YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 29, 2013

Gellhorn: the “we are all lost” generation

MGEHWhat follows are very personal thoughts and intuitions I have about Martha Gellhorn. I have drafted a review of the HBO movie Hemingway and Gellhorn for an academic journal. I may not disclose it, so here are some of my impressions that are not in the review.  The movie has been discussed in newspapers and websites all over the world, with only two critical ones: in Vanity Fair and GQ. But neither delved into the politics of the movie. One should wonder at the capacities of movie reviewers to open up a film for critical scrutiny (by that I mean its ideological content). (The politics are described here: https://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/.)

Briefly, MG was much more interesting than the picture drawn in the silly HBO movie. She reminds me of all the Pacifica radio listeners and programmers I have ever known; i.e., she presented herself as a pacifist and the champion of the underdog; she was often despondent. What her connections might have been to the hard Left is unknowable: she was dogged, but not optimistic about the future, unlike Party members.  None of her articles on the Spanish Civil War suggests any kind of historical understanding of the differing factions in either the Loyalist side or the Franco-led Rebels. She retained a love for the Spanish “people” (they were not Reds!); she loved them as she would later love “Poles” but not Russians. That she despised “America” is clear; she appears to have believed in national character, much as today’s anti-American New Left does. HBO capitalized on the British Left’s elevation of her as a feminist heroine, to the detriment of Hemingway. He was sexist, vindictive, mendacious, and needy, while she was a liberated pioneer in journalism: up and about living her own life. In the HBO ending, she tenderly reads a letter of EH that she had kept in a drawer. This defies explanation, for she refused to discuss him with interviewers, and was enraged at the mention of his name. (She had “rage attacks” frequently, as one biographer reports.)


In 1959, she brought out a collection of earlier articles (The Face of War) with added material suggesting that we are the “all is lost” generation. Between the bomb and pollution, she saw only decline and death ahead. But as a vibrant personality, she attracted the arty celebrities of her day, Leonard Bernstein for one. She had great patter (humorous), but was, as EH said, ambitious and attracted to danger. She continued the politics of Edna Gellhorn, her uber-progressive mother (who became a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt), but was most influenced by her doctor father, hence the cleanliness fetish and her preoccupation with public health, along with the detailed obsessive descriptions of damage to bodies from war and poverty.

More: George Gellhorn, her gynecologist father, a German immigrant, (“half-Jewish”) was disappointed that she dropped out of Bryn Mawr after her third year and thought that her first novel, WHAT MAD PURSUIT (1934) was trashy. It is not surprising that she committed suicide when she was diagnosed with cancer at age 89. Earlier, she was a non-stop smoker (using it for calm?) and a heavy drinker. The movie got that right. But she put up with sex as an ineluctable male need that she must needs gratify until she met a doctor friend of Eleanor Roosevelt. Daddy! He wouldn’t leave his wife for MG. In my view, she was as neurotic as hell, a superheroine and daredevil, seeking scenes of so much fighting and danger that sometimes I think she made stuff up; other times I think she was just plucky and lucky. With all that said, I would have liked to have known her. She is ever so much more intelligent, even fascinating, than the character played by Nicole Kidman.


May 6, 2013

The New Left activist scholars

activist_scholarshipIt was once my fantasy that scholarship entailed a thorough comprehension of the field under discussion, and that recent events were the purview of journalists, not scholars (who were supposedly waiting for the opening of archives and all primary source materials before rushing into print).

But with the antiwar movement that was contemporaneous with the student strikes all over America during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the activist scholar came into her own.  I remember one such, Temma Kaplan (author of The Anarchists of Andalusia), introducing herself to a seminar at UCLA as “an activist” (or possibly as “an activist scholar”).

Assistant Professor Kaplan’s self-introduction suggested a sea change in the teaching of the humanities and social sciences. It is true that it is difficult to escape ideological biases, but Hugh Thomas’s mammoth book on The Spanish Civil War used sources from the Nationalist Right, interviewed many of the survivors, some of whom lived in Franco Spain, and was careful to footnote many accounts that might differ from his own generally moderate narrative and interpretations. (For instance, I call him a “moderate” because he blamed socialist factions for not cohering to prevent the rightist nationalist rebellion led by General Franco in July 1936 that finally prevailed over the Spanish Republic in a conflict that rocked the world. For some estimates of the HBO treatment of the Hemingway-Gellhorn marriage see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/. I saw the movie as another bow to the Popular Front that formulated interwar and postwar conflicts as ‘the People’ vs. ‘Fascism.’ ).

But with the New Left there was no such eclecticism or acknowledgements that recent events might be too polarized for a relatively objective reading, not to speak of the usual inaccessibility of government or other official documents, hoarded by interested parties or descendants protecting the reputations of their illustrious ancestors.

Alexander Saxton, my own Stalinist dissertation director, upon seeing my first draft of an introductory chapter, explicitly ordered me to delete criticisms of his ideological allies (e.g. Ellen Schrecker), and never to praise his enemies (e.g. John Dos Passos, author of the USA trilogy). Later, he also let me know that he and his [communist?] wife had met one of my chief Melville revivers and his wife (Jay Leyda and Si-Lan Chen) and liked them very much.  I pressed ahead and devoted a long chapter to Jay Leyda, an outspoken and versatile Stalinist, and after years of stubbornly sticking to primary sources (some either previously restricted, misreported, or only briefly opened) got my dissertation approved. It was a Trotskyist scholar of international fame who agreed to be my co-chair after Alex Saxton retired. (Saxton even wrote a strong letter in support of my dissertation, telling me that I was the first student for whom he had done such a favor.)

Mine is not an unfamiliar story in academe. Since I had been studying multiculturalism during the period of my dissertation research (1984-1993), and had objected to its racialist discourse in various academic forums and conferences (sometimes to the screams or taunts of tenured left professors in both public and private spaces), I discovered that David Horowitz and Peter Collier were publishing a periodical called Heterodoxy that accurately described the PC takeover of teaching. At that time, Horowitz was living in my neighborhood, and running into him with some family members, I introduced myself to him as a reader of his work, which jibed entirely with my own experience as a hounded graduate student.

Somehow word got out that Horowitz and I were allies, since he and his wife April came to my first book talk at Dutton’s bookstore in Brentwood, shortly after 9-11-2001. Not long after that, I was interrogated by two well known Marxist professors (one a sociologist, the other an art historian) whether DH was a friend of mine. I take friendship very seriously and resent interference with my choices.  I should have known that I was likely being marginalized by the academic left as at least an “unreliable” or “uncontrollable.” The final blow came when Christopher Hitchens gave a talk at the Horowitz Wednesday Morning Club in favor of the Iraq war, and numerous old friends, activist scholars and journalists, saw that I had entered the Devil’s realm. In retrospect, it was not surprising that Verso Press backed out of publishing my book on the Melville Revival (after telling people it would be published), because I refused to downplay the importance of John Milton, or to puff F. O. Matthiessen and Lewis Mumford. This was during the mid-1990s. To my sorrow, none of my once close allies, gathered when I was program director at KPFK (and had power, it seemed to them), lifted a finger to criticize Verso, which after all was publishing their work.

As an experiment (to test an old but languishing friendship), I invited one of the academics who was a close friend in the 1970s to friend me on Facebook. From what I can gather, he visited my FB page, and was appalled that I was writing about Fox News and continued to link to articles from Horowitz’s Frontpagemagazine.com, and announced that he was going to block me, but that we might still be friends, and that he welcomed a face to face discussion of our political differences (where he would have an opportunity to tell me to my face that I was now an enemy to the working class?). I responded that I had not changed; that I was still doing class analysis, and still defending the cultural freedom of every individual. Then I asked him if he had read at least part of my book. He responded that he had, but was too busy to read much of it. That did it. I thought that I understood what impelled the second wave of feminism. Here was my reasoning: he liked me before I was a scholar and had no tools to question his anti-art, anti-bourgeois cultural politics. I supposed that I was a worshipful female in his eyes. Now that I too was a scholar, I surmised that he was too burdened with committee meetings and other academic responsibilities (complained about in one of his many e-mails) to expend any effort on a book that purportedly changed Melville scholarship forever, and moreover, notwithstanding that it was mostly written from the Left (though not with any orthodoxy)! (In a subsequent email exchange, he denies that he thought any such thing.) As for my claim that my book changed Melville scholarship, I make no apologies. That is what scholars are supposed to do: find new sources and revise all previous scholarship! If they can’t do more than take other scholars  down, without providing a reconfiguration of old problems, and providing new syntheses, then they are not scholars at all, but ideologues parroting some party line. You can be a scholar, or a journalist, or a party hack, but not all three at the same time.

Join us

I have told these stories because I want my readers to know that activist scholars have designs on their students, and must be outed and opposed. These activists use academic freedom to abuse it, and to smother all dissent, even among themselves. (Ironically, before his death, my dissertation director, wrote to me with great affection and appreciation as he enclosed his last book. But then he had the soul of an artist, and every now and then, it peeped out from some chinks in the Stalinist armor. I have forgiven his erratic conduct–sometimes censorious, sometimes approving– long ago. Bottom line: Saxton allowed me to write a Melville dissertation in the history department. No English department would have allowed me to write about “a major figure.” Such erratic conduct as Saxton demonstrated ironically fit in with Melville’s own wavering between aristocrat and democrat.)

Therefore, “Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?”

March 24, 2013

The State of the blog (2)

Kidman as GellhornThis is a report to the readers of the Yankee Doodle Society/Clare Spark blog about our progress and how the readership has ebbed and flowed. But also what themes have garnered the most interest, and which have not.

I did not get serious about the blog until I had finished other academic work, sometime in mid-2009. All told, we have had 256,313 views, about half of which appear to have been visitors, as some came because of one title, then stayed to read more (WordPress is now distinguishing between visitors and views). Those reading “About Clare Spark” numbered 9,163, which I am told is a respectable number. The best year was 2012, probably because of the presidential election, and because Nicole Kidman’s performance as Martha Gellhorn drove several thousand viewers to my blog on Hemingway and Gellhorn’s supposed “spy mission” to China in 1941, partly dramatized in a HBO movie. The readership of several conservative websites were also coming to the blog in considerable numbers. I suspect that the latter were pleased to see my criticisms of Obama, but less pleased to see my constant critiques of populism across the political spectrum. (Even at KPFK, I was called an “elitist” by some young listeners, and recently one anonymous internet comment diagnosed me as “a non-coercive leftist.” For those into classification, you are on your own.)

My family and some friends are staggered when I report these numbers. I am less satisfied: there should be more comments and presumably helpful feedback. Why, I wonder? Though the internet is crowded with blogs, perhaps mine are less predictable, less easily classified or labeled as “conservative”, “liberal”, “moderate,” or “radical”, and are consequently more demanding upon the reader. Perhaps they discomfit some who want echoes, not reconfigurations of old problems and new questions. Since I started writing about Freud’s continued relevance and/or about the culture wars, where I come out as a student of the psyche and am also strongly supportive of the separation of church and state, I have seen the number of visitors diminish. (For my blogs on what is useful about Freud or about the abuse of “Freud” see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/.)

When I was first hired as Program Director of Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles, the News Director Marc Cooper stated flat out that my radicalism consisted in believing that the audience wasn’t stupid. Indeed, one of my core beliefs is that “public intellectuals” are less interested in teaching their readers or viewers to be independent analysts, than in getting paid in money and celebrity with “niche” followers. I was vindicated as PD of KPFK, for our subscriptions swelled by 20%, and I continue to be impressed by the quality and learnedness of comments I get on some blogs and on Facebook.

What themes have I found most vanguard in planning future essays?

  1. Antisemitism is still not discussed in all its manifold forms, in spite of the liberal enthusiasm for studying “prejudice” and “hate speech.” Assimilated Jews want to believe that they are safe in America by hewing to the Democratic Party, and few Americans of my generation recognized that anyone who lived through all or part of the twentieth century has suffered multiple traumas.  So if many are obsessed with Israel (pro or con), it is probably because they don’t feel safe in America, particularly those who are descended from Holocaust survivors. While we study “hate speech” we don’t study why people hate, and I am determined to get to the bottom of “misogyny” in all its forms, and particular, its intertwining with antisemitism. Is Woman the Jew of the Home?
  2. The very notion of the “individual” is under attack, whether it be in the regressive, infantilizing rhetoric of “family” that pervades the discourse of both left and right, or in the general, often well-founded, suspicion of mental health professionals.
  3. Popular culture needs much more decoding, including primitivism and death cults among youth or the military model throughout (think NCIS and its popularity). Lately, I have been studying the “degeneration” narrative that alleges that the modern world necessarily leads to the death of the planet and civilization as we have known it. This pervasive belief is dangerous to political will, and possibly affects all of us, whatever our political preferences.

I will probably continue my offensive against antidemocratic propaganda, doing my best to decode loaded language and images, while remaining detached from any particular politics. Scholarship demands that distance, though my personal feelings toward readers of my work continue to be warm and protective. I love teaching, and always have, even in a war zone.

Gellhorn ca. WW2

Gellhorn ca. WW2

December 26, 2012

Martha Gellhorn blogs

Martha Gellhorn

Martha Gellhorn

https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-essay-on-hemingway-spy-mission-to-china/ 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

September 4, 2012

Links to some blogs on feminism

Crone with fruit














https://clarespark.com/2013/06/14/father-dear-father-come-home-with-me-now/ (includes material on gender roles)





https://clarespark.com/2012/03/03/sluts-and-pigs/ (retitled Limbaugh v. Fluke)







https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/ (retitled Film noir decoded)





Hecate Crone

August 6, 2012

Gellhorn’s “blind spot” on Israel

Caroline Moorehead

[For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/06/16/the-social-history-racket/.]

According to Martha Gellhorn’s most prestigious biographer, Caroline Moorehead (a champion of “human rights”), Gellhorn, the famed war correspondent and novelist (1908-1998), was dead wrong in her enthusiasm for the Jewish state, an error that Moorehead seems fixated upon in her much lauded biography of 2003, for she does not hesitate to dilate upon her own under-researched opinions on the history of Israel and its conflict with the “Palestinians” and Israel’s neighbors.  (I have been rereading Moorehead’s biography and another feminist study of MG. It was not Moorehead, but British leftist “Rosie Boycott” who used the term “blind spot.” Moorehead does report that in time, MG came to see Israelis as “arrogant and boorish.” This was solely CM’s characterization of MG’s letter to Robert Presnell in 1967. These words not in quotation marks.)

What is perhaps most striking is that Gellhorn, who did have some Jewish ancestry, had no apparent Jewish identity until she was present at the liberation of Dachau, and was struck down by the visible presence of evil, evil of such magnitude that her prior faith in human perfectibility (inherited from her parents, especially Edna) was shot forever. Indeed, the recent HBO film (Hemingway and Gellhorn) uses archival footage of Dachau’s victims, and then affixes the face of Nicole Kidman (playing Gellhorn) upon one of the victims in the pit of corpses, suggesting that this might be some kind of awakening or turning point for MG. (In the just-issued DVD and Blue-Ray edition of the movie, this latter scene is edited out, and we see MG fleeing into the woods, instead. There will be nothing about MG’s attachment to Israel in the HBO script.)  Indeed, the Wikpedia entry on Gellhorn plays up her ancestry as German, not partly Jewish. Gellhorn herself wrote these words after visiting Gaza in 1956: “These kibbutzim are the only places I know where a daily practical effort is made to follow the teachings of Christ.” (The View From The Ground, p. 136). So much for Gellhorn’s enthusiasm for Israel (or the “half-Jewish” identity ascribed to her by the HBO movie Hemingway and Gellhorn?).

It should be noted that Moorehead has had exclusive access to Martha Gellhorn’s papers at Boston University, and hence her lengthy biography had detail and heft that was presumably denied to competing biographers. It is also true that a wandering scholar cannot go into these papers and check Moorehead’s claims for accuracy.

Now that I have finished reading this supposed tell-all biography, I do have more ammunition to complain about the HBO rendition of the Gellhorn-Hemingway marriage (the notion that MG was having great sex with Hemingway is preposterous), but important questions are raised about authors who are not scholars, but biographers soi-disant, and who use archival materials to grind their own political axes. In Moorehead’s case, we learn about matters that are only of passing relevance to those interested in the achievements of the first major female war correspondent, whose colleagues, friends, and acquaintances were among the most significant social democrats, fascists, and/or communists of her time, H. G. Wells, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Robert Capa,  Joris Ivens, Lt. General James M. Gavin, Leonard Bernstein, and Eleanor Roosevelt for just a few examples. But CM’s details do appeal to our lower instincts, for instance the reader’s voyeuristic curiosity about bad sex, affairs with married men, abortions, a rape, naked sunbathing and swimming, facelifts, friendships with other celebrities, the absence of maternal instincts, and her final exit as a suicide.

I have no doubt that Moorehead thinks of herself as a feminist, yet she trots out as many as four abortions, perhaps to undermine her subject’s credibility as a humanitarian like herself. (Moorehead wrote other biographies, for instance of Freya Stark, an Arabist, or Bertrand Russell, whose anti-Zionist views are well known.) And I wonder if Moorehead is not a Third Worlder, for she slams MG for suppressing her initial negative reaction to Chiang-Kai Shek and Madame Chiang: i.e.,  Moorehead, unlike MG,  is truly devoted to The People. (For more on this point, see my review essay https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-essay-on-hemingway-spy-mission-to-china/.)

Now Moorehead could have, had she been any kind of serious intellectual, asked about the political significance of writing about the effects of 20th century wars upon civilians, using imagistic (pictorial) language, as Gellhorn was wont to do. Is there no problem with the aestheticizing of violence, as Walter Benjamin powerfully argued? Do we not end up by focusing upon the demise of Western civilization as an aesthetic experience, distanced from the horrors described, left in despair, overwhelmed by the magnitude of mass death, and launched upon a death trip?

No less than Hollywood pictures, Gellhorn was focused on violence, and put herself in harms way with such daredevil frequency, that one must ask if her restlessness and carelessness about her own safety did not have some neurotic component.  She read thrillers throughout life, CM tells us, but what was the emotional payoff for MG? Was she not striving to live up to her high-achieving parents’ expectations, and punishing them vicariously by risking her life, over and over?

After wading through 424 pages of text, I felt that I had just read a cleverly masked hatchet job. There is much of lasting significance to learn from the life of Martha Gellhorn, but this book has left a bad taste in my mouth.

July 9, 2012

HBO Does Gellhorn in Red

[For related blogs see https://clarespark.com/2012/08/20/ernest-hemingway-carlos-baker-and-the-spanish-civil-war/, https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-essay-on-hemingway-spy-mission-to-china/, and https://clarespark.com/2012/08/06/gellhorns-blind-spot-on-israel/.]

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 https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-essay-on-hemingway-spy-mission-to-china/.) 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 16, 2012

The social history racket

 [Nothing in this blog should be taken as an attack on the writing of social history. What I object to is the abandonment of diplomatic and military history as “elitist,” a perverse populist move.]

I have not blogged the last several weeks because I have been immersed in the study of Ernest Hemingway and his relations with women. I have agreed to write a review of the widely seen HBO biopic Hemingway-Gellhorn (first broadcast May 28, 2012, starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman), and since the show elevates Martha Gellhorn above Hemingway, perhaps as some kind of feminist statement, I have been focusing on the startling arrival of the New Woman in Western culture, a development that was greeted with anguish and screams by numerous male artists, and no more insistently than in the Hemingway oeuvre. (See for example  the illustration by Edvard Munch, “Love and Pain,” widely interpreted as his “vampire” painting, unveiled in 1894.)

At the same time, I carefully studied Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War (1998). This massive history argues that it was not foreordained that Britain enter the Great War, and that it was the mishandling of the postwar economic crisis that laid the groundwork for WW2, not excessive reparations as Lord Keynes had averred in his famous Economic Consequences of the Peace. But more, Ferguson’s method is a powerful rebuke to the entire field of social history that gained legitimacy by allying itself with “the grass roots” and the suffering of “the people” victimized by the diplomatic and military elites. This nearly hegemonic move away from the “elitist” study of statesmen and their decisions, in effect, undermined any possible understanding of the causes of conflict and mass death, while pandering to a gruesome tendency of readers to get off on atrocity stories, presumably to mobilize them for either revolution or “progressive” reform. But most significantly, Ferguson reintroduced the notion of human agency, as against structural or teleological reasons alone in explaining great wars and revolutions. Things could have turned out differently, he says. Such a thought puts us on notice that we are not helpless witnesses to history.

John Collier: Lilith, 1892

When I was in graduate school, social history or cultural history were all the rage, and it was widely acknowledged that diplomatic history was tedious and passé: better to focus on the sufferings of the little people, the better to advance communist revolution, or at least progressive reform. True, we  had to rely upon court records and other non-literary sources, for common people did not always leave diaries or similar source materials, inarticulate as they were often held to be,  but that made them all the more amenable to our sympathies. What diplomatic or military history is, however, is labor intensive and demanding, for without the study of economics and finance, it is impossible to write about wars (or revolutions) at all. Not surprisingly, Niall Ferguson rapidly climbed to the top of his profession, having acquired these skills as part of his academic training,  and then applied them in books directed not only to colleagues, but to a general public.  The latter is a radical move in itself. (None of what I have written about NF implies that he is indifferent to human suffering: far from it.)

Niall Ferguson

But Ferguson is the exception. Our major historians (the ones with jobs) are too often an elevated version of the sob sister, attuned to the dreadful ways that wars affect ordinary people. Surely this was Martha Gellhorn’s strong point in her fiction and journalism. And she did it with competence and audacity, often risking her life to get to the fighting fronts where the mayhem could be seen up close and personal, and her indignation and compassion displayed.

The reason for this particular blog is to criticize the lamentable turn solely toward “compassion”  in both journalism and in academe. Are we not losing the capacity to pinpoint the causes of conflict? For instance, journalists affiliated with the Democratic Party and/or the Left are ignoring the Constitutional implications of Obama’s executive order to grant work permits to a class of young illegal aliens, a move by POTUS that is widely read by his critics to be a play for “the Hispanic vote.” Meanwhile, television news leads us to rejoice with the Latina UCLA graduate, educated at state expense, who feels a burden of anxiety magically removed. We can sing along together.

Are we more lawless than usual in 2012? Perhaps politics in America has always been corrupt, more’s the pity. Such a fine ideal, equality before the law: one set of rules for rich and poor alike. We should tell the children about it. (For more on Gellhorn’s populism see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/ernest-hemingway-and-gellhorn-in-china-1941-2/.)

March 16, 2012

Index to blogs on popular tv shows

Dick Wolf and Judith Light

I haven’t commented on all the crime shows. It is enough to say that we are to believe that good cops will eventually triumph over bad cops, and that most criminals are tracked down and punished. I.e., the State is looking out for you and me, with all the tools that modern science (including profiling) can muster. Law and Order: Criminal Intent (not analyzed here) adds a flourish: the Vincent D’Onofrio character is often dissatisfied with normal procedures, co-opts Freud, and seemingly obeys a higher (more compassionate) law.


















https://clarespark.com/2013/01/26/decoding-call-me-ishmael-and-the-following/ (Read this first)








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.


https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/ernest-hemingway-and-gellhorn-in-china-1941-2/ (Because of Nicole Kidman’s star power and sex appeal, over 3300 views of this segment alone)


https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/ernest-hemingway-and-gellhorn-in-china-1941-4/ (This segment has the Gustav Regler quote that demonstrates EH’s support of the Communists in the Spanish Civil War)

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