Cold War Revisions of Hemingway's Men at War (1)

By Sanderson, Richard K. | The Hemingway Review, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Cold War Revisions of Hemingway's Men at War (1)


Sanderson, Richard K., The Hemingway Review


In 1942, Hemingway edited and introduced a large anthology, Men at War: The Best War Stories of All Time, a book he hoped would aid the fight against Fascism. By the time the book was reprinted in 1955, however, the former Axis powers had become U.S. allies in the Cold War. Though the reprint contains all the stories of the first edition, five pages' worth of material was cut from Hemingway's original introduction. From an analysis of the omitted passages, this article shows that the cuts downplay the fierceness of Hemingway's anti-Fascism and that one must consult the original introduction to get a true picture of his politics in 1942.

IN OCTOBER 1942, NOT QUITE ONE YEAR after America's entry into World War II, Crown Publishers brought out a large anthology, Men at War: The Best War Stories of All Time, edited and introduced by Ernest Hemingway. A compilation of fictional and historical war writing, from the Biblical story of David and Goliath (I Samuel 17) to an account of the just concluded Battle of Midway Island, Men at War contained eighty-two selections, three by Hemingway himself. In the introduction, Hemingway drew on what he had personally experienced and observed of war during World War I, during the Spanish Civil War, and on his trip through the Far East in 1941. His stated goals were to tell the truth about war, to assure soldier-readers that "there are no worse things to be gone through than men have been through before" (1942 Introduction xi; 1955 Introduction xi), and to hammer home a crucial theme: the need to defeat Fascism.(1) Reviewers, especially those of a more literary sort, did not care for the introduction, calling it "wandering" (Jones 11), "interesting but badly put together and discursive" (Gorman 37), "angry, chaotic, rambling, and pointless" (Millis 3). Carlos Baker, writing in Sewanee Review, found the value of Hemingway's introduction to lie in its "restatement" of the standards "that underlie the best of his own writing" (162).

But for Hemingway in 1942, literary matters were largely beside the point. He had written to Max Perkins expressing the hope that the book would be "useful" (SL 534). Perhaps to underscore the urgency and fighting spirit of his message, he dedicated the book to his three sons (the only one of his books to be so dedicated). Throughout the introduction we can see a tension between his comments on the artistic merit of the stories in the collection and his own political and military purpose: "The part this book can play in the winning of this war is to furnish certain information from former times" (1942 Introduction, xiii; 1955 Introduction, xii). Although the book's selections were grouped under aphorisms drawn from Clausewitz's On War (Chapter 3, Book I)--an arrangement implying that war literature contains universal truths about the grand topic of "Men at War"--the introduction was a polemic embedded in the specific historical context of World War II.

A decade later, in June 1952--two years after the outbreak of the Korean War and one year before its official end--Avon published a paperback edition of Men at War containing thirty-seven of the original eighty-two pieces and Hemingway's original introduction. And in May 1955, Crown issued a "New Complete Edition" which had all the original eighty-two selections but a truncated version of the 1942 introduction. According to Hemingway bibliographer Audre Hanneman, Hemingway "authorized" the revisions (58), but the extent of his role in the changes remains undear.(2) In any event, all subsequent editions of Men at War have contained this 1955 version of the introduction.(3)

The so-called New Complete Edition contains a Publisher's Foreword, dated March 1955, sketching the volume's history:

      This book, so cherished by the G.I.'s of World War II, was permitted to
   go out of print in 1946. The war was over, wasn't it? Who cared about men
   at war?

      But soon it became apparent that the war wasn't really over and orders
   came in increasingly for Men at War. … 

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