Why didn’t Portugal join the allies?

I was going to title this, “sympathy for the devil,” after reading all the condolences for a recently departed head of state. Countries who strongly condemned Iran’s regime have been lamenting the loss of that country’s president, and it reminds me of a similar incident almost eighty years ago. (It happened oong before I was born, but I read about it, maybe eight years ago.)

I don’t know as much about Iran as I do Portugal. I have read about the protests, the stories of prison, including “white torture”, the stories of repression, the stories of capitivity, and the accusations of terrorism.

Now, with the condolences sent by the European Union and Nato for the death of the president of Iran, can we really say that mere condolences show any alliance or aligned ideals?

Some of the accusations have been made against various opposing regimes. There was the sinking of a tanker that is sometimes blamed on Gadaffi, sometimes on the Iranian regime, sometimes perhaps even on MEK or some other organisation entirely. The accusations can sound like the angry kid who lost his pen and blames as many people as he can find rather than looking in his bag. But even among Iranians, you might hear things.

Yet, strong allies of the USA and others who have made accusations against Iran’s leadership are still expressing condolences for the death of its leader.

But, what does this have to do with Portugal joining the allies? One of the most damning accusations against Portugal up to this point is that it was one of the only two neutral countries that expressed condolences for the death of Hitler. One was Portugal, the other was Ireland.

Now, with the condolences sent by the European Union and Nato for the death of the president of Iran, can we really say that mere condolences show any alliance or aligned ideals? No, most likely, as the author of “The First Global Village” writes, this is “merely following protocol.”

Salazar’s regime was strongly conservative, and although corporatism is sometimes compared to fascism by those ignorant of history or those who suffer from all-or-nothing thinking, it was not fascist. Salazar’s Portugal was one of the founding members of NATO, an organisation created soon after the war to prevent new nationalistic uprisings as well as defend against the encroaching iron curtain.

Why didn’t Portugal join the allies?

1. Salazar was adamantly anti-communist

If we look at film documentaries back at the time, Portugal acted more favorably toward allied visitors than Axis ones. Ministers from Japan and Germany got the cold shoulder. However, Germans and westerners alike had free movement in Portugal. This allowed people to escape from the fascist regime (even the film Casablanca mentions Lisbon as a transit point).

However, communist newspapers were banned, which German (and American) ones were not. The anarchist aftermath of Portugal’s revolution at the start of the 20th century meant the government was more terrified of marxist ideas than other ideologies.

And, although communist prisoners in Portugal were not treated as poorly as many prisoners in gulags in Eastern Europe, they do still have museums memorialising them. The Estado Novo of Salazar and Caetano saw communism as one of the most consistent enemies to be repressed.

When we remember that the Soviet Union was one of the strongest members of the allies, this surely had to be the primary reason for Portugal’s neutrality.

2. Portugal feared a Spanish takeover.

Spain was almost an Axis ally. Franco came to power with the help of Salazar’s anticommunist regime, but he received even more help from Mussolini. Many in Spain had long considered Portugal a part of greater Spanish manifest destiny. (Foreign historians make the mistake when speaking of Medeival Iberia as Medeival Spain, not acknowledging the Lusitanian, Suevi and other distinctions that Portugal long had). Had Portugal broke its neutrality, or even stopped trading with the Axis, it is easy to imagine Hitler using Portugal as a carrot to get Spain to commit troops in France or elsewhere.

3. Portugal feared losing her empire

This, I think, was Salazar’s achilles heel. While the US, Russia and China have a policy of geographical continuity, and World War I Germany had a policy of linguistic unity, Portugal used history as a litmus test. Many Portuguese colonies had been part of Portugal for centuries longer than Hawaii had been part of the US at the time of Pearl Harbour.

Germany and other Axis allies wanted Portuguese territories abroad. And Germany and Japan were creating puppet states out of former colonies.

The colonial situation deserves much more attention, as the situation was different in different countries, but the policy was reversed almost to the other extreme after the 1974 revolution.

4. Napoleon had already threatened Portuguese unity

As we know a lot of people did not respect Portuguese territorial integrity, and Napoleon invaded and gave much of it to Spain when he thought the Portuguese were being too pro-British.

There were other instances of Portugal temporarily losing its sovereignty, but Napoleon’s threat was the most recent. Without a monarchy, and with Spain as a republic, it was less likely for Portugal to disappear by a merging of crowns. But, the precident of a Republican government absorbing Portugal by force was still a threat.

5. Neutrality was an ideology

Some saw Portugal as the perfect Catholic country because it did not enter the war. The idea of not fanning the flames of war, being neutral, was an ideology in itself.

We still see countries throughout the world who see neutrality as part of their being. As individuals, most of us do not want to get involved in quarrels that do not concern us.


So, why did Portugal continue to trade with both beliggerants, including selling material that could be used to make weapons? Well, we see other countries sell weapons to belligerents or potential belligerents all the time. The UK and the USA sell weapons to most of the Gulf States and almost anyone there are no sanctions against. (Even when there are sanctions, there are back-door deals like the Iran-Contra affair). Israel recently sold weapons to Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine, Armenia and many others. (They famously sold more to Azerbaijan than Armenia).

We already mentioned in the opening paragraph that heads of state, even those hostile to your allies, and even those who you condemn during their lifetime, are still eulogised as a matter of protocol. When “we express condolences to the family and people of…” does not mean that we approve of everything or even anything that man did. Sometimes, it might even be a less barbaric way of saying, “It wasn’t us.”

There are other reasons that Portugal might not have joined the allies, but five is enough to get started on.

It is hypocritical for other countries to point the finger at Portugal for what it did in the past when they still do those things today.

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