Updated:09/15/2020 08: 15h
The photograph was replicated to exhaustion by the power it treasured. In it, an ancient and something meaty Francisco Franco He was hugging, with the kind of smile that little ones put on Kings Day, the President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower. The same one that, before the catchy election announcements of the «I like Ike» (‘I like Ike’, imagination was not lacking in his campaign team) had orchestrated the Allied invasion of old Europe through the Normandy’s landing. Although that day, a December 22, 1955 at the Torrejón de Ardoz base, a decade of that had already passed, the halo of the great hero of the Second World War it still shone on the American.
Go ahead for the smartest that the date of the preceding lines is correct. And yes, the photographer who captured the curious picture did it while the couple said goodbye, before takeoff, and not during Ike’s arrival. But, beyond this historical curiosity, what really needs to be noted about those days is that they laid the foundations of what was already a wonderful relationship between Franco and Eisenhower. Two antagonistic characters during the Second World War (the Spanish took the dream from one night or another to imagine an Allied landing in the Iberian Peninsula) but who, after the fall of the Third Reich and the capitulation of the Emperor of Japan, began a kind of romance political. Or closeness and almost friendship, if you prefer.
Before and after Ike’s visit, the first head of state to meet with Franco after Adolf Hitler in Hendaya, both maintained an epistolary relationship in which, more than once and twice, the American showed his admiration for the dictator. Perhaps the most extravagant was the one in which he revealed that, with his help and his vision as an Africanist military man, he was sure that the Allied casualties in the desert campaigns would have been drastically reduced. «The one in Tunisia, for example, would have lasted a month instead of six“, he claimed. In others, the former allied general-in-chief regretted “not having had a conversation before with the Generalissimo” to have shed light “on Spanish neutrality».
Still, if there was one issue on which the almighty Dwight Eisenhower totally agreed with Franco, it was their mutual hatred of communism that was rushing in from the same Soviet Unionto. The same one, by the way, who had helped defeat the Nazis in the Second World War and that it had accumulated the highest number of casualties (some 24 million civilians and military, according to the sources) of the conflict. This was made clear by the President of the United States in a letter qualified as “Confidential»:« Your views on the Soviet communism movement interest me considerably. I share your opinion that the communist offensive today is not exclusively military.
In Eisenhower’s favor, it would have to be said that relations between the United States and Spain did not begin with his presidency, but much earlier, in 1947. That was the year, just two after the end of the Second World War, in which the Truman administration made clear in the so-called “Keenan Report»That it was time to abandon differences and get closer to Francisco Franco little by little. But slowly, with good handwriting and without alarming the media, since society would not welcome the new friendship with a regime that had supported, in a veiled way, the Third Reich. From then on, the complicit winks between the two were counted by the dozen. The thaw had started.
When the hero of the Second World War Ascended to the armchair after the 1952 elections, small steps had already been transformed into large strides. In 1950, for example, Franco offered to help the United States in Korean war. A few months later, the UN withdrew, at the American request, the General Assembly resolution 386; in practice, a strap with which it was sought to suffocate the Spanish regime because of its relationship with fascism. In these first victories he acquired great importance José Félix de Lequerica, the diplomat stationed in the country of the stars and stripes. Ike, therefore, traveled a path that many others had already crossed.
The arrival of 1953 marked the definitive approach with the signing, in September, of a military and economic aid agreement and, of course, with the establishment of military bases for the joint use of Torrejón de Ardoz, Morón, Zaragoza and Rota. The mythical and popular «Madrid Pacts»Of which so much has been said throughout history. Shortly afterwards, Franco moved again and gave orders to the new Spanish ambassador to the United States, José María de Areilza, to grease the diplomatic machinery to win the full affection of the presidency. With those wishes, and a cheap excuse, the diplomat went to Ike to gain his trust. And so he told the dictator later in a letter replicated in the book «The letters of Franco»:
«The presidential room is beautiful, elliptical in shape, very bright, which overlooks the gardens of the White House. Single table […] and sitting behind […] General Eisenhower, wearing his shell glasses, who rose and greeted me with great cordiality. We then entered into a conversation expressing their satisfaction with my arrival and wishing me to carry out a successful task that would strengthen the friendly relations between the two countries. He then told me that he had always had an interest in getting to know Spain, but that he had prevented it, firstly his mission as commander-in-chief of the allied forces in the last war; later, his appointment of supreme head of SHAPE. His visit to Spain under these circumstances, he pointed out, would have aroused misgivings “
As narrated by Areilza (hopefully real, and not sweetened by Franco’s grace), both chatted for a long time. Ike was apparently struck by the fact that the Spanish head of state had similar hobbies to his own (namely, painting and the fishing). To such an extent that he showed her some of his paintings and explained that he sketched them at his farm in Denver, but finished them off in the warmth of his home. “He asked me with interest about those of Your Excellency, pointing out his nautical cruises through the Mediterranean and some pictorial aspects of his works.” The conversation grew warmer when the diplomat brought up the subject of his military victories in the Second World War.
«I spoke of the admiration that exists in Spain for his military personality and successes, directing operations in the allied field during the last war. Referring to her, and completing her previous thought, she told me that she sometimes considered that from her personal contact with Your Excellency, shortly before the North African landing, the allied command could have avoided numerous casualties by shortening the campaign. “The one in Tunisia, for example – he pointed out – would have lasted a month instead of six”.
Both said goodbye cordially and with the hope that relations between the countries they represented would come to fruition. Eisenhower promised that he would visit Spain at the time when the spirits of society had calmed down and he reiterated his “sincere friendship” with Spain. In any case, his interest in Franco must have been high, since Areilza sent a curious request to his superior: «If Your Excellency sees no inconvenience, I hope to have the opportunity to obtain from President Eisenhower a photograph dedicated that Your Excellency could correspond in the same way ».
United against communism
The visit to Spain, the first by a president of the United States, put on the table a more than striking fact: the acceptance, in the face of the international community, of the Franco regime. And that, despite the reluctance of the Democratic party. Eisenhower left rejoicing. In none of the countries he visited on the tour that followed his passage through our country was he received as here. If 50,000 people were waiting for him at the airport, more than half a million more crowded the streets of the capital to see his procession. Three months later, with the sweet aftertaste still splashing on his lips, he wrote to his new friend after he had sent him, also by mail, his views on communism and Latin America.
«Dear General Franco: I thank you for your interesting and cordial letter of the 18th current that your Minister of Foreign Affairs gave me when he visited me on March 23rd. […] You know how much I enjoyed my stay in that impressive capital. His views on the Soviet communism movement interested me considerably. I share your opinion that the communist offensive today is not exclusively military, but mainly political and economic. I agree […] that only US economic aid cannot achieve the economic development and political stability to which Latin America and other nations aspire. These goals can only be achieved through the efforts of the countries in question, as Latin American leaders themselves stressed to me.
Ike went on to point out that he was aware of the great interest shown by the communists in Latin America, “especially in relation to the Cuban regime,” and that, like Franco, he was “convinced that the communist system cannot ultimately satisfy the the desire of the peoples for a better life that carries with it individual freedom and human dignity. The president also subscribed to all the premises that, he wrote, the one from Ferrol had sent him on communism. Thank you again for the ideas your message has sparked in me. I send you and your wife my best wishes. Finally, he invited him, like him, not to soften his policies despite the death of Stalin:
“It is encouraging to note that, even with a communist dictatorship, the Soviet government has made some changes that represent better living conditions for the Russian people than existed during Stalin’s time. Our hope is that they will continue on that path until one day the Soviet regime does not constitute a threat to the rest of the world. Our policy of exchanging people and ideas with the countries of the Soviet bloc is aimed at promoting this trend. It is obvious to me, however, that we cannot afford to soften our struggle with communism in the hope that it will eventually become a system we can trust.