The story of Spain during World War II has largely been viewed as the story of dictator Francisco Franco’s foreign diplomacy in the aftermath of civil war. Wayne H. Bowen now goes behind the scenes of fascism to reveal less-studied dimensions of Spanish history. By examining the conflicts within the Franco regime and the daily lives of Spaniards, he has written the first book-length assessment of the regime’s formative years and the struggle of its citizens to survive.
Bowen argues that the emphasis of previous scholars on Spain’s foreign affairs is misplaced—that even the most pro-Axis elements of Franco’s regime were more concerned with domestic politics, the potential for civil unrest, and poverty than with events in Europe. Synthesizing a wide range of Spanish-language scholarship and recently declassified government documents, Bowen reveals how Franco’s government stumbled in the face of world war, inexperienced leaders, contradictory political ideology, and a divided populace. His book tells the dramatic story of a six-year argument among the general, the politicians, and the clerics on nothing less than what should be the nature of the new Spain, touching on issues as diverse as whether the monarchy should be restored and how women should dress.
Examining the effects of World War II years on key facets of Spanish life—Catholicism, the economy, women, leisure, culture, opposition to Franco, and domestic politics—Bowen explores a wide range of topics: the grinding poverty following the civil war, exacerbated by poor economic decisions; restrictions on employment for women versus the relative autonomy enjoyed by female members of the Falange; the efforts of the Church to recover from near decimation; and methods of repression practiced by the regime against leftists, separatists, and Freemasons. He also shows that the lives of most Spaniards remained apolitical and centered on work, family, and leisure marked by the popularity of American movies and the resurgence of loyalty to regional sports teams.
Unlike other studies that have focused exclusively on Spain’s foreign affairs during the Second World War, Bowen’s work stresses the importance of the home front not only in keeping Spain out of the war but also in keeping Franco in power. He shows that in spite of internal problems and external distractions, Franco’s government managed to achieve its goals of state survival and internal peace. As the only single-volume survey of this era available in English, Spain during World War II is a masterful synthesis that offers a much-needed alternative view of the Franco regime during crucial times as it provides a testament to the Spanish people’s will to survive.