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Franco and Hitler: Spain, Germany, and World War II
Franco and Hitler: Spain, Germany, and World War II
Stanley G. Payne
Yale University Press, 2008
336 pp., $40.00

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John Wilson

Franco and Hitler

There is something faintly preposterous about the pairing of these names—Franco and Hitler—so radically different in scale and in the range of associations they evoke. And yet, as Stanley Payne shows in Franco and Hitler: Spain, Germany, and World War II, published earlier this year by Yale University Press, we can profit greatly from an account of their peculiar connection.

Payne is perhaps the foremost American historian of 20th-century Spain. Now emeritus at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, he has written books on the Falange (the Spanish fascist party founded in the early 1930s), on the Franco regime, on Spanish Catholicism, and on Basque nationalism, among others, as well as a comparative study of fascism. Several of his books shed light on the Spanish Civil War, "probably the most mythic event of the twentieth century," as he observes in Franco and Hitler, and the only event in modern Spanish history with which the general reader is likely to be moderately familiar. (No wonder, then, that popular images of that conflict deal almost exclusively in caricatures.)

In part because modern Spanish history is largely ignored (so that we don't come to it with the background we bring to accounts of France or Germany or Russia or even Italy in the 20th century), and in part because any history seen up close is messy and complicated, Payne's books require multiple readings (unless the reader in question is a fellow specialist). The first time through The Collapse of the Spanish Republic, 1933-1936: Origins of the Civil War (published by Yale in 2006), I had to reread many pages on the spot, so dizzying were the acronyms representing the wild variety of political parties. But the books are worth the effort, and the more you read, the more players you recognize. And if you are moving back and forth between Payne's own books and books by other historians covering some of the same territory, you will increasingly appreciate his scrupulously nonpartisan approach. ...

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