Here we are – America just celebrated another Independence Day. I’ve eaten plenty of my special Tiki Dogs with Supernatural Sauce (thanks Ron Effinrules for creating this culinary delight) and I’m reading John ‘America’s Greatest Author’ Steinbeck. The pride of my people swells in my heart.
Of course, I’m reading A Russian Journal and about to dig into the war correspondences. So I’m not sure the swelling is as patriotic as I’d imagine. Sometimes I think I’m obstinate and obnoxious as a matter of choice instead of selective breeding.
A Russian Journal is an interesting time capsule from The Cold War. In an effort to write about Russia and her people, Steinbeck sought to avoid the growing scourge of punditry in which, “A man sits at a desk … reads the (news) cables and rearranges them to fit his own mental pattern and his bylines.” He goes on to say that, “What we often read in the news now (1948) is not news at all but the opinion of one of half a dozen pundits as to what the news means.” I like to think Steinbeck would be apoplectic over the current state of ‘news’. Fox News might have even killed him.
Steinbeck sought to humanize the Russian people. To describe to Americans what 1948 Russia looked like. Keep in mind, there were no visits, there was no reporting, and there was no way of peering behind the Iron Curtain. All America and the world knew was what we were told. Steinbeck wanted to show us who The People were: what they wore, what they ate, and how they made love, and how they died. It was a simple concept no other journalist considered. After all, it was much easier to be a part of the propaganda machine than question it.
Again, Steinbeck viewed the experience with the understanding that the experience would be alienating and uncomfortable, but, “we determined that if there should be criticism, it would be criticism of the thing after seeing it…”
A Russian Journal is must for die-hards and young journalists everywhere. It acts a historical thesis in support of adventure and first-hand experience. It seeks to get its readers to realize that we are all the same and we all deserve understanding. Classic Steinbeck.
“Censorship can control film, but it cannot control the mind of an observer.”
“The camera is one of the most frightening of modern weapons, particularly to people who have been in warfare, who have been bombed and shelled, for at the back of a bombing run is invariably a photograph.”
“…Russian people are like all other people in the world. Some bad ones there are surely, but by far the greater number are very good.”