Likewise, it’s hard to pin him down politically. When a journalist in Pamplona asked me what I thought my grandfather would think about Guantanamo and its torture scandal, I said that these were crimes against humanity and that, obviously, Ernest, were he still alive, would speak out against them. My grandfather, I reminded the journalist, supported the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. He was a democrat in the sense that he believed in democracy and the right of the Spanish people to have a Republic, if that was what they wanted.
Of course, his support wasn’t limited to his bylines or his novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” In addition to raising money in the United States to buy ambulances for the Republican Army, he also did the narration for the Republican propaganda film “The Spanish Earth.” Without a doubt, what he experienced in Madrid during the war affected him deeply, and when the Fascists won he said that he would never return so long as they were in power.
It was a promise he kept until 1953 when he returned to Spain with his wife Mary. By that time, even though he was only 54, he was ageing fast and he wanted to see the corridas again before he died and to be a part of that world of toreros, bulls and muletas.
His return was widely criticized by many on the Left, who said that it was a betrayal of his ideals and everything that he had written about during the Civil War. Certainly, having the author of “The Sun Also Rises” back in Spain must have been a PR coup for the Franco regime. It was the kind of publicity that money could never buy, but Ernest had already fought his battle, and had lost, and there was nothing he could do about the political situation. Franco ruled the country with an iron fist and would outlive my grandfather by fourteen years.
The irony of all this is that while he was in Spain as a special guest of the regime his own government continued to spy on him. He had long been considered a leftist and a potential subversive by the FBI and its chief, J. Edgar Hoover (in part because of his support of the Spanish Republican cause), and the file that they kept on him grew and grew over the years until it numbered over 19,000 pages.
Yet, in spite of what anyone may say about him and his decision to return to Spain, perhaps Ernest wasn’t so wrong in having an ambivalent attitude towards politics. Looking over the political landscape of the USA today and the absolute disregard that both Republican and Democratic politicians have for the will of the people, I’d say that not much has changed since the 1950’s. We may have voted in 2006 to end the war in Iraq, but the political elite continues to do what it wants, to wage its wars and spy on us regardless of what we think. None of them can be trusted and perhaps the only thing that matters in the end is living your life as best you can. As my grandfather did, ignoring the bastards in power.