Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Dispatches from the Front

There will be an outpouring of tributes to David Halberstam, the renowned American writer who died at 73 Monday in an automobile accident near San Francisco. But no eulogy can match the sheer memorial of his work. Halberstam was, in every sense, a compleat journalist-truth-teller as artist-and his legacy leaves a lasting chance of redemption for a media whose decay his standard always silhouetted so starkly.

He will not be easy going, of course, for the new virtual readership of the twenty-first century. Halberstam did not write in blog-size sentences, books, histories, ideas. As witness and reporter, he was intent on tapestries, ironies, maddening ambiguities, the irreducible complexities otherwise known as life. His bewitching gift, at necessary length, was to make even that simple–simply fascinating, moving, haunting.

I was in Lyndon Johnson’s White House, not far from some of the men he wrote about, when I first read pages of The Best and the Brightest. His inspiration has since been so powerful, his example so emulated, if never quite equaled, that it seems hard now to recall what a revolution, and revelation, he embodied in writing about power and the powerful.

There is one of those inimitable Halberstam opening scenes. It’s just after the 1960 election and former Secretary of Defense and Undersecretary of State Robert Lovett, foreign policy establishment demigod, has come to John Kennedy’s graceful townhouse on old cobblestone N Street in Georgetown to tell the new President-elect who to put in his administration. The moment on the page reeks of innocence and promise, and unseen portent, as America did, as Halberstam the portraitist and landscape painter as reporter always seemed to capture. Lovett the worldly elder statesman guiding a callow young politician in thrall to his World War II elders, the same at root tragically unworldly Lovett who as a lean magnetic young Wall Street financier in the 1930’s regaled weekend guests at his shady Long Island estate with hilarious mimicry of the world’s funny people, the Russians and Asians and Arabs.

Intelligence and status without sensibility, without authentic knowledge and sophistication, Halberstam shows us again and again, are almost invariably lethal in government as anywhere else. When Bob Lovett is through with Kennedy, we have Dean Rusk and Robert McNamara, a cast of men in similar molds, the Vietnam War, and ultimately the fate of generations. No one had ever told it all so vividly and unmistakably as David Halberstam did-and no one has since.. Knowing some of the men, left with their policy, I sat in the White House reading the pages, too aware of how uniquely real it all was, and wept for my country.

It was hardly the first time Halberstam evoked a cry. He had been a thorn to arrogant, overrated Harvard as student editor of the Crimson in the 1950’s, a fearless chronicler of official racism in southern papers, and then, to the abhorrence of the U.S. Government, the conscience of the New York Times and the nation in his courageous coverage -earning a Pulitzer Price at 30- of the grand and petty folly of the war in Southeast Asia.

He went on after The Best and the Brightest to write twenty-one books on themes as sweeping and penetrating-the media, the auto industry, civil rights, baseball, and not least his 2002 War in a Time of Peace, aptly depicting his nation’s continuing agony.

Through it all, he was the ultimate war correspondent, his dispatches from the front of a civilization reporting America at war with itself, with what it once was, had become, might yet be.

It was somehow fitting that he died while on a trip to lecture journalism students. The young Halberstam who never seemed to have enough time to report his world had aged into his own elder statesman who always found time to pass on his art.

He would be skeptical of the tributes and even iconography that will now surround him, though more in nostalgic spirit than in the practicing letter of a journalism that is losing, has lost, most of the very attributes-knowledge, independence, sensibility-he thought essential to reporters and editors no less than officials.

Even so, after David Halberstam we can never look at ourselves in the same disastrously unconscious way again, never blithely ignore the flesh-and-blood reality of power, never fail to recognize that the starting point of politics and policy, as the Maréchal de Saxe said of war, is the human heart.

It was the unforgettable message of his every dispatch from the front.

ROGER MORRIS, who served in the State Department and on the Senior Staff of the National Security Council under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, resigned in protest at the invasion of Cambodia. He then worked as a legislative advisor in the U.S. Senate and a director of policy studies at the Carnegie Endowment, and writes this Rumsfeldian history from intimate firsthand knowledge as well as extensive research. A Visiting Honors professor at the University of Washington and Research Fellow of the Green Institute, where his work originally appears. He is an award-winning historian and investigative journalist, including a National Book Award Silver Medal winner, and the author of books on Nixon, Kissinger, Haig, and the Clintons. More recently, he co-authored with Sally Denton The Money and the Power, a history of Las Vegas as the paradigm of national corruption. His latest work, Shadows of the Eagle, a history of U.S. covert interventions and policy in the Middle East and South Asia over the past half-century, will be published in early 2008 by Knopf.

 

More articles by:
October 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Middle East, Not Russia, Will Prove Trump’s Downfall
Ipek S. Burnett
The Assault on The New Colossus: Trump’s Threat to Close the U.S.-Mexican Border
Mary Troy Johnston
The War on Terror is the Reign of Terror
Maximilian Werner
The Rhetoric and Reality of Death by Grizzly
David Macaray
Teamsters, Hells Angels, and Self-Determination
Jeffrey Sommers
“No People, Big Problem”: Democracy and Its Discontents In Latvia
Dean Baker
Looking for the Next Crisis: the Not Very Scary World of CLOs
Binoy Kampmark
Leaking for Change: ASIO, Jakarta, and Australia’s Jerusalem Problem
Chris Wright
The Necessity of “Lesser-Evil” Voting
Muhammad Othman
Daunting Challenge for Activists: The Cook Customer “Connection”
Don Fitz
A Debate for Auditor: What the Papers Wouldn’t Say
October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail