I started reading a book this week, called The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn. The author was a war correspondent for pretty much her whole life, and the book is a collection of articles she wrote from various wars. Various is right. Basically, wherever the war was, she went. The first chapter is from the Spanish Civil War, then she goes to the start of the Winter War, from there to the Canton Front, and then we finally get to World War II proper. I am in the midst of that war now. Later, I will get to chapters about Vietnam, the Six Day War, and the wars in Central America.

The articles are beautiful and perceptive descriptions of life in the midst of war. She spends time with civilians living in cities that are shelled daily, makes excursions with soldiers, and tags along on a hospital ship on D-Day. She has a real affection and openness for her fellow man and a wonderful eye for seeing the surreal situations created by war.

Gellhorn is angry about war. She makes me angry about it, too. She hates it, even though by the end of her career, she has to concede that it appears to be an inescapable part of the human experience. She compares it to the last option to save ourselves, one that we resort to repeatedly.

War, when it has any purpose, is an operation which removes, at a specific time, a specific cancer. The cancer reappears in different shapes, in different parts of the human race; we have learned no preventative medicine for the body of the nations. We fall back, again and again, on nearly fatal surgery. But the human race has always survived the operation and lived.

She compares this nearly fatal surgery to nuclear war. While non-nuclear war is awful enough, it only kills those in the present. By poisoning the air and the earth, nuclear war kills off the future, too. The human race may not survive the operation.

I don't remember where I picked up this book. I'd never heard of Gellhorn before, and I was amazed at the fact that there were female war correspondents during the period when she was active. She very rarely refers to it at all, except to explain that she had to sneak into a particular area, because the military brass was reluctant to allow a woman in a combat zone.

I looked her up on Wikipedia, and I was amazed to find out that she was Ernest Hemingway's third wife. I confess that I was more than a little amused to see that the marriage fell apart because Hemingway couldn't handle having to compete for her time with her work (Hemingway: "Are you a war correspondent, or wife in my bed?"). After reading The Paris Wife for book club a few months ago, I've been irrationally angry at Hemingway for being such a pig. And then I was mad at book club, for making me read a fictionalized account of an abandoned wife, when we could have read the actual work of a woman who did something more noteworthy than marry someone famous and famously difficult.

I hope to stop being angry at Hemingway soon. For the moment, I'm consoling myself with Gellhorn.

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