1936 December 26

Abraham Lincoln Brigade Volunteers Sail for Spain to Fight Fascism; Will Be Persecuted During the Cold War


About 100 young American men boarded the French ocean liner Normandie as the first large group of Abraham Lincoln Brigade volunteers headed for Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War. They would fignt in support of the government of Spain against a fascist military revolt led by Gen. Francisco Franco and supported by Nazi Germany’s Adolph Hitler and Fascist Italy’s Benito Mussolini.

Eventually about 2800 Americans would fight in the Spanish Civil War, and 70o would die.

Because the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was largely organized by the American Communist Party, and the Spanish government supported by the Soviet Union, the effort and its participants were targeted by anti-Communists. Many veterans of the Brigade were persecuted during the Cold War for their participation.  The Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was listed by the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations, and many veterans and members of the Friends group suffered as a result.

Over 450 veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade served in the U.S armed forces during World War II, and at least another 100 served in the Merchant Marine. At least 21 died in the war. Although members of the Brigade had fought Hitler before World War II, they were attacked after the war because of their left-wing associations.

Robert G. Thompson returned from Spain and then served in the U.S. Army during World War II, where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroic action in New Guinea. After the war he was one of the top leaders of the Communist Party tried and convicted for violating the Smith Act. After his conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court in the important Dennis v. United States decision (June 4, 1951), Thompson absconded, and after being caught served more time in prison than other Dennis case figures. After he died, the Pentagon refused to allow him to be buried in Arlington Cemetery, which was his right as a veteran. His wife sued, and on December 13, 1968 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered the Pentagon to allow his to be buried.

Read the great new book: Adam Hochschild, Spain in our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (2016)

And don’t miss George Orwell’s famous account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War: George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (1938, but many recent editions are also available)

Learn more about the Spanish Civil War: Frances Lannon, The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (2002)

And more at the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives: http://www.alba-valb.org/history/spanish-civil-war




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