Many people know about Mussolini and Hitler, the fascist dictators of Italy and Germany during World War II. But few know that Spain had its own fascist dictator during this time. His name was Francisco Franco, and he came to power because of a Communist takeover of Spain. Born into a military family, he enrolled in an army academy when he was just 14, graduating 3 years later. He rapidly rose through the ranks, becoming a lieutenant at the age of 20. By his 30's, he was not only a general, but also the head of a military academy. Then things started to change, fast.
In 1931, King Alfonso XIII, the Spanish king, was forced to hold democratic elections for the first time. Spanish voters overwhelmingly voted to abolish the monarchy. The king fled Spain to avoid a violent revolution. A new constitution was written, making Spain a republic. Within a few years, the Spanish parliament was dissolved because of political corruption and Communists, calling themselves political leftists, were swept into power by the voters. The situation grew worse, until the whole country descended into total anarchy. For advising that the government declare a state of emergency, Franco was stripped of his position and exiled to an obscure post in the Canary Islands. From there, he broadcast a call to overthrow the current government. A military uprising began immediately, and within 24 hours, Franco was fully in command of the army and heading rapidly for Madrid, Spain’s capital. He used the method many dictators use in taking power, swaying public opinion with giant posters of himself plastered everywhere. However, it took three more years of war before General Franco took total control of Spain.
A few months later, World War II broke out. Although sympathetic with the Axis powers, Franco wanted to keep Spain neutral, partly because Spain was in such terrible shape already. He considered making a pact with Hitler, but the terms were unsatisfactory for the Spanish dictator. He managed to maintain a delicate balance, enough so that he could claim at the war’s end that he hadn’t really supported the Axis.
With the rise of the Cold War, Franco’s relationship with the U.S. improved dramatically. Even the Vatican got on board, affirming his legitimacy. Only one thing was missing: someone to inherit his authority after he died. Juan Carlos, the grandson of the king who had been exiled, was his choice. Franco had made sure he was ready to rule, overseeing his education throughout childhood. Franco’s long reign finally ended in 1975, and the 37-year-old Carlos, in whom Franco had complete confidence, took over. He immediately set to work. Ironically, it only took 3 years for Carlos to finish dismantling Franco’s government and erasing his influence. Now Spain is a monarchy again, with the era of Francisco Franco only a memory.