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CLASS OF 1964


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MADRID HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 1963

Welcome Page

 


 

VIDA BAJO REGLA DE FRANCO

LIFE UNDER FRANCO'S RULE

 

         FrancoElCaudillo.jpg (44950 bytes)       

The Falange Party Symbol - The Yoke and Arrows - Francisco Franco, El Caudillo

 

        Those of us working on this website debated whether we should give space to a fascist dictator but decided that the site would be incomplete without remembering what it was like to live in a country under authoritarian rule. 

 

        Those of us in the Class of 1964, those that came before us, and many that came after, also lived in a country without the freedoms our fathers were stationed there to protect - an ironic reality of the geographic necessity of strategically positioning forces during the Cold War.  

 

        It may not have been necessary except for the fact that Charles de Gaulle, President of a country so many of our men and women died liberating, was in the process of kicking our military forces out of his country.  He did so cynically knowing that we had no choice but to remain in Germany, still between La Belle France and the Soviet threat.

 

        Anticipating this eventual move by the French, and the driven by the need to disperse our strategic forces so they wouldn't be concentrated and more vulnerable just in northern Europe, and the few other places where we maintained SAC bases overseas, our government signed a Status of Forces agreement with Spain.  

 

        This  move angered many in our country and around the world who thought doing so helped legitimize Franco's government, one that was something of a pariah in Europe and the world in general at that time.  It also angered many in our armed forces since Franco's Spain facilitated, if not outright supported, Nazi operations during WWII.  For example, San Sebastian, on the Bay of Biscay, was a well-known safe haven for Nazi submarines and other naval craft during WWII.

 

        As youngsters, temporary residents, and living under the protection of the US Government, most of the oppressiveness of the Franco regime didn't touch us at all.  We gave a nod to the extreme conservatism of fascist Spain in our dress requirements and the standards of behavior we were expected to maintain, often more in the breach than in their observance.  

 

        In the winter, American men and boys with the military over the age of 14 had to wear a coat and tie after 7 PM for the late fall, winter, and early spring months.  Women and girls over 14 were expected to wear dresses, and no one was allowed to wear blue jeans outside of the living areas.  Families could not possess more than one automobile and a second motor vehicle could have no more than a 50 cc engine.  

 

        Coming from the States where most of our friends were in the process of getting their drivers licenses, this seemed to some of our young minds as a real hardship.  Cheap taxis, public transportation, and Shank's Mare all but rendered this "hardship" nothing but a minor inconvenience.  

 

Juan Carlos, King of Spain

 

        Years later, when I lived overseas and got to know some Spaniards in the expatriate community, I got an earful about the U.S. military presence from an entirely different perspective.  Many of them, mostly from families that lost loved ones and much of what they owned in the Spanish Civil War, continued to resent the treaty.  Some were especially resentful about the presence of a foreign military base just outside their capital city, a position I find completely understandable when I think about the possibility of a foreign military base just outside Washington, D.C.  They did acknowledge, in fairness, that the money the US Government pumped into the local economies near the bases was very welcome.

 

        Added to our presence in Franco's Spain was an additional emotional dimension in the Spanish mind.  Within the living memory of many Spaniards was the Spanish-American War of 1898, one in which we humiliated Spanish Forces in Manila Bay, and drove them from the last of their major Western Hemisphere colonies.  On a personal basis, none of this affected their extreme courtesy and hospitality, something we all remember with affection.

 

        Others in our class relate that, in their later travels to Spain, in conversations with Spaniards, some voiced a yearning, sotto vocce,  for some aspects of life under Franco.  They were particularly agitated at the increase in crime that seems to plague democracies with laws respecting civil rights and that also have high unemployment rates.  Under Franco, such crimes were not rampant, although the prisons were not only full of political prisoners, but also of petty criminals who might languish there for years beyond what our penal code might dictate.  

 

        We all knew that one should not run afoul of the Guardia Civil, men who we all remember for their unique headgear, and who patrolled mostly in pairs toting submachine guns in plain view.  Some of us did have the opportunity to meet these men in their professional capacities as "peacekeepers," and regretted it mightily.  

 

        Something I found interesting about the Spanish Government's arrangements during our stay was that Juan Carlos, heir to the Spanish throne, lived in Spain and cooperated with the existing government in anticipation of an eventual transfer of power to a government in which he would become the sovereign.  It was interesting in that Franco's ascension to power deposed Juan Carlos's father.

 

        The Falange Party is still apparently a viable political party in Spain, if web searches are any indication.  It does not seem to have nearly the membership of other political parties.

 

        I had the opportunity, while living in Poland, to meet some Spanish communists whose parents were given asylum after the Spanish Civil War.  Parts of the former Soviet bloc are apparently now home to Spanish political refugees and their descendents.  Their stories are fascinating but too long for posting here.  

 

        Anyone who would like to post their opinions and experiences about this aspect of our life in Spain is welcome to send written contributions.  

 

        

I begin to smell a rat.

-- Miguel de Cervantes


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