The Politics of Revenge: Fascism and the Military in Twentieth-Century Spain

By Paul Preston | Go to book overview

6

Destiny and dictatorship: the Spanish army and the Franco regime, 1939-75

Between 1814 and 1981 there were more than fifty pronunciamientos, or military coups in Spain. That crude statistic provides a graphic indication of the divorce between soldiers and civilians. In fact, in the first third of the nineteenth century, those pronunciamientos were liberal in their political intent. Thereafter, a tradition of mutual misunderstanding and mistrust between the army and civil society developed to a point at which soldiers considered themselves more Spanish than civilians. By the early twentieth century, officers were ripe for persuasion by those on the extreme right that it was their right and duty to interfere in politics in order to 'save Spain'. Unfortunately, that noble objective tended to mean the defence of the interests and privileges of relatively small segments of society. Accordingly, from the civilian point of view, popular hostility to the armed forces derived fundamentally from the fact that deep-rooted social conflicts, at a time of imperial decline and military defeat, were repressed by the army. Military resentments of politicians in general and of the left and the labour movement in particular were the other side of the same coin.

Within this broad context, the army developed internally in a way which made the underlying hostility between soldiers and civilians virtually irremediable. Three deep-rooted and inextricably inter-linked problems were to constitute a near insuperable obstacle to the integration of the military and society. The first was the exaggerated rhetorical patriotism of the officer corps. This was a compensation for the fact that, from the Peninsular War until the present day, the Spanish army did not win decisively any war against foreign enemies. The second was an acute sensitivity to civilian criticism. Inevitably, given the poor external performance of the army, which was a consequence of inadequate financial provision, education and training, and its use to repress social discontent, such criticism was intense. Its most visible manifestation was popular hostility to conscription, fomented without exception by left-wing parties

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