In 1915, American journalist John Reed travelled to Eastern Europe to cover the World War for Metropolitan Magazine. He had already established a name for himself through his vivid first-hand descriptions of the revolution in Mexico, in which he recounted his daring exploits while riding along with the legendary Pancho Villa. But Jack Reed found this new war to be far less romantic affair. Strong censorship and the conditions of war on the eastern front in Europe did not permit him to engage in the same sort of adventures he had experienced in Mexico. As Bucharest served as the logical base of operations for a reporter covering events in Eastern Europe, Reed spent significant time in Romania during 1915, providing first-hand observations of the country on the eve of its entry into World War I. This was anathema to someone like Reed, imbued with heroic ideals and a rebel spirit.
The American journalist expressed his frustration with the situation when writing to his friend and former professor Charles Copeland:
Circumstances of mailing-convenience, neutrality and so forth, force me always to return to Romania and the “Paris of the Balkans,” though I detest the country and the people.
Imagine a small Paris in every essential respect – cafes, kiosks, pissoirs, an Academy occupied with producing a dictionary, Futurist painters and poets who are pederasts…politicians who are known by the mìstresses they keep, craven newspapers, bawdy weeklies….
Your true Romanian boasts that there are more cocottes in Bucharest in proportion to the population than in any other two cities of the world. No one does anything but screw, drink and gabble….
Officers in salmon-pink and baby-blue uniforms…sit at cafes sipping ices and eating tartlets all day long and drive up and down the Calea Victoriei in cabs, winking at throngs of women…. There is a dinky Hohenzollern king, a dinky throne and court, a dinky aristocracy of fake Byzantine Emperor’s spawn. Everybody is crooked… It reeks with millionaires, grown rich by hogging the oil wells or by the absentee ownership of vast lands where the peasants sweat out their lives for a franc a day….
If I ever saw a place ripe for revolution, this country is ripe. The peasants are a very fine and poetic people, but they are cowed.
I hate old Europe more every day. America’s the place.
John Reed is internationally known for his famous account of the Bolshevik Revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World. His life was also the subject of a famous film, Reds, starring Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton. Still, his writings about Romania are virtually unknown. As a journalist of great talent and an eyewitness to the situation in the country in 1915, on the eve of its entry into the war, his accounts are worth reading for those who are interested in this period of Romanian history or in the author himself.
These important writings by John Reed have been gathered together for the first time in one volume, Romania during World War I: Observations of An American Journalist, edited by A.K. Brackob, available from Histria Books. The book can be ordered in Amazon and from all major booksellers and it can also be ordered direct at HistriaBooks.com.
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