I mentioned yesterday that I had discovered a book called The Hemingway Patrols: Ernest Hemingway And His Hunt For U-Boats, by Terry Mort. I highly recommend it. The author respects Hemingway without being blind to his failings. Indeed, he seems troubled by them, in the same way I am. That’s a long way from condemnation, and it’s an attitude we don’t see enough of. The book is copyrighted 2009, published by Scribner, of course, Hemingway’s long-time publisher.
This is from the epilogue, “The Meaning Of Nothing”:
For someone who spent so much of his life in the public eye, Hemingway still seems elusive, perhaps because his public persona allows him to be so easily pigeonholed as the poster boy for macho writing, big-game hunting, deep-sea fishing, Homeric drinking and womanizing and assorted other frowned-upon behaviors. This cartoon of the man allows us to categorize and then dismiss him if we are so inclined, just as [his wife] Martha dismissed his patrols. He was partly to blame for the way he was perceived, partly to blame for the way Martha perceived him. Everyone is always partly to blame.
But the patrols are representative of the man and his many facets. They were wartime forays against an enemy, literally an attempt by a wooden boat to take on an iron-and-steel machine of war. Ironically, for such a steadfastly apolitical man, this separate war had a political dimension. He went out to confront the weapon of a malignant totalitarian system whose ravages he had witnessed firsthand in Spain; his patrols were an affirmation of his own brand of individualism, his belief in liberty. If you believe in these things, you have no choice but to assert them in order to preserve them. Too many forces are ready to step up and take them away if you do not. And as a purely practical matter, his country was at war, and although he did not love war, he knew that once you were in one, you must win it.
Far from being meaningless, the patrols of Pilar reflect the complexity of a man who is often oversimplified and dismissed as someone who merely lived an interesting and exciting life and thereby drew attention to himself….
Hemingway was obviously not alone in offering this service; he was one of millions. But that does not diminish his or anyone else’s sacrifices. One has only one’s self to offer up to the wooden God of luck. What Hemingway did for his country was nothing more or less then what other volunteers did. But what he did and he was also doing for himself. Imagining his life. Living his art. Being the Hemingway hero, in all his various phases. Thinking of him there on the flying bridge of his well loved Pilar, they are by his own choice, willing and prepared to face the risk of combat, in command and accompanied by comrades who returned the affection he felt for them, it is easy to imagine Hemingway happy.