Martha Gellhorn was an acclaimed war correspondent who reported on virtually every major world conflict during her sixty-year career. She defied conventional wisdom and military regulations to report on the wars from the front lines.
Throughout her career she focused on war's civilian victims and those fighting to survive. She avoided the "big brass", choosing instead the company of soldiers. As one of the first female war correspondents, she is credited with bringing to light the plight of ordinary people caught up in wars they did not create.
After attending Bryn Mawr College in St. Louis, Gellhorn began her career writing for the New Republic in 1927. As part of Roosevelt's New Deal, she traveled throughout the United States documenting the effects of the Great Depression on ordinary people. In 1937, Gellhorn left for Europe with $50 in her pocket and a knapsack to begin her career as a foreign correspondent. There she worked with Ernest Hemingway and began a long and distinguished career with Collier's Weekly.
She began her war correspondence with the war in Spain, continued through the war in Finland, the communist takeover in China, the Second World War, the wars in Java and Vietnam, the Arab-Israeli Wars and finally the conflicts in Central America. "War is a malignant disease, an idiocy, a prison, and the pain it causes is beyond telling or meaning; but war was our condition and our history, the place we had to live in".
Among her many exploits, Gellhorn stowed away on a hospital ship during the Normandy invasion and under the cover of darkness, on June 7, 1944 went ashore with others to collect the wounded men. She walked on the beach while her husband Ernest was confined to the bridge of a landing craft. It was during the Battle of the Bulge that she flew with a British night fighter in search of a dog-fight with the Germans in freezing weather. Her report on the liberation of Dachau brought attention to the atrocities of the Holocaust.
After World War II, Martha decided to freelance. By then she had divorced Hemingway and continued to travel throughout Europe and to write about the aftermath of war. She also covered the Adolf Eichman Nazi War Criminal Trials for The Atlantic Monthly.
Gellhorn returned to the United States in the spring of 1947 but became increasingly disillusioned with the American system and decided to leave. "The world was wide and much of it very lovely; I intended to suit myself if that made me an expatriate, see if I cared."
While building her reputation as an author, Gellhorn continued to cover troubling world events. A war she wanted to forget was Indonesia's battle for independence against the Netherlands. She despised colonialism and deplored the efforts to perpetuate it. She was also in Israel for that nation's birth and later during its wars with its Arab neighbors.
In 1966, she went to Saigon to cover the war for London's Guardian. Some feel her most compelling reports came from there. She visited hospitals filled with innocent men, women and children mutilated by bombs. "We are uprooting the people from the lovely land where they have lived for generations. Is this an honorable way for a great nation to fight a war more than 10,000 miles from its safe homeland? As for the suffering of the people she wrote, "We big overfed white people will never know what they feel." She was one of the few correspondents who so angered the American military that she was denied a visa to return to Vietnam.
In her seventies she was in Nicarauga and El Salvador writing against the Reagan Administration's Central American policy. At 81 years of age, she reported on the American invasion of Panama. When civil war erupted in Bosnia, she finally admitted she was too old to go.