The POG and the Grunt: Debunking Hemingway’s Authority on War

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 2nd Lt. US Infantry

After patiently listening to me talk about the reputations of American writers, my infantry soldier boyfriend quipped, “Why did the real soldier [F. Scott Fitzgerald, 2nd Lt. Infantry]  live in shame, while the fake soldier [Ernest Hemingway, Red Cross POG] lived in fame?”

His remark sparked a personal intellectual firestorm, and, after doing some more research into their backgrounds, I realized that their reputations in history are reversed:  During WWI, Ernest Hemingway was actually just a POG for the Italian army, not the front-lines-hero his fiction would have you believe; and, though he never saw combat, Fitzgerald was an American infantry lieutenant.

Historically, Hemingway is seen as an authority on war, known for his bravery during World War I. Fitzgerald is seen as someone with comparatively little military experience. This is actually extremely misleading. Sure, Fitzgerald never deployed, a fact which he let emasculate him for the rest of his life. But Hemingway never deployed either, at least not with the U.S.; he was rejected when he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army (bad eyesight), so he joined the Red Cross and went overseas, ultimately serving on the Italian front; Fitzgerald actually dropped out of Princeton to enlist successfully in the U.S. Army, being immediately commissioned as an infantry second lieutenant, arguably one of the most elite jobs in the entire officer corps.

Hemingway, non-soldier, with anonymous gun.

Hemingway was not the American hero his fiction would have you believe; Fitzgerald is the only real soldier here. Yes, Hemingway was injured overseas and yes, F. Scott Fitzgerald did not see combat. But Fitzgerald was actually in the Army; not Hem. One could feasibly speculate that Fitzgerald, a man trained in combat tactics at the WWI Army training facility Camp Sheriden in Montgomery, Alabama, might actually have been a more authoritative source on military matters than Hemingway. Fitzgerald was the grunt who never got to do his job; Hemingway’s experience in Italy was just a red herring, one upon which he hung his career and used to establish his tough-guy rep.

One thought on “The POG and the Grunt: Debunking Hemingway’s Authority on War

  1. This might be a revisionist impulse taken a bit to far (grin). I’ve never served in combat, much less in WWI, but my general impression would be that since the 20th Century combat medical folks, like the young Hemingway in WWiI, are pretty much in combat, though with the same variations in particular experience and danger that others in theater have.

    I also guess that a lot of Hemingway’s cred on the subject of war comes not just from WWI, but from his gonzo (Hemingway gonzo more in fact, and less in irony than Hunter Thompson?) journalism in the Spanish Civil War/WWII.

    Still your blog is asking good questions, which is great!


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