Europe had been at war for twenty-seven months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, drawing the United States into World War II. But except for what the public could glimpse through newspapers, newsreels, and radio, few Americans had faced the horror of modern warfare. There was, however, one group of Americans who had already confronted the fascist enemy on the battlefield and had first-hand experience of the political stakes. These were the U.S. veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a volunteer army of about twenty-eight hundred men and women who sailed to Europe to fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). After nearly three years of bitter, cruel warfare, General Francisco Franco’s armies defeated the Republican forces in March 1939. President Franklin D. Roosevelt acknowledged that U.S. neutrality in the Spanish Civil War had been a mistake.
Six months later, the same German air forces that bombed the Basque village of Guernica in 1937 were flying over Poland launching the war that the Lincolns thought could have been prevented. Although many brigaders reluctantly hewed to the Communist party’s non-interventionist line in 1939 and 1940, after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, they became enthusiastic about the second chance to achieve victory over fascism. Even when U.S. military authorities, who were concerned about the brigaders’ ties to the Communist party, attempted to thwart their ambitions by blocking officer’s commissions and overseas combat assignments, the Lincolns remained doggedly loyal to the struggle. African American volunteers, who after serving in the integrated Lincoln brigade were forced into second-class duties in the segregated U.S. army, maintained their commitments to destroy the fascist beast; and when finally given the chance to fight, they proved to be exceptional soldiers.
Wherever they served, individual Lincoln veterans won innumerable awards for bravery and sacrifice. Despite their heroism in the second war against fascism, the Lincolns never overcame the stigma of having been “premature antifascists.” By going to Spain, they marked themselves as radicals whose loyalty to the government was suspect. After World War II, they were among the first victims of the Red Scare. Most of the letters in this volume were selected from thousands more that may be found in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) collection in New York University’s Tamiment Library. Others came from the personal collections of individuals and their families that can be found in the ALBA collection or in other depositories.