Baron Peter Wrangel: The Last White General

I recently wrote of the Finnish Civil War, where the Whites defeated the Reds. In the twentieth century, that pattern was unfortunately the exception, with the more common result being seen in the Russian Civil War of 1918–20, where the Russian Reds defeated the Russian Whites. That struggle, though not as forgotten as the Finnish Civil War, does not loom large in modern consciousness, and books on it are rare. This volume, the recently-reprinted war memoir of Peter Wrangel, probably the most successful and certainly the most charismatic of the White generals, addresses that gap. It also carries many lessons, including about what might occur in a twenty-first-century ideological civil war in a large country.

The Whites lost for more than one reason, including poor generalship, inability to work in a unified fashion, and betrayal by the Allies, particularly Britain. We will return to all of these as seen through Wrangel’s eyes. He was a Baltic German, born in 1878 in the Russian Empire, what is now Lithuania. Trained as a mining engineer, he volunteered for Imperial service, and became a cavalry officer in the prestigious Life Guards. He fought in the Russo-Japanese War, and then all through World War I, receiving numerous decorations for bravery. This book picks up in 1916, as the war dragged on for Russia, and as the Russian elite, corrupt and clueless, shattered upon the shoals of destiny.

Wrangel’s memoir, essentially an edited war diary, was first published in 1928, the year Wrangel died, serialized in German in a White émigré magazine. Translated into English the next year by one Sophie Goulston, it fell from view, but was republished in 1957. This second edition added a preface written by Herbert Hoover, but also fell from view. It is not obvious from within the pages of this book why Hoover wrote a preface. It is because when Wrangel died, probably by poison, at only forty-nine, all his papers were sent to the new Hoover War Library, which was aggregating information about the former empires of Europe.

Apparently, to this day the Hoover Archives harbors the single largest collection pertaining to Russian émigré documents, presumably still containing all of Wrangel’s documents. (They also contain much else interesting, such as the archives of the Tsar’s secret police, the Okhrana, a sadly ineffective body.) Thus, what is now the Hoover Institution must have had a connection to Always With Honor being republished in 1957.

Until very recently, therefore, this book was functionally unavailable to the public. You could buy a copy for hundreds of dollars, if you were lucky. But as I have noted before, a new publishing house, Mystery Grove Publishing, has been doing yeoman’s work in rescuing important books with a right-of-center tilt from the deliberate obscurity into which they have been placed, and this book made their list. True, most people today are frighteningly under-educated, so no doubt sales are not in the millions. It doesn’t matter for current purposes; reading the Mystery Grove books allows our future elite to self-educate, avoiding or repairing the indoctrination the Left has used to ruin America.

Other than Always with Honor, there appears to exist only one English-language biography of Wrangel, published in 2010: The White Knight of the Black Sea, by a Dutchman, Anthony Kröner. Although it was blurbed by the Hoover Institution, suggesting an ongoing connection, Kröner’s book is obscure and nearly impossible to obtain. After chasing down leads (Twitter is sometimes good for something), I was able to order a copy from a Dutch bookstore. But it just goes to show that even today, serious, mainstream books can become functionally unavailable – it’s not just books published decades ago.

General Wrangel in his famous black chokha, for which he was given the nickname, “the Black Baron” by the Reds.

If there is a defect to this book, it is that you have to know at least the basics about Russian history from 1914 through 1918 in order to understand its contents. Wrangel wrote for an audience that was intimately familiar with that history, and makes no effort to either explain events or introduce individuals; he merely drops them, uncoated, into his own personal story. Wrangel begins in 1916, when World War I had ground on for three years, and there was great turmoil at the top of Russian society.

He saw this first hand, because for a brief time he was aide-de-camp to the Tsar, leaving to return to the front right before Rasputin was killed. Although he only touches glancingly on Russian imperial politics, Wrangel seems to blame the Tsar for not seeing how corrupt many of the men surrounding him were, and for ignoring the needs of the people. He does not offer the details of what was happening as Russia came apart, merely a sketch, along with making two key points.

First, the generals, the High Command, increasingly felt that “things could not go on as they were,” and many sought a solution that involved removing the Tsar—and not only to serve Mother Russia. “Others, again, desired a revolution for purely personal reasons, hoping to find in it scope for their ambitions, or to profit from it and settle their accounts with such of the commanders as they hated.” That is to say, a fragmenting society finds many eager to accelerate the fragmentation. Second, the people as a whole, and the upper classes in particular, acted as if everything was normal, they paid “no heed to the approaching storm.” That is to say, apparent normalcy says nothing about whether a society is about to founder.

In early 1917, after the February Revolution, Wrangel was sent back to St. Petersburg by his superior to remonstrate with the new Minister of War, Alexander Guchkov, who was promoting disorder in the Army, mostly by undermining authority through promoting “democracy” in the Army, in the form of Communist-dominated “soldiers’ committees.”

Arriving in St. Petersburg (after having on the train thrashed a man with a red ribbon for insulting a woman), he was appalled to see the widespread disorder and profusion of Communist paraphernalia, most of all red ribbons and flags. Although officers not wearing a “red rag” were often attacked, Wrangel, all 6’ 7” of him, refused, and seems somewhat surprised nobody bothered him. Wrangel’s aim was to strengthen the Provisional Government’s hand against the expanding power of the “soviets,” that is, groups organized to seize power by the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and the Socialist Revolutionaries, but he discovered the truth for himself – the Provisional Government was utterly incompetent.

Wrangel in passing mentions meeting General Baron Mannerheim on a train, who was leaving St. Petersburg after the ascendancy of the Provisional Government, as Wrangel himself was returning to Petersburg. In fact, Wrangel’s career bears more than passing parallels to those of the Finnish hero. Both were born on the outskirts of the Empire and ably served the Tsar, then fought his enemies after he abdicated. Like Mannerheim, Wrangel was extremely competent and decisive. And both had little patience for politicians, less for bureaucrats, and struggled to balance political imperatives with military dictates. Mannerheim won his struggle against Communism, at least his first one, though, and Wrangel lost.

He describes, from a ground-level view, the struggle between the Provisional Government and the new Petrograd Soviet, including how the Bolsheviks, subsidized by Germany, rapidly expanded their power. It wasn’t just money—they seized whatever property they wanted to use, and the Provisional Government took no action against them.

The new government was eager to suppress the conservative press, but never bothered the left-wing press, which was openly treasonous. Sounds familiar. Guchkov, who had rejected Wrangel’s pleas, was replaced as Minister of War by Alexander Kerensky, and Wrangel went back to the front in June 1917, in what is now Ukraine, as part of Kerensky’s major summer offensive, which he hoped would unify the Russians.

It did not; the unrest Wrangel witnessed in St. Petersburg was merely the run-up to the “July Days,” where the Bolsheviks attempted to seize power and were defeated, but unwisely were not slaughtered. The commander-in-chief of the army, Lavr Kornilov, whom Wrangel knew, assaulted the Petrograd Soviet, in what may or may not have been a coup attempt against the Provisional Government. This failed, strengthening the Soviet.

The October Revolution soon followed, and Kornilov, escaping prison, went on to create the Volunteer Army, the largest military grouping of the Whites. Meanwhile, Wrangel had been discharged by the Provisional Government—he was, no doubt justifiably, regarded as completely politically unreliable. Thus, he went with his wife and four children to Yalta, in the Crimea, where he had a home.

Soon enough, though, war came to him. The postwar events in southern Russia are enormously complex. It was not just the struggle of the Reds to establish power, opposed by the gradually coalescing Whites, but also involved many other players, such as the Ukrainian Parliament, seeking independence but willing to cooperate with the Whites, seeing the Reds as joint enemies, and various Cossack groups, generally hostile to the Reds but desirous of managing their own affairs.

For the Whites, whose internal interactions often featured disunity, one point of unity was opposition to breaking up Russia. Thus, a constant challenge was how to fight side-by-side with groups opposed to maintaining the Russian Empire, or who wanted some degree of independence within the Empire. With the Cossacks, federation was a possibility, given history and their own organization; with the Ukrainians, not so much (as we see even today, though I know little about the modern specifics).

Wrangel joined the Volunteer Army, soon commanded by Anton Denikin. In Wrangel’s telling, much of the blame for ultimate White failure lies on Denikin, whom he faults for bad leadership and terrible strategic decisions, most of all requiring a premature march by all White forces on Moscow, in 1919. “We wanted to do too much and make ourselves master of every position at once, and we [succeeded] only in weakening ourselves and so becoming powerless.”

Wrangel also faults squabbling among the Whites, corruption among their leaders, and a lack of discipline among the men. He admits that “requisitioning” is necessary, but gives constant pained descriptions of how many White officers of all ranks simply engaged in organized looting for personal advantage, turning the Army into “a collection of tradesmen and profiteers.”

He also faults Denikin for inflexibility in coming to terms with the Cossacks and the Ukrainians. His relations with Denikin were further soured by third-party agitation for Wrangel to supplant Denikin. “As is usual in such cases, as one man was more and more discredited, another became dearer and dearer to the people. Unfortunately, this other was myself.”

One of Wrangel’s chief talents appears to have been as a judge of men. I cannot say if his portrait of Denikin is accurate, but it comports with what history I know, and the results Denikin achieved. Nearly every other important person with whom Wrangel meets is judged and given an incisive summary (and Wrangel admits where he made errors, as well).

Thus, in passing, Wrangel mentions that Captain Baron Ungern Stenberg, or simply ‘the Baron,’ as his troops called him, was more complex and interesting. He was of the type that is invaluable in wartime and impossible in times of peace.” This talent to judge men is completely invaluable in a Man of Destiny and completely inborn (though it can be polished with training); it also seems nonexistent in today’s American political leaders, perhaps because they have come to rely on money and the media to achieve their ends, rather than on forming a cohesive and dedicated group of men with the same objectives, on whom they can rely.

The main White armies, including the Volunteer Army, were largely defeated by early 1920. Again, this is an area I am not expert in, and one that does not have a lot of historiography directed at it, although I have ordered what appear to be the two main scholarly works on it, by Peter Kenez, written forty years ago. I don’t know why this is, though certainly most histories of Russia, or of the Russian Revolution, cover the Civil War to some degree. Wrangel then went into exile in Constantinople, and thus ends Part I of his memoir.

But by April 1920, he was back, after Denikin resigned and the remaining military commanders asked Wrangel to be Commander-in-Chief of the remnants of the Whites. Part II narrates two difficult tasks Wrangel had—trying to reverse military defeat while achieving political renewal. His hope was that if he could achieve both, and establish stable White rule in Taurida (the Russian province composed of Crimea and “mainland” Russia north of it, including parts of Ukraine and the Kuban), that could form the “healthy nucleus” of a new Russia. From there, they could ultimately completely defeat the Bolsheviks and rebuild a new version of old Russia.

To win militarily, Wrangel had to reconstruct the shattered White forces, gather new men, and not only resist, but push back, the Reds, most of all from the rich agricultural land of northern Taurida. To win politically, he had to satisfy multiple constituencies—the Army, of course, but also the peasants, terrified of the Reds but desirous of land reform, and the middle classes, mostly also terrified of the Reds but many still holding, stupidly, to non-Communist leftism and hoping for the return of something like the Provisional Government. He had to run a government, as well, with too few competent bureaucrats. These intertwined tasks were monumental (and the strain, combined with the morale crusher of ultimate failure, may, in fact, account for Wrangel’s early death, rather than poison).

To head the government, he recruited Alexander Krivoshein, who had been Minister of Agriculture under Pyotr Stolypin. Krivoshein had a reputation as being competent, fair, and focused on a good deal for the smallholding peasant. His choice was not random—agriculture was everything to Wrangel in his time in Crimea and the Taurida Governate, since not only was solving the political question of land ownership paramount, agricultural exports were critical to obtaining any supplies from abroad, since foreign governments had abandoned the Whites, and nobody would loan them any money, assuming (reasonably) they had zero chance of repayment.

Wrangel promptly issued proclamations not only ordering land reform, but rejecting the earlier White insistence that national minorities abandon all traces of their own nationalisms. His explicit goal was to create the new, improved Russia (he insisted that his was the “Russian Army,” and the Reds merely contemptible “Bolshevists”). Wrangel himself was a monarchist, but he saw the old monarchy was spent, and something new was needed.

For land reform, Wrangel quickly implemented a policy whereby any peasant could buy, over time, the land he farmed, with compensation to the landowners. Decisions were decentralized, with safeguards to prevent either capture by the landowners, or stealing from the landowners. Wrangel wanted, after the disorders caused by war and revolution, to “reinstate the hard-working peasants and set them up on their land again, to weld them together and rally them to the defence of order and national principles.”

Thus, the rural proletariat, wage laborers, would not necessarily receive free land, though they too could purchase land if not currently farmed. It seems like a good system, and crucially, one that recognized that returning to the old system, which had led them all to this pass, was not an option. It never is.

Wrangel was a hard but just man, and a stickler for order and discipline. In June of 1917, when sent back to the front and waiting for the arrival of the division he commanded, other troops in the town (Stanislavov), retreating ahead of the Reds, pillaged widely and engaged in a pogrom. Wrangel put the disorder down with floggings and executions.

Early in the Civil War, he needed to replenish his ranks, and he had captured a sizeable number of Reds. “I ordered three hundred and seventy of the Bolshevists to line up. They were all officers and non-commissioned officers, and I had them shot on the spot. Then I told the rest that they too deserved death, but that I had let those who had misled them take the responsibility for their treason, because I wanted to give them a chance to atone for their crime and prove their loyalty to their country.” No surprise, everyone volunteered, and Wrangel says they became among his best troops. (Elsewhere he notes that later in the war most Red troops were conscripts, and eager to join the Whites. And he faults Denikin for not taking a more capacious approach to recruiting Red prisoners, or those who had treated with the Bolsheviks earlier in the war).

Every several pages, Wrangel notes some execution in passing – for example, of some railroad employees bribed to carry passengers rather than munitions, “I had these three employees court-martialed, and they were hanged the same day.” (Later, though, he stopped public executions, on the basis that “In view of the prevailing callousness, public executions no longer served to intimidate, they merely aggravated the existing state of moral apathy”). Of course, executions are only a small part of the mountains of corpses that appear in this book. Civil war is a brutal taskmaster; nobody should forget this.

Military victory was not to be. Wrangel did get a breathing space as the Russians fought the Poles in 1919 and 1920. The British government had abandoned him, and in fact pressured him to end the war on Red terms equivalent to unconditional surrender. The English, opportunists all, wanted to reopen trade with Russia, and David Lloyd George wanted to pander to those of the British working classes who saw in Bolshevism their own possible, supposedly bright, future.

Wrangel views this betrayal with bitterness, and he views Lloyd George with the greatest contempt – although he gave interviews to British and other foreign newspapers, trying hard to shore up support. But the French found it convenient to offer support, including de facto recognition, in order to assist the Poles. However, when the Poles beat back the Red menace, the French withdrew support, and the Reds were able to concentrate their forces on the southern front, dooming the Whites. Nonetheless, Wrangel organized and conducted one last major offensive; it was defeated by the Reds, who thereupon advanced through Taurida towards the Crimea.

Wrangel and everyone else in the Crimea knew what this meant for most of the population. Therefore, moving heaven and earth, Wrangel organized a massive boatlift, such that anyone who desired to go into exile could, though he made no promises of the future. After himself checking all the ports of embarkation, Wrangel was the last White to step off the shore, on November 14, 1920, ending the dream of Red defeat, at least for the next seventy years.

He himself accompanied the diaspora of the Army, at first initially in Greece and Turkey, then mostly forced out of those places by the English, who wanted the Army disbanded, because the Reds wanted it disbanded. Many moved to Serbia or Yugoslavia. Wrangel notes how he tried to get the Army transferred to Hungary, which had itself just suffered under, then defeated, a Red dictatorship and terror, but the French stopped the transfer, because “anti-Bolshevist intrigues [were] contrary to the true interests of Hungary and of the civilized world.” Typical. He himself lived for several years in Belgrade, heading up an organization he praises and of which he expects great things in a speech given in 1927, attached as the last chapter, the “General Union of Old Soldiers of Russia.”

The truth was much more bitter, as it always is for defeated émigrés, a topic about which I know something, for my grandfather was a Hungarian émigré, who fled Communism in 1945 (and as it happens, I am currently helping edit his own war diary for private, family use). The men were forced to earn their bread any way they could in their new countries, in the Russians’ case, usually by hard manual labor such as mining. Wrangel ends with a lament for this, tempered by the hope “But we are confident the hour of recognition is at hand.” He was wrong. In 1927, Wrangel reluctantly handed over control of the General Union to a Romanov grand duke, and moved to Brussels to return to mining engineering. He died within eighteen months.

I find it hard to get a handle on the last generation of the Russian ruling class. My father was a professor of Russian history, so I was exposed to thought about Russia growing up, but perhaps one has to be embedded in Russia to really understand. Was their time just up? Is it the nature of all civilizations that the ruling class eventually becomes unable to overcome a crisis? Wrangel’s focus, where and when he ruled, suggests that some in the ruling class were capable of reforming their society.

Now, the word “reform” today has a bad odor; like “dialogue,” it is simply a cant word of the Left, used to ease the forcing of their program on an unwilling and unreceptive audience. But it is the nature of all human institutions, because they are human, that they come to require legitimate reform. And it is also in the nature of all human institutions to resist that reform. I suspect there is no way out but to break the society and remake it, which is always a dangerous roll of the dice.

So what does Wrangel’s story say of civil war in America, which more than a few people think is looming? Well, the Whites as a whole certainly show what not to do in a civil war. Other than that, it is often supposed that given the intermixing of Red and Blue America, old-fashioned territory-based civil war is impossible here. (We really need to flip those monikers, so the descendants of the Bolsheviks, today’s “Blue America,” get called what they really are).

The Russian Civil War disproves this. In truth, most people just want to keep their heads down, and will hew to the line of whoever controls the land where they live. Also, complete armies can arise nearly overnight, formed from fragments of an older army, or just organically. Perhaps occupying territory adverse to the occupiers would be harder in America, particularly in heavily-armed Red America (notably, both the Reds and Wrangel made civilians give up their weapons in the areas they controlled).

But maybe even Red America would bow to an occupying force – after all, people here have accepted without revolt the arbitrary and oppressive diktats, issued by modern commissars, tied to the Wuhan Plague. In fact, in other countries, notably recently the Netherlands, they have showed far more resistance. I am just not sure how much resistance Red America would offer an occupying force.

But I am sure that most of all, as Wrangel’s career shows, it’s all about the leadership. I suspect that if Red America perceived the costs of the insane reactions to the Wuhan Plague as higher, and if they had a leader around whom to coalesce, something could be done. Mutatis mutandis, the same is true, but much more true, of the inevitable final ideological clash looming in America. Let’s hope we find that leader soon.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The featured image shows, “Baron Petr Nikolaievitch Wrangel, by G.M Nedovizi.

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.

From Salonika To Odessa: Allied Interventions After World War I

The final phase of WWI was especially bitter and cruel, not only for the grimness of the fight between exhausted warring parties (except one, the US), but also because it became clear that alliance against the Central Powers was a mere façade. The growing Allied division emerged with a peculiar stance toward one enemy, the Ottoman Empire and a (former) ally, Russia.

And in this light, the year 1918 could be considered not only the year of the end of the war, but the beginning of a new era, marked by new dynamics and an attempt to reaffirm the old power structures.

The Allies approach was the re-proposition of “playbook” actions, which had always dominated the policies, mainly of Great Britain and France, since the 19th century, toward these two entities. And to them, with different motivations, may be added Italy, US, Japan, Serbia (with the new formation of Croatia-Slovenia), Greece, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Thus, behind the mask of a cohesive policy, the main target was the demolition and partition, among the winners, of the Ottoman Empire and the re-establishment of a weakened Russia; and, where this was not possible, replicating the planned fate for the Ottomans with the establishment of a galaxy of puppet states.

The strategic target of both Paris and London was multifold: extend their own area of influence (directly and/or indirectly), push back any threat against their own national strategic interests, and stand in front of their allies, especially if minor ones, with an eye on the growing polarization with Italy, especially by France. In this gigantic plan, the personalities of Lloyd George, Churchill and Clemenceau emerged as dominant; and perhaps, like never before, the political use of military force.

The level of Allied forces deployed in the two areas, at least by Western standards, were limited in comparison with the millions of men deployed on the different fronts of WWI. But they were highly influential and played a decisive political role, though a small combat role.

After The “Garden Of Salonika

The fighting along the Macedonian Front in September 1918 might not be as well-known as the Somme, Ypres or Verdun (and certainly less bloody), but in terms of delivering the fatal blow to the German war machine, it was unsurpassed. “It was upon this much-abused front that the final collapse of the Central Empires first began,” Winston Churchill wrote.

Controversy had marked the life of the Allied “Armée d’Orient” ever since it began deploying three years earlier through Salonika, the Greek port city that provided the southern gateway to the Balkans, and after the disastrous French-British attempt to take by force the Straits of Dardanelles which sought to blow up the Ottoman Empire and provide support to Russia. The Allies had great difficulties facing the Germans and the Austro-Hungarians on the Eastern front.

The force (consisting of 600,000 men), formally under French command, included French, British, Serbian, Italian, Montenegrin and Russian contingents; added later were Greek and pro-Entente Albanian units. The management of this army persistently reflected the divergent objectives of the participants.

For example, the British contingent constantly tried to minimize the impact of the French command and directives. Also among the French-Italian contingents, the relations were at best controversial, and the collapse of the Central Powers, following the attack in September 1918, underlined the fault-lines among the Allies, not only political but also militarily.

British troops, immediately after the ceasefire, were sent in to secure the Turkish straits; the Italians went to protect Albania; and the French remained committed to their staunch support of Serbs, with the aim of setting up a South pan-Slavic state in the Western Balkans, under the influence of Paris, and initially also with Greece.

After a visit by Talaat Pasha, the Grand Vizir, to other Central Powers capitals in September 1918, Constantinople realized that there was no hope to win the war. On 13 October, Talaat and the government resigned. Ahmed Izzet Pasha was appointed as Grand Vizir and two days later, he sent the captured British General Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend to the Allies to seek terms for an armistice.

London interpreted that to mean that Britain would conduct the negotiations alone. As of today, the motives of this are not entirely clear, whether it was the sincere British interpretation of the alliance terms; or fears that the French would insist on over-harsh demands and foil a treaty; or, again, there was a desire to cut the French out of territorial ambitions promised by the Sykes-Picot agreement.

Townshend also indicated that the Ottomans preferred to deal with the British; he did not know about the contact with America, or that Talaat had sent an emissary to the French as well; but that emissary had been slower to respond.

The British cabinet empowered Admiral Calthorpe to conduct the negotiations with an explicit exclusion of the French. The negotiations began on 27 October on board of HMS Agamemnon. The British refused to admit to the talks the French Vice-Admiral Jean Amet, the senior French naval officer in the area, despite his desire to join. The Ottoman delegation, headed by Navy Minister Rauf Bey, indicated that this was acceptable, as they were accredited only to the British, not the French (and even less, to the Italian, Greeks, and Serbs).

The French were certainly displeased, and the French Premier Georges Clemenceau, the “Tiger,” complained about British unilateral decisions in so important a matter. Lloyd George countered that the French had the same approach in the Armistice of Salonica, which had been negotiated by French General Franchet d’Esperey, without consultations with the commanders of the other Allied contingents, while Great Britain (and Tsarist Russia) had committed the most troops to the campaign against the Ottoman Empire on different fronts (the Palestine, Mesopotamia, Arabia Peninsula and Caucasus fronts).

As part of the armistice’s conditions, the Ottomans surrendered their remaining garrisons outside Anatolia and granted the Allies the right to occupy the forts controlling the Straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, as well as any Ottoman territory, “in case of disorder,” or if a threat to security occured. Later, this vague and obscure clause was widely used by the Allies for their massive interference in Turkish affairs The Ottoman forces were demobilized, and all ports, railways and other strategic points were made available for Alled use. In the Caucasus, the Ottomans had to retreat to pre-war borders with the Russian Empire. Following this armistice, the occupation of Constantinople and the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire started.

Thereafter, it took 15 months of tough negotiations among the Allies (Britain, France and Italy) to establish which territories each of them would get. As for the other defeated powers, the military clauses were bitter. The Army of the defeated powers was restricted to 50,000; the Navy to a few old ships; and no air force. The treaty included an inter-allied commission of control to supervise the execution of all the military clauses.

The Treaty of Sèvres, which formalized the partionist plans of the winners, could be read as a simple variation of a long-planned design to dismantle an enemy power (and then implemented with some important variations, like the inclusion of Greece). In fact, these policies were already in place ever since the signing of the Treaty of London, the St. Jeanne de Maurienne Agreement, the “Sikes-Picot,” and even the so-called Venizelos-Tittoni Agreement, a post-facto sub-agreement from the Peace Conference of Versailles.

The Treaty of Sèvres showed the worst face of the imperialist dreams of the winning powers, not only as in the above-mentioned military clauses, but with the establishment of Zones of Influence, which resulted in an imposition of a kind of multinational protectorate over the defeated country.

Under the treaty, within the territory retained by Turkey (excluding Armenia and Kurdistan), France received parts of Southeastern Anatolia, including Antep, Urfa and Mardin. Important parts of Cilicia including Adana, Diyarbakır and large portions of East-Central Anatolia up to Sivas and Tokat were declared a zone of French influence, garrisoned by troops of the newly established ‘Armée du Levant’ (on 7 October 1918), moving and expanding from their landing spot in Beirut (Octover 11). The first elements of this force came from the former “Armée d’Orient” with the ad hoc established “Division of Cilicia” (consisting of the 12th Infantry, the 17th Senegalese, 18th Algerian Regiments, and the Armenian Legion). A second unit, the “Division of Syria” (consisting of the 415th Infantry, the 3rd Zouaves, the 19th, 21st, and the 22nd Algerian Regiments) was rapidly set up, and tasked to expand French control in the assigned areas, while disarming Turkish and Arab troops in Syria and Lebanon.

Italy was given possession of the Dodecanese Islands (already under Italian occupation since the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–1912,) despite the Treaty of Ouchy, according to which Italy should have returned the islands to the Ottoman Empire. Large portions of Southern and West-Central Anatolia (the Mediterranean coast of Turkey and the inlands), including the port city of Antalya and Konya, were declared an Italian zone of influence. Antalya Province had been promised to Italy since the signing of the Treaty of London; and the Italian colonial authorities wished the zone to become an Italian colony under the name of “Lycia.”

Italian troops landed on 28 March 1919 in Antalya and then occupied Fethiye, Marmaris, Bodrum, Konya, Isparta and Aksehir. The Italian force was limited in terms of figures (13.000 troops with 3 regiments of infantry and support units) to control so expansive an area, which coincided with continuous infiltrations of Greek troops into Western Anatolia from the enclave of Smirna, about which there was complicit silence at the Spa Conference for the “Megala idea” of Venizelos. Independent of this contingent was an Italian infantry battalion in Constantinople, and another one was assigned in April 1919 to garrison Konya under British command. Great Britain did not establish any zone of influence; but within the terms of the ‘Sykes-Picot’ agreement, they took over almost all Mesopotamia, thus reinforcing their firm hand over oil resources of the region, and strengthening imperial control out to the Far East.

On 13 November 1918, the Allies landed in Constantinople with 2,616 British, 540 French, 470 Italian troops, supported by 50 ships (two days later, this grew to 167 ships).

On February 8, 1919, the French general Franchet d’ Espèrey, Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces in the East, officially entered the city on a white horse, emulating Mehmed the Conqueror’s entrance in 1453 after the Fall of Constantinople, thus signifying that Ottoman sovereignty over the imperial city was over.

One year, after the Allies numbered 51,300 troops (27,419 British, 19,069 French, 3,992 Italians and 795 Greeks), garrisoning not only the city but also the neutralized zone of the Straits, largely assigned to units of the 122nd and 156th French Infantry Divisions and 28th British Division.

The Greek and Turkish police and gendarmerie forces operating in neutralized area were subordinate to Allied control; and the Constantinople area was garrisoned by British MPs (in Pera), The French Gendarmes (in Istanbul) and Italian Carabinieri (in Scutari) were supported by Turkish Jandarma personnel.

The Corps d’Occupation de Constantinople (COC) was formally set up on 6 November 1920, after more than one year of de facto occupation, when the drawdown of the Allied forces drastically reduced the level of their strength. Nominally multinational, it was nevertheless a harsh fight between the French and the British.

The COC was assisted by a military committee, formed by the commander of the national contingents and with three High Commissioners (in which, generally, the French and British were military and the Italian a diplomat). The job of the COC was focused on occupation duties and was affected by the bitter and growing polarization between the French and the British, while the Italian presence was little more than nominal.

The growing split among the Allies is widely attributed to the fact that the partition of Turkey had given to France too small a share. The Italians, too, were dismayed to the concession made by London to Athens, at Rome’s expense. This discontent gave rise to Franco-Italian support of the Turkish nationalist movement, both in Anatolia and in Constantinople, even if at the beginning, Paris supported to the end Greek expansionist dreams.

At the regional level, France had strong grievances against Britain, for it felt that British policies were contrary to prior agreements. For example, Britain did not want to share oil exploitations in the Mosul area, and, according to Paris, it stirred up Emir Faisal (the leader of the so-called “Arab revolt”) to attack French troops in Syria. In other words, France labelled the British approach as selfish and imperialist, although Paris applied the same policies in many other regions, like the Balkans, the Baltic Sea, Silesia, Poland, against not only their former enemies, like Germany, but also their present allies like Italy (and Britain).

The Allies had begun to split already in 1919, because of competing interests in Syria, Mesopotamia, Cilicia and the Aegean. TRhus, both France and Italy were eager to dismantle Turkey as a unitary state. But when their interests were undercut, they changed their plans. Also, Italy, because of prevalent domestic issues, confined its imperial aims in Turkey to just seeking out profitable economic concessions.

In the summer, the internal situation in Italy became untenable and Rome started the withdrawal of its troops from Anatolia and abandoned the dreams of territorial expansion in the Levant. The last troops left Anatolia in 1922. This happened mainly for two reasons. First, Italy obtained the Dodecanese islands, and second, there was a growing anti-Greek policy in Rome. But Italy kept small contingents in Constantinople and Adrianople, with a Carabinieri unit in Constantinopole until the general evacuation of foreign troops in October, 1923.

The functionality of the COC was seriously affected by the arrival, in the region, of 150.000 White Russian refugees (the army and civilians who fled after the defeat of General Wrangel in the Crimea), as well as the issue of the remnants of the Tsarist Black Sea Navy.

The other major, and final, crisis of the COC came after the defeat of Greek forces in Anatolia. The Greek-Turkish War saw a major shift in alliances among the Allies. At the beginning, France supported the demands of Greece, as Britain, in order to keep firm control over Turkey, kept out France. Then, Britain supported Greek expansion while. France, of course, along with Italy, moved to helping nationalist Turks.

The crisis was the trigger event of a failed and polarized political alliance, and the military contingents in the neutral zone operated in a disconntected way, reflecting the divergent stances of London, Paris and Rome vis-à-vis the development of the Greek-Turkish war. The final Allied withdrawal came under gloomy conditions, marked by ethno-religious violence between the Greeks and the Turks. When the withdrawal was formally signed into place, it ended the Allied entente of WWI.

The Russian Quagmire

Looking at the issue from an ethical or legal point of view, the Allied intervention in Russia was even worst than it was for the Ottoman Empire, where, at least, there existed a set of documents and treaties. For Russia, there were only ideological fears, old playbook and indolent behavior.

On 23 December 1917, the day after the beginning of the Brest Litovsk talks, delegates of France and Great Britain in Paris concluded a convention for the dismemberment of Russia and the establishment of zones of influence. London looked to the Baltic provinces and the Caucasus (especially its oil); France chose the Ukraine, from Belarus to Bessarabia and Donetz (for the iron, coal, iron and steel basins), as well as the Black Sea shores including Odessa and Crimea.

Soon after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 a three-year Civil War broke out in Russia. The initial phase of the war lasted for one year, and it was marked by rapidly shifting front lines and sporadic engagements by small units. At the beginning, the Bolsheviks generally expanded from the few urban areas in their hands to root out centres of opposition in the periphery of the vast country. This expansion began in the winter of 1917-1918, and it led to the formation of the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army, led by Generals Mikhail Alekseyev and Lavr Kornilov in the Don Cossack region, thus creating the southern front of the war.

Half a year later this was followed by the revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion (despite the name, in reality it was a force of the size of an army corps) on the mid-Volga and Siberia, which assisted the formation of two anti-Bolshevik governments, each with its own army – the Komuch in Samara and the Siberian Government in Omsk.

The Red Army of Lenin’s Bolshevik government was rapidly formed to replace the irregular Red Guard partisan units only at the end of this phase, in the fall of 1918.

The second and decisive stage of the Civil War lasted from March to December 1919. First, the White armies of Admiral Alexander Kolchak in Siberia and General Denikin in Southern Russia advanced resolutely toward Moscow (the last one appeared to be the most decisive push against the Reds). In the Caucasus and Crimea operated General Wrangel (probably the best of the White generals). In the North-West General Yudenich tried to attack Petrograd.

As in many other civil wars, foreign powers intervened in the conflict. Britain played a leading role in this intervention and had a significant effect on the course of the war. Without this foreign intervention on the White side, the superiority of numbers in manpower and weaponry of the Bolsheviks would have quickly overwhelmed their opponents.

British Intervention In Southern Russia, 1918-1920

Despite massive support, the entire British action remained uncertain and split between an ideological battle against Bolshevism and the strategic imperative to protect India and investments in the oil industry in the Middle East (Persia and Mesopotamia). Consequently, the action of Great Britain, while strong in Southern Russia, and massive (two divisions) in the Caucasus and Central Asia – in Northern Russia and Eastern Russia (Siberia) it a lot less intense.

Further, the controversial demobilization scheme, the requirement to keep the public unaware of the extent of the military efforts, and the risk of bolshevism infecting the troops contributed to the incertitude of the British (and French) actions.

From November 1918 the Allies succeeded in supplying regular provisions to the White Armies mainly through the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. The British military mission arrived in South Russia in late 1918, and provided General Denikin’s White army with an enormous amount of matériel. This included full British army kit for half a million men, 1,200 field guns with almost two million rounds of ammunition, 6,100 machine guns, 200,000 rifles with 500 million rounds of ammunition, 629 lorries and motorcars, 279 motorcycles, 74 tanks, six armoured cars, 200 aircraft, 12 500-bed hospitals, 25 field hospitals and a vast amount of signal and engineer equipment. All this was sufficient for an army of 250,000 men and it was much more than Denikin was ever able to use, as the combat strength of his army never exceeded 150,000 men. Ammunitions destined for South Russia also included 25,000 poison gas shells. Churchill had described mustard gas as “ideal weapon against our beastly enemy.” But British personnel were instructed to use it only if the Bolsheviks started gas warfare first.

The British mission also organized the training and equipping of White Russian troops with British weapons. This made the material aid much more effective. Even in small numbers, many of the British instructors, following a personal and ideological commitment, took part in fighting the Bolsheviks, despite the orders of their government.

In real terms, financial and material support from Great Britain pushed Denikin’s army in a far more favourable position than the Bolsheviks in 1919, and very close to being the key element of the victory of the Whites against the Bolsheviks. But the White army of Denikin suffered, like the Tsarist army, of which it was but an extention. This led to serious problems. White officers were unimaginative; their mindset remained obsolete; and they were incapable of organizing the logistics of their army. There were also fundamental defects in the morale of the White troops. These limits affected all the other White armies operating against the Bolsheviks, without mentioning the bitter rivalries among the White generals themselves.

In addition to all the political mistakes of Denikin’s movement and a general inability to adjust to the complex situation in Revolutionary Russia, the Whites suffered a clear military defeat. In South Russia, the Whites were defeated not because of the lack of British aid, but rather despite it; and their defeat was decisive for the victory of the Reds elsewhere.

The British presence in Southern Russia, as mentioned, was limited to few hundred specialists and trainers and non-combat troops (72 servicemen -18 Royal Navy, 41 British Army, 13 Royal Air Force personnel – were killed in South Russia in 1918-1920).

Further, they were scattered over the immense area of Southern Russia, where several White units operated, of which the Denikin one was the larger, but also Wrangler’s that extended to the Caucasus.

The missed arrival of a massive British combat force led to the first rift between the Whites and London. British combat troops were deployed, and in a limited number, only in the South Caucasus to secure the oilfields there (the Baku area); and this situation increased the suspicions of White Russians over the real, future aims of British aid.

The real strategic reason for the massive support of Denikin, who operated mainly in the “zone of influence” assigned to the French, was because of the failure of previous, but also because of the defeat of Admiral Kolchiak’s offensive in Siberia. But lagely these troops came to protect the interests of London over the oil resources in Baku and surrounding region.

After Denikin’s army was decisively defeated at Orel in October 1919 (some 400 km south of Moscow), the White forces in southern Russia were in constant retreat, reaching the Crimea in March 1920. In July 1920, the White forces left Crimea for Constantinople. This ended the British Mission in Southern Russia.

The fate of the British military mission in South Russia followed the fate of the Whites, with constant relocation of the training teams under growing pressure from the Reds. First this progressive impairment, and later the demise of Denikin’s and Wrangel armies impacted the broader plans of London to set up “friendly” states in the South Caucasus – the real strategic objectives of British military expedition in the former allied territory.

At the end of August 1919, the British withdrew from Baku (the small British naval presence was also withdrawn from the Caspian Sea), leaving only 3 battalions at Batum. After a British garrison at Enzeli (on the Persian Caspian coast) was taken prisoner by Bolshevik forces on 19 May 1920, Lloyd George finally insisted on a withdrawal from Batum early in June 1920, thus disbanding the 27th Division (The British Salonika Army was split within Macedonia [22nd Division, disbanded in 1919], the Danube [26th Division, disbanded on May 1919], Turkey (28th Division, disbanded on December 1923], and the Caucasus [27th Division, disbanded in 1920]). Financial concerns forced a British withdrawal from Persia in the spring of 1921.

The French Intervention In Southern Russia

The French intervention in Southern Russia was initiated in February 1918, with 50 million rubles in gold to the Ukrainian Rada. But the first official sign of French preparation for direct military intervention in Southern Russia came on October 7, 1918, when Clemenceau designated General Henri Berthelot to head a military mission with responsibility for operations in Romania and the Ukraine. While an important task of this expedition was to assure the retreat of German and Austro-Hungarian forces from the Ukraine and Romania, Clemenceau’s instructions stressed the need to set up an economic encirclement of the Bolsheviks and help along the fall of the new government in Russia.

However, French intervention in support of the Whites (also in this case for ideological reasons to hinder the path of the Reds) was much shorter and much more confused than by the British – and was shut down only after a few months.

The French expedition had come to Southern Russia under three assumptions, which emerged to be totally baseless: A) that the Whites representing a majority of the people; B) that the Russian people welcomed Allied intervention against Bolshevik; and C) that the bulk of the fight against the Reds would be on the White forces, requiring only moral and technical assistance from the French forces.

In fact, the Ukrainians preferred the Bolsheviks to the Whites; the local population resented Allied intervention; and the Whites had limited capabilities. Disillusionment with intervention increased as officers and soldiers alike realized that the entire population of Southern Russia looked upon their presence with undisguised hostility.

As one officer in Sebastopol declared, Bolshevik propaganda had little effect upon the troops, but the hostile attitude of the local population had a profound impact on troops already exahusted by the tough Salonika campaign.

At initial meetings with Russian Whites, Berthelot promised up to 12 Allied divisions as expeditionary forces in Southern Russia, when in reality only three divisions were in theory available. However, six weeks after first landing in Odessa, the Allied force did not exceed 3.000 ground troops (three infantry regiments [176th, 58th French, 1st Regiment de marche africain, elements from the 10th Algerian Regiment, the 21st Chasseurs Aborigines, the 129th Senegalese Batallion, the Batallion Chasseurs d’Indochine, 4th Chasseurs á cheval d’Afrique]; other support elements [the 19th and 242nd Colonial Artillery, 7th Engineer Regiment]; landing parties of the French naval squadron, augmented by a sizeable Greek contingent, and smaller units of Polish, Romanian and Czech troops). But they did seize Nikolaev, Kherson and Tiraspol, so that Allied forces controlled an arc of territory in the Western Ukraine, along the northern shore of the Black Sea, between the Dniester and Dniepr rivers.

The absence of reinforcements further increased the French command’s skepticism about intervention. But the major problems were the open and tough hostility of the local populations, as a result of Bolshevik propaganda, and the splits among the anti-Reds, the split among the White generals (who wanted to re-establish Tsarist Russia), and local Ukrainian independence movements (split among different factions, running from ultraconservative to anarchist groups).

As among the British, the French also had several dozen advisors and staff personnel, who similar to their British counterparts expressed criticism and doubts about the performance of White leadership and troops and even White military capabilities.

By March 1919, pressure frm the Bolsheviks forced the Whites (and consequently the French and Greeks) to evacuate initially Kherson, and then Nikolaev, putting serious doubt on the validity of the entire operation in the Black Sea. Red attacks over Odessa only grew greater.

The anti-Red coalition was marked more and more by bitter rivalries, which quickly undermined the White armies; Greek forces were more concerned about the safety of the Greek national community there and the beginning of the operation in Asia Minor against the Turks. This weakend further the French-led effort in Southern Russia.

The situation became so untenable that General D’Esperey went urgently to Odessa from Constantinople, realizing that were no other option than to withdraw from there (the evacuation came finally on 6 April). But he did this without consulting the Whites (Denikin was informed ex post facto by Franchet d”Esperey).

The Odessa evacuation left the Crimea as the only remaining area of direct French military intervention. Clemenceau had urged to hold the Crimea as a bastion for future actions in Southern Russia, again creating the impression of a firm French commitment. Yet, from the outset, the French presence in the Crimea had been marked by the same difficulties that plagued the intervention in the Ukraine – but this time, there was the brave White General Wrangel, who could not hold, despite considerable efforts to re-establish good relations with the local populations (that fully supported the Reds). This led him to a desperate evacuation to Constantinople at the end of April.

The withdrawal from Sebastopol was marked by a serious disciplinary situation, especially on board French naval ships operating in the Black Sea. This was the persistent and growing mutinous attitude among the French forces operating in the area.

The Black Sea mutinies have acquired legendary dimension among Marxist historians, largely as a result of André Marty’s somewhat exaggerated claims, and as a result of the “martyrdom” of those sailors condemned by military tribunals. There is no doubt, however, that the mutinies were serious and extensive.

The first uprisings took place among ground troops. On the 4th of February, the 58th Infantry Regiment refused to fight at Tiraspol on the far bank of the Dniester.

On March 8th, two companies of the 176th Infantry Regiment rejected an order to attack at Kherson. April 5 saw the same refusal among elements of the 19th Colonial Artillery Regiment in Odessa, where sappers of the 7th Engineer Regiment fraternized with, and left equipment for, the Bolsheviks. Then, from 10 to 30 April, major mutinies of sailors take place. In Romania, at Galatz, the chief mechanic André Marty planned to seize the torpedo FNS Protet, lock up the officers and rally the Bolsheviks to Sevastopol. The plot was discovered, he was arrested on April 16, and sentenced to twenty years of hard labor.

On April 17, on the cruiser FNS France, protests broke out; four sailors were put in the brig. But two days later, the revolting crew freed them, elected delegates, and demanded the return to Toulon.

On the 20th, the red flag was hoisted on FNS France, FNS Jean-Bart, FNS Justice, along with the singing of the L’Internationale. In the afternoon, sailors who had demonstrated in Sevastopol with the population returned fire of Greek soldiers. Calm returned in the days following; and the delegates, who initially obeyed, saw their role decrease. But FNS Jean-Bart as well as FNS France returned to Toulon and Bizerte.

Another mutiny took place on the 25th on-board FNS Waldeck-Rousseau stationed at Odessa. A committee of sailors decided to revolt, demanded the freedom of Marty and the return to France. In the following days, control was exerted over buildings in Odessa, as well as over all ships in the Black Sea. But the excitement continues into May and June, in the naval bases of Toulon, Brest, Bizerte, Greece (and on board FNS Guichen, led by Charles Tillon) and even in Vladivostok.

As mentioned, the Sebastopol episode marked a climax in a series of mutinies, and rather extensive indiscipline among troops throughout the Ukrainian and Crimean interventions; and the French command was well aware of the low morale and war-weariness among the ranks. Whether this attitude reflected a widespread sympathy for Bolshevism is less clear. The majority of the French soldiers had no desire to fight in Russia and demanded repatriation.

However, some fully supported the Bolsheviks; and the demonstration in Sebastopol revealed a degree of political support for the Russian Revolution that was of considerable significance. But it is not clear that a majority of the soldiers and sailors were prepared to embrace the revolution at this point. Above all, it is an exaggeration to claim that the mutiny in Sebastopol was because of an untenable military situation. Instead, it was because of several factors, already discussed, without mentioning the lack of political support of France from other Allies despite the fury of Clemenceau.
The French military intervention in the Ukraine was a sobering lesson in the perils of intervening in another nation’s civil wars.

Conclusion

The action of Allied powers, in the two cases discussed, revealed the persistence of an imperialistic stance of some countries, despite their exhaustion and their formal adherence to the 14 Points Declaration of President Woodrow Wilson.

This contradiction is the result of a wild era which existed well before the breakout of WWI, behind the façade of economic and social developments at the end of the 19th and the beginning of 20th centuries.

Appendix

Turkish Post-War And Straits Occupations 1918-1923

26.04.1916: Agreement of St.-Jean-de-Maurienne between France, Italy and Great Britain.

16.05.1916: Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Great Britain.

30.10.1918: Armistice of Mudros: Turkey to cease hostilities, demobilize, open the Bosporus Straits, and repatriate POWs. The Armistice found the British occupying most non-Turkish territory of the Ottoman Empire (Palestine, Mesopotamia, Kurdistan), and Arab insurgents in control of the Hejaz and parts of Syria.

12.11.1918: French troops land in Constantinople.

13.11.1918: British troops land in Constantinople.

08.12.1918: Allied occupation of the Bosporus, the Dardanelles, the eastern coast of the Sea of Marmara, islands of Imros, Lemnos, Samothrace, Tenedos, and 15 km deep into the eastern shores; the zone of the Straits is demilitarized (by Greek and Turkish forces) but garrisoned by Allied forces.

18.01.1919: Peace Conference opens in Versailles.

Jan. 1919: Turkish garrison in Medina surrenders to the forces of the Arab revolt.

03.02.1919: In Paris, Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos demands the entire of East Thrace and the Aegean shores of Anatolia, including Izmir to be annexed to Greece.

07.02.1919: Italian troops land in Galata (Constantinople).

08.02.1919: French General Franchet d’Esperey, commander of the Allied Army (later the Constantinople Occupation Corps), enters in Constantinople mounted on a white horse.

04.03.1919: Damat Ferit Pasha, brother-in-law of the Sultan, appointed as the new Grand Vizir (Prime Minister).

29.03.1919: Italian troops land in Antalya.

08.04.1919: British Foreign Minister, Lord Balfour, proposes Istanbul become a neutral zone under the administration of the League of Nations (also French Prime Minister Aristide Briand proposes the creation of a “free city,” a sort of protectorate under the League. The city of Constantinople would be a first free city in 1920. As such, Constantinople would have its own municipal government, but which would be devoid of any of those functions of government exercised by a sovereign state, such as, defense and foreign relations).

30.04.1919: Sultan Vahidettin sends Mustafa Kemal to Anatolia as Inspector-General.

06.05.1919: Allied powers agree to allow Greeks to occupy Smyrna.

15.05.1919: Smyrna occupied by the Greek army. Journalist Hasan Tahsin shoots a Greek flag bearer, firing the first bullet of the Turkish resistance.

16.05.1919: Mustafa Kemal leaves Constantinople.

19.05.1919: Mustafa Kemal arrives in Samsun. Turkish War of Independence begins.

24.05.1919: Demonstration at Sultanahmet in Istanbul against the occupation of Smyna.

22.06.1919: Mustafa Kemal issues the Amasya Declaration stating that the independence of the nation will be saved once more by the determination and decisiveness of the people.

28.06.1919: Treaty of Versailles signed by Germany.

23.07/07.08.1919: Erzurum Congress. It is decided that there will a struggle with the enemy of the people in the Eastern provinces which are an inseparable part of the homeland.

10.10.1919: Allied forces officially take military control of Western Thrace.

22.10.1919: Inter Allied administration of Western Thrace begins with French General Charpy appointed Governor.

04-11.09. 1919: Sivas Congress. A mutual decision about the “homeland being an indivisible whole” is reached. All the local resistance organizations in the country are united and a “Committee of Representatives” is formed.

01.11.1919: Grand Vizir Damat Ferit Paşa resigns.

27.12.1919: Mustafa Kemal arrives in Ankara.

12.01.1920: Opening session of the last Ottoman Parliament.

10.03.1920: Allied Military Administration of Constantinople and Straits Zone formally established.

16.03.1920: Constantinople officially occupied by Allied forces.

20.03.1920: Italian troops withdraw from Konia.

05.04.1920: Damat Ferit Paşa reappointed as Grand Vizir.

11.04.1920: Ottoman Parliament dissolved by Sultan Vahidettin.

19-26.04.1920: The San Remo Conference of the Allied Supreme Council determines the allocation of the League of Nations mandates for administration of the former Ottoman ruled lands of the Middle East by the victorious powers.

23.04.1920: The Turkish Grand National Assembly opens in Ankara.

20.05.1920: Greece annexes Western Thrace.

22.06.1920: Greek offensive in Anatolia begins.

08.07.1920: Greek forces occupy Bursa.

12.07.1920: Greece moves into Eastern Thrace, setting up Adrianople as headquarters.

15.07.1920: Greek forces occupy Edirne and the entire East Thrace.

10.08.1920: Ottoman government signs the Treaty of Sèvres with the Allied nations. Hejaz, Armenia and Assyria are to become independent. Mesopotamia and Palestine are assigned under mandate to the tutelage of the UK, Lebanon and an enlarged Syria to that of France. The Dodecanese and Rhodes with portions of southern Anatolia are to pass to Italy, while Thrace and Western Anatolia, including Smyrna will become part of Greece. The Bosphorus, Dardanelles and Sea of Marmara are to be demilitarized and internationalized, and the Ottoman army is to be restricted to a strength of 50,000 men. The treaty is rejected by the Turkish republican movement in Ankara.

06.11.1920: The Corps d’Occupation de Constantinople (COC) formally is set up, led by French General Franchet d’Esperey (frmr. CinC of Eastern Allied Forces).

03.12.1920: Ankara signs the Gümrü Peace Agreement with the Republic of Armenia.

09-11.01.1921: First Battle of İnönü. Greek advance inside Anatolia halted.

20.01.1921: The first Turkish Constitution is ratified by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

21.02/12.03.1921: London Conference. Representatives of both Istanbul and Ankara governments are invited to the conference which aims to revise the Treaty of Sèvres. It does not achieve any results.

16.03.1921: Bolshevik Russia recognizes the new Turkish State.

27-20.03.1921: Second Battle of İnönü. Greek offensive fails.

25.05.1921: Italians troops withdraw from Marmaris.

21.06.1921: Italians withdraw from the Antalya region.

05.07.1921: The city of Antalya is returned to the Turkish government by Italian military authorities.

10.07.1921: Greek forces launch a new offensive;

18.07.1921: The British General Harrington is made CinC of COC, replacing the French General Charpy; the (British) Black Sea Army is re-named as British COC of Constantinople; the 28th British division is dissolved.

19.07.1921: Turkish forces retreat towards Ankara.

10.08.1921: The Allied Supreme Council declares neutrality with respect to the Turkish-Greek conflict;

23.08/13.09.1921: Battle of Sakarya. Greek forces retreat after a failed offensive.

20.10.1921: Peace agreement signed between Turkey and France.

23.10.1921: Treaty of Kars between Turkey and the USSR. Turkey cedes the city of Batumi to the USSR in return for sovereignty over the cities of Kars and Ardaha.

11.01.1922: Mustapha Kemal proclaims the abolition of the Ottoman sultanate and the establishment of the Turkish Republic; Sultan Mohammed VI flees Constantinople on board a British warship.

31.05.1922: Last Italian troops leave the area of Antalya.

05-19.07.1922: USMC troops from the USS Arizona land to guard the US Consulate in Constantinople;

26-30.08.1922: Battle of Dumlupınar. Decisive Turkish victory against the Greek forces.

09.09.1922: Turkish troops take Smyrna; massive killing of Greek and Armenian populations.

15.09.1922: British government appeals to the Dominions for military support in the Turkish crisis, but the Dominions decline; France and Italy also refuse help.

15.09.1922: Greek occupation ends.

16.09.1922: A British force lands at Canakkale, Turkey.

03-11.10.1922: Convention of Mudania; the Allies agree to return Eastern Thrace and Adrianople to Turkey, and Turkey accepts the neutralization of the Straits under international control.

11.10.1922: Armistice of Mudanya signed between Turkey, Italy, France and Britain. Greece accedes to the armistice three days later. East Thrace as far as the Maritsa River and Edirne are handed over by Greece to Turkey. Turkish sovereignty over Constantinople and the Dardanelles is recognized.

20.10.1922: Peace Conference opens in Lausanne.

01.11.1922: The Sultanate is abolished.

17.11.1922: Sultan Vahidettin leaves Istanbul on board the British warship Malaya.

04.02.1923: Talks in Lausanne interrupted because of Turkish protest about the contents of the Lausanne conference.

23.04.1923: Talks in Lausanne resume.

24.04.1923: Treaty of Lausanne signed between Turkey, Greece and other countries that fought WWI and the Turkish Independence War. Turkey recovers full sovereign rights over its territory.

10.06.1923: Turkey takes possession of Constantinople.

24.07.1923: Treaty of Lausanne formally replaces Treaty of Sèvres.

06.10.1923: Occupation forces begin withdrawal from Constantinople.

13.10.1923: Ankara declared as the capital of the new Turkish State.

06.10.1923: Units from the Turkish 3rd Corps, commanded by Şükrü Naili Pasha enter Constantinople.

23.10.1923: Last allies (British contingent) troops evacuate Constantinople.

29.10.1923: The Republic of Turkey is proclaimed.

Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).

The image shows, “The Flight of the Bourgeoisie from Novorossiysk in 1920,” by Ivan Vladimirov; painted in 1920.

The Valle de los Caídos: Place of Memory, Faith, And Polemic

The Basilica of Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos (Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen in Combat), inaugurated by Franco in 1959 and consecrated by Pope John XXIII in 1960, is regularly the subject of severe criticism by Spanish politicians and journalists. The controversies grew and reached peak intensity in 2019, following the decision by the Spanish government to proceed with the exhumation of Franco’s body.

The Vice President of the socialist government of José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (President from 2004 to 2011) had wanted, many years ago, to make it “a museum of the dictatorship.” The president of the Forum for Remembrance had wanted it to be converted into a museum “of the horrors of repression.” More radical still, the Irish-born socialist writer, Ian Gibson, no doubt unconsciously following the example of the Islamist demolishers of the Bamiyan Buddhas, suggested destroying the monument by dynamiting it.

It seemed the Law of Historical Memory, of December 26, 2007, had provisionally settled things: the Basilica of the Valley of the Fallen in Combat was to continue to be a place of Catholic worship, but political gatherings were prohibited there. This solution seemed reasonable, after all, because this monument, which is the most visited in Spain after the royal palace and the Escorial, is part of Spanish heritage.

But under the guise of justice, the fight against hatred and the fight against “fascism,” the so-called “good-guys,” embodied by a large part of the political caste, is now calling for reform and extension of the Law of Historical Memory and implicitly the generalized, official teaching of only their vision of history. The spirit of the Democratic Transition (spirit of reciprocal forgiveness and consultation between government and opposition), which had so beneficially dominated the years 1976 to 1982, and which the international press then unanimously praised, has now seen better days.

Most of the Spanish media seem to see this no longer as a shameless manipulation of justice and history, as an unacceptable cowardice. The nation, the family, and religion (Catholicism of course, but also Christianity more generally) have once again become privileged targets of subversive political propaganda. The coalition government of President Pedro Sánchez (a socialist at odds, like Zapatero was, with the cultural moderatism of Felipe González) and Vice President Pablo Iglesias (the leader of Podemos, a party shared between supporters of Marxism-Leninism and followers of “Bolivarian” or “Venezuelan” populism) has not ceased to rekindle the ideological battle, or even to foment social unrest with the shameful aim of maintaining power, no matter what the cost.

Over the years, the Valle de los Caídos has become one of the pillars of “progressive-leftist” mythology, and one of the main symbols of the struggle for freedom of expression and worship in Spain. Located 58 kilometers from Madrid, the imposing mausoleum of the Sierra de Guadarrama, where the remains of 33,847 nationals and republicans (including more than 21,000 identified and more than 12,000 unknown) rest alongside each other, was originally designed by Franco and the Francoists as a monument to perpetuate the memory of the “glorious Crusade.” This was, moreover, the point of view of the Church and in particular that of the Catalan cardinal and Primate of Spain, Plá y Deniel, in 1945.

The religious component had been, let us remember, decisive during the uprising of July 1936. During the Spanish Civil War, in the Popular Front area of Spain, nearly 7,000 priests and nuns were killed (not counting the thousands of lay people, eliminated because of their faith), religious worship was prohibited, and the destruction of religious buildings was systematic.

But from the end of the 1950s, on the eve of the inauguration of the monument, once spirits had partly calmed down, the architectural complex had been presented “in the name of reconciliation,” as a tribute to the combatants of the two camps of the Civil War. To this end, the decree-law of August 23, 1957 clearly ordered: “Consequently, it will be the Monument to all those killed in combat, over whose sacrifice the peaceful arms of the Cross will triumph.”

The construction of this colossal temple, sheltered by the mountain and crowned on the outside with a monumental cross, took place between 1940 and 1958. It was entrusted first to the Basque architect, Pedro Muguruza, then to Diego Mendez. The basilica, of pharaonic dimensions, has a capacity of 24,000 people. The nave measures no less than 262 meters. The maximum height at the transept is 41 meters. On the outer plaza 200,000 people can gather. The cross, designed by Muguruza, rises 150 meters, to which must be added the 1400 meters of altitude of the Risco de la Nava. Two cars can pass each other along the arms of the cross, which are each 45 meters long.

Juan de Avalos is the creator of the Valle sculptures, in particular the gigantic heads of the evangelists at the foot of the cross. Before the Civil War, he was active in the ranks of the socialist youth and held the membership card number 7 of the Socialist Party of Mérida. Another interesting detail, the figure of Christ that dominates the main altar and that rests on a cross, whose juniper wood was cut by Franco, is the work of a Basque nationalist, the sculptor Julio Beobide, disciple of the famous painter Ignacio Zuloaga.

Above the altar, the impressive mosaic-covered cupola is the work of Catalan artist, Santiago Padrós y Elías. With a diameter of over 33 meters, it contains no less than 5 million tesserae. The central figure is Christ in Majesty, surrounded by angels, saints and martyrs.

This religious building includes not only a monumental church – elevated to the rank of basilica by Pope John XXIII – but also a Benedictine abbey. Until the Democratic Transition, there was also a Center for Social Studies (Centro de estudios sociales del Valle de los Caídos), the objective of which was to study, collect and disseminate the social doctrine of the Church, so that it inspired laws, and the actions of businessmen and the unions. The ideology of the Franco regime was marked – let us not forget – by the desire to rebuild a state which was to be above all Catholic. And it was for this reason that Pope Pius XII had conferred on the Generalissimo the Supreme Order of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the highest distinction of the Holy See.

The actual information on the construction of the structure was rarely published in the press. The media took the opportunity to report often extravagant figures. Thus, the number of political prisoners who worked there was not 14 or 20,000 (or even 200,000), as was repeated following the rants of the socialist Léo Brincat, responsible for the draft recommendation condemning the Franco regime to the Council of Europe (November 4, 2005). In fact, the number of worker-prisoners never exceeded 800 to 1000 men, or less than half of all workers (prisoners and free employees). At the end of 1943, the Spanish press even reported a total of 600 workers.

In a book published by the architect, and director of the work, Diego Mendez, it is stated that 2000 men worked in the Valle from 1940 to 1958. One of the very few researchers, if not the only one, who took the trouble to methodically analyze the documentary evidence (“Valle de los Caídos”), in the General Archives of the Royal Palace of Madrid (General Administrations Section) is professor of history at the CEU San Pablo University, in Madrid, Alberto Bárcena Pérez, author of La redención de penas en el Valle de los Caídos (The Reduction of Sentences at Valle de los Caídos), and a 2015 book, Los presos del Valle de los Caídos (The Prisoners of the Valle de los Caídos). The archival material is housed in 69 boxes, and the thousands of documents they contain completely demolish the caricatured and fraudulent image claimed by politicians, journalists and academics in the service of power.

The archives of the former Centro de estudios sociales del Valle de los Caídos (Center for Social Studies of the Valle de los Caídos) show 2,643 workers, including a minority of political prisoners who, in principle, “had to be volunteers who freely chose the system of reduction of sentence by work;” or, first, two days of reduction of the sentence for one day of work, then, six days of reduction for one day of work.

Alberto Barcena specifies that the prisoners carried out the same work as the free workers and under identical conditions (wages, hours and food). The detainees were also employed by the companies responsible for the work. They had to submit their request through the Patronato de Nuestra Señora de la Merced or National Center for the Redemption of Sentences, which had been created for this purpose and which had its seat at the Ministry of Justice.

The main part of the salaries of the detainees (fixed according to their family responsibilities) was sent directly to the families through the “local pro-prisoners committees,” which covered most of the national territory. Another part was placed in a booklet, the full amount of which was paid back when the detainee was released. Finally, a third part was given by hand. Political prisoners did not receive 0.5 or 1 peseta a day as it has often been written, but 7, then 10 pesetas, plus bonuses for hazardous work. Their families could reside in the barracks in the Valle, provided for this purpose. The working conditions were of course very harsh and the salary more than modest but, it must be remembered that at that time the standard of living in Spain was very low and that the average salary of a university assistant at the highest was barely 300 pesetas per month.

In 1950, nine years before the construction was completed, under the remission system, there was no longer a single political prisoner in the Valle. According to the testimonies of the doctor, chief physician, Angel Lausin, and the nurse, Luis Orejas, two proven supporters of the Popular Front, who arrived at the start of the worksite as political prisoners, and who remained there, after serving their sentence – in nineteen years of work, there were between fourteen and eighteen deaths (to which must be added more than fifty victims who died due to silicosis). Finally, the monument was not financed by the Spanish taxpayer, but by private donations and by the profits of annual lotteries.

The ultimate avatar of history: the last will of the old dictator, Francisco Franco, who died on November 20, 1975, was not respected. The Caudillo wanted to be buried in the cemetery of Pardo like other figures of the regime. But the head of the first government of the transition, Arias Navarro, and the new head of state, Juan Carlos (proclaimed King on November 22, 1975) decided otherwise. The King asked the Benedictine community, guardians of the Valle and of the Basilica, for authorization to bury the body of Francisco Franco at the foot of the altar, in front of the burial place of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, which was done with great fanfare on November 23, 1975.

Forty-three years later, on February 15, 2019, the day after his arrival at the Moncloa Palace, President Pedro Sánchez pledged to have the remains of dictator Franco exhumed as quickly as possible from the Basilica of Valle de los Caídos. This resulted in an endless legal battle. For a whole series of reasons, the Basilica is a place of worship whose inviolability is guaranteed by an international treaty on religious freedom, signed between Spain and the Holy See in 1979. The Benedictines, responsible for the monument, do not depend on the Vatican, but are under the authority of their abbot and that of the superior of their order, the abbot of the Abbey of Solesmes.

The Franco family demanded that the remains of the Caudillo be transferred to the family vault of the Cathedral of Almudena (Madrid), a proposal unacceptable to the socialist government. Finally, the improvised drafting of the royal decree-law ordering the exhumation was also to be a source of complications. Its strict application could indeed result in the immediate exhumation of 19 Benedictine monks as well as that of 172 other people who died after the end of the Civil War, and who are all buried in the Valle.

Finally, after the Supreme Court gave its approval, the political will of the government was imposed and the exhumation was carried out by the police on September 24, 2019. Since then, more or less authorized voices have been calling for the exhumation of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who is, however, also a victim of the Civil War. But at this stage, we cannot say whether, in the near or distant future, the authorities intend to give a new meaning to the monument, to desecrate the Basilica, or even to demolish the monumental Cross. These different options are in any case openly considered in the mainstream media.

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.

The photo shows the Pieta of the Valle de los Caídos, sculpted between 1952 and 1959 by Juan de Avalos.

Translated from the original French by N. Dass.

A Nationalist Account Of The Spanish Civil War

Among the many tools of the superbly effective Left propaganda machine, is its able control of publishing. Leftists use this to ensure that innumerable books fitting the Left narrative stay in print indefinitely, primarily for use as indoctrination tools in schools, as a glance at any modern curriculum at any grade level will show you.

On the other hand, books not fitting the Left narrative disappear—never republished, expensive to buy used, and impossible to read online because of the stupidly long terms of modern copyright law. Thus, the reprinting, by Mystery Grove Publishing, of this excellent book, by an Englishman who volunteered to fight for the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, is a great service.

Peter Kemp was born in India in 1915; his father was a judge in what was then called Bombay. As I have covered at great length elsewhere, the Spanish situation deteriorated from 1933 through 1936 (really 1931 through 1936, as the Spanish Left attempted to consolidate permanent power).

During this time, Kemp was studying at Cambridge to be a lawyer. His politics appear to have been quite conservative, but he makes only passing reference to his own beliefs. Kemp’s main reason for going to Spain seems to have been a desire common among young men throughout history, to seek adventure through warfare, although he was also horrified at the widespread atrocities of the Spanish Left immediately prior to the Civil War.

He acknowledges his desire in the title, which comes from an A. E. Housman poem used as an epigraph: “The thoughts of others / Were light and fleeting, / Of lover’s meeting / Or luck, or fame / Mine were of trouble / And mine were steady, / So I was ready / When trouble came.” If he had been a man of the Left, no doubt he would have joined the International Brigades, the collective organization of those non-Spaniards who fought for the Spanish Communists, the Republicans.

It would have been far easier and socially acceptable for him to join the Republicans, too, since they had an active, successful, and extremely well-funded propaganda operation that blanketed Europe, while the Nationalists made almost no effort to persuade others, aside from occasionally arranging curated tours for newspapermen, incorrectly believing their cause was self-proving or that foreign opinion was unimportant.

Thus, polite opinion in England favored the Republicans, something that troubled Kemp not at all. His complete lack of Spanish did not deter him either. And in those days before the overweening state presumed to dictate to us the smallest details of our lives, it was easy enough to go fight in a foreign war. True, as today, the Left was better organized, and every country in Europe had official, open recruiting stations for the International Brigades. Kemp simply got a letter from a newspaper editor friend saying that he was authorized to send back wire copy, as a cover story, and off he went across the French frontier.

This was November 1936. Kemp offers a thumbnail sketch of the first four months of the Civil War, which had passed by the time he arrived. At this point, Francisco Franco had not yet assumed supreme command, nor had he amalgamated the different political factions of the Nationalists under his personal control. As a result, the Nationalist military was organized in a fragmented and ad hoc manner. (The Republican military was too, but the Nationalists were much better as the war progressed at welding together the disparate components of their forces, helped by not being subject to the Moscow-directed purging that bled the Republicans).

The core of the Nationalist fighting forces was the Army of Africa, consisting of most of Spain’s land forces that actually had experience fighting. One part of this was the Spanish Foreign Legion (which meant Spaniards fighting abroad, in Africa; it was not a collective of foreigners, like the French Foreign Legion). The other was native Moroccans, the Regulares.

Two political parties also raised separate forces. The first was the Carlists, one branch of the Spanish monarchists (favoring a king other than Alfonso XIII, who had resigned in 1931 to avoid the civil war being fomented by the Left). The Carlists were dominant in the north of Spain, in Navarre and the Basque provinces, and were old-fashioned, happy to die for King and country. The second was the Falange, the small Spanish fascist political party, who had little in common politically with the Carlists (and in fact in later years squabbled violently with the Carlists). Franco, of course, was not a fascist or a member of the Falange; most Nationalist military officers were not political.

Kemp joined the Carlist forces, the Requetés. The Falange Kemp treats with some disdain; he seems to regard them as less than competent, brave enough but prone to scheming in preference to honest fighting, and too often substituting ideology for honor. And he was warned away from joining the Legion, which was regarded as extremely tough and demanding, and less than welcoming to a foreigner who spoke no Spanish. So the Carlists it was, and they were very welcoming, if highly informal, bordering on lax, in their organization.

From here, Mine Were of Trouble is personal narrative of Kemp’s experiences. For the most part, the Spaniards were glad to have him fighting with them, though sometimes he was the target of suspicion from military bureaucrats. He fought with the Carlists in various skirmishes and battles, including the Battle of Jarama (February 1937) and the Battle of Santander (July 1937).

He very much enjoyed his time with the Carlists, and was quickly promoted to alférez, a junior officer rank, sometimes translated “sub-lieutenant,” meaning in practice he commanded part of a platoon, apparently ten to twenty men at a time. But he disliked the Carlists’ lack of discipline and technical training; they substituted suicidal courage for better entrenchments and the use of modern guns and gun techniques. Kemp wanted to learn “first-class soldiering.” So, late in 1937, he joined the Legion.

The Legion was divided into twenty banderas, and Kemp was assigned to the 14th, a new bandera composed of disparate parts. His welcome was frosty – he was viewed with suspicion, as a foreigner, and as a Protestant, something the Legionnaires associated with Freemasonry, one of the main avenues by which leftist poison had entered the Spanish body politic.

Still, using time-honored tools to overcome such military suspicion, hard work and bravery, Kemp soon enough became accepted by his men, and by most of the officers, even though some of the latter never warmed to him, less from suspicion and more because they felt he could never truly understand the existential evil of the Spanish Left, which drove many of them personally, since nearly all had had relatives murdered in Republican-held Spain.

Kemp led a machine-gun platoon, with four obsolete guns with zero spare parts as their only rapid-fire weapons, so soon enough, it was three guns, and then one. In November 1937, his unit moved southeast, to the Guadalajara front close to Madrid, as the Nationalists successfully liberated more and more of Spain.

The book’s narrative is compelling, and not just the battle scenes. Kemp does an excellent job of describing the landscape of the various areas in which he spent time, initially in the north, and later both west and east of Madrid. The reader gets a good feel, in particular, for the rugged nature of much of the terrain.

He also describes the towns and villages in which he was billeted (as with most wars, waiting occupied much of his time), as well as their inhabitants, nearly all of whom strongly supported the Nationalists, both in general and especially after roving bands of Republican militias had come through early in the war, tortured the local priest to death, killed other citizens, and moved on. At no point does the book drag. You might even call it a page-turner.

Occasionally Kemp diverges to discuss events to which he was not personally a witness. Notably, he discusses the April 1937 bombing of Guernica, which took place not far from where he was then stationed, and was the supreme propaganda triumph of the Communists and their international supporters during the entire war.

Kemp strongly believed that the Republicans burned the town themselves, as they had many other towns from which they had been expelled. That was the Nationalist line at the time, in opposition to the massive global campaign spreading the lie that the Nationalists, with the help of the Germans, had bombed a non-military target to terrorize the population.

No doubt Guernica was a wholly legitimate target, and the bombing wholly appropriate, if not executed entirely competently. (Bombing civilian towns without a military presence was actually a Republican specialty; Kemp notes that early in the war, Toledo, a Nationalist town, had been so attacked). But objective modern historians (as opposed to Communist mouthpieces like Paul Preston) generally conclude that the Nationalists were lying that the destruction was caused by the Republicans burning the town, in a crude and unsuccessful attempt to counter Republican propaganda.

Kemp offers all his experiences with no sugarcoating. In the Legion, there was extremely rigid discipline, with corporal punishment for minor infractions and the death penalty for any insubordination. The good result of this was that looting and rape, commonly committed by Republican forces, was nonexistent.

The bad result was that in Kemp’s bandera, though it was against Nationalist policy, many prisoners, and all of certain categories, were shot out of hand. Those categories included members of the International Brigades, blamed for prolonging the war by preventing the early liberation of Madrid. Of course, Kemp would have been shot too if captured; he knew that at the time, and he quotes a British captain in the International Brigades whom he talked to after the war who leaves no doubt.

Early in the war, both the Republicans and the Nationalists took few prisoners, but by this point the Nationalists had mostly stopped that practice, and the Republicans, consistently losing, didn’t capture that many fresh prisoners, having murdered most of them already, along with any Nationalists they could find in the cities, towns, and villages they controlled. (Kemp notes that when international bodies such as the Non-Intervention Committee began to organize prisoner exchanges, they found almost no Nationalist prisoners held by the Republicans, and large numbers of Republicans held by the Nationalists).

Tactically, of course, this is a poor decision—as Niall Ferguson wrote in The Pity of War, refusing to accept surrender needlessly prolongs wars. Regardless, Kemp thought that his own superior officers were perniciously fond of killing prisoners, and relates at horrified length how an Irish deserter from the International Brigades presented himself, claiming he had been impressed into the Brigades. Kemp got permission from his immediate superiors to send the Irishman away as a POW, but the colonel above them curtly ordered Kemp to shoot the prisoner, which he did (or rather he had two of his men do it), something he found extremely difficult.

Back at the front, the war ground on and the Nationalists implemented Franco’s slow strategy. (It was later called plodding and unimaginative, which perhaps it was, and also called an attempt to kill as many Communists as possible, which perhaps it also was. We’ll never know; Franco was famously taciturn).

Kemp fought in the Battle of Teruel, which was bitter and more of the same, featuring hand-to-hand fighting in olive groves and the intermittent appearance of light tanks, often turning the tide at the last minute, including once when Kemp’s unit was about to be overrun. Many of Kemp’s friends died; he gives full credit to his opponents for bravery and competence.

He was stationed for a few weeks in Belchite, a village that had been destroyed earlier, which was left destroyed after the war and was used as the backdrop for the BBC series, The Spanish Civil War. It is here, late in the book, where the most jarring passage of book occurs. Kemp relates how four Western journalist friends of his, two American and two British, were driving near the battle when a shell hit their car. Three were killed. The fourth, the survivor, he mentions only here: Kim Philby.

Of course, in 1957, when this book was published, Kemp could not have known that Philby, a traitor since the 1920s, was one of the most evil men of the twentieth century, responsible, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of millions. He was in Nationalist Spain masquerading as a journalist in order to spy for the Communists, and in fact this incident, since it brought him to the favorable attention of the Nationalist authorities, strengthened his ability to spy, bringing him into direct contact with Franco, with the goal of furthering Franco’s assassination by the Communists. But Kemp knew none of this. It is strange how history works, and how it could have been different had we been more lucky, and Philby killed in 1937.

Kemp was wounded several times, and had to recuperate, but was back in action by May 1938. Not for long, though. Fighting near Aragon in July, a mortar bomb exploded next to him, shattering his jaw and hand, burning his throat, and nearly killing him. Recuperating for months, he asked permission for leave to return to England to convalesce, which was granted.

First, however, Franco asked to see him, and he had a thirty-minute interview, consisting mostly of Franco talking about the dangers of Communism. Franco concluded by asking Kemp what he would do after the war, to which Kemp said presumably he would fight in the British military “in the coming war.” Franco responded, with a “wintry smile,” “I don’t think there will be a war,” to which Kemp’s response was, “I wonder what he really thought.”

By March 1939, the Spanish war was over, and Kemp did not return to Spain for some time, although he fought with great distinction in World War II and thereafter. But that is another story, told by Kemp in other books.

Today, of course, the modern successors of the Spanish Communists would ensure that a man like Kemp had no peace after the guns fell silent. Those who fought for the International Brigades received nothing but lionization, and to this day are unjustly and foolishly praised, but even in his time, Kemp was threatened by his local police chief in England that he “might find [himself] liable to prosecution under the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1880, or some such date.”

Kemp died in 1993, but we can be certain that if he had lived longer, the European Left, both in Spain and England, would have tried to prosecute him as a “war criminal,” by which they mean any person who opposed their totalitarian aims of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I often complain about this, that the Left ensures that its enemies are hounded to the grave and beyond, while the Right fails to do the same and, an equally great failing, fails to fight back adequately. Maybe this is a historical anomaly and in the decades to come the roles will be reversed; one can hope.

You will not find here new lessons on the Spanish Civil War, but you will find lessons that are not commonly known. This book is interesting in its own right, and a quick read. I highly recommend it. Most of all, it’s a vivid exposure to the reality that the side that deserved to win the Civil War, and fortunately did, was the Nationalists, who bore little resemblance to the caricature that nearly a century of Left lies has planted in the rest of the West. More people should know this, and Mine Were of Trouble is a good place to start.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows, “I will join up with my companions,” a poster by Carlos Saenz de Tejada, from 1940.

The Lopsided Spanish Civil War

Years ago, I lived in Budapest with an elderly Hungarian relative, my grandfather’s cousin. She had lived through World War II as a young woman. One day, as we were eating lunch, she reminisced about the Russian invasion and conquest of Hungary in 1945, which she survived.

She looked at me and said (in Hungarian), “Always remember, when you are grown and are a powerful man, that war is a terrible thing.” We all know this, but it is easy to forget the personal impact of war—both on soldiers and on everyone else in a society. This uneven book is a reminder of those costs, and an opportunity to ponder when they are worth paying, as civil war slouches ever closer to us.

I’ve been on a Spanish Civil War kick for some time now. No points for guessing why. This is the first book on modern Spain that I have read, however. Well, it’s half about modern Spain. It is an odd book, by an author apparently famous in Spain, Javier Cercas. Half of it is about Cercas, his family, his emotional states, and his quest to explore the brief life of his great uncle, Manuel Mena, a soldier who died in the Nationalist cause.

The other half is about Mena himself, where Cercas teases what little definite history exists into a narrative, and then extends the narrative to structural failure by wishful thinking that Mena was really not who he was. These two halves repeatedly cross over into each other, in a choppy narrative that contains entirely too much navel-gazing by Cercas about himself. But hey, it’s his book, and maybe this is what sells in Spain.

Lord of All the Dead is tightly focused on the village in which Mena lived and in which Cercas was born, and in which their extended family all lived, until mostly leaving in the 1960s, during the massive economic boom brought about by Francisco Franco in the third act of his life, as dictator of Spain for nearly forty years.

That village is called Ibahernando; it lies in the west of Spain, in Extremadura, always an impoverished, rural province. (Fleeing from there to places where one can make money has a long pedigree—many of the most famous conquerors of the New World came from Extremadura, including Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro). In Cercas’s description, it is today nearly empty and irrelevant to the nation as a whole, though I can’t tell if that’s true. It would certainly not be surprising, in these days of urbanization and plummeting populations.

We do not learn until near the end of the book why the title, though I should have caught it on my own. It comes from the famous response given by the shade of Achilles, asked by Odysseus how it goes in the afterlife. Achilles responds that he would rather be a penniless farmer than lord of all the dead. Although this book is framed as an exploration of the life of Mena, as the title shows it is really an attempt by Cercas to rewrite his sacrifice as a tragic waste, in contradiction to what Mena himself very obviously thought.

What Cercas is selling is that although Mena, and many of his relatives, saw Mena’s death as a kalos thanatos, a perfect death, really it was stupid, not just because it was a young man’s in war, but most of all because he was ignorant of his actual interests, which, Cercas lectures us over and over, as with everyone in Ibahernando, lay entirely with the Republicans, for whom they all would have been fighting if they had had any sense. Yes, this is really his claim.

We will get later to the interests of the villagers. I am not going to discuss the whys and wherefores of the Spanish Civil War; I have already done that elsewhere. What I’d like to explore is two things. First, what drives civil conflict in small polities far from the centers of power? Second, ignoring Cercas’s attempts to impose his own views on Manuel Mena, at what point should a society be willing to sacrifice its young men in battle, and its young women at home if they lose to the wrong adversary, along with much else, to a cause? Or, put another way, at what point should the costs my own aunt related be borne?

For the most part, I am therefore going to ignore that Cercas unreflectingly parrots standard left-wing propaganda about the war, which is doubtless the norm for his social class and standing in Spain today. In this view, the Spanish Republic brought low by Franco was a pure and wonderful democracy that came to power by democratic means. It represented all Spain. It committed no wrongs, except a few minor excesses in response to right-wing rebellion.

Cercas says nary a word about the massive violence and atrocities against conservatives and the Church that resulted in Franco’s entirely rational and moral rebellion against an illegitimate Communist-dominated regime. (Cercas delicately refers to violence and atrocities encouraged and permitted under the Republic as “confrontations produced by the Republic’s efforts to modernize the country”).

Words in this book are carefully chosen for propaganda effect; the name “Hitler” appears early and often attached to Franco; the names “Stalin” and “Soviet Union” do not appear a single time anywhere. I assume all this is mainline modern Spanish leftism. To be fair, it’s not over the top, not like Communist apologists, such as, Paul Preston. It’s more like Cercas has just absorbed the party line and regurgitates it as he goes along, focused primarily on creating an alternative history of his uncle that will be palatable to his social circle.

The story of Mena is fairly straightforward, though Cercas manages to make it somewhat difficult to follow by making the story not about Mena, but about his own gradual unearthing of facts about Mena. He couples this with endless maundering about his own emotions as they relate to Mena and to the rest of his family. Run-on sentences and the use of directly translated Spanish idioms making little sense in English do not contribute; nor does a lot of talk about his filmmaker friend whose wife left him for Viggo Mortensen, though that’s a little bit amusing. She probably left him because he had annoying friends like Cercas!

I will impose some order on the narrative. The core figure in Cercas’s exploration is his own mother, still alive and a major character in this book. She was eight years younger than her uncle, Mena, her father’s brother, to whom she was very close. In a village community of this type, large families were the norm at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the families tended to intermarry, with second cousins marrying each other.

We forget, in these days of sad wine aunts and atomization, that this kind of tangled, extended-family web used to be the norm for most people. Thus, through his mother Cercas is introduced to all those still alive who can shed light on Mena’s life. Other than in the village, where a main street is named after him, nobody at all remembers Mena.

Starting with his mother, Cercas gradually expands his circle of interlocutors. He does not talk to a single person who supported Franco or the Falange. Rather, he talks to elderly leftists, none his relatives, and to younger leftists who are all cousins of one type or another, most of all one who is today a socialist delegate to the European Parliament.

This is also bizarre, for in his own telling everyone was a Francoist until the 1970s, yet Cercas does not offer a single word from anyone in support of any Right political position. He talks of “Francoist families” and how they still remember Mena’s funeral, but does not talk to any of them. Rather, his project is to signal to his readership the illegitimacy of any support for Franco, so it is no surprise that he offers no Francoist perspectives. Instead, he offers the unconditional self-abasement of a Maoist struggle session.

I lost track of the innumerable times Cercas refers to Mena’s, and his extended family’s, “shame” and “dishonour,” while never once specifying in what way they were shamed and dishonored. (On one page the words show up eight times, along with an incomprehensible reference to the “defeats” of his shamed ancestors, who, after all, won the war).

I can only assume that in the left-wing circles in modern Spain in which Cercas lives and breathes, it is presumed that any connection, no matter how faint, to Francoism is somehow shameful and dishonorable. His social class, represented by his cuckold filmmaker friend, tells him as an established fact that opposing the Communists was “a mistaken cause” and “unjust.” None of this is true, and Cercas even tells us the cliché that victors write the histories, ignoring the obvious falsity of that here.

But let’s turn to Mena. It is a short enough story. When the time for political choosing came, Mena was, like many young men, attracted to the Falange, with its blend of traditionalism and modernism. Cercas unearths some speeches written by him for delivery to the local Falange youth group, which are standard boilerplate.

When the war broke out in 1936, Mena volunteered, at age seventeen. He was made a second lieutenant, in the Ifni Riflemen, a regiment of the Regulares (mainly Moroccan enlisted men with Spanish officers) and fought in several battles. He was killed in 1938, at age nineteen, at the Battle of the Ebro, in Catalonia, shot in the abdomen. His body was brought back to Ibahernando and buried, an event of great significance in the village, and one of the defining events of Mena’s mother’s life – although, strangely, Cercas never asks her any of her opinions, just for the facts.

Cercas is very focused on the political situation in Ibahernando, and as we will see, it is through this prism that he interprets the meaning of Mena’s life. I find this fascinating, because it says much about politics outside the centers of power, once you strip away the distortions Cercas creates while twisting history to fit into his frame.

The author views the politics of the 1920s and the 1930s in Ibahernando through a tired Marxist lens. In Cercas’s telling, most of the land in Ibahernando was owned by absentee landlords, nobles of one sort or another, who lived in Madrid. Until a few decades before the war, everyone was essentially a serf who worked the land. But at some point, enterprising farmers began renting land from the nobles, and even were able, after some time, to own a modest amount of land.

In other words, they became what Stalin called kulaks – farmers a little better off than their neighbors, as a result of their own initiative and hard work. Others remained landless farm laborers or tenant farmers. Cercas tells us this introduced class stratification into Ibahernando, and that rather than being united against their real oppressors, the absentee landlords, a type of local aristocracy, a very modest type, emerged. A key member of this aristocracy, he says, was his own family.

Whatever the accuracy of this history, which so far probably is pretty accurate, such stratification is completely unsurprising. In any human grouping, an aristocracy naturally arises, because people are not the same, and some people’s talents are better suited to any given situation, so rewards and leadership flow their way.

But Cercas obviously can’t accept that; it contradicts left-wing doctrine of emancipation and equality, and thus reality must be denied, or rather simply ignored. Still, he is puzzled, because he doesn’t have an alternative explanation for the development of this split. He didactically instructs us that “the interests of the community were the same,” without making any effort to demonstrate it. It’s obvious the villagers didn’t think so.

For example, Cercas talks several times about agricultural wage laborers forming “right-wing unions” early in the Republic, which would suggest that they didn’t see their interests as the same as everyone else’s, and he also talks briefly about how Ibahernando had a significant Protestant minority, although otherwise he ignores the importance of religion. Anybody but a Marxist can see that Ibahernando, like any other polity, had many competing interests, and only a few of them were economic ones.

That doesn’t mean his family was conservative in Spanish political terms. His grandfather, one of the most prominent men in the village, was a Socialist when he was mayor for a brief time in the early 1930s. What seems to have happened is that much of the village did in fact view politics, for a time, though the lens of class, and supported the ending of the monarchy and the establishment of a republican form of government.

But when it became evident what the real program of the Left was, agreed to at the infamous Pact of San Sebastien, most of the village rejected it, especially when the Left unleashed violent attacks across the land, whereupon most of the village, from the meanest laborer to Cercas’s grandfather, turned against the Left. Bizarrely, Cercas denies any of this leftist violence happened, at the same time he says that it caused a political earthquake in the village. “[T]he memory many elderly people in Ibahernando have of the Second Republic is a memory poisoned by confrontation, division, and violence. It is a false memory, a memory distorted or contaminated retrospectively by the memory of the Civil War that swept the Second Republic away.”

There is indeed a falsehood here, but we don’t need to go to the history books to see that Cercas is either lying or fooling himself, for his own history shows the lie.

Cercas narrates how in 1933 the local Communists demanded suppression of religious festivities and repeatedly tried to burn the local church; how they collected weapons and shot at their enemies; how in 1935 they put together a plan to take a list of “people on the Right” and “proposed taking them one by one from their houses and murdering them” (a plot only stopped by the mayor’s intervention); and how they tried to assassinate his maternal grandfather in 1934, by shotgunning him in the street. And when men on the Right asked for state protection, they were “advised to protect themselves.” So they bought guns – and immediately after the February 1936 elections, the new Left governor of the province put both of Cercas’s grandfathers in prison for “stockpiling weapons.”

No wonder there was “growing anxiety.” But there was only one source for that anxiety—the violence and hatred of the Left, and their open desire to exterminate their political opponents. Cercas, though, speaks constantly of “Francoist terror,” without naming a single example prior to the war. There was some, later – as in all these divided Spanish villages, when the war broke out, the Right punished those who had been attacking them for years, and often people took the opportunity to settle personal scores.

But Cercas, even though his own facts contradict him, treats Right violence as the only problem, when in reality it was purely reactive and defensive, and perhaps inevitable after years of Left threats and violence, and in an atmosphere where the town expected Republican army attack at any moment, such that the town square and the houses surrounding it were entrenched and sandbagged.

That doesn’t mean the villagers who rejected the Left became Falangists, or even Francoists. Outside the centers of power, most people aren’t driven by politics, or at least to the same degree, and this is a lesson for today. They just saw the Left as the greater evil, and they had to pick a side, because of what men of power far away had done.

Many of the men of the village, rich or poor, fought in volunteer militias for the Nationalists in the first few months of the war, including Cercas’s paternal grandfather, but they were sent home by the end of 1936, as the Nationalists consolidated and professionalized Franco’s initially ad hoc army. Cercas throws up chaff to obscure their choice, condescendingly claiming that the poor disliked “disorder.” They had a “superstitious love for order and tradition”; they were “addicted to order,” so they joined the Nationalists.

His argument is that if the Left had simply been more communicative about the reasons they were killing people the village would have supported them. But the truth is pretty obvious, if wholly unpalatable to Cercas—his village was mostly, or nearly all, Franco supporters, including his great uncle, and presumably including his mother, about whose political beliefs Cercas says nothing. But, as I say, we never get any detail or discussion about Right political views, in fact, other than the bare narration that many of the author’s relatives fought for the Nationalists.

Cercas marches on, though, trapped in his own frame. He quotes his socialist cousin at length, that it is incomprehensible that villagers didn’t unite with the Left to fight their “true enemies,” the landowners. He studiously ignores the complexities of the Spanish Right, such as that the Falange’s philosophy actually had many left-wing, populist elements, and, as Cercas himself discusses in the context of Mena’s pro-Falange writings, “preached the harmony of classes.”

Cercas has to do this, because he is aiming at his main goal, to “prove” that Mena, a vigorous Falangist, was self-deluded, but he couldn’t help it. He was just a kid “intoxicated by pernicious idealism”; all that he believed was merely an “ideological concoction devised by the oligarchy to halt socialist and democratic equality.” “He had lost everything fighting for a cause that was not his but that of others.” No doubt Cercas buys into Marxist delusions like “false consciousness,” though that phrase doesn’t appear here.

And, finally, desperate for an arc to his story that contradicts the story of a young hero who died for his ideals, Cercas constructs a fantasy in which Mena became wholly disillusioned by the war. No doubt, after much direct experience with war, he was disillusioned – only some men, a minority, enjoy war, although for many it is a mixed bag, never all bad or all good.

Cercas builds up to what he thinks is the culmination of his book – an elderly uncle suddenly remembers, although he never told anyone before, was not there, and cannot remember who told him, that in his last visit to the village Mena told someone that the war was hard and that he had done his duty; that he didn’t want to go back to the front, but was going to anyway, because if he didn’t, another uncle would have had to go to war. Cercas responds “Are you saying that Manuel Mena was fed up with the war?” To which the old man replies, “Exactly. Fed up.” This is what is called in law the rankest hearsay, along with leading the witness. It’s meaningless.

But not in the context of Cercas’s project, which seems to be primarily to exonerate himself to his social peers today for the fact that his family was Francoist, and Cercas treats the old man’s words as a revelation comparable to Prometheus bringing fire to Man. Oh, it’s probably true. I bet Manuel Mena was fed up with the war. I bet most soldiers in his position were fed up with the war and would far prefer it be over. This is a commonplace throughout history. But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t also know that the only way home was to win against the Communists, or that he had changed his mind about what was necessary for Spain to flourish and thrive.

So what does this say about our own political divisions? Less than one might think. In Spain, there were clear and unbridgeable political divisions among the ruling classes, which inevitably led to war. Here, there are no such divisions – our ruling classes, Democrat and Republican, are united in their contempt for the deplorables, many of whom bear a suspicious resemblance to the poor citizenry of Ibahernando. Trump may talk about fighting the ruling classes, and they do hate him because he threatens their cushy position by the chaos he creates and the positions he theoretically espouses, which if unchecked might empower the deplorables, but Jared and Ivanka, and the rest of those who influence and limit Trump, aren’t really opposed to George Soros and Gavin Newsom politically.

All these people are just fighting over the spoils, not fighting about principles with each other. Their collective vision is a continuation of the neoliberal atomized hell with leftist social policies in which we live (which, to be fair, has been very, very good to me, but I am a traitor to my class).

To the extent there are real divisions outside the ruling class, Americans, with their comfortable lifestyles, addiction to safety, and facing the overwhelming power and reach of the government, aren’t going to fight for anything, among themselves or against the government. Claims otherwise, anywhere on the political spectrum, are all LARPing for the social media cameras. People on the Right point to Antifa as a budding locus of violence, but that’s not true in any meaningful way. Antifa is a clown show, performance theater.

They only engage in violence because they are protected by the police and judges in the places they do it; if they showed up any other place but a few friendly urban locales, they would regret it, and quickly. Look at them. They are fat losers. In a real civil war they would run and hide as fast as their tubby little legs could carry them. No, like most people in Ibahernando, the average American just wants to get by, and enjoy life, and isn’t, for better or worse, going to actually fight about politics.

At least they’re not going to fight yet. The Wuhan Plague, and more the government overreaction to it, has turned the ratchet a few more turns. Someday the ruling classes are no longer going to be able to print money and make promises to keep the peasants from becoming restless, and they will be thrust to the side as the political currents of Left and Right rear their heads and assume shape under leaders yet to be named. Or perhaps we will have a tripartite split, with the ruling classes fighting simultaneously against a newly organized, competent, and risk-taking Left and Right. We will then see, in every locale, what Ibahernando did—that no, we can’t all just get along, because one vision of the good must rule, and incompatible visions are, well, incompatible.

And, finally, back to my great aunt, who told me that war is a terrible thing. This same sentiment runs throughout this book, although without nuance or understanding, since Cercas has apparently taken no risks in his life, and he cannot escape his ideological prison when viewing the past. He seems to want to think that war can both be brutal and evil, and noble and necessary, but cannot bear to apply that principle to his great uncle.

Cercas would do well to read Sebastian Junger’s Tribe, which lays out what war really means for modern men, and explains, aside from politics, why, perhaps, Manuel Mena fought and died. I think that the idea of a kalos thanatos should not be encouraged; it is a pagan ideal, after all, and as the father of three young sons it does not appeal to me. But sacrifice combined with seeking a transcendent goal has a key place in any society that is going anywhere.

What is true for a man is true for a society—there are worse things than war, as terrible as war is. Far worse for Spain, for example, to have been ruled by the Communists, both in terms of the number of dead and in the ruination of the nation. Sometimes, often, we must choose between two unpalatable choices.

My own aunt was not saying that Hungary was wrong to fight in the war; given history and circumstance, it was both necessary and inevitable. Rather, her point was to remember, when and if a man of power, I should count the cost, and not idly or blindly feed the little people into the maw of the machine. This is a universal truth, untied to ideology. But Cercas’s book fails because he views everything through ideology. Lord of All the Dead could have been a fascinating exploration of the Spanish conflict on a local level, but instead, it’s just claptrap.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows, “A Nationalist Soldier on the Santander Front in a Captured Concrete Dug-Out with ‘Marxist’ Inscriptions – ’Death to Spain!’ and ‘Long Live Russia”, by Carlos Saenz de Tejada, Illustrated London News, 20 Nov. 1937.

Under cover of Anti-Francoism, They Are Revising History

For the past fifteen years or so, the use of history for political ends has become the indelible mark of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the cryptocommunist far Left (today united under the acronym, Podemos Izquierda Unida). The same talking-points are always mentioned by the political authorities and the mainstream media: the Francoist repression” (or White Repression), and the repression of the Left during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. On the other hand, a careful examination reveals the repression of the Right by the Left. But for the Left – it is said – only “mourning” was done under the dictatorship.

Over the years, the memorialist ideology of the Spanish Left has steadily grown. History, which bizarrely, is said to be dominated by the Right, has become suspect. It has been replaced by “historical and democratic memory.” Based on individual and subjective memories, it is not concerned with explaining and understanding, but with selecting, condemning and denouncing.

Forgiveness and Dialogue – All That Is Finished

In the aftermath of the Franco dictatorship, from 1976 to 1982, two principles animated “the spirit of democratic transition:” Reciprocal forgiveness and dialogue between government and opposition. It was not a question of forgetting the past, but of overcoming it and looking resolutely to the future. There was then, as the authorities are pleased to say today, “no voluntary amnesia,” nor “a pact of silence.”

On the contrary, the democratic transition was based on a perfect awareness of the failures of the past and on the will to overcome them. It was not a question of imposing silence on historians and journalists, but of letting them debate, and refusing to allow politicians to take up the subject for their partisan struggles. There was therefore no oversight; but, on the contrary, a particular attention was paid to history, which led to an impressive number of publications, the likes of which doubtless had never been seen.

But from the 1990s onwards, and in particular after the 1993 election campaign, the attitude of the Socialist Party changed. A neo-Socialist and post-Marxist cultural tidal wave soon overwhelmed Spain. The Manichean history of the first years of Franco’s regime, which was believed to be permanently buried with him, has resurfaced, but in another form. With José Luis Zapatero’s Historical Memory Law of 2007, new impetus was given to the arguments of the “Memoria histórica” and a real atmosphere of pre-civil war gradually settled upon the country.

Memorial Amnesia

In December 2008, the Socialist parliamentary group presented to Parliament a new bill to reform and amplify the 2007 law. In its first draft, this bill provided for a Truth Commission (sic!), composed of eleven designated members by Parliament to tell the historical truth. It also provided for fines of up to 150,000 euros, prison terms for up to 4 years, destruction of published works and the dismissal of teachers found guilty for up to ten years. Luckily, this undemocratic monstrosity has been overhauled and to-date it is a new, “softer” draft that is waiting to be examined and voted on by parliamentarians.

Contrary to what the title of a Parisian evening newspaper recently asserted, it is not the ban on the cult of Franco that divides Spain, but the definition or the meaning that the new memorial bill gives to “the apology of Francoism.” It is indeed peculiar and disturbing to see parties of the Left, which have become amnesiac, presenting a supposedly democratic bill which is basically only a step towards the establishment of a kind of soft Sovietism. It is mind-boggling to see left-wing parties claiming to be part of the Second Republic and democracy also forgetting or camouflaging their own historical memory.

The Crimes Of The Left

How can we forget that portion of the Left’s responsibility in the origin of the Civil War, when the revolutionary myth of armed struggle was shared by all the Left?

How can we forget that liberal democracy was seen, by the Bolshevized Socialist Party, by the Communist Party and by the Anarchists, only as a means to achieve their ends: “Popular democracy” or the socialist state?

How can we forget the use of massive political violence by the Socialist Party during the October 1934 putsch, or coup d’état against the Liberal-Centrist government of the radical, Alejandro Lerroux, whose party was fueled by Freemasons?

How can we forget that during the elections of the Popular Front, in February 1936, 50 seats on the Right were invalidated and systematically granted to the Left, so that it could have a majority?

How can we forget that the President of the Republic, Niceto Alcalá Zamora, considered too conservative, was dismissed “in violation of the constitution,” after a real “parliamentary coup d’état,” according to his own words?

How can we forget the terror on the street (more than 300 dead in three months), the marginalization and exclusion of the parliamentary opposition in June?

Abuses In Both Camps

How can we forget that the atrocities and extrajudicial executions were as terrible and numerous in one camp as in the other? How can we forget that the founding fathers of the Republic, the intellectuals Marañon, Perez de Ayala, Ortega y Gasset, or even Unamuno – the evil that happened him, according to Alejandro Amenábar – the true liberals and democrats of the time, opposed the Popular Front and chose the National camp?

Why spread the idea that, since the beginning of the establishment of democracy, the Spaniards have been unable to overcome the past, that the Transition has been cowardice, and that the Right continues, for the most part, to be Francoist?

Why delegitimize the democratization of Spain and undermine the 1978 Constitution? Why not finally let the dead bury the dead permanently? In 1547, after having captured the city of Wittenberg, Charles V visited the tomb of the man who had been his harshest enemy, Martin Luther. Some advisers suggested that he burn the remains of the “heretic.” Magnanimously the emperor replied: “He found his judge. I make war on the living, not on the dead.”

The 1978 Constitution Flouted

The Civil War historian cannot subscribe to a litany of hate, revenge and demolition. He knows very well that we must not confuse the origins and antecedents of the Civil War with the coup d’état of July 18, 1936, nor the Civil War with Franco’s dictatorship; that all these are very different facts; and that, as such, they can be judged and interpreted in very different ways.

By confusing everything, mixing everything up, we condemn ourselves to not understanding anything. Suitably, article 16 of the 1978 Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, ideological freedom and freedom of worship and religious belief, without any other possible restrictions than those derived from the maintenance of public order, protected by law.

Hopefully, parliamentarians will remember it when examining and voting on this new bill, which is so anti-democratic and obscurantist, so radically incompatible with what the “values of the European Union” are or should be.

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 Spanish by N. Dass.

The image shows a child’s drawing, at the back of which is this inscription in the child’s own hand: “his scene shows a bombing in my town, Port-Bou. María Dolores Sanz, age 13.” Drawing ca. 1936-1938.



Paddy’s Lament: The Irish And Their Music In The American Civil War

Introduction

In this essay we will look at songs concerning the Irish in the American Civil War, in order to come to a deeper grasp of this community in that war. By doing so, we will explore the interaction of the Irish with other minority groups caught up in the conflict, and their common lot with the larger Anglo culture.

We will examine period pieces and modern compositions related to the Irish. These songs are “The Opinions of Paddy Magee,” “We’ll Fight For Uncle Sam,” “Irish Volunteer,” “Kelly’s Irish Brigade,” “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp,” “Two Brothers Masterson,” “Boys That Wore the Green,” “Paddy’s Lamentation,” the equally doleful “Mick Ryan’s Lament,” and “Modern Army O.” Passing references will be made to “I Goes to Fight Mit Sigel” and “List of Generals.”

The Civil War produced a great many musical pieces. I chose the ones in this essay that especially invite distinct topical consideration. Briefly, “We’ll Fight For Uncle Sam” looks at Irish soldiers from the North. It also allows us to delve into George McClellan’s persistent popularity with his units, both ethnic and otherwise, throughout the course of the conflict. “Kelly’s Irish Brigade,” examines Irish southerners. In “Two Brothers Masterson” we look at the tensions that immigrants had with Africans. The role Germans and natives played in the war and its music is also considered.

The song “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp” permits us to see connections with political movements back in Ireland. “The Irish Volunteer” demonstrates an eagerness to adopt native concerns and politics by new arrivals. “The Boys Who Wore the Green” is a look into the unit and cultural diversity, and chaos, which the 19th-century citizen-soldier model of military organization allowed for. “Paddy’s Lamentation” gives us insight into the disillusion which mid-war Irish were feeling, along with the rest of America.

Finally, “Modern Army O” and “Mick Ryan’s Lament” take us to the postwar world of an America eager to get back to normal. There is, of course, overlap in some of the themes chosen here, and each verse carries much historical meaning. Therefore, these works of popular art allow us to take a survey of topics related to Irishmen in the definitive American experience, the Civil War.

Gratitude and Patriotism

At the top of our list is “The Opinions of Paddy Magee.” The song addresses the proximate reason many Irish came to America in the mid-19th-century: the Great Hunger of 1845-49.

Along with other Anglosphere lands (Britain, of course, but also Canada and Australia) – starving Celts arrived in these United States by the hundreds of thousands at that time. Immediately they were recipients of native hostility.

The 1860s conflict gave refugees like “Opinions’” fictional narrator Paddy a chance to route the libel of divided loyalties, and show his gratitude towards his adopted home. During the real-life outbreak of war, the Catholic archbishop of New York, John Hughes, could not hang flags fast enough from his parishes. With memories of the popular “Know Nothing” Party and the horrific anti-Catholic Philadelphia riots of 1844 not far from mind, our soldier-singer declares:

Whin Ireland was needing, and famine was feeding
And thousands were dying for something to ate,
‘Twas America’s daughters that sent over the waters
The ships that were loaded with corn and whate.
And Irishmen, sure, will forever remember
The vessels that carried the flag of the free.
And the land that befriended, they’ll die to defend it
And that’s the opinions of Paddy Magee.

According to the song, the Civil War allowed these new Americans to repay charity given them a generation before.

Pay

Next at bat we have a pair of songs, “We’ll Fight For Uncle Sam” and “The Irish Brigade.” With these pieces we confront the basic question of why Irish immigrants participated so robustly on both sides of the conflict? The Crisis of 1860 and the war it precipitated were many miles removed from the concerns and culture of the Irish.

Whatever theoretical appeal Constitutional liberties like freedom of religion held for Hiberians, the welcome they actually received was not a warm one. Anti-Irish animosity became so desperate that famously during the Mexican War (1846-48) an entire brigade of the Federal army deserted over to the Mexican side!

Like German immigrants two generations later, Irish support for the Union was not a given. One pedestrian, though evergreen, reason immigrants fought in large numbers was for money. The famous $13 per month which Union privates received, even the Confederate’s $11 per month, a holdover from the prewar pay scale, was head and shoulders better than the unstable morsels which urban day laborers took in, to say nothing of the tempestuous lives of rural farmers.

In “We’ll Fight for Uncle Sam,” a Union piece, it contains the line, “Not long ago I came here from the bogs of sweet Kilarney. I used to cry out, ‘Soap Fat!’ because that was my trade, sir; ‘til I ‘listed as corporal in Corcoran’s brigade, sir.” Many of the Irish immigrants of the 1860s had come from rural stock. They had few marketable skills in the crowded cities of the north. If the army didn’t allow for a better life, it at least provided a less indigent one.

Geopolitics:Cotton

It is unwise to consider the Civil War in a vacuum. As comfortable as it is to study as such, as our definitive event, we must recall what Walter McDougal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute says. The War of the Rebellion was not an insular oddity, but, “part of the deepest rhythms of world history.” The trends of centralization, servile abolition, and a “shrinking” technological world were forces America participated in along with the rest of the world.

Both “We’ll Fight” and “Opinions” additionally invite the humble listener into the world of international politics. British support for the Confederacy is warned off with the line, “If John Bull should interfere, he’ll suffer for it truly, for the Irish boys in action will give him balley hooley.” We also hear, “John Bull, ye ould divil. Ye’d better keep civil!”

Through mid-war there was a chance of Britain supporting the Confederacy. This would have possible military advantages, and definite financial advantages. For a country heretofore not permitted to raise funds on the international markets and from major banks, legal recognition amongst the world community was a must.

The hungry textile mills of Europe lustfully weighed on the minds of British MPs as they considered the U.K.’s official reaction to the North American bloodletting. With the nearsightedness characteristic of speculation, the southern economy was a one-trick, cotton pony by the start of the war in 1861. “Guns for Cotton” was the dear hope of Confederate statesmen. Until the Crown could develop its cotton market in India, which eventually came on line by mid-war, this was an equation British statesmen were inclined to consider.

European powers, and others besides, needed cotton from the South for their mills. This commercial concern weighed heavily against ethical reservation concerning slavery. “Scott’s Anaconda,” the blockading of the entire Confederate coastline by the Lincoln administration, put a wrench in the French supply chain for the entirety of the war.

The “Famine du Coton” in Alsace, Normandy, and Brittany matched the supply hardships experienced by the English. The financial angle could have put European powers in the Confederate corner, and this was possibility enough for our Irish songsters to put John Bull – and by extension, Marianne – on alert.

Geopolitics: The Trent Affair

The possibility of English support for the Confederacy was made likelier still with international guffaws by Union leaders. For example, the Trent Affair in November 1861 was when Union sailors boarded British ships to arrest two Confederate agents under the laws of war.

The Lincoln administration was adamantine that the Confederacy was not a nation. Thus, according to their own logic, southern agents were not subject to the rule of international law. The only conclusion left, then, was that Union sailors trespassed on British property, and kidnapped British guests.

Earnestly for them in the moment, and amusingly for us 150 years later, Northern attorneys engaged in great rhetorical gymnastics trying to justify their Administration’s position, while also fending off charges of criminality. This incident, combined with William Seward’s subsequent bluster in the press, brought the relationship between the U.K. and U.S. the closest to war since 1812.

Geopolitics: Slavery

Slavery is a topic which does not enter into any of the immigrant-related songs chosen for this essay, north or south. In fact, even in general works from the war period, forced servitude is only mentioned obliquely. Examples of this include, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Marching Through Georgia,” both Union songs; and “Bonnie Blue Flag,” and Albert Pike’s reworking of “Dixie,” for Confederate examples.

As a slave power, nearly alone in the Western world besides Brazil and Cuba, the Confederate States of America (CSA) did not do themselves any favors when appealing to European nations for legal recognition, much less material assistance. France and Britain were the two biggest candidates for Confederate support. France had abolished slavery in 1794 (albeit briefly resurrected by Napoleon) and the United Kingdom in 1833. In the age of 19th-century mores, whatever the temptation of cotton, the CSA’s “peculiar institution” worked against their international interests.

Irish Confederate Units

The odds against the Confederate cause from the start tended to lend its partisans to associate their enterprise with grand moral and political motives, and historical precedents. “Kelly’s Irish Brigade” attempts to weave the Confederate struggle and its Hibernian involvement into the larger saga of Irish liberation.

When nowhere near technical brigade size, the southern narrator sings, “[Northerners] have called us rebels and traitors, but themselves were called that name of late.” While the song immediately goes on to reference the Rebellion of 1798, we also intuit the songster’s general scorn for Yankees.

Like the British in the American Revolution, an event which was within reaching memory at the time of our topic, invading Yankees were occupying another country as far as southerners were concerned. This certainly is a parallel not lost on the narrator of “Kelly’s Irish Brigade.” He sings, “They dare not call us invaders. ‘Tis but states’ rights and liberty we ask. And Missouri we’ll ever defend her. No matter how hard the task.”

Larger Struggles

We next have “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.” This song allows us to connect the Irish struggle in the Civil War with another fight in another land. It speaks with the voice of an imprisoned Union soldier trying to keep up his spirits despite his condition. As he says, “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching. Cheer up, comrades, they will come!” Just wait, just hope, we’ll be free in time.

Most people today would not associate “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp” with the Civil War. The tune was co-opted and popularized a few years after Appomattox for the Irish nationalist cause. Rebranded as “God Save Ireland,” it commemorates the Manchester Martyrs. The Martyrs were three Fenians hanged by the Crown in 1867. The retooled “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp,” now “God Save Ireland,” became the de facto anthem of Irish Republicans through the War of Independence (1919-21).

Rather than a forlorn, pining captive, though, “God Save Ireland” has its prisoner-singer defiant ‘til the end. One stanza reads, “They met him [the hangman] face to face, with the courage of their race. And they went with souls undaunted to their doom.” When we recall Cathal Brugha’s famous use of “God Save Ireland,” we must remember its connection to an earlier generation and an earlier war.

The Fenians

We turn now to the influences of the Fenians on the Civil War. The Fenian Brotherhood was a group founded simultaneously in America and Ireland in 1858 (on St. Patrick’s Day, of course). The Civil War promised a ready means for these secret revolutionaries to build and drill a corps of fighters to ship back home.

One of the stranger aspects of Celtic participation in the War of the Rebellion, as the United States government still calls the 1860s bloodletting, is that a people dominated by an outside power, as Ireland was by the British, would enthusiastically enlist in significant numbers on the side of a power trying to squash the self-determination of another group of people, the American southerners. This is a curious dynamic we’ll see later with the post-war Irish participation in the western Indian Wars.

In his infamous summons of 75,000 men, a move which initially worsened the Crisis, President Lincoln plainly said his intention was, “To suppress said combinations.” However, practical considerations overruled die-hard revolutionary ideology. The majority of immigrants lived in Northern cities like Boston and New York, as opposed to southern ports like Charlestown and New Orleans.

Additionally, the Union’s chances of victory were more secure from the start. While it took at least two years to come to full strength, once the Federal government brought its organizational and industrial might to bear, their ability to train and arm mass bodies of men recommended Fenian support for the Union. The conflict would provide free quality training which Irish revolutionaries could deploy back in Ireland.

In On Deciding to Fight for the Union, Union Irish Brigade leader, Thomas Francis Meagher said, “We could not hope to succeed in our effort to make Ireland a Republic without the moral and material support of the liberty-loving citizens of these United States.”

This decision can be directly tied to individuals who helped raise Irish units. Meagher (pronounced “mar”) was involved in the Young Irelander uprising of 1848, that “Year of Revolutions.” Transported to Australia after his conviction of treason, Meagher escaped and made his way via Brazil to America.

Another revolutionary was Michael Corcoran. In addition to a revolutionary pedigree as rich as Meagher’s, Corcoran made a name for himself when he was court-martialed for not leading the largely-Irish 69th New York Militia on parade when the Prince of Wales visited America in 1860. The charges were dropped upon the eruption of hostilities. However, “The Boys Who Wore the Green” saucily remembers, “Colonel Corcoran led the 69th on that eventful day [i.e., Bull Run], I wish the Prince of Wales were there to see him in the fray.”

Meagher and Corcoran organized and drilled an expanded 69th New York following the Confederate firing on Ft. Sumpter in April 1861. The unit was altogether green. However, several soldiers had seen service in recent European wars. These included ten officers lately in the service of Pope Pius IX’s own “St. Patrick’s Brigade,” in the Papal States’ luckless fight against Garibaldi.

Narratives

When, how, and why minority groups align their interests and narratives with related groups is a topic well worth its own treatment. By “narrative” I mean a group’s own reading of its revolutionary history, especially in light of similar struggles elsewhere.

Such is also the forging of the Irish nationalist “apostolic succession” narrative. This narrative attempts to link Ireland’s own desperate rebel history. It also includes foreign efforts for the Liberal cause in its understanding. The Fenian narrative in this case includes friendly connections with America’s Revolutionary experiment.

The ancient clan system in Ireland was smashed with the Tudor conquest. The 1745 Battle of Culloden in neighboring Scotland brought this truth home. Suddenly the passing of the clan system went from a suspected abstraction to a bloody, grim reality. Celtic nationalists ultimately retrenched and settled upon the most cutting-edge political philosophy of the day to rally around: republicanism.

America’s two wars with Britain, as well as the explosion of the French Revolution on the Continent, gave added inspiration to independence-minded Hiberians for their own liberty. However ill-served rebels like Robert Emmet were by the republican National Assembly, the international republican experience provided garrisoned Ireland an example to imitate.

Indeed, during the heady days before his imprisonment for sedition in 1848, Thomas Meagher advocated physical force republicanism against the pacifistic position of Daniel O’Connell’s supporters. He specifically used the American example as justification. Ireland’s revolutionary past merged with the American saga as theoretical examples which expats like Corcoran and Meagher were keen to develop and fuse for the ends of their Irish story.

Other Ethnic Groups

Next, we consider the role of race, the Irish, and the Civil War. In introducing this theme, we recall that Irishmen were not the only subgroup to be caught up in the majority-Anglo Civil War. Indians, blacks, and Germans all richly participated as well.

Native Americans, however, come from a vastly different musical tradition than the various European ethnicities which participated in the war (including the majority Anglo one). Additionally, they made a different use of martial music. Thus, we have no corpus of native Civil War music.

Another possible field of study is German participation in the war. They were closer to the Irish military and musical experiences. The Germans were also a community numerically as robust as the Irish. However, the language barrier meant that few period songs were written, and less survive for our perusal.

There is one delightful exception to this Saxon dearth: “I Goes To Fight Mit Sigel.” Reasonably concerned with his martial alcohol access, our patriot-narrator explains, “Dere’s only von ting vot I fear, Ven pattling for de Eagle. I vont get not no lager bier, Ven I goes to fight mit Sigel!”

Franz Sigel’s command of the largely-German XI of the Army of the Potomac is also noted, along with Irish commanders, in the 1864 song “List of General.”

African-American Interactions

When it comes to Irish interactions with African-Americans, “Two Brothers Masterson” does not blush. The 19th-century was not a politically correct era. Perhaps this allows us a truer picture of the times. “Masterson” is set to the tune of the “Croppy Boy,” and it follows an equally doleful trajectory.
At this point you ought to be noticing a cross-over of music in the later development folk. Both America and Ireland equally influenced the other’s music.

Twice in “Masterson” we note the unhappy interaction of American blacks and Irish. The singer states, “With savage blacks [the brothers] did not agree.” When put upon to help hang his sibling, Patrick refuses. Sensing a need, a nearby, “wild black sergeant proposed to do the deed.”

This artistic animosity can be traced to the actual competition both groups faced for northern jobs during this period. Indeed, we remember that during the New York draft riots in 1863 African-Americans were especially targeted by the rioters, and a great many of those rioters came from the Irish community centered around New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen district.

Chaos

In “The Boys That Wore the Green” we get a taste of the chaos of those early days of the Rebellion. The song memorializes the motley units which found themselves at the First Battle of Bull Run in July of 1861. The peacocking and bluster which both sides liberally engaged in, from well before Lincoln’s election the previous autumn, quickly drained away as the grim reality of protracted battle loomed.

After a solid start on the morning of July 21st, the Rebels rallied and broke the Union ranks. It’s a debacle commemorated in the fourth stanza of “Boys.” The singer talks about the capture and recapture of the 69th’s battle flag, declaring, “The colors of the 69th, I say it without shame, Were taken in the struggle to swell the victor’s fame.” Politely omitted is the fact that Michael Corcoran was wounded and also captured in the battle. He was paroled and went on to organize Corcoran’s Legion, another majority-Irish unit.

The rearguard fight the Irish Brigade made at Bull Run with the 11th New York Zouaves is mentioned in the fifth stanza. It states, “In that hour of peril, the flying mass to screen, Stood the gallant New York firemen, with the boys that wore the green.”

After several verses lauding the mutual assistance each unit gave the other during the Civil War’s seminal battle, the song finishes, “Farewell, my gallant countrymen, who fell that fatal day. Farewell, ye noble firemen, now mouldering in the clay. Whilst blooms the leafy shamrock, whilst runs the old machine, Your deeds will live bold Red Shirts, and Boys that Wore the Green!” And indeed, each unit had cause to be nostalgic. By mid-war both, due to attrition and maturation, regiments were drastically different from their early-war selves.

Militia Model

At Bull Run, the citizen-solider model favored in America well into the 20th Century was sorely tried. If the Confederate national army wasn’t itself in its birth pangs on “that eventful day,” however, things would have been worse for the north. The rebel inability to consolidate and counter-attack is the biggest “what if” of the entire conflict.

The organizational militia model in force, during those well-sung early days of the fight, allowed for a small perpetual corps of men, mostly alumni of the military academies, to be the nucleus around which a much larger mass of militia could form. Those militia units were called in the Federal parlance of the time, “Volunteers.” True to their forebears in the American Revolution, these Volunteers were led by officers chosen either for quality, charisma, or graft.

While the militia system provided against an ancient Cesarean takeover, or a modern Military Industrial Complex, it made for chronically messy military starts. The United States would know this well into the 20th-century. In any case, the behavior of the 69th at Bull Run was something the men could be proud of.

It was a legacy they would have an opportunity to build upon, a year and a half later at Antietam. As the late Connecticut author, Thomas Craughwell, wrote, “The Irish Brigade turned the tide at Antietam. By driving off the Confederates, it all but ensured a Union victory. The Irish had been building a reputation as tenacious fighters; at Antietam they cinched it.”

Unit Diversity

Not all of early-war messiness was bad or incompetent. It occasionally allowed for local flare. Ethnic regiments such as Irish, German, and Indian units are examples of this diversity. Likewise was the “Zouave” phenomena. Inspired by French soldiers, these light infantry units were recruited from the fire brigades of New York City by the early-martyred Elmer Ellsworth.

Clothed in their distinctive red and blue embroidered uniform, the 11th New York was one early group to buttress the defenses of Washington, following weeks of anxious waiting and rumors, during the Secession Crisis in the spring of 1861. Both their unusual accoutrements and their baptism of fire at Bull Run guaranteed the mutual affection of both regiments in “The Boys Who Wore the Green.”

Little Mac

Lastly, “The Boys Who Wore the Green,” along with “We’ll Fight for Uncle Sam” and “List of Generals,” raises the specter of “Little Mac.” George McClellan was the Army of the Potomac’s sometimes-commander. Notoriously reluctant to engage with a southern opponent who was two or three times his size, Abraham Lincoln once humorously said, McClellan had a case of, “the slows.”

Nevertheless, “Little Mac,” as his troops affectionately called him, was an excellent organizer. Units always had the supplies they requested, and after defeats like the Second Bull Run, McClellan was able to rebuild the army and boost its confidence.

While their affection wasn’t able to take Little Mac to the White House in 1864, it was able to live on in songs with verses like, “Once again, the stars and stripes, Will to the breeze be swellin’. If Uncle Abe will give us back Our darlin’ boy McClellan;” and, “Of one more [general] I’ll be telling, and who should be restored straightway. To put an end to this rebellion: Little Mac, he knows the way!”

Burnout

The gay, baggy pants and striped shirts of the Zouaves went by the wayside in “Paddy’s Lamentation.” Thanks to Sinead O’Connor, this is the only piece in our Civil War selection with popular play. The song describes the wariness Irishmen were feeling by mid-war.

This song also reflects the greater mood of America. Similar to the narrator of “Masterson,” our pleading singer advises, “To America I’ll have ye’s not be going. There is nothing here but war, where the murderin’ cannons roar. And I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin.” Like many ethnic songs, “Paddy’s Lamentation” has “Easter eggs” in it which betray its North American composition. “Dear old Dublin” was far removed for most 19th-century Irish immigrants. Hiberians who came to America, mostly came from the west of Ireland.

In any case, all the men who were inclined to go in for Meagher’s transatlantic revolutionary schemes had done so by the war’s second year. After that, the motives were less idealistic. Cap-stoning this sentiment was the death of Michael Corcoran in 1863 in a riding accident in Fairfax, Virginia.

As Craughwell writes, “[Corcoran’s] death came as a shock to the Irish Brigade, whose men had loved and revered Corcoran since 1860 when he refused to march the 69th Regiment in a parade honoring the Prince of Wales.” Either money or the force of law stocked the ranks of the Irish Brigade after the initial idealism died down.

Manifest Destiny Resumed

Finally, we close with two postwar pieces: “Mick Ryan’s Lament” and “Regular Army O.” The one doleful, the other comical, both songs take us from the eastern seaboard to the Wild West, with the downsized U.S. military. With the Rebellion over, the American government returned to its pre-war hobby: westward expansion. Our refugee-cum-trooper, Mick Ryan, sings, “I swear I did not see the irony,

“When I rode with the Seventh Cavalry. I thought that we fought for the land of the free, When we rode from Fort Lincoln that morning.” In other words, the expat from Erin was used in his turn to dispossess Indians from their homes. This ultimately led to his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, commanded by former Civil War hero, George Armstrong Custer.

In “Modern Army O,” we’re introduced to a man who, making no idealistic motivational pretense, “had the choice of going to the army or to jail.” Compelled to endure longer and longer marches on less and less grub, our modern soldier throws off the whole army and skedaddles to Mexico.

In both songs we are confronted with one of the curses of war: addiction to fighting. As long-standing the battlegrounds of today attest, places like Somalia, Afghanistan, or Syria, after a while a country’s young men have no stock and trade but war.

That was the condition many veterans found themselves in, in 1865. Decidedly less ideological or reverential than earlier pieces, the song shows an increased assimilation of Irishmen by the later part of the 19th-century, due in part to their military service. As Craughwell writes, “The courage and sacrifice of the Irish Brigade during the Civil War helped diminish prevalent anti-Irish prejudice in America.”

Conclusion

Our selections have featured both early-war, red-blooded martial anthems, burned-out ballads from later in the conflict, and ironic and irreverent postwar choices.

The songs were written from historic moments of patriotism, and contemporary meditations on the hardships of history. They permit us to dive into aspects of the American Civil War which standard study does not allow for. We come closer to our subject. We laugh and cry and bleed and gripe along with the soldiers, who fought the war – and we sing with them, too.

John Coleman is the founder of Apocatastasis: An Institute for the Humanities, an alternative college and high school in New Milford, Connecticut (USA). Apocatastasis is a school focused on studying the Western humanities in an integrated fashion, while at the same time adjusting to the changing educational field. Information about the college can be found at their website.

The image shows, “July 27, 1861: New York’s 69th (Irish) Regiment return from 1st Battle of Bull Run” by Louis Lang, and painted in 1862-1863.