The Second World War is supposed to have "really" started in 1935, when the Fascists, opposed by the Nazis and virtually all the rest of the world, invaded the Christian Empire of Ethiopia, and conquered it with the aid of Moslem subjects who Mussolini was purporting to liberate under his title "Defender of Islam." Ethiopia was ultimately "freed" from the rule of Fascists, although it is hard to conceive how this freedom was an improvement on anything. Ethiopia remains one of the worst places in the world.
The Second World War is also supposed to have "really" started with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937, which was the beginning of a Japanese campaign to conquer China, rather than just occupy part of China and exert influence. That war, the bloodiest front in all the Second World War, ultimately ended in a beastly government in China, a worse government in North Korea, and good governments in Japan and in South Korea - a mixed bag, at best.
Others would say that the Second World War "really" started in between those two events, in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War began. The history of this war is hopelessly saturated with Leftist theory in place of historical fact. In the February 1936 general election, as one example, the Parties of the Right received 4.57 million votes; the Parties of the Left received 4.36 million votes; Basque Nationalists won 140,000 votes and Centrists won 340,000 votes. Under the normal parliamentary systems today, the Right, not the Left, should have formed the government. Instead, the Left attempted to take a fragile and tiny majority to transform Spain into a proxy of Moscow.
The Spanish Civil War is also portrayed as a time when the "Fascists" (the generic and hopelessly inaccurate term from Fascists and their enemies, Nazis) supported Franco while "Republicans" were supported by the Left internationally and by the Soviet Union in particular. Moscow used the Civil War to murder nonconforming Leftists and deliberately withheld military supplies to those forces so Franco could defeat them (as well as executing them outright behind the lines.)
Franco did not lead the Fallangists, as the Left blandly asserts. They were part of his coalition, and often he suppressed them. The Fallange itself was bitterly divided into pro-Fascist factions (who, of course, hated Hitler and Nazism) and pro-Nazi factions (who, of course, hated Mussolini and Fascism.) The Francoists won the Spanish Civil War shortly before the Second World War began.
In some very important ways, Franco behaved differently than other dictators in Europe at the time. The entry of Spain into the Second World War in 1940 could have resulted in the loss of Gibraltar, the subsequent loss of the Mediterranean Basin to the Axis, and the invincibility of Hitler. Franco did not want Nazism to triumph.
While even the Fascists ultimately participated in odious Nazi anti-Semitism, Franco actively used the Spanish government to save as many Jews as he could during the Shoah. Chaim Lipschitz in his 1984 book, Franco, Spain, the Jews, and the Holocaust records in precise detail the specific actions related directly back to Franco which the Spanish dictator undertook to save Jews. More interestingly, Franco intervened after the war was over to help Jews in the "second holocaust" - the forgotten persecution of Jews throughout the Arab world.
During the Cold War, although a pariah among the same Europeans who had helped form the Vichy Government or advocated appeasement with Hitler during the 1930s, Franco was resolute in his opposition to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Caudillo had no particular "ideology." His economic policies, for example, look drearily like socialist-lite state planning.
Franco was no angel, but he was no devil either. He was, more than anything else, a religious patriot. This is why the Left hated him. A devoted family man, a serious Catholic, a Spaniard who loved his country, Franco has had a remarkably good report card from those people he "brutally oppressed" for more than three decades. He left Juan Carlos as monarch who would guide Spain back to constitutional democracy after Franco died.
It worked perfectly. The Left assumed that Spain was roiling in convulsions of rebellion. Instead, since the death of Franco, Spain has been one of the most stable and free democracies on the planet. Thirty years ago, in early December 1978, the Spanish people overwhelmingly adopted a new constitution which has stood Spain in good stead ever since. King Juan Carlos is the most popular political figure in Ibero-America, so popular that a significant number of Portuguese want to become part of Spain with Juan Carlos as their king. The King in 2007 sharply told Hugo Chavez to "shut up," when the Venezuelan boor was acting boorishly. He has used quiet influence to keep Spain a model for Latin America and to show how easy it is for real democracy to flourish in Hispanic nations.
Thank the hated Franco. Thank the beloved King. Thank, most of all, the Spanish people. Thirty years ago, during turbulent times in our world, the people of Spain chose ordered liberty and the democracy under a constitutional monarchy instead of descent into ideological chaos and revolutionary bloodshed. Celebrate this quiet victory of democracy, and remember that good victories in the world today are quiet ones. When people wish to live in peace and civility, they usually can.