An Act of Moral Courage

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo was a philosopher, playwright and essayist of some repute in Spain at the start of the Civil War. He began his career as an internationalist but, no friend of Marxism, switched to nationalist views, convinced that Spains essential qualities would be destroyed if influenced too much by outside forces. And so when the Civil War broke out, he was initially a supporter of Franco. However, the brutality of the fascistic Nationalists soon made him change his mind.

At a Nationalist rally in Salamanca, the general of the Spanish Foreign Legion, Milan Astray, blind in one eye and missing an arm due to past encounters with the Moors, gave a speech, ending with the Legion's battlecry, Long live death!, to a crowd of cheering Falangists and Carlists. And then the elderly Unamuno got up, and said…

"Much has been said here about the international war in defence of Christian civilization; I have done the same myself on other occasions. But no, our war is only an uncivil war. To win is not to convince, and it is necessary to convince and that cannot be done by hatred which has no place for compassion. There has been talk too of Catalans and Basques, calling them the anti-Spain. Well, with the same justification could they say the same of you. Here is the Bishop, himself a Catalan, who teaches you Christian doctrine which you don't want to learn. And I, who am a Basque, I have spent my life teaching you the Spanish language, which you do not know.

General Millan Astray is a war invalid. It is not necessary to say this in a whisper. Cervantes was too. But extremes cannot be taken as the norm. Unfortunately, today there are too many invalids. And soon there will be even more if God does not help us. It pains me to think that General Millan Astray might dictate the norms of mass psychology. An invalid who lacks the spiritual grandeur of Cervantes, who was a man, not a superman, virile and complete despite his mutilations, an invalid, as I said, who lacks that superiority of spirit, is often made to feel better by seeing the number of cripples around him grow. General Millan Astray would like to create a new Spain in his own image, a negative creation without doubt. And so he would like to see a mutilated Spain.

You will win but you will not convince. You will win because you have more than enough brute force; but you will not convince, because to convince means to persuade. And to persuade you need something that you lack: reason and right in the struggle. It seems to me useless to beg you to think of Spain.".

By the end of the speech the crowd was in such an uproar that Unamuno was almost lynched on the spot, and the General was furious. Only the intervention of Franco's wife, who was present, got Unamuno out of the rally in one piece. He was then placed under house arrest, and the elderly Unamuno died of heart failure a few weeks later, horrified by those who he thought were his friends and allies.

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