The journalist, who died in a car crash near the Dumbarton Bridge here in the Bay Area, was 73. (SF Chron; Mercury News.)
I first read his 1972 masterpiece, The Best and the Brightest, as a curious teenager trying to figure out how and why our country was stuck fighting a war that could not be won on behalf of people who plainly did not want us to do so. It’s fair to say that the book shaped my view of U.S. foreign policy, and of the need to curb our government’s predilection for fighting unnecessary wars. Halberstam’s chronicle of the arrogance of power illustrated how the confidence of Kennedy’s Harvard-trained managers meshed with the cupidity of the Cold War military-industrial complex to produce the Vietnam quagmire. The title, in other words, was ironic.
In some of his later works Halberstam allowed his reputation as a Pulitzer-garlanded star to inflate his style. But The Best and the Brightest was taut and tragic. Today it reminds us that the “Vietnam complex” was not some debilitating national illness that needed to be shucked off; it represented experience of imperial power’s limits, hard-won through an ill-begotten war. How shameful that those lessons vanished from Washington so soon, and that another generation of Americans must once more seek the answers I found in Halberstam’s book.
UPDATE: This from Clyde Haberman’s Times obit:
William Prochnau, who wrote a book on the reporting of that period, “Once Upon a Distant War,” said last night that Mr. Halberstam and other American journalists then in Vietnam were incorrectly regarded by many as antiwar.
“He was not antiwar,” Mr. Prochnau said. “They were cold war children, just like me, brought up on hiding under the desk.” It was simply a case, he said, of American commanders lying to the press about what was happening in Vietnam. “They were shut out and they were lied to,” Mr. Prochnau said. And Mr. Halberstam “didn’t say, ‘You’re not telling me the truth.’ He said, ‘You’re lying.’ He didn’t mince words.”
[tags]David Halberstam, journalism[/tags]
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Scott I am amazed at his sudden death. I remember best his book called “The Fifties.” there are plenty of authors out there that can write about historical non-fiction but none was better than David Halberstam. may his family remain well through this time of grief. i am in shock myself. wow the world will really miss his great writing skills.
The Best and the Brightest was a masterwork. War in a Time of Peace was also well worth reading.
His reporting for the New York Times in the early stages of the Vietnam War, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, was gutsy, prescient and painfully honest.
His death is a loss to American journalism and to America as a whole.
I know Halberstam best by one single story about him. Timothy Crouse’s retelling of a NYT tale (retold again by Calvin Trillin later). I picture the war correspondent, who had recently returned from Vietnam, not even removing a cigarette dangling from his lips to say three immortal words to a young R.W. Apple, Jr. Those would make a fine epitaph.
I agree about The Best and the Brightest but thought War in a Time of Peace was disappointing at best. However, I can’t recommend The Reckoning enough, and at least take some comfort that Halberstam died in the saddle.
David was one of the first to point out that we had bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). We are still buying in today. If you would like to read how this happens please see:
I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.
Politicians make no difference.
Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control. Government and industry are merging and that is very dangerous.
There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.
The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.
So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.
This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.
The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.
For more details see: