George Seldes and the Spanish dictatorship

Recently my Indy Media class watched the documentary “Tell the Truth and Run,” which chronicles the life and work of independent media giant George Seldes. I’ve also read the obituary written by my professor Jeff Cohen and his writing partner Norman Soloman after Seldes died in 1995. They wrote about Seldes’ three years reporting in Spain during the country’s bloody and bitter Civil War:

Like few other journalists in the 1930s, Seldes shined a fierce light on fascism in Europe — and its allies in the United States. Seldes repeatedly attacked press barons such as William Randolph Hearst and groups like the National Association of Manufacturers for assisting Hitler, Mussolini and Spain’s Gen. Francisco Franco.

George Seldes and his wife, Helen, covered the war between Franco’s fascists and the coalition of loyalists supporting the elected Spanish government. A chain of East Coast daily newspapers carried the pair’s front-line news dispatches — until pressure from U.S. supporters of Franco caused the chain to drop their reports.

This particular part of Seldes’ journalism experience struck me. He was one of the few American journalists reporting from Spain during the war, and perhaps one of the only critics of the dictatorship. And when he became too critical of the regime, he was silenced by the MSM.

Decades later, it is no coincidence that most Americans know little about the brutal Spanish Civil War or the harsh 40-year rule of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco. I studied and lived in Madrid for four months last spring and was embarrassed to discover how little I knew about the regime before I arrived in Spain. I had studied Spanish language since age six and was studying politics, independent journalism and Spanish culture throughout college, but somehow the education system in the United States had not taught me about this war or this dictatorship and, in my ignorance, I had not sought out the information on my own.

One of the most important revelations I had while abroad was the extent to which the United States aided in the military rule of Spain and the extent to which this partnership had been glossed over in my history textbooks for years and years of schooling. History.com reports the fact that took me by surprise:

Franco secured massive U.S. economic aid in return for military bases in Spain, and the Spanish economy steadily grew.

When I was confronted by this fact, I was also confronted by my Spanish friends’ resentment of the United States for this selfish, militaristic decision. My country had given financial support to a regime also supported by Hitler and Mussolini. An LA Times report explained it well in a 1989 report on Spain’s decision to continue as a NATO-country:

Bitter and deeply rooted resentment against the United States for supporting the late dictator Francisco Franco is one of the factors working against Spanish approval Wednesday in a referendum on Spain’s continued membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

If there were more journalists like George Seldes in the world during the Spanish Civil War, I believe my high school history books would have been different and my high school Spanish classes would been more comprehensive. If there were more brave and critical reporters in the field, and more independent editors in the newsroom, Americans would not fall for the “official” story. They would know the truth.

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