Some people do only one thing, and that if they are lucky. Given the cacophony of life and the myriad people vying for meaning and significance against each other – 8,000,000,000 souls – how to stand out and be counted becomes a challenge.
Henry C. Cassidy received two letters from Stalin, in the run-up to the 2nd front. Around these letters, he built a tour; he built a book; he built a whole life. Cassidy was the AP bureau chief during the German attack on the USSR. The war started for the Russians while he was in Sochi on the Black Sea coast, and he lived in Moscow during the two years before the allied 2nd front was opened. The years when Hitler turned his war machine against Russia in the hopes of seizing ‘living space’ for his imperial project.
Reading this book now (summer of 2022) is somewhat strange, because it is full of names upon which we are all right now again focused. Odessa – Donbas – Kherson – Kyiv. The attempts by the German’s to seize ports and grain silos and the oil fields of Baku – an aggressor from the west replaced these days by an aggressor from the east; a new empire in the making (and the very same Russians Cassidy praised).
Life lived under the totalitarianism of Stalin, for Cassidy at least, seems to have been justified by the Herculean efforts necessary to defeat the Nazis. This book, presumably written after he has returned to the United States and therefore not subject to the censors (it was published in London in 1943), still drips with the sort of ‘red sympathy’ that caused the red scare in the post-war period. Not a single word about the gulag or the purges of the previous years. To be sure, the book is not about the ‘Gulag Archipelago’ but about the war – nevertheless the lack of balance must have been grating to the American reader (which probably explains Cassidy’s disappearance – I can find nothing more of him except a grainy photo of a committee hearing. I’ll certainly research that more, stay tuned).
Henry C. Cassidy received two letters from Stalin. Answering six questions. These made headline news those days as American diplomats and Pentagon planners attempted to understand the mercurial despot. From there he fades away from the historical record. Life is wild that way, a flash which sometimes endures, echoing into eternity but mostly is a singular moment adding color to the epic saga of the human race.