Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Ernest Hemingway and the Politics of the Spanish Civil War

Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Ernest Hemingway and the Politics of the Spanish Civil War

Article excerpt


After the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Ernest Hemingway traveled to the front lines as a reporter with the intention to write "anti-war war correspondence" to keep the United States out of future European conflicts. A year into the war, the author was publicly calling for support for the beleaguered Spanish Republic. This essay tracks Hemingway's development from isolationist to a voice for the cause of Spanish democracy, a process that informs his most nuanced work on the Spanish Civil War, the 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.

KEY WORDS: Spanish Civil War, Politics, Journalism, Activism


During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Ernest Hemingway was unusually politically active and outspoken. As the war dragged on, the author embarked on many kinds of projects that he had never attempted before, and would never try again; in 1937 alone, he produced a film, wrote a play, gave a public speech, and organized a fundraising campaign during which he visited the White House to solicit support from the President and Mrs. Roosevelt. Although Hemingway was initially opposed to American involvement in the war, his work as a correspondent in Spain caused him to abandon his former isolationist stance and become an active proponent for military intervention in Spain.

During the 1930s, Ernest Hemingway observed with dismay the rise of fascism in Europe. In the article "Notes on the Next War," published in Esquire in September 1935, Hemingway predicted that with the imperial ambitions of Mussolini's Italy and Hitlers Germany threatening the stability of the continent, the next great armed conflict of Europe was imminent. He urged the United States not to get involved: "No European country is our friend nor has been since the last war and no country but one's own is worth fighting for. Never again should this country be put into a European war through mistaken idealism" ("Notes"). Hemingway was a scarred veteran of the First World War and wanted to avoid a similar catastrophe at all costs. If the American people distanced themselves from the political affairs of Europe, and if the people of Europe refused to take up arms in the power struggles, Hemingway believed the coming of the next great war could be evaded. The article ended on a cautionary note: "We were fools to be sucked in once on a European war and we should never be sucked in again" ("Notes").

Nevertheless, in July 1936 when a group of military conspirators attempted to overthrow the leftist Popular Front government of the Spanish Republic--which had taken power after winning a narrow victory in the general elections a few months prior--Hemingway regretted that he had not been present. He expressed this regret in a letter to his friend and editor Maxwell Perkins that September: "I hate to have missed this Spanish thing worse than anything in the world but have to have this book [To Have and to Have Not] finished first" (SL 454). Hemingway's thirties had up to this point largely been a period of professional hiatus, during which he occupied himself writing short stories and magazine articles. But after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway accepted an offer by the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA) to go to Spain and cover the conflict as a reporter.

Hemingway had a longstanding interest in Spain and its culture. The author's relation to Spain dates back to his first visit in 1923, the same year the parliamentary government of Spain was overthrown in favor of a military dictatorship with Don Miguel Primo de Rivera as head of state (Preston 4). That year, Hemingway traveled to Spain from France, where he was living at the time, with the intention of seeing first-hand the Spanish novelty of bullfighting. During the 1920s, Hemingway made many visits to Spain, and judging from his writings at this time, he seems to have been uninterested in or unaware of domestic Spanish politics, despite showing great affection for Spanish traditions and culture. …

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