“They Are Giving Hemingway Another Look, So You Can, Too…Lynn Novick and Ken Burns consider the seminal writer in all his complexity and controversy in their new PBS documentary series. Could there be anything more subversive than turning a spotlight, in this moment, on Ernest Hemingway?” wrote Gal Beckerman in The New York Times this month.
“Subversive?” Ah! At least the term appears in connection with the docuseries. And considering that Ernest Hemingway eagerly joined Stalin’s KGB (technically the NKVD at the time), secretly contributed tens of thousands to the Cuban communist party and (literally) drank, as a spectator, to Che Guevara and Fidel Castros’ firing-squad murder marathons, you might think the term “subversive” fits.
Alas! No hint of his communist sympathies and connections come across in this “frank” and “subversive” and “controversial” docuseries, which actually seems like it would be something that might have been produced by Hemingway’s mass-murdering chums in Moscow or Havana 40 years ago.
Perhaps some of you weren’t aware that declassified Soviet documents proved that Ernest Hemingway officially signed up with the KGB’s precursor the NKVD as “Agent Argo” in 1941?
OK. But don’t take it from me. After all I’m a “rabidly right-wing-Cuban exile-with-an-axe-to-grind!” Instead take it from the crypto-commie (but well-sourced) UK Guardian.
According to KGB defector Alexander Vassiliev in a book published by Yale University Press (not exactly a branch of the John Birch Society), “the 42-year-old Hemingway was recruited (by the KGB) under the cover name ‘Argo’ in 1941 and cooperated with Soviet agents whom he met in Havana and London.”
Turns out that Papa failed pathetically at his KGB assignment. (His assignment and failure are completely absent from the docuseries.) But hey, it’s the thought that counts! And the thought was to be a member of the most murderous organization in modern history during its most murderous phase. (Stalin’s NKVD under Lavrenti Beria.) A singular honor, surely! Though you’d never guess it from the “subversive” PBS docuseries (i.e. fluff piece.)
“Castro’s revolution is very pure and beautiful,” gushed Hemingway in March, 1960. “I’m encouraged by it. The Cuban people now have a decent chance for the first time. The Cubans getting shot all deserve it.”
Quite fittingly, when Soviet diplomat Anastas Mikoyan finished his courtesy calls on Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in Havana in 1960—this long-time Stalin and Beria confidant made it a point to call on Ernest Hemingway.
Hemingway knew full well what was going on behind the scenes of Castro and Che’s “pure and beautiful” revolution. Accounts of “Papa” Hemingway’s eager presence at many of the Katyn-like massacres of untried Cubans comes courtesy of Hemingway’s own friend, the late George Plimpton (not exactly an “embittered right-wing Cuban exile!”) who worked as editor of the Paris Review, (not exactly a “McCarthyite scandal sheet.”)
In 1958 George Plimpton interviewed Hemingway in Cuba for one of the Paris Review’s most famous pieces. They became friends and the following year Hemingway again invited Plimpton down to his Finca Vigia just outside Havana. James Scott Linville, an editor at The Paris Review during the 1990s, while relating how this high-brow publication passed on serializing the manuscript that became Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries, reveals “Papa’s” unwitting role in the rejection.
“I took the paper-clipped excerpt upstairs to the Boss (Plimpton),” writes Linville, “and said I had something strange and good. As I started to tell him about it, his smile faded. I stopped my pitch and said, ‘Boss, what’s the matter?'”
“James, I’m sorry,” Linville recalls Plimpton replying. A sad look came over him, and he said, “Years ago, after we’d done the interview, Papa invited me down again to Cuba. It was right after the revolution. “There’s something you should see,” Hemingway told Plimpton while preparing a shaker of drinks for the outing.
“They got in the car with a few others and drove some way out of town,” continues Linville (who is recalling Plimpton’s account.) “They got out, set up chairs and took out the drinks, as if they were going to watch the sunset. Soon, a truck arrived. This, explained George, was what they’d been waiting for. It came, as Hemingway knew the same time each day. It stopped and some men with guns got out of it. In the back were a couple of dozen others who were tied up. Prisoners.
“The men with guns hustled the others out of the back of the truck, and lined them up. Then they shot them. They put the bodies back into the truck.”
And so it started. Within a few years 16,000 men and boys (some of them U.S. citizens) would fill mass graves after scenes like the ones that so charmed Papa Hemingway with his thermos of specially-prepared Daiquiris. The figure for the Castroite murder tally is not difficult to find. Simply open “The Black Book of Communism,” written by French scholars and published in English by Harvard University Press (neither exactly an outpost of “embittered- right-wing Cuban-exiles-with an axe-to-grind!”)
“Pure and beautiful” indeed, Mr Hemingway.
Hemingway’s friends, while he gallivanted around Red Spain during the Spanish Civil war, included Luis Quintanilla, Gustav Regler, Milton Wolff, Karol Swierezenski, Nicolas Guillen, Ilya Ehrenburg and Gustavo Duran. Every single one was a dedicated member of the communist party at a time Joe Stalin called all the Comintern’s shots.
But the Spaniard Gustavo Duran (who Hemingway reputedly used as his model for Robert Jordan in “For Whom the Bell Tolls”) went above and beyond the call of typical communist party duty during the Spanish Civil War. Duran also served in the Soviet-run SIM (Servicio Intelligencia Militar) that weeded out and murdered “Fascists, Trotskyists” and other such deplorables when Stalin spread his Great Terror and purges to Spain.
It says much about the Roosevelt administration that Duran, thanks to strings pulled by his friend Hemingway, was granted U.S. citizenship and hired by the U.S. State Department to work in the Havana and Buenos Aires Buenos embassies during World War II.
“Tailgunner Joe,” McCarthy outed Gustavo Duran in 1951, as one of those famous State Department reds on his famous list. Needless to add, this accusation provoked howls of protest and derision from the Democrat-media complex of the time. When Tailgunner held up a picture (yes, “I hold here in my hand!”) of Duran in his Soviet murderer’s uniform, the howls subsided—but only slightly. By then Duran had already scooted over to a spot at the U.N.
“On the plus side, (Ernest Hemingway) had a tremendous capacity to see the world around him with clarity, to see through bullsh*t and hypocrisy and to cut to the heart of things,” gushes Hemingway docuseries co-producer Lynn Novick.
“A writer without a sense of justice and of injustice would be better off editing the yearbook of a school,” wrote Hemingway. “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, sh*t detector.”
So was Hemingway duped by Stalinism and its Cuban clone Castroism? Did his sh*t-detector malfunction? Well, the KGB, while certainly appreciating the work of dupes and useful idiots, was not known to (openly) sign them on.
Considering the quotes above in light of Hemingway’s documented history, does he qualify as yet another celebrity “Useful Idiot?”
Hardly. Instead he comes across as a conscious and dedicated communist agent of influence.
Imagine a famous 20th century writer, however gifted at his art, secretly volunteering for Hitler’s Abwehr or Gestapo, consorting with Nazis much of his life — and having it all completely ignored by documentarians who bill themselves as “frank,” “courageous” and dedicated to documenting “the man in full.”