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

July 9, 2012

HBO Does Gellhorn in Red

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There is no finer example of the penetration of communist ideas into the American liberal mainstream than HBO’s recent “biopic” (or “drama”: take your pick) on the “wild and tempestuous” relationship between Ernest Hemingway and lover and third wife Martha Gellhorn, whose reputation as a pioneering war correspondent has been celebrated in multiple biographies and monographs.

There is no excuse for the carelessness, cover-ups, and distortions perpetrated by the writers, directors, and actors in this highly touted movie, one that treats some of the most sensitive and controverted events in the history of the twentieth century: I refer to the Spanish Civil War and the civil war in China that, with the complicity of some American journalists, resulted in the victory of Communism in 1949. The HBO movie presents the Stalinist and Maoist views of those events, departing from the historical record that the HBO writers should have consulted, but apparently did not, or did not think to be important; most fundamentally, the communist line pits “the People” versus “Fascism,” ignoring the actual political/diplomatic dynamics of the 1930s that led to the second world war. This blog spells out some of the more egregious errors of fact in the ostensibly historical drama.

First, it was revealed in Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB, by Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Alexander Vassiliev, published by the prestigious Yale University Press in 2009 that Hemingway had been recruited by the KGB, with his control the famous Jacob Golos. (The date of October 1940 was related to me by Harvey Klehr in an email.) The book describes the surprising Hemingway recruitment on pages 152-155, but cautions that no evidence has surfaced that Hemingway delivered any intel to the Soviets. This was a bombshell to the authors, but I must say, less so to me, for Gustav Regler, purged Commissar of the 12th International Brigade, had already suggested Hemingway’s allegiance to Soviet Communists in his 1959 memoir, The Owl of Minerva:

[Regler:] 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!”

Moreover, in his play The Fifth Column (1940, but recently revived in NYC), “Dorothy Bridges” (the character obviously based on Martha Gellhorn) suggests that “Philip” (Hemingway) study “dialectics.” Gellhorn may have been, like so many of her contemporaries, a Popular Front/New Deal idealist, but until I read that line in the play, I had no idea that she might be  so well versed in Marxist-Leninist rhetoric. I now wonder if she too was something more than a fellow-traveler.

Return to the HBO film, that seems more interested in hot sex (also controversial in biographies of Gellhorn), than in the historical record. For instance, one of the more momentous events in Hemingway’s life in Spain was the ending of his friendship with the world-famous writer John Dos Passos. Dr. Jose Robles, professor of Spanish literature at Johns Hopkins University had returned to Spain to participate in the Revolution. He was famously and mysteriously executed under circumstances that remain cloudy. But Robles became desaparacedo in the HBO script, replaced by a fictional character they called Paco Zarra, a dashing fighter on horseback, carried off by the Soviet propagandist Koltsov, although Robles was killed before Hemingway arrived in Spain. (See Stephen Koch’s 2005 book, The Breaking Point,for a reconstruction of shocking events that places the Hemingway-Dos Passos friendship in proper perspective, along with endnotes that cite the latest bibliography on the subject, including material on Communist filmmaker Joris Ivens, also a character in the HBO movie, and never identified as under Comintern control.)

Moreover, the Abraham Lincoln Battalion is presented, not as communists, but as folk singers who ride along with Martha Gellhorn in a train as she enters Spain. One even carries an allusion to the Woody Guthrie placard on his guitar, “This machine kills fascists.” (Machine becomes “guitar” in the movie.) As Carl Rollyson notes in his biography of Gellhorn, she rode to Spain along with Spaniards, not with members of the (American) Lincoln Battalion. Gellhorn, who wants to be remembered as a “war correspondent” (not as a “footnote” to Hemingway,  is thus merged with fighters, and partakes of their heroism. Indeed, Hemingway is shown running into battle with his rifle, followed in the rear by his lover MG. (I have never seen evidence that Hemingway actually fought in the Spanish Civil War, though his propaganda on the Communists’ behalf is legendary.)

You won’t see any reference to the Soviet destruction of POUM or the Spanish anarchists either. That subject is taken up in detail by Burnett Bolloten in his long volume on the Spanish Civil War, but I have never seen that aspect of the conflict taken up in American television or film. (Phillip Deery has just told me of Ken Loach’s 1995 film Land and Freedom that does deal with the Anarchists and POUM. The lengthy account of the Spanish Civil War by Hugh Thomas is less sympathetic to the anarchists and generally more detailed than anything else I have read on the lead up to the war, the conflict itself, and then the aftermath.). However, Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940) does transmit a story, related by Pilar in chapter 10, of a hateful anarchist-ridden mob destroying the Church and bourgeoisie of [Ronda], and would have pleased his conservative Catholic wife Pauline, not to speak of the Soviets. This is not surprising. (I just reread the chapter, and it is harrowing. The Republican, relatively pacifistic, guerilla comrades of Robert Jordan are contrasted invidiously with the drunken and barbaric anarchists. Hemingway’s guerrillas are entirely fictional and represent his general primitivism, a common post WW1 trope.)

But perhaps the most shocking transformation in the HBO (sex film) occurs in the short section on the trip to China, where Gellhorn is to write about the civil war for Collier’s. Peter Moreira’s book Hemingway’s Spy Mission to China (2007) had a thorough, if flawed, account of that trip, and there is no doubt that Gellhorn praised Madame Chiang in her Collier’s piece, but she never visited the Roosevelts later to report that “the Communists are going to win” as the HBO film claims. Rather, writing in 1941, she repressed her dislike of the rulers of China, and Moreira took her to task for the lie (p.144). What Gellhorn did was to conform to the Soviet-FDR line, that was supporting Chiang Kai-Shek at that time. (See Whether or not they consciously did it, the HBO film is friendly to Maoism and Third World-ism in general, joining such journalist celebrities as Agnes Smedley, Edgar Snow, and Theodore White in their puffing of the Mao-Chou contingent.

In its publicity, the HBO film proclaims that Martha Gellhorn was “the greatest war correspondent” ever, a question that elides the question, what is the purpose of the war correspondent? Do they tell us the deep causes of war (a task that requires advanced historical training in diplomatic and military history, along with access to archives, some of which remain secret)? Or are they, as Hemingway bitterly accused Gellhorn, of being addicted to excitement and danger, and I would add, while displaying their bleeding hearts to a public also hooked on the sights and sounds of mass death?

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 (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 might not 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.

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