Franco’s Spain and the Japanese Empire (1937-1945)

Florentino Rodao

Bulletin of Portuguese- Japanese Studies

BPJS, 2005, 10/11, 243-262



Relations between Spain and Japan were anomalous over the course of the seven years during which the Sino-Japanese war lasted, because they attained an unprecedented importance that would not be witnessed for a long time to come after this period. Despite the Spanish colonisation of the Philippines, from the time of their expulsion from Japan in the 17th century, relations between the two nations had never been significant even after the comprehensive opening up of Japan to the outside world in 1868. After the defeat by the United States ended Spanish colonisation in Asia in 1898, Spain’s scant commercial interest in Japan not only waned but the Iberian nation also witnessed a conscious reduction in interest in the region. Ties became minimal, both with regard to the Philippines and especially with the rest of East Asia. As a consequence, contacts between Spain and Japan during the first three decades of the 20thcentury were negligible. The most well known exception being when Spain represented Japanese interests with the main powers during World War I, the rest of events not going beyond the scope of the diplomatic milieu.

Mutual perceptions, however, had a greater impact than these strictly diplomatic relations: both countries had a well defined image of each other. In a certain way, they were parallel, because both countries were labelled exotic by the other nation and their contributions did not go beyond the realm of mere curiosity. For Spain, Japan was situated in the Far East, with the connotations that this implied and that the name itself suggested: distant and not Western. It did have some other notable characteristics. Such as having made the transition from being a territory susceptible to colonisation in the mid-19th century to the category of a great imperial power, as was verified by the 1905 defeat of Russia, an episode that earned Japan widespread admiration amongst several sectors of Spanish society. The socialist Julián Besteiro, for example, sympathised with the slogan “Let us Japanise Spain” that was repeated during the I World War, to highlight the need to follow the example of a country that paid great attention to education and solidarity, and whose monarchy was perceived as austere. This fascination with Japanpredominated, over time, amongst the more conservative classes in Spanish society, such as military men.[244]

Spain’s image in Japan also had two facets. While on the one hand, Spain was a European country that belonged to Western civilisation, its weak colonisation of the Philippines and the precarious stability of Spanish domestic policies ensured that the Japanese viewed the Spanish with a certain amount of disdain, in much the same manner as the northern European nations regarded those of Southern Europe. Assimilating ideas that were then in vogue about racial miscegenation during the Arab occupation, the prejudicial effects of hot climates on the characters of people and other such notions, the overall panorama of ideas associated with Spain was a melange of an occidental and orientalist vision: European, and with a glorious history, but nonetheless static, full of contrasts, despotic, feminine and tending towards violence and cruelty, as represented in Bizet’s opera Carmen. Both nations represented the other as semi-Oriental, via contradictory lenses that enabled each of them, within this civilisational scale that was so prevalent at the time, to feel superior to the other.

In 1937, when the wars in Spain and in China happened to coincide, the Spanish (both Republicans as well as Nationalists) felt, for the first time in a long while, that they were affected by events that took place in the territory of the other nation. This reciprocal interest continued until 1945, although it underwent a dramatic change in nature because, while the early period was characterised by amicable relations, the final phases of World War II were marked by Spanish hatred for the Japanese. This study will analyse this period of renewed attention, focusing upon the Franco supporters on the Spanish side and the Japanese militarists. Starting with a description of the events that took place, this article attempts an interpretation based on perceptions of why such a dramatic change took place, from the initial friendship to the hatred of later years.


The anti-communist alliance

The Sino-Japanese war (1937-45) and the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) were the two main conflicts that took place before World War II; in addition, they occurred simultaneously at the two geographical extremes of the Eurasian continent, as was noted at the time. The quest for allies in similar situations resulted in both the Spanish nationalists as well as the Japanese militarists deeming the conflicts to be similar and feeling themselves to be in a parallel situation, proclaiming that they were engaged in a common struggle against international communism. When viewed through these lenses, the Spaniards felt the Japanese triumphs to be their own and the conquests of Chinese cities were utilised for purposes of domestic propa-[245]ganda. The Japanese militarists shared this vision, however, they preferred to use the friendship with Spaniards instead to educate themselves on Spanish soil about the advances in Soviet armaments, especially with regard to the new M-80 tank.

Japan’s importance in Spain was revealed when, in late 1938, Japan, Italy and Germany decided to reinforce the Anti-Comintern Pact. Spain was an obvious candidate to join but General Franco and his foreign minister, Jordana, resisted such a move, on account of which these three nations decided to apply pressure individually. As a consequence, the Japanese representative, with two other colleagues, coerced Franco separately to sign the Pact, in a demonstration of Japan’s new status. It was only in May 1939, when the Civil War was already over, that Spain, along with Hungary and Manchukuo (the Japanese puppet state), joined the Anti-Comintern Pact. In this manner Japan and Spain became allies although, very soon after, the political orientation of the anti-Communist countries did an abrupt volte-face. A mere three months passed before the signing of the Non-Aggression Treaty between the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany, that rendered obsolete the Spanish adherence to the Anti-Comintern.


The struggle against democracies

In spite of the changing significance of having signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, common Hispano-Japanese interests later expanded as they coincided in the new Axis drive against democracies. After the Nazi-Soviet agreement and the outbreak of World War II, both Tokyo as well as Madrid were disoriented. While Japan revamped its government and tried to draw closer to the democracies, Spain and Italy sided vehemently with Finland in its struggle against the Soviet invasion thus opposing German policy. Nevertheless, with the German military triumphs, both Madrid as well as Tokyo once again reinforced their ties with the Third Reich, following Rome, who in June 1940, after the fall of France, entered World War II on the German side.

From the summer of 1940 onwards, this sentiment of participating in a joint struggle against the same enemies reverberated amongst these erstwhile signatories to the Anti-Comintern Pact, the result being a new agreement, the so-called Tripartite Pact, formed again by Japan, Italy and Germany. This time they joined their efforts against the democracies aimed especially at countering the growing involvement of the United States. And so, Spain joined a month later, albeit secretly, after a meeting between Franco and Hitler in Hendaye. This Hispano-Japanese political alliance, although an indirect one, entailed efforts to obtain Navycerts (permits issued by the British Royal Navy to foreign vessels allowing them to transport goods) and an exchange [246] of products via a -quite ineffective- Commercial Treaty. Also, when Japan sought to substitute raw materials that had been blocked by the United States, a so-called Spanish Economic Mission was invited along with other delegations from Latin America, apparently in order to buy mercury, but this Mission never produced results. In the political sphere, Spain bet heavily onChina for a final triumph of the pro-Japanese government headed by Wang Jingwei and in June 1940 the Spanish Economic Mission was the first foreign delegation to officially visit him. However, apart from the relief to Wang’s government, Madrid’s policy produced bafflement among observers for going further than the Germans or Italians, who were their diplomatic sponsors in Asia since the Spanish War, but also than the backers of Wang, the Japanese military. The Japanese militarists were still undecided whether to confer diplomatic recognition and rely exclusively on Wang or to keep on trying to attract the Nationalist Party of Jiang Jie-shi. Efforts were also made to co-operate in terms of propaganda, both in Latin America as well as in those areas of Asia that had been occupied by Japan, however yet again the results were negligible.

Once again, undoubtedly, the results of Hispano-Japanese relations during the early phases of World War II occurred within the realm of perceptions. Both nations assumed a parallel posture: they were not directly involved in the European conflict, however the Japanese and Spaniards alike enthusiastically desired the triumph of the Axis powers. Furthermore, they were the two most important trump cards of the Axis powers in their struggle against the enemy, since Tokyo and Madrid held the key to the conquest of two crucial posts for the definitive defeat of the British Empire: Gibraltar and Singapore. Therefore it became relatively common to simultaneously refer to Spain and Japan together during the most victorious moments of the Axis powers, both in Allied documentation as well as in that of the Axis powers. This association between Spain and Japan was later reflected on by the Italian foreign minister, Galeazzo Ciano, who noted in his diary an account of the phone call from his German counterpart, Joaquim Von Ribbentrop inviting Italy to join the War against the United States. Ciano ended his notes with an unanswered question: “And Spain?”[1]


The Pacific War: the assignments

Pearl Harbour put an end to the parallel perceptions between Spain and Japan: Tokyo ended up by being involved in the worldwide conflict while Madrid did not. Spain continued its policy of Non-Belligerence, which could [247] be interpreted as a step preceding its entry into the war, as was the case of Italy, although its final outcome was different. The Spanish involvement was at a different level, which is the reason why the Pacific War once again raised the level of relations with Japan, since mutual friendship now began to have definite objectives that were far more concrete and furthermore, could have been crucial for the result of the conflict. Tokyo relied upon Spain to provide it with raw materials, to achieve a greater acceptance in the Philippines, to obtain intelligence and to represent its interests in the more difficult countries. By means of the crucial mediation of the Spanish foreign minister, Ramón Serrano Suñer,Spain became involved in operations that Germany or Italy could not carry out and in this manner Madrid became the western nation that most assisted the Japanese war efforts.

The impact of this cooperation was uneven. The exchange of raw materials and Spanish political co-operation to achieve a wider domination over the Philippine population during the Japanese occupation had varying results. In the case of the exchange of products it is possible that some purchases of Spanish goods took place, transported to Japan in ships or in the so-called “Blockade Runner” submarines, which travelled from one theatre of the conflict to another. There is evidence of a fair number of unsuccessful attempts but, in any case, the volume of any such transactions would have been rather small because the quantities of products to be transported would have been minimal. As for the occupation of the Philippines, the Spanish consul inManila handed over a list of Spanish leftists for their detention, while the Japanese strove to propagate statements by Spaniards extolling their achievements. The Falangists in Manilamanaged to attain dominance over the Spanish colony, substituting the hegemony of pro-Franco oligarchic families suspicious of Fascism but, apart from this, few benefits were had. The Japanese military police (Kempeitai), for instance, did not prolong the detention of those Spaniards denounced by the consul in Manila, and Spain never managed to obtain any important measure that signified a noteworthy favour for the community. The media in the Philippines on its part circulated some messages of support from the Spanish administration, and the Japanese religious policy managed some praise from the Spanish Catholic missionaries that could help to achieve the acquiescence of the Filipino people for the military occupation, but its importance was relative.

Intelligence and the representation of Japanese interests witnessed the most significant results of this Spanish co-operation. In the case of the former, Spain helped significantly in the compilation of secret information thanks to Serrano Suñer, the foreign minister. The Japanese espionage networks in the United States had been wrecked following the forced intern[248]ment of ethnic Japanese Americans in War Relocation Camps outside their habitual living areas on the West Coast. Therefore the Japanese minister in Madrid, Yakichirō Suma, requested Spanish assistance in order to obtain intelligence about their main enemy. Serrano Suñer began by handing over some despatches from his ambassadors and later offered to engage in a joint co-operation where Spain would share expenses and the Japanese pay the cost of equipment and other additional sums. This scheme failed within the space of a few months. To head the espionage, on Spain’s part, the Foreign minister introduced Ángel Alcázar de Velasco, a well trusted fellow Falangist who had already done some intelligence work, notably an espionage network in London whilst Cultural Attaché in 1940. He deceived the British ambassador in Madrid, Samuel Hoare, but later was unmasked and had returned to Spain.

Throughout 1942, Alcázar de Velasco organised a small spy network despite the setback of having to dismiss some agents who were preparing for their assignments on account of being unable to obtain normal American visas. It was based on various resident Spaniards and others who could get through border checks, such as diplomats and sailors, and focused on gathering intelligence in the United States and was subsequently dubbed “Tō”. It had at least one agent on US soil and used the Spanish diplomatic bag, but it severely lacked resources to work properly, such as a method of receiving instructions from Spain on a regular basis. Nevertheless, Alcázar de Velasco managed to obtain some useful information, such as the despatch of numerous supply vessels to the South Pacific in autumn 1942 somewhat anticipating the Guadalcanal offensive. The network had some other more modest successes and according to the index of the Magic Summaries – the daily bulletin of the most significant decoded messages prepared by the United States’ counter-espionage service – became the most important source of information for Japanese diplomacy in quantitative terms. All in all, Japanese intelligence acquired through Spain was meagre and not entirely trustworthy; however, due to the lack of alternatives, the Japanese continued using it until 1944.

The representation of interests in countries at war or without official relations with Japan was an undertaking of great magnitude. Spain assumed this responsibility for the most significant nations, both on account of their political importance, such as the United States (with the exception of Hawai’i, which was entrusted to Sweden) or for their large expatriate communities, such as Peru and Brazil. Representing almost all of the Western Hemisphere except for Guatemala and Mexico, the task entrusted to Spanish diplomacy was greater than the one accepted by Sweden and Switzerland and therefore an important opportunity to enhance Spanish diplomacy. The reasons for this [249] solicitude, however, were directly related to the cover they provided to the intelligence effort. The forced transfer of Japanese citizens in the United States to War Relocation camps induced Japan to seek out secret contacts with her subjects in enemy territory and the pressing need for intelligence seems to have been the reason that Spain was duly elected to represent Japanese interests. The first telegram about the Japanese representation from Minister Serrano Suñer to his embassy in Washington also pointed to the intelligence aspect. In it, he informed the Ambassador of the decision and followed requesting him to provide information about Spaniards who were not classed as fifth columnists, so that they could be appointed as representatives throughout the country[2]. Madrid and Tokyo saw eye to eye on the issue of relegating the well-being of the Japanese in the United States in favour of a better espionage network.

Hispano-Japanese cooperation soon encountered a fair number of obstacles. The most pressing one was the occupation of the Philippines, the former colony where Spain still retained important economic interests that were highly profitable thanks to exports to the United States. In fact the largest company in the Philippines had its headquarters in Barcelona while many wealthy Spanish citizens owned tobacco and sugar plantations. During the first month of the Pacific War news of Japanese air-attacks and the destruction in Manila combined with the growing pressure exerted by the United States against pro-Axis Spanish temptations had important repercussions in Spain. An offensive within Franco’s regime was unleashed to undermine the political position of the Falange party and its most influential member, the Foreign Minister, Serrano Suñer. He openly acknowledged this to the Japanese Minister Suma and in May 1942, formally presented a complaint to Tokyo on account of Japanese press criticism against Spanish colonisation in the Philippines, along with an official inquiry about the fate of some missionaries in the Philippines’ Pampanga region[3].

On its part, the Japanese government felt frustrated due to the expectations it had nurtured with regard to the Spaniards, especially about the representation of Japanese expatriates.Tokyo never received the expected news via Spanish channels about the mistreatment of Japanese subjects abroad which was so essential for the Japanese propaganda efforts to showcase racial discrimination against its subjects, one of its favourite themes. Spanish diplomats and other personnel entrusted with this representation of interests were reluctant to transmit intelligence messages or those that were [250] liable to be used for propaganda and, furthermore, they also collaborated with the Americans to minimise the information about difficulties, including deaths. It was only when the first vessel of exchange arrived in Japan, organised jointly by Spain and Switzerland, the leading representatives of Allied interests in Asia and of Japanese interests in America, that Japanese propaganda was finally able to use the news on mistreatment that so greatly needed and, with it, criticisms surfaced about the lack of dedication on the part of the Spanish diplomats. Moreover, in September 1942, an important mainstay of friendly relations with Japan disappeared in Madrid. The dismissal of the Foreign minister, Serrano Suñer, after the most serious episode in the confrontation between the Falangists and the conservative faction opposing to their power and Spain entering the war – the terrorist attack in the Basque sanctuary of Begoña against the military conservative Spanish Defence Minister, which caused one death. By then, the military situation had changed the balance between both countries: Japan’s options had narrowed, while Madrid increasingly felt the need to distance itself from Tokyo.

The Japanese government was the first to be affected by the Spanish drift towards neutrality. In Spring 1943, six months after assuming the office of Foreign Minister, Count Jordana pompously announced at a conference in Barcelona, to which all accredited ambassadors had been invited, that Spain was veering towards neutrality. At this time, the switch to neutrality was still a difficult step to take, due to the power that the Axis supporters still wielded, especially the Germans and Italians, and thus Tokyo became the scapegoat in the Spanish volte-face. The tangible demonstration of this Spanish neutrality began via Japan and for this purpose, in late April 1943, Madrid surprised Tokyo with some measures that abruptly put an end to the climate of friendship and co-operation that had prevailed up until then. For example, the Ministry of External Affairs cancelled the project to raise the level of mutual Legations to Embassies, despite the fact that this measure had already been agreed upon initially. Likewise, it allowed the press to divulge the news of the execution by Japan of American aviators who had been captured inChina, in contravention of international laws.

The espionage network continued to function through the official channels of the Ministry of External Affairs, but it was much more vulnerable. Increasingly clandestine and based on the personal benefits obtained by some individuals who had been bribed by Alcázar de Velasco, its information was used by former minister Serrano Suñer for his own ends, given that he had lost his office. In the Spring of 1943, the net started to distribute information pointing to the existence of separate peace talks between Germany, Italy and the United States (with Spanish presence), which threatened a separate agreement between Germany and the Allies, thus leaving Japanese on their own. The [251] plot aimed ultimately at provoking a Japanese attack against the Soviet Union, failed once the Japanese discarded the veracity of the messages and the only consequence was to diminish additionally the Japanese confidence in intelligence. Further set-backs were the difficulty in sending new agents to the Western Hemisphere, the defection of one of the purported war correspondents sent to the United States and the detention of the sole diplomat engaged in working for the network, despite the fact that funds were available.

While Jordana’s ideas of Neutrality were difficult to implement, attacks on Japan allowed Spain to balance its complacency towards Nazi Germany and in summer 1943, General Franco was by far the most explicit. In the course of a private conversation with the US ambassador, Carlton Hayes, General Franco assured that there were simultaneously three different conflicts in the world: the Axis powers against the Soviet Union, the Allies against the Axis and the United States against Japan. Spain maintained different opinions with regard to each dispute because – according to Franco – it supported the Axis powers in the first conflict, while in the second it considered itself to be neutral and in the third favoured the United Statesagainst Japan. According to Franco, Japan had to be defeated because it was basically a nation of barbarians. This argument had been adapted to suit his interlocutor, because a few days later, while meeting with the British ambassador, Franco only mentioned two wars. Nevertheless, the message was clear and Washington, on the basis of this conversation, now became aware of this friction between the theoretical allies, and could surmise how it could be utilised for military objectives.

In September 1943, the so-called Laurel Incident provided one such opportunity. Similarly to other territories within its proclaimed Sphere of Co-Prosperity of Greater East Asia, Japanhad decided to formally grant the Philippines its independence. After this proclamation, Minister Suma insistently requested that Foreign Minister Jordana send a telegram of felicitation to José P. Laurel, the President of this pro-Japanese government in Manila. The Spanish minister tarried in sending this message, however his deputy, the Director-General of Foreign Policy, José María Doussinague, without the minister’s prior knowledge and apparently in order to defend Spanish interests in the Philippines, sent the requested telegram. It was not an explicit recognition of the pro-Japanese government, as it used vague expressions about the traditional amicable relations between Spain and the Philippines, however it was addressed to “The President of the Philippine Government”. Later, Foreign Ministry officials asked the Japanese that the telegram not be used for propaganda purposes, but this request went unheeded and the channels of Axis propaganda divulged its contents, manipulating it [252] as though it were a formal recognition of the Laurel government. At this point, Washington deliberately exaggerated its reaction and caused the gravest strain between Spain and the United States during the war. For a start, it issued orders prohibiting its senior officials from maintaining any sort of contact with their Spanish counterparts, thus not permitting the latter to explain the official version proffered by Madrid. Later, it surreptitiously threatened the perplexed Spanish government, and this in the light of the official silence was soon compounded by news in the press pointing out a qualitative change in the US position.  The press reported rumours that a Spanish invasion in order to launch an attack against the Axis powers from Spanish territory was being considered. At the same time, periodicals such as the New York Times included editorials highlighting how illogical such a pro-Axis move by Spain was at this stage in the War, while rumours circulated about plans for an invasion of Spain. In this manner, Washington managed to keep the Spanish government up against the ropes.

The Laurel Incident was provoked by Washington in order to benefit from the poor Spanish relations with Japan and based on its counterintelligence. Knowing Franco’s opposition toJapan and after having decoded secret Japanese messages indicating internal differences within Franco’s government about the sending of the Laurel telegram, Washington viewed the situation as an opportunity to ensure that Spanish enmity towards Japan was transposed upon the European scenario. By making Madrid nervous, the United States sought to obtain tangible results, especially to curb the export to the Third Reich of tungsten, a metal that was vital for producing armaments and which Hitler was only able to obtain then in Spain and Portugal. Washington used its far more advanced technological knowledge (the interception of diplomatic messages from a total of 32 countries, which included enemy as well as neutral nations and allies) in order to realise its political objectives, as is suggested by the different versions of the decoding of the Japanese message referring to Spanish nervousness in the light of a possible propagation by the Axis powers of this congratulatory message. The Department of State found an unexpected hindrance when the Spanish Foreign Minister, Jordana, assumed its authority without revealing chinks in his armour. The practical results of the Laurel Incident, finally, were meagre, and the pressure to cease sales of tungsten continued for some more months untilMadrid formally renounced sales and accepted other Allied demands in the Spring of 1944.

Madrid immediately sharpened its anti-Japanese stance after Jordana saved the day behind the scenes of the Laurel Incident. In December 1943, when Spain was seeking a solution to the boatloads of Italian refugees that arrived in Spanish ports after the fall of Mussolini both the pro-Allied [253] Badoglio Government in Rome as well the Social Republic in Saló demanded that they be handed over. Madrid unsuccessfully proposed, as an intermediary plan, that these warships be used against the Japanese.

The next step took place in February 1944 when these discrepancies surfaced in public via a news item that The Times classified as “eye-opening news”[4]. On the basis of  information -prepared in Madrid but dated ostensibly in Buenos Aires- about Argentine citizens who were concerned about the disappearance of the Spanish language in the Philippines and about the mistreatment of the Spanish bishop on the island of Guam, the Falangist daily ‘¡Arriba!’ published a curious commentary on its front page. It openly recognised its past errors for having defended the military adventures of the Japanese empire. It is very rare to discern a sense of ‘mea culpa’ in a dictatorship, even more so when manifested in its most totalitarian periodical, for which reason the article in ‘¡Arriba!’ illustrates the complete volte-face of Madrid’s political stance on Japan – and its perception. From being one of the most ardent defenders of a Japanese victory, the Falangist newspaper started to openly criticise Japan, being the first to undergo the volte-face.


Intentions to declare war in order to survive in the post-war scenario

Apparently, from summer 1944 onwards, Franco resigned himself to the idea that the Allies would win the World War II, although still without considering that Germany would suffer an unconditional defeat. In the meantime, German troops abandoned the Spanish frontier in France and for the first time American bombers had the range to easily attack Japan after the capture of Saipan and Guam, in Micronesia. This certainty of the definitive decline of the Axis powers coincided with the appointment of a new Foreign Minister, José Félix de Lequerica. He inherited the strains with Japan, but proceeded in a completely opposite manner, because while Jordana was mortified by this volte-face with Japan and sought ultimately to improve relations, the new Foreign Minister was radically different, seeking to use the problems with Japan to strut before the Allies. Lequerica, therefore, gave Japan maximum importance by immediately meeting with the Japanese minister Suma and airing his new policy in the media. The official National Press Delegation sent three notes shortly after to the newspapers ordering them to attack the Japanese empire; headlines appeared such as: “[…] Criteria Openly Favourable to the United States in its War against Japan” or “Against the Anti-Christian and Anti-Western Japanese Policy”. These early anti-[254]Japanese  instructions show that Lequerica intended to utilise Japan as a trump card for his post-war period.

Madrid was inclined to go beyond the articles and tense relations with Tokyo to the limit. It was not the only nation to do so; during Autumn 1944 and Winter 1945, other countries – such as Argentina and Turkey – that had formerly been pro-Axis definitively aligned themselves with the Allies and broke relations with Japan. Madrid did not know how to disentangle itself from the increasingly intense doubts about how to utilise the Japan card in the best possible manner until March 1945. Then, after the widespread destruction of Manila and the death of at least two hundreds Spaniards, there was no other option than to take it into consideration and act urgently, but Madrid maintained doubts about how far it should go.

Madrid first tested foreign reaction. The first news of the deaths in Manila given in a brief report by the Spanish news agency EFE commenting upon an article in Newsweek about the massacres in Manila and the suffering of the Spanish community there. At the end of the despatch, the report stressed that the atrocities in Manila could well be a reason for Spain to declare War upon Japan and that it would thus automatically become an ally of the United States and the United Kingdom.  Later, the Spanish press was authorised to comment upon this despatch, as were the press correspondents resident in Spain, while a massive press campaign circulated the worst comments about the Japanese, portraying them as Asian barbarians.

Some days after, on 17 March 1945, the Spanish government decided to withdraw its protection of Japanese interests. This decision was intended merely as a first step in a chain of events that would vary in accordance with their impact. This done, Minister Lequerica had an informal dinner with the British military attaché, Windam W. Torr, in which “somewhat light-hearted remarks” were made about future measures against Japan. Lequerica said: “It looks as if we are going to declare war on Japan” and, when questioned about the timing of such a move, responded, “Pretty soon I expect. We must get it before Portugal”[5]. Likewise, questioned about the casus belli, Lequerica “shrugged his shoulders” and said: “Oh, well, Franco has always hated the Japanese”. Torr then asked: “What about the atrocities in the Spanish Consulate?” to which Lequerica replied: “Oh, yes, we might well use them”[6].

The impact of this new resolution against Japan was less favourable than expected, lasting only a few weeks. On 1 March, the United States [255] finished drawing up a policy based on the suggestions made by Franco and Lequerica on this matter to the US ambassador, Hayes at his farewell audience, in autumn 1944. The brief concluded that the possible benefits for the Allies of Madrid breaking off relations with Japan were negligible and, therefore, Washington discarded any interest in it. Upon hearing of Spanish intentions, then, the American government declared that Spanish decisions against Japan were solely the responsibility of Madrid and would not affect them in any way[7]. The United Kingdom also clearly rebuffed the possibility of this entrance into the war on the part of Madrid, assuring that, in any case, there was still time to declare war on Germany[8]. At a popular level, the reactions were even harsher. For exampleEl Popular in Mexico City published a sarcastic comment linking the move to Spanish intentions of becoming a founding member of the new League of Nations: “Franco would declare War on Japan…Japan on Germany…Germany on Spain, and everyone would go to San Francisco!”

Amongst the regimes that had friendly relations with Madrid, the reaction was milder even though it was aimed at calming Spanish exasperation, partly on account of these nations own interests. Buenos Aires was the only regime that clearly identified itself with Spanish desires of declaring war, since it was in a similar situation of doing a volte-face and also needed to ingratiate itself with the victors. After having spearheaded the opposition to US pressures during the conflict, Argentina declared War on Japan on 27 March, and was followed shortly thereafter by Chile, its main ally in this resistance to US influence. The Vatican requested the journalist Manuel Aznar to use his influence over Minister Lequerica in order to reduce tension with Japan and to ensure that the situation did not worsen. The Catholic Church was clearly concerned about the possible consequences for the Spanish missionaries working in territories controlled by the Japanese authorities, including the Japanese archipelago itself, China, Micronesia and Indo-China. Portugal’s case was slightly different, Lisbon had been on the verge of declaring War on Japan in 1943, using the occupation of East Timor as a casus belli as well as being encouraged by American promises of compensation. However the United States managed to obtain authorisation for air bases in the Azores but later ignored the Japanese garrison in Timor during its northward advance, therefore in March 1945 the possibility of a military alliance with the United [256] States was a forgotten issue. During the Battle for Manila, some Portuguese were also killed and Madrid sought their fellow Iberians to act jointly. Lisbon, however, was no longer interested in declaring war on Japan, noting also that the population of Macao could suffer greatly as a result of any declaration of this kind. Moreover, Portugal could not accept following Spanish foreign policy, even less so in East Asia, where the Portuguese were the ones who should have been taking the initiative.

Japan’s reaction was irrelevant to Madrid. Since Spain sought to draw closer to the Allies, Japan had a minimal margin for manoeuvre, as Madrid was yet another of many cases of progressive enmity. Tokyo’s aim was simply to extend as much as possible the time during which the Iberian Peninsula could be utilised for its war efforts, such as the work of whatever espionage remained to be done. The same thing had happened in Tangiers a year earlier, when Spain ordered that all foreigners were to leave: the Japanese diplomats overstayed every date limit that had been set, until the threat of the use of force obliged them to leave the African outpost. The Japanese Legation, then, sought to avoid Spanish retaliation by offering a bribe: it proposed paying indemnities for the victims in the Philippines in such a way that the money could be routed to members of the government.

The unfavourable impact of his bellicose proclamations made Franco ponder once again upon these measures and to consider the convenience of checking this irritation. Thus, the only measure that went through at the end of the representation of Japanese interests was the breaking of relations with Japan on 12 April 1945, a logical consequence of the step taken three weeks earlier, which once again gave rise to some anti-Japanese articles. But nothing else occurred. And in May, the first articles in the Spanish press about Franco’s “military inhibitions” during the conflict appeared, which would be repeated throughout his regime.

This was doubly false, because General Franco had tried to intervene directly in the conflict on two occasions, in 1940 with the Axis powers – which has been well researched years ago – and in 1945 with the Allies. And the reason why Spain did not enter the conflict appears to have been similar on both occasions: neither Hitler, nor Roosevelt, nor Churchill wanted Franco on the winning side once they achieved victory.


Reasons for the volte-face

There are always good reasons for declaring a war, at least for those who favour it. But the casus belli offered by Minister Lequerica to the British attaché, that is, Franco’s hatred of the Japanese, is extremely interesting, since [257]it reflects  a different reasoning. While the possibility of declaring war on the Soviet Union was reasoned utilising principled beliefs, against Japan the argument was different, since the casus belli of hate enters the realm of informal ideology, or what Keohane and Goldstein consider to be “world views”, forming part of the symbolism of culture, in a category that is also different from the so-called “causal beliefs”[9].

These proposals for war also sound strange when one observes relations from the perspective of the conflict and the excellent perception of Japan in Spain merely two years earlier. During the 1940-42 period, the Japanese mindset had been widely utilised by the Spanish regime. Given that armies needed the blindest possible obedience to orders issued by superiors and that soldiers should risk their lives in battle, the representation of the samurai had been a recurrent theme. The bushido, an obvious example of inventing tradition, was adapted to circumstances and in continuous use; the book, for instance, was reprinted in 1940 under the auspices of the Japanese Legation and with a prologue by the founder of the Spanish Legion, General Millán Astray. The representations of Japan as a friendly nation that was anti-Communist and anti-Allied were two powerful reasons to create an exaggerated perception of Japan in order to seek out the parallels between both nations, to the point of generating an ideal image of Japan resembling that of the image of the Soviet Union. A fair number of leftists (not only Communists) formed their perception of the Soviet Union based almost exclusively on wishful-thinking, and vague references, without even knowing Russian or having facts to curtail their flights of fancy. Something similar resulted in the ideal perception of Japan during the Spanish War and their post-war period. However, the idealised image of Japan proved short, since the decision not to follow the German blitzkrieg upon the Soviet Union in 1941, stopped that idealization of Japan.

When Japan began to suffer its chain of defeats in the Pacific War, the positive images of Japan fell by the wayside one by one. If earlier the Japanese had been considered to be a technologically advanced nation, it was now thought that this was because they had been taught to imitate. If earlier Japan had been viewed as a developed country and a bridge between the “Asian barbarians” and the civilised world, the image of Asia was placed above that of the Japanese, who now became part of the Yellow Peril. Their erstwhile image as anti-Communists was minimised by their act of not declaring War on the Soviet Union, a decision later considered to be an example of “Asian intelli[258]gence”, , presumably a tendency towards deceitfulness that was innate in every Asian -in this case, Russians and Japanese. Finally, the traditional images of the delicate geisha and the patriotic samurai changed their meaning and were now seen through the prism of the “Asian hordes”, characterised by treachery and cruelty.

This drastic process of change took place as part of the changes in times of War. However, it did not take place in the case of Italy or Germany, despite the fact that the military fates of the European Axis countries took a turn for the worse even before that of Japan. Great Britain, as already noted, suggested that if Spain was going to declare war, it would be more useful if it declared war on Germany, which at that time was still fighting. The Spanish change of policy was clearly linked with racial questions, because Madrid underwent a radical process of a change in the perception of Japan that can be understood only through the racial overtones. These resembling those of the United States against Japan, which has been described by John W. Dower in his seminal work War without mercy. If the Fascists and Nazis were the enemy, American soldiers could assume that their opponents on the other side of the front were Germans or Italians who had been forced to fight, since it was clear that there were also anti-Nazi Germans or anti-Fascist Italians. However, if the enemy was identified as Japanese, the possibility of conceiving of a Japanese who did not agree with the proclamations of their government was more remote and, therefore, the possibility of demonstrating magnificence or compassion was comparatively less. Just like that comment made by Franco to Ambassador Hayes, or that of Lequerica to Torr, the reasoning was basically cultural and located in the realm of civilisation. When arguing, this kind of dispute allowed instant changes and can explain how the volte-face was accepted among the Spanish population, but it can apply also to improving relations. In fact, one of the main surprises of the immediate post-war period was the instant collaboration between Americans and Japanese; the exceedingly rapid manner in which both contenders buried the hatchet of war.

US soldiers reflected an ideology that was essentially an orientalist one with regard to Japan, tending to see it as a static, feminine, despotic, savage country and, consequently, one that was full of contrasts. The Spanish government shared these ideas and pondered upon the convenience of utilising them, as it did in fact do, albeit with lesser intensity. In fact, these orientalist ideas were the sole connecting thread that continued in relations between the initial period of friendship and the latter one of hate. At times, they highlighted alternatively the positive and the negative representations about Japan. The period of friendship could have made one think that the images of barbarism and those related with the Yellow Peril had disappeared [259] when, in reality, they were simply latent. Contrary to the perception of the Germans or Italians, whose nationality was merely another bit of information about them, the Japanese were viewed first and foremost as Japanese, and then viewed as allies, at the beginning of the war, or as enemies, at the end of it.

This prevailing mindset dominated the general context of relations between Spain and Japan. However, this seems excessive. Supposedly, one of the reasons was the lack of mutual contact, however, it is necessary to likewise highlight one difference that could also explain why the changes with regard to the perception of Japan on the part of the Spanish government were so brusque: a lack of experts. Japan had two universities that imparted courses in Spanish with Spanish professors since the late 19th century. Meanwhile the decision makers in Madrid could only avail themselves of some missionaries and of the opinions of one diplomat or another who had resided for a considerable time in Japan (however with no prior preparation) while taking political decisions. After receiving new inputs, the decision making process was different to the Japanese one. Tokyo could count upon experts from whom it received advice and, in general, this would moderate any intentions of doing an overly abrupt volte-face in political decisions. Madrid, however, only relied upon a few well-informed people, i.e. knowledgeable parties.

Beyond additional advice (the missionaries lived outside Madrid in general), these knowledgeable parties seem to have been the leading figures in moulding the opinions about Japanthat prevailed in Spain. Admiral Carrero Blanco, who wrote many articles in the press about Japan, seems to have been one of them, especially during the period of friendship, as well as Lequerica in 1944-45 and, specially, general Franco. Irrespective of whether there is any truth in this or not, Foreign Minister Lequerica was famous amongst the Allies in Spain for his pro-Axis attitudes; there was a wide spread anecdote of a turkey that he slaughtered while ambassador in Paris to celebrate the attack on Pearl Harbour. His need to establish his credibility as a reliable foreign minister in his drive toward managing a better treatment of Spain after the war ended could have disposed him to assume a more confrontational posture, especially againstJapan.

This was also the case with Franco, as the conversation with Torr suggests. Franco revealed himself to be a passionate orientalist with regard to Japan, as is evident from his comments aboutJapan during and after the war. During the triumphal period of the Japanese empire, the Generalissimo declared that the basic reason for these triumphs was the limitless power of endurance of the Japanese soldier who was capable of surviving only on a daily bowl of rice and still be able to complete long marches. In 1959, Franco revealed his belief about the possibility of Christianising the Japanese [259] nation after being convinced by the Jesuit Superior, father Jose Arrupe. Undoubtedly, Franco perceived Japan through the eyes of his Moroccan experience, and probably interpreted its waning military destiny as a confirmation of a rule that, until that time, Japan had been the only nation to challenge: “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”. At the end of the World War II, General Franco (and the deceased English writer Rudyard Kipling) were not the only ones to think in this manner.


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