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Spanish and USA Civil Wars

  • Category(s): Modern Historical Essays
  • Created on : 13 July 2013
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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


A comparison and contrasting of the American Civil War and the Spanish Civil War.

1. Introduction – American Civil War:

The victor in the US was the lawful government and Regime in the North – the Union as it was called in that time. The loser was the secessionist South who broke away from the Union – The Confederacy as it was called. The Southern States “declared” for that Confederacy by way of rebellion and some borderline states for the Union.

Civil War in Spain:

The legitimate Republican regime which represented the status quo was on the losing side. The rebels were the Francoists namely the Fascists who were the winners in 1939 and overthrew the Republic by force of arms.

2. Ideology and Principle:-

In Spain it was the clash of ideology namely Republicanism supported by Communism and the Anarchists against Fascism and anti-Republicanism according to Franco’s military and Roman Catholic complexion. In America the principle of slavery and their right to own slaves and perpetuate that method of slavery or ‘indentured labour’ was at the root of the conflict. The North i.e. the Union wished to liberate all slaves and terminate slavery on their American soil and defend the Union above all else. The South believed so strongly in the right to own slaves they were prepared to secede from the U.S.A. to preserve this liberty. They defended their way of life by secession. They demanded the freedom to conduct slavery on their plantations and that triggered their revolt and the American Civil War. Franco the leading opponent of the lawful Republican regime was the rebel who landed on Spanish soil in 1936 in Andalusia to rid Spain of the irreligious Republican Regime and its equally atheistic supporters as Franco a strong Roman Catholic saw that party in power. In America the divide was on different interpretations of liberty rather than any so called ideological or religious connotations. Yet the Southern slave owners did justify and defend slavery sincerely on Biblical authorities. The Union polemicists strongly disputed this interpretation of the Bible and have done so ever since.

3. The Military denouement.

In the USA the South under General Robert Lee (Bull Run battles) and General “Stonewall” Jackson had significant early successes. Even the decisive Battle of Gettysburg was joined deep into Union territory. In Spain, Franco had the upper hand once his “Army of Africa” made significant early gains. Franco would tolerate no internal disputes . Yet the Republican side was badly affected by dissension in its ranks. The Republic only had one significant battle won and was always on the back foot retreating from Madrid to Valencia to Barcelona. In both Civil Wars the superior industrial might and weapons of destruction prevailed. In USA this was the industrial northern states which provided resources and manpower the Confederacy could not match. In Spain the Condor Legion flying out of Italian airfields (airborne bombers – German) and Italian Fascist materiel were crucial factors to tip the scales in favour of Franco. His risky decision to land in Spain from Africa and raise an insurrection in 1936 paid off. A number of senior serving officers of the rank of General and below switched sides from the standing pre-civil war peacetime Republican Army to join Franco’s forces in 1936. (A severe setback of the Republic who lacked officers of sufficient calibre and class as a result.) By contrast the Confederacy had the two best Civil War Generals in “Stonewall” Jackson and the excellent Robert Lee. The Spanish Republicans were commanded with enthusiasm but a lack of real generalship. Spain had not fought on its own lands since Napoleonic times and then as Irregulars – early 1800’s. It was not part of the Great War 1914-18.

In USA of 1866 the terrible toll taken by the Union Infantry and Artillery on the Confederate Army at Gettysburg bled it dry and decided the Civil War for the Union despite heavy Union losses also. The charge through Georgia and Alabama states by General Sherman (scorched earth policy) after Gettysburg was of no purpose – the South had lost the War irretrievably by then.

4. The International Brigade and the Spanish Civil War.

This phenomenon of foreign nationals enlisting in force to fight in a civil war let alone the Second World War is relatively rare even in modern times. It did not happen in the USA Civil War. In 1860’s Britain remained strongly neutral. The International Brigade fought with the Spanish Republicans – 20,000 men total say from Russia, France, Italy, Britain, Germany and other nations. These volunteers were Anarchists, Communists or Republicans. They suffered severe casualties (e.g. Teruel) but fought well. They were inspired by ideology and sentiment to respond to the clarion call to fight for the Republican status quo – a cry for help they would not ignore. “La Pasionaria” a female Spanish Communist orator in Spanish Civil War. An inspirational speaker who was much loved and admired. However this International Brigade could not swing the conflict to the Republicans despite its strongly held beliefs.

5. Romance and Chivalry

“Gone with the Wind” – the gallant and chivalrous Confederate Officers and Soldiers and its impeccable good etiquette and manners. The end of a way of life in the South secure paternalist landowning and cotton/tobacco farming. Never to be seen again – Scarlet O’Hara immortalised in the film. In Spain it was the ideological sacrifice of the International Brigade on foreign soil as the Confederacy gave its precious life blood at Gettysburg 1866. The South was short of man power and heavy weapons as was the International Brigade and Republican Army in Spain. Therefore the losses were all the more poignant in 1866 and 1936-39. The International Brigadistas were giving their lives for their sincerely believed cause and the Confederates were doing the same for their beliefs: Slavery and Secession. Any Cause may become out of date or dated but this sacrifice of their lives endures forever in our hearts and minds in America of the North and Spain. Truly these were both Civil Wars.

6. Atrocities with reference in particular to Roman Catholicism

This was a feature of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) rather than the American Civil War (1860s). Franco I have read put more to death than the Republicans. I don’t cast judgement on Spaniards – Civil War is Civil War. The Spanish will not tolerate any divergence from their perceived correctly held beliefs. The Spanish have been good to the English Roman Catholic Church namely Valladolid Seminary in Northern Spain in 16th and 17th Centuries and later. Clearly the Catholics and the Catholic clerics became a target in the Spanish Civil War – no one desires that outcome. Roman Catholicism in Spain in the Civil War was associated with Franco and became a casualty of that association. Not enough was done by the Roman Catholic hierarchy to declare for the status quo – i.e. the lawful Republican regime and thereby take the sting out of the dreadful atrocities on both sides. Each side tried to outdo the other in these blatant murders.

The Catholic Church should have distanced herself from Franco and his representatives. That would have slowed down the slaughter and maybe stopped it. The Roman Catholic Église in Spain was not totally at loggerheads with the regime before the Civil War whatever her misgivings about Republicanism. She did not have to refuse to support the Regime. Franco clearly wished to divide the Church Roman Catholic from the Regime (Republican) for his own reasons of stamping his authority on Spain in late 1930’s. Pope Pius XI was anti-fascist in 1930’s. Any Roman Catholic is duty bound to support the lawful Government. . “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. The Roman Catholic hierarchy in Spain and in exile and in Rome did not give the proper lead on a bi-partisan basis. Support for the status quo would not have been partisan. Clearly you cannot blame that hierarchy for perpetrating those terrible massacres or aiding and abetting them. We should each search our conscience even now. I argue the Catholic Church should have supported thestatus quo and thereby removed the pretext for these wholesale killings of clerics and religious by Republicans. Neutrality by the Roman Catholic hierarchy would not have sufficed to staunch the flow of blood amongst priests and nuns and others by Republican hands. The Church had to take the initiative and declare for the lawful Government of Madrid in 1936 and it failed to do so.

7. Conclusion

Both Civil Wars ended in defeat for principle and ideas. In America slaves were freed however. In Spain the Catholic Church was restored at the cost of a repressive Francoist Regime. (Civil Guard) The ideal was not achieved in the American South with “carpet baggers” and segregation and Governor Wallace and the Ku Klux Klan to come in 20th Century. Yet the slaves were liberated after centuries in “chains”. Thanks to God! The Union put all this right later: Kennedy and LBJ in 1960’s. In Spain expression was stifled not to be truly voiced until the post-Franco period through EU, prosperity and democracy. These Civil Wars were worth fighting – even Franco had the point of bringing ‘stability’ to his native Spain. In the event these Nations expressed themselves in those “Guerra’s civil” and we can be thankful the protagonists had the courage to do so. Let there be remembrance and forgiveness at the end of the day.