Cecil Eby

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A professor of English at the University of Michigan, Cecil Eby has taken a particular interest in the Spanish Civil War and the literature related to it. This article is taken from Between the Bullet and the Lie, Professor Eby’s study of American volunteers in that war; the book will be published this fall by Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
The Abraham Lincoln Battalion did not die in the blood bath of Jarama. Put under the command of better officers and augmented by fresh volunteers, its fire-hardened veterans shaped up into a first-rate fighting force. In the next year and a half, the battalion fought in almost every major campaign of the Civil War, including the Loyalists’ last, hopeless offensive at the Ebro, late in the summer of 1938. It left Spain in September of that year, when, in a final desperate move to win help from the League of Nations, the Loyalist government disbanded the International Brigades in order to make the war an exclusively Spanish conflict. Of the approximately 4,000 American volunteers who fought on the Loyalist side, a majority were dedicated, card-carrying Communists, but some were nonpolitical idealists who hated fascism and feared the prospect of a Europe and a world dominated by Hitler and Mussolini. More than half gave their lives for the Loyalist cause, among them Robert Merriman, killed in March of 1938. The history of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion does not end with its withdrawal from Spain, nor with Franco’s victory in February of /pjp. It became a source of inspiration for writers of the left, and, because of its Communist links, its veterans have constantly been harassed by anti-red investigators. Even today it is not unusual for its reunions in New York to be picketed by those of the right who call the men who served in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion “priest and nun killers.” But despite the bitter memory of its first battle and the triumph of Spanish fascism, when the now-middle-aged veterans of the battalion gather they have the comfort of knowing that they were present at the birth of one of the timeless legends of the unpeaceful years between the wars: “No pasarán!”

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