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The Butterfly and the Tank

I wanted to read a short piece from Hemingway to have a story to go with a fireplace video.  I never saw much politics in the stories Hemingway wrote about the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s.   He was up close as a war correspondent, and had open sympathy for the Leftists fighting for some version of worker and popular control of society through direct democracy and cooperation.  But, I did not see much about Leftist ideas in some of his stories in “The Fifth Column” and other stories of the Spanish Civil War.  I read the shortest.  “The Butterfly and the Tank,”  seemed like a throw away piece that Hemingway phoned in to meet a deadline.  I thought nothing much happened in the brief story.  But, having recorded it and put it on a video with a fire place, and put it on Dailymotion, Youtube, and Vimeo, I heard the story again and again.  I thought of how many times I had been in bars having political conversations.  Just as in the story.  Some rough men over react to a foolish gesture in the story.  As I listened I realized who they were.  Stalinists.  I’m not sure if Hemingway realizes who he describes as the shooters in the bar, but they fit the description and work at the airport when Stalinist ruled Russia was the only country ‘helping’ Leftist Spain with ‘experts’ and secret police agents.

The stories grew out of Hemingway’s experience in the Spanish Civil war as a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance and as a participant in filming a pro-Loyalist/Leftist work “The Spanish Earth.” This story and others grew from adventures in and around besieged Madrid–particularly in the Hotel Florida and in a bar called Chicote’s. The book is notable for the dominating presence of the author, who is to be found alive on every page. That presence slants the focus, this is immediate, unmistakable Hemingway.

The experience behind the stories was pretty much actual. There is a question as to how autobiographical fiction differs from autobiographical journalism–the best, that is, of the dispatches the correspondent filed from Spain, which were reprinted a couple of years ago in “By-Line: Ernest Hemingway.” The answer is that the difference lies more in quality than kind. As good as some of that correspondence was, all four of these stories are better than any of it.

Hemingway was such a good reporter that he could reveal the truth of why the Spanish Left was defeated – even though Hemingway worked with the Stalinist Communist Party.  He was honest enough to write simply about what he saw.  Some urged him not to report a bar murder in a Leftist area because “bad news hurts the struggle.”  He taught me a lesson he may not have learned himself.  What kind of Leftist leaves revolutionary Cuba and goes to Idaho to hide from the FBI?  One who escaped at the end of a shotgun.   Requescat in pace et in amore.

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