Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Time again being short, I offer you these comments from the French cavalry officer. M de Rocca, who took part in the War of Independence between 1808 and 1813. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that he emerged from the war with great admiration for the Spanish people, who had refused to lie down and accept defeat and servitude in the way so many others across the continent had done . . .

When the Emperor Napoleon gave his brother to Spain as a king, he hoped that he would have to deal with a feeble nation, without energy, which, once deprived of its chiefs, would prefer the government of a stranger to the scourge of war in the very heart of the country. Europe herself believed along with the Emperor Napoleon that the Spaniards were to be subdued without a struggle. During the five years the war had lasted, the French had won ten pitched battles successively, they had taken almost every strong place, but nevertheless they had not secured the lasting possession of a single province. Spain had been in a way reduced to Cadiz, as Portugal was to Lisbon. But even if the French had been able to take those towns, the fate of the Peninsula would still not have been decided. While the French armies lay under the walls of Cadiz the Spanish partisans were making incursions to the gates of Toulouse, in the very heart of France.

The Spaniards, as a nation, were animated by one and the same feeling, love of independence, and abhorrence of strangers who would have humbled their national pride by imposing a government upon them. It was neither armies nor fortresses that were to be conquered in Spain, but that one, yet multiplied sentiment which filled the whole people. It was the inmost soul of each and every one that resisted the blow that entrenchment which neither bullet nor bayonet could.

Since these memoirs were written we have seen, first the Muscovite, and then the Prussian people, give proof of devotion to their country similar, in many respects, to that which the Spaniards showed ; and Russia, Prussia and Spain were early delivered from the common enemy. These events have changed the face of Europe; they demonstrate as fully as the long and noble resistance of the Spanish people, that the real strength of states does not consist so much in the number and strength of their regular armies, as in that religious, patriotic, or political feeling which is alone powerful enough to interest every individual of a nation in the public cause as if it were his own.

The irony here is that, almost 200 years on, this same spirit of patriotism and independence may be taking Spain beyond plurality to dismemberment. Maybe it’s true that one can have too much of a good thing.

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