The Clare Spark Blog

December 26, 2012

Martha Gellhorn blogs

Martha Gellhorn

Martha Gellhorn My review of Peter Moreira’s well-received book on Hemingway’s supposed spy mission to China in 1941. It was part two that brought thousands to my website.)

Compare John Dos Passos’s final verdict on America’s past and future to the gloomily Red, anti-Dos Passos slant of the HBO movie: [Responding to German students as to what is admirable about USA:] “I told them they should admire the United States not for what we were but for what we might become. Selfgoverning democracy was not an established creed, but a program for growth. I reminded them that industrial society was a new thing in the world and that although we Americans had gone further than any people in spreading out its material benefits we were just beginning, amid crimes, illusions, mistakes and false starts, to get to work on how to spread out what people needed much more: the sense of belonging, the faith in human dignity, the confidence of each man in the greatness of his own soul without which life is a meaningless servitude….Faith in self-government, when all is said and done, is faith in the eventual goodness of man.” (p.508, Virginia Spencer Carr’s bio of John Dos Passos, whose USA trilogy, written in his younger years, was one of the most radical and brilliant of all the left-wing literature. After his quarrel with Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War, he gradually turned away from the Left, but his optimism and defense of the dissenting individual are the legacy of the Enlightenment.]

Hemingway and Gellhorn in NYC

Hemingway and Gellhorn in NYC


June 30, 2011

Links to review essay on Hemingway spy mission to China

 [Added 6-9-12: Hemingway was recruited by the KGB in October 1940, months before he and Gellhorn went on their “spy mission” to China in early 1941, though Harvey Klehr, co-author of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (2009) does not believe he gave them anything. It is thus crucial to read my essay in all its segments.] HBO screened a movie based on the Gellhorn-Hemingway marriage, May 28, 2012. The film stars Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen, and has been shown at the Cannes Film Festival. Part 4 has the money quote from Gustav Regler, demonstrating EH’s defense of Communist tactics in Spain, and also suggesting mental instability.  The movie, directed by Philip Kaufman, is remarkably pornographic and grossly distorts history along Stalinist/Popular Front lines, meantime making Gellhorn a Great Woman and pioneer war correspondent, while Hemingway is a slobbering idiot for much of the script. In my view, it parrots a common hot pink line on the lead up to World War 2, alleging that 1930s Communists were THE true and only antifascists.

My review of Peter Moreira’s book took eight months of focused research, went through many drafts, and was vetted by scholars. (Because of Nicole Kidman’s star power and sex appeal, over 3300 views of this segment alone) (This segment has the Gustav Regler quote that demonstrates EH’s support of the Communists in the Spanish Civil War)

Ernest Hemingway and Gellhorn in China, 1941 (4)

Cover design, T. H. White’s Thunder Out of China

[Added 6-10-12: It was revealed in 2009 that EH was recruited by the KGB in October 1940.  For my review of the HBO movie on the Hemingway-Gellhorn marriage see]

Astonishingly, Moreira waits until the end of his book to suggest that both Harry Dexter White and Lauchlin Currie were passing secret intelligence to Moscow (pp.192-193), but cannot explain how the pro-KMT articles in Collier’s and PM might have served both Soviet and U.S. interests as they were perceived by the Roosevelt administration and Moscow.  Moreira cites Barbara Tuchman’s pro-Stilwell biography. Might he agree with Stillwell’s protest to George C. Marshall (after Chiang had requested that Stilwell be relieved of his command) that Chiang had “no intention of instituting any real democratic regime of forming a united front with the Communists?”[1] Might H. D. White have sent Hemingway to report back on “difficulties” between the KMT and CCP, hoping to get damaging material that would condemn the KMT for subverting the united front (a persistent claim of the CCP), a task made urgent after the New Fourth Army incident that provoked “emotional hysteria”,[2] and might Hemingway’s critical remarks about Communists in Spain account for Lauchlin Currie’s advice not to “inflame” the situation, with the unabridged letter to Morgenthau unpublished until conservative senators investigating Communist subversion of the U.S. Treasury and State Departments excerpted the nine-volume Morgenthau diary? Or was Hemingway, notwithstanding his reservations about Communist exaggerations of their military successes, still an admirer of the discipline and organization of the Communists, quietly aiding their objectives, while appearing to be even-handed? His friend Gustav Regler, purged political commissar of the Twelfth International Brigade in Spain, certainly thought so in his memoir, The Owl of Minerva (1959), describing an outburst from a probably tipsy Hemingway:

Mexico, 1941:…Hemingway came from Cuba to see the bullfights. We had drinks at the Tampico Club. When we were out in the street again he clapped his hand on my shoulder and thrust me against the marble façade. ‘Why did you leave them?’ (He meant the Communists.)… but he would not let me go; he was in an alarming state of emotional confusion. ‘Why did you believe them in Spain? There has to be an organization, and they have one. Go back to them! Beat the slanderers in their own house!’ After a time he turned away from me and cursed the whole world. ‘The US is finished, just like France. All Nazis should be castrated. The Russians are the only ones who are doing any fighting.’ Then he came back to me. ‘What do you care about the lies they are telling about you? All that’s just chicken-shit!’ ”

In her favorable essay on Moreira’s book for the Hemingway Review, Kaimei Zheng contributes an item not found by Moreira: Renjing Yang, author of Hemingway in China, has consulted the Chinese Communist Central Archive’s Chou En-lai Chronology published in 1989, discovering that “a month after Chou En-lai met with Hemingway, Chou telegraphed Liao Cheng Zhi and Mao in Yanan from Chongqing on 16 May 1941….Chou said, “According to our conversation with Hemingway, we still have a lot of room to maneuver diplomatically. We suggest adding several people in Hong Kong to coordinate our activities, and the objectives and guidelines in Hong Kong have to be the same as in Chongqing” (Central Archive 503)…. It suggests that Hemingway’s conversation had an impact on Communist diplomacy.” [3] As presented, this nugget suggests that Hemingway saw himself as an ally to the CCP; or, alternatively, perhaps he was as willing to display his analytic capacities and connections to major players to the Communists as he was to White and Morgenthau, but we learn nothing about the sources of his (hinted) inside dope, and nothing in Moreira helps us here.  Compare this report (suggesting partisanship) with the praise heaped upon the objective Hemingway by Hollington K. Tong, Vice-Minister of Information in the Chinese government, and who does not appear in Moreira’s book, who claimed in his book Dateline:China (1950) that Hemingway saw through Communist prevarications, an observation consistent with Hemingway’s letter to Morgenthau.

I am not proposing that Hemingway was either a compliant mouthpiece for the Roosevelt administration or a duped fellow-traveler. For instance, the Hemingway lengthy letter of July 30, 1941 to Morgenthau, the centerpiece of Moreira’s book, contains his solution to the China problem, (a suggestion not included in White’s digest of Hemingway’s letter[4]). Hemingway wrote, “To keep the whole thing as simple as possible, I think we can be sure that war between the Kuomingtang [sic] and the Communists is inevitable unless the Soviet Union and the Chungking Government come to some mutual agreement which will make part of China really Soviet China with a defensible frontier which will be respected by both the Chungking Government and the Communists.” (p.204). This is a remarkable suggestion, one that would not have pleased the CCP. When asked by the OSS, “Would the Chinese Communists welcome formal separation of Communist and Kuomintang China accompanied by international recognition of a Chinese Soviet,” Chou En-Lai responded, “…the Communist Party does not want the breakup of China into separate states. It wishes to help in establishing a democratic regime throughout all China—this system would involve elections, local choice, and freedom for all parties to organize a voting electorate. The Communist Party wants no more than one-third representation in China from top to bottom. The Communist Party wants the Kuomintang to study and learn from the success of democratic procedures already established in the Northwest.”[5]

Moreover, the partitioning of China would have appalled both the Roosevelt administration and the Chinese Nationalists, looking to a unified Chinese republic as a prospective great power in the postwar United Nations, and as a democratic capitalist bulwark against either Japanese or Soviet expansion; while the Soviet Union was sending aid to Chiang Kai-shek’s forces (even after the Soviet-Japanese Pact) to forestall further Japanese incursions into the Asian land mass. Moreira writes that Hemingway committed “the classic mistake of mid-century Kremlinologists of assuming that the Soviet Union could control Mao and restrict his ambition of ruling all of China” (p.191, ignoring Hemingway’s initial proviso that the Communists “will attempt to expand their sphere of influence in China no matter what territorial limits they may accept on paper”). But Hemingway’s waffling judgment may indicate that, at rock bottom, he was out of his depth, a peacemaking “moderate” hoping against hope for compromise.  As Kenneth S. Lynn has argued, Hemingway struggled to achieve unity between the warring impulses in his personality, to the detriment of political clarity. It was a struggle that he famously lost.[6]  We are left with a mystery: how is it possible that so many biographers and Hemingway fans miss the irrational cast to his politics?

In conclusion, by framing his book as a corrective to Hemingway studies, the author masked the political message that runs throughout: that the U.S. should have vigorously opposed Chiang Kai-shek’s thieving, collaborationist, decadent, and authoritarian regime—one that, unlike the Communists, lacked a popular base–, and that his protagonists, the generally populist Hemingway and Gellhorn, erred in bowing to pressures from editors and the Roosevelt administration, hiding their true responses to personalities and dispiriting conditions encountered in February through late May, 1941. I have shown Moreira’s indebtedness to the prevalent left-liberal interpretation of U.S.-China relations during the Sino-Japanese war, a line sympathetic to the Chinese Communists who had presented themselves to the OSS as twin New Dealers, the bearers of Lincoln-style democracy and a progressive capitalist economy.  Moreira relies upon what Hans J. van de Ven calls the “overwhelming” “Stilwell-[Theodore H.] White paradigm,”[7] for instance in his identification of “the key flaw in the Allied strategy in the Asian theater—the flaw being the Kuomintang’s unwillingness to attack the Japanese. Censorship prevented American reporters from actually saying that the Nationalists wouldn’t attack….” (p. 77). But this was precisely the propaganda line of the CCP and was identified as such by Edward Dreyer, one of  Moreira’s abused sources.[8] Moreover, the author perpetuates the view that Chinese Communism developed, in both politics and ideology, independently from the directives and example of the Soviet Union. Moreira’s scholarly apparatus of endnotes and bibliography are outdated, incorrectly transmitted, skimpy or absent where crucial, and grossly inadequate in tackling the subject at hand. The faults and biases of this book deserve exposure because it has been favorably received, notwithstanding its failure to engage previously hidden archival materials from China and the Soviet Union, revealed for example in the work of Michael M. Sheng, Niu Jun, Dieter Heinzig, Jung Chang, Jon Halliday,  and many others.[9] Moreira’s book is emblematic of a troubling pattern of partisan histories written by non-specialists for educated audiences.


[1] Stillwell to Marshall, 26 Sept. 1944, U.S. Relations With China, p.68, quoted in Kubek, p.217.

[2] “The…incident drew a line of emotional hysteria across all future relations of government and Communists.” Theodore H. White and Annalee Jacoby, Thunder Out of China (N.Y.: William Sloane, 1946): 76.

[3] Kaimei Zheng, review of Moreira, p.120, Hemingway Review, vol. 26, No.1 Fall 2006, 115-121.

[4] Morgenthau Diary (China): 457. See item 6. White includes Hemingway’s statement about “an agreement between Generalissimo’s Government and Soviet Union [to settle] definite limits to the territories the Communists are to occupy,” but omits the next sentence that warns of Communist expansionism, regardless of paper promises (458).

[5] Morgenthau Diary(China), 879. This was not a direct quote, but a synopsis taken from the notes of an anonymous interviewer.

[6] Kenneth S. Lynn, Hemingway (N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1987):593. See also Stephen Koch, The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and the Murder of Jose Robles (N.Y.: Counterpoint, 2005): esp. 37-38, 171, 211, 250.  In a review of both Koch and Moreira for The Spectator, August 19, 2006, Caroline Moorehead, the only biographer of Martha Gellhorn with access to her papers, mostly panned Koch’s depiction of Hemingway, and was supportive of Moreira.

[7] Hans J. van de Ven, War and Nationalism in China 1935-1945 (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003): 7. Ironically, Theodore White disowned his younger self in a letter to a conference on reportage from China, held at the Nieman  Center at Harvard: “We were all very young men, ignorant men, unskilled men. China was a mystery to all of us as it remains to this day a mystery to the most learned scholars. We never knew who was doing what to whom and why; we could not penetrate Chinese politics. We lived on the slope of a volcano; we could see it steaming, record an eruption now and then, knew the landscape was heaving, and all of us sensed that this volcano would blow its top.” Nonetheless, White (writing in the third person) named Chou En-Lai as one of his heroes: “Whatever the entries on the balance of violence, his net judgment was that Chou En-Lai was a man who had done more good than harm.” See In Search of History (N.Y.: Harper & Row, 1978): 528.

[8] This allegation is directly contradicted by one of Moreira’s sources, Edward L. Dreyer, China At War, 1901-1949 (N.Y.: Longman, 1995): 248 “…the CCP propaganda line that the KMT did not have its heart in the war.”

[9] Michael M. Sheng, Battling Western Imperialism: Mao, Stalin, and the United States (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997). See also Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story (N.Y.: Knopf, 2005).

Ernest Hemingway and Gellhorn in China, 1941 (3)

Hemingway and Fidel Castro

[Added 6-10-12: It was revealed in 2010 that EH was recruited to the KGB in October 1940. Details on part one. Keep this in mind as you read this segment and the others. For a hint regarding EH’s attraction to anything smacking of Spanish culture, see For my review of the HBO movie on the Hemingway-Gellhorn marriage, see]

Like William J. Lederer, the admiring friend and student of Hemingway in China, Moreira wants to be read as humble ally of “the grass roots” against “corrupt officials”: he is no communist (p.134). This populist-progressive slant may follow the analysis of historians such as Michael Schaller and R. Bruce Craig arguing that misled by the China Lobby, liberal anticommunists fatally misperceived Third World nationalism as products of a global communist conspiracy masterminded by the Soviet Union; they should have understood such nationalist movements as rational sociopolitical responses to intolerable local conditions. Conservative critics of Roosevelt-style internationalism [1]  have consistently and mistakenly opposed anti-imperialist movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. How could the Roosevelt administration have supported the Nationalists? Were they unaware of Chiang’s dubious political support in a collaborationist and exploitative bourgeoisie? (Moreira: pp.115, 132-33)  This cosmic error, incessantly pushed by crypto-fascist militaristic crusades, would set the pattern for future disastrous U.S. interventions in the Third World.  Though he knew almost nothing about the Far East prior to this trip, Hemingway’s “probing” insights and “geopolitical” analysis, made visible in For Whom The Bell Tolls, “the greatest political novel in American literature,” (19, 133) should have been, but were not, commandeered for world peace through balance of power politics[2] [Schaller] and integrated capitalist-socialist economic systems achieved through free trade. [Craig, p.148].[3]

Moreira complains that Gellhorn knowingly sold out (p.144) to powerful others in her favorable reporting on Chiang Kai-shek and Madame Chiang in her Collier’s pieces; unlike Chou or Theodore H. White, similarly agitated by the Russian-Soviet pact of April 14, 1941 that might impel Nationalist capitulation to the Japanese and attack on the Communists holding Yenan province (pp.135-136), Gellhorn echoed pro-Chiang puffery by Henry Luce (p.138). With equal vehemence, the author faults Hemingway for lazily swallowing the Nationalist line served up by the manipulative Chiangs: Hemingway, suspicious of Communist propaganda in Spain, was overly impressed by Chiang’s claims to be fighting the Japanese (pp.130-131), a claim that Moreira had gone to great lengths to discredit, especially in his incensed description of a “mock” or “fake” battle staged by cunning Nationalists for the benefit of visitors known to be “foreign dignitaries” close to Roosevelt (Chapter 7). However, Gellhorn’s article, reprinted in The Face of War, only praises the “maneuver” “put on …for our benefit” at “the front [that] was the most restful place in China.” “These soldiers moved with the sureness and purpose of much experience and good training,” ending her piece with “…in the long run, I’d hate to be Japanese.” How then to explain this photograph caption in Moreira? “Hemingway and Gellhorn spent months traveling to cover fighting with the Japanese in China. They were shocked and thoroughly dismayed when they finally witnessed these Chinese troops marching off to a mock battle.”

This is an inexcusable distortion of Gellhorn’s piece, but Moreira must do it to support his thesis, reiterated throughout: Publicizing their insights to a broad readership, Hemingway and Gellhorn could have inflicted damage to the Nationalist regime that was hoarding “hundreds of millions” of American dollars (to destroy the true antifascists–the Communists?) while refusing to attack the Japanese invaders (91, a judgment contradicted in the description of the Chengtu airfield building project, chapter 9). Sadly, “the articles Hemingway and Gellhorn eventually published, in some small way, contributed to the popular support in America for the fascist Chiang regime, which increased the pressure on White and Morgenthau to send aid to China. Finally, far from battling fascism in her articles, Gellhorn became the stooge for a pair of right-wing dictators” (referring to Chiang and Madame Chiang, p.192).

Moreira is a financial journalist, hence it is surprising that he devotes a single paragraph to the inflation that brought the Nationalists down, making the unsupported claims that H. H. Kung, Minister of Finance, “denied that there was any inflation” and that “rigid exchange controls” benefited “Chiang and his family to the detriment of U.S. taxpayers.” (p.106) [4] Moreira cites Jonathan D. Spence and David Rees, but the pages given for Rees quote Arthur N. Young, who, elsewhere, blamed the imposition of exchange controls on the U.S. Treasury under the leadership of Harry Dexter White,[5] while the pages on inflation in Spence’s In Search of Modern China mention neither H. H. Kung nor embezzlement by the Chiang family.[6] A similar unsourced judgment appears later: Complaining about Hemingway’s PM article “Aid to China,” Moreira states, “…Chiang hoarded the materiel and money he got from the Americans and used it to fight the Chinese Communists rather than using it to attack the Japanese” (p.190). Moreira never states that modernizing social and political advances were reversed or stymied by Japanese aggression. The KMT was far from completing the political reunification of China, a unification that would not be tolerated by the CCP, unless it was under their sole control, though that was not the impression they gave to American interviewers from the OSS in 1942, and published in Morgenthau Diary (China): 870-879.

The author is similarly confused about the “united front,” the ostensible object of Roosevelt’s curiosity. The intricate relations between Soviet Leninists and the CCP are either invisible or unspecified, while the concept of a united front comes and goes.  Referring to the career of Chou as he returns to China from Europe (Chou was “the great statesman of the Chinese Communists, admired by foreign diplomats and adored by the Chinese people”), Moreira writes, “In 1924 [there was] “the period of cooperation between the Communists and Kuomintang” (pp.129, 128, my emph.).  The only impetus to a “united front” appears as a strategy to avoid exacerbating the “feud” (pp.77,132); a strategy insisted upon only by Americans (i.e., Lauchlin Currie acting on behalf of the Roosevelt administration, warning Hemingway not to make trouble), not Leninist protocols as mediated by Soviet national interests, however much they were occasionally resisted by Mao’s ultra-leftism.[7] The point is that the pressure was on, and Hemingway could not have been unaware of Soviet designs. Yet Moreira condemns Hemingway’s silence in the PM articles regarding influential “peace groups” (Chiang-supporting wealthy collaborationists with the Japanese) he learned about in Chungking (132): “What Hemingway failed to appreciate was that Chiang got his money—both for his army and his family—from two sources: the Soviets, who would never have tolerated an overt anti-Communist offensive; and the Americans, who were insisting upon a united front against Japan.” Actually, the USSR did tolerate an anti-Communist offensive: they did not cut off aid at the time of the New Fourth Army Incident, and Moscow did not send military aid to the relatively weak CCP until 1945. [8] (For part four of this review of Peter Moreira’s book see


[1] R. Bruce Craig, Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter White Spy Case (Lawrence, Kansas: UP ofKansas, 2004): 136.

[2] Michael Schaller, The United States and China in the Twentieth Century (N.Y.: Oxford UP, 1979):193.

[3] I am synthesizing Moreira, Craig, and Schaller here. See Michael Schaller, The U.S. Crusade in China, 1938-1945 (N.Y.: Columbia UP, 1979); 141 and passim.

[4] Kung’s remark was possibly taken from Theodore H. White, In Search of History, p.163. That the economy may have been deliberately undermined by Chi Ch’ao-ting and Communist-leaning Treasury Department officials is suggested in Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh, The Amerasia Spy Case (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1996):159.

[5] Young’s testimony to the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, July 13, 1956, is quoted extensively in Anthony Kubek, How The Far East Was Lost (N.Y.: Twin Circle Publishing, 1972): 179-181. Young was defending free markets against statist regulation. I have found a mention of rumored Chiang family benefits from inflation in David Rees, Harry Dexter White: A Study in Paradox (N.Y.: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1973): 161, but Rees also quotes Herbert Feis: “the evidence of that was evanescent.”

[6] Moreira cites the first edition of Spence, In Search of Modern China (1990). The second edition discusses the sources of “the economic crisis” of 1945 to “the muddle and graft involved in the return of Japanese and puppet businesses to their previous owners; widespread unemployment compounded the cutting back of defense industries and the demobilization of many soldiers; the complexities of redeeming puppet government currencies; speculation based on the regional variations of currency values; and the additional problem of the new currency introduced by Chiang in Manchuria.” (474). Although he is writing from the left and is not friendly to the Nationalists, I have found nothing to support Moreira’s citation of his book.

[7]See Niu Jun, “The Origins of the Sino-Soviet Alliance,” in Brothers in Arms , ed. Odd Arne Westad (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1998): 47-89. Also, Dieter Heinzig, The Soviet Union and Communist China (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2004): Chapter 1. On shifting relations between Moscow and CCP, see 4-28; pressure from USSR to accept the united front, 3-17. Heinzig notes two instances of Soviets directly aiding the CCP (militarily), one of which failed. Michael Sheng’s Battling Western Imperialism, goes much farther in describing the influence of the Soviet Union on the CCP.

[8] See Sergei N. Goncharov, John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai, Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1993):14.  Mostly Japanese equipment was transferred to the CCP, sufficient to arm 600,000 fighters.

Ernest Hemingway and Gellhorn in China, 1941 (2)

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Gellhorn and spouse on honeymoon

[Added 6-10-12: Hemingway was recruited to the KGB in October 1940 (his control was Jacob Golos); it is not yet known if he gave them anything; I think that he was more populist than Red, and would be amazed if he ever submitted to Moscow. Keep that in mind as you read these segments and see part one for details. Also, if you don’t read the introduction (part one), you won’t have a clue as to what you are reading in other segments. Added 6-15-12: for my views of Gellhorn’s achievements see Her views were strongly progressive.  No wonder the British Leftists took her up in her old age, while rejecting her partisanship on behalf of Israel. (See For another blog on celebrated primitivists, see For my review of the HBO movie on her life with Hemingway see  For all my blogs on Gellhorn and/or Hemingway, see]

Martha Gellhorn gets the same rough treatment. In contrast to some recent feminist publications on behalf of Gellhorn’s daredevil achievements as one of the premier war correspondents of the twentieth century,[1] Moreira depicts Gellhorn’s political naiveté and opportunism in “toadying” to the “fascist dictatorship” of Chiang Kai-shek and his besotted generals, the latter indifferent to suffering soldiers (pp. xvii, 75-76, 99). Hemingway’s reportorial objectivity is lauded as a result of stoic adjustment to filth, vermin, and the repulsive effluents of lower-class Chinese bodies: the manly, modern Hemingway appreciates cultural differences (p.98). Though her heart bleeds for the impoverished Chinese, as for underdogs in general (pp.9, 43, 62, 66), Martha is graceless under pressure, indulging a “fetish”  or “cleanliness addiction” that Moreira  attributes to irreligion, a tendency that Hemingway was forced to “keep…in check”: “Despite her adventures in backward places, Gellhorn was obsessed with cleanliness. Being an atheist, she placed it well above godliness” (pp. 74, 196). Repeating an anecdote from Carlos Baker, Moreira is particularly brutal when he writes about Gellhorn’s shocked response to conditions in Hong Kong among the poor: “Gellhorn…had a fit when she caught up with Hemingway again….Hemingway responded calmly, ‘The trouble with you, M., is you think everyone is exactly like you….If it was as bad as you think, they’d kill themselves instead of having more babies and setting off firecrackers’” (p.62). Nonetheless, the author relies heavily upon neo-missionary Gellhorn’s published articles for Collier’s (mid-1941), and Travels With Myself And Another (1978) to fill out his book, almost to the point of plagiarism.

Moreira says he is telling the story of a botched “honeymoon” that presaged the doom of Hemingway’s third marriage (pp. 34, 197). The relentlessly gross details of the newlyweds’ adventures and mishaps in a war-torn region should not be dismissed simply as voyeurism irrelevant to cold war studies, for the relatively jolly early chapters build toward a tendentious political argument, shared with other “progressive” internationalists:  The political Right (i.e., the Chiang gang) is heartless. Moreira drives home the contrast between selfish Chinese Nationalists and his compassionate egalitarian visitors from America: “…Hemingway’s patience with standing in the cold winter rain and paying tribute to these boys [at “the Canton front”]…showed a side of his character that is often overlooked. Though brash and self-centered, Hemingway was frequently touched by the plight of the common people, whether they were his Cuban fishing buddies, refugees from the Spanish Civil War, or the American Indians he knew as a boy in Michigan.” (p.86)

For Moreira, antifascist democracy is a quality of the heart, though, oddly, one guided by statist reforms that necessarily precede political democracy. After listing Gellhorn’s recommendation for improved material conditions in The Face of War (1959), Moreira writes, “It might have reassured her that less than fifty years after she had laid out this plan, rather than the century she envisaged, virtually all of these measures [public health, education, government-issued birth control pills, increased rice production] had been implemented in China” (p.197). Remarkably, Moreira does not mention the cost in human lives imposed by Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and the Cultural Revolution, where it is estimated that thirty to fifty million lives were lost, directly attributable to those policies. Moreover, he is not amazed that Gellhorn was silent in the updated Face of War (1986) regarding intellectual censorship and material conditions in China under the Communist regime. [2]

Moreira is frustrated that he could only partly recruit Hemingway and Gellhorn to his own mission: “Though Hemingway was greatly impressed by Chou the man, he accepted little of what the diplomat told him. He kept Chou’s notes [on the New Fourth Army incident] but was swayed more—and history has proven this was an error in judgment—by the Kuomintang officials he met (pp.130-131).” Moreira clearly believes that the Roosevelt administration and its meddling Department of the Treasury were, in 1941, backing the wrong horse. (Morgenthau had annexed State Department turf to fight European fascism, perhaps because he is “a Jew” p.17.) Chinese Nationalists are presented as fascists and thugs throughout, echoing the CCP line and White and Jacoby’s Thunder Out of China (1946). By contrast, Chinese Communists are portrayed solely as victims of “the Kuomintang pogrom” of 1926-27 and other atrocities (pp. 129-130) including the New Fourth Route Army incident of January 7-13, 1941, in which the Nationalists “ambushed” mostly compliant Communist allies.[3]  Moreira sets the scene leading to the Hemingway-Gellhorn interview with Chou En-Lai to further this martyrology.[4] Notwithstanding the presence of a few “window-dressing” Communists permitted to surface so that journalists would transmit the impression of a working anti-Japanese united front, Chou was underground, hiding from the Nationalists in the hills of Chungking (chapter 10, p.135). The reader may infer that such leaders as Chou, the dazzling object of non-communist Gellhorn’s secret admiration and even lust (p.129), were amenable to friendly relations with the West—had the democracies lived up to their vaunted antifascism. Opposing the Kuomintang line that the CCP were “allies” of the Soviet Union (p.136), Moreira writes, “Hemingway and most other western observers were unaware of the tensions between the Soviets and Chinese Communists that would persist for decades” (pp.120-121).  The author ignores both CCP resistance and acquiescence to orders from Moscow to maintain the united front, while preparing the reader to recognize the relative independence of the CCP from Soviet direction.[5] Thousands of viewers have seen this blog by now, but it is incomprehensible without reading the links and other segments, but especially this one:


[1] See Sandra Whipple Spanier, “Rivalry, Romance, and War Reporters: Martha Gellhorn’s Love Goes to Press and the Collier’s Files,” in Hemingway and Women; Female Critics and the Female Voice, ed. Lawrence R. Broer and Gloria Holland (Tuscaloosa: U. of Alabama P., 2002): 256-275. In an email to me, 3/24/07,  Professor Spanier writes, “…Martha Gellhorn was one of the most dedicated, observant, perceptive, and articulate war correspondents of the 20th century.  She was irrepressibly passionate about telling the truth as she saw it, considering it her solemn moral obligation to bear truthful witness to history, even if only for the integrity of ‘the record.’ ”

[2] See Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War (London: Virago Press, 1986): 73-74. In the introduction to her republished article in Colliers, March 1941, Gellhorn blames herself for falling victim to the “hampering hospitality” of the Chiangs, then outlines the material preconditions for “democracy,” which she did not expect to see in her lifetime.

[3] Compare to Michael M. Sheng, Battling Western Imperialism, pp. 48-49. Mao saw no value in the united front, and was defying Moscow. Moreira cites Edward L. Dreyer and Jonathan D. Spence for this example of Nationalist duplicity and willingness to violate the united front. But Spence’s account suggests that the New Fourth Army command might have been “dilatory in carrying out their orders [to move North]—and possibly not intending to do so….” In The Search for Modern China (N.Y.: Norton, second edition 1999):440. In his China at War, 1901-1949 (N.Y.: Longman, 1995), Dreyer does imply an “ambush” (256) but he also notes, “…it needs to be repeated that much of the agitation for a United Front against Japan after 1931 was orchestrated by Chiang’s enemies for their own political purposes, and that Chiang had succeeded in his campaigns against the rival warlords and was on the verge of destroying the Chinese communists when Chang Husueh-laing betrayed him at Sian in 1936 (365).” Compare to Theodore H. White’s unattributed source “a university professor, not a Communist,” revealing the New Fourth Army incident as a horrendous atrocity committed by the KMT in Thunder Out of China, p.76.

[4] For terror and repression in the CCP faction see Jean-Louis Margolin, “China: A Long March into Night,” in The Black Book of Communism, transl. Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1999): esp. 470-476.

[5] Compare to Spence in his review of The Unknown Mao, noting “the Comintern-ordered United Front,” and “the dawning of the Sino-Soviet rift after 1956,” in “Portrait of a Monster,” New York Review of Books, Vol.52, #17, Nov.3, 2005. Citing Spence, Search for Modern China, (first ed.), Moreira does mention on p.8 the U.S. and the Soviet “insistence” that the factions “cooperate in driving out the Japanese” and “sporadic fighting” between them but does not chronicle shifts in the (here unnamed) united front, nor refer the reader to the abundant recent scholarship.Rather than describing “tensions,” Michael M. Sheng describes “Maoist dualism,” elaborating this “double-sided identity” in his introduction, pp11-12, and throughout his book.

Ernest Hemingway and Gellhorn in China, 1941 (1)

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Cover design for Peter Moreira’s book

Here is my Fourth of July present to my readers, a detailed analysis of a popular partisan book in four parts. The cast of characters: Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, Harry Dexter White, Lauchlin Currie, Chiang Kai-shek, Chou En-lai, Mao Tse-tung, FDR, Henry Morgenthau, Theodore H. White, Gustav Regler, and numerous scholars on the relations between the Kuomintang, the Communist Party in  China, and the U.S. in early 1941. Each installment has endnotes, with full scholarly apparatus. It starts with my contention that books written for a popular audience deserve scholarly scrutiny, for this particular account of two famous newlyweds is deeply flawed, though it has been favorably reviewed by the left-liberal press and the Hemingway Society. Since this review was posted here, it has been revealed that Hemingway was recruited by the KGB in October 1940, with his control Jacob Golos. Scholars say he never gave them anything, however. But the left-liberal, soft-on-communism line advanced by Theodore White and Edgar Snow was repeated in the biopic screened by HBO, May 28, 2012, and it follows the liberal anticommunist line on the wars of the 20th century to a “T.” Which is to say that it is soft on communism, while being mildly critical.

Peter Moreira. Hemingway On The China Front: His WWII Spy Mission With Martha Gellhorn.Dulles,Virginia: Potomac Books, 2006. 244 pp.  $26.95.

Academic scholars in Cold War studies and Sinology will not be interested in this book, nor are they Moreira’s target audience. He takes aim, rather, at Hemingway readers, who may be as naïvely confident in their political opinions as Hemingway himself, and to date, the work has been well received in left-wing newspapers and by some Hemingway scholars. In other words, lay readers are fed a strong dose of Maoist  propaganda with no guidance as to its duplicities or to the gullibility of the newspaper men who helped sanitize the image of Chinese Communism during the critical period of the early to mid-1940s. It is my view that academics should engage and correct popular books that ignore archival discoveries, particularly when, as is the case of the book under review, they are pseudo-scholarly polemics that gloss over the crimes of Communist regimes.  It is customary that academic specialists write primarily to each other, reconfiguring accepted narratives when new sources become available. Insofar as diplomatic historians ignore the errors saturating popular culture, however, misguided foreign policy will win the support of the electorate as a consequence. Diplomatic historians would do well to correct such errors, addressing non-academics, for  the public opinion that ultimately influences foreign policy stands in desperate need of acquaintance with recent research that is revising our understanding of the wars of the twentieth century.  In the detailed review that follows, I attempt to drive that point home.

Moreira begins by faulting previous Ernest Hemingway biographers for ignoring the moment that propelled this newcomer to “espionage” and four subsequent years as “a government operative” (xiv, xvi). He further promises that the “spy mission,” undertaken while Martha Gellhorn, his newlywed third wife, was writing a series on wartime China for Collier’s, will deliver a spicy and colorfully populated travel narrative for general readers, taking them to Hawaii, Hong Kong, southern China, Chungking, Chengtu, Burma, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies.  The assignment was initiated by direct conversation between Ernest Hemingway and “spymaster” Harry Dexter White, “right-hand man to U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau” (pp.16, 19, 65). Buttressing this claim, the caption to White’s photograph states that he “launched Hemingway’s career as a government operative when he asked the writer to spy for the U.S. treasury in China.” The secret agent was to assess the relations between Chinese Nationalists and Chinese Communists, and also to study “transportation in China and along the Burma Road” (p.19). But Hemingway’s six-page letter to Morgenthau, July 30, 1941, simply states, “When I left for China Mr. White asked me to look into the Kuomingtang-Communist [sic] difficulties and try to find out any information which could possibly be of interest to you.”  What follows, Hemingway continues, is “a short summary of what I find at this date to be true, after studying the problem for some three months in China.” Readers may wonder if his conclusions could not have been duplicated by Chinese-speaking U.S. foreign service officers, journalists, diplomats, businessmen or other observers already in the region—and to what extent, if any, they differed from Communist-generated propaganda. Moreira does not show us hitherto suppressed contents of secret documents or the confidences of elusive leaders or other inaccessible informants; rather his prize archival specimen was previously published in the Morgenthau Diary (China) in 1965; moreover the letter’s contents were subsequently summarized by John Morton Blum (1967) and David Rees (1973).[1] Rees reports interactions between Hemingway and White and notes that “Back in the United States, Hemingway had then reported to the Office of Naval Intelligence,” but does not label the “journey to war” in late January 1941 as spying or espionage. Still, Moreira claims a consensus by major scholars that Hemingway was spying for the government, though he does not quote them. Only one of the literary scholars he mentions, Michael Reynolds, wrote briefly that “through Martha’s connections at the White House, they were asked to observe closely the politics of the China war.”  Reynolds refers to “gather[ing] intelligence” and a “somewhat clandestine interview with Chou En-lai.”[2]

Moreira mentions two encounters with Lauchlin Currie (pp.40, 52), identified first as “White House Economist,” (p. 40), later as a possible Soviet agent (p.193) noting that Currie had met with both Chiang and Chou,[3] and, relying solely on the Hemingway letter to Morgenthau of July 30, 1941, that Currie advised Hemingway not to “inflame tensions between the Communists and the Kuomintang” in his future reportage (p. 40).  Moreira does not relate the contents of Currie’s report  to Roosevelt of March 15, 1941, the distillation of his Chinese-funded trip to study inflation, a trip that partly overlapped with Hemingway’s but was more intensive, focused, and less marked by banquets and drinking contests. For instance, Currie wrote that “I was assured by many that I was given access to material never before made available to a foreigner.” His report was more optimistic than Hemingway’s letter with respect to avoidance of civil war, and only partly resembles Moreira’s polemic as Currie enumerated the deficiencies of the Chinese government (e.g., repression of dissent, a chaotic budget) that required reforms in order to move from a “military dictatorship” to “a truly democratic state.” Compare these details with Moreira’s archival find from the Roosevelt Library: “[Currie] carried with him a letter from Morgenthau to Finance Minister H. H. Kung reaffirming Morgenthau’s support for China and applauding the “splendid unity” that China had achieved under dire circumstances” (p. 40). By ignoring the contents of the Currie report, Moreira implies that the Roosevelt administration, particularly Morgenthau and his associates at the Department of the Treasury, were clueless about KMT deficiencies. Indeed, the caption to a photograph of Morgenthau states that he “was eager to receive Hemingway’s intelligence on China and on the ongoing hostilities between the Kuomintang and Communists.”

The Currie report to FDR, then, diverges from Moreira’s assessments of the Nationalists: though critical, Currie ends with recommendations for enhanced military aid (without which no future offensive against the Japanese would be possible), a commitment to postwar reconstruction, and a plea for sympathetic “publicity,” taking advantage of Chiang’s respect for FDR: “One of the most effective ways of encouraging China and deterring Japan would be to go out of our way in giving evidences of friendship, close collaboration and admiration for China. This can be done both overtly and through “inspired” stories coming out of Washington.” [4]   If there is a spy mission or “espionage” (xvii) here, it may be the muckraking project of the author, for the early chapters cater to the vogue for salacious peeps into the private lives of celebrities or for suspenseful reality television treating survival in primitive locales—a game that Hemingway initially wins until he wilts in Burma from the weather, alcohol and depression.

[1]See John Morton Blum, From The Morgenthau Diaries: Years of Urgency 1938-1941 (Boston:Houghton Mifflin, 1967): 381. Blum does not mention the suggestion of partition. Blum’s remarks preceding summary of the letter would have undermined Moreira’s insistence that the Roosevelt administration needed correction by Hemingway in their support of the “weak, corrupt, and cynical [Chinese government], threatened by the apathy of most of its subjects, the arms of the Japanese puppet regime in Nanking, and the hostility of the communist camp….But…the sorry government of Chiang Kai-shek was the only government in China with which the United States could work, the only government that represented Chinese sovereignty and independence.” Also see David Rees, Harry Dexter White: A Study in Paradox (N.Y.: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1973): 118-119. Rees describes EH as “an agent extraordinary to report to the Treasury.”

[2] See Michael Reynolds, Hemingway: The Final Years (N.Y.: Norton, 1999): 38, 39. I have not found references to spying in either Carlos Baker or Jeffrey Meyers, authors cited by Moreira as agreeing that there was a spy mission.

[3] See Michael M. Sheng, Battling Western Imperialism, for an account of the Currie-Chou En-Lai meeting, Feb.14, 1941, p.69. “…[Chou’s] intention to use the Americans to check the GMD could not be more obvious.” Chou blamed the KMT for inciting civil war, hence “the war of resistance would fail, and the Japanese would head toward the south to fight the Anglo-American force there.”

[4] See Currie to Roosevelt, March 15, 1941, Foreign Relations of the U.S., The Far East, Vol. IV (1941): 81-95.   On the ongoing desire for good relations with China, despite Chiang’s shortcomings see Currie to Eleanor Roosevelt, September 23, 1942, “With reference to your enquiry concerning our attitude toward the new Chinese Ambassador, I can only say that my own attitude is, at a time like this, to cooperate as closely as possible with all Chinese officials, whoever they may be. Almost all important Chinese officials are what we would call reactionary and many of them are or have been at one time or another corrupt. They are, however, our allies, and I have enormous faith in the potentialities of the Chinese people themselves in the post-war period. In the present circumstances, therefore, I feel that better publicity for Ambassador Wei means better publicity for China and the United Nations.” Thanks to Roger Sandilands for this unpublished letter.

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