With the Rebels
ONE Sunday morning in August, I witnessed the tremendous ovation given to General Franco when he stepped out on the balcony of the Capitanía General at Burgos. He had just flown up from the South to make his first appearance since the outbreak of the civil war in the capital of the rebel government.
A great roar went up from the vast concourse of people assembled in the square in front of the government building. General Franco, wearing the red sash of a general in the Spanish army around his olive-green uniform, showed himself flanked on one side by General Mola and on the other by President Cabanellas. Loud cries of ‘ Viva España!‘ went up as the three rebel leaders embraced one another effusively and the crowd broke into the national anthem. They were cheering because they felt sure that this triumvirate was going to end anarchy in Spain and bring to the country the boon of orderly and stable government.
Fate, not I, decreed that I should be with the rebels in the Spanish civil war. Had it not been for the fact that my passport was locked up in the vaults of an American bank in Paris that July week-end when the conflict was unleashed by the revolt of the Legionnaires in North Africa, I should have reached Madrid before the frontier was closed and followed the fortunes of the war on the government side.
As luck would have it, my carte d’identité, which the French authorities require of every foreign resident, had expired, and on the morning of Saturday, the eighteenth of July, I left it with the bank to be renewed.
That afternoon I learned of the revolt in North Africa and of its spread to the Peninsula. I wanted to leave immediately for Spain, but without my passport I knew that would be impossible. Frantically I called up on the telephone all the officials of the bank whom I knew, but they were all spending the week-end in the country. Finally, late Saturday night, I managed to get in touch with one of the officials, who told me that my passport was locked up in a safe which could be opened only by a time clock at nine o’clock Monday morning.
Eventually when I reached Hendaye, the last French town, I found that the frontier was hermetically sealed and that the train would not proceed any farther. I walked disconsolately to the Hendaye beach. There on the left I saw the coast of Spain stretching out to sea and the spires of the quaint village of Fuenterrabia, separated only by the Bidassoa River, which at low tide is but a narrow and shallow stream flowing from France.
I tried to cross the international bridge into Irun, but the Red Guards at the Spanish end refused to let me enter the town. When I attempted to get into Spain by crossing the mountains and descending upon the little village of Vera, I found the Whites equally obdurate.
It was an old smuggler of Hendaye, who knew every inch of the country, that showed me the way. He advised the dangerous mountain pass that leads over the Basses Pyrénées from the French village of St. Étienne de Baïgorry. There was, so he told me, no Spanish customs station on this frontier, which is at the crest of the high mountain, and I should be able to get to the first Spanish town, Errazu, at the foot of the ridge without any trouble. Then, if I were lucky, I might be able to cajole the guards into allowing me to go on to Pamplona, the capital of Navarre, where I might obtain a pass allowing me to enter and leave the country freely as a correspondent.
I set out at dawn the following morning to follow the rough mountain pass by way of St. Étienne de Baïgorry. The narrow road wound round the mountainside, running along the edge of a steep precipice. For reasons that only a Spaniard could fathom, what rail fences there were had been put up, not at the most dangerous bends in the road, but at places where the risk was not nearly so great. One slip on the part of the driver would have plunged us down those dizzy heights.
The astonished guards at Errazu seemed amazed that any automobile should have come over that pass. At first they wanted to turn us back, but when we asked permission to go on to see the military governor they agreed to call up headquarters for instructions. After a delay that seemed interminable, we were allowed to continue our journey to Pamplona, but our French car had to return across the frontier. The Spanish customs officials provided us with an automobile that brought us to the ancient capital of Navarre, whence General Mola a few days before had set out to capture Madrid.
Our troubles were not yet over. The military authorities at the capital were not willing to let us stay in the country. A young Spanish woman who spoke excellent English and whose acquaintance we made at the Hotel La Perla, Fascist headquarters at Pamplona, saved the day for us. She introduced us to the military governor, who gave us a permit to travel freely behind the rebel lines in Spain.
Our Spanish benefactress told us that her husband had been severely injured in an aeroplane accident and that she was seeking a plane to go to his side. She did not reveal her identity. Only later I learned that she was Pilar Ansaldo, wife of the eldest of the five flying Ansaldo brothers who are serving the insurgent cause. It was her husband who was piloting the aeroplane in which General Sanjurjo, one of the principal organizers of the rebel uprising, set off from Portugal to join the troops in Spain. His machine crashed shortly after it left the ground, and, while General Sanjurjo was burned to death in the wreckage, young Ansaldo escaped with a badly mangled leg.
Despite her own grief, Pilar Ansaldo had time to help me, a perfect stranger, whom she found struggling with the difficulties of an unfamiliar language. I found her quiet courage matched by that of many other Spanish women whom I saw sewing banners and badges in the lobbies of the Hotel Norte y Londres at Burgos, the capital of the Provisional Government set up by the rebels.
One night the radio, which was screeching forth the war news in the shrill tones peculiar to Spanish radio sets, was suddenly stilled in the hotel lobby. Everybody looked up in astonishment. Then we learned what was the matter. The radio announcer had cited in the day’s casualty list the son of one of these aristocratic sewing ladies.
But the mother had caught enough of the name to realize that it was her son who had been killed. Through her tears she asked that the radio be turned on again in order that her friends could hear the rest of the war bulletin. She was told that her son had lost his life in an air accident in which the machine had been totally destroyed. Taking out her checkbook, she said calmly, ‘Take this. You cannot replace my son; replace the machine!’
When I entered Spain it was undergoing the most tremendous upheaval it had known since the national uprising against Napoleon in 1808. The plot against the Spanish Republic was well organized; but, unfortunately for the rebels, the match was applied a little too soon. The assassination of Calvo Sotelo, the Royalist leader and former Finance Minister who was dragged from his home and shot by the Guardias de Asalto, precipitated the revolt before its leaders had completed their arrangements. As a consequence, the rebellion was suppressed in Madrid and Barcelona, and instead of mastering Spain by a single blow, as they had expected, the rebels found themselves obliged to settle down to a grim and bloody civil war.
In other ways, too, the expectations of the insurgent leaders were not fulfilled. They counted on having the navy with them, but the greater part of the Spanish fleet remained loyal to the Republic. Hostile warships delayed the transportation of General Franco’s troops from North Africa to the Peninsula. The insurgents also did not anticipate that the middle classes of the Basque provinces — fervent Catholics though they were — would throw in their lot with the Communists to preserve their autonomy. This defection meant that the northern coast of Spain, including the towns of Irun, San Sebastian, Santander, and Bilbao, were lost to the rebels; and, with the Basque country loyal to the government, the rear of General Mola’s columns was constantly menaced as he advanced on Madrid.
Perhaps the most serious blow of all to the rebels was the loss of three of their ablest chiefs right at the outset of the struggle. Sotelo was assassinated in Madrid, General Sanjurjo was killed in an aeroplane accident, and General Goded was court-martialed and shot by the Reds in Barcelona early in August for his complicity in the conspiracy against the Republic.
In spite of these miscalculations and mishaps, however, the rebels had the advantage of having caught the government at Madrid napping, and if they had been capable of pressing their attack in the early days of the war they might have ended it in their favor in short order. Although I did not take at their face value the official claims of the Madrid radio station that the government was master of the situation, I was amazed to discover how much territory was actually in the hands of the rebels. I found that almost the entire north of Spain, including the cities of Pamplona, Burgos, Valladolid, Vitoria, Salamanca, and Saragossa, were held by the insurgents, and that General Mola’s troops were fighting for the passes of the Sierra de Guadarrama, only fifty kilometres from Madrid.
What happened in Burgos, the capital of the rebel government, that eventful week-end when the civil war began, was doubtless typical of what went on in many other Spanish cities. An Englishwoman from Warwickshire, married to a photographer of Burgos, told me what had occurred in that city the night of July 18.
‘Early on that evening,’ she said, ‘crowds were promenading up and down the Paseo, as usual, and couples were flirting in the balconies. Then suddenly Socialist guards with red arm bands appeared, and everybody fled terrified to their houses. For several hours the streets were entirely deserted except for the patrolling Red Guards. About two o’clock in the morning, soldiers from the garrison began parading the streets, and after beating drums read a pronunciamento announcing that the city was under martial law. Immediately people poured out of their homes, and soon the streets were filled with cheering crowds. The Reds simply vanished from sight. The Socialist civil governor was asked to give up the seals of office, and when he refused he was locked up. Other Socialist leaders were arrested. The enthusiasm continued throughout the next day, Sunday, when young girls, after attending Mass to pray for the success of the rebel armies, went about distributing cigarettes and chocolate to the Fascist youths guarding the bridges.’
The rebellion in Spain bore several points of resemblance to the Nazi revolution in Germany, with which I was familiar. The Spanish movement, too, was an uprising of the middle classes and part of the peasantry against the proletarian dictatorship that they feared was going to be imposed upon them by the Communists in Madrid. These fears were zealously fanned by the Spanish aristocracy and the Church, which dreaded losing the privileges that they had enjoyed for years.
An important difference between the Spanish and German revolutions is that in the Peninsula the Royalists and the Fascists are more evenly balanced than they were in the Reich. Furthermore, the nationalist rising in Spain has not yet produced any outstanding leader such as Nazi Germany found in Adolf Hitler or Fascist Italy in Benito Mussolini. General Francisco Franco, the commander of the Army of the South, has been so far the most conspicuous figure in the Spanish rebellion, but he has yet to establish his claim to be the dictator of Spain. Although but forty-three years of age, he has long been one of the most striking personalities in the Spanish army. He distinguished himself in the Riffian wars and rose to be chief of staff of the army. But the Republic, distrusting his loyalty to the new régime, degraded him and sent him out to Las Palmas as military governor of those islands.
It is not yet certain what the new régime of the country will be in the event of a rebel victory. For the present the uprising represents a political alliance struck between the Carlists and the Fascists under the leadership of the army. Royalists and Fascists alike have agreed to hold their particular political views in abeyance until they have overthrown their common foe — the Red régime of Madrid. If the insurgents win the war, Spain will be governed for some time by a military junta. The one thing that seems certain now is that, whether a republic or a monarchy, Spain will be an authoritarian and a totalitarian state under a dictator.
General Franco himself has gone on record as saying that the insurgent movement was not an attempt by the Royalists to restore the fallen dynasty, still less a coup d’état by a clique of army officers. The army, he said, only took the leadership of a popular movement which was gladly followed by the Spanish people, anxious to liberate their country from Marxism. General Franco added that the new régime would respect the republican institutions of the country. Likewise General Cabanellas, the venerable president of the rebel junta, told me himself that only a republic was now possible in Spain.
But although the rebel leaders may have been perfectly sincere in their intention to preserve the Republic, events are likely to force their hands. No matter which side wins, extremism will be in the saddle. Even if the government succeeds in crushing the rebellion, a moderate, liberal republican régime in Spain is now simply inconceivable. Similarly, if the rebels win, an ultrareactionary era is in store for Spain. It is significant that the Burgos junta has already decreed that the Royalist red and yellow banner shall again be the official flag of Spain, although when I was in Seville, early in August, only the republican red, yellow, and violet colors were to be seen even in the territory controlled by General Franco.
Certainly, if the Republic survives this war, it will not be the fault of the Carlists. The Carlist cause is strongest in Navarre, the stronghold of Royalist and Catholic reaction. The survival of the name Carlist itself is indicative, recalling as it does the two bloody civil wars that were fought in Spain during the nineteenth century. The Spaniards who grouped themselves around Carlos, brother of Ferdinand VII, in 1833 against Ferdinand’s daughter, Isabella, were little interested in the dynastic side of the issue. But Don Carlos personified the cause of autocratic rule against the liberal, constitutional régime for which the partisans of Isabella were fighting.
To-day the Carlists are willing to accept Don Juan, second son of exKing Alfonso, as the legitimate monarch of Spain; but they want a dictatorial ruler and not a liberal monarchy, and so their retention of the name Carlists has a symbolical value.
Their movement is strongest in Navarre, which is the most intensely Catholic region of Catholic Spain. It was Navarre which took the lead in the movement to expel the Moors from the Peninsula. The proudest trophy that Pamplona, the capital of the province, boasts is the tent chains of a Moorish emir that have been forged into an iron grille for a chapel of the cathedral. One of the first acts of Navarre after the revolution broke out was to promulgate a decree recalling the Jesuits who had been banned by the Republic from the country. Another was the enactment of a law making the Catholic catechism the basis of the future educational system in the province.
The ‘Roquetes,’ as the Carlist Volunteers are called, are the flower of the youth of Spain. They are far superior, physically and mentally, to the Fascists, who for the most part come from a distinctly lower social level. The Carlists cut a dashing figure in their khaki uniforms and brilliant red berets, and are easily the favorites of the señoritas who promenade the ramblas of the Spanish towns in the early evening hours. The Carlists are convinced Royalists who want to see the old régime restored.
It is quite different with the Spanish Fascists, who call themselves the ‘Falanges Españols.’ These youths in their dark blue shirts and blue forage caps adorned with red stripes, who are obviously modeled on their Italian namesakes and Hitler’s Nazis, are merely rebels by propaganda. One feels that under different circumstances they might easily be ardent Communists. While the war cry of the Roquetes is ‘Viva España!’ the Fascists shout ‘ Arriba España!’ — ‘Up Spain!’ They have a rollicking song with that name, just as the Nazis have their ‘Horst Wessel Lied’ and the Italian Fascists their ‘Giovinezza.’ The Spanish Fascists are not at all anxious to have the monarchy back. Their leader is the eldest son of the late Primo de Rivera, the Spanish dictator, who certainly gave Spain the most efficient government she has had in recent years, only to be left in the lurch by the King when he became unpopular. The Fascists cannot forgive Alfonso this act of desertion, and they accuse him of having killed the cause of royalism by fleeing from the country after the municipal elections in 1931 instead of staying behind to fight for his throne.
While the Fascists are willing to accept a republic, like the Nazis prior to 1933, they do not want the existing republic. They desire a republican régime free from Marxist influences and based on an authoritarian order. The Fascists were regarded by the Spanish Republicans as their most deadly enemies. This feeling of animosity was partly due to the fact that the Blue Shirts were competitors for the favor of the masses. Their members mostly belong to the lower middle classes, but many come from the proletarian quarters of the big cities. While in the mountainous districts of the Pyrenees the red-capped Carlists furnish the nucleus of the village guards, the Fascist youths are more numerous in the sun-baked plains of Spain’s central plateau.
The middle classes are supplying the volunteers and the money to fight Socialism in Spain. I obtained a clear impression of the kind of men whom the rebel generals can draw upon in their campaign against the government when I was with Major Palaccio’s column at Medinaceli, an old Moorish village situated picturesquely on a hill 3300 feet above sea level, overlooking the Jálon River on the road that runs between Saragossa and Madrid. Major Palaccio had as his runner the richest millionaire in Saragossa. Another volunteer was a professor of law at the University of Jaca, and I came across a soldier whiling away his spare moments reading Oliver Goldsmith’s Deserted Village in English.
But if the Republicans lose this war it will not be the Carlists who will have beaten them, nor the Fascists, but the regular army. The discipline of the professional soldiers counts for more in this war than either the enthusiasm of the Roquetes or the fanaticism of the Red militia. The professional Spanish soldier cares nothing for such abstract things as ideals or principles. He wants good food and a warm bed, and if he gets those conveniences he is quite content to obey orders. He is fighting Madrid to-day because his superior officers have told him to do so. If he were ordered to-morrow to fall upon the Carlists or the Fascists, he would be capable of attacking them quite as cheerfully as he is now fighting the Reds.
The discipline of the Spanish soldiers is admirable. I have lived for several days among them and I have yet to see one of them drunk. It is a democratic army in the sense that differences of rank do not count for as much as they do in the American army, for instance. Salutes are rarely exchanged between officers and men. At Medinaceli, I have seen buck privates look curiously over Major Palaccio’s shoulders as he traced the position of his troops to his junior officers. Major Palaccio, who commands the extreme left wing of General Mola’s army in the march on Madrid, would have shocked most American army officers by his unmilitary appearance. He looked as if he had not shaved for weeks, and his puttees were always awry. Yet he was obeyed unquestioningly by his soldiers, who adored him. For his part, he treated them like children, and, unlike many officers in the World War, was as careful of the lives of his men as if they were his own sons. An unforgettable picture is that of this Spanish major clapping his hands to urge his men to run faster to shelter during an air raid by enemy aeroplanes.
His tenderness toward his soldiers formed a strange contrast to his extreme ferocity toward Communists. The Spanish civil war is a conflict in which the number of casualties inflicted on the field of battle are small in comparison with the total of those executed by firing squads. Few prisoners are taken by either side, and generally no quarter is extended to the beaten side. Knowing Major Palaccio helped me to understand the mentality of the Spaniards and their extreme cruelty toward their adversaries. Major Palaccio told me himself that if he caught civilians with guns in their possession he had them shot immediately. He boasted gleefully of having ordered some railwaymen, who had given orders for a general strike, to be executed. Showing me the carte d’identité of one of them, with his photograph, he remarked with a complacent smile, ‘He will never need that any more.’
During the first days of the war the Major was ordered to make a forced march from Saragossa to Medinaceli, 108 miles away. This he accomplished with a force of three hundred men in a very few hours, overcoming the resistance of the Republicans in street fighting in such towns as Calatayud and Alhama de Aragon.
Major Palaccio told me that his method of dealing with hostile towns was to shell with artillery any place which fired on his men until the inhabitants hoisted the white flag. Then he marched in with his men and shot on the spot all civilians caught carrying weapons.
‘Suppose you do not find any people with guns on their persons,’ I inquired. ‘How can you tell who fired?’
‘I smell their hands for gunpowder, and if I get a whiff of it they are shot,’ he replied.
Major Palaccio has a wife and two daughters in Madrid who are being held as hostages by the Reds. They may be shot before General Mola’s army captures the capital. But for the sake of overthrowing Communism Major Palaccio is as indifferent to their fate as the aristocratic lady of Burgos who offered her checkbook to replace the aeroplane in which her son died.
When the Spanish trade-unionists called the general strike the day after the rebellion began, Major Palaccio was on the train going from Madrid to Saragossa. The engineer stopped the train somewhere in the country, miles from any village, and refused to go any farther. The Major forthwith climbed into the cab of the engine, clapped his revolver to the engineer’s head, and ordered him to proceed to Saragossa. The engineer complied.
The blind hatred of Major Palaccio for Communists seems to be typical of Spanish army officers, as I have observed them. Take, for instance, the military censor of the foreign press at Burgos, a true Spanish Hidalgo, if ever there was one. He is a captain of cavalry and a veteran of the Riffian campaigns, as well as the scion of one of the most celebrated families in Spain. He told me that his family once possessed all the land between Salamanca and the Portuguese frontier. Quite obviously the noble captain was pining for the return of those happy days. He spoke perfect English with the accent of an Oxford don. Indeed, English correspondents, on first meeting him, thought that he was a British army officer who had volunteered in the rebel forces, for he had all the mannerisms of a graduate of Sandhurst. As a matter of fact, the captain had been educated at a Jesuit school at Wimbledon and later at Harrow, and had studied mathematics at Göttingen.
Like the Nazis, the captain believed in race, but, unlike them, he also believed in caste, which he pronounced to rhyme with ‘paste’ — the only fault in English diction that I ever observed in him.
‘The human race is made up of the ruling class and the serfs,’ he told the foreign correspondents gathered around the table at the Norte y Londres in Burgos one evening, ‘and always will be. We must teach our serfs such a lesson that they will know their place for the next hundred years.’
The captain went on to remark that he regarded the Spanish civil war as merely a continuation of a perpetual struggle that has been going on through the ages, of which the conflict between the Moors and the Castilians for the possession of the Peninsula was one phase.
‘The Nordic,’ said the captain, ‘believes in freedom and individualism, while the East clings to a system of Oriental despotism in which private enterprise is crushed.’
When I protested that that theory was hardly compatible with the suppression of individual rights under Naziism or Fascism, the captain impatiently brushed this objection aside with a wave of his hand. ‘There are moments in history when the Nordic submits to a dictatorial rule in order to surmount a passing crisis. Now Spain is going through such a transitional stage in her history. But when it is overcome we will resume a régime of individualism.’
The opinions of army men like Major Palaccio and the captain faithfully reflect, I believe, the mental outlook of the men who to-day are conducting what they hold to be a Holy Crusade against the Spanish Republic and all that it stands for. Such men incorporate the spirit of the Old Spain that is turning its face as resolutely against progress and the free play of the mind as it did centuries ago when it devised the Inquisition and the auto-da-fé to stamp out heresy.
Other and more humble representatives of the Old Spain are fighting shoulder to shoulder with the military and the aristocracy against the hated reforms and innovations of the Republic. Conspicuous in the corridors of the hotel at Burgos these days has been a tall handsome man, with his hair cropped close save for a pigtail. He is the renowned Madrid toreador, Santiago Sangro, who joined the Fascist Legion when the war started. If you ask him why he is fighting against the Republic, he will tell you, ‘The Reds hate us because we stand for a Spanish sport that has been sponsored throughout the ages by royalists and aristocrats. Bullfighting is typically and traditionally Spanish. That is why the Republic is trying to abolish it.’
It is the irony of history that it should be Catholic Spain that has called the Moors back to the Peninsula to destroy the Republic. I first saw these black troops from Morocco in Burgos, the city in the cathedral of which lies buried the Cid, Spain’s national hero. I was sitting at a café in the Paseo del Espolón Viejo when the native troops from General Franco’s army, some three hundred strong, made their first appearance in the rebel capital. They received a tremendous ovation. The crowds in the open-air cafés that line this delightful promenade arose from their seats, raised their arms in the Fascist greeting, and shouted ‘ Viva Españal ’ The señoritas beamed upon ihe dusky warriors from North Africa as they marched along in red fez or white turban.
Privately, however, many of the rebel leaders have grave misgivings about the advisability of calling upon Moors to fight their white fellow countrymen.
It is another irony of history that in this civil war it is the military men, who have always prided themselves upon their loyalty to the state, who are the rebels. The Burgos censors are careful to delete any reference, in the copy of newspaper correspondents, to their troops as ‘rebels.’ Protesting against his soldiers being regarded as rebels, General Queipo de Llano recently said: ‘We have not risen against the public authority, but against the want of authority on the part of the Marxist elements.’ Certainly good government is something that Spain has seldom had throughout its varied history.
The Spaniards themselves like to tell the story of how their country was created by God as a special favor for Saint Theresa, their patron saint. According to this legend, God asked the Saint what kind of country she wanted for her own.
‘I want beautiful mountains, blue skies, and lots of sunshine for it,’ said Theresa.
‘All right,’ replied the Almighty, ‘and what else?’
‘And I should like a country inhabited by brave men, lovely women, and happy children.’
‘And then I should like good government for them.’
‘Now you are asking the impossible! ’ replied God.