• Long Live Death!

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    “Viva
    la muerte!” someone shouted: “Long live death!”

    This
    barbaric battle cry was uttered on 12 October 1936 at the University
    of Salamanca during a solemn ceremony on Spain’s “national day”
    (Día de la Raza) in the midst of civil war. Accounts differ
    as to whether or not the phrase was shouted by Spanish Foreign Legion
    General José Millán Astray (1879–1954) or by
    one of his military escort, but no controversy exists as to an utterance
    that followed: “May intelligence die!” he shouted.

    The
    person at whom he was shouting was Miguel de Unamuno (1864–1936),
    rector of the university and one of Spain’s most important philosophers,
    author of a major (neglected in the English-speaking and secular
    world) work of the Twentieth Century: On the Tragic Sense of Life
    in Humankind and its Peoples (my translation; published translations
    entitle the work The Tragic Sense of Life). Unamuno was both a republican
    politically (exiled from Spain 1924–30 for his republican views
    and activities, later honored for them) and a philosopher with deep
    roots in Christianity, Roman Catholicism in particular.

    As
    the executive branch of the government of the United States seems
    to echo the words of the late legionnaire, I hear the voice of Unamuno
    crying in the wilderness: “[F]or a true Christian – if indeed
    a true Christian is a possibility in civil life – any issue,
    political or what have you, must be considered, treated and resolved
    with respect to the singular interest of eternal salvation, of eternity”
    (my translation).

    This
    consideration seems to be missing from the mission of the “Christian
    soldiers” marching onward to spread death and destruction on the
    assumption that to wage such a war is just, that, per Aquinas, “the
    due authorities may also use the sword to protect [the commonwealth]
    from enemies without” and that “the cause must be just (those whom
    we attack must have done some wrong which deserves attack)” (Summa,
    40:1). Although Aquinas does not so state, I believe it is just
    to draw the inference that the “wrong” referred to is a wrong done
    to us. As to the “unworldly” concern voiced by Unamuno, it seems
    obvious that neither the treatment nor the resolution of this political
    dispute between states allows the individual Christian any opportunity
    to take into account his or her eternal salvation, save in the instance
    that death in a foreign land may somehow be considered holy martyrdom
    guaranteeing salvation, a belief more often held by extremists of
    the “enemy,” or so we are given to understand.

    The
    war instigated by the executive branch of the U.S. government is
    not a “just” war in either Christian or American terms. The constitutionally
    mandated declaration of war by the Congress is absent. “Silence
    implies consent” is not a principle set forth in the Constitution,
    nor does it provide justification for a usurpation of power. Any
    attempt to justify the actions of the executive branch of the U.S.
    government with an appeal to Christianity is wrong and should be
    seen as such by any individual who professes to be a Christian.

    “To
    conquer is not to convince.”

    Unamuno’s
    rebuttal to the general should serve as a reminder to the U.S. chief
    executive, his British counterpart and to Unamuno’s fellow countryman
    José María Aznar. He went on to add: “To convince,
    persuasion is necessary. And to persuade, what is needed is what
    you lack: Reason and Right.” This from a man who was a dedicated
    republican but supported a military uprising against the very republic
    he had helped to create, a man who had persuaded himself that a
    restoration of public order was necessary in a state he perceived
    as verging on anarchy, a man who had persuaded himself that the
    military could be trusted to uphold the goals of Spain’s then fragile
    democracy. Unamuno understood too late that he had made an error
    in judgment, but had the courage to admit it. Following the tragic
    confrontation with the barbarian, Unamuno returned to his home never
    to emerge again. Two and a half months later, he passed away on
    the last day of 1936.

    “At
    times, to be silent is to lie,” Unamuno said. We should mark those
    words well. They are of far more value to the Christian or any other
    person of religious conviction than the words of the conquering
    general: “Long live death!”

    We
    should shout down the enemies of the American Republic, regardless
    of where they are to be found, up to and including in the highest
    posts of government. We should take heart and shout down the advocates
    of force, the intellectual heirs of the rabid general and the cries
    of: “May intelligence die! Long live death!”

    March
    21, 2003

    Timothy J. Cullen (send
    him mail
    ), a former equities trader, lives in Seville,
    Spain.


         

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