I lived in Spain some nine months, and had not made friends with one Spaniard. I hardly knew what a Spanish man or woman thought, except by what I read in the papers. My only intimacy with any Spaniard had been with whores in bordellos. I did have Spanish nurses, mostly aides to women of the International Brigades. They were hardworking and friendly, but disappeared after work to homes we never visited. For nine months I lived under the aegis of Moscow-trained leaders, policed by men with guns on their hips. Wherever I went, Albacete, Villanueva de la Jara, the front, Murcia, side trips to Alicante and Cartagena, and later Valencia and Barcelona, I lived under the eyes of commissars and Party strongarms, apparatchiks, call them what you will. I might very well have been living in what later became an Eastern European Communist dictatorship.
For the Americans who fought at the front, many so bravely—despite the overwhelming ﬁre power of the enemy, so valorously—the many who died, and the many who ran away, Spain was really an abstraction; we knew and leamed little about it, except what our ignorant and biased commissars told us. As for those who ran away, most of them had been told their stint in Spain would be for six months but, once at the front, were peremptorily told they would have to stay as long as ordered; thus they believed they had earned the right to run away. Who is so righteous he can blame them?
Today, Spanish historians, both of the left and the right, give us barely a mention; our signiﬁcance was just about nil. Would that the same could be said of the Soviet apparat in Spain. For Stalin, Spain was simply another card to be played in the international poker game. Long before the International Brigades and the Americans were withdrawn, and long before the war came to its bitter end, Adolph Hitler and Osip Djugashvili were already sitting together planning how they were going to divvy up their winnings.
Bravery on the battleﬁeld is not uncommon, it is universal; tinker, tailor, Nazi, Communist, democrat. But the bravery to face up to and acknowledge uncomfortable truths is unique; to refuse to be a denier in the face of the compact mass can be called heroic.
Our ﬁght’s not won till the workers of the world Stand by our guard on Huesca’s plain Swear that our dead fought not in vain. Raise the red ﬂag triumphantly. For Communism and liberty. .
So wrote John Cornford, English poet and Communist, who died defending Cordoba, a brave man. Were we all not brave men? He, and most of us, believed Communism and liberty were indivisible, and he wrote those words at the very time our leader, Stalin, was murdering millions of his own people, including Communists, who also wanted liberty. At the same time he was about to begin his crimes against the Spanish people who were ﬁghting for liberty. For the arms Stalin sent and his cruel and brutish intervention, Spain paid him in gold bullion—its entire hoard—and we, alas, paid with our blood.