Part of the problem with today’s narrative about México is that México’s history is told by others often to satisfy certain preconceived notions. The general narrative is that México is a country in turmoil unable to come unto its own. The narrative being that México is just an afterthought in world affairs, or a taker of the world’s largess. But México has been actively engaged in world affairs and has significant accomplishments to boast about. One of the little known historical events is when México and Russia stood alone against fascism.
On April 14, 1931, Spanish King Alfonso XIII abdicated the Spanish throne and the Second Spanish Republic was established. This led to the Spanish Civil War which, for the first time in history, pitted the right against the left. It also provided Hitler the military experience that led to World War II.
The Spanish War was fought between the Republicans, who were loyal to the recently established Republic, and the Nationalists, led by the military, who rebelled against the new government. The rebels were led by Francisco Franco Bahamonde who went on to rule Spain until 1975, when he died.
The Spanish Civil War ended on April 1939, when Franco took control of the country. On September 1939, Hitler started Word War II. Under Franco, terror was used against political dissidents and women were relegated to second-class citizens forced into supporting roles for the men. When Franco launched his rebellion against the Republicans, he implored other countries to come to his aid. Fascist Italy, under Benito Mussolini, and Nazi Germany answered the call. The Nazi’s provided the Condor Legion which perfected their air war skills in strategic bombings of cities used to quell opposition.
Germany provided heavy war equipment, artillery, heavy bombers and air crews to the Spanish fascists. Hitler, himself, argued that Germany’s help allowed Franco to win. The use of the German dive bomber Ju-87 allowed dive bombing techniques to be perfected. The Condor Legion allowed Germany to perfect combat aircraft in actual combat conditions, even though they were prohibited from developing weapons because of the terms that ended World War I.
The Italians provided a corps of Italian volunteers who fought under Franco and other military support. Hitler and Mussolini, along with Japan’s Hirohito went on to form the Axis waging war during World War II. The Spanish Civil War taught Hitler and Mussolini that working together made them stronger.
Some historians generally agree that Hitler used the civil war as a testing ground for modern war. But before World War II, only two countries answered the call to keep the fascists out of Spain, México and Soviet Russia.
England, France and the United States ignored the plea for help from the Republicans, the Spanish democracy. France believed that the non-aggression pact it had championed would keep the civil war in check. However, Hitler and Mussolini had other ideas.
The only western country to answer the call to help the Spanish democracy was México. México, recovering from its own decade of war with the Mexican Revolution and another few years of the Cristero War provided the Spanish Republicans $2 million in aid, including weapons and aircraft. Soviet Russia had a much deeper involvement in the Spanish Civil War.
In addition to the direct military support to the Republican Spanish government, México also took in about 24,000 Spanish refugees, in addition to 463 children that France refused.
Soon, after the end of the Spanish Civil War, Hitler and Mussolini started World War II. México did not sit on the sidelines, as many believe, in World War II. In addition to numerous Mexican citizens who joined the United States military, México sent Squadron 201 to the Philippines and provided much needed labor and raw materials the Allies.
But when a democracy was threatened and no other country was willing to come to their aid, México responded, even though it was the only western country to do so.