In 1957 the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite generated quite the stir around the world. Given the degree of political polarization at the time between West and East, it was only natural that reactions to the event varied. In the United States, there was a sense that the Soviets had beaten them to the punch in a major milestone in the “Space Race”. Technological races aside, the launch of Sputnik also raised concerns surrounding the political and diplomatic fallout attached to the event. Richard Mowrer’s December article in the cultural and political magazine New Leader touched on some of these fears.
Titled “Franco Spain After the Sputnik”, Mowrer’s article focuses primarily on the reaction to Sputnik felt in Spain under General Francisco Franco, as well as in Yugoslavia under President Josip Broz, more commonly known as Tito. Both Spain and Yugoslavia were friendly with the United States. Franco was an ardent anti-communist, and Tito’s Yugoslavia, while communist, had a history of tension with the USSR. As such, it was in the interest of the United States to remain in favor beyond the Soviets in both states.
The launch of Sputnik raised questions about the future of US influence in both states. Three days after the launch of Sputnik, Franco delivered a speech in which he praised the Russians for their achievement. While no friend to communism, Mowrer writes that Franco acknowledged that the feat was possible due to the Soviet emphasis on order and unity, two traits of the “new Russia” that had emerged in direct challenge to the United States. Franco is quoted as saying “We cannot ignore the political importance of the fact that a nation has succeeded in launching the first artificial satellite”, continuing with “what has effective value is political unity, continuity, authority and discipline.”
Mowrer claims that this thinly veiled jab at U.S. prestige was only worsened by the follow on response in the Spanish press. Spanish newspapers wrote that the United States had suffered a defeat in its own system of propaganda, releasing a series of articles laced with heavy criticism and even mockery of the US. Given that Franco’s regime tightly censored the media, these stories could not have been printed without formal consent. In the following days, Soviet state media was reprinted in Spanish papers, and Soviet scientists and political figures were granted audience with Spanish representatives, a first in the era of Franco rule.
Mowrer’s article highlights the constant battle for influence that defined the Cold War period. While central ideologies between states could differ vastly, there were fears that alliances would form through means of sheer power, a measure of “diplomatic realism” as Mowrer called it. The situation in Spain following the Sputnik launch demonstrates that the Space Race was more than a simple technological contest of bragging rights; there was the very real fear that it could mean a tipping point in the Cold War itself.
Mowrer, Richard Scott. franco Spain After the Sputnik. Vol. 40. New York, N.Y: New Leader Publishing Association, 1957.
Franco image: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/12006647/Fury-in-Spain-over-tributes-on-anniversary-of-Francos-death.html
Pravda image: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-41498083
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