domingo, 19 de marzo de 2017

Ernest Hemingway: So why does this story matter? Does it offer any insights that may be useful today?

How Russia Recruited Ernest Hemingway


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The Russians have been working among us in Washington and New York for a long time, and Papa Hemingway was just one of their more high profile collaborators.

One day in New York, in the winter of 1940-1941, a Soviet spy named Jacob Golos recruited Ernest Hemingway “for our work.” Golos was a colorful old Bolshevik, a lifelong revolutionary who had escaped from czarist banishment by walking from Siberia to China. Golos eventually settled on the lower east side of Manhattan, where he became one of the founders of the Communist Party of the USA and a linchpin for Soviet espionage on the east coast. On the day that he pitched Hemingway, he was acting on behalf of the NKVD, the predecessor of the KGB during the Cold War and of the SVR today. After the meeting, Golos reported to Moscow that he was “sure that he [Hemingway] will cooperate with us and … do everything he can” to help the NKVD.


So why does this story matter? Does it offer any insights that may be useful today?

First, it points up the continuities in Russian history. 

No matter whether it is called NKVD, KGB, or SVR, the Russian secret service has since 1934 worked hard to gather information on and exert influence in the United States. Russian officials have never forgotten that it is in their interest to understand and manipulate the great power across the ocean, something that they have been most comfortable doing behind the scenes.

Second, the Hemingway case reminds us to look closely at cases that are not as clear cut as outright spying or influence peddling. 

The fallout from such cases can also undermine American institutions, only in more subtle ways. American interests and those of other countries occasionally overlap, but they are seldom identical. In matters of national security, it is well-nigh impossible to serve two masters, and even the appearance of conflict of interest can be corrosive, as the young Trump administration is discovering.

Third, some 70 years later, Hemingway's forays into foreign policy still resonate, but not in a reassuring way. 

Most of us who read and love his work do so because his writing—honest, direct, independent— evokes so many American values. Few of us want to learn that our literary icon was in a secret relationship with a foreign power, especially one whose values have always been so different from ours. Also troubling is the equivalency between America and Russia that he proposed in 1948, an idea that President Trump recently seemed to echo. I am old-fashioned enough to think that America is not just another great power but a unique experiment in self-government and democracy, a republic unlike any Russian government, Soviet or post-Soviet. This sadly is something that one of our greatest writers never fully grasped.

Nicholas Reynolds is the author of Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy, The Secret Adventures of Ernest Hemingway 1935-1961, published this month by William Morrow.

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