The case for Ernest Hemingway

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January-February 2007:
Michael Ogorzaly in The Case Against Bullighting appears to
have quoted Ernest Hemingway far out of context. The reference is
from the opening chapter of Death In The Afternoon, in which–from
the first sentence–Hemingway bluntly acknowledged the cruelty of
bullfighting, with emphasis on the injuries done to horses.
Hemingway described his horror at how Greeks evacuating
Smyrna in 1922 broke the legs of their pack donkeys and pushed them
into the sea to drown, an episode he covered for the Toronto
Telegram Syndicate as a young reporter and described again in his
1924 short story On The Quai At Smyrna. Heming-way recounted his
intervention on many occasions (also described by others) to assist
downed horses in the streets, and his fondness for dogs and
cats–especially cats, who were his desk companions for most of his

Hemingway then analyzed why his response to horse injuries in
the bullring was not what he had expected it would be, not what he
had thought would be in character for him and in keeping with his
values, and went on to explore why bullfighting audiences respond to
the injuries suffered by the horses quite differently from their
response to the suffering and death of the bulls, even laughing as
horses are disemboweled.
Hemingway stated that he did not consider horses being
disemboweled something to laugh at. Then he explained that in the
classic definitions of Greek theatre, one of the venues in which
modern bullfighting evolved (chiefly in Minoa), the horses in the
bullring are cast in the “comic” role, while the bull’s role is
“tragic.” This is a matter of the structure of the event. The bull
bravely faces an unavoidable fate; the horses are agents in bringing
it about, whose “failure” sets up the final confrontation.
“The tragedy is all centered in the bull and in the man,”
observed Hemingway. “The tragic climax of the horse’s career has
occurred off stage at an earlier time, when he was bought by the
horse contractor for use in the bull ring.”
Hemingway concluded, “I suppose, from a modern moral point
of view, that is, a Christian point of view, the whole bullfight
is indefensible; there is certainly much cruelty, there is always
danger, either sought or unlooked for, and there is always death,
and I should not try to defend it now, only to tell honestly the
things I have found true about it. To do this I must be altogether
frank, or try to be, and if those who read this decide with disgust
that it is written by some one who lacks their, the readers’,
fineness of feeling I can only plead that this may be true. But
whoever reads this can only truly make such a judgment when he, or
she, has seen the things that are spoken of and knows truly what
their reactions to them would be.”
During this discussion, Hemingway also wrote, in one of his
most often misrepresented passages, “From observation I would say
that people may possibly be divided into two general groups: those
who identify themselves with animals, and those who identify
themselves with human beings. I believe, after experience and
observation, that those people who identify themselves with animals,
that is, the almost professional lovers of dogs and other beasts,
are capable of greater cruelty to human beings than those who do not
identify themselves readily with animals. It seems as though there
were a fundamental cleavage between people on this basis, although
people who do not identify themselves with animals may, while not
loving animals in general, be capable of great affection for an
individual animal, a dog, a cat, or a horse, for instance. But
they will base this affection on some quality of, or some
association with, this individual animal rather than on the fact
that it is an animal and hence worthy of love.”
The context of the time is essential. Hemingway then, at
age 32, had never had any evident direct association with anyone who
was formally involved in humane work. How-ever, as a journalist,
Hemingway not only wrote somewhat critically about bullfighting and
the Pamplona running of the bulls, three years before writing The
Sun Also Rises, but also reported about and warned against the rise
of fascism and Nazism.
Hemingway was aware that some of the Nazi leadership espoused
anti-vivisectionism and even vegetarianism, as a frequent cover for
anti-Semitic activity, and to court foreign support. Hemingway
never directly addressed the creeping influence of fascism and Nazism
within organized humane work in the 1930s, which he may never have
known about, but he recurrently mentioned the hypocricy of people
who purported to gentility, including in pampering pets, while
glibly endorsing atrocious social and political policies. In
unfavorably commenting about such people, Hemingway sometimes
expressly exempted their pets from his judgement.
Death In The Afternoon appeared shortly before the Nazis
banned kosher slaughter, in the first of 32 “humane laws” enacted by
the Third Reich between 1933 and 1942. Typical were laws that banned
cropping the ears of Alsatians, Dobermans, and other “Germanic”
breeds, but did not protect other dogs, and which forbade
pet-keeping by Jews and gypsies. Most of the Nazi “humane laws” were
passed before 1938; many were uncritically lauded by leading humane
societies in the U.S., France, Britain, and Switzerland. Several
humane societies urged that the Nazis should be emulated, to their
later chagrin.
Former Nazi sympathizers remained prominent in animal
advocacy for decades– including the anti-vivisectionist Hans Reusch,
now 91, who for more than 20 years has often bitterly attacked
Animal Liberation author Peter Singer, born shortly after his
parents fled Nazi Germany. Their conflicting backgrounds may either
have little or much to do with their differing outlooks. Reusch
drove for the Nazi-sponsored Auto Union racing team in 1938. He
reputedly influenced the renowned Italian driver Tazio Nuvolari to
also drive for Auto Union, which was the original maker of the
Volkswagen “beetle,” and may have annoyed Hemingway when his novel
The Racer (1953) was favorably mentioned by critics alongside The Old
Man & The Sea (1952).
Hemingway’s only real success written during his last 21
years, The Old Man & The Sea portrayed killing a large fish as a
tragic event, that the killer lived to regret.
Hemingway’s concern about the Nazis and their U.S. and
European backers, visible in most of his work during the 1930s and
1940s, is not to be confused with what he might have thought of the
modern animal rights movement, which he did not live to see.
Hemingway did state several times his respect for opponents
of bullfighting and hunting who practiced vegetarianism, in contrast
to his contempt for hypocricy.
Both Death In The Afternoon and The Green Hills of Africa
(1935), about Hemingway’s first African safari, emphasize his view
that a man killing an animal should exhibit the same virtues that he
saw in animals who may charge their killers, defending themselves,
their mates, and their young. In both books Hemingway addressed
aspects of blood sports that he felt were open to moral question.
Certainly the young Hemingway acknowledged much more mixed
feelings about harming animals than the middle-aged Hemingway, who
after winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature, lapsed into
alcoholic self-parody.
Of significance is that in The Sun Also Rises, about a man
who lost his genitals to shrapnel in World War I, Hemingway used the
Pamplona bull run as a thematic device to satirize the lengths men
will go to in trying to demonstrate manly qualities which might be
called into question.

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