Francisco Franco was once a pariah in the Western world. A brutal dictator, he came to power through war, leading the Nationalist insurgents who wiped out Spain’s brief experiment with republican government during the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939. Cruel and remorseless towards his enemies, Franco established a rigidly authoritarian regime in Spain, replete with fascist trappings modeled on the example of his wartime allies Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Yet during World War II, Franco stayed neutral, thereby rendering an indirect, but invaluable, service to the Western democracies. In the postwar years Franco’s Spain, fiercely anticommunist, came to be seen as a pillar of defense. In the 1950’s, the United States negotiated a bargain with the dictator that allowed the basing of American bombers on Spanish soil. In his last years Franco presided over a rebirth of prosperity in Spain, and its economic reintegration with Western Europe. By the time he died, there were those who argued that Franco, for all his faults, had proved a largely beneficent actor on the world stage.
Paul Preston in FRANCO: A BIOGRAPHY takes issues with this revisionist view of the dictator. Writing with an authority born of years of studying modern Spain and exhaustive research on his subject, Preston maintains that Franco was a cunning opportunist who subordinated the needs of his people to his own lust for power. Preston makes an impressive case that Franco’s neutrality in World War II was a result of his demanding too high a price for belligerence from his Axis friends, rather than any diplomatic foresight. He demonstrates that economic prosperity came to Spain only after Franco was forced to abandon his own eccentric policies. While certain to excite controversy, Preston’s FRANCO will long stand as the definitive study of an enigmatic dictator.
Sources for Further Study
The Christian Science Monitor. January 26, 1995, p. B2.
The Economist. CCCXXIX, November 27, 1993, p. 98.
History Today. XLIV, May, 1994, p. 56.
Library Journal. CXIX, October 1, 1994, p. 88.
London Review of Books. XVI, March 24, 1994, p. 11.
National Review. XLVI, November 7, 1994, p. 72.
The New York Review of Books. XLI, November 17, 1994, p. 14.
The New York Times Book Review. C, February 19, 1995, p. 37.
The New Yorker. LXX, October 17, 1994, p. 116.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, September 5, 1994, p. 97.
The Times Literary Supplement. October 22, 1993, p. 3.
The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, October 30, 1994, p. 4.