By Christopher Blackett
Good does not always triumph. Evil sometimes goes unpunished. The Divine Arbiter is not always present. There are moments when His gaze is averted and injustice is allowed to prevail. It is in these dark times that men must strengthen their souls and steady their gaze to a far horizon. Loss is temporary. The struggle is eternal.
American men, with no national interest or material stakes in Spain, journeyed across an ocean to fight Fascism. They crossed continents, putting life and limb on the line in order to preserve the cause of freedom. They called themselves the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. They called themselves the George Washington Brigade. They called themselves defenders of the poor, of the weak, of the downtrodden. They arrived confident in their endeavor, steadfast in the belief that Righteousness can never die.
In the town of Figueres, Righteousness was maimed on the battlefront. She was thrown tumultuously against the Nationalist positions and came back licking her wounds. But she did not die that day. Though the sword of the unjust felled many around her, including Robert Hale Merriman, she carried herself with virtue and breathed with righteous fury. In her belly, she felt her wrath quake and carried on, confident that she would take the Nationalist battlefronts.
At Villanueva de Canada, Righteousness fought valiantly against the Nationalist army at Misquito Ridge. But alas, her strength of arms were not strong enough to dislodge the enemy, and Oliver Law, dearest among men to her heart, passed violently into oblivion. Righteousness was wounded again, and her heart saddened at the loss.
In Belchite, Righteousness cried. She cried for all the dead and dying that surrounded her. She cried for the fast fading light of man, and the darkening skies above. She cried for herself, that Righteousness should be so weak among this land of carnage. Death surrounded her like a funeral pall, settling softly around her body.
In Segure de los Banos, Righteousness lost heart. She no longer saw hope in her struggle. She saw only a dark, downward path. At night she would huddle close to the soldiers that had followed her, far from home. She would listen to their devastation. She could see that their faith was shaken. Life was dim, meager, and insubstantial even for the smallest of ants, let alone these men, grandest and noblest of their race.
In Aragon, Righteousness saw the end. It was scrawled on the bodies of men. The Nationalist offensive had broken through her lines, and the Republicans were in retreat. They were pushed to the sea, thrown to the edge of windswept cliffs. Righteousness stood atop those forlorn bluffs and looked down at waves crashing against rocks. She held the line, and in her distraught voice, there still glimmered the ideal—vast and all encompassing, worth sacrificing everything for. The ideal worth dying ten thousands deaths and suffering ten thousands pains for. The ideal that brought men from far flung nations to lay down their lives. The ideal that says that all people, of all nations, deserve justice and freedom and happiness. Righteousness staved off final destruction that day, but she knew in her heart that they would die soon.
In Sierra Pandols, Righteousness died. The Republic sent home all the internationals that had come to fight for it. It thanked them, genuinely and wearily, gladly and sadly, for sharing in this effort with them. The Americans wandered home, lost and broken. They were husks of the men that had first departed under the auspices of Righteousness. They were all dead inside.
Three thousand Americans had fought for the Spanish Republic. Over seven hundred had died for it. Those that returned home found themselves unwanted. They were greeted with trials and courts and juries. They were greeted by Attorney-General Frank Murphy. They were hounded and tried for being sympathizers with the Soviet Union. They were accused of betraying their country, though they had fought Fascism, the most terrible of human creations.
Righteousness died in Sierra Pandols. She died again in Frank Murphy’s indictments. She died in Auschwitz and Normandy. She died trampling dust in the Bataan Death March. Years later she would die in McCarthy’s hearings. She has died ten thousand deaths. Righteousness will die ten thousand more. She has suffered eons wrapped in pain. She will suffer more. She will die, and be pained, and die again not just because the ideal is worth the sacrifice, but because it deserves the sacrifice.
They did not go for the spoils of war. They did not go for recognition. They did not go because their country told them to go. They went because their hearts spurred them on. They went because they could not hear about human suffering and do nothing. They went because they could not consciously remain idle in the face of injustice. Their lives were short and beautiful. Like a flash of lightning, they were bright and glorious, even if only briefly.