Maturity isn’t what it used to be. Today’s example: Ernest Hemingway.
Hemingway was born in 1899, and remained in many ways a man of the 19th century all his life. Early in 1918—before America’s entry into World War One—he volunteered to become a Red Cross ambulance driver. Sent to the Italian front, he was badly wounded and endured a long convalescence.
At age 21 Hemingway was named a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star and began filing dispatches from all over the Europe that had been changed by the war and was changing still.
Many of those dispatches are collected in his book By-Line: Ernest Hemingway. They are cold, sober, clear-eyed assessments of the (primarily) men and events that would soon be considered history, and while reading you have to remind yourself how old he was when he wrote the words.
I venture to say it’s all but impossible to imagine any of today’s young J-school graduates acquitting themselves as well as this man with a high school education. Why? Because they’ve been through a homogenizing process that ensures conformity. They come out seeing what they believe. Hemingway believed what he saw or had seen, and he’d never seen a unicorn.
In January 1923, three months after Mussolini completed his long, bloody climb to the top in Italy, Hemingway traveled to a conference in Switzerland and encountered Il Duce. At the time, before fascist became a dirty word, Mussolini suffered no shortage of American and Western admirers who considered him Italy’s best hope for peace and prosperity. Pope Pius XI even called him “the man whom God has sent us.”
Here, in part, is Hemingway’s take:
Mussolini is the biggest bluff in Europe. If Mussolini would have me taken out and shot tomorrow morning, I would still regard him as a bluff. The shooting would be a bluff. Get hold of a good photo of Signor Mussolini some time and study it. You will see the weakness in his mouth which forces him to scowl the famous Mussolini scowl that is imitated by every 19-year-old Fascisto in Italy. Study his past record. Study the coalition that Fascismo is between capital and labor, and consider the history of past coalitions. Study his genius for clothing small ideas in big words. Study his propensity for dueling. Really brave men do not have to fight duels, and many cowards duel constantly to make themselves believe they are brave. …
Mussolini isn’t a fool and he is a great organizer. But it is a very dangerous thing to organize the patriotism of a nation if you are not sincere, especially when you work their patriotism to such a pitch that they offer to loan money to the government without interest….
Hemingway committed suicide in 1961. I wish he’d hung on till 2008.