Papa Hemingway and the revolution in Cuba

I watched a trailer for “Papa Hemingway in Cuba” and I see it is apparently about his last year there, when the complications of revolution overcame the life he had built there. I get the sense that the young American reporter was with him when he dumped ammunition and guns overboard for fear of being caught with them.

This is tremendously exciting for me, because it makes me think maybe the stuff I got from Papa a few years ago on his quiet revolutionary activities will be coming out into the open.

A long excerpt from my book Afterlife Conversations with Hemingway, published in 2012:

EH: Yes. The more you know, the more you can be told. My politics, for instance. Do you think Mary was burning personal correspondence only so it wouldn’t be published because I didn’t want it published? No. A lot of it was dangerous.

F: Dangerous to her? To your reputation?

EH: To many people I had worked with who were not all protected by death or distance.

F: You’re talking revolutionary politics.

EH: 20 years of it. And some of it, published in Cold War times, would have been very damaging, though if it were to come to light now it would reflect to my credit. We couldn’t very well hope to stash it secretly away for 50 years until the time should be right.

F: I’m getting the same nuances as when we discussed the Cuban and the infantry scouting episodes of the war.

EH: I was by profession a writer. You don’t see me doing anything amateur in regards to my profession. Even things like doing my own negotiating that may look amateur, I had my reasons for. You understand what I am saying? I was a professional, in discipline, in knowledge, in the business aspects of it, in weighing the markets, in considering what I was doing against what others have done or were doing. How many things can you be professional at? You can try to bring a professional’s attitude, but can’t hope to have a specialized knowledge that only a professional learns over a lifetime. I wasn’t quite a professional fisherman, certainly not a professional hunter. Fishing and shooting are not the same thing as having all the background knowledge and skills of professionals. I was a good boxer, to: that doesn’t mean I could have gone into the ring as a professional.

All that is background to say this: At revolutions, I was an amateur and couldn’t become a professional. Do you see Castro writing classic novels, or playing orchestral level violin, or — oh, anything? To become a revolutionary as like becoming a soldier. You could be a volunteer, and that’s one thing. To be a professional is another.
So, politics. The same subject, you see. I knew a lot of background, I knew a lot of people, I could see a lot of what was wrong and knew some of why it was wrong. I knew many of the players, good and bad. I knew some of the hidden springs. Still, I was an amateur, subject to an amateur’s misjudgments.

F: If I hear you right you are saying Mary burned a lot of evidence of misjudgments that could have gotten you into a lot of trouble, post-facto.

EH: Well, let’s be careful, here. You are going to have to bring your discernment to another level now, because what you’re getting is now a mixture of my input, your reading, your thinking, other peoples second- and third-hand reports, and it makes it on the one hand richer and on the other hand more susceptible to distortion. What you’ve learned about Hemingway has given you a great store of referents. But maybe it risks hardening the picture so it is harder for me to provide the unexpected.

F: I can see the problem. But seeing it isn’t the same as overcoming it. I’ll try.

EH: If I was drawn to the left in the 1930s, it was in reaction to what I could see happening. Not merely in terms of fascism but of Wall Street. You yourself have seen how I was lured into conspiring against those bastards — that’s what it amounts to — for a while, before I moved back to a more neutral or let’s say a less naïve position. You’re always in danger of forgetting — as Norberto Fuentes forgets, or doesn’t mention — that at the same time we were faced with Hitler, there was Stalin with his show trials killing off the old Bolsheviks, clamping down the entire country under the great terror, shooting some of his best generals like Tukhachevsky.

Now, Churchill and Roosevelt weren’t troubled about dealing with Stalin in the war years. They did it out of calculation. They needed those Russian soldiers! And if Roosevelt projected New Deal over Soviet agriculture, that made it easier to swallow, but he sure needed those soldiers, and to the very end he and Churchill were worried that Russia would sign a separate peace again, though they needn’t have worried. It’s one thing to go to Brest-Litovsk because your soldiers wouldn’t fight any more. It would have been a second thing to do it when you were carrying the field.

But — to stick to it — my own politics was revolutionary but cautious. I had a lot to lose, including a position from which I could and did contribute assistance. And, I knew how difficult and uncertain any struggle must be. Not much advantage in being defeated and removed early when you might have been preserved and used to great effect later on.

Notice a couple of things. My sympathies were never on the side of reaction. From in our time on, my books and stories always said, we’ve lost the past — for good or evil or both — and it isn’t going to be re-created. I was interested in Communism, I was interested in Mussolini as a phenomenon at first, until I saw through them. And I was continuously interested in any force of nature or force of personality or social force that looked as though it might crack the crust of hardened convention and let life come through. But which wars to play to win, and which to hope for as a longshot and which to shake your head at and wait for another day?

You know how it is. You wait your whole life for things to get better while you see them always getting worse.

It would take a real optimist to think that World War II was a happy ending to anything.

F: And so, during those years of waiting?

EH: You just read that I had to get out of Cuba in a hurry in the 1940s. That blew over, and only the fact that I was publicly named by the government of the Dominican Republic is the reason it was remembered — and even so, how much is it remembered? Not much. If you hadn’t been able to get ahold of Fuentes’s book, how much would you know about it? And that was the merest toehold.

F: Papa, I’m hearing a recurrent theme, here. You as a man were involved in things that aren’t necessarily on the record — just like U-boat hunting and getting information as to the safe approaches to Paris — and reflect a more serious side to you than is generally recognized. Did you knowingly contribute to the Hemingway myth because it was good cover?

EH: People don’t do things for just one reason usually. But if you have a place owned by a celebrity and he holds parties all the time, it’s easy for people to meet there while holding drinks. Let’s say that.

F: So Batista’s police weren’t so far wrong.

EH: Hell no they weren’t wrong, and the nice thing is, they knew they weren’t wrong, but they couldn’t do anything much about it, because I was too famous. It would have hurt them. That’s why they killed my dog, as much as anything. They could get away with that much. I don’t say they planned that, it’s just that they were frustrated and they were going to go on being frustrated, and they knew it.

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