Hemingway and I first crossed paths in 1918 as ambulance drivers in the Great War. I was an ambulance driver on the French side, and he was on his way to drive for the Italians fighting the Austrians. It took six weeks of training to learn how to operate all the levers and cranks in those old jalopies. I graduated Harvard cum Laude in 1916, and it was there that my politics became radicalized. I was the bastard son of a distant, rich New York corporate lawyer, and I felt then that the world could only be made fair for the poor through Communism.

Hem and I met again when we were both expats in Paris. He arrived in the Latin Quarter with his bride, Hadley, eight years his senior, with a small pension from her family that would help a struggling writer. Hem was a strapping matinee-idol with unbelievably straight white teeth and confidence that would make life just too easy. His lack of appreciation for others was going to be hard for the rest of us. I was medium sized with owlish eyes and e.e. always said no one looked more “foreign” at Harvard than did I.

If you charmed or pushed your way into our clique of Paris writers and painters, you became aligned in drink and bullshit with James Joyce, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Scott Fitzgerald, e.e. cummings, Sherwood Anderson, and others. I lived on my small trust even after my first novel One Man’s Initiation in 1920 made me one of the new voices in fiction. Hemingway never went to college, became a cub reporter on the best paper in the Americas, TheKansas City Star, then went to Italy to get in the fight. He promptly got himself blown up by an artillery shell that made him an Italian war hero, then landed in Paris with all that momentum of story to slay us all with enviable charm, and fit right in with a crowd that had also read just about every book ever written. Hem read everything to compensate for his lack of a college education. I did because people smarter than I said a lot worth hearing.

“Dos, let’s sit at the Rotund again tomorrow and read to each other,” Hem said to me when he and Hadley and I parted ways at the Seine book stalls. I remember his smile that freezing day because he and I both liked to wear berets.

“Passages from the Bible again?” I said. “Yes, let’s.”

“I’ll write at The Dome until three then meet you.”

“How’s yours going?”

Hem browsed the Bible with an eye for titles to his work. He came up with great titles. But that’s why his titles tell you little about the story: The Sun Also Rises. A Farewell to Arms. For Whom the Bell Tolls. Across the River and Into the Trees. His titles bring lovely poetry, don’t they? Mine are more functional: USA, Three Soldiers, Manhattan Transfer. A lot of my early work was critical of free economics. Some of this was my father supporting me and my mother, but never acknowledging me, until the warmth opened up just before he died in 1917, as it often does in an outburst of emotional prescience from those with the shadow of the shadow on their faces.

“I’ve got some of ‘My Old Man’ for you,” Hem told me excitedly one day. He held the pages, written in thick pencil. I remember them shivering in the breeze as we sat at the Lilas with two Pernod between us. “Did you bring something?”

“I’ve got something.” I could see in Hem’s eyes the envy for me because I was already a published novelist.

“From the novel?”

“Actually, an essay for a new Communist sheet.”

“Oh, Dos. . . That’s great!” He grinned as if I was silly. “Paying you anything?” Again, the smile over the deuce. He knew those Red sheets didn’t pay anything.

Hem and I got on so well partly from my plan to see the world by walking tour. Hem and Hadley loved to go along with me. I introduced him to Spain that way. I introduced him to Key West too, after my Florida walk in 1925 and I hopped a train for Key West that rolled over causeways on cerulean seas. Hadley and Hem came along on a walk through the Pyrenees ending in Andorra. Over 200 miles. A lot of that in the rain. Poor Hadley was miserable but uncomplaining, and Hem was sweetly upset for her discomfort. But that would change, as Hem loosened his hold on his appreciation of Hadley too.

Hem’s journalism made him great at grilling you about your expertise. He’d grill you for hours about roses or mending a sail or Roulette. I could tell he feigned interest while really he didn’t give two shits about you. He’d grin at me, knowing I saw through him and how we both enjoyed the writer’s hunt—for information, for wonderful, simple stories kicked over like a clod of manure in the paddock of life. My interest in people was made by my father’s disinterest in me. I understood Hemingway, and so he and I never got into awful fights like he had with everyone else. Until Madrid that is, in 1936. You don’t need perfect friends. Christ, if your family isn’t perfect, why hold your friends to a higher standard?

Everyone in Paris knew my politics. Communists were rare in the 1920s when money flowed like booze. The War made the United States the world’s money colossus. Europe was smashed, and Paris was so cheap we literally couldn’t afford to leave. Besides, we were busy pushing for the overhaul of language. We all felt it coming. We wanted to write like people spoke. The posing in writing created a huge emotional gap. Our desire to democratize language, the shock of the War, our dislocation as artists from our institutions — it echoed America throwing off England after the Revolution: Rejecting knee-breeches, the powdered wig, cutting our hair and shaking hands instead of bowing. All of us sought to capture a new immediacy and vitality in our writing. We knew one of us in Paris would get it.

I tried to interest my friends in Communism. It’s an easy sell. “Don’t you want to help the poor?” And they saw it. But they also saw the great strides made for the poor with unions and rising wages naturally following competition to keep worthwhile employees.

Attitudes didn’t change until the Great Depression. The explosion of poverty woke us up to the desperate need for Communism. People rushed to all us Communists, joining The Movement and infiltrating America and Europe with their new insight to bring fundamental change for the sake of the Have Nots.

Every university campus jerked awake with students flocking to Socialist radicalism. They went from lazily absorbing the classics and brooding longingly over their self-involved poetry to galvanized youths throwing off frivolity to grasp the controls of political power and undermine every institution that had lulled us to sleep regarding equality for all.

We saw it in the exciting election of a Socialist in Franklin Roosevelt. We winked at each other as we whispered stories about Roosevelt opening his Cabinet meetings with the warm salute of “Good morning, my fellow Socialists!” Communist Party USA members were appointed to prominent White House positions. And we knew what Stalin was doing blazing a trail of health and wealth for the impoverished of the Soviet Union.

Hemingway would sit and grin stupidly as we talked around him. It was the only time I saw him look stupid and doubt himself on what to think. This was because the fibrous ball of his soul, his art, was rooted in the enduring American reverence of the strong individual conquering a better life. Hem writhed in hatred for Roosevelt and how his vast welfare programs gradually turned vital people and families into cowed dependents of a numb bureaucracy.

“How does making people obligated to handouts help them in the long run?” he bristled. “We all know what’s down that road. It’s flat-out bribery!”

“It’s only temporary,” I argued, “to give them a leg up.”

It took me years to see past that one.

In 1935, Hemingway weathered the hurricane and made his way from Key West on his new fishing boat, the Pilar, to Matecumbe Key where a Roosevelt public works program had lured over 800 hundred war vets with their wives and children for a government paycheck. The government knew how high a wall of seawater this terrible storm might throw and lifted not a finger to get them north. Was it because the vets had angered Roosevelt in marches on Washington demanding he make good on Woodrow Wilson’s promises to them? Hem told me how he drove up to Matecumbe and came across the hundreds of bodies bloated into great, mottled pigs of corpses face down or face up in the water, like balloons with hands. The flies and the stink. The pop of bodies. Hem was livid. He wept. Those vets, their families, men who sacrificed so much in our War.

Hem roared at Roosevelt with the pen too. The article got a lot of attention from the Left, that thought this might be the chance to peel Hemingway from Capitalism. I couldn’t go so hard on Roosevelt since you can’t do that when you’re in camp with other Socialists. You see, it’s you and The Movement against the entire criminal world, the greedy, selfish nature of Man. The epochal struggle of history demands you can never weaken The Movement by criticizing a single member of it. Only our enemies can ever be made to look bad. If you don’t keep the story simple, stupid people might think we’re no better than anybody else.

Seeing Hem roil, my Communist friends watered at the mouth to score Hemingway, the top author in the world. Antonio Gramsci was piecing together his ideas on how to take down the West from within by The Movement subsuming control of education, the arts and entertainment to maneuver behind the credibility of these institutions to grow our crops in their fields. Already, anti-Capitalist messages emerged from Hollywood, and anti-Capitalist is switched in the human mind to pro-Socialist without our having to say a word. That technical divide between Silent movies and the Talkies is a fairly good timeline for when we began growing the prejudices against wealth and letting human nature steer them. Movies from the 1920s portray an American morality on poverty and social evolution that says “The most robust Freedom grows us faster and better past human want.” After our takeover, movie morality insinuated: “Greed and racism have made the United States the most despicable nation ever, and only fundamental transformation and punishment of the old thinking will achieve the best expression of our humanity.”

I helped Stalin’s New York handler, Goros, study and ponder on Hemingway and other authors. Hem’s code name was “Argo.” I talked to them at length about ways to appeal to Argo’s personality and ego, and we all agreed Hem’s reaction to the hurricane might open a way to exploit his sympathy for the worker. I helped form the League of American Writers (a Communist front group), and then put them in contact with Hem, and this led to him writing a piece for New Masses about the Matecumbe Key vets, and this led to an invitation for Hem to speak on Spain at the convention in New York. Hem accepted all of these offers, even though New Masses had savaged him a few years before for not writing “proletarian literature” that we were making all the rage in literary circles.

And, of course, as is ever the case with the superior preparation and coordination on the Left, with its vast Left-wing conspiracy, these Hemingway pieces were pre-arranged to unleash an army of imbedded Socialists to jump in ovation for Hemingway’s outstanding “conscience,” so to seduce the writer’s vanity, and demonstrate the built-in audience waiting for them if they will only say what we want them to.

All of us artists, critics, writers, celebrities in the 1930s got the word from Moscow that we should exploit the explosion in support we received from the Depression. We were told by very smart people to talk as if our ownership of the arts was a fete a complis. “You’ll lose all your friends,” is what people were saying. Our psychology was blunt. It was the same entry fee for urban Democrat politics. We were the smart ones.

I had been the early beneficiary of some of this. In the 1920s, the literary world was still actually liberal so that dissenting views like mine were published and appreciated. Each of my books showed “important” work: In Three Soldiers I attacked fighting for America by undermining the credibility of the American military brass. In Manhattan Transfer and my USA trilogy, I mocked an establishment built around material comforts. I had been out front on these Communist themes, and now arts and letters was catching up and respecting me for my pioneering.

Hemingway, on the other hand, starting in the 1930s, began tasting the shitty end of the critical stick. His themes of frank individualism, his leisure travel to Europe and Africa and Key West for sport fishing, bullfighting, for safari bwana big game trophy hunting—left critics unstirred for the first time. His treatise on bullfighting, Death In the Afternoon, was all but ridiculed when only three years before, in 1929, they called A Farewell to Arms the greatest love story ever told. I hated to see it. I took no good from this. He was a genius. Hell, A Farewell to Arms knocked All Quiet On the Western Front finally off number one on the bestseller list.

Hemingway had to at least take stock of the assets we had so quickly amassed on our side and how stingy we were with them. And what the hell—The Depression made us all sharply aware of the condition of poverty. Hoover hoped that the engines of commerce would rekindle and tow the country out of the ditch. It didn’t work. The vehicle was too terribly stuck. And Roosevelt rode in with a spectacular plan to prime the pump with Socialist money-throwing. But the shock and fear from The Crash exceeded even Roosevelt’s naivety. It wasn’t Roosevelt’s fault. This was a head blow like no other. The psychological impact of the first hit is always the worst. Roosevelt was at fault for his unwillingness to admit that Socialism’s above-down methodology had failed when by 1940 it still had not rekindled the engines. But intransigence is the essence of Socialism-Communism. A coma takes its own time to heal. No doctoring performs a miracle with it.

And so, we had a lot to think about after the War, and then the Depression. Our walking tours made us all fall in love with Spain, Hemingway especially. The Spanish poor were the most noble in his eyes, and the Left in Spain was rapidly bringing hatred to a boil. The high color of poverty in Spain sharpened a picture for Hemingway just as he saw how his ideas had a built-in audience if he just gave more thought to the concerns of labor and the Left. I didn’t like how canned all of this was. Why weren’t we fair and open if we were so good for people? Why did anything need intellectual straightjacketing and intimidation to make us see the worth of it? The very idea of militarizing enlightenment is frighteningly antagonistic to the human soul, to our curiosity, to the role of our free imagination. I saw how we used the Moscow workbook to trick people into believing our ideology was flawless. But who is ever perfect? Why pretend such a thing? Because you think most people are so stupid that this makes them feel safe? Because you want to trick them into thinking governance or life appear simpler than they are? Isn’t there something reliably innate in our draw to a thing of worth that affirms our revulsion for lies? Won’t the need for propaganda prove we’re off the mark? Enlightenment is the last thing that should require bullying, force, lies, cover-up and propaganda. If it isn’t, life isn’t worth trying.

And then came the Nazis. The “Fascists,” repellent for encouraging division among races, rather than what I was doing which was division based on politics. And the chessboard was Spain. Just when Hem saw the Spanish poor as the best people in the world. And Hem also liked war, and a fight, and he loved feeling superior to other people maybe more than any of us do. To me, that’s the problem in so much of this. The word “Fascism” became a sort of incantation that gave ready access to that deep desire to think ourselves superior to others. Impossible-to-handle emotions crept up in short order all because Stalin feared Hitler for his rival designs on Europe. The Nazis were Socialists who hated Commies and had no illusions about who they were, and they had wiped out Stalin’s cells in Germany and would do the same everywhere else. Worse, Stalin’s economic crash impeded his military build-up, while the economic miracle Hitler brought Germany raised a frightening specter. And so, Stalin sent down our marching orders for all of us to bully our home governments to hold off the Nazis to help Stalin. It was detestable, for we were no longer patriots of our own countries. We were now patriots of World Communism and would sacrifice even our own homelands to protect Communism, which was Stalin.

We rallied as befit the threat to Stalin. Our verbiage and energy were so effective that the Nazi stigma lasts to this day, while we Communists and our monstrousness slips by with a hall pass. Hemingway, spoiling for a fight, spoiling for better reviews, became particularly spirited. This was when he talked to Goros, and Goros got him to agree to the lowest level of cooperation with us—to give us information, always the first step. In return we lured him with what Hemingway relished—inside dope, access to top political people and circles, where he could feel self-important and listened to. To his credit, Hemingway never completed the loop.

In the meantime, political hatreds so poisoned Spain that it was clear the fighting would be odious. Because Franco knew what the sides were capable of, and if Spain fell over the cliff to the Left then genocide would ensue. Franco sat in the middle with Stalin and Hitler on either end of the board, each seeing the chance for a trial run with all sorts of guns and tanks. We knew Stalin had already murdered 20 million even though The New York Times wouldn’t print it. Their reporter, Walter Duranty, a Communist, had even won the Pulitzer for hiding the truth about the genocide in the Soviet Union. Hitler threatened the Jews, while we Socialists were well on our way against all who wanted free enterprise. Hitler was the bad guy, Stalin the good.

Jose Robles and I were there in New York when Hemingway appeared with his new lover, and Communist, the red-hot journalist Martha Gellhorn, to warn the world about the rise of the Nazi threat. “The democracies need to wake up to the Fascist threat!” His incongruous, squeaky voice grated in the cheap acoustics of the hall. “The Fascists will use Spain as a springboard to the rest of Europe!”

I didn’t look at Jose Robles standing next to me in the stage wings. I had already gone too far with him saying my piece about how Nazi Fascism hated all who opposed its agenda to gain German conquest over the world, while our Global Fascism hated all who opposed our agenda to gain Communist conquest over the world. Jose was my Spanish translator and fellow Communist. I had risked this joke after two times when our eyes met and we both recognized in the other a doubt about a person or a slogan someone repeated.

I remember searching for a sign in the way Jose’s hands clapped for Hemingway at the big speech to the North American Committee for Spain, a front group. I remember trying to decipher the pace of his clapping, and how hard he clapped. I wondered if Jose had said anything about what I told him to anyone else. Waiting in the wings for my turn to speak, I wondered if I had said too much. I felt trepidation even though I was one of the most valuable Communist assets in the United States.

And then war opened in Spain.

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2 NEXT WEEK…

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Photo by Cea.