Why We Love Lies, Fake News, and the Most Fascinating Woman I Never Met
It took nine years, and a great depression, and two wars ending in defeat, and one surrender without war, to break my faith in the benign power of the press. Gradually I came to realize that people will more readily swallow lies than truth, as if the taste of lies was homey, appetizing: a habit.
(There were also liars in my trade, and leaders have always used facts as relative and malleable. The supply of lies was unlimited.)
Good people, those who opposed evil wherever they saw it never increased beyond a gallant minority.
The manipulated millions could be aroused or soothed by any lies. The guiding light of journalism was no stronger than a glow-worm.
—- Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War, Introduction, 1959
Martha Gellhorn (1908-1988) was a writer of short stories and novels, while her true love was working in the field as a war correspondent. Fearless, Gellhorn, pictured above, wrote to bring the brutality of war home to her readers, beginning with the Spanish Civil War in 1937, through World War II, the War in Vietnam, and finally, the wars in Central America, which were waged in the mid-1980s.
She is undoubtedly the most fascinating woman I never met.
"The Face of War," is a compilation of Gellhorn’s best articles from magazines such as Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, and The New Republic.
Here’s a few paragraphs from one of my favorite articles in The Face of War: “Bombs on Helsinki December 1939.”
War started at nine o’clock promptly. The people of Helsinki stood in the streets and listened to the painful rising and falling and always louder wail of the siren. For the first time in history they heard the sound of bombs falling on their city.
This is the modern way of declaring war.
The people moved unhurriedly to bomb shelters or took cover in the doorways and waited.
That morning Helsinki was a frozen city inhabited by sleepwalkers. The war had come too fast and all the faces and all themes looked stunned and unbelieving.
As I wrote, Martha Gellhorn was an author and a war correspondent. She was also Ernest Hemingway’s third wife. Their relationship was rocky, to say the least, and ended badly. In fact, she never wanted to hear his name mentioned again.
Her refusal to mention or hear Hemmingway’s name was not only the result of a failed marriage. Gellhorn said she did not want to be a “footnote in someone else’s life.”
Want to read more about Martha and Ernest? I highly recommend “Beautiful Exiles” by Meg Waite Clayton. It’s a fascinating novel of biographical fiction. But don’t let the genre fool you.
“Beautiful Exiles” is a thoroughly researched book and well worth your time.
Yes, Martha Gellhorn is without a doubt the most fascinating woman I never met. And I am not alone in feeling this way. New Yorker literary editor, Bill Buford, one of those who was lucky enough to know her wrote, "Martha Gellhorn was so fearless in a male way, and yet utterly capable of making men melt."