The Abraham Lincoln Brigades
This article appeared in the May 8, 1937 edition of The Nation.
Who were the brave young men who, against their country's orders, volunteered to fight fascism in Spain?
The following letter was written to a friend in America by a twenty-year-old member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, fighting with the government forces in Spain.
Dear ___: In the first place, I can't give you any news. The boys here often wish that they could get a copy of the New York Times or the Daily Worker. Then they could get some news, even if inaccurate. I don't think anyone knows less about what's happening in a war than the soldier in it. If we see a Fascist bomber crash in front of us we know about it; if it crashes over the hill we either hear nothing about it, or we hear that the re-bels attacked but were beaten back with terrific losses, and one of their tanks exploded. So I'll only tell you what I saw, and what men from the front have told me, and my own impressions.
Speaking of airplanes crashing, there's nothing more exciting than lying on the ground and watching a really good dog fight in the air. On our way here we went through a good bombing. We had just got out to eat at a little town when someone heard an airplane droning. Approaching us, low on the horizon, were three big dots marshaled by tiny specks. In half a minute they were three distant monoplanes, German bombers, sur-rounded by pursuit ships. In another thirty seconds they were the most terrifying things I have ever seen, three low, black, immense bombers directly overhead, dropping neat white packages which looked like ant's eggs. Curiously enough, every damn one of those packages was falling at me.
The mothers were herding their little children into doorways. Really a man can be cut just as deeply by flying metal as a child can; but these children with silky hair looked so defenseless and soft that I thought more of them than of myself. A few minutes later, when I was digging and pulling around debris, I recognized a little girl I had seen playing near us.
There were three of us in the ditch, one in front of me and one behind. They started dis-cussing the war situation, with a local emphasis. "Look, they're dropping leaflets!" yelled one of them. He was a good soldier, but this was his first airplane raid. "Hell," said the other, "they look like bombs to me." Just then there was an earthquake and the trench started spinning like a roulette wheel. That was the first bomb. About the time I had cleared my head the next one dropped. If the first had been close, the next was almost on top of us. This gave rise to the thought: where would the third one be? It was close enough to send bricks whizzing above our heads, and our ears rang for hours, but still it missed us.
Suddenly there was a drone from another direction, and tiny planes with red wings flashed from a great blue cloud like lightning. There was a rattling like the little whirring noise-makers children use on Halloween. The sky was terrifically confused. Little red planes were climbing, swooping, following little white planes or being followed by them.
The last two of the three bombers turned around with a sweep and started back. What happened to them I don't know. As they turned they dropped their bombs, all at once, but they were rushed and missed the town. One of them destroyed an olive grove, while the other prepared a dry hillside for cultivation. The first bomber dived down the valley at a terrible speed with a red-winged pursuit plane clinging behind it. I turned away for a second to watch the fighters above me stitching the sky, and when I turned back there was only a cloud of smoke from a hillside.
Then came the job of pulling wrecked houses to pieces to find the bodies, crushed out of shape but still alive. I won't go into that. The bombs had not injured any of the sol-diers in town, but they had done a good deal damage near the market. I saw over a dozen civilians, chiefly children, carried away from a house where they had been gath-ered. The United Socialist Youth (J. S. U..) is pushing plans to "make each village a fort" by having shock brigades build bomb-proof dugouts.
I meant to spend less time on the air raid and more on the state of the nation. What im-presses one immediately is the complete, unbroken solidarity of all the workers and peasants in wanting the war won and the whole former state of affairs overturned. If one happens to whistle the "International" while going down the street, two or three people going the other way start singing it on the spot, and one can hear their voices going into the distance. The children are loaded with badges and with pictures of Largo Caballero, La Passionaria, and Pablo Iglesias, and will give the People's Front salute -- clenched fist to shoulder -- on the slightest provocation. For that matter the greeting used by eve-ryone is Salud, with the clenched fist. I went to a fountain yesterday to get a drink. An old woman with a great pottery jug was there before me, but when she saw my Interna-tional Brigade badge she wouldn't consider filling her jug before I had drunk. They catch us and read us letters -- in Spanish, an unknown language -- from their sons at the front, dose us with oranges, bread, and too much vino tinto, and when they turn us loose ask us to look up their brothers in Montevideo, Uruguay, when we return home. In fact, they are even more cordial to us than to their own boys, for we have come from a distant, almost mythical country to fight against the fascists and the landlords and the foreigners who send the bombing planes over their houses.
And we seem to be beating them. From everything I have seen we are forcing them back step by desperate step. Nobody any more considers the chance of their taking Madrid. A cockney expressed it to me like this: "So General Mola had to stop the ad-vance on Madrid. For why? 'Cause he had to wait for his white horse, so he could ride into Madrid in style. But while he was waiting, the Internationals came in, and the Anar-chists from Barcelona and the Socialists from Asturias and the Communists from Guadarama, and Mola's white horse turned out to be a bloody white elephant."
News has been coming from Guadalajara which might mean that the war will be pretty short. But long or short there seems very little doubt about whose victory it will be.
Mobilize every possible group to give aid to Spain. Material aid is needed -- the Non-Intervention Committee has given us plenty of moral aid. The Spaniards treat the Non-Intervention Committee with respect but suspicion. A friend of mine going to the front said to me: "I've got a rifle here. Now I'm just an average shot; but I put more faith in that rifle than I do in every damn non-intervention pact between here and Tahiti."
So get the boys busy mobilizing help and sentiment. This fight in Spain is extremely im-portant for the future of the world. Those of us whose future is going to be connected with that of the world for any length of time should see that it's important to our future too.
Fraternally yours, R. P.