Paul Vidich ’72, P’00, ’03 spoke about his new book, The Coldest Warrior, on Feb. 24 at the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore. The espionage novel, published by Pegasus Crime in February 2020, explores the dark side of intelligence that is exposed when a CIA officer delves into a cold case from the 1950s―with fatal consequences.
Many of those who attended Vidich’s talk were friends and fellow members of Wesleyan’s Class of 1972. Vidich, a College of Social Studies (CSS) major, said, “What I learned at CSS was critical thinking and healthy skepticism, but not cynicism. I think I’m a skeptical person, but I also think that every generation goes through periods in which government disappoints. … Skepticism, to me, is a healthy way of looking at the world, and my characters in the novel are intentionally skeptical.”
Andy Feinstein ’72 introduced Vidich and The Coldest Warrior, which presents a fictionalized take on a true story from Vidich’s life. “When I first met Paul, probably in the fall of 1968, one of the first things I learned about him was that he was the nephew of Frank Olson,” said Feinstein. “Olson was the CIA bacteriologist who fell from the window of the Statler Hotel in New York in November 1953, under the most suspicious of suspicious circumstances. In 1975, the Rockefeller Commission reported that Olson had been given LSD, without his knowledge or consent at a retreat in Deep Creek Lake, Md., nine days before his death. Was it suicide? Was it murder?”
Vidich said of the real-life origins of The Coldest Warrior: “It was always a deep mystery, but it was a mystery that unfolded over many years. And with each year or decade, additional material came out, and as each new bit of information emerged, everything pointed to murder and none of it pointed away. And you could feel—particularly to my cousin Eric, Olson’s eldest son—deep anger and a sort of indignant moral feeling, which swept us up. I wanted to write [about this topic], but I wanted to write the story in a way that kept the reader’s attention while being faithful to the limited known facts, so I applied the novelist’s tools of setting, character, conflict, theme, plot.”
“In my books, even though I’m talking about the CIA, I’m addressing the nature of bureaucracy, which I think is one of the defining parts of modern life,” said Vidich, whose previous works include An Honorable Man and The Good Assassin. “We work in big corporations or government agencies that place demands on us. … And inside each of these there is a somewhat tacit and not completely understood way [of working], which is that you are part of the school of fish that is moving in one direction or another. In the CIA, the directions in which people move may be contrary to what you might consider the right thing—it is a tension between the right thing for one person and the right thing for the organization. That is one of the things that excites me about writing about the CIA.”
Vidich added: “The novel puts a human face on the Cold War by showing the psychological burdens of its characters. Honorable men who work in covert operations inevitably bring some of the darkness into themselves, suffering the moral hazards of a line of work that sanctions lying, deceit, and murder. Doubt and paranoia are bred in a culture of secrecy, as is a sophisticated amorality in men at the top of the intelligence bureaucracy.” Vidich signed copies of his book following the talk. (Photos by Simon Duan ’23)