A Bulwark Made of Words: the Francoist Press during the Second World War

By Miguel Rivas Venegas

In the opinion of Sir Samuel Hoare, British Ambassador in Spain, the Spanish press from the 1940s was a toy in the hands of the Third Reich’s Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels. Newspapers were full of terminology described by the researcher Luis Veres as the ‘lexical arsenals’ of authoritarian regimes, and were as Hoare underlined, ‘literally illegible’.[1] The American ambassador, Alexander Weddel, who would accuse the Home Minister, Ramón Serrano Suñer, of organizing a propaganda campaign coordinated by Nazi agitators, shared the opinion of the British diplomat in Spain.

According to Weddel, the German Press Attaché was indeed behind many of the articles and editorials of the Falangist newspaper Arriba, which were ‘clearly translated from another language’. Stanley Payne also discussed translations in reference to the early fascist newspaper El Fascio,[2] promoted by the J.O.N.S member,[3] José María Alfaro, close collaborator of the German Press Attaché Hans Lazar.[4]  Research on Jonsist language reveals possible translations and adaptations of the ‘Lingua Tertii Imperii’ within the language and rhetoric of Spanish Jonsists, Falangists and Francoist propagandists of the late 1930s and 1940s.[5]

captura-de-pantalla-2016-11-23-a-las-11-02-19
Report in Spanish newspaper, ABC, on Hitler’s activities in Berlin. Source: ABC (Sevilla), 9/4/1943

The enormous power of journalists and Spanish correspondents in Germany under the command of Hans Lazar, as well as the influence of the media in general should not be underestimated. As Weddel would claim, a systematic, coordinated press could be enough to drag the exhausted masses of Spain into a ‘new battle of the same war’ –asserted Franco– against the enemies of the Fatherland.

Spain was represented by the Spanish Caudillo, German propaganda, and General Moscardó (who was in charge of the Deutsch-Spanische Geschellschaft),[6] as the first front of the crusade against bolshevism and its ‘allies’. The press should be, as Home Secretary Serrano Suñer claimed in 1940, ‘Military column, militia, and fundamental backup to the State’.[7] As stated in one Diario Norte article signed by the National-Socialist press agency Arco-SPES, the journalist should become a soldier,[8] and get rid of his civilian clothes. Discipline under a strict chain of command included linguistic discipline:[9] dilettantes or propagandistic improvisation could be more dangerous than enemy counter-propaganda. Arsenals of words, or, ‘purr’ and ‘snarl words’, as Hayakawa would categorize certain political vocabulary,[10] should be cautiously and meticulously chosen.

The so-called ‘New Spain’ needed its journalists on the front lines of combat. Germany would be the best example of the strong power of persuasion of media under a rigid, sophisticated and, according to General Director of Propaganda Dionisio Ridruejo, ‘perverse’ control of the State.[11] Spanish news correspondents were positioned in many European countries, another one of the Generals’ weapons since the First World War.[12]

At first glance, Spanish newspapers showed not only a non-belligerent attitude towards the political and imperialistic aspirations of the Axis, but clear support of their propaganda and propagandistic language. Information relating to Japanese expansionism presented to Spanish readers in the newspaper ABC was similar to the allusions that appeared in Arriba or Levante, in which German imperialism and the offensive against Poland was described as a ‘vital necessity’, clearly supporting the hitlerian principle of Lebensraum. According to these newspapers, the egoism, incompetence, and lack of empathy of the so-called decadent democracies provoked the German reaction and made any pacific solution to the conflict impossible. The newspaper El Norte de Castilla would affirm that German troops were obligated to penetrate the Polish territory, as the Poles rejected any pacific alternative.[13]

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The Falangist daily, Arriba, delivers Hitler’s speeches to a Spanish audience. Source: Arriba, 31/1/1941

Germany was pictured as a proud nation reacting to the constant provocations and warlike offenses of those ‘false democracies’ that according to Franco ‘did not want peace in Spain’. [14] Salvador Merino, Head of the Falangist Trade Unions, would talk about an ‘obliged war’, a defensive war, of Germany against its offenders. The opinion of the prominent Falangist appears in the Pueblo newspaper right after one of his ‘formative trips’ to National-Socialist Germany.[15] According to his own description of these visits, he contacted prominent Nazi leaders and studied (and in many senses reproduced) the structure of the German Labour Front.

The same subjective, laconic, imprecise and propagandistic description can be found in El Alcázar referring to the German offensive in Norway.[16] The position of certain Catholic newspapers towards Nazi racial measures in occupied territories can be easily perceived in the pages of El correo de Andalucía. They exhale the same anti-Semitism found in the pages of Onesimo Redondo´s Libertad:

‘When going down Nawrek Street the citizen formation decreases and changes, turning, degenerating into filthy residences corresponding to the Jewish suburbs. Even the three-floor buildings look nauseating and disgusting. The “doroskas” stroll around streets full of dirty and ragged kids. The Jewish caftan stands out over any other clothing and the beards are legion as the fear of an epidemic disease’.[17]

The Spanish press commonly pointed towards ‘British egoism’, which was described constantly in ABC. The origin of the Japanese occupations was, according to this newspaper, an ‘obliged’ defence against the British manoeuvres:

The fight of Japan against the Anglo-Saxon powers is a transposition of the social war on the international scene (…) the Japanese archipelago is too small for it’s almost one hundred million inhabitants (…) if the Anglo-Saxons would have understood the vital necessities of the Japanese people, the actual conflict could have been avoided.[18]

The first Press Office Director and member of the Office of Press and Propaganda, journalist, and correspondent Luis Antonio Bolín considered, at the beginning of the conflict, that the war should be won by force of arms. Maybe his early contacts with non-Spanish journalists and propagandists in Salamanca changed his mind. Propaganda and the press were, as Bernays claimed in 1928,[19] a fundamental tool in modern times. Weapons were not enough. A bulwark of words, also serving the propagandistic goals of National-socialist propaganda in Spain, was successfully built in the newly-born ‘España Nacional’.

Miguel Rivas Venegas is a second year PhD student in the deparment of Art History and Theory of the Autónoma University (UAM) in Madrid, where he forms part of the research group  ‘Artistic and Audiovisual Cultures in the Contemporary World’. Miguel currently lives in Berlin, where he has spent time as a scholar at the Humboldt University. His PhD research investigates the similarities and differences between the totalitarian language of Nazi Germany, and that of Francoist Spain. 

[1] Ingrid Schulze Schneider, ‘Éxitos y fracasos de la propaganda alemana en España: 1939-1944’. Melanges de la Casa de Velázquez 31-3, (1995), pp. 197-217.

[2] Stanley Payne, Falange. A History of Spanish Fascism (Stanford University Press, 1961), p. 31.

[3] The Juntas Ofensivas Nacional Sindicalistas was the first relevant political movement in Spain.

[4] Schulze Schneider, ‘Éxitos y fracasos’, p. 200.

[5] The German philologist Viktor Klemperer defined the particular use of language and rhetoric of the Third Reich as “Lingua Tertii Imperii”. See Viktor Klemperer, LTI. Notizbuch eines Philologen (Berlin, Aufbau,1947).

[6] Speech by General Moscardó, president of the German-Spanish Society- Quoted in El Alcázar, 6 August 1941.

[7] Speech by Serrano Suñer to the journalists of Valencia. As quoted in Informaciones, 24th April,1940.

[8] ‘La prensa en la guerra’ Norte. Diario de Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las J.O.N.S., 27th February 1940.

[9] The propagandistic possibilities of the press, particularly during armed conflicts, had been obvious to German propagandists since the First World War. For more information, see Almut Lindner-Wirsching,‘Patrioten im Pool. Deutsche und französische Kriegsberichtestatter im Ersten Weltkrieg‘ in Ute, D. (Ed.) Augenzeugen. Kriegsberichterstattung von 18. Zum 21. Jahrhundert (Göttingen, 2006).

[10] S. I. Hayakawa, Language in thought and action (Orlando, A Harvest/ HBJ Original, 1990 [1939]).

[11] Francisco Sevillano Calero, ‘La estructura de la prensa diaria en España durante el franquismo” Investigaciones históricas: Época moderna y contemporánea, ISSN 0210-9425, Nº 17, 1997, p. 316.

[12] Reinhard Stauber, ‘War and public Sphere. European examples from the Seven Years´ War to the World War I.’ in Seethaler, J., Karmasin, M., et al., Selling war. The role of Mass Media in Hostile Conflicts. From World War I to the “War on Terror”. p. 28.

[13] Appeared in the newspaper El Norte de Castilla. Quoted in Virginia Martín Jiménez, ‘La prensa vallisoletana ante el final de la Segunda Guerra Mundial’, in Pena, Alberto (ed.), Comunicación y guerra en la historia, pp. 343-344.

[14] Paul Preston, Franco (1995), p. 415.

[15] ‘La estancia del Delegado Nacional de Sindicatos en Alemania’. Appeared in Pueblo. Diario del trabajo nacional. 5th of May,1941.

[16] The Carlist newspaper would briefly refer to that 1 September ‘in which the democratic powers declared war on the Third Reich (…) on the triumphal Germany (…) that possessed the moral of victory’. In ‘En vísperas de las grandes batallas’, El Alcázar, 10 May 1940.

[17] ‘La paz  no depende de Alemania’, El correo de Andalucía, 11 October 1939.

[18] ‘Los japoneses han ocupado la capital de Tailandia.’ ABC, 10 December 1941.

[19] Edward Bernays, Propaganda. (Brooklyn, 2005 [1928]), p. 54.

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