The Old Man and the CCCP
July 10, 2009 3:23 AM   Subscribe

Ernest Hemingway outed as potentially useless KGB spy during the 1940s in a new book, Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America.

Reviews: The New Republic,
posted by educatedslacker (19 comments total)
His fourth wife, Mary Hemingway, had something to do with a CIA plot to kill Castro.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:58 AM on July 10, 2009

The author was on The Daily Show a while back, but I can't seem to find the video.
posted by aheckler at 4:32 AM on July 10, 2009

There's always the possibility that Hemingway's inclusion on the list of spies was, back in the day, added by his contact as a way of self-promotion. With no info given by Hemingway, I'm not sure how the difference could be discerned, except by talking to the contact.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:04 AM on July 10, 2009

Well he did fight for the commies in the Spanish Civil War. Also, I'm bracing myself for all the people who are about to comment in this thread calling him 'Hemmingway.'
posted by shakespeherian at 6:47 AM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Further, Lemurrhea, the account relies on Alexander Vassiliev's notes and memories of his examination, in the 1990s, of Stalin era documents. Trust but verify? Only if the archives are made available again.
posted by notyou at 6:59 AM on July 10, 2009

For sale: state secrets, never read.
posted by permafrost at 7:08 AM on July 10, 2009 [6 favorites]

I was surprised to find out recently that Hemingway's reputation as a swordsman was more bull than anything else too.

(I was idly trying to track down the identity of an outrageously gorgeous blond in a fairly unknown, I think, 1930s photo in a Hemingway exhibition at the Key West art museum. The blond goddess was standing sexily beaming in a swimsuit next to Ernest and wife #2 Pauline & Pauline wasn't looking too thrilled by her! I failed to find out the blond's identity but kept tripping over references to the fact that there was zero proof Hemingway was anything but a serial monogamist - at least after the famous nurse!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:26 AM on July 10, 2009

Salutations Comrade Ernest!

Let me repeat once again how thrilled I am with the prospect (clever pun on Nevsky Prospekt in your last report! We are all laughing about that down at the Embassy!) of handling your case for the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti. I know I went on very long in my last missive but you have no idea how profoundly For Whom the Bell Tolls meant to me. I am sure every young man tells you this but I felt that Robert Jordan was my reflection and that I should strive to one day be as strapping a piece of young manhood as he or yourself. With the help of my English professors in the KGB Academy I confiscated all of your books and read every single one. Needless to say, handling your case is a dream come true more wildly than I could have imagined.

Thus you will know how much it saddens me to inform you that we will be ceasing to accept your reports. As outlined in all of my previous contacts with you, both written, verbal and encoded, and especially insisted upon by me in the message I drew with charcoal upon your manly body late last month as you slumbered in your bed (I apologize for having forgotten to undersign! I hope you realized it was from me) all the information you provide is of no use to us here at the Embassy and will not forward the Great Socialist Project. To illustrate here is the report you provided of a conversation between President Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor:
'There's not enough milk in this coffee,' the man said.

'You never think there's enough milk. Then you add more. Then you think there's too much.'

'I could use a drop more.'

'If you do splash some in.'

'Have you seen Harold lately?' the man asked.

'No, he keeps to himself these days.'

'You never keep to yourself, you and your friends.'

'And you have your constant companions.'

'I'll have some more milk,' the man poured a small amount of milk into his coffee and took a sip.

'How is it now?' the woman asked.

'Perfect. Just the way I want it.'

'Don't play, you're never happy.'

'I'm always happy, my dear.'
It is hard to know what is going on. I get the sense that the president and his wife were talking about something important but could not put into words. It is your job as a spy to inform and this is not informative! Telling us what happens is good but better when you tell us why! This is why we cannot continue our association. I wish you the best in your future endeavors and know that you will always have one fan in Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik.

Yours in camaraderie,
posted by Kattullus at 8:41 AM on July 10, 2009 [8 favorites]

Had a pernod. Had another. Walked a bit. Ordered another Pernod. I Drank it.
posted by srboisvert at 8:43 AM on July 10, 2009

Hold the phone, maybe this explains huis writing! Could it be that he was using his stories to send coded messages to his Soviet masters?!

Doesen't that sound better than just being a crappy writer?
posted by happyroach at 10:33 AM on July 10, 2009

Geez, I so glad it's fashionable to hate Hemingway and mock his writing. Screw you all, I <3 Hemingway.
posted by Happydaz at 11:18 AM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Happydaz: Geez, I so glad it's fashionable to hate Hemingway and mock his writing. Screw you all, I <3 Hemingway.

Seconded. I'm not sure what it is about the reigning taste of the day, but man do some people love to talk about hating Hemingway-- despite the fact that he is awesomex2.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:12 PM on July 10, 2009

I figure that those who sneer at Hemingway and die unrepentant suffer an eternity in hell where the only available books are Thomas Wolfe novels.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:14 PM on July 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

When struggling with this post; I missed the boy several times.
posted by basicchannel at 2:04 PM on July 10, 2009

(with apologies to commas and semi-colons)
posted by basicchannel at 2:04 PM on July 10, 2009

Hemingway is arguably the greatest American short-story writer, with many absolute classics in the form. The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and the Sea are excellent, and A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls are pretty good. His writing and personality are more complex and nuanced than the macho stereotype he tried to live up to.

Regarding these specific allegations, he was self-aggrandizing and liked to play soldier, having been an ambulance driver in WWI. He claimed to patrol for German submarines in his fishing boat, and claimed his personal paramilitary unit entered Paris before Allied forces (he wanted to visit Picasso in Paris but Picasso was out of town so Hemingway left a case of hand grenades as a gift).

The allegations are vague. He would've been a pretty useless spy; what did he have access to? Helping the Soviet Union in 1941 wouldn't have been radical, either. Stalin was Time's Man of the Year in 1940, and "Uncle Joe" was a hero in American wartime propaganda, especially after Hitler invaded in June 1941. The USSR was an ally in World War II, and the US provided supplies to the USSR before officially entering the war after Pearl Harbor.

The article says, "he was recruited in 1941 before making a trip to China." According to Hemingway on the China Front, he left for China on January 31, 1941, on a "spying mission" for the Treasury Department.

Strictly speaking he was allegedly a spy for the NKGB, the predecessor to the KGB.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:17 PM on July 10, 2009

kirkaracha: Stalin was Time's Man of the Year in 1940

Not that I'm arguing with you, but historically, Time's Man of the Year (later Person of the Year) has not been an endorsement or note of approval, simply of recognition of whomever has altered the world most, for good or ill. Hitler was Man of the Year in 1938.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:03 PM on July 10, 2009

Sure (in fact, I've made the same point here before), but this one is a mixed bag. "Joseph Stalin's actions in 1939, by contrast, were positive, surprising, world-shattering." They say, "More than half of defeated Poland was handed over to him without a struggle," which leaves out the Soviet invasion of Poland. They mention purges and the "Stalin-made famine" that killed millions of people, then talk about how many times he's been married and how he lives in a simple three-room suite at the Kremlin. He's just folks!
posted by kirkaracha at 5:17 PM on July 10, 2009

Well he did fight for the commies in the Spanish Civil War. Also, I'm bracing myself for all the people who are about to comment in this thread calling him 'Hemmingway.'

Shakespeherian, oh you have no idea. I know it's not much of a cross to bear, but that really is the bane of my existence.
posted by Heminator at 7:59 AM on July 13, 2009

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