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June 22, 2012 8:37 AM   Subscribe

'The Hubris and Despair of War Journalism: What Martha Gellhorn teaches us about the morality of contemporary war reportage.'

Remembering Martha Gellhorn: The Atlantic memorializes a contributor, with links to her previous stories.

John Pilger interviews Gellhorn (video)

Salon: “I didn’t like sex at all”:
'Martha Gellhorn was a gorgeous, brilliant foreign correspondent once married to Hemingway. But underneath her glamorous exterior, her letters reveal a woman of awe-inspiring rage.' But not all letters were as acid - in The Millions:

A Goofy State of Mind: My Grandmother’s Letters from Martha Gellhorn:
Sometime around the year 1949, the eminent war correspondent and novelist Martha Gellhorn wrote the above letter from her home in Cuernavaca, Mexico to an Episcopalian clergyman’s wife living in the small town of Alma, Michigan.
Both women were devoted writers of vivid missives. Gellhorn’s pen pals included Eleanor Roosevelt, the editor Maxwell Perkins, H.G. Wells, her husband (later, ex-) Ernest Hemingway, and other luminaries. The housewife whom she was addressing, Peggy Schutze, nee Harvey, a native Kansan of pioneer stock, wrote mostly to her mother and sister. They came to know one another because Peggy (a.k.a. Nani Peg, my maternal grandmother) was a member of the St Louis League of Women Voters, which was run by Martha’s mother Edna. Both Martha and Peggy were imaginatively terrible cooks and tore through stacks of paperback thrillers like addicts, but other than that they seemed to have little in common.
HBO recently produced Hemingway and Gellhorn, starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen. The WSWS has a review, calling it a 'missed opportunity.' Gellhorn's play Love Goes to Press, set in Italy in 1944, is in a revival on Broadway

And a taste of modern war reporting: The Big Picture, Afghanistan May 2012.
posted by the man of twists and turns (10 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
She was fucking Gavin while married to Hemingway.
She had some balls yeah?
posted by clavdivs at 9:20 AM on June 22, 2012

In a career that spanned six decades, Gellhorn covered wars in, among other places, China, Finland, Israel, Vietnam, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Some of her pieces can devastate us anew. “Behind the barbed wire and the electric fence, the skeletons sat in the sun and searched themselves for lice,” she wrote from Dachau in May 1945. Her words still sting; in another dispatch from a just-defeated Germany, she mocked the self-pity and denial of ordinary Germans: “I hid a Jew for six weeks. I hid a Jew for eight weeks. (I hid a Jew, he hid a Jew, all God’s chillun hid Jews).”
from the Guernica article. Not a lot of war reporting a long these lines anymore.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:34 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I love how she kept going - she even covered the American invasion of Panama, when she must have been in her 80's.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:41 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

She illustrated the principle feature of war reporting quite well. The story in war resides in the perspective of the individual, not the dynamic forces that lead to combat. The dynamic is vulnerable to interpretation, but stinking corpses and starving children are simple facts. Likewise, the contradictory images of a soldier with bayonet-fixed rifle stooping to carry a child to an aid station imply certain contradictions that are too slippery to interpret with an offhand explanation. A simple caption leaves resolution to the reader.

In the end, naked photos feed the liberal spin-mill, identifying with individual horrors and casual valor of persons who experience war first-hand, while editorials feed the mongers' appetite for the glory of the conflict. I imagine that the level of perspective attempted would channel the writer's spin accordingly--they try to make some sort of sense out of something that is generally unfathomable in any meaningful way. You can't simply keep using the word "senseless," as you try to reconcile a field littered with bodies with any sort of perspective that accounts for sons and daughters, husbands and brothers, and the tertiary rippling as this spectacle reaches relatives back home. Would it be easier to identify with the ripped bodies or the infantryman searching them for documents?

The reporter's outrage probably is the least of the emotions he or she experiences during their tours. In too many ways it's much simpler to pull the trigger than describe why you did it.
posted by mule98J at 9:51 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks, this inspired me to pull Travels with Myself and Another down off the shelf, "an account of my best horror journeys... recollected with tenderness now that they are past." Can't wait to reread it this weekend.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:18 AM on June 22, 2012

I've always admired Gellhorn and I greatly enjoyed several of these links. Thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 12:12 PM on June 22, 2012

Really fun, snarky blog review of the HBO film by screenwriter Ken Levine: What was HBO thinking???

Fun comments section too

It's too bad Bob from BECKER couldn't go around saying things like "Bob doesn't like being in this movie. Bob is depressed!"
posted by sammyo at 3:33 PM on June 22, 2012

A favorite quotation from Gellhorn: "I was a writer before I met [Ernest Hemingway], and I have been a writer for 45 years since. Why should I be a footnote to someone else's life?"
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:20 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Perhaps it’s a telling irony, given that wars now kill more civilians than soldiers, that deaths of US soldiers by suicide have overtaken deaths in combat.
posted by Huplescat at 5:38 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

What was HBO thinking???

"HEMINGWAY & GELLHORN is so bad that if Hemingway were still alive this would have killed him. It’s hard to believe HBO could miss so badly but this is the HEAVEN’S GATE of cable. "

That is totally unfair to Heaven's Gate.
posted by homunculus at 10:02 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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