TOM PUTNAM: Good afternoon. I’m Tom Putnam, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. And on behalf of John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and all of my Library colleagues, I welcome you to this afternoon’s special forum to mark the centennial of Martha Gellhorn.
Let me begin by thanking our underwriters, beginning with our lead sponsor Bank of America, the Lowell Institute, Boston Capital, the Corcoran Jennison Companies, The Boston Foundation, and our media sponsors The Boston Globe, NECN and WBUR, which broadcasts Kennedy Library Forums on Sunday evenings at 8:00p.m.
To prepare for this introduction, I called the only person I know who knew Martha Gellhorn, Patrick Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s sole surviving son. After sharing a number of stories he concluded, “Ah! If Marty were still alive, she’d no doubt be in the mountains of Afghanistan, in the thick of that unfolding conflict.” One hundred years ago yesterday, Martha Gellhorn was born in St. Louis, the daughter of a doctor and early suffragette. She grew to be one of our nation’s finest war reporters. “I am an onlooker,” she once wrote. “My chosen status is that of an outsider. I have never seen any place or group I wanted to join, not their taboos, rules, games or ambitions.” “It was this quality,” writes her biographer, Caroline Moorehead, “that gave Gellhorn’s reporting its edge, the independent lucid eye, telling it how it happened, not worried about whom it might offend.”
Gellhorn got her itch to write early. Midway through her years at Bryn Mawr, she began writing to newspapers across the country asking for a job. “A college degree,” she quipped, “would only qualify her for precisely the sort of job that she would never want.” Her instinct and talent paid off. And, over the span of her career, she covered conflicts ranging from the Spanish Civil War, the fall of Czechoslovakia, the Normandy landings, the liberation of Dachau, the Vietnam War, and at the age of 81, the U.S. Invasion of Panama.
Allow me one passage from the conflict that had the most impact on her, the Spanish Civil War, where she also grew to know Ernest Hemingway, whom she would later marry. Martha Gellhorn wrote about what she saw in the streets of Madrid, of shells falling on a square. “Then for a moment it stops. An old woman with a shawl on her shoulders, holding a terrified, thin little boy by the hand, runs into the square. You know what she is thinking. She’s thinking she must get the child home. You’re always safer in your own place, with the things you know. She’s in the middle of the square when the next one comes, a small piece of twisted steel, hot and very sharp, sprays off the shell. It takes the little boy by the throat. The old woman stands there, holding the hand of the dead child.”
We’re honored to have with us today a remarkable panel to discuss the life and work of Martha Gellhorn. As you’ve surmised, Geraldine Brooks, a great admirer of Gellhorn’s work cannot be here with us today due to an unexpected family emergency and sends her sincere regrets.
Caroline Moorehead knew Martha Gellhorn, not only as one of the circle who was often invited to Ms. Gellhorn’s London flat, but also because her parents were lifelong friends of the celebrated writer. She was granted exclusive access to Ms. Gellhorn’s papers, which she uses magnificently in her biography, Gellhorn: A Twentieth Century Life. She writes, “What made Gellhorn’s writing voice her own was the tone, the barely contained fury and indignation of the justice 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 become victims through the stupidity or casual brutality of others.”
Ms. Moorehead shares another connection with Martha Gellhorn, a lifelong interest in human rights. In addition to her success as a biographer, Caroline Moorehead has written extensively on human rights issues, including the book Human Cargo, on the global plight of refugees, and co-produced a series of programs on human rights for the BBC. She has traveled here from her home in England just for this occasion.
At age 58, Martha Gellhorn convinced The Manchester Guardian to run a series of stories she proposed to write about the war in Vietnam. While there she met with our second panelist, Ward Just, who covered that conflict for Newsweek and The Washington Post. As a war reporter, Mr. Just earned a reputation for fearlessness, venturing far into the field to report the war first-hand. Badly wounded during one of these missions, Mr. Just refused to be airlifted out until all the enlisted men who had been similarly wounded were taken to safety. In their initial conversation in Vietnam, after he described his reporting on military tactics and how the war was unfolding, Martha Gellhorn responded that she was there to bear witness about the effects of war on ordinary people. “I want to write about the Vietnamese. The civilians whom everyone has forgotten are people. I want to try humbly to give them faces so we know who we are destroying.” After spending the 1960s in Vietnam and covering various political campaigns, Mr. Just has written that he finally knew enough to write fiction. Since that time, he has written numerous novels which have been finalists for the National Book Award, and the PEN Hemingway, and short stories for which he received the O’Henry Award. In addition to writing fiction, he maintained a friendship with Martha Gellhorn throughout her life.
Our moderator this afternoon is herself a national treasure, Susan Stamberg, NPR’s award-winning special correspondent and one of the pioneers of National Public Radio. Her interviewing style has been called fresh, friendly and down to earth. As an example apropos of today’s centennial, Ms. Stamberg opened her 2003 story this way, “Martha Gellhorn was blonde, leggy, smart, sassy, impassioned and one terrific writer. She had major moxie.” One of the most popular broadcasters in public radio, Susan Stamberg is well-known for her conversational style, intelligence and knack for finding an interesting story, most recently airing a wonderful essay on why Barack Obama and John McCain both listed For Whom The Bell Tolls as one of their favorite novels, and its protagonist, Robert Jordan, as a role model for our times. The novelist E.L. Doctorow describes Ms. Stamberg as “The closest thing to an enlightened humanist on the radio.”
Martha Gellhorn never lived in Boston, but the city is home to her papers at Boston University Archives. And a small number of photos and letters reside here as part of the Hemingway collection, a portion of which we have on display in the Smith foyer for you all to see. Please join me now in welcoming today’s special panel to discuss and pay tribute to Martha Gellhorn who, through her writing, served as a guardian of the conscious of the world. “I like writing,” she observed in her diary. “It is the only thing which does not bore or dismay me or fill me with doubt. It is the only thing I know absolutely and irrevocably to be good in itself.” Please join me in welcoming the panelists. [applause]
SUSAN STAMBERG: Thank you very much. That was a wonderful introduction. There is very little left for us to say. I can’t tell you how excited I have been at the thought of coming here to celebrate the centennial of Martha Gellhorn. There’s no female journalist working these days who does not hold her up as an idol and probably that is true for a number of male journalists as well. But those of us of a certain generation, who grew up being aware of her, reading her, knowing that she was around, she gave us hope and she gave us faith. And we prayed that we would have the kinds of guts that she clearly exhibited throughout her long and mostly productive life.
In addition to the journalism, she was also a novelist. She was an impassioned liberal who was enraged by injustice and a very glamorous friend of the famous. And maybe we’ll get a chance to talk about that as well. And she would hate, I believe, for this to be a part of anybody’s introduction this early. She was the third wife of Ernest Hemingway. She never wanted that to be the lead but the way life pans out, it always is.
And yes, blonde leggy. To me -- I’ve been studying her face and some terrific photographs of her outside. Do you know the jazz musician Diana Krall? She looks a lot like that, although Caroline tells me movie rights have been bought by Aniston. That strikes me as a very good idea too, but it’s sort of that look. What did you say? Aniston is a lot smaller than Gellhorn was. She’s got the same sass. She was also, from my reading of her, a legendary complainer. And maybe you friends of hers can say that as well. A “kvetch” is what we say in the Ancient Greek. [laughter] And she was a terrific writer and we’re going to read you some samples of those. And obviously she was fearless. And she lived a long and it seems constantly observant life. She was 90 years old when she died in London. That was in 1998. So the two of you had the advantage of knowing her. Tell us something of the circumstances, how you met? She got in touch with you before going to Vietnam?
WARD JUST: I can’t remember. We were in Vietnam together, and I can’t remember whether she called me or I called her. But the result was that we met at a restaurant in Saigon called Batter Bay. Batter Bay served this poisonous Corsican red wine. And Martha was something of a drinker, and so she swept the bottle away from the table and we started drinking Scotch.
If I could just give you a sort of a sense of her presentation. She had a voice. I don’t know if this is my coinage or somebody else said this, it had so much gravel in it you could walk on it. [laughter] And you had to get beyond the accent. The accent begins somewhere in St. Louis, but then it sort of veers left through the Hudson River Valley, somewhere through the Back Bay, and ends up in the home counties of Great Britain. An accent commonly called the mid-Atlantic accent, but it’s really her own accent. Once you got beyond the accent, then you had to get beyond the slang. And the slang is the sort of slang that I imagine people would have heard in a British officer’s mess at the Second Battle of the Somme, or something like that.
She talked about, “you chaps,” mostly referring to men, but sometimes men and women. And if you were going to dinner, the locution was, “Let’s go get some grub.” Once you finished with the grub, you had to sort through the bumph. She spelled that, and I guess it’s normally spelled B-U-M-P-H. The bumph were documents of any kind, or bills, or pieces of paper, that was the bumph. And then, a la Hemingway -- I think she picked this up from him-- she was always talking about the “gen,” and the “gen” was intelligence. And when she really had something to tell you, that was really serious and was absolutely factual, accurate, factually accurate, that was called the true “gen.”
I want to just read you one thing. To call Martha pessimistic is on the sleight (?) side of things. This is the opening paragraph -- it’s very short -- to a book she wrote called, Travels With Myself And Another. The “Another” is called throughout, “U.C.,” meaning unwilling companion. [laughter] And that’s, of course, Hemingway, who at this time in her life -- you mention Hemingway and she would get up from the table and leave it -- but when it came time to write this book, she got rather affectionate towards him. At any event, this gives you a little bit of an idea to her approach to life. “I was seized by the idea of this book while sitting on a rotten little beach at the western tip of Crete, flanked by a water-logged shoe and a rusted potty. Around me, the litter of our species. I had the depressed feeling that I spent my life doing this sort of thing and might as well end my days here. This is the traveler’s deep, dark night of the soul and can happen anywhere at any hour.” [laughter]
STAMBERG: That is wonderful. So you were just a little thing when you met her, clearly, Caroline.
CAROLINE MOOREHEAD: Well, she was a friend of my mother’s. She met my parents at the end of the war.
STAMBERG: How? Why and how?
MOOREHEAD: My father was a war correspondent in Italy, and Martha traveled up as a youngish reporter and she met my father. So she was in my life when I was a child, but she was a very fierce and frightening person in my life. Many years later, when I was asked by Sandy Matthews, her executor, to write the book, I had two very strong feelings.
One was that I didn’t want to write about somebody I knew. And the other was how appalled she would be if it would be me, if she knew it was me who was writing it.
STAMBERG: Who would her choice have been?
MOOREHEAD: Well, certainly a man, no question a man. She liked men better, didn’t she?
JUST: She did. She was not nice to women. I don’t think she cared for them as a species. [laughter] I mean her idea, I think, of a great afternoon was hanging around a bar with a bunch of men, chaps, telling jokes and drinking whiskey.
MOOREHEAD: She was really mad about her men friends.
STAMBERG: It’s something that she kept up. Your biography is so wonderful. And I didn’t envy you the dozens -- more than that -- of pages you had to spend on the later part of her life, the years and years at the end of her life which sounded bitter and lonely and isolated and alienated. And yet, you write about how at the end she drew in new “chaps.” Tell about some of that.
MOOREHEAD: I think she had a bad period in her 60s, where I think that she found it very hard to write. Though she writes so fluently and wonderfully, and this book is fantastic, she labored at writing more than anybody I’d ever known. At one point she took 18 months to write one novella, and she just wrote it again and again. It was such a drudgery. And at this point in her 60s she wasn’t really writing. Nothing was going very well. Her mother had died, who she greatly loved, and she wasn’t really with anyone. And then she met, through I think a chance television program, she met John Pilger, the correspondent, and then other young writers and reporters. And these became “my chaps.” And though she would say quite bitterly, “It’s not really good being rediscovered like an ancient monument,” she actually loved it. And as she got older, her sight got very bad. So these people would cover the wars for her. When they came back -- John Snow, who does our television reporting, she would refer to him as if he had seen the things she wanted to see. So she sort of lived vicariously through them.
STAMBERG: Yeah. I was mentioning what a perpetual observer she was through her life. Can we easily find that passage from the biography which you quote from her war writing? We don’t have it here?
MOOREHEAD: No, but it was the bit we just read out.
STAMBERG: Oh. It was what he just did.
STAMBERG: Yes. Yes. And the threat of that, really of that passage, was that sense that she wasn’t looking at the gun. She wasn’t looking at artillery. She was looking where? Because that was really her theme as a war correspondent.
MOOREHEAD: It was people. It was ordinary people. It was civilians.
JUST: Exactly. And I think you go back to her correspondence from Spain.
JUST: Yeah, I mean, Spain and onward. It was ordinary people caught in the gunfire, caught in the famine, caught in the fire, caught in this and that. But you know, that said, she had a really superb knowledge of military tactics and weapons. One time in Paris she had come back -- my wife and I saw her -- she had just come back from Panama. This would have been sometime in the ‘80s. I can’t even remember what war was going on in Panama, but there was one anyway. I was out of the business by then, believe me. And she said that some sergeant was trying to present a crater made by a mortar. And Martha said, “He was trying to bullshit me. They didn’t think I knew what I was talking about.
That’s a bomb crater, a bomb from an airplane, not a mortar from around the corner.” And what gave that significance to Martha was that the only planes in the area were American airplanes, and so it had some meaning. While it’s quite true that she concentrated on people and, as Caroline said, ordinary people, she did have this soldier’s sense.
STAMBERG: She knew what she was looking at.
JUST: Absolutely knew what she was talking about.
STAMBERG: Why did she choose to be a war correspondent?
MOOREHEAD: Can I just get back to that point for a minute?
STAMBERG: Yes, please.
MOOREHEAD: I think one of the best things she wrote was the first book she wrote, The Trouble I’ve Seen. It reports to be fiction. It’s four short stories about the depression, and it’s actually just a reporting for the depression. And she wrote it when she was 25, 26? And I think it was as good as anything she did. And I think it was then that she developed this voice about writing about people who didn’t have stuff.
STAMBERG: Well, and she was sent out by the White House, wasn’t she? She was part of the WPA, was it? Or another branch, another piece of the alphabet of the depression, to go out and document, as so many of them did.
JUST: It should be said that she was actually living in the White House at the time. She and Eleanor Roosevelt had become great friends and Harry Hopkins, wasn’t it?
MOOREHEAD: That’s who sent her out.
JUST: Who sort of said, “Go out to some of these WPA camps. Come back. Report back. Tell us what’s going on.”
MOOREHEAD: It was a team of journalists, wasn’t it?
STAMBERG: Anyway, why war eventually?
MOOREHEAD: I would say it was because in Spain. She was there with Hemingway, and she was looking around, keeping a diary, looking at this and that, and so the story always went. He said to her, “Well, why don’t you write about the war?” And she said, “I don’t know about soldiers and weapons.” And he said, “Well, write about what you do know about, which is people.” And off she went and wrote the first piece of literature that she wrote for Collier’s.
JUST: Spain was also for Hemingway, too, and most all these literary characters who were out there -- Dos Pasos, George Orwell, a number of others -- it was a sole struggle as far as they were concerned. It was the one really good war after the pointless carnage of WWI. And, as a consequence, they wrote a lot of propaganda, if you agree with this.
And it wasn’t so much what they wrote, it was what they didn’t write. And they did not choose to write about the atrocities committed on the Republican side. It was the atrocities committed by the rebels. As a result -- it’s in your book -- The New York Times had two correspondents out there, one was a crazed left-winger and the other was a crazed right-winger.
STAMBERG: That’s bad.
JUST: And there was no -- what was one of Martha’s phrases was, “All this objectivity shit.” That was absent in the Spanish conflict.
MOOREHEAD: But it’s nowhere in her letters. She makes no mention. You would think that the Republican side was a complete different operation. Not anywhere, not in her diaries, not in her … It was as if it was not happening. In fact, the first time she and Hemingway mentioned it was when he wrote his play, The Fifth Column. That’s the first time that any suggestion that any torture is being carried out by the other side.
STAMBERG: But in terms of war, a great sense of injustice, the fury about it. But did she, at some level, feel more alive in such circumstances? Did she write about that? Did she say that?
MOOREHEAD: Yes, she certainly did.
JUST: Yes. You’ve got a number of things quoted in the [simultaneous conversation]
MOOREHEAD: Yes. When she used to go off, she used to get so excited. I can’t produce them as quotes, but there are many times in her letters where she realized that she’s about to leave for war. And she feels completely different.
STAMBERG: Yes. It was transforming. I want to get some more samples of writing because this is such a distinctive voice. And I copied down some things, all of these from this, which is available in paperback, Travels With Myself And Another, that’s Hemingway. She’s in Africa, and she describes the sound of flamingoes in flight in Kenya. She says, “It’s like tearing silk.” Isn’t that terrific? It’s just terrific.
STAMBERG: And we talked about how opinionated and demanding she was, especially about guides and helpers. And again she’s in Africa. She’s on a game reserve with a guy, a guide and a guy, named Ali(?). She writes, “The last thing in life I had ever wanted was to be face to face with elephants, on foot, in the bush, accompanied by an imbecile.” [laughter] She must have been the most impossible and the greatest traveling companion, don’t you think?
JUST: Yes. Both things at the same time.
STAMBERG: Yes. Simultaneously.
MOOREHEAD: That’s what makes the book so wonderful, because she’s very aware of the impossibility of her role in it all.
STAMBERG: Yes. And she doesn’t at all try to be a good sport. [laughter]
JUST: That was not in her repertoire. Good sport didn’t come into it.
STAMBERG: Not for a minute. We talk a little about her moxie. How she got herself to cover and land at D-Day.
MOOREHEAD: At that stage -- I think this is right -- you couldn’t have two correspondents from the same publication. And Hemingway had refused to come from Cuba to cover the war, until he suddenly decided at the very, very end that he would not only come, but he would take her place on Collier’s. And, in a sense, it was the beginning of the end of their relationship. So he got the place on the airplane and she took a slow boat. By the time she got to London he was ensconced, as it happened, with Mary, who would become the next Mrs. Hemingway.
JUST: Mary Walsh?
MOOREHEAD: The next Mrs. Hemingway. So when D-Day came, he went to cross on the boats. And she was told she would have to stay around. So she went down to the coast, and she wandered around the key. And she saw a Red Cross flag on a ship. So she went up to it. And she was about to get on, and a police came up and said, “What are you doing?” And she said, “I’m one of the nurses, and I’m writing a piece about the nurses.” So he waved her on. She rushed upstairs. She hid in the loo. She had been sensible enough to take with her a half a bottle of whiskey. So she sat drinking the whiskey in the loo until the boat crossed. And when it got to the other side, she went onshore. She helped bring people back. She got a terrific story. And Hemingway, meanwhile, had put out to sea, got extremely seasick, had never been landed. He went back to shore. They both filed for Collier’s. He filed a story saying “It was fantastic. I did this. I landed. I saw. I heard. I did.” She filed a very modest story about what it was actually like. And they appeared in the same issue, which is a tremendous giveaway as to what they were like.
STAMBERG: Well, she was also very clever. One of my favorite pieces here is when she was sent by Collier’s in 1941 to China, to cover the army of Chiang Kei-shek, and they’re somewhere in the jungle. I have to read a section of this to you.
MOOREHEAD: It’s wonderful.
STAMBERG: It is wonderful. And they go through every … Let me find my notes on it for a moment. The piece is called “Mr. Ma’s Tigers,” and they go together with Hemingway -- this is where she calls him the unwilling companion, “U.C.” -- to report on the Chinese army along the Canton front. China in these days is occupied by Japan, and Chiang Kei-shek is in control maybe of a third of it, at that time. That part was called Free China. And the two of them are escorted by Mr. Ma and they have a car. They have a driver. They have a mechanic. But why they need all this is not clear since there are no roads on which you can drive, but they keep going. And they have other traveling companions: heat, cold, malaria, mosquitoes, rain, and a steady diet of rice and tea. So they get met by, at one point, some soldiers to conduct them to Chiang. And the soldiers bring along with them what she describes as diminutive horses. And Hemingway says that his horse, he felt, was extremely lucky since Hemingway was able to ride and walk at the same time. [laughter] So the horse would have six legs. So they ride these miniature horses. They’re going up and down excruciating, grueling hills. They meet various generals. She writes “Lin, Yu, Chen, Chiang, what does it matter?” And then here’s what happens to them.
She says, “Before the day was over my notes state U.C.”-- that’s him, you know, unwilling companion. “U.C.’s horse fell on him. U.C. stretched his arm over the saddle and under the horse’s belly and picked it up, muttering about cruelty to animals and started to walk with him. I said sharply, ‘Put that horse down.’ He said, ‘I will not, poor bloody horse.’ I said, ‘You’re insulting the Chinese. Put it down.’ He said, ‘My first loyalty is to this horse.’ I said, ‘You must’-- now she’s writing in italics-- ‘You must drop that horse, please.’ ‘Okay. Poor old horse. Walk by yourself if you can.’”
I love it because it’s hilarious and it’s such great, specific writing. But it tells you a lot about what their relationship, at this point, was. It was pretty good. We get that feeling because the end of it was so bitter.
MOOREHEAD: It was. All people always remember and write about is the end and the bitterness. I think they had a very good time, for quite a long time. Can I just read?
STAMBERG: Please. There’s a collection of letters.
MOOREHEAD: There’s just a bit of a letter to her. She had a slightly whimsy tone with him, which wasn’t totally like her. She’s just leaving. It’s 1943, quite late, just leaving to come back. “Please know how much I love you, how well, how admiringly. You are a much better man than me, but I hope I’m not too bad a wife, even if I’ve gone away when I thought you would be away too. And you were so good and generous and always want me to be happy. And I feel ashamed of being happy unless you are. And tonight just going, just feeling ahead already the strange places, I am happy like a fire horse. Awful to be happy like a fire horse, but I am. But like woman, and your woman, I’m sad. Only, there isn’t anything final is there? It’s just a short trip and we’re both coming back from our short trips to our lovely home and our loving cats.” She loved him. And, you know, people often make out that it was nothing, but I don’t think it was.
JUST: I quite agree. That’s a wonderful letter.
STAMBERG: They were together a long time. They were married four years.
MOOREHEAD: They were married, but they’d been together about five before that.
STAMBERG: To what extent -- and here’s a question she’d hate -- was her writing voice influenced by him? Because I can hear his rhythms in that, as I could in some other things, nothing particularly that we read, nothing else we read today, but I do hear it. [simultaneous conversation]
JUST: I do, but it’s fair to say that then and later, there is hardly a newspaper correspondent who, British or American, you can’t hear Hemingway’s rhythms. It was a transformative style.
MOOREHEAD: And it became less and less in hers.
STAMBERG: In hers? As she got older? As she got away from him? As she developed?
You just remind me, I was here when the Library put on a wonderful weekend for the Hemingway Centennial. And I was here, and I did a story for NPR on it. And Nicholas Delbanco, a novelist, very good writer, told the story of having been in Paris at the time Hemingway died, and walking up and down Boulevard Montparnasse, past the different cafes. And it was full of American expats, most of them writers. And over and over again he heard them all saying, “Oh, Hemingway is dead. What a shame. If only he were still alive wouldn’t it be pretty to think so.” So everybody had that language and those rhythms.
So how would you describe her later? What are the later letters in there?
MOOREHEAD: It goes up until just before she dies.
STAMBERG: Can you just open it at random? This is not fair for me to do to you, but listen to what happens because you’ve heard early writings.
MOOREHEAD: You want something at the end?
STAMBERG: Yes. Let’s just hear how.
MOOREHEAD: Actually, the last letter that I’ve got is -- if I just see -- It was to Victoria Glendenning, who is the British novelist who was one of the women she did like.
STAMBERG: Why is that?
MOOREHEAD: I think because she is strong, and I think she wasn’t frightened of Martha. Martha didn’t like people to be frightened of her. Intelligent, clever, talked to her. But she was one of the very few. Let me see if I can just find it. This is very nice, this tiny bit at the end, the end of this very long letter, which is about what she’s doing. She just says, “I felt like talking today. I felt like talking about books. Now I’m going to see what old clothes I can find for my journey and take the underground to St. James Park for a sunlight walk and then get back to you and Elizabeth Byrne.” She had just written a biography of her. “I’m glad you’re as happy as you were always meant to be. Do not marry, though, until I get back from Switzerland.” That was so like her. [laughter]
JUST: That’s just pure Martha isn’t it?
MOOREHEAD: Pure Martha.
STAMBERG: Look at the size of that. And this is what would you say, what percentage of her correspondence is …
MOOREHEAD: A tenth, if that.
STAMBERG: This is what computers and e-mail have destroyed for us, isn’t that right? That they were kept, and she spun it as if her relationships were as invested in these letters as they were, in fact in some ways more, because she could see the pencil and paper more frequently, often, than she could see the friend.
MOOREHEAD: And she liked being alone. She liked being alone and writing letters. Because when she moved to this house, this cottage in Wales, she was very reluctant to come up to London. She used to come up for weekends to see the chaps, but otherwise she liked to be down there with her cats, her whiskey, and the television. Thrillers. She read two to three thrillers a day, and letters.
JUST: And did a little gardening.
MOOREHEAD: It was a terrible summer when the weather for the first time was good.
JUST: There was ghastly weather in Wales. There wasn’t much you could do about that, but she loved gardening.
MOOREHEAD: And there was a summer when the weather was incredible. And she used to complain about this incredible crop she had of every vegetable you could think of. She had more tomatoes, and that was awful.
JUST: Yes. She thought she had to harvest the goddamned stuff. [laughter] She had gone to all that trouble to make it. You had to get it out of the ground.
STAMBERG: So would you go there to that house and you would make calls on her?
JUST: Yes. I was there just once, cramped little place, but she loved it. I think because it was cramped and kind of, you know, inconspicuous.
STAMBERG: You’ve described what it was like to be in her presence. But how was she as an interlocutor? I mean she was depending on you “chaps” to bring the world to her, what were her questions like? And what did she want to know from you?
JUST: We had a bit of a go-around on covering the war in Vietnam, because at this time -- this is some time around the middle of 1966, somewhere in that vicinity -- 300 Americans were dying a week, a week. If you worked for an American newspaper this was conspicuous. This was something you should pay attention to. She, meanwhile, was covering the many, many, more Vietnamese casualties, many of them women and children, non-combatants in any case, in hospitals. We got down to which deserved the greater weight in the reporting, and it was a feckless argument. They both deserved weight.
And so I agreed to go down and look at some of her hospitals. And then I said, “But you come up with me in a military operation.” This is where she was very, very sly occasionally. She said, “Well, yes, yes. I’ll do that.” And I said, “All right, where do you want to go?” She said, “Well, actually I do have a place I want to go. I want to go up to the First Cavalry Division Air Mobile,” which was off in the highlands someplace. So I said, “Okay. I’ll arrange it.” She said, “You don’t have to say that I’m coming with you.” I had no idea what she meant by that. I said, “It doesn’t matter to me.” I said, “Okay.” And so I made arrangements for passage. You know, you went to the airport and got on an airplane and eventually you’d find your way to Plaku, or wherever the division is located. She said, “I’d like to see the commanding general when we get there.” I said,
“Oh, but of course. They’ll probably give a dinner for us.” Because indeed he did. So we arrive in the middle of the afternoon. Martha goes off to her tent. I go off to my tent. And we’re to meet at 6:00 o’clock with the general underneath his tent, which is a very large tent with a lot of captains and majors and lieutenant colonels around, with the general at the head table.
Drinks are laid out, martinis, a lot of gin anyway, flatware, plates, some roast beef smoking away in the corner. And when Martha emerges from her tent, she was wearing a very, very spiffy little shirt like this with a kind of sweater. And I remember this vividly, a little pink ascot around her throat and a pair of slacks. Jesus, she looked like a million dollars. And I didn’t know what all this was about, so we walked into the tent. She takes one look at the commanding general and she says, “Jack, how are you?” Jack turns out to be, in the Second World War, a young captain on the staff of Gentleman Jim Gavin, the airborne, the great, great airborne commander. And she knew Gavin, and it turned out she also knew Jack. And it has to be said, I believe this was the time when Gavin had a chateau near Cidanne. The 82nd Airborne was kind of out of combat at this time, this would have been early 1945, I imagine. They had a chateau, and the château had two ends to it, and in one end was Marlene Dietrich and in the other end was Martha Gellhorn. Jack, I guess, was sort of somewhere between the two. Anyway, Jack Norton was one of the nicest men I knew, at the general level anyway, and a very, very able commander. Takes one look at Gellhorn and goes white.
So we get beyond all that, and we have an extremely nice dinner and a lot of drinks. And that was that. She was very sly about it. So that was her, as far as I’m aware, that was her one acquaintance with the war. And I believe we went back to Saigon the next day without hearing a shot fired in anger.
STAMBERG: And did she write about it?
JUST: No, I don’t think she did. She was exclusively interested in this reportage that she was doing and wonderfully written.
MOOREHEAD: I remember you saying to me once that it changed the way you looked at it.
JUST: Yes, it did. I began to spend some time looking at hospitals. In part, because you do try to see these things all the way in the round, as much 365 degrees as you can. And that was indisputably a part of the story, in that it was a part of the future. It wasn’t part of the past, it was part of the future, all of these dead children and noncombatants of various kinds. So, yes, I did do that. Martha, however, did not decide to go cover the First Cavalry Division Airborne.
MOOREHEAD: She couldn’t get a commission originally. That was extraordinary, wasn’t it?
STAMBERG: Didn’t she pay her way? She paid her own way to get there.
MOOREHEAD: And then The Guardian took pieces, but actually she got there...(inaudible).
STAMBERG: This business of looking at the victims of war, rather than the power mongers who are waging it, we haven’t really talked much about female correspondents then, in her day. What do you think, both of you, to what extent was the way she looked at situations, and parents, the mothers and the children, based on the fact it was a woman doing the looking and the writing?
MOOREHEAD: I think it also came from her mother, who had a very strong influence on her life, who was keen on suffrage. Her father was a doctor. She grew up in this household with three brothers, but it was extremely a sort of socially moral household. And so from a very young age she felt a sense of responsibility towards other people less fortunate, and in bad times. I think it was more that that drew her into writing about this than …
JUST: I don’t know that there’s much difference, quantitative difference or qualitative difference, rather, that you can make between male and female correspondents. There’s as much difference between men and women as a correspondent as there is among men and among women. What Martha Gellhorn had, which is superb in any context, is this eye for the specific thing.
MOOREHEAD: The telling detail.
JUST: Absolutely, the telling detail. I was trying to think about this today. I thought, “What do you need to be a decent war correspondent?” And you need terrific eyes. You need great ears and a conscience. And beyond that there isn’t much else that you … good legs I suppose, and a certain amount of stamina. But intellectual qualities: those are the three things.
STAMBERG: And yet, when she began, there were so few women doing it. I have a paper that … I’m so sorry Geraldine Brooks wasn’t able to be with us, because she, for eight years, was a war correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, as well as a wonderful award-winning novelist. And she could have given us a very, first-person, rounded picture of the life itself. But in the paper she wrote about how rare it was … One of the points she makes is how rare it was to have women covering wars in her day. But she says that by 1992, a third of foreign correspondents were women. This is after the ‘70s, when women went in great numbers into the work force, compared to only 6% in 1970. So in those Vietnam days there was Frankie Fitzgerald and who else?
JUST: It was Frankie Fitzgerald and a wonderful French photographer Cathy Leroy, who loved to jump out of airplanes with the Vietnamese Airborne. I cannot tell you what a dangerous activity that was. There were maybe … well, Gloria Emerson came later. There were two or three later, if there were six, among a press corps of 600, I would be surprised. Later on things began to loosen up a little bit.
STAMBERG: Well, they were getting hired by newspapers. We were not getting hired by newspapers except the society pages, so how much ink can you do with that? And until you can get sent to war you needed to be wily and clever and try to find your way through.
MOOREHEAD: You have to remember, though, that she made that famous remark, “I don’t know where the boys are going but I’m going with them.” Do you remember that one? [laughter]
STAMBERG: She had some incredibly famous friends. I’d like to talk a little bit about - present company included -- how those friendships happened. Eleanor Roosevelt we spoke about. But Leonard Bernstein -- I mean, the list is quite extraordinary -- Leonard Bernstein, the great photographer, Robert Capa. So how did these encounters happen?
How did Bernstein, for example? Why would that be?
MOOREHEAD: She met him in Mexico when she went to live in Mexico in about 1949-1950. And he was there traveling around. That’s how they became friends.
STAMBERG: Not that she was a music lover and you know.
MOOREHEAD: Yes. Well, in a way you can see because she was so wonderful. She was such good company. She was wonderful company. She was funny. She was strong.
JUST: And she traveled everywhere. And in her travels, she’d come across …
Remember, before she went to cover the war in Finland in 1940, the kind of prelude to WWII, she and Hemingway were bird shooting in Sun Valley with Gary Cooper and his wife, and Avril Harriman.
STAMBERG: But that would have been Hemingway’s circle. I mean everybody wanted to come. He was like a magnet for that. But she knew what to do with that, right? We’re going to want questions from you in a few minutes, so be thinking about what else you’re curious about. But then tell about meeting Capa and what that friendship was.
MOOREHEAD: She must have met Capa in Spain, and they were very good friends. She used to say that she had never had an affair with him, but he was her closest. Then she wrote a short story which was about him and about their friendship. One can’t say enough how important she found friendship and how devoted she was to her friends. In fact, can I read you just one other small thing which I just found about friends? This is written in 1958, so she was now 50. “I still have a few friends, men, not quite the same as the others, the first ones. And they and the dead have always mattered more to me than any lovers. Lovers somehow never seem quite serious. There was something I couldn’t quite believe. And even in the most anguishing and intoxicating depths of a love affair, I would always rather be with my friends, who are my own people and where I belonged.” And I think she felt that all her life.
JUST: She writes a terrific … Isn’t that interesting?
STAMBERG: And was she good about maintaining the friendships, if she wrote letters that constantly?
MOOREHEAD: She was. I think she was a very …
STAMBERG: … but showing up, if you were sick? Would she be a friend that way?
MOOREHEAD: She could be a tough friend. I know that from my mother’s friendship with her. She could be very, very tough. She was very tough. She was tough.
STAMBERG: You mean demanding? What do you mean tough?
MOOREHEAD: Unsympathetic, in that sense, tough.
JUST: She had set of rules, I think, that she wanted you to adhere to. I believe she had one set of rules, frankly, for herself, and another set of rules for everybody else. Which rules fit where, you were never quite certain. Still, I do think she had a gift for friendship, and she just loved jokes, joking around.
MOOREHEAD: And to talk. She just wanted to talk. And she was very interested, even in her late ‘80s. She was very interested in everybody else’s life. She was always asking questions. And you never went away without feeling yourself to be a rather better person.
JUST: Very passionate about politics to the end of her life, American politics, European politics, but particularly American politics, which as you might imagine, she loathed up and down the scale.
STAMBERG: She would have been interesting to hear on George W. Bush and his legacy, and even more interesting on Obama. And wouldn’t she be fascinated?
JUST: Let me just read you one quote. This is a very, very short quote. I was going to use it talking about the objectivity of journalists. These are her six words on Richard Nixon. “A miserable, lying, murdering, little swine.” [laughter]
STAMBERG: But how did she really feel?
JUST: Yes. Tell me what you really think about that, Martha. That wasn’t quite clear enough.
STAMBERG: Did she ever meet a Republican that she liked?
MOOREHEAD: She must have.
Not in my hearing, but I’m sure there must have been somebody.
Q: You started to address my question a little bit. I just want to talk a little bit about access. I’m a journalist myself, and I’m so jealous at the amount of access she seemed to have, really pretty unfettered [inaudible] administration and also with the war in Iraq. I had some colleagues who went to Baghdad, and they said that they spent the entire time in the green zone, eating dumplings and going on the treadmill so they wouldn’t gain 20 pounds, and waiting for the news conference of the day.
I covered the White House a little bit myself and it was the same. It’s very boring. You sit around waiting for the news conference. I once met Helen Thomas, and I asked her for her advice. And she said, “Don’t be a potted plant,” which I thought was brilliant. And I think that Ms. Gellhorn would probably have something else similarly concise and pointed to say. I wonder how she would interpret what’s going on now in the relationship between journalists and politicians.
STAMBERG: And may I also add to this, that was your experience in Vietnam, too?
JUST: You could go anywhere you wanted to. I was going to say, as far as Martha was concerned, the places she went didn’t require access of the sort you’re talking about. The stories that interested her were not stories you found inside of buildings or at press conferences or interviewing the commanding general. They tended to be low, down to earth stories, or stories about ordinary people. Where, if you could get there, you could write the story. Iraq is a specific situation. I’ve never been there. I don’t know it. It sounds to me to be a very, very difficult assignment. And I doubt that even Gellhorn could have broken through what they’ve got there. I don’t know that, but …
STAMBERG: I know from our correspondents; we have a sort of rotating group of them. It has in the past been so dangerous they couldn’t go out and do the reporting. They would have to send drivers and interpreters, give them lists of questions, ask them to go out. And then, when they could, go out themselves to follow up, to clarify, to get confirmations. That’s really been just a real difficulty. But did you say in Vietnam you could get out and go anywhere?
JUST: Oh. Go anywhere.
STAMBERG: But everyone sat around and waited for -- what did you call it, the 5:00 o’clock follies?
JUST: Well, if you were in Saigon you might as well go to the damn thing. You could report something out of it, but you certainly would never delay a journey into the field if you had plans to go visit this unit or that unit. You would never delay that for the 5:00 o’clock briefing. It wasn’t that important. You’d go if you were in town.
STAMBERG: But you could get there on your own steam. You would be embedded.
JUST: All you had to do was go out to the airport and walk up and down the flight line.
STAMBERG: Looking for a plane.
JUST: Looking for … “Where are you going?” “I’m going to...(inaudible)” “Oh, I don’t want to go there.” I’m going to ...(inaudible). “No, I don’t want to go there.” “I’m going to Dong Hao.” “I don’t want to go to Dong Hao.” ...(inaudible) just needed a press pass.
Q: Did she know the Kennedys and what did she think of them? Did she hang with them?
JUST: I don’t know.
MOOREHEAD: She just knew them. She was a great admirer of Kennedy. And when Kennedy died, she wrote a very touching, moving letter to Mrs. Kennedy about the death. But she certainly didn’t know them well. She went once or twice, I think, to the White House.
JOE DORSEY: My name’s Joe Dorsey. My introductory comment has nothing to do with my question. But my brother ran the Unitarian Universalist Service Center in downtown Saigon and led the first lay protest in front of Ellsworth Bunker’s mansion on
Christmas Eve. Totally unrelated. I’m much more fascinated by the romantic part of this story with Hemingway. According to Sandra Bullock in Love and War, Agnes the nurse was his first love. He stormed out when he learned about her relationship with some Italian nobleman. But Agnes loved him all the days of her life. And I wonder if Martha, given the fact the she seemed to reach out to everybody, whether Martha and Agnes ever crossed paths?
MOOREHEAD: Not that I know of. I didn’t come across anything. I don’t know.
STAMBERG: As long as you’re on the subject, what were her relations, if any, like with earlier misses and with Mary? Did she have any interaction with them?
MOOREHEAD: Not much. Not a great deal. I think she didn’t care to. [laughter]
JUST: I never heard her mention their names.
STAMBERG: Well she stopped mentioning his, too. Well, what about the sons then, his children?
MOOREHEAD: I think she was very fond of his sons. And she wrote very nice things about them when she was first with him. There’re some charming photographs, wonderful pictures of her with his sons.
STAMBERG: And they liked her?
MOOREHEAD: I think they were very fond of her, yes. And she kept up with them after a bit, after she and Hemingway separated.
Q: Among her other attributes Gellhorn was somewhat known as an anti-Arab bigot, with a particularly severe attitude towards Palestinians. So it’s perhaps a little ironic that the co-winner of the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Investigative Journalism Award, Mohammed Omar, on his return from London after receiving the award, going through the Allenby Crossing into Gaza, was brutally beaten by Israeli Shin Bet Secret Police. How do you think Gellhorn would have felt about something like this, in the general situation there today? Would she have made some progress in her attitudes in this regard?
Q: That’s probably about the best of it, isn’t it?
MOOREHEAD: Maybe. I mean she would have been appalled by that individual event, of course. And she would have been appalled , I think. But she did have a completely blank spot about the Palestinians.
Q: Right. And you brought that up in your book and elsewhere, Human Cargo, and elsewhere.
MOOREHEAD: That’s right. She had an absolute … And, indeed, if you were as frightened of her as I was, I wouldn’t have dreamt of talking to her about the Palestinians. But there were among the “chaps” people who tumbled with her over it, notably John Pilger. And they used to have shouting matches with each other, something I would never have done. But she did have a blank spot, no question about that.
STAMBERG: Did you discuss that with her Ward?
JUST: I can never remember discussing it. I know just reading what she wrote. She had a romantic view of Israel. It was a romance with her I think.
MOOREHEAD: And she was Jewish. Half-Jewish.
STAMBERG: What part Jewish was she?
MOOREHEAD: Yes, on both sides.
STAMBERG: Both her mother and father were Jewish?
JUST: I didn’t know that.
STAMBERG: No, that really wasn’t, that wasn’t known.
JUST: I was sort of thinking normally, no. I had no idea.
STAMBERG: She didn’t look Jewish. [laughter]
Q: Going further back than the other questions, I want to ask you in terms of your book on correspondence, that she continued to have correspondence with such people as Abe Osheroff, and others who were members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Why did she keep up that conversation? What was there about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, then and later, that intrigued her that much?
MOOREHEAD: I think it was because she regarded the time in Spain as some of the best times of her life. It was the one “gen,” as Ward said, which was clean for her and straightforward. There were no ambiguities. And she looked back at this period of her life with tremendous nostalgia and happiness. And she got to know them well, and she got fond of them. You know quite right, the correspondence went on until she or they died.
Q: You don’t think that that part of her life (inaudible) and defined her later work.
MOOREHEAD: All sorts of things defined her life. I think the Depression defined ...
JUST: ... (inaudible) with Spain, back to back, within a -- I mean that’s all crammed into about three or four years. These were tremendously vivid experiences.
STAMBERG: And she was so young. She was in her twenties.
JUST: She was in her twenties. She was a kid.
MOOREHEAD: She was learning to write. She was learning her voice, her writing voice.
Q: Speaking of her work with Harry Hopkins.
JUST: Yes. The material, if you think … Thinking about it as a writer as opposed to anything else. The material of the Depression and the Spanish War was superb. There was as much drama and misery, frankly, as you could imagine. And to encounter that at such a young age, and to be able to write about it, first of all, for Harry Hopkins and the President in the White House, and secondly, for magazines and all over the place when you’re so young and your eyes are so fresh. She may have gotten a little jaded later, but she wasn’t jaded then.
MOOREHEAD: I wish they would bring out her Depression writings, because she wrote about 25 reports, long reports. She traveled around for about a year and they’ve never been published as a collection. I think they’re as good as anything she wrote.
STAMBERG: Do you quote from them?
CAROLINE MOOREHEAD: [simultaneous conversation]
Q: You write, Caroline, about how important her mother was to her. Can you explain what was it about that relationship, why she was important to her and what were her mother’s feelings about her career?
MOOREHEAD: I think she was always, even at a very young age, she was always extremely attached to her mother. And she would say later on that it was one of best, if not the best, relationship of her life. She and her mother wrote to each other every week until her mother died when her mother was nearly 90, and Martha was getting on to 70. I think she felt … She used this expression about her mother. She said about her mother that she was her true north. And she was this intensely moral person. By all accounts, the people I talked to who knew her -- because you had never met her mother -- she was apparently a wonderful woman. Everybody loved her. She was one of those charismatic, much-loved, warm, intelligent women. And I think she was crucial to Martha’s life.
STAMBERG: How many children? She had siblings?
MOOREHEAD: She had three brothers.
STAMBERG: And what were those relations like? And what happened to them? What did they do in their lives? This is all out of St. Louis.
MOOREHEAD: A doctor, a lawyer, and a businessman, the three brothers.
STAMBERG: So she was the black sheep?
MOOREHEAD: And she was very close to her younger brother, Alfred, who very sadly died only last year, who was a marvelous man, very like her.
JUST: Wonderful gent.
MOOREHEAD: Wonderful, wonderful man.
Q: I wanted to bring up something that was important to me, and that was the stand she took against nuclear weapons, and how I think she saw modern war as moving into a more and more destructive and impersonal nature, which is very different from the war in Spain I would say. And she wrote really powerful things about the nuclear arms race and so on, in her introductions, increasing introductions that she did to The Face of War. She also was touched by Chernobyl, right? Because, where she lived in Wales, the sheep were all condemned from that accident. And I just wondered what you could comment on about her ability to pick up on what was changing in the world, and to have a very strong moral stand against those things, and the wonderful things she wrote about why nuclear war was just an absolute outrage.
MOOREHEAD: Indeed. It was one of the things she cared about most passionately. She had great passions, I think is the answer. And that was one of them. And when she felt very strongly about something she devoted everything to it.
JUST: She was in 100% when she got in. Also, I think at some fundamental level, she didn’t like governments. I don’t think she was crazy about governments, and you put governments together with nuclear weapons; I think in Martha’s view you’re in kind of a double hazard.
STAMBERG: Where was that writing? Where did she do that anti-nuclear writing? Do you remember, anybody?
MOOREHEAD: Articles for various papers in England certainly came. Did she write about it in any of the collections that went in to the Peace Time Collection?
JUST: Not that I can recall.
STAMBERG: You know we haven’t talked about her fiction. And she did try her hand at that. I’ve never read it. How would you describe it, either of you?
JUST: The Honey Piece, which is a collection of short-stories, I think is probably the most accomplished. She may have been better at the short-form than at the long. The
Weather in Africa has really got some nice bits to it. I don’t think that was truly her métier.
STAMBERG: But what kinds of stories were these? If she wanted to make up things what did she [simultaneous conversation]?
MOOREHEAD: I don’t think she was writing fiction.
JUST: Well, there’s that.
MOOREHEAD: I don’t think she was. What she wanted to be was a novelist. That’s what she really wanted to do. And I think her best fiction, in fact, is “Reality.” And in The Honey Piece, there’re some stories about the end of the war. Is that not The Honey Piece?
JUST: Yes, I think so. It’s been a long time since I’ve read it.
MOOREHEAD: And they were in fact all the things that had actually happened to her. And when I was doing my research, reading the novels, I found all of her life in the book, very little else. She was not really a novelist.
JUST: It was just reportage in another form, with another coat of paint on it.
STAMBERG: There are plenty, present company excluded, but there are so many journalists who really have such a hard time. Well, Hemingway would have been the exception too, unhinging from the truth gathering and trying to tell in the fact checking to move into this other thing. It’s understandable that she [audio fade out]
MOOREHEAD: I think it really saddened her because I think she would have liked to have been known as a writer of fiction.
STAMBERG: Well, weren’t we lucky that we have her as a writer of this kind of impassioned, aggravated, aggravating often journalism. Thank you both so much. What a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you. [applause]