21 October 2006

Sextet Of New Spanish Civil War Pics

Shot and edited these this afternoon.

Their subject?????

The only Japanese-American, and, indeed, only Asian-American member, as far as I know, of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion that fought on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, Jack Shirai.

Read about Shirai in a couple of books on the ALB, and so, what little about him I present here is based entirely on those accounts.

He came from California and sailed across to Le Havre, France, along with the rest of the first contingent of Lincoln Battalion members in January, 1937, stayed a few weeks in Paris before being smuggled out with his comrades across the Franco-Spanish border in late January or early February of '37(ain't sure which), and eventually ended up with his battalion at the International Brigades HQ near Albacete, Andulusia, Spain by mid-February of that same year.

Shirai was employed as a cook for the Lincolns, and it was while he was working in that capacity that he was killed by Nationalist shrapnel during the Battle of Jarama, the Lincoln's first engagement into which it'd been thrown despite being inadequately armed and trained, in March, 1937.

The Lincolns, from what little I know of 'em, contained a fairly high proportion of Jewish-American members, who were naturally outraged and frightened by the rise of Nazi Germany and the persecution of German Jews, African-Americans, many of whom had wanted a crack at Mussolini and the Italian Fascists during the latter's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935-36, but hadn't been able to cross the Big Water to get there in time, and a number of Americans from various immigrant backgrounds, like Steve Nelson, the battalion's second commissar(political officer), who, in spite of his WASPy-sounding name, was of Yugoslav background, who'd been radicalised by the Great Depression and other events surrounding it.

But, Shirai, as I wrote above, was the only Japanese-American and Asian-American to join and fight with the Lincolns during their existence.

Why and how he decided to join up, I've no idea, alas, though, my best available guesses, and they might very well be wrong, would be a combination of the break-down of American capitalism in the first years of the Depression, and as a reaction to the nasty and prevalent anti-Japanese and anti-Asian racism in the America, and especially in California and the American West as a whole, that was around in the early and mid-20th Century.

The deportations of the Japanese-American community that occured in 1941-42 were only the culmination of a long line of anti-Japanese and anti-Asian rhetoric and practises found in the Western US from the 1870s onwards, and Shirai, like many Japanese-Americans his age, would have been well aware of it, in one way or another, by the time he joined the Lincolns.

Either way, this photo set's a tribute to a very young man, as were so many of the Lincolns, who went away to a country not his own to fight for a better world as he saw it, and who didn't return alive.

May he, and they all, rest in peace.

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