measure, nuance, rationality and mutual respect. He could thus have given Amenábar a few lines from his Tragic Sense of Life: “Every individual in a people who conspires to break the spiritual unity and continuity of that people tends to destroy it and to destroy himself as a part of that people… for me the becoming other than I am, the breaking of the unity and continuity of my life, is to cease to be he who I am—that is to say, it is simply to cease to be. And that—no! Anything rather than that!”

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The image shows, “Don Miguel de Unamuno (with a View of Salamanca), by J. Solana, painted ca. 1935-1936.

The Films Of Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky made seven full-length films, as well as a few short ones. His work full participates in the grand tradition of Russian film established by people such as Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin.

As such, Tarkovsky’s films have a character that is uniquely visionary, while imbued with history, especially evident in his epic “Andrei Rublev” which portrays the life of the famous monk and icon painter, who strives to create beauty in the harsh brutality of the Mongol invasion of Russia. Given his ability to use history, it is not surprising that Russian authorities saw his films as works of dissent. This led to great hostility to his work and inevitable censorship; and worst of all, neglect. He died in exile in Paris 1986.

Tarkovsky’s films also show a marked use of dream sequences that resonate with deep meaning, and serve as symbolic reference points for the entire film itself.

In one sense the dreams that these films present serve to subvert the entire construction of reality that is being portrayed; and this subversion is made evident by the juxtaposition of the dreams as the ideal, while the mundane is represented as brutal, cruel, and senseless.

As well, there is the important distinction to be made in the conflict that this juxtaposition raises, namely, the very Russianness of the dreams and the prevalence of western ideas in the mundane reality within which these dreams occur.

It is important to bear in mind that Russian culture is replete with this western/eastern conflict, wherein the identity of Russia itself is marked.

The question again and again asked is this – is Russia fundamentally eastern or western. Tarkovsky’s dream sequences in his films address this fundamental question. Thus, dreams in Tarkovsky’s film fulfill two notions: they are a representation of the ideal, and they address the issue of Russia’s identity.

The immediate impression that one receives while watching a Tarkovsky film is the manner in which the quintessential image of Russia is blended with a ready acceptance of everything that is western.

We are presented with actions, faces, words, suffering, and deprivation. This is the mundane aspect of any Tarkovsky film. Against this immediate backdrop is the dream, which in fact is really a memory, a recurrent nostalgia for a way of life that has long vanished, or perhaps never existed.

This is what makes these dream sequences ideal – in that they are mythic, and they partake in mythic structures, in that they present an often “heroic” hyper-reality, which functions as a commentary of the actual reality of the characters in the film.

This is especially evident in Tarkovsky’s early films, such as “Ivan’s Childhood,” and “Mirror,” where he explores the sustaining power of both nature and the Russian tradition.

It is also interesting to note that in these two early films this ideal setting is dominated by the figure of the mother. These films are idyllic pastorales that also expound the ideology of “Mother Russia:” the vast stretches of forests, simple peasants, and domed churches. Thus, dreams are an attempt to capture the lost moment, the perfect harmony that once existed, but is now vanished, and can only be captured in dreams.

This need to dream becomes essential to the verity of the film because there is only bleakness otherwise; and this bleakness is the result of love, either for another person or the land, that is, Mother Russia; and this love is a continual heartbreak.

There is an absurdity to this love, because this love can absorb pain and can also share out joy. In “Ivan’s Childhood” and “Mirror” we see this love being demonstrated in the mother figure that animates both these films with love, sacrifice, as well as vulnerability. Thus, dreams are feminine, just as Russia is seen as the “motherland” rather than the “fatherland.”

The same process is evident in “Solaris” where we meet Kris Kelvin’s mother, who properly has little relevance to the plot of the film, but represents the capacity to dream. It is important, therefore, to bear in mind that dreams are also catalytic – they allow for existence despite the harshness and the unyielding bleakness.

In effect, for Tarkovsky, dreams are akin to memories and reminiscences, and all three crowd his films, and serve as forces of coherence and order. Thus, dreams are also an attempt to bring order to chaos. It is chaos that pervades the characters lives in Tarkovsky’s films. When they dream they seek to fashion this chaos into a semblance of order; and that order is minutely married to the ideal and idyllic Mother Russia.

Dreams, then, become a commentary on the familiar by way of memory, which in turn is an idealized projection. Thus, there is a sense of otherness to the dreams in Tarkovsky’s films. This otherness inhabits the subconscious, which is often ignored, given the demands of daily reality.

However, Tarkovsky uses dreams to bring about self-realization and the possibility of authenticity. Dreams, in effect, bring wholeness and completeness, because they link the fragmented self with the wholeness of the past – and this past can only be ideal because it is complete.

Thus, the characters dream in order to become whole. Similarly, they also remember and hallucinate, which are no more than extended paradigms for the perfected, ideal dream world.

This contrast between reality and the dream leads to a film that does not have a linear plot, nor does a Tarkovsky film fulfill stereotypical expectations. Rather, his films are elliptical and often “intellectual” and are therefore often deemed as obscure.

This is best described by his method of making films in different languages, such as “Nostalgia,” which is partly in Italian, and “Sacrifice,” which is partly in Swedish. This use of different languages also mirrors the nature of dreams – because the mixing of languages follows a process similar to dreams.

Thus, Russian is placed within the context of Italian or Swedish, which is certainly a jarring experience. Similarly, a dream is placed with the context of mundane reality, with equally jarring consequences. What we perceive as normal is in fact informed by the unexpected and the unusual.

People speak Swedish or Italian in a Russian film because they trail a different set of values, cultures, and a different history. And on an individual level, dreams allow us to access different values and cultures, and even history.

Thus, the dissonance is not with the juxtaposition, but it is with the context – what we expect is not what we often get. And this is the jarring fact of modern life.

In effect, dreams become a commentary on modernity itself. Society, which should provide us with solace and comfort, in fact isolates us and therefore fragments us, so that we become little more than individuals who can only respond to what lies outside of us, rather than becoming controllers of our own lives.

It is this process of action and reaction, which is so much a definition of modern life, that Tarkovsky’s dream sequences seek to address and understand.

Given this penchant for using dreams in this way, it is easy to charge Tarkovsky with being too allegorical and perhaps too obscurely moody.

For example, we have the horses appearing at the beginning and the end of “Andrei Rublev; there is the ticker-tape sequence in the last cathedral scene in “Nostalgia;” or the scattering of paper at the end of “Ivan’s Childhood.”

These sequences are exactly what dreams are all about, or why Swedish and Italian are spoken in a Russian film. They are part of the dream world that Tarkovsky wants to create; and this dream world is often irrational, inexplicable, strange, obscure, and at puzzling. But we need to realize that dreams also contain depth of meaning, which can only be recovered by a process of realization.

As well, n “Sacrifice,” Tarkovsky’s last film, Alexander’s lengthy speeches can be construed as verbal dreams, especially since these speeches are placed within the context of scenes such as the fire and the lonely road.

Thus, dreams may complicate reality, but they also lead us away from the process of conditioned responses; and perhaps this is why dreams are difficult to understand, just as Tarkovsky is often difficult to understand.

However, this difficulty is also a very important aspect of dreams for Tarkovsky – for by making things difficult, Tarkovsky emphasizes the process of alienation that we feel in the modern world. Often, we are placed in contexts that we know nothing about. Often we are baffled by life, and what it all means.

Tarkovsky’s films mirror this alienation. His allegories and his wordiness show our own psyches at work – how we handle a complicated reality within which we must live our lives. Dreams attempt to make sense of the vast chaos that stretches before; they serve to integrate ourselves within ourselves.

Of course, they cannot integrate us within society – that is not Tarkovsky’s concern – because to do so would in effect create another dream. When a solution is offered as to how life should be lives, or how happiness, fulfilment can be achieved, we veer into propaganda, where struggle always leads to happiness and fulfilment.

But life is often harsher than that, and Tarkovsky wants to make sense of this harshness, and thereby soften it by cushioning it with memories, dreams and even hallucinations.

As well, dreams provide a metaphysical experience in that we move into an inner world of the characters, within the context of the outer world of history and politics and personal struggles.

This inner world is the realm of dreams, where narrative is subverted and lost time is remembered. This inner world also functions to highlight the perfectibility of the individual. However, whether this perfectibility is available to human beings is a question that cannot be addressed in Tarkovsky’s films because wide gap that lies between the world of dreams and the world of reality.

It is this gap that is the source of tension and lack that permeates and affects the characters in a film such as “Sacrifice,” especially Alexander, whose discourses can only be verbal dreams at best.

And his discourse stands in direct opposition to the flow of reality outside, such as the road, which leads forever onwards, but we cannot know to what ultimate destination. In the same way, the horses that bookend “Andrei Rublev” are allegories of the disruptive force of dreams, which barge into the passive flow of mundane reality with all of their escapism, their visions of perfectibility, and their allure of a pastoral, peaceful, and harmonious past.

As discourse, dreams become the lens through which society and the individual are read. They are not so much as wishful thinking, or repressed desire; rather they are a very real force, which can shed light on the disparity of life, and the process of alienation that is part of the modern experience.

It is for this very reason that dreams function as allegories. For example, “Ivan’s Childhood” is layered with many war stories. These stories do not function to give meaning to the larger plot; however, they do serve as allegories of perfectibility.

Through their lens we confront values such as loyalty, memory, and courage. These stories also serve to create a dream world, which is a combination of hallucination and reality, which is rather typical of Tarkovsky’s method.

This combination is reflected in the narrative as well, in that the mother often intervenes, as the war stories are being told. As well, we have the juxtaposition of Ivan’s child-like innocence and his ability to kill as a guerilla fighter.

Even here we see the particular combination of the ideal and the real – the child-like Ivan is also a seasoned killer. Perhaps this is why Ivan dreams of a hand in the beginning of the film, for a hand can both build and destroy.

In this way, Ivan as a character frequently crosses the boundaries between dream and reality, and thereby he justifies his own life, which is a complex unity of innocence and bloodshed.

Once when we are given perfectibility in dreams, we are therefore also shown a dis-junction between the inner and the outer worlds.

This is well portrayed in “Andrei Rublev,” here the religious fervor of the icon painter Rublev is juxtaposed with a harsh, medieval world that cares little for beauty and art.

The traditional icons underscore the process of perfectibility, where despite the disjunction that one experiences in the world outside, the inner world becomes a complex realm where wholeness and harmony can be achieved and the emptiness of the modern world thwarted.

 

The photo shows “The Former,” by Ivan Vladimirov, painted ca. 1919.