My dear generals, chiefs, and officials of the armies of land, sea and air: You have been so generous as to grant this precious reward, wishing to be the ones who offered as a demonstration of affection and loyalty this precious Cross of San Fernando – who brought together all the ideals of any military man – as a sign of service to the Fatherland.
We cannot, on this day and at this moment, fail to note its significance, and as this Cross of Fernando has been intertwined, day after day, with the hopes, dreams, and laurels of the successive victories, as it has also signified the respects paid with the blood of our fallen, on the swords and bayonets of our soldiers. That is to say on my chest is a sign of a mandate from our dead, and over my heart is a symbol of esteem, of chivalry that brings us closer to the fallen. May this evocation of bloody swords embellished with laurel leaves be a reminder that brings us closer to those who fell, without being ostentatious. May it take us further from the petty miseries in order to bring us closer to the grandeur of our Fatherland. And in times of discord, when weakness tries moments as soldiers, of grandiose eloquence of truth and enormous fortitude when in the presence of a dark shirt, in the presence of the rigid body of the fallen soldier, the differences and the pride died out, leaving room only for the silent testimony of admiration before the grandeur and heroism; may this be the model of our honourable ambitions.
I say this to you because we Spaniards are a forgetful people, because we are used to living for the moment, because we do not look back, because we do not know how to see the chain of heroes, because we do not contemplate the sum of sacrifices. We have made a pause in the battle, but only a pause; we have not finished our work. We have not carried out the revolution. The blood of our dead was not spilled so that we could return to the decadent times of the past. We do not want to return to the feeble times that brought us the sad days of Cuba and the Philippines. We do not want to return to the nineteenth century. We have spilled the blood of our dead to make a nation and to forge an empire. And in saying that we have to make a nation and create an empire, these cannot be vain words in our mouths, and they will not be.
We have to forge the unity of Spain, a better Spain, full of grandeur and political content; we must engage in politics, gentlemen, a great deal of politics. And I say politics while filling my heart with the word. Not the bad politics of the nineteenth century. Not the liberal politics that pitted one brother against another. Not the politics of division of our classes, which awakened our disdain and justly summoned you from the barracks, but rather the politics of the unity of Spain. For you must know that the golden age of our history, those centuries we look upon as the base and foundation of the Spanish nation, those centuries in which Isabel and Ferdinand displayed their banners throughout Spain, are related to what we now can see. A divided Spain, a subjected Spain, a Spain full of misery, a Spain full of miserliness and selfishness, was what they found. And what did the Catholic monarchs do? What was the first act of Isabel’s marriage? The first political act was that of preparing the unity of Spain by uniting the two great pieces in which it was divided, while also sacrificing the conveniences and the heart for the grandeur of the fatherland. It was an act that was political, eminently political, by an exemplary queen, and one that signified the downfall of the power of the local lords and the relief of the of the classes of the people with the suppression of the secular despotism of the lands of Spain; these were eminently political acts of the Catholic monarchs.
And when the King assumed all powers and linked the masters of the military orders – the shock troops of the era – to the Crown, what was he doing other than carrying out an enormous political act of blending the power of the armies with that of the sovereign? And what did Cisneros and Mendoza do, at the side of the King, working closely with him, other than create the unity of the cross and the sword and watch over a people? And what meaning did the epics of the Reconquista have other than the constant and systematic execution of the political directives of the nation? And what was the expulsion of the Jews other than a racist act like those of today, because of the obstacle created for the achievement of unity by a foreign race that had come to own a people and that was a slave to material desires? Are these acts not eminently political? And when the conquest of the Indies was undertaken, along with our wise laws and our provincial governors went the universalistic policy of Spain, with its flags and its cross, and an evangelizing Catholic spirit pervaded the policies that era. And even up to her final moments, when that holy queen placed her signature on her final will and testament, she created a political testament for her people: the mandate of Gibraltar, the African vision, political unity, political expression, political mandates that over the past four centuries have remained an eternal lesson.
This is my concern: that you appreciate all of this life of Spain. That you open your hearts to unity. That we learn from the lesson we are receiving. We are living through the most interesting moments of our century. We do not want an easy and comfortable life. We want a hard life, a difficult life, the life of manly people. We display ourselves before Europe with just and legitimate titles, five hundred thousand dead for the salvation and unity of Spain we offered in the first European battle for the new order. We are not absent from the problems of the world. Our rights and ambitions have not been subjected to limits; the Spain that created and gave its life to a continent now has a pulse and virility. It has two million warriors ready to do battle in defence of its rights. But these warriors would be nothing, our weaponry and supplies would be nothing, nor would our strength, if the enemy could open a breach within the divisions of the people.
I am sure that now and forever you will close ranks around me. I am convinced that you, who live among the people, will be able to understand them. If the life of Spain must be that of a militia, it will need the military virtues and the spirit of discipline. The army is a mirror in which the nation may see itself, and so today, when Spain’s great concerns are incarnated in the National Revolution that must elevate so many classes and must bring satisfaction, you must be the strongest marker we must put along the path, with all the understanding, with all the grandeur of spirit, with all your loyalty, and with all your discipline. Discipline, which is the essence of the military virtues. Discipline and unity, which are the secret of these fantastic victories on the battlefields of Europe. There can be no reservations, conditions, or half-hearted measures. Discipline, which finds a shining example in this fallen man in a dark shirt who asked neither where he was going nor how he was being commanded. That is discipline. One who commands, responsible before the supreme judgement of history, and others who follow and obey blindly, as they followed Ferdinand and Isabel, as they followed our caudillos in the distant lands of America, and as you will follow me.
In homage to our dead, in memory of them, affirm with me: “Arise Spain!”
The source in question is a speech delivered by Francisco Franco Bahamonde who, after his key role in the Spanish Civil War fighting on the side of the nationalists as their general, became the self-appointed head of state of Spain between 1939 and 1975. Franco is giving this speech in 1940 after being awarded the Laureate Cross of Saint Ferdinand, or the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando, for his services against the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. The Laureate Cross, created in 1811 by the Cádiz Cortes, remains the highest military honour that can be bestowed upon a member of the Spanish armed forces.
The first focal point of this source, before the speech, is the Laureate Cross itself. In order to be deemed worthy of receiving it a person must fulfil four criteria: that the action taken was not the saving or preservation of a single life, that the recipient minimized collateral damage to the best of his ability, that the action was taken in the face of overwhelming odds and adversity, and that the action in question had a drastic effect on its contextual scenario. One could argue that Franco met all of the aforementioned criteria for his actions during the Spanish Civil War but at the same time a more cynical historian could also propose that Franco, with his new absolute power over Spanish politics, could have simply awarded himself the Laureate Cross as a publicity stunt to add legitimacy to his fledgling regime. Franco may have been aware of this and its potential use as a propaganda tool by his opponents so to this end he instead had his Carlist comrade and twice-recipient of the same award José Enrique Varela Iglesias, pin the cross on him.
With literally his first line of dialogue Franco addresses and affirms his audience when he refers to “my dear generals, chiefs, and officials of the armies of land, sea, and air”. Therefore, it can be deduced that Franco is giving this speech to the assembled officer corps. It is unclear whether or not transcripts or recordings of this speech would have been made contemporarily available and distributed to the Spanish public but the references Franco chooses to work into his speech and its overall tone suggests that his speech has the officer corps and social elite as its primarily intended audience.
The first few passages of Franco’s speech are sombre as he laments on the loss of his fellow countrymen and states that the Laureate Cross he had just received is “a mandate from our dead”, a gesture suggesting that Franco will lead Spain forward upon the values and ideals held by the fallen. Franco’s reason for openly bemoaning the loss of life on both sides of the conflict, despite previous and numerous divisions, is because doing so establishes commonality. Commonality and reaching out to all aspects of his society, especially after a heavily divisive event like a civil war, is paramount to the stability of his regime now that he is the “de facto regent of Spain” having practically usurped the monarchical line of Alfonso XIII.
Two intriguing references to Spanish history are present in Franco’s speech with each having simultaneously different contexts but a common contemporary relevance. His first reference is to the Reconquista during the reign of Ferdinand II and Isabella during the fifteenth century. This reference actually serves a clever dual purpose that mirrors, in certain respects, the contemporary state of Spain in the aftermath of the civil war. The Reconquista was a period of just under eight centuries, between the eighth and sixteenth centuries, during which Spaniards united to systematically expel Muslims and Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. What followed the Reconquista was the birth of the Spanish Empire, a period Franco here proclaims as being the “golden age” of Spanish history. In its contemporary context, the Spanish Civil War saw nationalist Spaniards uniting, defeating, and expelling what they saw as the modern equivalent of ‘others’ from Spanish soil, in this instance socialists and communists. In a sense, Franco is implying that he and his here gathered ensemble of nationalists are the modern incarnation of Ferdinand and Isabella and implies that they shall therefore take up a similar stance that the Catholic monarchs of old did, such as taking power away from the caciques, and by centralising power in a single authoritative figure, in this case Franco himself. Taking this historical and contemporary context into consideration it becomes easier to understand why Franco included this historical parallel into his speech.
The second historical reference Franco makes concerns the decline of the Spanish Empire during the nineteenth century, a century during which Spanish politics was dominated by liberalism: “We do not want to return to the feeble times that brought us the sad days of Cuba and the Philippines. We do not want to return to the nineteenth century. We have spilled the blood of our dead to make a nation and to forge an empire.” Besides the reiteration of the message of national unity, reestablishment of the Spanish Empire, and the departure from the failed policies of the past this particular passage provides a brief insight into the character of Franco himself. If Franco, as the immovable head of the Spanish establishment, truly aims to rebuild and re-assert the Spanish Empire with himself at the helm then he has quite literally established himself as a monarch in place of Alfonso XIII. This streak of pride manifests itself in other sources and has led some historians such as Paul Preston to conclude that Franco possessed an “emperor complex”. Alternatively, one could interpret Franco’s consolidation of power away from the monarchy in the manner illustrated here in a different light. By consolidating power in himself and away from the Spanish monarchy, at this point still in exile, Franco is preventing counter-productive steps such as a return to caciquismo which could have made the nationalist victory null-and-void. Debate aside, Franco’s use of nineteenth century historical events such as the fall of Cuba and the Philippines underlines what he and many other Spaniards viewed as the definitive low point of recent Spanish history. Through his use of historical references Franco, as a military man having been raised in a military household from a young age, succeeds in cementing an affinity with his audience by using relatable dialogue and focalising a point of universal revilement for future reference.
Asides from historical references, throughout his speech Franco continually reiterates his vision of a unified and strong Spain, one that would resemble the aforementioned “golden age” of centuries past. He envisages a departure from the weak and divisive liberal-republican politics of recent memory and the integration of military ideals into everyday Spanish life to ensure they never return. This desire is demonstrated through a careful selection of dialogue like the use of bombastic terms such as “manly”, “warriors” and “discipline”. It is also demonstrated through passages such as “the army is a mirror in which the nation may see itself” and “you must become the strongest marker we must put along the path”. To end this passage of his speech Franco ties back his message of military values to the nationalists by saying “Discipline, which finds a shining example in this fallen man in a dark shirt” with the ‘dark shirt’ being an iconic symbol of the Falangist and Carlist movements. As a military commander speaking to other military officers on matters of civilian and political life this line of thought is not remotely surprising.
How exactly Franco intends to go about systematically implementing military ideals and values across Spanish society is not mentioned but nevertheless he establishes his intentions well. Franco’s intention of the infusion of military ideals into society to make it strong again concerns more than recent events in Spain as he demonstrates awareness of the impending conflict of the Second World War in Europe as he ominously warns that “We are not absent from the problems of Europe. It [Spain] has two million warriors ready to do battle in defence of its rights. But these warriors would be nothing if the enemy could open a breach in the divisions of the people.” What is interesting to note about this particular passage is that Franco deliberately leaves any indication of future allegiances with regards to this impending conflict out of his dialogue despite having received support during the civil war from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The reasoning behind his decision is likely twofold; that Spain had literally just emerged from a civil war and would therefore be in no condition to commit to an overseas war and to avoid potentially creating divisions within the officer corps of the regime and subsequently in Spanish society.
In conclusion; Franco’s speech indicates that he is thankful for the laureate cross, remorseful for the loss of life among his countrymen regardless of their allegiances, grateful for the end of the civil war, cautiously optimistic about the future and determined to make Spain strong again. He utilises nationalist historical sentiments to establish an affinity with his audience and to outline, or rather allude to his plans for the Spanish nation in the future. Overall the speech reads very much like how a speech of a newly appointed statesman should read once he has claimed power. It reaches out to all former belligerents of the Spanish Civil War with a message of unity in the face of impeding strife across Europe and attempts to establish commonality during a time in Spanish history when such a thing was scarce.
Francisco Franco Bahamonde, Speech of Acceptance of the Laureate Cross of San Fernando (July, 1940).
Jon Cowans, Modern Spain: A Documentary History (Pennsylvania, 2003).
Geoffrey Jensen, Franco: Soldier, Commander, Dictator (Nebraska, 2005).
Stanley G. Payne & Jesus Palacios, Franco: A Personal and Political Biography (Wisconsin, 2014).
Paul Preston, Franco (New York, 1993).
Javier Tusell, Spain: From Dictatorship to Democracy, 1939 to the Present (New York, 2011).
 Jon Cowans, Modern Spain: A Documentary History (Pennsylvania, 2003), p.211.
 Stanley G. Payne & Jesus Palacios, Franco: A Personal and Political Biography (Wisconsin, 2014), p.214.
 Javier Tusell, Spain: From Dictatorship to Democracy, 1939 to the Present (New York, 2011), p.1.
 Paul Preston, Franco: A Biography (New York, 1993), p.323.
 Geoffrey Jensen, Franco: Soldier, Commander, Dictator (Nebraska, 2005), p.5.