Franco: a Concise Biography

Author: Gabrielle Ashford Hodges

Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2002

Franco differed from Hitler and Mussolini in the extent of his devotion to his religion and in his desire to play only a minor role in World War II – on the side of Germany and Italy. He was more anti-British than Hitler. But like Hitler and Mussolini he was anti-Bolshevik, anti-internationalist and anti-liberal.

In Europe in the early decades of the twentieth century, nationalistic chauvinism was rampant, and Gabriele Ashford Hodges describes some of this in her book. She also describes corruption: Franco's daughter did well in business because her father's name opened doors.

Ashford-Hodges gives an example of the lack of free speech in Spain under Franco. Franco's father, an old liberal, was arrested for denouncing his son in bars, and then he was released by embarrassed authorities after they learned who he was.

The book on its jacket is described as a psychological biography. Ashford-Hodges appears to be other than the breed of psycho-historians I had the displeasure of having to read when studying at UCLA in the early sixties, but the book has been denounced as psychobabble. At any rate, Ashford-Hodges writes that Franco grew up in an unhappy household in which the children were bullied physically by their liberal father. She describes Franco as growing up in a middle class family both sexually inhibited and with the common Christian value of austerity. He became a career officer in the army, and Franco, she writes, liked "dressing up" to "conceal and glorify his personality." "Blighted in love," she adds, "Franco flung himself into soldiering with a self-destructive, almost suicidal fervor."

Franco became a first-lieutenant in 1912, at the age of nineteen, and commanded Moorish mercenaries. He was more at ease commanding them than he was commanding his fellow Spaniards, writes Ashford-Hodges, "presumably because as a white man he considered himself their social and intellectual superior." Franco fought in Morocco as part of an effort to wipe out the shame of defeat by the United States in 1898 and to reclaim for Spain the glory of empire.

Ashford-Hodges writes of Franco devouring anti-Communist propaganda and of his outrage over church burnings. In 1936, at the age of 43, Franco began leading a rebellion from the right against Spain's elected government, a war he won in 1939 with the help of Mussolini and Hitler. Ashford-Hodges writes of the "tens of thousands of executions after the war." And she writes of Franco being "keen to impress Hitler and Mussolini with the fascist credentials of his regime" and of an "infatuation with Germany that would not peter out until 1945."

Franco, according to Ashford-Hodges, was unable to join Germany and Italy in war or to send his military on a mission of colonial expansion. Spain, she writes, was in economic ruin and its army too ill-equipped "to play a major role in Europe." Franco believed that his country needed tranquility and internal reconstruction. He did, however, praise Hitler when Hitler invaded France and other countries in 1940. He tried advancing his cause by banning  minority dialects within Spain (Basque, Galician and Catalan). Little Red Riding Hood in Spain was changed to Little Blue Ridding Hood, and Russian Salad became "National Salad." He attacked the British and Jews via radio, and he provided the Germans U-boat facilities.

In the postwar era, Franco eagerly opted for friendship with President Eisenhower and persuaded Eisenhower to come and discuss establishing American military bases in Spain. Eisenhower, reports Ashford-Hodges, disliked Franco's obsequious manner, but both got on well while exercising their passion for shooting birds.

With the liberalism of Pope John the XXIII, however, Franco, according to Ashford-Hodges, was uncomfortable.