May 23, 2014

Blonds, Bourbon, and Bullets

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:25 pm


very extreme crop of sticker“Hotel Florida (Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War),” by Amanda Vaill, tells the stories of three different love affairs. For Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway, Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, and Arturo Barea and Ilsa Kulcsar, the Civil War in Spain was the setting for a love affair that occurred while they were gathering material that would make their experiences the envy of a new generation of journalists. Another new book, “Robert Capa (The Paris Years 1933 – 1954),” by Bernard Lebrun and Michel Lefebvre, provides the images that Capa took which established his reputation as the greatest combat photographer of all time.

Robert Capa stepped on a land mine in French Indo China (AKA Vietnam) sixty years ago on May 25, 1954 and these two new books will help remind older readers of why Hemingway and Capa earned places in the War Correspondents Hall of Fame and explains to younger readers why the two are held is such high esteem by a new generation of wannabes.

The two new books work better in tandem much like Rudolph Nureyev and Dame Margot Fontaine were good dancers but weren’t they so much better when they danced together?

The naggingest question about the Spanish Civil War was (and still is): “Why don’t the Americans help us?” It runs through the book as a leitmotif. If Americans are so damn adamant about the superiority of the democratic way of governance, why did they quietly stand by and let a fascist military leader win?

Could it be that the one percent in the USA in the mid Thirties was convinced that via the concept of “interline courtesy” they owed their real allegiance to Spain’s one percent and that mouthing platitudes about “the people” was just a necessary bit of public relations that had nothing to do with the binary choice between fascism and communism?

Reading “Hotel Florida” makes asking the question “Why didn’t the Occupy movement succeed?” an exercise in delusional optimism.

Vaill paints a vivid word picture of Capa taking some photos of Taro while she sleeps. A tender vignette in the midst of the unfolding tsunami of carnage is a commendable writer’s feat, but it is also very handy to flip to page 65 in the “Paris Years” book and actually see one of the frames Capa shot.

The theme of war as a crucible for love is also explored in the recently published “The Love-charm of bombs,” by Laura Feigel, which follows the intertwined sagas of several couples in London, during the Battle of Britain at the start of WWII.

“What Soldiers Do (Sex and the American G. I. in World War II Farnce),” by Mary Louise Roberts, asserts that part of the process of getting the soldiers psyched up to face enemy fire on the beaches of Normandy was to use the promise of earthly delights that awaited the ones who would liberate Paris.

“Love, Sex and War (1939 – 1940),” by John Costello takes a scholarly approach to the premise that during war members of the clergy turn a blind eye towards fornication and adultery as a way of enlisting the rubes into being enthusiastic about fighting (and perhaps dying in) wars for the benefit of a nation’s one percent elite. This book was published by Pan Books of London and may not have had much of an effect on public sentiment in the USA about the possibility that cannon fodder is not a high priority concern when war is in the offing for the One Percenters.

“The Hotel on Place Vendôme,” by Tilar J. Mazzeo” includes the same cast, the same setting (a famous hotel) but a different city. Paris instead of Madrid.

“We Saw It Happen (the news behind the news that’s fit to print),” edited by Hanson W. Baldwin and Shepard Stone (the 1939 book from Simon & Schuster) is a surfeit of stogy and stultifying material that inadvertently makes the subtle point that it is better if the men and women who will fight, photograph, and report a war, have some jolly good times before they keep their appointment in Samara.

Hemingway, Gellhorn, Capa, and Gerda Taro did make it seem like the good times at the Hotel Florida were the war time journalists’ equivalent of the legendary exploits of the entertainers who were the rat pack in Las Vegas.

Vaill reports that Hemingway’s employer the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA) was rather displeased with the first-person boasting aspects of the dispatches that Hemingway provided but that brings up a tantalizing question for literary scholars: Was Hemingway a prototype for the Gonzo Journalism trend in the Sixties?

Those who become obsessed with the Gellhorn and Heminway affair might also want to read “Gellhorn (A Twentieth-Century Life),” by Caroline Moorehead.

“Robert Capa (a Biography),” by Richard Whelan provides supplemental proof that Capa was a fearless, loveable rascal.

“The Hemingway Hoax,” by Joe Haldeman, will inspire some intricate Hemingway fan reactions. Why wouldn’t the World’s Laziest Journalist admire a book about counterfeiting Hemingway manuscripts?

George Orwell (nee Eric Blair) wrote “Homage to Catalonia,” which tells the story of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War as a volunteer soldier battling against fascism. It seems that Orwell didn’t enjoy enduring hardship and deprivation and then getting wounded for altruistic reasons. Hemingway makes it all sound like jolly good fun.

“The Women Who Wrote the War,” by Nancy Caldwell Sorel, provides a wide angle look at the niche topic of women as war correspondents. Why hasn’t a biographical film been made about the life and times of Dickey Chapelle? When Virginia Cowles was assigned to cover the Spanish Civil War, she packed only high-heeled shoes in her luggage. That was (to use Harry Lime’s term): “unwise.”

“Ernie’s War (The Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches),” edited by David Nichols, shows just how different the war looked to the folks in the 99%, who had to cope with rationing, wounded veterans, and such. Of particular relevance is the dispatch titled “The Horrible Waste of War,” which starts on page 280.

Martha Gellhorn and Robert Capa both landed on the beach on D-Day (soon to mark the seventieth anniversary) while bureaucratic snafus caused Hemingway and Pyle to arrive a day or two late.

The 34th annual Hemingway Days Festival, which will be held in Key West Florida from July 15 to 20 this year, will feature a Hemingway-look-alike contest. Perhaps this year they should add a search for doubles for Martha Gellhorn and Robert Capa?

The “Hotel Florida” book has leaped on to our top ten list of favorite books of, by, and about Hemingway and real fans of his won’t need a recommendation from the World’s Laziest Journalist to be inspired to buy and read this book.

Trend-spotting reporters at the publication affectionately known as “the Great Gray Lady,” may want to skim through some of the other books listed above and suggest doing a feature story about the possibility that some people do find that war can be a “turn-on.”

Elliot V. Bell, on page 136 of “We saw it happen,” wrote: “Almost without exception the big bankers are the sort of fellows you’d be glad to take along on a trip to your favorite trout stream.” Just like the folks who died or were wounded in Iran and Afghanistan would have loved to have had George W. Bush attend their tailgate parties?

The disk jockey will play the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Civil War” and a song titled “No Pasaran.” We have to go see the film “Words and Pictures.” Have a “rebarbative” type week.

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