Robert E. Townsend was born and raised on a farm in northern Wisconsin. After graduating in 1969 from the University of Wisconsin, Townsend flew 135 combat missions in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. From 1982-1989 he was deputy chief, Air Force Intelligence Agency, counter-deception directorate at CIA. He is among some of the few dozen men and women in America intimate with the war of ruse and stratagem between the US and the USSR.
Slavic on the maternal and deep-south redneck on the paternal side, his parents managed money poorly and told stories well. Spare, pithy, lasting the duration of a Pall Mall cigarette, the tales were meant to both teach and entertain. No one is completely useless. They can always serve as a bad example.
Evgenii Belodubrovskii's Thirteen Coats is a recollection and meditation on Leningrad–St. Petersburg from his birth in 1941 on the eve of the German invasion to the present.
Russia's twentieth century traumas––two world wars and the long civil war that endured from the October Revolution in 1918 until Stalin's death in1953 (we can include the collectivization of agriculture, the Great Terror and Gulag as part of this long civil war).
Numbers empty tragedy of meaning. Stalin noted that one death is a tragedy, but ten thousand deaths is a statistic. If there is a big picture, perhaps it is contained within the pages of The Black Book of Communism that enumerates the tens of millions murdered in the name of that twentieth century religion of Communism.
If there is any sense to be made of the madness, it will be in the single individual story. Longevity tables suggest an American will on average live ninety-three years. Self-medicating trauma with alcohol, drugs and tobacco, my Russian male cohort has now been dead ten years, his statistical lifespan fifty-three years. Memorial is a Russian movement to tell the story of Russia's twentieth century tragedy one death and one story at a time. Here, perhaps, there is some hope for Russia's recovery rather than in longing for its 'Black Book' greatness.