General Franco was born in 1892 and he died in 1975. Franco is the man most linked to the army’s victory in the Spanish Civil War.
Franco had been born into a military family. From 1907 to 1910, he was educated at Toledo Infantry Academy and he served in Spanish Morocco from 1910 to 1927. He made a name for himself leading attacks against Moroccan nationalists and in 1927 was promoted to full general and made principal of Saragossa Military Academy.
He stayed out of politics until he was ordered to put down a strike by coal miners in the Asturias. Here, the miners had created a soviet – a word that struck fear into many western Europeans. Franco suppressed the coal strike with efficiency but very ruthlessly. This one incident sealed his reputation for brutality though Franco saw it as he and his army simply carrying out an order to the best of his efficiency.
By 1936, Franco was chief of staff for the military. In July 1936, Franco lead a revolt against the Popular Front. It started in the Canary Islands, where Franco was governor and spread to Morocco where he had made many contacts in the 17 years he was based there.
In October 1936, Franco was appointed generalissimo of Nationalist Spain and head of state. This had the support of all those various factions on the right. In November 1936, Nazi Germany and Fascist Spain recognised Franco as the legitimate ruler of Spain. His government was recognised as legitimate by the French and the British in February 1939. In April 1939, America recognised Franco as head of Spain.
Why did Britain, France and America recognise a man associated with brutality and right wing politics? First, the Nationalists had won the civil war by April 1939 when Madrid surrendered to Franco’s authority, so Franco as leader of Spain was a fait accompli. Second, the Popular Front was seen for right or wrong, as being associated with communism and the fear of this belief was still rampant in Europe. Franco was seen as the better bet of the two.
From 1939 on, Franco was a dictator. His rule was law. Franco’s Spain displayed all the usual characteristics of a right wing dictatorship. All opposition was ruthlessly dealt with; the nation had to endure the activities of a secret police force; all the aspects of politics that would have been taken
for granted in Europe, such as fair elections and political opposition, were not tolerated in Franco’s Spain. In July 1947, a law was passed that made Franco head of state for life.
Opposition did occur. Students protested about a lack of personal freedom. The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church also complained about his dictatorship and Basque separatists were a constant problem.
Despite this, Franco was not a political pariah. In 1955, John Foster Dulles, America’s highly influential Secretary of State, visited him. During the Cold War, Franco was seen as a safe bet against any spread of communism in western Europe.
When he died in November 1975, the monarchy was restored when Prince Juan Carlos became head of state, as Franco had decreed.