Wednesday, September 10, 2003

The Passing of an Age

I'd meant to comment on this earlier. It is reported that Leni Riefenstahl died yesterday, at the ripe old age of 101. What is also interesting is that Ramón Serrano Súñer, brother-in-law of Francisco Franco, Spanish minister of foreign affairs from 1940 to 1942, and a firm advocate of Spanish collaboration with Mussolini and Hitler, was reported by Der Spiegel to have passed away recently as well, on the 1st of September. Coincidentally, he also died at the age of 101.

Apart from illustrating that collaborating with evil is no bar to living a long and comfortable life, the deaths of Riefenstahl and Súñer also seem to say something about the historical ignorance of much of the British and American press. That Riefenstahl was a propagandist for Hitler is well known, but a strong argument can be made that whatever she might have done, Súñer's role in that dark era of European history was of more consequence. Nevertheless, he got hardly any press of any kind, much less the barrage of hostile reporting that she did. The difference, I believe, stems not from any prejudice on the part of the press as such, as from a near total lack of knowledge on the part of most reporters about the history of Falangist Spain, and its' relationships with its' European neighbors.

One final, albeit incidental, point. Despite Súñer being a being a firm advocate of closer collaboration with the Germans (for which reason Franco eventually made him resign his ministerial post, as well as his presidency of the Falange's political council), Hitler seems to have despised the man, as is made evident by his many disparaging remarks about Súñer in "Hitler's Table Talk: 1941-1944" (Enigma Books). To give a example of Hitler's attitude towards Súñer, I offer the following passage from Section 254 of the aforementioned work:

7th July 1942, at Dinner

General Jodl told the Führer of an incident which had occurred at the Spanish frontier on the occasion of the return home of some wounded of the Blue Division. These men were refused places in the South Express, and when they tried to get into the guard's van, a company of infantry intervened on the orders of the Military Governor and ejected them. Marshal Keitel suggested that the Blue Division was in bad odour because of its name, the colour blue being a reminder of the old original Falange, which was not a disciple of the Church. In the new Falange admission could be obtained only with the approval of the local priest. The Führer said:

   The Spanish situation is developing in a deplorable fashion. Franco, obviously, has not the personality to face up to the political problems of the country. Even so, he started off from a much more favourable position than either the Duce or myself; for we had both not only to capture the State, but also to win over the armed forces to our side. Franco, on the other hand, had both political power and military force in his own hands. It is obvious that he is incapable of freeing himself from the influence of Serrano Súñer, in spite of the fact that the latter is the personification of the parson in politics and is blatantly playing a dishonest game with the Axis Powers.

   In point of fact, these parsons are too stupid for words. They are trying, through Serrano Súñer, to give a reactionary impulse to Spanish politics and restore the monarchy; all they will succeed in doing, however, is to cause another civil war, which they themselves will certainly never survive.

It is astonishing that Hitler could have misjudged the realities of Spanish politics so completely, despite his pretensions to prophetic insight. Not only did he take a friend for an enemy, but he also mistook Franco for a weak puppet, when in reality it was Súñer who pled for closer Spanish-German relations to no avail. To make matters worse, he seemed to believe that there were schemers at work behind Franco's back, working for the restoration of the monarchy against his wishes, when in truth it was Franco himself who would see to it that the monarchy was restored. To top it all off, the second civil war he prophesied never did come to pass, and Franco's more sober dictatorship would long outlive his own. Hitler may have been a keen judge of the mood of the crowd, but he was a spectacularly poor judge of the characters of men.