The Spanish Civil War

Insofar as Americans know anything of the Spanish Civil War it is through the propaganda of Ernest Hemingway’s admittedly compelling For Whom the Bell Tolls, or through Pablo Picasso’s chaotic (and admittedly repellant) Guernica. That version goes something like this: an oppressed working class calling themselves republicans rose up against a tyrannical aristocracy allied with the Roman Catholic Church. Their people’s revolution was brutally suppressed by a fascist military dictator named Francisco Franco, who was a puppet of the German Nazi regime. The whole affair was a dress rehearsal for Nazi tyranny. For decades following the war this fascist dictator ruled Spain with an iron hand, invading private lives and suppressing individual liberties.

The truth of the Spanish Civil War, however, is that was a diabolical terror that seized Spain and waged war against the Roman Catholic Church and her Faithful. It was the greatest period of clerical bloodletting since the French Revolution and on a larger scale. It was a war waged to free Spain and the Church from the grip of Marxist tyranny. In the end the defenders of tradition, order, and Christianity won the war after which Spain enjoyed decades of prosperity and vitality and a culture in which, as Hugh Thomas (no Catholic propagandist) put it, “The Catholic Church permeated every aspect of Spanish … culture.”

The war was also the occasion of great acts of Catholic heroism, and on September 27 each year we should recall the thrilling conclusion of one of these and honor its heroes. The event was the siege of the Alcazar of Toledo.

Forty miles south of Madrid, the ancient city of Toledo dominates the vast Castilian plain, and on the highest point of the city stands the fortress castle, Alcázar, built by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and reinforced in 1887 as a military academy.

spanish_civil_warIn July of 1936, Nationalist forces comprising Catholics and traditionalists under the command of General Francisco Franco rose up against Spain’s brutal Marxist government. At the time of the uprising most of the cadets of the Alcazar were on summer leave. Only the permanent staff remained along with the commandant of the academy, an aging Colonel, Jose Moscardó. Moscardó was a devout Catholic and a fine officer but not one of such significance that he had been advised of the uprising.  When he heard radio reports of Franco’s invasion, he drove to Madrid to consult with officers there whom he trusted.  When they revealed the coup to him, he joined without hesitation and sped back to Toledo to secure a nearby munitions factory for the Nationalist cause. His presence of mind and swift, decisive action would soon pay dividends for the forces of tradition and faith.

After rallying a group of officers in Toledo, Moscardó attended Mass at the Alcázar on the morning of July 19.  It would be the last Mass the fortress would witness for 54 days.

The War Ministry in Madrid contacted Moscardó and ordered him to surrender the weapons in the Academy’s armory. To stall for time, he requested the order in writing. Members of the Toledo national guard and their families streamed into the Alcázar seeking protection and soon a force of about 1100 swearing their loyalty to Spain and the Church had mustered within the walls, along with some 700 women and children. Moscardó organized a convoy to transfer 700,000 rounds of ammunition from the nearby munitions factory.  Not a moment too soon.  As the convoy was returning from its final run, a Force of 3000 republican soldiers commanded by General Jose Riquelme surrounded the Alcázar and demanded surrender.  Offered the chance to leave, not one of the fortress’s Catholic defenders defected.

Moscardó sent message to Riquelme:  “Because I love Spain and have confidence in General Franco, we will not surrender.  Further, it would be dishonorable to surrender the arms of gentlemen to Marxist rabble!”

Moscardó explained to his men that Franco was marching from the south to relieve the siege. They had ample stores and water, and thanks to his quick thinking, abundant ammunition. The one thing they did not have was a priest.

Over the next weeks the besieging force swelled to 15,000. Artillery shells rained down on the fortress and machine-gun fire swept its courtyard, but the defenders of the Alcázar put up a fierce resistance as did the castle’s 12 foot thick walls. To taunt the men in the Alcázar, the communist militia hurled blasphemies at them and threatened their families. A few republican soldiers dragged a priceless statue of our Lord from the Toledo Cathedral began to hack it to pieces with an axe. Then they threw it in a bonfire, but sharpshooters from the fortress’s ramparts felled the villains with one bullet each.  Collapsing into their own fire they were consumed with the statue they had desecrated. Communist militia took their revenge on the Church in Toledo with diabolical rage: A Bible that had belonged to Saint Louis was destroyed. 105 priests and religious in Toledo and Madrid were brutally martyred. Ad hoc committees called checas, named after Stalin’s Secret Police, the Cheka, rounded up civilians and harassed them with interrogations.

On the morning of Thursday the twenty-third of July they captured a real prize: the son of Colonel Moscardó, Luis. The head of Toledo’s checa was a lawyer named Candido Cabello, who thought he saw a way to bring about the surrender of the Alcázar.  At ten o’clock in the morning, he called Moscardó on the phone:

After identifying himself, Cabello said, “You are responsible for all the crimes and everything else that is happening in Toledo. I give you ten minutes to surrender the Alcázar. If you don’t I’ll shoot your son Luis who is standing here beside me.”

“I believe you,” Moscardó calmly replied.

“And so that you can see it’s true,” Cabello continued, “he will speak to you.”

Luis was then given the phone.


“What is happening my boy?”

“Nothing at all” Luis said.  “They say that they are going to shoot me if the Alcázar does not surrender.  But do not worry about me.”

“If it is true,” replied Moscardó, “Commend your soul to God, shout Viva España! and die like a hero.  Goodbye my son, a kiss.”

“Goodbye, Father, a very big kiss.”

When Cabello was on the phone again, Moscardó said, “you might as well forget the ten minutes you gave me.  The Alcázar will never surrender!”

Cabello slammed down the receiver.  Turning to the Republican militia he said, “Do what ever you will with him.” Luis Moscardó was led out.

In the Alcázar, Moscardó’s fellow officers stood in silent astonishment unable to console their heroic leader.  He quietly walked to his quarters, and closed the door.

Luis Moscardó was killed, though his execution came a month later.

And the siege of the Alcázar continued as revolutionary troops dug tunnels under the castle in an effort to explode it with mines.  A former colleague of Moscardó who had taught at the Alcázar, but now fought for the communists, was permitted to visit his old commander to persuade him to surrender.  Major Vincente Rojo was blindfolded and brought to Moscardo’s office, where he was told the Alcázar would never surrender.  Rojo was filled for admiration for his former Commandant and seeing that he would not move his Catholic heart, asked, “is there anything that I can do for you?”

“You can send us a priest!”  Moscardó answered. “We want nothing else from you.”

The priest who was sent was of a stripe that today we would kindly call “progressive.”  Canon Enrique Vasquez Camarasa had made his peace with the Communists and enjoyed their protection. Exchanging the communist clenched-fist salute with the troops at the siege lines as he approached the Alcázar, the priest came with specific orders from his handlers to encourage surrender.  Moscardó told him, “We asked for you so you could hear confessions and offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”  Father Camarasa used his sermon to scold the defenders of the Alcázar.

By this point food had nearly run out, they were reduced to eating horses and barley paste, and two women who were pregnant when the siege began had delivered children. Nonetheless, the women of Alcázar informed the priest they would die beside their men before they would leave them. After giving a general absolution and taking Communion to the wounded, Fr. Camarasa quietly left.

At last the republicans detonated several tons of dynamite and breached the fortress walls.  But in the 11th hour, the Alacazar’s bugler—a fifteen year old boy—signaled the approach of Franco’s army.  Franco relieved the siege on September 27, 1936. Bloody internecine fighting continued in Spain for three more years before Franco was victorious.

The Spanish Civil War was nothing less than the gates of hell opened in Spain. 7000 priests and religious, including 13 Bishops, and thousands of laymen and women, whose number will likely never been known were brutally martyred, many as they prayed for their killers.  Nearly 1000 of these were beatified by Blessed John Paul II and by Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis will beatify another 522 next month.

May the blood of the Martyrs of the Spanish Civil, be once more the seed of the Church in Spain.  And may the heroic defenders of the Alcazar, doubtless tonight celebrating their great victory before the Eternal Throne intercede for the soldiers of the Church militant here on earth.

Editor’s note: The author would like to acknowledge his heavy reliance on Warren Carroll’s The Last Crusade in preparing this article.

Christopher Check


Christopher Check is Director of Development at Catholic Answers. A graduate of Rice University, for nearly two decades he served as vice president of The Rockford Institute, publisher of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. Before that he served for seven years as a field artillery officer in the Marine Corps, attaining the grade of captain. His recorded lectures on church history are available from Angelus Press. He and his wife, Jacqueline, have four sons. The Checks show and breed Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, famed companions of the Stuart kings, under the kennel name Top Meadow Cavaliers, named for G.K. Chesterton’s Beaconsfield estate.

  • Emerson_C

    A little known aspect of the Spanish Civil War was the fact that all the generals involved in the uprising were from republican backgrounds. Some were, like Cabbenalas, who chaired the Hunta after the death of General Sanjurjo were Freemasons. Another little known fact was that the 30,000 strong Separdaic Jewish community of Spain and Morocco supported Franco and supplied him with the initial finance to bu planes to transfer the army across the Straits in July 1936.

    • franciscofranco

      Hi Emerson, Generals Fanjul, Goded, Sanjuro and Varela were not republicans. However, you are correct that several were: Queipo de Llano, Mola, and Cabanellas were definitely republicans, though of the conservative stripe. Even Franco, in the early days of the war, claimed to be fighting to restore order and protect the republic.

    • Sygurd Jonfski

      Later on, Franco had been helping Jews escaping from Nazi Germany – another little remembered fact.

      • franciscofranco

        Very good point.

  • Harry

    Because the Republicans did awful things does not mean that Franco was a Catholic hero, nor does it mean that Catholics should support the opposing side merely because they had a veneer of Catholic legitimization.
    His men were responsible for the torture and execution of thousands of prisoners, as well as the mass rape of Republican women. The Red Terror does not legitimize the White Terror. Franco had Republican prisoners shipped off to Nazi concentration camps. He installed a dictatorship which relied on violent oppression to retain power.
    The Fascists are not your friend, and neither is any man who’ll whitewash their actions. We should stop trying to make reality fit the narrative of pro-Catholic propaganda.
    This article – and any other that tries to persuade you that sin isn’t sin merely because it’s dressed up in the language of “Christendom and Glorious Mother Church” – is poison for your soul.

    • Dillon T. McCameron

      As is normally the case, the side we take is the one that isn’t actively seeking our eradication. That Franco, Dracul, Assad, Martel, and Constantine are not exemplars of Christian virtue (and were likely occasional oppressors of it) does not change the fact that God has always used barbarians, savages, and pagans to carry out His will.

      • Harry

        That is entirely true but I don’t think it means what you think it means – after all, God was able to use the dreadful betrayal of Judas Iscariot for the salvation of the whole world. But that doesn’t mean that betrayal becomes a good or holy action merely by what it (happens) to effect, no matter how wonderful.
        With a man like Franco a Christian should never ‘take their side’ because they offer protection against a worse threat – by supporting them you would be, make no mistake, giving tacit approval to their crimes.
        At least with a non-Catholic enemy the threat to your soul is obvious and the choice clear – die as a Christian or live as an apostate. The insidious danger with men like Franco is that they would persuade us that murder/torture/mass rape etc aren’t really crimes when applied to the ‘right’ enemy, or – God forbid – that because the Church benefits we ought not to kick up a fuss.

        • James1

          “With a man like Franco … giving tacit approval to their crimes.”

          So Catholics knew before-hand that (members of) Franco’s forces would perpetrate “terror” of the same sort as that by Republican forces of which they knew was in fact already happening? And therefore they should never have “taken their side” at the time. I think you risk conflating some time frames with that sentence.

          As stated, you force upon those who were of the moment into a decision for which they have not the historical perspective you have. Faced with a similar event, should all Catholics simply sit out such a “Red Terror” while waiting for a determination whether the opposition will not, themselves, inflict a “Terror” of their own?

          In no way would I excuse the atrocities of either side, but the plight of the Christian under Socialism/Communism had a longer track record than of that under Fascism. Perhaps we should prefer the Republican forces have won, simply because Catholics should never have backed Franco? As well, there was no Fascist rule in Spain until after the war, so it wasn’t as though the Nationalist forces were “Evil Fascists” at the time of the conflict.

          • Harry sounds ‘reasonable’, but he betrays his sheep’s clothing with his sophistry and word-smithing to degrade the Nationalist’s cause. He is almost no different than the Republicans except he uses words to denigrate and rape the Nationalist side.

            • franciscofranco

              Well-stated, Tito. Nothing more to add.

          • franciscofranco

            James1, not only were the nationalists not “Evil Fascists” during the war, they were never fascists at all. Stanley Payne has written the definitive book on Spanish Fascism and has made it clear throughout his entire career that Franco was not a fascist. Even those on the left acknowledge that.

            • James1

              I will admit my ignorance on the state of “Spanish Fascism” (I am working on correcting my public school indoctrination!), but I tend to compare Franco to Dollfuss in Austria, to a point. Dollfuss might as easily be seen as a dictator in an authoritarian government. However, result of the events in Austria do not permit us the luxury of comparing the rule of Dollfuss – should he have died a natural death – to that of the rule of Franco over a comparable span of time.

              I will look into Payne’s book.

              • franciscofranco

                James1, fair enough. Thanks!

        • Art Deco

          You are neglecting the salient aspect of the dealings the Church had with the Republic. During the war, the Churches were closed everywhere the Republic’s forces prevailed except in Basque Country. The secular clergy in areas controlled by the republic could be categorized thus: one-third killed, one-third in exile. and one third in communicado and not permitted to act as priests. In Barcelona, the mortality rate for priests approached 80%.

      • musicacre

        Yes, and I think people are missing the point if they don’t realize that in so many armed conflicts, regardless of who is fighting, the Catholics get slaughtered. Look at the French revolution, Rwanda, Palestine, East Timor, now Syria, and many others.

      • Matthew

        And soon to be Putin?

        • Dillon T. McCameron

          Likely. His recent rise in…popularity reminds me of C.S. Lewis,

          “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

          Or Hoch, “There is so much good in the worst of us,
          And so much bad in the best of us…”

          Perhaps he will serve as a foil to modernism and materialism. Or perhaps we will later have to apologize for not condemning him more thoroughly.

          Eh. What’s to be done, save thank God in the good, praise Him in the bad, and hold fast to truth.

    • Jerome

      I agree with Harry to a great degree. Although I’m not sure of the author’s intentions here, to write a piece that makes general statements about the Spanish Civil War without noting the atrocities committed by the nationalists strikes me as quite irresponsible. The devil is subtle–he works on both sides in human conflicts as much as he can, and he’s good at transforming himself into an angel of light, as Scripture says. To paraphrase the Catechism, to justify atrocities in the name of faith is a kind of blasphemy. I’m not saying that’s what the author did, mind you, but we need to be very careful on this kind of ground because of that danger.

    • Art Deco

      I would refer you to Hugh Thomas’ 1st edition of The Spanish Civil War. IIRC, the Republican forces executed twice as many people behind the lines as the Nationalist forces, even thought they ruled a smaller population. And, of course, the Republican forces had a history of mass executions of non-combantants, among the priests and men and women religious.

      Please note also the Nationalist forces were a federation of the majority faction of the professional military, the Falangists, the Carlists, and the Alfonsine monarchists. The ‘autonomous right’ did not have their own militia and Joe Maria Gil Robles was in exile during the war, but their parliamentary caucus did not adhere to the Republic. Only one CEDA deputy attended sessions of the rump Cortes during the war. To refer to the more generic or variegated authoritarian regimes of Europe as ‘fascist’ is to mislead.

    • Phillip

      Harry, what do you actually know about Franco? What do you actually know about the Civil War? My guess is that your conclusions, like most Americans or other people of the west whose opinions are formed by the popular media–i.e. lovers of modern liberal democracy, which is as ant-Catholic as Fascism supposedly is–are a combination of misinformation and outright leftist propaganda. Have you ever searched out historical books on the two subjects? In English? All but one or two–in English–are unbiased towards the Nationalists.
      Check out how many there are in Spanish that have never been translated into
      English or any other language.

      My point, you are arguing from a very shallow foxhole, probably from a deluded American point of view, and one that seems to me to fit the kumbaya Catholicism whereby we are never supposed to actually fight and draw blood in defending the Faith.

      You say the “the Fascists aren’t your friend”, yes, maybe, but what about all the baby killers voted for, by Catholics, in every “free” country of the world? That “because the Republicans did awful things doesn’t make Franco a Catholic hero”, well, by that measure, then what do you say about the US firebombing and atomic bombing hundreds of thousands of civilians in the second world war? I would not defend that, but I’m guessing you would. How about our War on Terror, and torture? Or for that matter, how about the millennia and a half of defending Europe from the Muslim horde? Was that okay? Sometimes you have to draw blood.

      Franco and Salazar ran civilized, Catholic, societies; Mussolini very nearly did, and Elgelbert Dolfuss would have if the Nazis hadn’t murdered him. Catholics would have felt more at home in any one of those countries than is possible to feel in the US or even most of what is left of modern Western Europe.

  • Charles Ryder

    Captain Check, if you were to recommend a good one-volume history of the Spanish Civil War, what would it be?

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      One of the best personal accounts is George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia.” It is certainly the best written.

      Orwell was a volunteer for the Republicans but disillusioned by what he saw..As the Spectator commented, the”dismal record of intrigue, injustice, incompetence, quarrelling, lying communist propaganda, police spying, illegal imprisonment, filth and disorder,” was evidence that the Republic deserved to fall.

    • Christopher Check

      I would read two: Thomas and Payne. Hugh Thomas is a leftist, but the recent edition of his work is better balanced than earlier ones. The difficulty is that the SCW is horribly complex. Thomas does a good job in laying out the players and the action in a readable one-volume history. Stanley Payne does as good a job or better from a perspective more sympathetic (though hardly a whitewash) to Franco. Payne is an excellent historian of Spain. If you want something shorter (that really only gets to the origins of the war) read Warren Carroll from whom I stole in preparing this. If you really want to wrap your imagination around the origins of the SCW read, THE CYPRESSES BELIEVE IN GOD.
      The SCW is one of those events where the defeated have written the history. Why? Because their version fits the Marxist interpretation of history of economic man and class struggle.

      • H.T.

        I second The Cypresses Believe in God. The follow up book, One Million Dead, about the war itself, is also really good. However, one can get bogged down by all of the war strategy and battles. (At least I did.) The author of those two books, Jose Maria Gironella, fought on Franco’s side, but it seems like he went to great lengths to discuss sympathetically the issues the Republicans were fighting for.

        • Sygurd Jonfski

          We should keep in mind, though, that Gironella’s books are novels, not historical works. Just the same, I like them too.

    • JoseProvi

      Stanley Payne’s “The Spanish Civil War” and “The Franco Regime” are excellent. Long books but really good.

    • Sygurd Jonfski

      The books definitely NOT to read are those by Paul Preston and his mad wife Gabrielle Ashford Hodges who has published a hysterical biography of General Franco, a very amusing mixture of Freudianism and pure hatred. Later on, I will add to this posting a list of rather scarce publications written from the Nationalist perspective which are definitely worth reading. From among personal accounts, one of my favorites is the disarmingly candid memoir by Laurie Lee who fought (or, rather, tried to fight) on the Republican side (“A Moment of War”).

      • Sygurd Jonfski

        Here’s the promised list:
        – Major Geoffrey McNeill-Moss, “The Epic of the Alcazar. A History of the Siege of the Toledo Alcazar, 1936”, London, 1937 – a very detailed contemporary account of the siege with relevant photographs;
        – Peter Kemp, “Mine Were of Trouble”, London, 1957 – the memoir of a Cambridge student who volunteered for Franco and fought in the ranks of the Catholic requetes and then in the Spanish Foreign Legion. Kemp went on to become a special service agent in the British army and during WW2 was parachuted into Albania, Poland and Siam.
        – Luis Bolin, “Spain: The Vital Years”, Philadelphia and New York, 1967 – a personal history of the Spanish Civil War by the man who had accompanied Franco on his historic flight from the Canary Islands to North Africa, and who from 1936 to 1938 was attached to Franco’s general staff.
        – Captain Jose Larios, Marquis of Larios, Duke of Lerma, “Combat over Spain. Memoirs of a Nationalist Fighter Pilot 1936-1939”, New York, 1966 – the title says it all.

        By the way, many years ago I have seen in a second-hand bookshop an official publication issued by the Franco government detailing the cultural losses caused by the Republican forces during the SCW (burned down churches, destroyed works of art, etc.) Unfortunately, I didn’t buy it and I can’t even find out its title – can anybody help?

        • Juan Carlos

          May I recommend the excellent biographies of Mi General by Brian Crozier and George Hills, both from 1967?

        • rjstove

          Nobody has mentioned Sir Arnold Lunn’s Spanish Rehearsal, Lunn, of course, having been first an anti-Catholic polemicist and, subsequently, one of the most distinguished Catholic converts of the years between the two world wars.

          • David Ashton

            He was a great literary hero of my younger days and I wrote and told him of my post-Vatican II concerns. He was a sharp debater. I would especially recommend his trouncing of Joad in “Is Christianity True?” and his “Revolutionary Socialism” also titled “Socialism and Communism”. He was a really nice man and a first-class mountaineer. Sadly the last of a line that included (among others) Chesterton (above all), Belloc, Waugh, Knox, Copleston and Martindale. Where are such RC Greats nowadays?

            • Martel

              Roman Catholicism, unlike Protestantism, encourages it followers to shape and maintain traditions. A nation without traditions will always struggle to produce great men. The Catholicism as it has been for centuries likely died in the sixties, their function is now to echo the gospel of the left. Interesting discussion, I always wondered what was true about the leftist narrative concerning the Franco Regime.

              • David Ashton

                The leftists are banking on the present Nicompope turning the See of Peter into a sea of piffle. One of many demoralizing little experiences after Vatican 2 was to find a book, in which some nun argued that the NT promise of Jesus to protect the church from destruction was not authentic, had received an Imprimatur.

        • David Ashton

          Not sure if you refer to the Red Domination…the General Cause mentioned above. It is very difficult for anyone other than a specialist conversant with Spanish sources to cut through the entrenched Republican legends and dated Francoist heroics to the facts. But I would certainly recommend Hugh Thomas, Salvador de Madariaga, Ronald Radosh, Daniel Kowalsky and Pio Moa for exposing what Trotsky called the “dictatorship of the Stalinists over the republican camp” and the poisonous residual fog of leftist propaganda through which the tragic events of the Spanish civil war are still viewed. As for Spanish communists in Nazi camps, there were also Spanish communists in Soviet camps!

  • ProdiGaldaughter

    I have read Dr. Carroll’s book and highly recommend it. I also recommend all his other works–history of the Church and also his audio lectures. Such a man! Such a Catholic!

  • franciscofranco

    Harry’s reckless statements are typical of people whose “knowledge” of the SCW appears to come from the diaries of Morris Dees and the fantasies of Paul Preston. Harry makes several statements, and misses the mark on nearly all of them. His bizarre rantings might make it with the “John Paul the ‘Great'” crowd, but when discussing historical details, the facts ought to be our goal. Mass rape of Republican women? Such a charge implies that there was a systematic program conceived of and overseen by Franco. There is no evidence of that, and no serious historian would therefore make the claim. Republican prisoners shipped off to Nazi concentration camps? Really? When and where did this happen? Franco had no love for Hitler. And he certainly did not need to ship prisoners to Germany. Why would Hitler have even taken them? It makes no sense. Harry also repeats the lie that Franco was a fascist. Nothing is further from the truth, but I’m getting used to that with Harry. There is no such term in the SCW as “White Terror.” Franco’s side were not the Whites. Wrong civil war, wrong chronology.

    It is also worth noting that even the post-Vatican II Church, which wants to apologize for every sin ever committed anywhere in the world, continues to canonize martyrs murdered by the Left in the SCW.

    Now, were there atrocities committed by both sides in the SCW? Of course. But by far the most organized, choreographed terror came from the Left. If soldiers committed atrocities, we first must hold them accountable as individuals. If you can show me where Franco urged his men to murder and rape, then we’ll have something to discuss. Moreover, the Church’s price for her support of Franco was that she have a moderating influence on Franco’s men, which is what happened. War indeed brings out the worst in men, and thank God the Church was able to reign in those elements to the best of her ability. By contrast, reading the correspondence of Communist operatives in Spain leaves no room for doubt that their agenda was one of pure and total “liquidation,” as they so antiseptically referred to murder.

    Christopher Check’s piece is well-done, which is normal for him. He’s correct that Stanley Payne is the go-to historian. Hugh Thomas’ history is still very good, but is showing its age as newer historians fill in the gaps and provide alternative perspectives. Warren Carroll’s The Last Crusade is a nice introduction, but hardly the stuff of serious scholarship. That’s not a criticism, just a caveat to anyone who wants to deep-dive in the vast literature in English on the subject. Carroll’s bibliography is still very good, though, and i would recommend it as an excellent jumping-off point.

    Catholics have every reason to revere Franco. He fought for the Church from a military position of utter weakness, and he used discipline to forge an army of disparate political views to focus on the enemy. After the war, he forgave the vast majority of the criminals who murdered their fellow Spaniards, and gave the Church a privileged status (not a mere veneer), one that lasted until Paul VI foolishly urged Franco to treat the Church as just another confessional entity. Think the “Peace” of Westphalia dressed up in late 20th century terms.

    Anyway, as these martyrs to pray for us, that we may not be like the Harrys of the world and be ashamed of fighting for what’s right, even if it costs each one of us his life.

    • Sygurd Jonfski

      “If you can show me where Franco urged his men to murder and rape”

      I’m on your side, Caudillo 8), but to be absolutely objective, let me recall the radio tirades, not of Franco but of General Queipo de Llano, which sometimes threatened the Republicans with exactly that…

    • Jerome

      FYI., if we accept that Stanley Payne is the best historian of the Spanish Civil War, note two quotes from pages 105 and 106 of his book:

      “Apologists for the Left have always tried to draw a distinction between the terrors of the left and right, arguing that repression by the left was decentralized, spontaneous and not generally organized, while holding that repression by the right was much more planned, controlled, cultivated, and implacable. There is some truth to this distinction, but there was nothing ‘spontaneous’ about revolutionary terror, for violence had been incited and praise by the revolutionary groups for years.”

      “In the nationalist zone, the repression was directed throughout by the military, who employed regular troops, the Civil Guard, and civilian militias. . . . Both repressions were lethal, but the one exercised by the Nationalists was more thorough and effective.” He also says Franco privately and publicly threatened repression if the republicans resisted too much right from the beginning. So, at least, says Payne.

      • franciscofranco

        Jerome, yes, quite true. I believe the quote you cite is from his latest book (I’m at work and don’t have it by my side). Payne has, over the years, become a harsher critic of Franco, though still within the boundaries of sane scholarship. My guess is that other scholars have produced research that has helped shape perspectives, and there’s nothing wrong with that! (Unless I’ve missed something in this discussion, no one is suggesting that Franco’s forces were not guilty of committing atrocities.) Still, Payne is careful to make the distinction between repression and terror. The wild murders of women and children did not happen at anywhere near the level that the Left committed them. Of course, this does not even consider the wholesale slaughter of priests, religious and laymen solely for the “crime” of being Catholic. Moreover, a threat is not an act. It’s what you do in war to demoralize the enemy. Queipo’s famous line that “even if they’re [the enemy] already dead, I will kill them again” is an example of this sort of threat. If Franco threatened, he did what anyone does (or should do) in war or in the run-up to war. It’s what boxers do before a bout. At any rate, Payne never draws a moral equivalency between the Left and Right’s sins, and it is never his intention to make a moral case for Franco anyway.

        • franciscofranco

          Jerome, your selective quotation is, at the very least, problematic. At its worst, it misleads people. The quotes Jerome cobbled together are taken from Stanley Payne’s book The Spanish Civil War, Chapter 7, pp. 103-110. I’m certainly not going to quote the entire chapter, and I won’t bother with selective quotes, but I will point out some things that round out Payne’s discussion on the level of terror on either side. First, Payne notes that while the terror from the left was not centrally planned (an obvious point for anyone familiar with the fractured nature of the leftist parties in Spain), there was extensive organization. The Checas and sometimes governmental police/security forces engaged in terror. Second, though Payne notes the better effectiveness of the Nationalists’ repression, he cites a source who points out that repression from the right was more directed at political enemies and not class enemies. Let that sink in for a minute. The largest number of murders was in Madrid, which was controlled by the left. Even the large-scale repression by the Nationalists in Zaragoza is treated by Payne as having extenuating circumstances.

          • Jerome

            I don’t think it’s problematic, I stand by my quotation as a summary of what he means concerning the Nationalists, even if it’s not all he says about the Republicans–but in light of my other comment below.

        • Jerome

          Fair enough. As I understand Payne from just this one volume, he says that the Nationalists started repression, it’s true, in response to the Republican terror, but quite early, and the way he tells it it did certainly become terroristic by the fall of Malaga in 1937. Both sides then dialed back somewhat on the homicide after that. Nevertheless, even summary execution of prisoners without a serious trial (repression) is not in accord with Catholic jus in bello. My point is not to condemn Catholics of the time who wanted to defend their faith in arms, of course, but to point out that we need to be very careful about seeming to uncritically endorse Franco or the nationalists.

  • Dick Prudlo

    Flash: Catholic Answers finally get something right regarding history and tradition.

    • John200

      Well, Dick, I wait patiently for your next flash. But come on, let me in on it, I really want to see you get this right. And I want you to cease and desist the contentless attacks; Catholic Answers might be closer to the truth than you.

      I don’t expect you to produce a worthwhile answer, just think it over.

      • Dick Prudlo

        I wish to “cease and desist….”, dear John.

  • AltarAndThrone

    Thank you, Crisis, for carrying this.

  • Sygurd Jonfski

    Contrary to the popular saying, the history of the Spanish Civil War has been written not by the victors but by the defeated. That’s why we still hear about it being a “defense of democracy”, etc. But the situation has been changing recently – more and more publications by serious historians appear which challenge this leftist propagandist cliche. Warren Carroll’s “The Last Crusade” is perhaps not the best available source, being highly partisan and emotionally overcharged; I would rather recommend Antony Beevor’s “The battle for Spain” (the revised 2006 edition, not the indifferent 1982 original published as “The Spanish Civil War”).

    The fact is, in the Spanish Civil War there were no good guys and bad guys. Both sides committed unspeakable atrocities which then they tried very hard to cover up. However, the fact remains that General Franco’s “pronunciamiento” happened in response to the state of murderous anarchy that had developed in Spain after the elections of 1936. The Republican government couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get it under control and Franco was forced to step in.

    By the way – I visited the Alcazar in Toledo in the summer of the year 2000. At that time one could still see there the badly demolished command room, the underground sleeping quarters for women and children with the original equipment, etc. Some time after 2003, the Spanish Army Museum in Madrid – which was also rather Franco-friendly – was closed down by the Socialist government, supposedly to be transferred to the Alcazar and reopened there. In 2008, when I visited the Alcazar again, it was turned into a public library and there was no sight of any exposition anywhere, including the original Alcazar setup. I must confess that I haven’t been following the situation – does anybody know what has happened to both museums?

    • franciscofranco

      Sygurd, I was also at the Alcazar in the summer of 2000! It would have been the 7th or 8th of July. Anyway, your recollection of the command room is exactly mine, and in fact had not changed since I first saw it in 1989 (and probably not since it was rebuilt decades earlier). The socialists systematically removed statues, street names and, sadly, messed with historical military sites. They even tried to close the Valley of the Fallen but even that proved to much for modern Spain.

      • Sygurd Jonfski

        I was there in September. I also visited the Valley (twice), a very impressive place.

    • franciscofranco

      Sygurd nails it with the following observation: “However, the fact remains that General Franco’s “pronunciamiento” happened in response to the state of murderous anarchy that had developed in Spain after the elections of 1936. The Republican government couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get it under control and Franco was forced to step in.”

      This is at the heart of the matter of why there was a need to rebel. I believe the evidence is clear that the government simply had no reason to control the anarchic situation in the spring and summer of 1936. It was clear that the hard left was going to revolt against the government if the conservative forces did not do so first.

    • Sygurd Jonfski

      I have written previously, “The fact is, in the Spanish Civil War there were no good guys and bad guys” but this statement requires a qualification: Franco’s cause was clearly more just than that of the so-called Republicans who, in fact, were an explosive and incompatible mixture of anarchists, Trotskyites, Socialists, Stalinist Communists and assorted “progressives”.

  • Christopher Check

    Thank you to franciscofranco for his kind comments and his sober remarks in response to Harry. I very, very much second his recommendation of THE RED DOMINATION IN SPAIN: THE GENERAL CAUSE. Steel yourself for some of the accounts and photographs of the victims of Red terror. My good friend Scott Quinn and his father, William, have brought this important volume into reprint, and they made a gift of a copy to me a couple of years ago. Annex X includes the interviews with Moscardo about the siege. I would say that whatever embellishing there is in Carroll’s account of the phone call does not alter the story. The key line, “Commend yourself to God…” is there.

    Mr. Dick Prudlo reminds me why I have a divided heart about com boxes. It seems that for every thoughtful poster, such as franciscofranco, or even Harry, who seems sincere, there is someone determined only to agitate. My colleagues at Catholic Answers are not enemies of tradition (or Tradition, for that matter) or orthodoxy and have been defending the Faith with charity for decades.

    • Harry

      It is not my intention to agitate – but I have seen again and again in orthodox Catholic circles the tendency to whitewash or ignore atrocities committed by (ostensibly) Catholic people merely because to admit fault in the actions of the Church militant would apparently be some sort of surrender to the Church’s enemies.
      In the case of Franco it pains me because a criticism so often made of the Church by left-wing people is that Catholics have a kind of natural affinity for dictators and authoritarian systems – the Faith is so unattractive it requires firing squads to back it up, that kind of thing, you know?
      I think Catholics should hold themselves to a higher standard – when a Communist downplays or makes excuses for the violence committed by Communist Russia, I am saddened but not surprised – I expect that from him. He’s outside the Church, and will of necessity have a warped view of the ethics and life in general.
      But what’s the excuse for those of us who know the Truth?

      • Sygurd Jonfski

        “Catholics have a kind of natural affinity for dictators and authoritarian system” Perhaps this is because of the leftist regimes having a natural affinity for anti-religious hatred?

        • John200

          Dear Syg,

          You are very charitable, and I admire that virtue. I wish I had it in abundance; I don’t, at least, not for the Harry-ish “Catholic.”

          I think a better answer to our Mr. Harry is to directly contradict the point of his happy little speculation. Here we go:

          There is no such natural affinity. Where could you take hold of such a silly proposition?

          Catholics know the answer, but still, you may improve by sharing your source with us. I’ll wait patiently.

          • Sygurd Jonfski

            Thanks, John2000, but it was sarcasm, not charity…

            • John200

              Ha, ha! I understand.

              Nice to meet you on CrisisMag.

      • James1

        Could one consider the Holy Roman Empire an authoritarian system? In practice, how different is a king/emperor from a dictator? Is not the Church “authoritarian?”

        To embrace a system less authoritarian, say in a democratic form, risks there being no authority and a devolving of genuine order. Mob rule is quite possibly less desirable than an authoritarian rule?

        In any case, the means of exercising authority are always subject to Man’s fallen nature, tempered only by recognition of a higher authority. Of course, if one recognizes no higher authority than them self…

      • RufusChoate

        Interestingly enough like all on the left you make a broad declaration that everyone was guilty so we should avoid praise of the nobility of the Spanish people who fought heroically to overthrow a murderous tyranny because they punished people who committed atrocities with the same brutal calculus that the Left did.

        Executing Leftists for murdering innocent non-combatant without a valid trial or legal authority is not an atrocity but justice. The Left always manages to avoid any real responsibility by invoking moral equivalence with insane and completely invalid examples sourced from Soviet propaganda and nothing more.. .

  • Phillip

    Christopher Check is one of my favorite people and I thank him for writing about these great events that most people, even Catholics, have never heard of or even care about. In this one I take issue with just one small point: Hemingway.
    I’ve read everything Hemingway ever wrote, many of them multiple times. I recognize the modern and many times shallow and egocentric purposes of the most of his main characters, and that he was, we are told, a Republican sympathizer. I’ve always thought that his full support for the commies was less that sure. For instance in For Whom the Bell Tolls, the main character Robert Jordan, upon entering the International Brigades’ area of operations, notices almost immediately that the volunteers here don’t even bother to dig proper latrines and seem to just do their business any old place like animals, and Robert Jordan at that point begins to develops an immediate disrespect for them.
    Additionally we are shown the futility of the partisans efforts due to infighting, ignorance, and ineptitude in the face of the organized and well equipped and well led Nationalists. He also points out serious Republican atrocities that, as they were described in the book, I would think would hit home with middle America and begin people to wondering about the real Republican purpose, if middle America ever was on their side to begin with.

    • Sygurd Jonfski

      In my opinion, Hemingway’s message is ambiguous. On one hand, he does exactly as you say. On the other, he makes his hero die a symbolic death in defense of the Republican ideals – or is it in defense of his friends? As I have said, ambiguous.

    • Christopher Check

      Thank you for your kind words. I like to tell stories, and I started to learn these tales because I am the father of four boys and I wanted them to know them and fall in love with the magnificent and tragic history of or Church. I think you and I agree about Hemingway. I described his book as compelling, and it opens, it should be said, with a Republican atrocity: the massacre at Ronda. It is a book well worth reading. My oldest son is a great admirer of Hemingway.

      • Tradmeister

        Mr. Check, please excuse my deviation from the prime subject and returning to a passing remark in an earlier comment of yours, but, with all due respect, when you assert that Catholic Answers is not at odds with Tradition, why has CA apparently omitted the magisterial teaching on the Social Reign of Christ from its material, and makes references to Pope Gregory XVI’s Mirari Vos and Pope Pius IX’s Quanta Cura/Syllabus of Errors as being papal embarrassments?

        • Christopher Check

          I know that our magazine has addressed the question of the Social Reign of Christ the King because I discuss it in the article I did for it on the Cristero War. We have had other articles on questions of a just economy as well as just war. I cannot find anywhere on our site the expression “papal embarrassment” as it pertains tho these or any encyclical. Thank you for not wanting to hijack this thread. Feel free to contact me at Catholic Answers if you want to continue the conversation.

  • Adeodatus

    This article is excellent. I am personally uplifted whenever I contemplate the staunch heroism and piety of the Falangists, Carlists and others who rose up to defend the Church and drive the all-devouring dragon of Communism from their patria. We must never forget their sacrifice.

    • JCMR

      I agree. My grandfather was a Francoist supporter but had already left Spain during the Republican reign, to Cuba and later Honduras when the Civil War erupted. His brothers in Spain went Republican

  • Ethan Clarke

    I wans’t there to witness this event. It truly must have been an horrific time between forces of good and evil. But, it couldn’t possibly match what is coming our way today.

  • Stanley Jacobs

    Some of you Marxist apologists don’t get it! And you know who you are. The major difference between the Left and the Right is that the Left committed the atrocities before the war took place.

    • JCMR

      Why is it an “atrocity” taking out a commie bent on destroying by violent means in the heat of war?

      Nevertheless, it is harder to fight them when they are doing the same thing but with smiles, populist rhetoric, social justice fascade, and citizen action/”democracy”. Franco and those Spaniards back then fought on a different battlegroung and won. The battleground is different today, especially if the enemy shares in the reigns of power.

  • Joshua

    I find the whitewashing of the Spanish nationalists highly disturbing.

    Yes, the “Republicans” committed atrocities, and yes the government was tyrannical. And perhaps if the rebellion had continued to be lead by Sanjurjo, who was not only not a fascist, but believed in a Republican form of government, only one that was friendly to the Church, then things could be clearer. But it was lead by a wicked, evil man Franco. Franco may not have been a committed fascist…he was without many principles and fascism helped getting foreign aid. But he was no loyal son of the Church. Like the founder of Acton Fraçaise, he believed that Catholicism was to be promoted as a means to preserving the unity and tradition of the nation. That meant that when the Church did not fulfill that end, he murdered priests himself.

    Take the Basques. They have their own language and identity. That was unacceptable. And conservative, deeply Catholic Basques fought against Franco, who like the Republicans in Madrid, killed priests who opposed him in Basque.

    The Catholics indulging in their own historical revisionism (obsessed only with the forgotten evil of the “Republican side”), should remember the Catholic Catalans and Basques who, with great pain, fought on the side of their political adversaries, the Republicans, against their fellow Nationalists, who, however, only recognize one culture, language, tradition and people. Kinda of Nazi like that aspect, even if Franco wasn’t nearly as diabolical. Franco contented himself with the sacrilegious murder of Catholic priests in Basque, after his victory. After all, the Church must serve the nation.

    • Stanley Jacobs

      That is the worst antiCatholic retort posted on this thread!

    • David Ashton

      Pro-Franco Carlists were Basques too.

  • JCMR

    Franco and his Nationalist alliance of Traditionalists, Monarchists, Falangists, conservative liberals, Catholic Church, etc may have won that war and survived for 40 + years of parriah status, but the Popular Front alliance (anti-Spain) won it in the end, for Modern Spain is exactly what the Popular Front set out to convert into — or more.

    That old Spain– Catholic Spain — that rose up true to its Hispanic character and heritage — died when Franco died. Betrayed by the same king whom he placed confidence and hope in continuing what he salvaged and started to build, which the present monarch failed to do.

  • Jose Cascarilla de Adán

    ¡Viva Cristo Rey!