Capa , Steinbeck & Russian Road Trip

This is the story of how Robert Capa war photographer and John Steinbeck went on a road trip across Russia. Not originally billed as a road trip it surely was. The year was 1948 and mutual suspicion was rampant in the USA and Russia; their goal was to actually go to Russia and see for themselves what the country and the people were like.

“Their joint commitment to record only what they could witness—based not on research or speculation but on visual record—is their full story.”-

“There must be a private life of the Russian people, and that we could not read about because no one wrote about it, and no one photographed it.” – John Steinbeck

World War II was only 3 years in the past and the immense destruction was all about them. It was also a time of relentless rebuilding. Everywhere they went, Russians would ask if the United States was going to invade them? The citizens were war wearing and looking for any assurance that this was not in ‘the plans’.

“More and more we were realizing how much the Russian people live on hope, hope that tomorrow will be better than today.”- Steinbeck

This 40 day excursion took place when Russia was in the process of building their own Atom Bomb – thanks to help of several spies including Klaus Fuchs and the Rosenbergs. It was a year after this book was published that they successfully detonated their device.

To say the least this book was criticized for being naive as the pair was shown only what the authorities would allow them to see. I still think their book has validities especially in terms of their description of the people they met.

“It was true of most of the young people we met. And it was interesting to us that the attitudes of our most conservative and old-fashioned groups are found in the attitudes of the young people of the Soviet Union.”

Steinbeck and Capa

“Well, there it is. It’s about what we went for. We found, as we had suspected, that the Russian people are people, and, as with other people, that they are very nice. The ones we met had a hatred of war, they wanted the same things all people want—good lives, increased comfort, security, and peace. We know that this journal will not be satisfactory either to the ecclesiastical Left, nor the lumpen Right. The first will say it is anti-Russian, and the second that it is pro-Russian. Surely it is superficial, and how could it be otherwise? We have no conclusions to draw, except that 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.”