Chapter 18: Spain

“Mr. Dos Passos, in the Spring of 1937 you and the defendant were among the foreigners observing the Spanish Civil War from the side of the elected government. You both loved Spain, you were both committed anti-fascists, you had been friends for more than fifteen years. Would you please tell this court what happened in Spain, in 1937, to end your friendship?”

“As I said earlier, Katy and I had watched Hem change under the pressure of fame and money. You need to keep this in mind. He was starting to believe his own press releases, as they say.”

Dos glanced over at him, held his eyes for a long moment. He squirmed, and saw them register the fact that he’d recognized the portrait that was being painted.

“Jose Robles and I had been friends ever since a long night in 1916 in a third-class compartment on a train from Toledo to Madrid. He and I were both fluent in English and Spanish, and we were both studying art and architecture at the Centro de Estudios Historicos, in Madrid. Like me, Pepe was a radical in a conservative family. My father was a wealthy corporate lawyer, his family were aristocrats, friends of royalty. I became part of his circle of friends, then my father died and I had to go home. After the war I stayed in Europe to escape America. Meanwhile, Pepe went to America to escape Spain, and wound up teaching Spanish at Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore. It was just Pepe’s bad luck that he was visiting Spain at the time of Franco’s revolt. He let them make him a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, and because he spoke not only English but Russian, they made him translator to an NKVD officer named Aleksandr Orlov.”

“Please tell the court what the NKVD was and what an NKVD officer was doing in Spain.”

“The NKVD was the Soviet secret police organization, the equivalent of the German Gestapo. It came to Spain as a condition of Soviet military aid, and Orlov was doing what the NKVD always did – he was organizing purges of `unreliable elements,’ which meant anyone who wouldn’t follow orders. Purges meant shootings, you understand.”

Dos Passos hardened, reliving it. “Pepe’s job guaranteed that he would learn too much. Maybe they started to worry that he couldn’t be trusted to keep his mouth shut. One night they took him from his home. His wife didn’t know what had happened to him, and neither did his teenage son, who was working as a translator in a government office.”

“And that’s where you came in.”

“That’s where I came in. Until now, I’ve been welcome, because the Loyalists know I am a good friend to the republic. But when I land in Valencia, right away I sense this coolness toward me in the government, from top to bottom. Mostly, it’s because I’m known to be a close friend of Pepe Robles. When I ask, nobody will tell me where he is. They hardly admit to knowing who he is! Here is one of the top men in the government, and people aren’t admitting that they know him, and I’m making people nervous, asking about him. Why? I finally find his wife and children, terrified, with no one to trust, still with no idea who took him or why, or if he’s still alive. I figure that maybe I can find out. I’m a best-selling author; I’ve been on the cover of Time magazine. It would be embarrassing all around if I were to disappear. So, I think I’m fairly safe. But I don’t learn anything in Valencia, so I go to Madrid.”

“And there you found the defendant.”

“Yes, and well ensconced. I can see right away, he’s being courted. He may think it’s his genius for scrounging that keeps him in food and gasoline, but it’s the government, or rather the power behind the government, doing everything it can to rope him in. He can feel his influence, or what he thinks is influence, and it’s changing him.”

“Did the defendant help you find out what happened to your friend Pepe?”

“You know he didn’t. Or, well, he did, but –“

“Tell it your own way.”

“He and I had a mutual friend, Josie Herbst, sort of a literary hanger-on. What we didn’t know is that she was a communist, following orders. She told Ernest that Robles had been killed because he was a fascist spy. Ernest believed her, and he picked a very public occasion to tell me that Pepe had been tried and condemned, and there wasn’t any doubt about his guilt. Almost crowed over the fact that Pepe was my friend, and he was a spy, and he was dead. He was crowing over his having inside information, you see, and exercising his tough-guy persona.”

It was all true. He writhed.

“Mr. Dos Passos, you have given a very lucid description of yourself and the defendant at cross-purposes. Let me ask you how you construe his motivations.”

“I think the elements just all came together in the wrong way, and he wasn’t reflective enough to see it. I mean, here he was, the man with the inside dope, the man who knew. He was well-connected, and apparently trusted. He loved that, always did. I think he was telling himself that he was tough and politically sophisticated. `These things happen in war, get used to it,’ that kind of thing. I think otherwise he would have reacted the way I did. I went home with my vision cleared.

“The NKVD was spreading terror in Spain, the show trials were going on in Moscow, and you could watch the zigs and zags of the party loyalists, always scurrying to approve any new thing that happened. I started to see what was really happening, as opposed to what we were being told was happening, what we had wanted to believe was happening. I didn’t come to a clear understanding right away, but it started then, and that’s when people said I moved to the right. I didn’t. I was just as anti-fascist as I had ever been. But I saw that the communists weren’t any better than the fascists, which, of course, left me between the two sides, undefended. But that was the price I had to pay, if I was going to stick with the truth.”

“And another part of the price was severing your relations with the defendant?”

“Oh, even before I sailed for home, I knew the best days of our friendship were over. I knew that Ernest knew what he had done, and I knew he would find it intolerable to remember, and I knew that he would have to re-write it as a morality play, and the villain wasn’t going to be him. Sure enough, when we met that fall at the Murphy’s place in New York, he was so outrageous that I walked out. The next spring he wrote me an absolutely savage letter, the kind of letter you’d write an enemy, and that was the end of it.”

“Because you couldn’t forgive him?”

“No, It wasn’t my choice. I knew there would be no going back, because Ernest never went back.”

No, he never went back. He just kept burning bridges.

“Cross examination? No? Your honor, the prosecution recalls the defendant.”

.2.

“All right, I’ll say right off, I was wrong about Dos, and it was wrong what I said about him. He was as honest a man as I ever knew.”

“So do you now see it as Dos Passos being loyal to his friend and you being wrong to attack him for it?”

“Yes. It’s clear enough, now.”

“And when you were no longer friends, you missed him,”

“Sure.”

“But you weren’t able to tell him this in life. Why was that? Pride?”

It puzzled him. “I don’t know any more. Somehow there was a wall and he was on the other side, and the wall didn’t have any doors I ever found.”

“Very well, let us pass on to the war itself. First, please tell the court how often during the war you visited Spain, and for how long.”

“Let’s see. In 1937 I was there from mid-March to May and from September to December, and then in 1938, from April to mid-May and a few weeks in November. Four visits, all told.”

“Wasted time, Mr. Hemingway?”

“Certainly not. But it did cost me.”

“Professionally? Personally?”

“Both.”

“Mr. Hemingway, everybody knows you loved Spain and despised fascism. But we also know how little you thought of governments. So what makes a non-political man into a partisan, risking his life reporting a war on the other side of the ocean?”

“If the Republic won, we might not have to fight another world war. The Spanish government was fighting our fight against fascism. It was clear enough.”

“Not clear to everyone, not then and perhaps not now. Tell the court, please, how did you see it?”

“The army’s coup didn’t come off, and the workers rose up and took over a lot of the cities, including Madrid. So the Spanish fascists were going to lose, and with them the landowners and the church, and, by extension, Mussolini and Hitler, who up to this point had been casting an illusion of invincibility. They couldn’t afford that, so Mussolini sent in troops and Hitler sent his Air Force ‘volunteers’ to get practice in actual war conditions. The Western governments got scared by the workers’ uprisings, and by the Soviet involvement, so they refused to sell arms to the Spanish government. But the Spaniards refused to quit. You see?”

“Not quite. Why was this important?”

“Spanish resistance put the fascist intervention on the world’s front pages, month after month, and slowly conservatives came to realize that Germany was more of an immediate threat than Russia, and liberals decided that fighting fascism trumped fighting militarism. That took time, and the time was bought with Spanish blood.”

“And yet the Spanish republic accepted arms and equipment and officers and commissars from Russia, so there was excuse for fears that Spain might become a Soviet republic, at the gates of the Mediterranean.”

“True. But it’s hard to see what choice the Spanish government had, with all the western governments refusing to let it buy arms.”

“Mr. Hemingway, the politics of the Spanish conflict are a bit beside the point here, but as a matter of interest, do you think that in more fortunate circumstances it could have been avoided?”

He felt for it. “No, I can’t say I do. The whole tragedy was lying there waiting. That’s what happens when you try to keep your country isolated. Everything the outside world brings in is disruptive: the telegraph, the radio, the airplane, the automobile, banking, foreign ideas, even tourism. The result was something that nobody liked – not the peasants, not the landlords, not the workers, not the factory owners, not the church or the Army or the bureaucracy or the intelligentsia. The republic was a bunch of pieces moving in different directions at different speeds. So the loudmouths and the know-it-alls and the impractical visionaries all started to fight one another for center stage. Politics is stupid and dishonest at best, but when fanatics take charge, watch out.”

“Your honor, the prosecution calls Martha Gellhorn.”

.3.

“Miss Gellhorn, before you went to Key West in 1936, you held the defendant in high regard as a writer. When you met him, were you disappointed?”

“Not at all. He was smart, quick, knowledgeable. The things he knew, like writing, he really knew. He wasn’t much interested in politics, though. Until he met me, the defendant hardly had any politics!”

“None that you would recognize, you mean.” But the prosecutor and Martha ignored him.

“By all accounts, before the defendant met you, he was more or less apolitical. Yet when you and he return from your first trip to Spain in 1937, the man who hates making speeches makes a speech promoting the film `The Spanish Earth’ and raises money for the Loyalist cause. Seemingly, he has moved considerably to the left in a very short time. Would you agree that your influence is very largely responsible for this shift?

“Well, I hope so. But if so, it looks like the influence wore off about the same time I did.”

“Miss Gellhorn, you have been a committed leftist throughout your life, have you not?”

“I have been, I am, and I expect to continue to be. Those are my beliefs.”

“You have not become more conservative as the years have passed and, I gather, you have little patience with those who have.”

“None at all.”

“You have been quoted as saying that the ideal of objectivity in journalism is nonsense.”

“We all have beliefs, and they shape how we see things. It’s stupid or dishonest to pretend otherwise.”

“So you would not be offended if someone accused you of using your journalism to promote your political views.”

“Of course not. What should I do? Support those I disagree with? Make excuses for Hitler?”

“You were an early and consistent opponent of fascism. However, you were not equally critical of Stalin and Communism. Is that not so?”

“In the 1930s, you had to choose between Hitler and Stalin, and I chose Stalin. So did Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.”

“And after the war?”

“After the war the issue did not arise in the same way.”

“Not even in the case of the treason trial of Alger Hiss?”

“The whole thing, including Joe McCarthy and his committee, was nothing but a witch-hunt. They said Hiss was a communist and a traitor, and I didn’t believe Whittaker Chambers then and I don’t now. And I am always happy to disbelieve anything that Richard Nixon believes.”

“Was the subject of politics a point of contention between you and the defendant?”

Somehow everybody in the courtroom knew more or less what she would say before she opened her mouth. “Everything was a point of contention between us!”

The prosecutor was smiling. “Yes, I think we understand that, but talk to us about politics.”

“Ernest was never on the side of reaction, but that didn’t mean you could count on him being on the liberal side of the issues. Mostly he didn’t seem to care.”

“Yeah? I had Mussolini’s number before you were 15 years old.”

“Miss Gellhorn, I take it that the defendant is indicating that he doesn’t consider himself politically naïve.”

“If you had lived with him, that wouldn’t surprise you any.”

“Well, let’s ask him. Remain on the stand, if you please. Mr. Hemingway, you were aware of Miss Gellhorn’s politics?”

He snorted. “Anybody who ever met Marty was aware of her politics.”

“Initially you didn’t share her ideas. In one of your `letters’ for Esquire, you had warned that the dictators needed another European war, and it was on its way, and you hoped that the United States would stay out of this one. Yet you became so deeply involved in the Spanish civil war that you changed the novel you were working on. You narrated a film by a leftist movie producer, even wound up fund-raising for the Spanish republic among the Hollywood crowd. You broke with your long-time friend John Dos Passos. What happened, Mr. Hemingway? Can it all be blamed on your involvement with Miss Gellhorn?”

He seemed to feel the time passing as he sat there pondering. “Enough of it can be,” he said after a while. “She turned out to be very expensive. Getting involved with the war in Spain moved me into an intensely political orbit for a while, and getting too involved with a cause always costs you your clarity of perception. You lose the ability to see things you don’t want to see. A part of you gets hard and cynical, willing to do things or approve of things that you know are wrong, but you tell yourself you’re being realistic. A writer can’t afford to lie to himself like that. That’s what cost me my friendship with Dos.”

“And I suppose that’s all my fault? How about the fact that you getting involved with Spain resulted in For Whom The Bell Tolls? Wouldn’t you say it was worthwhile, looking at it now?”

He hesitated, and again felt the moment stretch out around him.

“Marty, I have to say, I don’t know. If I hadn’t gone to Spain, who knows what I would have written? Maybe I would have made To Have And Have Not the great revolutionary novel that it should have been. Maybe I would have written other things, better things.”

“And just left the Spanish people to their own devices.”

“We’ve had this argument, how many times? My job wasn’t to tilt at windmills, it was  to write as truly as I could.”

“You can’t write if you don’t experience!”

“But not every experience leaves you better able to write. From the time I finished For Whom the Bell Tolls until I came home from Europe in 1945, I didn’t get to write a thing except an introduction to a book of other people’s war stories. You think that experience helped me write better?”

“It was damned inconsiderate of them to have a world war when you wanted to write, wasn’t it? But –”

“Please, Miss Gellhorn, Mr. Hemingway, let’s concentrate on the prewar years. Miss Gellhorn, would you say that you influenced the defendant to go to Spain?”

“You never could tell what made Ernest come to his decisions, finally, but I certainly pushed him hard enough. He wanted to stay down there and fish and write his books, and I kept telling him he was a voice, he could be heard, he had a duty to show the world what he knew. It had to have helped, but maybe he would have gone anyway.”

“And in the event, he arrived there before you did.”

“Well, sure, he was the big-shot writer, he got a contract to report for the North American Newspaper Alliance, he wangled his way into Spain, where they already knew him, he got there in the middle of March. I didn’t get there for another two weeks, because I had to do everything the hard way, including getting a letter from Collier’s pretending I was a correspondent. And then when I do get there, after all that, I find him presiding over a feast and he looks up and says that he knew I’d get there because he had arranged it! I set him straight on that! Ernest wasn’t used to people talking back to him, especially women, but he took it. Maybe it helped that we hadn’t been to bed yet, I don’t know.”

“But you say you had a letter `pretending’ you were a correspondent for Collier’s. Isn’t Spain where you became one?”

A hesitation. “I owe that to Ernest, actually. After a while, he saw I wasn’t writing, and asked why, so I sat down and wrote a piece and sent it to Collier’s. I didn’t think they’d publish it, but they did, and from then on I was a real war correspondent, not just someone who had used a fake letter to get into the country.”

“So, if you would, describe the defendant as you observed him in Spain.”

Ever so slightly, the tense features softened. “That’s when I fell in love with Ernest, you know. I had admired him as a writer, and I liked him as a man, I loved hearing his stories and getting a sense of all the things he’d done, and that he knew, but in Spain I saw him in another light. I expected he would be resourceful and skillful, but what surprised me was the depth of his commitment to the Spanish people, and his absolute courage. I never saw him to better advantage than in Spain, not even years later, in China.”

“No reservations?”

“Oh hell yes, tons of reservations. He was bossy, and arrogant, and presumptuous. He kept trying to take over my life. He could be quarrelsome and petty and lots of other things. But when you come down to it, he was courageous and he was committed, and that made up for a lot.”

He was moved, which surprised him. It had been a long time since Marty had thought of him in those terms. Or maybe she always had, and had kept it to herself. Or maybe she had kept that image of him in a separate compartment.

“After you and the defendant returned from your first wartime visit to Spain, you were beside him on the platform when he was one of those who spoke to the American Writers Conference. What kind of an impression did he make there?”

“The house was packed – 3,500 people – and when MacLeish introduced him, I thought they’d never stop applauding. He hated public speaking, and he only spoke for a few minutes, but what he said was just what needed to be said, `Fascism is a lie told by bullies.’ When he finished, the crowd was on its feet, but Ernest took himself offstage as soon as he was finished, and he sure wasn’t coming back for a curtain call. This wasn’t about him, it was about the cause, and everybody in that hall knew that he was absolutely sincere, and absolutely right. I was very proud of him, that night.”

“And a few weeks later, after he recorded the film’s narrative track, you and he and the filmmaker were invited to the White House for a special filming.”

“Eleanor Roosevelt and I had been friends for years, and of course she approved of the cause.”

“And was the defendant excited to be the guest of the President of the United States?”

“If he was, he sure didn’t show it. He wasn’t a big Roosevelt fan.”

“Well, Mr. Hemingway, were you excited?”

“Hardly! The food was as bad as Marty had warned us it would be, and the dinner conversation wasn’t any better. And he didn’t impress me either. I didn’t trust him. He and Eleanor said they liked the film, and they said we should make it stronger, and all that – but who signed the proclamation of so-called neutrality that made it impossible for the Spanish republic to defend itself? If America hadn’t gone along with England and France, the embargo would have collapsed. Did he think we didn’t know that?”

“Eleanor said he didn’t have any choice, Ernest.”

“Yeah, I know that’s what she said.”

“Defense?”

“No cross-examination, your honor. Miss Gellhorn seems to have presented a very fair and balanced portrait.”

“Then, Mr. Prosecutor?”

“Your honor, the prosecution recalls Pauline Hemingway.”

.4.

“Mrs. Hemingway, the years 1937 and 1938 must have been difficult for you.”

“They were. It isn’t easy to see your husband slipping away from you, and nothing you can do.”

“Those who live by the sword die by the sword, Pauline. I told you that.”

“You needn’t respond to that, Mrs. Hemingway. This proceeding centers on the defendant, not on you or anyone else.”

“It doesn’t matter. The accusation isn’t even wrong, but it certainly isn’t the whole truth. For one thing, I didn’t really lose him to Martha, I lost him to Spain, and his boyhood dreams, and his restlessness. He was becoming ever-more involved in international affairs, and I was associated with the responsibilities of home and children. It was hard not to be bitter. But in time I realized that he left me, and left our life, for the same reason he left Hadley.”

“So, do I understand you to say that this reconciled you to the breakup of your marriage?”

“Reconciled? No, not at all. And it didn’t reconcile me to him, either. Even years after we were divorced, sometimes we fought as bitterly as when we were still tied together. In fact, the strain of our last long-distance shouting match brought me here to the non-physical, as you may know. But I did come to realize, the same thing that made him a literary genius made his home life impossible. Ernest needed a wife and a home, but he needed to be free of the responsibilities of everyday life. He went from sitting at home writing To Have and Have Not to being at war again, and he was reminded what it was like to be a boy, free of wife and children and house and career and even Pilar. We were all things he loved that nevertheless weighed him down.”

“That’s true. That’s exactly how it felt, at first, those couple of weeks when I was alone, before Martha got there.”

“Yes, but Ernest, you can’t have it both ways, no matter how talented you are, or how much money you make, or how willing your wife is to go on safari with you. Day-to-day responsibilities bored you, and you avoided them as much as possible. But it isn’t enough to write the book, you have to check the galleys, you know that.”

“Yeah, but the walls were closing in.”

“You wanted incompatible things, I understand. But life isn’t like that!”

“I did say I was tempted to make a colossal mistake.”

“Yes, and you said it in print, too, which was very nice for me to have to read and pretend to not understand.”

“But, Mrs. Hemingway, you did understand.”

“Of course I did, I wasn’t blind and I wasn’t naïve. Martha wasn’t the first. Jane Mason had been a problem, too, but we had gotten through that. We could have gotten through Martha, too, even if they had had an affair. In fact, that might have been the fastest way to bring him back to his senses.”

“Boy, that’s the truth!”

“But how was I to compete with Spain, and all the new friends and experiences, and the dangers of war, and the glamour of having a cause, especially when I didn’t believe in the cause? Nothing I could say was getting through to him. All I could do was keep the home fires burning, and hope for the best. In December, 1937, I tried to join him in Spain, so I could understand what was drawing him there. Maybe if I could have gotten to Madrid, it would have helped Ernest to see me in a different context. But the fates were against me. Before I could get a visa to enter Spain, Ernest came out on his way home.”

“It probably wouldn’t have helped even if you had gotten there, Pauline. You weren’t born to get involved in a war.”

“Neither were the Spanish women, but they had to deal with it. Maybe you would have been surprised to see how I coped. And maybe having me and Martha in the same hotel would have cramped your style.”

“In any case, Mrs. Hemingway, your attempt at joining the defendant in Madrid failed.”

“It did, and we spent a very unhappy Christmas season in Paris and on the boat home, quarreling. And sometime in 1938 there came a point when I realized that it no longer mattered what I was willing to do; he had turned his face from his old life and he was going to make his colossal mistake.”

“Your honor, the prosecution recalls the defendant.”

.5.

“You were potentially quite valuable to the Republic. Besides being an experienced journalist, you were a world-famous author. Whatever you chose to write would reach millions, and might influence your government’s action. Did this not open doors for you that perhaps remained closed to others?”

“Sure, but that applied to anybody with a wide enough readership. Herb Matthews, Tom Delmer, Bob Capa, lots of them. Dos, before he fell out of favor.”

“Were you perhaps particularly favored, as John Dos Passos suggested?”

“Well, maybe. But I wasn’t one of those guys who would just rewrite official press releases. I traveled plenty, sometimes with Marty and sometimes with Herb Matthews or Bob Capa and sometimes without any of them. I went to the fronts, I talked to the officers and men; I saw how things really were. In a war, you have to have to see for yourself. I learned that we were in for years of war, maybe decades of it, and I learned not to trust the Russians any more than the British or French or my own government. I learned that I still liked living on the edge, and that I was still good in emergencies. And eventually, when it was too late, I learned that anybody who fought for the Republic came to the attention of the FBI as a possible communist sympathizer.”

“Let’s stick to what you learned in those four trips to the war.”

He dug into his past, examining. “It wasn’t like when I went to Italy as a kid, believing what I was told. I knew Spain. I knew the language. I had Spanish friends. I knew the Spanish mind. I had traveled all over the country, many times. And by this time I knew how to read through official lies to figure out the truth they were trying to conceal. I understood strategy and tactics and the use of terrain. I had spent a dozen years preparing to understand the situation. But Marty saw the Spanish war as part of the great crusade against fascism. She wasn’t able to see that maybe for me it was also about Spain itself. Maybe if she had realized that, she would have understood, a few years later, why I wasn’t particularly anxious to report on the war in France. But then, Marty wasn’t ever very good at seeing another point of view.”

“The two of you were able to cooperate in Spain.”

“Yeah, as long as I was the one who knew the language and the situation and how to be a war correspondent and she didn’t. Once she figured out all that, or thought she did, she was back to being Marty until the next new situation. Often wrong, never in doubt.”

“And from Spain, you returned to your stateside life.”

“What was left of it, yes.”

“Your honor, the prosecution wishes to return Pauline Hemingway to the stand.”

 

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