From Terry Glavin’s book Come from the Shadows: The Long and Lonely Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan, pages 214-218:
Unlike the British intellectuals, and unlike the core American contingent from the Young Communist League in New York, the largest single group of Canadians who fought in [the Spanish civil war of the 1930s] came out of British Columbia’s “slave labour” camps. The Canadian anti-fascist volunteers were workers, “far more proletarian” than the British or the Americans, the Spanish War veteran Irving Weissman recalled years later. The Canadians fought barefoot and ate oats out of the fields. “They were very, very working class. The overwhelming majority-—it was stamped on them,” Weissman remembered. The Canadians weren’t ideologues, either. They fought from a gut instinct for solidarity. And just as the mortality rate among Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan far exceeded the death rate among American soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq, at least 400 of the 1,700-odd Canadians who sailed to Spain never came home.
The story of the Canadians in Spain was never fully told, despite the Stalinist apologetics and labour-hall singalongs and revisionist hagiographies, until the pen was taken up by the young Canadian journalist Michael Petrou, in his 2008 Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War. As it happens, Petrou was with the Northern Alliance in the winter of 2001 as it roared across the Shomali Plains towards Kabul to send the Taliban packing. In conversation shortly after his book was published, Petrou told me he agreed with the parallels. ”The 1930s was a time when the left was capable of recognizing fascism,” he said. “I find it frustrating that a lot of the left has failed to recognize real fascism in the world today. There is, unfortunately, a moral bankruptcy in broad sections of the left today; in its inability to recognize real fascism if it’s opposed to the United States or whatever.”
For all the parallels, there is also a critical distinction between then and now, between Spain and Afghanistan: the Spanish republic was lost. By 2011, the Afghan republic was still hanging on by the skin of its teeth, but opinion in the NATO capitals was bitterly divided. Do we push on, or do we cave in and cut a deal with the Taliban? The Obama White House was coming down squarely on the latter side. Lauryn Oates sums up the implications well in her polemic against neutrality: “There is only one side that history will forgive.”
This concludes our series of excerpts from Terry Glavin’s Afghanistan book. Now buy it and read the whole thing.