Martha Gellhorn: The Forest Gump of war correspondents


I have no idea where I am going with this, or if it will see light of day. Enjoy my “process,” such as it is, as I do not outline blog pieces, or even plan them in advance. Yesterday I had no idea that I would be writing about Martha Gellhorn today. I just finished this piece with the words “I get it” way down below. There comes a certain point when writing this stuff that I realize I have reached an appropriate ending.

The above photo and quote by Martha Gellhorn appeared on Facebook. I knew of the name, Gellhorn, but did not know why. I thought the substance of the quote was vapid, presuming that the people we vote for are the people who have real power. I did a quick Geni search, and learned, not surprisingly, that she was Jewish on both sides, not that I care about that. On her mother’s side, she goes back to Prague in the 1600s, the names Fischel and Bunzel prominent. The name Gellhorn is listed in, with ten links. That does not mean a thing to me. The Fischels have been, apparently, a prominent St. Louis family since the move from Prague in the mid-1800s.

The reason she caught my eye, and why I know the name, is because she was the third wife of Ernest Hemingway (1940 to 1945).

This is a sidebar, but I hope to bring it around. When I was a kid, my family and I were watching television as my mother worked in the kitchen. On TV was a show about Valley Forge and General Washington. He was being visited by a negro soldier, and the nature of the conversation was that Washington believed in racial equality, but that the time was not right for major advances. He tenderly advised the young soldier, who seemed both educated and erudite, to be patient.

My mother angrily came out of the kitchen and stood in front of the TV and said something like “They are reading lines written today and pretending that’s how they talked back then.” In other words, she thought the program was nonsense. I was too young to agree or disagree, but she did make an impression that evening.

That comes to mind because as I read about Gellhorn’s life, it seemed to me that she was way ahead of her times, asexual, a man in a woman’s body. Regarding her marriage to Hemingway, she said she had no intention of “being a footnote in someone else’s life.” This reminded me of the NASA “hidden figures” project wherein they are inserting women in various place in history and crediting them with heroic deeds, all fiction.

I’ll go through Gellhorn’s life, hitting the high points. See if it appears to you, like me, that she had a knack for being in the right place and being noticed by the right people. All quotes are from Gellhorn’s Wikipedia page.)

At the 1916 national Democratic convention in St. Louis, “The Golden Lane” consisted of women carrying yellow parasols and wearing yellow sashes; they lined both sides of a main street leading to the Coliseum. A tableau of the states was in front of the Art Museum; states who had not enfranchised women were draped in black. In the front row were two little girls, Mary Taussig and Martha Gellhorn, representing future voters.[9]

So as a little girl Gellhorn is already being used as part of the effort to give women the franchise so that they, like men, can be fooled into thinking their opinion matters.

Gellhorn attended the wealthy John Burroughs School (the equivalent of high school) in St. Louis, and after that attended Bryn Mawr College, a liberal arts school for women founded by Quakers but now said to be non-sectarian. Its alumnae (or attendees) include Nobel Laureates, scholars, mathematicians, economists, and Ernest Hemingway’s first wife (Hadley Richardson) in addition to Gellhorn, his third wife. Woodrow Wilson taught there, but Katharine Hepburn is probably the most famous of them all. Bryn Mawr has “elite” written all over it, so it is safe to say that Martha Gellhorn was juiced from the beginning.

… she left [Bryn Mawr], without having graduated, to pursue a career as a journalist. Her first published articles appeared in The New Republic. In 1930, determined to become a foreign correspondent, she went to France for two years, where she worked at the United Press bureau in Paris, but after reporting sexual harassment by a coworker, ended up fired. She spent years traveling Europe, writing for papers in Paris and St. Louis, and even covering fashion for Vogue.[10] She became active in the pacifist movement, writing about her experiences in her book What Mad Pursuit (1934).[My emphasis]

There is a lot going on in that paragraph. First, it strikes me odd that a college dropout nonetheless has doors opening for her without completing that very large project called “college.” Yet she turns up in The New Republic. It would be as if I decided to drop out of college to pursue a career in accounting, and then to be immediately handed my CPA certificate without taking the exam. Some people living among us are not subject to regular rules of achievement. As Barry Switzer, football coach, said, “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.”

She is then hired by United Press in Paris, based on zero qualifications. It seems as though these jobs are handed to her. It does not read well. It will be a repeating theme in her life story.

I can’t let the sexual harassment episode pass by. At age 69, I am the senior writer here at POM (I think), and I don’t recall the term “sexual harassment” becoming a thing until recent times. I’m not saying it does not describe something real, only that those particular words were not used until maybe the 1980s. So it seems that Gellhorn is again, just as when she was a child used to advance women’s vote, avant garde. She not only was sexually harassed, but got fired for reporting it. I suspect Wikipedia writers are giving us a brushed-up-to-the-present version of events.

Gellhonr Hemingway(There was a movie made about Gellhorn (Hemingway & Gellhorn) with her part played by Nicole Kidman. I wanted to say here that Kidman was at least attractive enough that sexual harassment might seem plausible. But as I looked over photographs of Gellhorn in her flower, I could see how sexual appeal radiates from her, even as she is not a raving beauty. But she writes about sex as someone on the low end of desire:

I practised sex out of moral conviction, that was one thing; but to enjoy it … seemed a defeat. I accompanied men and was accompanied in action, in the extrovert part of life; I plunged into that … but not sex; that seemed to be their delight, and all I got was a pleasure of being wanted, I suppose, and the tenderness (not nearly enough) that a man gives when he is satisfied. I daresay I was the worst bed partner in five continents.[24]

Nothing there to criticize. I enjoy her frankness.

After returning to the United States in 1932,[11] Gellhorn was hired by Harry Hopkins, whom she had met through her friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.[12] The Roosevelts invited Gellhorn to live at the White House, and she spent evenings there assisting Eleanor Roosevelt with correspondence and the first lady’s “My Day” column in Women’s Home Companion.[13] She was hired as a field investigator for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), created by Franklin D. Roosevelt to aid in the war on the Great Depression. Gellhorn traveled around the United States for FERA to report on the impact of the Depression on the country.[Emphasis added.]

The tone of this passage is matter-of-fact. This college dropout is now personal friends with the first lady, and is hired by FDR’s closest advisor. At the beginning I thought that there wasn’t much to write about with Gellhorn, but there is one thing: She is on the inside track and chummy with the most powerful people in the country. The writers of the Wiki piece know this, and are even blasé about it.

One final note before we move on to her career as a war correspondent:

While in Idaho doing FERA work, Gellhorn convinced a group of workers to break the windows of the FERA office to draw attention to their crooked boss. Although this worked, she was then fired from FERA. [15]

This episode, just as with the sexual harassment episode with United Press, seems contrived, maybe inserted to place her at the forefront of anti-corruption. I doubt the incident happened, and so was dreamed up by the writers behind Wiki. Ergo, she was not controlled opposition at that time. She seems so in retrospect only. Her legacy is merely enjoying the “hidden figures” treatment, the advancement of women in history by creating fictional deeds to make champions out of ordinary people.

Gellhorn in ChinaIn 1936, Gellhorn, connected in every possible way to the major organs of American journalism, was hired by Collier’s Weekly to go to Spain to report on the Spanish Civil War. Her family had traveled to Key West, Florida for a Christmas holiday, and because magical things just happen in this woman’s life, she meets Ernest Hemingway, and they begin their entanglement. The following year they are together in Barcelona. They also travel to China to meet  with high officials in 1941.

The Spanish Civil War has been referred to as the “dress rehearsal” for World War II, and at this point I am teetering on a wire and afraid to fall into that open pit. How much of World War II was staged? How much was real? How many died? What were the real objectives? And what are two lowly journalists doing hobnobbing with such powerful people as General Yu Hanmou? Why would he have any interest in either of them?

These subjects are not beyond my interest, but are above my pay grade as a lowly blogger. I read what others have written, and invite anyone with insight to bring the matter to the fore. I only offer an observation in passing: Three very influential people earned their stripes in Spain in the period 1936-1939: Eric Blair (George Orwell), Martha Gellhorn, and Ernest Hemingway. Were any really that good? I cannot say – the only one I have read start to finish is Orwell. I enjoyed his work as a literary critic and essayist far more than his works of fiction. He should not be taken lightly.

Some have complained that Hemingway just wasn’t that good. I’ve never been able to get beyond a few dozen pages of his writing, blaming myself for not appreciating excellence. Here’s a take on Hemingway from someone we all know, initials MM: Hemingway was criticized by John Irving for ” … the short sentences, the sparse journalistic style, and the macho posing. In addition, I also hated the cardboard characters, the emotionless and humorless narrative, and the plots that I found to be totally uninteresting …” Guess I am not alone other than to say had Farewell to Arms been assigned to me in high school, I would have not read it out of laziness, not because of any literary acumen at that age. I was not a good student, not that it has hurt me any.*

What I am suggesting here is that war is on the horizon, and various characters are being promoted to write about it. The reputations of Hemingway, Blair and Gellhorn are manufactured out of whole cloth. The Spanish Civil War is a testing ground. Gellhorn alone will be come a “war correspondent,” that is, she will be inserted in major events to misrepresent, maybe even exaggerate and glorify. For now, Hemingway and Gellhorn are coupled, and will cohabitate and then marry, the relationship lasting until the end of the war, 1945.

What follows is a record of Gellhorn’s World War II adventures:

  • From Germany, she reports on the rise of Adolf Hitler.
  • 1938, from Czechoslovakia, and writes about the breakout of war in a novel, A Stricken Field.
  • She later reports on the war from Finland, Hong Kong, Burma, Singapore, and England.
  • Lacking official press credentials to witness the Normandy landings, she hid in a hospital ship bathroom, and upon landing impersonated a stretcher bearer; she later recalled, “I followed the war wherever I could reach it.” She was the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day on June 6, 1944.[16]

  • She was at Dachau in April of 1945, after U.S. troops arrived.

Hiding on a hospital ship and impersonating a stretcher bearer to witness the Normandy landings has a Forest Gump feel about it, stumbling about and being  included in the major events of her time. More likely, people are placing her in places where she wasn’t. She had a way of turning up at the right place at the right time, almost as if guided by a hidden hand. I would suggest that her writing was known to be favorable to the authors of the war, so that no one feared any time bombs going off with her, or any true and enlightening information to be revealed. This is the long and time-honored role of the “war correspondent,” to give the appearance of on-the-front-lines authenticity to war propaganda. Gellhorn appears to have been brought in for that purpose, and also from appearances, that her role in the war was spelled out for her in 1936.

That’s all Gellhorn was, as I see it – a propagandist.

Gellhorn would hang around for many years, and be teleported to many other events, leading me to suspect some corollary to the Zal Rule here. Zal states that if a major motion picture is made about a person or event, that the person or event is phony or fake. I speculate here that if Martha Gellhorn was transported to a major event, then she was put there to exaggerate and misrepresent it.

This is mind, Gellhorn covered the Vietnam War, and the Arab Israeli conflicts of the 1960s and 70s. She hung around for the Central American wars of the 1980s, and the US invasion of Panama.

Gellhorn married several times, Hemingway as noted above. She had affairs with powerful men. She adopted a child, but then neglected him and turned him over to other relatives, as her maternal instincts were not strong. Again with her sex drive, she appears on the low end, and speaking of trysts with Hemingway said “My whole memory of sex with Ernest is the invention of excuses, and failing  that, the hope that it would soon be over.”[25][26]

Her death brings to mind conversation I have had with others as we enter our declining years … does anyone want to be old? I visited my mother in a nursing home countless times, and each time came to understand that no one, including my mother, wanted to be there. She once chased me out of the facility in her wheel chair, trying to kick me. She was angry at having been abandoned. It broke my heart, but I lived in Colorado, she in Montana, and her husband and other three sons had all died. She was indeed abandoned.

Gellhorn’s health and eyesight left her, and she had ovarian cancer. On February 15, 1998, she committed suicide in London, ingesting a cyanide capsule. I get it.

* Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” (Could not find a way to work that in.)

36 thoughts on “Martha Gellhorn: The Forest Gump of war correspondents

  1. If you want to have a real say in politics, you have to be “the” man at the top.

    Politicians will say and do whatever they must to be able to get that fat cushy job. Do they deliver? They will provide – but very little.

    No matter which side of the fence you’re on, you will still have to deal with that snake – – at some point.

    I’d be better off on Gilligan’s Island.


  2. Her life is like a mirror of many of those of that type, many are in mm papers. The things you chose to ignore are the most important those being she is aristocracy and therefore is the reason she had that life. A “spy” detailing the events of the collaborators stealing the world over a million times. Grandfather a merchant, father involved in “making sure sanitary milk gets to infants”. Animal milk for humans whoever thought that was a good idea? Her mother with all the various titles of “helping”, that women’s rights type humanitarian, but not exactly. Martha’s talk of hating sex with men Ive read the same from so many women in her role(overwhelmingly jewish) who knows if she’s telling the truth Id lean towards her job is to get that message out there as it fits with her women’s rights, stand alone, we dont need men banner yet she was married several times and ran around with several men doubt she was singing that song at the time only afterwards. A fascist playing a nominal liberal, of course controlled opposition.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you mean what I think you mean, you could not be more wrong. I use Wikipedia for the precise reason that I do not trust it to be honest, and so look for discrepancies and contradictions. Others are seeing the same thing in other comments, that there is more hidden at Wikipedia than revealed.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The default position on the General Yu photo is “paste-up”. She doesn’t look right at all, especially the upper half. Papa seems to be tipping over, about to crush the actor playing Yu. I suspect the couple were lifted from another photo, posing with, oh…Eleanor? and dropped into a country they never got within a Hemisphere of.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I am not going to claim any kind of special ability at photo analysis, but I don’t see too much wrong with this one. I’m not going to proclaim it genuine, but I don’t think that makes you asleep at the wheel. It does not stand out to me, although the best ones wouldn’t stand out anyway.


          1. We are no machines. Even the best person will not have 100% awareness in the moment like that. It is fine to point out, and especially if the photo were an obvious fake. It could also always be a very sophisticated fake…any photograph could be. However, this particular photo was called out. I am looking for the signs and not seeing much. I agree with the broad strokes of this article…this woman and her entire history are far too convenient. I am just curious what anyone sees as being a sign that photo is fake.


    1. Look at the shape of the left side of her forehead and the protoplasm coming out of her hair and covering the cheek of the tall soldier.

      Facial definition and shadows on the tall soldiers eyes compared to the General right in front of him.


        1. This technology has always been my point. Who could tell anymore if a photo is fake or not? We’re not talking about “paste ups” anymore unless the photo has been around for a long, long time. If it’s a modern fake, it would be indistinguishable.

          I practice quite a bit with Forensically for this reason, but even then…


          1. Could Edward Snowden be a hologram or an AI creation??? AFAIK, nobody, not even the sage in Taos has outed Snowden. Even the last name does not ring aristocrat to me… anyway, any thoughts on this character. I know for sure he exists digitally but nothing else…


          2. Yeah, he could. Also, Assange seems more like an actor to me, though. Snowden on the other hand, looks entirely digital IMHO.


          1. It is a subtle thing, Forensically, but really fun when you get used to it. Once, I literally went photo-by-photo out of the NASA moon landing shots and put them all into Forensically to see what I could see. Like others, I found the infamous box around the Earth. Some other interesting oddities, and a missing crosshair or two.

            Would love to do a deeper dive on that program. It can’t tell you everything, but it can tell you enough to make it worthwhile knowing how to use it.



    Not everyone gets a blue plaque. Honored for a job well done. Her narrative has a sort of Ayn Rand feel to it. Selected women in a similar time slot, employed as symbols to help lead the masses (men and women) into “modern” socio-political unreality. Is she a mother of identity politics or the “me-too movement?” Or, part of the beginning of the end of journalism, if it ever really existed. Why not, it all has to trickle down from somewhere as prescribed by our Crown masters.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good call including the quote at the end. Kerouac is awful. I liked your article. I had never heard of this woman. Believe it or not, that is a good thing in my book. I am always wanting to learn new things. I got a lot out of this.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “The two most prominent US newsweeklies, Time and Newsweek, kept close ties with the CIA. “Agency files contain written agreements with former foreign correspondents and stringers for both the weekly news magazines,” according to Carl Bernstein. “Allen Dulles often interceded with his good friend, the late Henry Luce, founder of Time and Life magazines, who readily allowed certain members of his staff to work for the Agency and agreed to provide jobs and credentials for other CIA operatives who lacked journalistic experience.” Bernstein, “The CIA and the Media.””

    #2 husband, T.S. Matthews, succeeded Luce (Yale, Skull and Bones) at Time. Nice little package.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That does look remarkably close, thanks for testing it.
        On the one below, looks oddly narrow, like maybe one of the faces is angled or something.


  7. You’re right. It is, however, alignment of critical features that we seek. If you notice, Sheen’s square jaw is what throws off both of these, but otherwise, they align. If you’re not sure, just look at the eyes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s