The media has already pointed out the possible significance of 3-11 in the Spanish bombing. I was toying with numbers, as I was toying with the idea of writing a post on the Spanish surrender (not for numerological artifacts) and discovered that 2^11 (512) years ago the "Catholic Kings," Ferdinand and Isabel of Castille, chased the Muslim invaders, known as the Moors, from their last foothold in the Iberian peninsula in Granada. Surely three appearances of the number 11 must have some significance to Al Qaeda.
A lot of my thoughts on the topic have been pre-empted by Frederick Turner's poem on the subject. As I was scanning The Corner at NRO early this morning, I came across it in a post by Rod Dreher and since I've followed some of Turner's writings (mostly on poetry) and have at least one of his collections of poems, April Wind, I immediately clicked over to check it out. Darn it, took all the air out of my ideas for a post, much less a poem. He's already done it far better than I suspect I would have. I love the way he moves from Alphonso to El Cid, sidesteps (slightly) to Roland, glances aside at Odysseus, then moves on to Don Juan at Lepanto and only then, finally, coming to the author of the idea of tilting at windmills, Cervantes, the great writer in the great Golden Age of Spanish literature.
Cervantes was also, as he mentions, present at Lepanto, a great victory of the Spanish military against the Muslim enemy. For all of the period covered in the poem, from Alphonso to Cervantes, Spain was the great defender of the faith. Where there was conflict between Christendom and Islam, there you found Spanish presence. They sought it out.
We in the Americas, especially in the United States, associate 1492 with one event: the discovery of America by Columbus under the flag of Spain. But in Spain that was one of three major events on which Spanish history turned. That same year Ferdinand and Isabel expelled the Jews from Spanish lands and defeated and expelled the last of the Moors. Spain was "Christian." It was the first major victory in the, until then, defensive battle to stop the spread of Islam into Europe. Spain became the spearhead of the attacks to further press back the Muslims, the great Defender of the Faith, attacking North Africa and participating in Crusades to the Holy Land.
As a country Spain has an institutional memory of this. As with many Western historical events, however, the modern perception of it has shifted significantly. The Crusades are mostly seen as Imperialist/Colonialist ventures of an aggressive sort. My guess is that the average modern Spaniard is somewhat embarrassed by this part of their history, much as are modern Americans by slavery and the battles with the native tribes of the Americas.
The reality is, however, the Spanish in Europe were far more on the defensive than were the early colonists of the Americas (in which the Spanish were also included). The Moors invaded and conquered most of the peninsula, compressing the resisting kingdoms into the north and northwest with their backs literally to the sea and the mountains. It was after long years of resisting and raids and counter raids that finally the defending Spanish put together a string of victories and began the process of rolling back the Moors. Once the Moors were expelled from the peninsula, Spanish nobles and their armies took up arms at the behest of the Roman church and pursued the fight wherever conflict called.
This is the tradition that lead to the Conquistadors, stout and enduring men who stood literally against odds of thousands to one and faced down whole Empires. If you want to feel chills run down your spine, read the accounts of the Spanish conquest of the Incas. It makes the already amazing conquest of the Aztec Empire pale in comparison.
But the riches that poured in from all these conquests, following the explosion of Spanish energy from the coiled spring which they’d become under the pressure of the Moors, served to create a society that imported rather than producing. When the easy riches disappeared, Spain faded.
Recent events convinced me Spain had recovered from its long nadir. The economy has significantly improved and Spain, as a country, has stepped forward once again into international affairs. But this episode surrounding the election, the terrorist bombings, and the withdrawals of Spanish forces from Iraq (assuming it comes about, as the new president promises that it will) have me wondering. Is this an anomaly or is the recent past the anomaly? Was the glimmer of a resurgence of Spanish spirit a mirage in a desert of hope, or is this seeming retreat into a state of passive victimhood the anomaly?
Where would Spain be today if Pizzaro had looked around at the ten of thousands of Incas in the army surrounding the Inca himself and said, “I’ll just keep my head down?” Where would it be if its great explorers had sailed out for one week and said, “well, that’s far enough, I wouldn’t want the men to get hungry?”
That Spain knew that enemies had to be faced, fought and beaten, even if at times those Spanish were vain, crass, avaricious, brutal, cruel and all the other failings common to humans. No side has a monopoly on bad traits, but some systems, and the goals of those systems, are clearly better than others. Surrendering to systems that are proven failures is both foolish and sad.
I have been sick, and work is rather intense. Had to slip one deadline, and more loom, so the immediate future does not look a lot better.
But I couldn't have the dreaded empty blog syndrome hanging over me, so I thought I'd at least post this excuse, mea culpa, and apology for not even rising to my own low standards.