I get email…from Portugal

It’s good to get the Portuguese perspective on something I wrote about Portugal.

I am writing to you from Portugal. As you may imagine, this has to do
with your Pharyngula post “We could be another Portugal!”. I thought
that you might find interesting the attached cartoon. It was published
in an underground newspaper in 1934, that is, at a time in which Salazar
had been prime minister for only two years. It shows him teaching Hitler
and Mussolini how to deal with the opposition. One might think that it
happened to be a Communist newspaper, but no; it was a Republican
newspaper (in the sense of Republican values, not in the sense of the
American Republican Party).

That’s the kind of man American conservatives want to run the country. Yikes.

As was brought up in that other thread, we aren’t even talking about Salazar’s terrible colonial abuses yet.


  1. says

    Salazar epitomized fascism in a dapper wrapper. The caption “Meus caros colegas!” means “My dear colleagues!” The phrase “safanões a tempo” was reportedly characteristic of Salazar’s approach to governance and means “timely reprisals” or, more literally, a “slap in time.” When circumstances dragged Mussolini and Hitler off the world stage, Salazar and Franco survived for decades on the Iberian peninsula, although Salazar’s preference for business suits gave him a much less dramatic profile than Generalisimo Franco, whose military garb made his dictatorship more obvious.

  2. cartomancer says

    I want to see a dictator who favours the grubby track-suit. Partly because it’s nice to see your own sartorial tastes reflected in the world at large, but mainly because it just feels right that an absolute ruler shouldn’t give a hoot about his appearance.

  3. whywhywhy says

    #5. cartomancer
    I think you are demonstrating why you would most likely fail at being a dictator (please take it as a compliment).

    Years ago, I heard a definition of ‘cool’ that seems appropriate: spending a lot of time on your appearance, but making it seem like you don’t.

  4. PaulBC says

    cartomancer@5 As long as it’s not a Hawaiian shirt.

    I am not sure your notion is correct, because every “absolute” ruler only rules because there is a coalition that obeys, often for the game-theoretic reason that any rebellious minority of underlings would be defeated by a loyal majority.

    To maintain that kind of leverage, you are still going with psychology, and impressions matter. Fidel Castro didn’t wear a track suit, but he favored fatigues, not a dress uniform (I guess to suggest the battle was ongoing). If someone literally looks like they don’t care, you wonder about competence. Could Jim from Taxi (played by Christopher Lloyd) be taken seriously as supreme leader? Maybe, but even then it could be a reverse psychology effect and if he changed abruptly to a more “respectable” appearance, it might undermine his rule.

  5. says

    L. Ron Hubbard had some slovenly tendencies—especially later in life, when he was going to seed—but he favored nautical regalia when sailing about the world on one of his Sea Org vessels. After all, if you’re a god in human guise, you need to dress the part. Maybe track-suit-casual can be adopted after world conquest, but I suspect most dupes and potential idolators want to worship a spiffy image.

  6. JustaTech says

    Aren’t track suits the uniform of choice of the Russian mob/oligarchs? Matching track suits (brand name only!) with great big gold chains? But even those are a symbol of power and prestige among their in-group.

    I think that’s the difference between people who have a lot of money or have a lot of influence in a very limited segment of society, versus people who want to rule the world.
    Biffy T Welterfeather III might dress in beat up khakis and ragged polo shirts, but that’s because everyone who will encounter him at the yacht club has seen the 50 foot thing tied up at his dock and has rated him accordingly.
    Professor Humperdink might be wearing white cotton socks with sandals and look like he slept under a dumpster, but everyone in the department knows the exact size of his last R1 grant, and has ranked him accordingly.

    But if you want to rule the world, you can’t depend on everyone already knowing you and where you’re at. You have to look the part so that you will get the airtime to tell the people who you are.

  7. PaulBC says


    versus people who want to rule the world.

    Are you saying Tears for Fears lied to me? Next you’re gonna tell me desert gas station dancers aren’t an actual thing.

  8. blf says

    The mildly deranged penguin — who is the Supreme High (…an uncountable number of other words…) Eternal Ruler of All the Multiverses (or so she says) — also says the only proper dress for all these intimation wannabe-rulers is to copy her: A tuxedo of feathers, bowler hat, and tutu. Colours / patterns, foot- & wing-wear, and jewelry & accessories of your choice, but if she doesn’t approve, she’ll have you tossed into a pit of fashionistas. (Hint: She usually disapproves of decorated beaks and claws.)

  9. dragon hunter says

    Hi PZ,

    I’ve been enjoying reading your blog for years and never commented, mostly because I never thought I had much to add to all the excellent points made here. On this though, I think I might just have something to add. I’m Portuguese, born a few years after the Carnation revolution. My mother was in her twenties and living in Lisbon on the 25th April (the day of the revolution) and my dad was in Guinea-Bissau fighting the colonial war (he spent two years there). My grandfather was an admirer of Salazar, and he said to me many times that, although he did not agree with the torture and the killings, he thought many of his policies were enlightened, and ultimately benefited a lot of disadvantaged people. His view was , as long as you worked hard and remained a law abiding citizen, things would work out ok for you. He was also an advocat of gun ownership, owned his own pistol, and made a living trading hunting rifles and hunting consumables (among other things).

    The reason I mention my grandfather is that, one post revolution politician once said in an interview that, although Salazar never held free elections, he would have probably won many free elections. My grandfather shows that this is probably true. A lot of the Republicans I talk to from America, sound a lot like my grandfather. They are hard working, respectful of others and generally very nice people to talk to. I end up admiring and respecting their work ethics, even if I don’t agree with their politics. They also think that a strong leader who deals with the opposition quickly and swiftly, is something to aspire to. They themselves will of course never be on the receiving end of it (or so they think), because they are hard working law abiding citizens. I feel this is the type of person that Trump caters for, even in his caricatural ridiculousness.

    Interestingly though, and this is the perspective you might find useful (and a bit harder to find through internet searches) Salazar’s policy of torture had mostly subsided in the final quarter of his rule. The fear that they might get arrested was enough to keep people in check. My mother says that her late teenage years were marked by a sense of collective paranoia, that the police would come into their houses at night and make them disappear. There is even a song by a famous protest singer-songwriter titled “It was night when they took him”. At University, everyone was obsessed with being visited by the PIDE (the political police) even though nobody knew anyone who had actually been visited by the PIDE. I grew up being told that being a snitch was the worse thing you could possibly ever be, because people’s perception was that if the PIDE visited you, then someone must have tipped them off. In fact, at the time of the revolution, the political regime was now relatively bland, and was slowly moving towards more liberal policies (just as an example, prostitution was now legal, and all prostitutes were required to take mandatory, state funded, regular medical checks).

    Which brings me back to my father, and the colonial war. Although the regime was committed to keeping the colonies by force, the country did not have the economy to sustain it. This is becasue the Salazar economic policy was one of constraint and belt tightening (sounds familiar?). This provided some sort of stability for a while, but in the long term it made the country essentially poor, specially in a global context that was turning more and more capitalist. So the army was sent to fight a war against 3 very large African countries, with minimal equipment. Towards the end, money was so tight, that the soldiers weren’t even given enough to eat. My dad reported that the G3 rifles (which didn’t work half the time) were mostly used to hunt food, and they’d eat anything that got close to the barracks (crocodiles, monkeys, etc.). Because of this, attrition was high as was death count, mostly from malnutrition, diseases, and by stepping on mines during patrol (my father reported he never once engaged with an actual enemy in the two years he was there, although his barrakcs got bombed at known scheduled times). So they started running out of career soldiers, forcing the government to turn to universities for recruitment. Students with poor attainment were particularly vulnerable, as they would not get academic dispensation because of their bad grades. This was my dad! He’d rather spend his days listening to Jazz and flirting with girls, than revise for his chemical engineering degree… so eventually he got sent to the war. As expected, this created a lot of discontent, particularly in the largest cities where all the universities were located. In fact, all the anti-fascist movements at the time stemmed from Universities. The most famous protest singer-songwriter I talked about earlier? He was a student at the famous University of Coimbra.

    This also meant that they were now running out of career officers, and eventually they passed a law that said anyone with an academic credential was to be made on officer straight out of booot-camp. This was also my dad. Becasue he was at university, he was made an officer and given a communications and strategy role (if he was at university, he was expected to be smart). This made the career military personnel very angry, and suddenly after spending years supporting the colonial war, they had a change of heart. This is what effectively started the talk of revolution, through what became known as the “Captains of April” movement. These were high ranking officers who had been in military school from the age of 12, and they started plotting the revolution simply because they felt betrayed by the regime, tah allowed incompetent university students to shorcut to a high ranking position. This is well known, particularly by officers with a role on communications and strategy (i.e. my dad!), but not something that you will write on many popular history books. Althought the carnation revolution is often described as a “people’s revolution”, this is not true. It was a military coup, orchestrated and implemented fully by the army. This misguided idea came from the fact that the first thing the army took control of in that day, was the national radio station, and they started broadcasting a song by that famous singer-songwriter (titled “Grandola Vila-Morena”). Becasue the main goverment buildings were in Lisbon, which had at the time the largest University communities, upon hearing their idol song played over and over on the radio, people flocked in mass to support the troops (remember that many of them had been soldiers themselves). But in rural areas (where my grandfather lived) people were not so enthusiastic. In fact, they dreaded the revolution.

    What happened next is not really talked about. Those University students who were drafted against their will? Well, they were now back, but trained in the use of weapons, battle scarred, and usually with strong far left ideologies they heard about during their time in university. Having no job prospect due to poor economy, and the fact hey never finished their university training, they turned to the countryside and decided to take the farming land and “big” businesses from the fascist capitalists… by force if necessary. My grandfather? Well first thing he did was to stop selling rifles, first because he realised those “communists” were starting to buy from him in order to get armed, second because he started being afraid of falling victim to one of his own rifles, in case the communists got tired of buying the rifles, and decided to just take them instead. Eventually though, he sold the business, because now everyone that had been successful during the fascism, must be a capitalist fascist himself (even though Salazar was never a capitalist). He is still alive, and lives a modest life, where he prefers to buy the cheaper apples even if they have caterpillars (his own words). He still thinks that the communists ruined the farming lands in rural areas, and he is probably right.

    Why do I write all this? Because I also think it’s important to not maintain the myth that the Portuguese revolution was the result of Portuguese people being tired of a dictator and finally rebelling. This is not true, because most people (specially in rural areas) were supportive of the fascist regime, some of them to this day, and the revolution was effectively a military coup. The regime’s mistake was not really to be repressive against people (they weren’t, at least not in the end), but mishandling the army by insisting in an unwinable war (although the military itself was initially supportive of it). So the lessons here for the US are deeper than they might initially appear, because there is also more popular support for Trump like policies, particularly in rural areas, and much of the US political power is actually driven by their military might. In fact, one thing the Republicans have been doing very well, is to support the military and the police forces, many of which are now equiped with war grade equipment.

    If you are still reading this, well done and… thank you!

  10. Kagehi says

    @8 Eh.. no. Let the dictators keep the monkey suits – it shows that they are willing to waste, probably other people’s, money on meaningless crap. Nudists/naturists don’t want these lunatics.

  11. KG says

    This is not true, because most people (specially in rural areas) were supportive of the fascist regime, some of them to this day, and the revolution was effectively a military coup. – dragon hunter@13

    I think everyone who knows anything about it is aware the revolution started as a military coup, but it didn’t stay that way – the rural areas may well have been conservative, but mass demonstrations in favour of democracy and socialism immediately followed the coup in the cities. Gen. Spinola, the conservative figure who was originally placed at the head of the junta, was soon pushed out, and although the radical left led by Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho were also defeated in 1975, the first free elections were won by the Socialist Party (back in power now in coalition with the further-left Left Bloc). Even the Portuguese centre-right call themselves the “Social Democratic Party”, a legacy of the predominance of the left in the post-revolutionary period.

  12. KG says

    I think everyone who knows anything about it is aware the revolution started as a military coup – Me@15

    Well, started in metropolitan Portugal as a military coup. Its roots, of course, lay in the colonies, so the people who really stated it were the anti-colonial revolutionaries in Mozambique, Angola, and (most successfully, IIRC) Guinea-Bissau.

  13. says

    Dragon Hunter raises some important points about Portugal’s Carnation Revolution in 1974. The MFA (Armed Forces Movement) toppled the government of Marcelo Caetano (Salazar’s immediate successor) in large part because of the interminable colonial wars in Africa. The freedoms that came after the change in government made it possible for my grandmother’s sister and brother-in-law to travel to California for their first reunion in nearly fifty years. I remember the brother-in-law (“Uncle Joe”) was horrified by the military coup because he thought it meant the communists were taking over. He was also miserable at the thought that his son, an officer in Portugal’s military and a veteran of the war in Angola, had been involved in the MFA and was therefore—obviously—a communist himself (or at least a fellow traveler). Uncle Joe did not enjoy my wry (and not very sincere) attempt to cheer him up. Look at it this way, I said to him. If the coup eventually fails, you’ll be happy because you hate communists. But if the coup is not reversed, then at least you have your son in its ranks to look out for your interests. Win-win! He was not amused.