From Serving to Covering the Front Lines of War

To say that Seymour Topping has been an eyewitness to the major news events of the 20th century would be a vast understatement. He has virtually reported or edited the greatest stories of our time. His new book On the Front Lines of the Cold War: An American Correspondent’s Journal from the Chinese Civil War to the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam [Louisiana State University Press, March 2010] picks up the story of the stories that he reported.

At the close of World War II, Topping — who had served as an infantry officer in the Pacific — reported for the International News Service from Beijing and Mao’s Yenan stronghold, before joining the Associated Pressin Nanking, Chaing Kai-Shek’s capital. He covered the Chinese Civil War for the next three years, often interviewing Nationalist and Communist commanders in combat zones. Topping was captured by Communist guerillas and tramped for days over battlefields to reach the People’s Liberation Army as it advanced on Nanking. Topping was the sole correspondent on the battlefield during the decisive Battle Huai-Hai, which sealed Mao’s victory and later scored a world-wide exclusive as the first journalist to report the fall of the capital.

In 1950, Topping opened the AP Saigon bureau, becoming the first American correspondent in Vietnam. In 1951, John F. Kennedy, then a congressman on a fact-finding visit to Saigon, sought out Topping for a briefing when told he was the most knowledgeable correspondent.

Assignments in London and West Berlin were followed up by Moscow and Hong Kong for The New York Times. During those years Topping reported on the Chinese intervention in the Korean conflict, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Mao’s ideological split with Nikita Khrushchev, the French Indo-china War, America’s Vietnam War and the genocides in Cambodia and Indonesia. There’s more… . He stood in the Kremlin with vodka-tilting Khrushchev on the night the Cuban Missile Crisis ended and interviewed Fidel Castro in Havana on its aftermath.

Topping was with The New York Times for thirty years as chief correspondent in Moscow and southeast Asia, foreign editor, and managing editor. He has written several books and novels on his experiences in Asia including “Journey Between Two Chinas,” The Peking Letter: A Novel of the Chinese Civil War” and Fatal Crossroads: A Novel of Vietnam 1945.” After retiring from the Times in 1993 he served as administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes and a professor of international journalism at Columbia University. Topping has been an active member of the OPC since 1956.

Topping will speak on his vast career and extraordinary experiences on Tuesday, March 23 at 6 p.m. at Club Quarters. The book will be for sale and signing by the author. You can RSVP online (must be logged in), call 212-626-9220 or e-mail Sonya Fry.