Hemingway was right — Big Brother was watching


Yes, Ernest Hemingway suffered from depression that grew more acute as he realized his best writing years were behind him. Very late in life he also was plagued by paranoia — i.e., by the notion that the FBI was monitoring his every move and was out to get him. He was paranoid, but he was right.

Author A.E. Hotchner recounts the sad details in a recent NYT piece. Here’s his payoff:

Decades later, in response to a Freedom of Information petition, the F.B.I. released its Hemingway file. It revealed that beginning in the 1940s J. Edgar Hoover had placed Ernest under surveillance because he was suspicious of Ernest’s activities in Cuba. Over the following years, agents filed reports on him and tapped his phones. The surveillance continued all through his confinement at St. Mary’s Hospital. It is likely that the phone outside his room was tapped after all.

In the years since, I have tried to reconcile Ernest’s fear of the F.B.I., which I regretfully misjudged, with the reality of the F.B.I. file. I now believe he truly sensed the surveillance, and that it substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide.

Many Hemingway readers will question Hotchner’s ultimate claim, and I certainly don’t pretend to know the extent to which the FBI’s hounding “contributed” to Hemingway’s suicide.

The more important question is how the U.S. became a place where those who suspect they’re being monitored by the government are more likely to be sane and realistic than paranoid.

The suspicion that Big Brother is watching you, personally, used to be a tip-off that you needed meds. Then along came 9/11 and the systematic shredding of American privacy rights by the Bush and Obama administrations, at roughly the same time Facebook and other “social networking” vehicles were becoming popular on a mass scale.

And now we’re arguably at the point where most U.S. citizens take for granted they’re being tracked by the government and various industries. Instead of reacting with outrage, these citizens have accepted and even embraced the idea that privacy rights are extinct.

Put another way, many Americans now think it’s OK that the U.S. has become in some fundamental ways like China, the former Soviet Union and the other totalitarian regimes that previous generations were rightly taught to hate.

Or, as I was about to say, have a happy Independence Day!

This entry was posted in arts, fiction, mainstream media, New York Times, Obama, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hemingway was right — Big Brother was watching

  1. Laura says:

    I really enjoy reading your blog. I am not sure if you remember me. My name was Laura Roth……anyway, I am glad you are writing these days. And I appreciate what you have to say.

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