Ernest Hemingway, the American Red Cross, and the Great War
Florczyk, Steven John
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Ernest Hemingway’s enlistment with the American Red Cross in 1918 was one of the most formative experiences of his life. This adventure provided the source material for A Farewell to Arms and his other writing about Italy. Although his service has been well documented, previously unexamined materials provide additional information. Among these, the diary of the commanding officer, Captain Robert W. Bates, official reports documenting the ambulance and canteen services, section newspapers published by volunteers, as well as other contemporaneous accounts, taken in conjunction with the established biography, clarify aspects of Hemingway’s involvement that have been unclear in existing scholarship. Moreover, these records show that the author drew on sources in ways that have not yet been fully appreciated. The documents shed light on the writer’s initial naiveté as a volunteer and point to the ways in which he transformed that experience in his fiction according to his sophisticated attitudes in the 1920s. The shift he underwent led him to “tell the truth,” as he later called the “writer’s job,” by using complex literary techniques to portray the wartime adventures of his youth in retrospect. His involvement with the Red Cross led to some of the finest American literature on the Great War.