Thursday, August 13, 2015

Josephine Herbst

   I tried to find a picture of myself about the time of Pearl Harbor.
But this picture of me with my first sibling Susan was probably taken
a year and a half before that.
Because the book Hotel Florida got us started reading about the Spanish Civil War,
we have kept on trucking through John Dos Passos, Hemingway, Soviet communism, spies, double agents, Martha Gellhorn, et. al. I made it eventually to the biography of Josephine Herbst who also stayed in the Hotel Florida with all the other journalists in Madrid. This biography is a painstaking work of scholarship by a writer with a deep affinity for the left-wing Herbst which is based on the author's own youthful involvement in the politics of the 1960s. I found it fascinating and a good corrective to the bald, unsympathetic article on Herbst in Wikipedia.


From the Wartime Journal (unpublished) of Josephine Herbst:
[December 8, 1941]
Great discussion as to the meaning of the attack, the radio announcing it was a suicide gesture on the part of the Japs and invigorating us all with the information we could lick em hands down and military experts said this and that and they had no fuel, no food, no sources of supplies, but have we not heard these tales before in other connections and has not war endured and the have-nots gradually become powerful through agencies unforeseen? . . .
As usual everyone feels events have been going forward behind our backs and only time will reveal what has been going on these many days. Everyone puzzled, subdued, talking at once of death . . . . So natural when death has come creeping in this new general way of violence toward us all and today in the papers, 1500 were killed by bombs and machine gunning and so on the Hawaiian islands and the first boy to have his death announced had a Polish name and his father lives in Michigan. The boy was 22.
Today all talk on street echoes war, and words Jap etc and at the hour Roosevelt broadcast war, girls and men pouring out of the Automat on 14nth Street, huddled around taxicabs to hear the radio. Polly came in from her meeting that was to have begun work on stop the war, and and they reconsidered how they could go on under [what] slogans and for what purposes, many were against it even now... holding fast to their convictions, but the time is going fast and at last there is War again so awaited by so many people, with all life suspended in so many ways so long as if it were not worthwhile beginning vast dreams when destruction or violence were near at hand. It is ten years since Mike Gold said to me, this is no time to write, general war is coming next year, it was said again all through 1934, every time there was a crisis, first Manchukuo, then Ethiopia, and later on, drop by drop, it came, everyone saying this is the war, now coming, and it was coming, too, just as we grow older without truly appreciating it, and near our dying without exactly knowing how.

from Josephine Herbst by Elinor Langer, 
Atlantic, LITTLE, BROWN, 1984, page 246.

This is a passage from the book that took me back to the broadcasts that day when I was a few months older than six years old. Grownups were gathered listening to the radio and I could tell it was important, but I didn't grasp what was going on and no one explained it to me. They were listening too intently.

It is interesting to read journal entries like this that are put down in a rush of emotion. The final part beginning, "It is ten years since Mike Gold. . ." Would work quite well as a poem if it were put into lines, I think. I can't do it now, it is Garbage Night and I have to fill the Recycle Bin and roll the cans to the curb.

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