In the early 1930s Lou and a few of his friends from Boys High in Brooklyn founded what they called the "Social Issues Club." For them it was intened to be a means to help the many people living around them that were fast becoming victims of the Great Depression--people who were suffering from a lack of medical care, chronic unemployment, and in many cases evictions forcing them into homelessness. There were no public programs to help these people. Social Security did not exist. Nor did Medicare and Medicaid or any of the other social reforms that would come later as a result of the New Deal and then the War on Poverty declared by Johnson (for a sample of one of my interviews with him go to: www.orchardwriting.com).
The only thing that existed aside from a few meager resources were people organizing together to fight for a better deal for the many people sidelined by the catestrophic economy. For Lou and his friends this also meant that it was the first time for them to put their beliefs to work and actually do some good for people. It was the chance to act on their beliefs for social justice. So they began (most of them between the ages of 15 and 19) by helping people fight evictions. They would go to the home of a family on they day they were to be evicted by city police and barracade themselves in. When the police would knock down the door they would remain seated as they were bodily thrown onto the street. Often the police beat up Lou and his friends. Then the family's belongings would be thrown onto the street and the door to their apartment boarded up with a sign warning others not to trespass.
As the above was occurring Lou and his friends were also reading about the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany and Mussolini and the fascists in Itally. They read more than most Americans of the challenges posed by these ideologies as well as the real dangers implied and explicitly stated by these fanatical leaders. And because of what they were reading and seeing they became deeply concerned by all that was happening in Europe. Further, as Jews they were not strangers to the stories of pogroms and others hostile and violent acts against Jews in Europe and Russia. They did not need much convincing when it came to the anti semetic intentions of Hitler and Mussolini.
Then Mussolini invaded Ethiopia (known as Abyssinia at the time) and bragged of the ruthlessness of the invasion, which included the bombing and attack of civilian populations in order to rain terror down on the people. Lou and his friends were horrified by the fact that not only could a modern European state commit such an act, but that the rest of the world would stand by and allow it to happen. with all that they had learned and were continuing to learn about the intentions of these leaders, it became apparent that the invasion and occupation of Ethiopia was only the beginning.
When Francisco Franco initiatied his insurrection against the democractically elected government of Spain Lou and his friends became very concerned. Then they watched as Europe and the US turned a blind eye as Hitler and Mussolini sent troops and equipment to aid Franco, which led to the targeting of civilian populations. Soon a call came out from the Spanish government for people to disobey the stated policy of their countries and come to the aid of Spain. Lou and his friends as well as 2,700 other men and women felt that they could not stand by as fascist forces attempted to turn Spain into another fascist state. They also understood that Spain was not an isolated action--it was prelude to something much larger and far more dangerous. So Lou and others traveled to Spain and volunteered to be the first Americans to fight against Hitler, which later would earn them the title of "Premature Anti-Fascist" by the US government.
Lou fought in Spain as one of the first Americans to join the International Brigades and then as a member of the American fighting group, which would come to be known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Of these 2,700 people, about 900 would die and virtually all would be wounded. Lou lost a number of friends including a number from Boy's High. I can only imagine what it must have been like for a 19 year old kid who had never really left his Brooklyn neighborhood.
When it became apparent that Franco and his fascist supporters were stronger than the Spanish government fighting with only the support of the Soviet Union (fascism was a common enemy), the internationals were asked to leave. Lou boarded a train with his compatriots and were escorted from the country by the League of Nations. They stopped briefly in a small town near the boarder with France, which just after they left was bombed with heavy civilian casualties in an attempt by fascist forces to kill Lou and the other international fighters.
Arriving in Le Havre, they departed by steamer and left for their homes in the US to heal their wounds and move on with their lives. Lou worked for some time, but in 1939 Hitler invaded Poland and WWII began. Then the US was attacked at Pearl Harbor and he tried to join the US Army. At first it was difficult for him and the surviving Lincoln Brigade vets because they had been labeled as premature anti-fascists. However, it became clear in Lou's case that his service in Spain meant he understood the weapons and tactics of Hitler and Mussolini. He fought in Europe from the landings in Normandy to the Germany's surrender. Along the way we he helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp and saw what he and his Boys High friends had feared come to reality.
After the war the McArthy period began and because Lou and his friends had associated with or at one time been members of the communist party (most left the party after seeing what Stalin had done and that it had come to be nothing more than a dictatorship. They all may have had their political leanings, but most believed a democratic society based on issues of social justice is preferred) they began to be hastled and victimized by their country. Most would have the FBI show up at their jobs, which they would subsequently lose, while others faced other forms of intimidation. Lou was no exception, but he continued to work for union issues and for many other national reforms (Medicare and Medicaid as well as civil rights and etc.)
His social activism would last his entire life, which ended earlier this year. Given all that he faced and the courage he displayed throughout I have always been impressed with him. It is his life and that of his friend Abe that I am basing my book on. If I can capture the narrative well I think it should be a good one and one that they would have been proud of.
Causes James Buchanan Supports
Expanding health care in the US, ending war as a viable tool of foreign policy, and issues related to social justice in general.