Franco (Profiles In Power), by Sheelagh Ellwood
This book does not really need to exist. I tend to question the sanity, as well as the wisdom, of someone who writes an obvious hackjob of a biography of someone for whom they have no respect or sympathy. To understand someone, we need to come to grips with how they saw themselves and how they lived, and to do that task well requires that we have at least some insight into their lives and some respect for their approach. Most biographies, especially the better ones, are written by people who can deeply identify with someone and their struggles and their overcoming of obstacles. The author has no such insight and no such identification with the subject. This is a book about Franco that is written by and for the sort of leftists who write and read with pleasure the garbage that is written so commonly about the Spanish Civil War, and as a result this book falls far short of the standard of a competent biography and can only be recommended to people who want to confirm their own narrowly left-wing view and fail to recognize Franco’s achievement in keeping the right united in Spain and in crushing the wicked anarchists, socialists, and Communists who sought to destroy Spain.
This book is about 250 pages or so and it is a bit of a chore to get through, it must be admitted, because of the author’s consistent negativity about the subject matter. By and large, this book is a chronological discussion of Franco’s life and the afterlife of his regime. The author begins with a preface and a glossary. After that she discusses his early life and education in the army (1) as well as his shaping experiences in Africa and back in mainland Spain (2). There is a look at his ambivalent experience within the Spanish Republic (3) as well as a discussion of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War (4). The author discusses the peace that followed Franco’s victory (5) and his successful efforts to keep Spain neutral during the Second World War (6). The author then discusses Franco’s successful efforts to portray himself as an anti-Communist leader in the Cold War (7) while living his twilight years in a period of struggle to try to preserve his regime after his death (8). The book ends with a look at the beginning of the post-Franco era (9) before there is a chronology, bibliographical essay, a map of Spain and Morocco, and an index.
What is most striking about this book is the absolute failure on the part of the author to understand his subject. When one is dealing with people whose lives were lived in the public sphere, one has to account for their behavior, but in order to understand such people one needs to have at least some degree of sympathy for them. That is precisely what this author is entirely missing and as a result, this book reads like the blog posts of someone on Daily Kos trying to understand a conservative politician. Having a lack of empathy or sympathy for someone who we try to write about is fatal because the purpose of such a writing is to get inside the head of someone and to convey their life and its worth, and if one does not believe that someone’s approach had worth and if one cannot understand why it is that they thought and behaved as they did and why it is that they succeeded and were able to inspire and motivate others, then why should anyone care about your own opinion as a whiny and not particularly insightful biographer? The writer should have stuck to writing about the losers of the Spanish Civil War, because at least here the author would have been dealing with people for whom sympathy was present, and thus there might have been the chance of conveying some spark of the life that is being written about.