"Children's Books/History"

Story Published in New York Times Book Review

spanish civil war


By PATRICIA LYNDEN; Patricia Lynden is a freelance writer and a contributing
editor at New York Woman magazine.


A Picture History.
By William Loren Katz and Marc Crawford.
Illustrated. 84 pp. New York:
Atheneum. $14.95. (Ages 12 and up)

Americans Fighting Fascism in the Spanish Civil War
By Don Lawson.
Illustrated. 160 pp. New York:
Thomas Y. Crowell. $11.95. (Ages 12 and up)

In 1936, Spain's shaky young republican Government, just five years free of its ancient monarchy, and threatened by a fascist takeover by well-armed rebellious military leaders, sent word to the outside world over Radio Barcelona: ''Men and women of all lands! Come to our aid!''

The cry resonated deeply with young Americans who had been radicalized by the Great Depression. Acutely worried about fascism's rise in Europe, the appeasement policies of our allies and Hitler's more than generous support of Generalissimo Francisco Franco with artillery, tanks, men and his crack fighter-bomber squadrons, these Americans believed that if fascism won in Spain, democracy everywhere in the world was threatened.

The plight of the backward country became the cause and the romance of idealistic young men and women virtually everywhere. Largely recruited by the American Communist Party, some 2,800 Americans went to Spain as volunteers in the loyalist army. There they joined volunteers from other nations in what became known as the International Brigades. The American unit, though technically a battalion, was called the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. It was composed of college students, professors, trade unionists, artists, actors, writers, even three acrobats. Many were Communists; many were not. They came from everywhere in the United States; they were of every color and class, and 30 percent were Jewish. With few exceptions, the ''Lincolns,'' as they were called, had no military experience. More than half of them died in Spain; many more were wounded.

The war, which inspired Pablo Picasso's mural ''Guernica'' and, it sometimes seems, more books than have been written about World War I - including Ernest Hemingway's ''For Whom the Bell Tolls'' and Andre Malraux's ''Man's Hope'' - is the subject of these two brief histories for young adults.

''The Lincoln Brigade'' by William Loren Katz and Marc Crawford, two authors and educators, bills itself as ''a picture history.'' The handsome book is that - and many of the photos have never before been published - but it also has a substantial text. It does not focus on any one hero. Rather, this politically aware book gives emphasis to the black volunteers who, for the first time in the history of an American armed force, served side-by-side with whites. Indeed, the Lincolns were commanded for a time by a black Texan and Communist, Oliver Law, until he was killed at Brunete. It also discusses the women volunteers, who were few in number and most of whom, not surprisingly, were members of the nursing corps.

The role of the Depression, the Communist Party, American isolationism and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's refusal to aid Spain's legitimate Government get adequate treatment here. So does the fact that the American Government allowed the Texas Oil Company to supply Franco with oil - some 1.9 million tons of it - and the fact that most of Franco's rebel army's trucks were made by Ford, General Motors and Studebaker. There is colorful text about the ragtag, individualistic and argumentative young Yankees who managed to forge themselves into a unit of real soldiers, so good and valiant that they were often used as shock troops, no small factor in accounting for their staggering casualties. After the International Brigades were withdrawn from the war by the Spanish Government and returned home, the fascism feared by the Lincolns and their sympathizers at home almost immediately sent Europe into World War II. A number of Lincolns fought in that one, too, although the United States' military high command didn't trust them one bit because, in its off-the-wall characterization, they were ''PAF'' or ''Premature Anti-Fascists.''

Mr. Katz and Mr. Crawford devote a full chapter to the broad popular support the Spanish republican cause had back home in the United States, where supporters included the likes of Henry Luce of Time magazine as well as many of the country's leading intellectuals. The pure idealism behind that support, and the willingness of some of the finest youth of that generation to die so that the world might be safe for democracy, makes the Spanish Civil War different from all others. It is hard to give too much space to that aspect of the story.

Unfortunately, there is virtually no mention of it in Don Lawson's book, ''The Abraham Lincoln Brigade.'' It therefore winds up being a book mostly about military skirmishes. That's too bad, because this is an otherwise creditable and intelligent history, by a prolific writer for young people, although his tone here is peculiarly flat. But the war, the issues and the players are well and thoroughly handled.



Copyright © Patricia Lynden 2010-2013. Site designed by Bruce R. Jaffe.