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    Between the 'Government in Exile' and the Comintern the Americans are being trained to
    misunderstand Spaniards.  And we're not easy to understand under the best conditions.
        -Francisco Franco, Hitler Stopped by Franco

There's something poignant and touching about two authors, Jane and Burt Boyar, who feel the need--in jacket blurbs, an authors' note, and a prologue which features an imagined alternative future--to justify writing positively about their subject : Generalissimo Francisco Franco.  It is also a mistake, for a couple of reasons.  First, the quotes they include on the cover are alternately : from too marginal a source to be helpful (The American Sephardi); incomplete (a quote from Churchill praising Franco but promising details of his service to the Allies elsewhere); and, finally, from Stanley G. Payne, who though a leading authority on Franco, is rather hostile to the Boyar's view of the General.  This all serves to create a somewhat off-putting package which actually surrounds a terrific book, one which does not need such defensive armament.

This is not to say that the anticipated resistance to their topic that the authors are trying to overcome is not real.  Francisco Franco committed one of the few crimes that is truly unforgivable to the intellectuals, academics, and politicians of the Left--who dominate the opinion-making class--he was an anti-communist.  And, of course, he was not just any anti-communist; he successfully led the Nationalist forces to victory over the Communists, and other parties of the Left, in the Spanish Civil War, that cause celebre of Leftists throughout Western Europe and America.  Literature of the period is rife with romantic novels featuring idealistic young Americans and Englishmen heading off to join the Republican forces in their noble struggle against fascism.  Hemingway is but one of the authors who worked this theme, which has persistently clung in the Western imagination despite such devastating factual rebuttals as George Orwell's great Homage to Catalonia.  At best, Orwell convinced the open-minded that the Republicans were in fact a tool of the Soviets, but hardly anyone has ever sought to vindicate Franco and the Nationalists.  (Paul Johnson is one of the rare exceptions in his outstanding conservative revisionist history, Modern Times.  See his excellent review of Paul Preston's biography of Franco in the NY Times Book Review.)

This prejudice against Franco is particularly odd if you simply take an impartial look at the historical record and at how Spain fared throughout and after WWII.  Despite repressive measures taken against Leftists and a substantial number of summary executions, Franco's Spain had no gulags.  Nor did his government pursue a systematic genocide against any segment of the population.  In fact, Spain was a safe haven for European Jews and went out of its way to rescue the Sephardim, European Jews of Spanish descent (hence, the previously mentioned favorable cover blurb).    By keeping Spain, for the most part, out of the actual combat of WWII, Franco preserved Spanish lives, maintained Spanish independence, and continued laying the groundwork for a stable society, one which would eventually become a democracy.  More than this though, neither he nor the Spanish people were responsible for the kind of large scale slaughter which other leaders and nations engaged in throughout the war--there are no Dresdens, or Nankings, or Hiroshimas, or Stalingrads, etc., to trouble the Spanish conscience.

Compare this record to that of FDR and America.  America too stayed neutral, until provoked by the attack on Pearl Harbor.  FDR refused to allow Jewish refugees into the United States.  We rounded up innocent Americans of Japanese descent and shipped them to concentration camps.  Over four hundred thousand Americans died fighting the War and Lord only knows how many we killed, including hundreds of thousands of civilians in nuclear blasts and fire bombings.  And at the end of the day, what did we achieve ?  We merely replaced a homicidal German regime with a homicidal Russian one, locking ourselves into an additional fifty years of deadly and expensive Cold War.  Given this context, which leader, FDR or Franco, better deserves to have his War performance lauded ?

All of which brings us to the Boyars' excellent historical novel.  Having lived in Spain for nearly thirty years and become friends with folks like their landlady, Franco's daughter, Carmen, they found both Franco's Spain and Franco's reputation in Spain to be much different within the country than they were perceived from without.  With such connections, the authors were given extraordinary access to members of Franco's family and inner circle and to former government ministers.  They have combined this access with what was obviously quite extensive research to produce a scrupulously documented (how often have you read a novel with citations and footnotes) account of how Franco kept Spain out of the War, focussing on the years from 1940 to 1943, when Spanish acquiescence to Hitler's demands would have allowed Axis forces to use the Spanish coast as a staging area for an attack on Gibraltar and eventually complete control of the Mediterranean and North Africa.

The weaknesses of the book are mostly a function of the task it is trying to perform.  Characters are required to recite large chunks of historical background, which is obviously artificial and somewhat pedantic, but is also probably the most effective way of conveying the necessary information (it is certainly less disruptive than the technique that Herman Wouk used in Winds of War, where he interspersed chapters of an imaginary history of WWII).  And in almost every instance, the authors give Franco the benefit of the doubt in regards to his motivations and the farsightedness of his vision.  This creates the impression, which even I find unlikely, that he never seriously considered joining the Axis and intended all along to simply hold Hitler at bay until America joined the War and swung the balance of power.

On the other hand, Franco has been treated so viciously by almost every other author (H. G. Wells called him the "murderous little Christian gentleman"), that it's hard to begrudge one overly favorable treatment.  Moreover, it is entirely plausible that Franco, who had after all fought to preserve a traditional Spain, based on Church, Crown, and commerce, never seriously intended to allow the Nazis a free hand in Spain.  No true patriot, which Franco must by any measure be considered, would fight off the Comintern only to put his nation at the disposal of the National Socialists.

Meanwhile, the books strengths are significant.  First, there is a very real tension to the story, even though we know its outcome, as this small and recently wartorn nation holds off Hitler, who is perched on their border just waiting to pounce.  Second, there's the fascination of seeing people like Franco and Canaris presented as three dimensional beings and as genuine heroes in the resistance to Hitler, rather than as enemies of humanity, simply because they too were fascists.  Finally, books that challenge our precious preconceived versions of events are so rare that it is always a good thing when one, especially a really good one, comes along.

If you are the kind of person who thinks Pat Buchanan committed a thought crime when he suggested that America was well served by staying out of the War for as long as she did, this book is not for you.  If you found intolerable Niall Ferguson's argument, in The Pity of War, that participating in WWI was an unmitigated disaster for the British, you'll not enjoy Hitler Stopped by Franco.  If you were infuriated when Sam Tanenhaus rehabilitated Whittaker Chambers or when Scott Berg did the same for Charles Lindbergh, don't even bother to crack the covers of this book.

If you thought it an insult to your intelligence when Lewis Sorley, in A Better War, wrote that America had the Vietnam War won, but then squandered the victory, all you'll find here is more insults.  For you all, I suggest David McCullough's biography of Truman, or any Doris Kearns Goodwin hagiography of a Democrat President.

But if you are willing to look at the past with a fresh pair of eyes, to call into doubt the official history that the professors and the historians have spoon fed us, then this is a book that you will love.  I can't recommend it highly enough.  Whatever you do, don't let the cover or the prologue stop you--buy it and read it.  You won't be sorry.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

Websites:

See also:

Burt Boyar (3 books reviewed)
War
Burt Boyar Links:
    -BOOK SITE : Hitlerstoppedbyfranco.com
   -OBIT: Jane Boyar: On March 28, 1997, in Marbella, Spain (NY Times, March 29, 1997
   -ESSAY: How I got into show business (Sammy Davis, Jane Boyar, and Burt Boyar, August 1965, Harper's)
    -BOOK SITE : Hitler Stopped by Franco (FSB Associates)
    -BOOK SITE : Sammy : An Autobiography By Sammy Davis Jr. and Jane and Burt Boyar(FSB Associates)
    -PHOTOS: Candid Man: The secret snaps of Sammy Davis Jr. (Vanity Fair, March 2007)
    -PHOTOS: Slide Show (Tavis Smiley Show)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Burt Boyar: : How Sammy Davis Jr. became a Photographer (Shutterbug Magazine Radio)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Burt Boyar (As it Happens, 2007/05/07, CBC radio)
    -PROFILE: Burt & Sammy (Nobhill Gazette)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : with Burt Boyar, author of World Class (Broadcast.com)
    -AUDIO AUTHOR INTERVIEW : Burt Boyar (New Homemaker)
    -ARCHIVES: "burt boyar" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Photo by Sammy Davis Jr. text by Burt Boyar (Deirdre Donahue, USA Today)
    -REVIEW: of Photo by Sammy Davis Jr. (Benjamin Schwartz, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: of Photo by Sammy Davis Jr. (Alan Peppard, Dallas Morning News)
    -REVIEW: of Photo by Sammy Davis Jr. (Erin Petrun, CBS News)
    -REVIEW: of Photo by Sammy Davis Jr. (Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -REVIEW: of Photo by Sammy Davis Jr. (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Photo by Sammy Davis Jr. (Diane Garrett, Variety)
    -REVIEW: of Photo by Sammy Davis Jr. (David Elliot, Bend Weekly)

Book-related and General Links:

 

FRANCISCO FRANCO (1892-1975 :
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : "francisco franco"
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA :  Franco, Francisco
    -Francisco Franco Bahamonde (1892-1975) (Celebrities of Ferrol)
    -ESSAY : Myth of Franco takes pounding : In a Spain still nervous of coming to terms with its past, a historian claims the country's former dictator was no great military commander (Adela Gooch, April 10, 2000, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW ESSAY : Franco's Revenge (Paul Preston, Times Literary Supplement)
    -ESSAY : Franco's Nazi haven (Paul Preston, History Today, 07/01/97)
    -ESSAY : FRANCO AND AZANA: Victor and Vanquished (Paul Preston, History Today,
May, 1999)
    -ESSAY : SPAIN: The Civil War and Paul Preston (Ronald Hilton - 12/19/00)
    -ESSAY : Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels looks at the Spanish Civil War : The diaries of Nazi Germany's minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels reveal the relationship Adolf Hitler wished to establish with Spain (Robert H. Whealey, The Historian)
    -ESSAY : THE GHOST BATTALION: SPANIARDS IN THE WAFFEN-SS, 1944-1945 (Wayne H. Bowen, The Historian)
    -ESSAY : A COUNTRY OF MANY FACES : Twenty-five years on from the end of dictatorship, there are many Spains (Stephen Hugh-Jones, Economist; November 25, 2000)
    -ARCHIVES : "francisco franco" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "paul preston" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW : of Franco: A Concise Biography by Gabrielle Ashford Hodges (Piers Brendon, booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of FRANCO A Biography. By Paul Preston (Paul Johnson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Spain and the Great Powers in the Twentieth Century. Edited by Sebastian Balfour and Paul Preston. ( Wayne H. Bowen, The Historian)
    -REVIEW : of A Time of Silence Civil War and the Culture of Repression in Franco's Spain, 1936-1945 (Paul Preston, History Today)
    -REVIEW : of Anglo-American Relations and the Franco Question, 1945-55 by Jill Edwards (Sidney Aster, The English Historical Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE FRANCO REGIME 1936-1975. By Stanley G. Payne (Paul Preston, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of A History of Fascism, 1914-1945. By Stanley G. Payne. (Mark P. Gingerich, The Historian)
    -REVIEW : of THE TRANSFORMATION OF SPAIN From Franco to the Constitutional Monarchy. By David Gilmour (Kenneth Maxwell, NY Times Book Review)
 

SPANISH CIVIL WAR :
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA :  Spanish Civil War
    -WAIS Forum on Spain
    -ESSAY : WRITERS IN UNIFORM (Stephen Spender, June 8, 1986, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : QUIET FRONTS IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR (Michael Seidman, The Historian)
    -ESSAY : The Confessions of a 'Premature Anti-Fascist' (BERNARD KNOX,  July 15, 2001)
    -SURVEY: SPAIN: A country of many faces: Twenty-five years on from the end of dictatorship, there are many Spains, writes Stephen Hugh-Jones (The Economist, Nov 23rd 2000)
    -REVIEW: of Juan Carlos: El Rey de un Pueblo By Paul Preston (The Economist)
    -REVIEW : of SPAIN BETRAYED : The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War Edited by Ronald Radosh, Mary R. Habeck and Grigory Sevostianov (Steven Schwartz, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW : of SPAIN BETRAYED : The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War Edited by Ronald Radosh, Mary R. Habeck and Grigory Sevostianov (STANLEY G. PAYNE, LA Times)

GENERAL :
    -ESSAY : A MOST UNLIKELY HERO : A Fascist who saved Jews.(Giorgio Prelasca) (Gregory Conti, Commonweal)

Comments:

Only source? No. Source of their initial interest? Yes.

It's not at all odd that modern Spaniards hate us--they've quit.

- oj

- Nov-02-2006, 21:55

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So you say the Boyars' only reliable source is personal account by Ms. Carmen Franco?. Well, that will be like asking Kim Jong Il's son to jugdge the works of his father, don't you think?.

Oh, and I still can't understand why this sudden fascination with Francisco Franco, a mediocre, ideologically nondescreipt dictator who sheltered nazis from allied prosecution, played fiddle to the commies when it best suited him, and only pretended to serve U.S. interests because he had no chance otherwise.

Some people apply the "the enemy of my enemies is my friend" adagio quite lightly to Franco. Quite weird, specially when someone like Franco, whose only real cncern was his own graft to power, wasn't at odds with your enemies at all.

Interesting how my parents, both good old conservative spaniards, born and raised in the Franco years, hate the U.S. with a passion. Just a reminder of how things used to be over here with the "murderous little Christian gentleman" in charge.

- Hey Judds

- Oct-31-2006, 11:33

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We like it fine--her had to kill communists to save the nation. More countries should have done so.

- oj

- Aug-04-2005, 18:50

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Franco executed more people than any regime, in west European history, other than Hitler, He executed 200,000 people in 1936-39. He then executed 30,000 after the war and saw 190,000 Spaniards die in gulags/concentration camps. plus to this a million spaniards died in the the civil war, then hundreds of thousands in famines after the war, added to this the facist forces also unilaterelly killed 4000 miners in 1934, and 20,000 morrocans in 1920s, imperial activity, theri only empire,

- the truth, and the right don't like it,

- Aug-04-2005, 18:07

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