Ernest Hemingway was a spy for the Kremlin

Stylistically, Ernest Hemingway was one of my biggest influences. We both grew up in Illinois and started our careers in journalism, although he was two generations ahead of me. Before Hemingway, most writers affected an embellished style filled with flowery adjectives, similar to early styles of oratory. Hemingway led the change to writing in a simple and clear voice, without all the affectations. Louis Armstrong did the same thing in music, when he dropped those affected accents used by dudes like Al Jolson and all the other pop singers of that time.

But I never could fathom Hemingway’s macho spirituality, and it took me a long time to understand why he took his own life (he was going senile, which may have been aggravated by electroshock therapy, and wanted to die with dignity). Hemingway started out supporting the Marxist regime change in Spain and became an ardent anti-Nazi during WWII. But did you know Hemingway also volunteered to be a spy for Stalin and took the code name “Argo” from the KGB? Just one of the many revelations coming from the recently uncovered KGB files. Apparently, Papa didn’t manifest any useful info for the Kremlin, as he cared little for politics in practice, preferring his holy trinity of fishing, fucking and drinking. After a while, the KGB quietly deactivated him.

Hemingway had a fellow traveler who also volunteered for the epic fight against fascism in Spain, and that would be George Orwell, another immense influence on my young journalism career. Orwell initially supported Marxism, but got jaded as both Homage to Catalonia and Animal Farm blew the lid off that myth Marxism is a viable, working paradigm and not just another complex dogma system for mind control. Marxism was a carefully controlled op, set-up as the dialectical opponent to fascism, but it basically was run by the same banks, which is why Marxism produced nothing but dictatorships, and in practice is just another steely fist of fascism hidden under a velvet glove. Of course, Orwell revealed these secrets in his landmark book 1984, which is so much in vogue today with the NSA revelations.

But things can be a lot more complicated than they seem, and just as Hemingway was briefly a Kremlin spy, there’s evidence to suggest Orwell may have been a spook himself. See, journalists and writers make really useful spooks, especially when it comes to producing propaganda. Before he became a radical, Orwell was educated at Eton and served as a Colonial police officer in Burma. Then his life took a sudden new direction.

Recently, MI5 declassified documents about Orwell, and I have to say, they draw an interesting picture. Police in Wigam, a mining town, first reported Orwell to MI5 in 1936, when the writer was 33. Although he was a known communist organizer and MI5 already had a file on him that had been opened in 1929, MI5 took no action and never investigated him once? In 1942, while Orwell was working for the BBC in India, he was again reported by police, who noted he “dressed in a bohemian fashion while at work and had ‘advanced Communist views.’”

Yet MI5 again did nothing to investigate this Commie journalist working for the BBC? Seems odd, doesn’t it? When asked if Orwell should remain an accredited journalist during WWII, MI5 responded cryptically “The Security Services have records of this man, but raise no objection to his appointment.” Recently, MI5 tried to reform opinions of Orwell by releasing a document showing he gave a long list of names to MI5 on his deathbed at 46. The names were all people Orwell suspected of being secret Stalin supporters. Why would Orwell do that, if he wasn’t a spook himself?

But the rabbit hole goes even deeper. Orwell’s commander and closest friend in Spain was Georges Kopp, who we now know was an agent for both MI5 and the Nazi Vichy regime in France. While Kopp was working for MI5, his handler was Anthony Blunt, a member of the notorious Cambridge 5, all traitors who fled to Russia after they were uncovered. Or were they?

When Kopp was captured in Spain, unlike all other rebel officers, he was spared execution. Who was Kopp really working for anyway? And who was Blunt working for? And who was Orwell working for? It’s hard to tell for certain. And that’s why they call deep politics a “wilderness of mirrors.”

When MI5 or the CIA or even the KGB opens up secret files, do you really think they spill all the beans? Or are they carefully controlling the future by controlling the past? War is a managed profit stream and the same bankers often fund and secretly control both sides. Orwell got a good glimpse into how this system actually works and although 1984 was written as a glimpse into the far away future, in fact, Orwell was describing the current system of controlling language, meaning and oppositional forces. Because if there’s going to be an oppositional force to what you’re doing, it’s best if you create that force in secret so it never does any unintended damage to your bottom line. And that, my friends, is how spooks play their games.

Tripping with The Baronet in 1967

Meet Sir Thomas Willes Chitty, 3rd Baronet, grandson of a former Master of the Supreme Court and managing editor of Halsbury’s Laws of England, who’d been elevated in 1924. In the complex world of British peerage, the Baronet resides in a somewhat grey area betwixt commoner and royal, the lowliest of inherited titles.

After a brief stint in the Royal Navy, Chitty decided to become a novelist, something that may have been encouraged by a contest he won while at University College in Oxford challenging anyone to imitate the first 150 words of an unpublished Graham Greene novel. (Greene was England’s most famous living novelist at the time, although few knew he was also attached to MI6, reporting to Kim Philby, who’d later defect to Russia after spending decades spying for the Communists while running the Soviet desk at SIS.) Strangely, the second, third, and fourth-place winners of that same contest turned out to be Graham Greene himself, submitting under pseudonyms.

While his first novel (Mr. Nicholas) was well-received, it failed to sell enough copies to support Chitty and his new wife Susan, who was also an aspiring novelist, so he took a job as a publicist for Shell Petroleum. Mr. Nicholas had been a blistering critique of suburban English life, exposing the hypocrisy of the upper class, while his next book, For the Good of the Company, published in 1961, took on his former bosses at Shell.

In 1967, Chitty landed a cushy writer-in-residence at the University of Illinois. It was a similar appointment to the one John Cage had recently landed, only Cage was attached to the music department. Landing in the cornfields of Illinois at the beginning of the psychedelic revolution was an eye-opening experience, and when Chitty returned to England, he published High, a fictionalized account of his year at Illinois. In 2014, when he passed over to the great beyond (and his son inherited his title), Chitty’s obit in The Telegraph included this line: “The novel High, which he wrote shortly after his return from America, gives some clue to the impact the counter-culture revolution of the time had had upon him. He admitted that taking LSD was ‘the most enjoyable thing I’ve done in 20 years.’ He tried it, he said, because his most intelligent students recommended it.”

In order to protect his famous family’s reputation, Chitty published all his books under the pseudonym Thomas Hinde, and only one or two can be found on Amazon USA, so you have to search deeper but copies are available for a pittance on other sites. High was somewhat experimental and quite entertaining, especially for anyone familiar with the U of I campus during the late sixties. The main character is a British author-in-residence who conducts an affair with a student while consorting with a rebel crowd of misfits. It contained a novel within a novel as the protagonist struggles to write a book that parallels his experience. When it first appeared, High was compared favorably to Nabokov’s masterpiece, Pale Fire. I would compare it with one of my favorite novels, The Hair of Harold Roux, written by the great Thomas Williams, who was greatly overshadowed by his famous student John Irving.

I believe I have a cameo in the book. You see, there was a house near Lincoln and Nevada Streets that held frequent beer bashes attended by the literary crowd, as well as by me and Larry and Bugsy. You’d typically find us gathered around the refrigerator, guarding the beer supply. The key giveaway is we wore black leather jackets favored by Black Panthers. Bugsy had recently brought in the first major delivery of LSD from the streets of San Francisco, and one of those blue capsules may have ended up in Chitty’s mouth.

If you want a glimpse at life at the U of I from a distinctly British perspective, this book delivers, though it might take some time locating a copy. One suspects the public libraries in town as well as the University library might have one.

Shoot-out at the C-U corral

According to the book The Countess and the Mob by Maureen Hughes, some of Champaign’s noted families (Robeson and Davis) helped keep Champaign wet during Prohibition. Another name connected with gangsters were the Sansones, an 11-member family born in Sicily that had immigrated through Ellis Island before settling in Champaign.

Michael Sansone’s profitable taffy concession stand was kept at Crystal Lake when it wasn’t touring the summer county fairs, while his brother Henry’s popcorn wagon was parked near the Virginia Theater. That popcorn had the most amazing taste and I’m sure many others tried to coax out the secret ingredient to no avail.

Local lawyer Julius Hirshfeld was one of Henry’s regular customers and Henry’s stories of pheasant hunting on his property somehow spread through Hirshfeld all the way to Al Capone, and thus began the annual pheasant hunting pilgrimages to the Sansone property just outside Champaign.

According to local legend, sometimes Capone and his boys would rent out the entire Turk’s Head rather than drive back to Chicago. The other option was booking the top three floors at the fanciest hotel in Champaign, located across the street from the train station. Turk’s Head may have used by his crew when they wanted to keep a low profile while in town, as the police station and newspaper office were all clustered within a block of that train station, while Turk’s Head was buried in campus-town.

Henry realized that setting up hunting trips could be quite lucrative and decided to expand his hunting schedule to include George Bugs Moran, an enemy of Capone. This shouldn’t have been a problem, writes Hughes, Sansone scheduled Moran and his boys on opposite weekends from when Capone was down.

This would have worked well, except the scheduling was done by word of mouth, and one weekend the dates got mixed up. One particular Saturday when Moran was hunting, three black cars pulled up two hours later, and five men got out, including Al Capone. Everyone was dressed in hunting gear, so it was hard to positively identify anyone. By mid-morning, the men from both gangs were just two or three hundred feet apart when one of Capone’s men asked why Moran was there.

That’s all it took for the shooting to start.

Both gangs retreated to their cars, and several had to lie in the back seats all the way to Chicago because they had lead shot in their rear ends. So ended the hunting trips to Champaign.