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The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn

The Face of War (original 1959; edition 1994)

by Martha Gellhorn (Author)

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268367,563 (3.91)12
Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) was a war correspondent for nearly fifty years. From the Spanish Civil War in 1937 through the wars in Central America in the mid-eighties, her candid reports reflected her feelings for people no matter what their political ideologies, and the openness and vulnerability of her conscience. "I wrote very fast, as I had to," she says, "afraid that I would forget the exact sound, smell, words, gestures, which were special to this moment and this place." Whether in Java, Finland, the Middle East, or Vietnam, she used the same vigorous approach. Collected here together for the first time, The Face of War is what The New York Times called "a brilliant anti-war book."… (more)
Title:The Face of War
Authors:Martha Gellhorn (Author)
Info:Atlantic Monthly Press (1994), Edition: Reprint, Subsequent, 360 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn (1959)


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This curt bit of advice, from the Russian writer (and wife of the poet, Osip Mandelstam) Nadezdha Mandelstam, is one that Martha Gellhorn quotes at the conclusion of the chapter titled “Rule by Terror” in the section titled Wars in Central America (p. 321). It was sage advice (under the then-present circumstances) in Ms. Mandelstam’s time; it was sage advice in Ms. Gellhorn’s time. It remains sage advice in our time.

On pp. 151-152, Ms. Gellhorn writes “On the night of New Year’s Day, I thought of a wonderful New Year’s resolution for the men who run the world: get to know the people who only live in it.”

This was something she wrote on the first day of January, 1945, which was over 68 years ago. Things haven’t changed much since then — as Ms. Gellhorn predicted they wouldn’t in her coverage of conflicts from the Spanish Civil War up to and through the Reagan’s interventions in both El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Before I ran across Ms. Mandelstam’s suggestion, I originally thought of titling my review “Read this book at your own risk!” — or “Read this book and weep.”

Why? Because I suspect you’ll feel a similar shame while reading it. Shame as an American, certainly. But also shame as a human being. The history of our species is not a pretty one. And The Face of War begins only with the Spanish Civil War!

Martha Gellhorn is no knee-jerk liberal. She’s a solid, unflinching liberal — by conviction. And her conviction is the result of first-person observation, investigation and inquiry. In other words, not of hearsay or conjecture.

At the end of May, I read and reviewed Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. In my opinion, that book could sit side by side with this one on the same shelf of woe. Both women are profoundly competent journalists. Both are the kind of journalist we need more of — unflinching, compassionate and, above all (for those who’d heed their prophetic words), intelligent.

I’ll risk making the same recommendation I made with The Shock Doctrine. Buy this book and read it cover to cover! As with Ms. Klein’s book, we’re talking history; but we’re also talking (almost) current events. And although Martha Gellhorn is now dead, I feel certain that if she were still alive, she’d be observing, investigating, inquiring and writing about similar atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq. After all, was George W. Bush’s “shock and awe” qualitatively different from the Nazi doctrine of Schrecklichkeit (“frightfulness”)?

Since I assume this review will be read — if at all — by Americans, I’ll conclude it with a quote from p. 281 that speaks to us most directly: “(i)t is not easy to be the citizen of a Superpower, nor is it getting easier. I would feel isolated with my shame if I were not sure that I belong, among millions of Americans, to a perennial minority of the nation(: t)he obstinate bleeding hearts who will never agree that might makes right and (who) know that if the end justifies the means, the end is worthless.”

R. I. P. at last, Ms. Gellhorn. You’ve earned it.

Brooklyn, NY
( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
An exceptional collection of sharp and compassionate reporting of the tragedy and suffering of war, this 1986 edition covers Gellhorn's experiences in the frontline of war -- from Spain, Finland, China, Western Europe, Java, Vietnam, the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and Central America. It also includes an article on the Nuremberg Trials and the Peace conference in Luxembourg.

Gellhorn portrays very vividly and with such candor the unflinching belief of the citizens of Barcelona in the Republic during the siege, amidst the rubble and the daily horror of death and destruction; the tenacity of young Polish soldiers as they pushed into Italy at the head of the Allied front; the painful images of injured children; the wretchedness of the Vietnamese hamlets being wiped out by the US bombings, and so on. She writes of a harrowing experience of going up in a bomber, and knowing first-hand what the "boys" were in for every time they fly in a mission. As women were not allowed to report from the front, she boarded a hospital boat to witness the D-Day landing and reported from there.

Fearless, utterly bold and independent, as much a trailblazer in war reporting as in women's rights, her writing is compelling and powerful. Her writing is thoughtful, never dry, always directed at the human element. Regarded as one of the greatest war correspondents of all time, she also became one of the most vocal anti-war advocate. ( )
2 vote deebee1 | Nov 2, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Martha Gellhornprimary authorall editionscalculated
Helsloot, KeesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Huisman, LeoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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