Miguel de Unamuno, writer and philosopher, 1864-1936. Part of the “generation of 1898” a literary group dedicated to renewal.
In 1901, de Unamuno became Rector of the University of Salamanca. In 1913, he published Del sentimiento trágico de la vida en los hombres y en los pueblos (The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Peoples), in which he examined the differences between faith and reason. He followed this with the novel Abel Sánchez (1917), an exploration of the bible’s Cain and Abel story.
On October 12, 1936, the celebration of the Dia de la Raza had brought together a politically diverse crowd at the University of Salamanca, including Enrique Pla y Deniel, the Archbishop of Salamanca, and Carmen Polo Martínez-Valdés, the wife of Franco, and General Millán-Astray the leader of the Spanish Foreign Legion.
According to the British historian Hugh Thomas in his magnum opus The Spanish Civil War (1961), Professor Francisco Maldonado decried Catalonia and the Basque Country as “cancers on the body of the nation,” adding that “Fascism, the healer of Spain, will know how to exterminate them, cutting into the live flesh, like a determined surgeon free from false sentimentalism.”
From somewhere in the auditorium, someone cried out the motto “¡Viva la Muerte!” As was his habit, Millán-Astray responded with “¡España!”; the crowd replied with “¡Una!” He repeated “¡España!”; the crowd then replied “¡Grande!” A third time, Millán-Astray shouted “¡España!”; the crowd responded “¡Libre!” This was a common Falangist cheer. Later, a group of uniformed Falangists entered, saluting the portrait of Franco that hung on the wall.
Unamuno, who was presiding over the meeting as Rector of the University of Salamanca, rose up slowly and addressed the crowd: “You are waiting for my words. You know me well, and know I cannot remain silent for long. Sometimes, to remain silent is to lie, since silence can be interpreted as assent. I want to comment on the so-called speech of Professor Maldonado, who is with us here. I will ignore the personal offence to the Basques and Catalonians. I myself, as you know, was born in Bilbao. The Bishop,” Unamuno gestured to the Archbishop of Salamanca, “Whether you like it or not, is Catalan, born in Barcelona. But now I have heard this insensible and necrophilous oath, “¡Viva la Muerte!”, and I, having spent my life writing paradoxes that have provoked the ire of those who do not understand what I have written, and being an expert in this matter, find this ridiculous paradox repellent. General Millán-Astray is an invalid. There is no need for us to say this with whispered tones. He is an invalid of war. So was Cervantes. But unfortunately, Spain today has too many invalids. And, if God does not help us, soon it will have very many more. It torments me to think that General Millán-Astray might dictate the norms of the psychology of the masses. It should be expected from a mutilated who lacks the spiritual greatness of Cervantes to find horrible solace in seeing how the number of mutilated ones multiplies around him.”
Millán-Astray reportedly responded: “¡Muera la inteligencia! ¡Viva la Muerte!” (“Death to intelligence! Long live death!”), provoking applause from the Falangists (although some versions suggest he actually said “Death to traitor intellectuality” but in the commotion in the auditorium this was not perceived). Pemán, in an effort to calm the crowd, exclaimed “¡No! ¡Viva la inteligencia! ¡Mueran los malos intelectuales!” (“No! Long live intelligence! Death to the bad intellectuals!”)
Unamuno continued: “This is the temple of intelligence, and I am its high priest. You are profaning its sacred domain. You will win, because you have enough brute force. But you will not convince. In order to convince it is necessary to persuade, and to persuade you will need something that you lack: reason and right in the struggle. I see it is useless to ask you to think of Spain. I have spoken.” Millán-Astray, controlling himself, shouted “Take the lady’s arm!” Unamuno took Carmen Polo by the arm and left in her protection.
Franco had given orders to have him executed but instead banished him to house arrest. Two months later, on December 31, 1936, in Salamanca, Unamuno died of a heart attack at age 72.
On 12 October 2016, the street in Madrid named after General Míllan-Astray was renamed Calle de la Inteligencia.