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 (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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