by liberal japonicus
Unfortunately, tomorrow, I need to have a second operation on my eye, so I'm posting this Thursday evening. (One can do a timed post, but I'm feeling a bit lazy) I brought Antony Beevor's The Battle for Spain to read, which uses newly opened archives in the Soviet Union to help create a full history of the Spanish Civil War and have just finished it. A great read, and Beevor tells the story of Miguel de Unamuno's last speech. which I share below the fold:
It was against this militaristic atmosphere [of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War] that an act of moral courage was to take place, an incident highlighted by the emphasis of physical bravery in that war. On 12 October, the anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America, a Festival of the Spanish Race was organized at the University of Salamanca. The audience consisted of prominent supporters of the local Falange. Among the dignitaries on the stage sat Franco’s wife, bishop of Salamanca who had issued the pastoral letter [supporting the nationalist rising], General Millán Astray, the founder of the Foreign Legion, and Miguel de Unamuno, the Basque philosopher who was rector of the university. Unamuno had been exasperated by the Republic, so in the beginning he had supported the nationalist rising. But he could not ignore the slaughter in this city where the infamous Major Doval from the Asturian repression was in charge, nor the murder of his friends Casto Prieto, mayor of Salamanca, Salvador Vila, professor of Arabic and Hebrew at the University of Granada, or Garcia Lorca.
Soon after the ceremony began, Professor Francisco Maldonado launched a violent attack on Catalan and Basque nationalism, which he described as ‘the cancer of the nation’, which must be cured with the scapel of fascism. At the back of the hall, somebody yelled the Foreign Legion’s battle-cry ‘¡Viva la Muerte!’ (Long live death!). General Millán Astray, who looked the very spectre of war with only one arm and one eye, stood up to shout the same cry. Falangists chanted their ¡Vivas!’, arms raised in a fascist salute to portrait of Franco hanging above where his wife sat.
The noise died as Unamuno stood up slowly. His quiet voice was an impressive contrast. ‘All of you await my words. You know me and are aware that I am unable to remain silent. At times to be silent is to lie. For silence can be interpreted as acquiescence. I want to comment on the speech, to give it that name, of Professor Maldonado. Let us waive the personal affront implied in the sudden outburst of vituperation against the Basques and Catalans. I was myself, of course, born in Bilbao. The bishop, whether he likes it or not, is a Catalan, from Barcelona. Just now I heard a necrophilous and senseless cry: ‘Long live death!’ And I, who have spent my life shaping paradoxes, I must tell you, as an expert authority that this outlandish paradox is repellent to me. General Millán Astray is a cripple. Let it be said without any undertone. He is a war invalid. So was Cervantes.
'Unfortunately there are all too many cripples in Spain now. And soon there will be even more of them if God does not come to our aid. It pains me to think that General Millán Astray should dictate the pattern of mass psychology. A cripple who lacks the spiritual greatness of a Cervantes is wont to seek ominous relief in causing mutilation around him. General Millán Astray would like to create Spain anew, a negative creation in his own image and likeness, as he has unwittingly made clear.'
The general was unable to contain his almost inarticulate fury any longer. He could only scream ‘¡Muera la inteligencia! ¡Viva la Muerte!‘ [‘Death to the intelligentsia! Long live death!’] The Falangists took up his cry and army officers took out their pistols. Apparently, the general’s bodyguard leveled his submachine gun at Unamuno’s head, but this did not deter Unamuno from crying defiance.
'This is the temple of the intellect. And I am its high priest. It is you who profane its sacred precincts. You will win, because you have more than enough brute force. But you will not convince. For to persuade you would need what you lack: reason and right in the struggle. I consider it futile to exhort you to think of Spain.'
He paused and his arms fell to his sides. He finished in a quiet resigned tone. ‘I have done’. It would seem that the presence of Franco’s wife saved him from being lynched on the spot, though when her husband was informed of what had happened he apparently wanted Unamuno to be shot. This course was not followed because of the philosopher’s international reputation and the reaction caused abroad by Lorca’s murder. But Unamuno died some ten weeks later, broken-hearted and cursed as a ‘red’ and a traitor by those he had thought were his friends.
The Battle for Spain, pp 100-101