Pro-Franco Propaganda in the US: Russell Palmer

November 11, 2011

I’m feeling a bit guilty for having subjected the students in my graduate seminar this week to the viewing of all 77 minutes of  Defenders of the Faith, a pro-Franco documentary filmed between 1936 and 1938 by the American journalist Russell Palmer.  The film is narrated by Palmer himself.

To assuage my conscience, I’ve drawn up a list of reasons why all students of the Spanish Civil War and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade should watch and analyze the film.

*the film was shot in color; these are the only images in color I have ever seen of the war in Spain.

*Defenders of the Faith provides a unique perspective from which to view the repertoire of pro-Republican documentaries made during the war.  There are scenes (on blood transfusions, for example) that seem to be overt responses to –or copies of—similar scenes in films made by the other side.

*Defenders of the Faith is addressed, implicitly at least, to a US audience, and was apparently made to counter the pro-Republican propaganda that was circulating in the US at the time.  The film gives us insight into what pro-Republican information/propaganda was considered most worrisome by Franco’s supporters.  For example:

*on the question of Franco’s ideology:

the narrator likens the post-war ambitions of Franco to something akin to Roosevelt’s New Deal, but “without the class hatred.”  (I can’t cite verbatim the original narration, as the version I have on DVD was broadcast on Spanish television with the narration dubbed into Spanish.)

*on the question of foreign participation in the war:  At the beginning of a long sequence about Francoist aviation (which includes some incredible footage shot from a warplane), Palmer remarks, offhandedly, that because Spain does not have airplane factories, all planes in the Spanish Civil War are imported.  He then visits a detachment of Francoist airmen, affirming that all of the pilots and flight-crew the are “pure thoroughbred Spaniards.”  Elsewhere in the film, he explains that the “Foreign Legion” is made up of Spaniards –clarifying that they are known as “foreign” because they fight in foreign wars.  So the role of Germans and Italians on the Francoist side is minimized.  The film, nonetheless, does give considerable prominence to Franco’s “Moorish volunteers”; we see them marching and convalescing in a special hospital where, we are told, they can be treated according to their own customs; we learn that the ”moors” are remarkably efficient and reliable soldiers, and that they consider the pro-Republican forces as “infidels” because they desecrated Christian churches (¡!).

In one of the most chilling scenes of the documentary, the camera lingers over the racially and ethnically diverse faces of a group of captured American volunteers.  What I find most remarkable in this scene is how the narrator basically shuts up, allowing the images “to speak for themselves,” affirming, more or less  “These are the faces (predominantly faces with Black and Asian features) of the kinds of people that are currently in Spain fighting against Franco.”  No commentary is needed.  We know from their testimonies how many African-American volunteers saw the struggle in Spain as part-and-parcel of the fight against racism in the US; this quick scene in Palmer’s film gives us access to the despicable flip-side of this connection; it’s enough to see the faces of these men to know that they are on the wrong side…


9 Responses to “ Pro-Franco Propaganda in the US: Russell Palmer ”

  1. Alan Warren on November 12, 2011 at 6:58 am

    Concerning the clip of captured Lincoln-Washington prisoners from the film “Defenders of the Faith”, Nancy Wallach, daughter of Hy Wallach and I were at San Pedro de Cardena last weekend to unveil a memorial to the International Brigade prisoners who were incarcerated there and to our surprise, the organiser of the event, Nacho Eli, identified the clip as having been takingjust outside the monastery. There is a very brief view of the monastery church tower and bell tower just to the top left of the image after the passing close-up of the African American prisoners.

    As to when it was taken is hard to know just yet. But hopefully more information will become apparent as time goes on.

    Look up Nacho’s excellent blog The Jaily News on http://www.the for the recent exhibition held in Burgos on San Pedro de Cardena, and expect some film of the event last weekend care of his blog.

    And Jim, please don’t feel so guilt ridden about watching the film! The British released version of the dvd has Hemingway’s “Spanish Earth” as a soothing extra feature to cheer you up!

    Alan Warren

  2. Alan Warren on November 14, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Apologies. Nacho Eli’s blog should be

    Alan Waren

  3. James D. Fernández on November 14, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Thanks so much Alan. Readers should know about your own blog, which is a wonderful resource.

  4. Madeline Stockwell on February 8, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    While looking up sources for this film (after watching it, because I couldn’t find the original English version) I came across this page, and I can tell you I feel betrayed by my professor for making me watch it. I am currently a graduate student taking a class on representations of the Spanish Civil War, and I obviously see the importance of viewing the propaganda of the other side. Nonetheless I felt horrible watching it. And unfortunately I had watched the The Spanish Earth right before it.

  5. Rich Garrison on February 27, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    I saw the film on Spaish TV in a hotel lobby at about 1:30 AM. Most was in Spanish, but the clerk’ girlfriend talked much of the time. The clerk was fascinated and this was all clearly new to him. It was shown on a significant day of the war, but when I asked a guide about the realtive absence of public interest in the war she said that the whole subject was still quite sensitive. She said that many family members were sharply divided, and that by mutual agremeent, the subject did not come up. She indicated that a kind of “gentlemen’s agreement” to avoid the renewal of the conflicts of the past existed. Silence might be a small price to avoid the mutual death squads of the past. The only Franco memorabilia I saw was in a military museum and at the Valley of the Fallen.

  6. Rich Garrison on February 27, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    Although there is a long tradition of foreigners participating in American wars, and Americans fighting under foreign flags, the recent influx of foreigners fighting on the ISIS side has shifted sentiment.

    Lafyette, von Steuben and others fought in the American revolution, and entire regiments of Germans and Irish were formed up on the docks of New York and Boston to fight for the Union in the US Civil War. In the days when the US had militarary conscription it was applied to residents, including foreigners, rather than just citizens. A substantial portion of Lieutenant Colonel (not general!) Custer’s command at the Little Bighorn was foreign born.

    So, it is hard to go against precedent and say that foreigners should not make the fights of others their own. Many of the foreigners, especially Europeans, who fought for the Republic in Spain lost their home citizenship and became stateless. US citizens who fought for the Republic were certanly suspect, but the approach was more frequently to examine the enlistment oath to see if they had the intent of ending their US citizenship.

  7. eoin macneill on October 31, 2015 at 9:09 am

    I was unaware that I had purchased this pro fascist DVD by R Palmer. Lets not forget that this was a fascist military coup against a democratically elected government, which would have equated to the labour party taking government in Britain. General Franco and his cohorts Hitler and Mussolini are not subsequently remembered for thier democratic tendencies. As such this DVD should be screened but with the proviso that it represents a narrow undemocratic viewpoint.

  8. gerry healy on May 21, 2018 at 6:06 am

    Dear Volunteer group

    I have possibly arrived too late to the Russell Palmer debate (article by James D.Fernandez), but unleass you already have it, I have a part of the ABRAHAM LINCOLN brigade footage from Palmer translated into English should your publication like to view it. (About 2 miniutes in length.)
    kind regards

    gerry healy

  9. Dr Simon Dean on September 3, 2020 at 11:03 am

    Franco was not a fascist in any sense of the ideology. He was a religeous, right-wing authoritarian. He was vindictive, vicious, egocentric, narcissistic, cold-blooded and anti-democratic. He was not however, a fascist.