International Brigades: Pioneers in their time and ours

Throughout this trip, I have experienced a massive evolution of thought, impressions, and knowledge regarding the International Brigades and the men who constituted their ranks. Many of the misconceptions that I had were destroyed by firsthand accounts and visits to sites of memory; however my one and strongest belief about the Brigadiers, which was the reason for my original interest in the Brigades, not only survived the trip, but was strengthened tenfold. The thinking is that the men who made up their ranks were even more ideologically committed than their Spanish counterparts. This is evidenced most plainly in the fact that these men who arrived in Spain in 1936 had no practical or vested interest in this war; winning or losing would not mean that they would lose their homes, jobs, or families; the only reason that these men maintained for coming to Spain was a absolute belief in the ideals of the Second Republic.This strength of conviction to an ideal translated perfectly into the realm of historical memory. These volunteers were more active in creating their physical places of memory during the war, just as they have proven to be more proactive in beginning the process of recovering their place in history after the death of Franco. What I knew before I left for Spain was made a physical fact when I saw for myself the monument to the soldiers at Jarama that was originally built in 1937, during the actual war and before the Spanish republicans had erected other monuments to their own sacrifices. This pattern of aggression repeated itself after Franco’s death. Although the Amigos de las Brigadas did not begin their work until 1996, in the 1980’s the individual veterans’ organizations from Russia, Poland, Italy and others began their own individual efforts to recuperate their places in Spanish society. When 1996 arrived and the organization of the international veterans into a more consolidated group, they again were the pioneers of this movement, ten years before the law of historical memory and before the formation of other official groups of effected individuals such as exiles and Spanish Republican Veterans.There are several factors which contributed to this tendency for the Brigadiers to be the first group to establish and reestablish their place in the historical memory of Spain. The first of these is ability, these men did not live under Franco, and although their voices were muted to an extent in their home countries i.e. France under DeGaul and the US during McCarthyism, they never faced the prospect of being executed for displaying their beliefs in a public manner. This meant that they could be more prepared mentally and organizationally to approach the task of a creation of historical memory. This does not however explain their earlier, wartime actions which again prevailed as pioneering movements in building a historical memory in Spain regarding their actions and sacrifices. The only explanation for this, which fits quite well with the concept of an individual leaving the comfort of their home nation to fight and possibly die in a faraway country, is that these men contained within themselves a commitment to the ideas of the republic that was possibly even stronger than that within the Spaniards also fighting for the republic.

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