History Book – Hemingway’s genius, and the Cuban embargo

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, October 19th. This is WORLD Radio. Thanks for listening! Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD History Book.

Today, a literary triumph, political gymnastics, and…

EICHER: I’m feelin’ the need…

REICHARD: …the need for speed.

EICHER: Bringing us this week’s History Book segment once again is WORLD senior correspondent Katie Gaultney.


KATIE GAULTNEY, REPORTER: That bell means we begin with a literary anniversary: the publication of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. It debuted 80 years ago this week. 

The novel was inspired by Hemingway’s own experiences in the Spanish Civil War. It tells the story of Robert Jordan, an unflappable tragic hero, the classic Hemingway protagonist. He’s a young American teacher whose sympathy for the Spanish people prompts him to volunteer on the part of the Loyalists in Spain. His mission: blow up a bridge in Segovia. 

RADIO DRAMA CLIP: Are you ready? Yes. There’s someone on the bridge! Run and get the horses. Yes sir. [GUN FIRE]

The book was a smash hit, and Paramount adapted it for a 1943 movie starring Gary Cooper as Robert, and Ingrid Bergman as Maria, his love interest. The two reprised their film roles for a Lux Radio Theater broadcast in 1945. 

RADIO DRAMA MOVIE CLIP: I can take care of myself; I’m thinking of the bridge./ I’m thinking about you, Roberto./ Why Maria? I… don’t know… / 

Jordan’s bravery and honor have made Hemingway’s main character a favorite of many; both Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and former Senator John McCain listed For Whom the Bell Tolls as their favorite book. 

For the title of the book, Hemingway referenced a sermon by Anglican poet and priest John Donne. He echoes the title in the book’s epigraph, read here for Grand Audiobooks:

AUDIOBOOK: Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind/ And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. (bell tolling)

Turning now from war within Spain to the Cold War between the United States and Cuba. 

In September 1960, Fidel Castro visited Harlem, arriving to great fanfare from the American people.


But the New York crowds’ jubilant mood didn’t reflect the growing tension between Washington and Havana. In fact, 60 years ago today, President Eisenhower’s State Department placed an embargo on exports to Cuba, with the exception of food and medicine. The move came as retaliation for Cuba making American-owned oil refineries in the country property of the Cuban state—without paying for them. 

The 1960 embargo marked a crescendo that followed a steady drumbeat of diplomatic fallout after Castro seized power nearly two years earlier. Before Castro nationalized American-owned oil refineries, the United States had canceled the import of Cuban sugar. Dr. Emily Morris of University College London is an expert on Cuba, and spoke to The Economist about another complicating factor: the USSR. 

MORRIS: Once the U.S. had canceled its sugar quota, Cuba had to find another customer and turned to the Soviet Union which, of course, further contributed to the deterioration of relations.

Two years later, President John F. Kennedy extended the embargo to include almost all exports in response to Cuba’s Soviet-supported arms build-up.

KENNEDY: But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing… 

Cuba’s economy is still state-run today, and the Cuban government continues to forbid any popular movement toward democracy. The embargo remains in place in protest of Cuba’s human rights violations—and the $6 billion worth of financial claims Washington still holds against the Cuban government. It’s the longest embargo in U.S. history.

From the simmering of political tensions to a Blue Flame…

AUDIO: 10… 9… 8… 7… 6…

The Blue Flame, a natural gas-powered automobile that set the land speed record 50 years ago this Friday. 

AUDIO: 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… [engine roars] Thirty-eight feet of streamlined power, a land rocket poised on a time-swept stage.

Gary Gabelich tore through the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah behind the wheel of the Blue Flame on October 23, 1970, setting the world land speed record. The vehicle topped out at just over 622 miles per hour. 

AUDIO: Ladies and gentlemen: The world’s land speed record has been broken! 

The Guinness World Book of Records 1994 CD highlighted the massive feat, describing the Blue Flame.

AUDIO: … a vehicle that had more in common with a missile than a car. Its fuel of liquid natural gas and hydrogen peroxide combined in its rocket engine to produce 22,000 pounds of thrust – enough power to approach the speed of sound.

Gabelich hung on to that record for 13 years. Today, the Technik Museum in Sinsheim, Germany has the Blue Flame on permanent display.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.

(Photo/National Motor Museum, Heritage Images, Getty Images) On October 23, 1970, Gary Gabelich set a Land Speed Record of 622 mph at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, in Blue Flame. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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