Friday, October 25, 2013

The Unpalatable Truth About Martha Gellhorn 2

You can see why Pilger thought Gellhorn the journalistic real deal:

"It was in the textile mill towns of North Carolina that Martha finally found the writing voice that she had been looking for. It was clear and very simple, a careful selection of scenes and quotes, set down plainly and without hyperbole. Nothing particular; there were many other writers who did the same just as well. What made it her own was the tone, the barely contained fury and indignation at the injustice of fate and man against the poor, the weak, the dispossessed. Nothing so enraged her as bullying, superiority, the misuse of power; nothing touched her so sharply as people who had become victims, through the stupidity or casual brutality of others, or children who were frightened, in pain or did not have enough to eat." (Martha Gellhorn: A Life, Caroline Moorehead, 2003, p 91)

 "She was often furious; furious with apocrophiars, a word she coined for those who rewrote history, particularly to their own advantage; furious with critics who read fact into her fiction; with trimmers and prevaricators; with those who had no guts for the fight and those who destroyed others, casually; and furious with the crassness and arrogance of governments. Like lying, sitting on the fence was contemptible. Martha's horizons were peopled by villains, politicians in particular, men and women such as Nixon and Kissinger and Mrs Thatcher, who led the innocent into chaos and the dark night, stupidity and arrogance." (ibid, pp 5-6)

Clearly, to her immense credit, she was no Greg Sheridan, Paul Sheehan or Peter Hartcher. And yet:

"Her blind spot was the Palestinian cause, in which she saw nothing honourable or good. A few chaps braved the fury and challenged the magisterial dismissal; most preferred to leave the subject to one side." (ibid p 6)

Why such sound and the fury at the mention of Palestine?

In a word, as my previous post indicated, 'Dachau'.

Gellhorn reached the SS-run concentration camp on the heels of the American army in May 1945, and took in its array of horrors: the walking skeletons, the evidence of medical experimentation on prisoners, the gas chamber and its crematorium, and the piles of bodies that the SS had not had time to dispose of before the camp was liberated. As her biographer noted:

"Something changed for Martha that day; something to do with what she felt about memory and the past, and her own sense of optimism, and perhaps even about being Jewish.* It was in Dachau, she said, that she really understood for the first time the true evil of man." (ibid p 284)

In her Eurocentric tendency to elevate the Nazi genocide as some kind of gold standard in man's inhumanity to man, Gellhorn calls to mind the insufferable Jewish Hungarian emigre intellectual and writer, Arthur Koestler. Here, for example, is Koestler playing the holocaust card at a social gathering in mandate Palestine in 1945:

"When he got into a heated argument with a British official named Ronnie Burroughs, who was making the case for evenhandedness between the Jews and the Arabs, Koestler burst into an impassioned denunciation of British indifference to the fact that the Jews of Europe were dying like flies for lack of a place to go. 'He thundered like an authentic Old Testament prophet, demolishing the other man's position,' according to the young American correspondent Saul David, who was present. 'Ronnie murmured something about the unfairness of Koestler's argument. Koestler apologized, but said it was impossible to be cool about such matters 'when your mother has been baked in an oven in Lublin'.' The shocked silence that followed this statement ended all argument then and there. Later a more knowledgeable bystander commented that 'Koestler was right, but his mother wasn't baked anywhere. She is alive and well'." (Koestler: The Literary & Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic, Michael Scammell, 2009, p 257)

As it happened, Gellhorn and Koestler once met over dinner in wartime London, with the following, perhaps predictable, result:

"[H]e evidently thinks that he alone has a corner on the Light and the Way. I absolutely loathed him and made it clear, and it was mutual," she wrote to Ernest Hemingway. (Moorehead, p 246)

I venture to suggest that Gellhorn, post-Dachau, also considered that she had a corner on the Light and the Way, and that, as with Koestler in the aforementioned incident with Ronnie Burroughs, nothing brought this out quite like bringing up the case of the Palestinians.

The problem with Gellhorn though was that she took her blind spot one step further and went on to wage a vile Zionist propaganda war against Arabs in general and Palestinian refugees in particular.

[*Gellhorn's father was Jewish. Her mother, Christian.]

To be continued...

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Gellhorn's father was Jewish. Her mother Christian". But her maternal grandfather happened to be Jewish too. Her maternal grandmother Martha Ellis was "from a Protestant family", only the name was Jewish! What a coincidence. So, it was not just Dachau.

MERC said...

For me, being Jewish or Christian or Muslim or any other -ism has nothing to do with biology.

Paul said...

Gas chamber? At Dachau? I think that was dis-proven quite some time back. I don't think even the orthodox "scholars" have maintained that one.

MERC said...

I really have no idea. In her reportage on Dachau, Gellhorn wrote: "The gas chamber is part of the crematorium. The crematorium is a brick building outside the camp compound, standing in a grove of pine trees." (The Face of War, 1959/ republished in 1986, p 183)

Anonymous said...

Being Jewish(or Christian or Muslim)may have nothing to do with biology. But being (completely)Jewish has everything to do with dismissing the "Arabs of Palestine", as she indeed did.

MERC said...

1) What does being "completely Jewish" mean? 2) What about Jews who don't dismiss Palestinian Arabs? 3) What about Christians and Muslims who dismiss them?

Anonymous said...

MERC, you are undermining your own argument (and credibility).

MERC said...

How so?

Anonymous said...

By doubting that Martha's Jewishness is the primary reason of her palpable hatred for Arabs.

MERC said...

So what is your definition of "Jewishness"?

Anonymous said...

What make you think that I have other definition than their own?

MERC said...

Which is?

Anonymous said...

If you don't know why you bother writing this blog?

MERC said...

So you're happy to throw around terms such as "Jewishness" and "completely Jewish," but you expect me to work out what you're on about? Get real.

Anonymous said...

OK,a person "is considered Jewish if both parents are Jewish". Jewishness is "the quality of being Jewish". There are dictionary definitions.I can't believe that you don't know that.

MERC said...

So what then, in terms of behaviour, is supposed to flow from this?

Anonymous said...

That her Jewishness and not "Dachau" was the reason of her "blind spot".

MERC said...

So Gellhorn's blind spot is biologically determined, the result of having at least one Jewish parent?

Anonymous said...

She has both parents. And yes, her "blind spot" is determined by her Jewishness.

MERC said...

How then do you explain anti-Zionist Jews who do not have such a blind spot, and non-Jews who do?

Anonymous said...

I should I "explain"? I was talking just about Gellhorn. What others do is besides the subject.

MERC said...

You're evading my questions.