Halberstam in 1978
|Born||April 10, 1934|
New York City, U.S.
|Died||April 23, 2007 (aged 73)|
Menlo Park, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Journalist, historian, writer|
|Education||A.B., Harvard College|
|Spouse||El?bieta Czy?ewska (1965-1977; divorced)|
Jean Sandness Butler (1979-2007; his death; 1 child)
|Relatives||Michael J. Halberstam (brother)|
David Halberstam (April 10, 1934 - April 23, 2007) was an American writer, journalist, and historian, known for his work on the Vietnam War, politics, history, the Civil Rights Movement, business, media, American culture, and later, sports journalism. He won a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1964. Halberstam was killed in a car crash in 2007, while doing research for a book.
Halberstam was born in New York City, the son of Blanche (Levy) and Charles A. Halberstam, schoolteacher and Army surgeon. His family was Jewish. He was raised in Winsted, Connecticut, where he was a classmate of Ralph Nader. He moved to Yonkers, New York and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1951. In 1955 he graduated from Harvard College with an A.B. degree after serving as managing editor of The Harvard Crimson. Halberstam had a rebellious streak and as editor of the Harvard Crimson engaged in a competition to see which columnist could most offend readers.
Halberstam's journalism career began at the Daily Times Leader in West Point, Mississippi, the smallest daily newspaper in Mississippi. He covered the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement for The Tennessean in Nashville. John Lewis later stated that Halberstam was the only journalist in Nashville who would cover the Nashville sit-ins. Halberstam's fiery, rebellious streak first came out when covering the civil rights movement as he protested against the lies of the authorities who portrayed the civil rights protesters as violent and dangerous.
In August 1961 The New York Times dispatched Halberstam to the Republic of the Congo to report on the Congo Crisis. Although initially eager to cover the events in the country, over time he grew jaded over the demanding working conditions and the difficulty in handling Congolese officials' lack of truthfulness. In July 1962 he quickly accepted an opportunity to move to Vietnam to report on the Vietnam War for The New York Times.
Halberstam arrived in Vietnam in the middle of 1962. A tall and well built man, he conveyed much self-confidence and initially the American embassy approved of him. However, Halberstam was prone to fits of rage when faced with lies and soon came into conflict with American officials. When the chief American officer in South Vietnam, General Paul D. Harkins, launched an operation with 45 helicopters flown by American pilots landing a battalion of South Vietnamese infantry to attack a Viet Cong base while excluding the media, Halberstam flew into a rage when he was told to report the operation as a victory. In a letter addressed to Frederick Nolting, the American ambassador to South Vietnam, Halberstam wrote about the reasons for the media blackout: "The reason given is security. This is, of course, stupid, naive and indeed insulting to the patriotism and intelligence of every American newspaperman, and every American newspaper represented here." Halberstam argued that the operation could not have been the victory that Harkins had claimed as the Viet Cong must have heard the helicopters coming and accordingly retreated as guerrillas normally do when faced with superior force, leading him to write: "You can bet the V.C. knew what was happening. You can bet Hanoi knew what was happening. Only American reporters and American readers were kept ignorant".
With the help of military sources like John Paul Vann, an active duty officer in MACV, Halberstam, along with colleagues Neil Sheehan of UPI and Malcolm Brown of the AP, challenged the upbeat reporting of the United States mission in South Vietnam. They reported the defeat of government troops at the first major battle of the Vietnam War known as the Battle of Ap Bac. President John F. Kennedy tried to get the New York Times to replace Halberstam with a more compliant journalist. The Times refused.  Like a few other US journalists covering Vietnam, he considered information from LIFE magazine reporter Ph?m Xuân ?n, who was later revealed to be an intelligence agent for the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam.
During the Buddhist crisis in 1963, Halberstam and Neil Sheehan debunked the claim by the Di?m regime that the Army of the Republic of Vietnam regular forces had perpetrated the brutal raids on Buddhist temples, which the American authorities had initially believed, but that the Special Forces, loyal to Di?m's brother and strategist Nhu, had done so to frame the army generals. He was also involved in a scuffle with Nhu's secret police after they punched fellow journalist Peter Arnett while the news men were covering a Buddhist protest. Seeing Arnett lying on the ground being punched and kicked by policemen, Halberstam ran to his rescue, shouting in fury, "Go back, get back you sons of bitches or I'll beat the shit out of you!" As Halberstam spoke in English, the policemen did not understand him, but as he was much taller than the diminutive Vietnamese, the sight of him running at them, red-faced and furious, was enough to cause them to run away.
Halberstam's reporting led to a feud with the journalists Marguerite Higgins, Joseph Alsop and Henry Luce, who all championed the Diem regime. All three were members of the "China Lobby," who were passionately committed to supporting the Kuomintang regime and believed that the only reason the Kuomintang lost the Chinese Civil War in 1949 was because a few American officials and journalists had chosen to "betray" Chiang Kai-shek, who otherwise would have defeated the Communists. The "China Lobby" tended to approve of Diem for the same reasons that they approved of Chiang, seeing both as pro-Western, modernizing Christian leaders who made their respective nations into copies of the United States. In the same way that Chiang was portrayed by the "China Lobby" as China's Christian savior because of his conversion to Methodism, and who would presumably convert the rest of the Chinese to Christianity, the Catholic Diem was seen as Vietnam's Christian savior who likewise would convert the Vietnamese to Christianity. Both Higgins and Luce had been born in China to Protestant missionary parents and were very attracted to the idea of one day converting all of the Chinese to Christianity; hence, the defeat of the Christian Chiang in 1949 had caused them much bitterness. To the "China Lobby," Halberstam's criticism of Diem sounded very similar to criticism of Chiang made by American journalists in the 1940s and for many members of the "China Lobby," South Vietnam was a sort of consolation prize for the "loss of China" in 1949. For the "China Lobby," the possibility of "losing" South Vietnam would add more salt to their wounds, leading to furious attacks on Halberstam.
Before going to South Vietnam, Higgins was briefed by Marine General, Victor "Brute" Krulak, about what line she was to take. In her first column from Saigon, Higgins called the younger American journalists like Haberstam and Sheenan, "typewriter strategists" who rarely went into battle, further adding: "Reporters here would like to see us lose the war to prove they're right."  In response to editors of the New York Times who told Halberstam to change his coverage to gain Higgins' approval, he wrote back: "If you mention that woman's name to me one more time I will resign, repeat resign, and I mean it, repeat, mean it." More dangerous to Halberstam was criticism of Alsop owing to his friendship with the Kennedy brothers. In his columns, Alsop, without naming Halberstam explicitly, mentioned a young reporter from The New York Times who was a "defeatist" who never reported the good news from "Vietnam's fighting front."  Halberstam ridiculed Alsop's statement about the "fighting front" as reflecting the ignorance of someone who did not understand guerrilla warfare, where there was no "front" in the sense that Alsop had used the word.
Halberstam tried to visit North Vietnam. Hamberstam asked Mieczys?aw Maneli, the Polish Commissioner to the International Control Commission, if he would be able for arrange for him to visit North Vietnam. However, Maneli had to tell him that the message from Premier Ph?m V?n ng was that "We are not interested in building up the prestige of American journalists". Maneli suspected the real reason for refusing Haberstam permission to enter North Vietnam was the belief by the North Vietnamese that he might be an American spy.
Halberstam received the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting in 1963 for his reporting for The New York Times, including his eyewitness account of the self-immolation of Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thích Qu?ng c.
Halberstam left Vietnam in 1964, at age 30, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting that year. He is interviewed in the 1968 documentary film on the Vietnam War, titled, In the Year of the Pig.
In the mid-1960s, Halberstam covered the Civil Rights Movement for The New York Times. He was sent on assignment to Poland, where he soon became 'an attraction from behind the Iron Curtain' to the artistic boheme in Warsaw. The result of that fascination was a 12-year marriage to one of the most popular young actresses of that time, El?bieta Czy?ewska, on June 13, 1965.
Initially well received by the communist regime, two years later he was expelled from the country as persona non grata for publishing an article in The New York Times criticizing the Polish government. Czy?ewska followed him, becoming an outcast herself; that decision disrupted her career in the country where she was a big star, adored by millions. In the spring of 1967, Halberstam traveled with Martin Luther King Jr. from New York City to Cleveland and then to Berkeley, California for a Harper's article, "The Second Coming of Martin Luther King". While at the Times, he gathered material for his book The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam during the Kennedy Era (which developed the Quagmire theory).
Halberstam next wrote about President John F. Kennedy's foreign-policy decisions on the Vietnam War in The Best and the Brightest. In 1972 Halberstam went to work on his next book, The Powers That Be, published in 1979 and featuring profiles of media titans like William S. Paley of CBS, Henry Luce of Time magazine, and Phil Graham of The Washington Post.
In 1980 his brother, cardiologist Michael J. Halberstam, was shot and killed during a home invasion by escaped convict and prolific burglar Bernard C. Welch Jr His only public comment related to his brother's murder came when he and Michael's widow castigated Life magazine, then published monthly, for paying Michael's killer $9,000 to pose in jail for color photographs that appeared on inside pages of the February 1981 edition of Life.
In 1991 Halberstam wrote The Next Century, in which he argued that, after the end of the Cold War, the United States was likely to fall behind economically to other countries such as Japan and Germany.
Later in his career, Halberstam turned to sports, publishing The Breaks of the Game, an inside look at Bill Walton and the 1979-80 Portland Trail Blazers basketball team; Summer of '49, on the baseball pennant race battle between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox; October 1964, on the 1964 World Series between the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals; Playing for Keeps, an ambitious book on Michael Jordan in 1999; The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship, focusing on the relationships among several members of the Boston Red Sox in the 1940s; and The Education of a Coach, about New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Much of his sportswriting, particularly his baseball books, focuses on the personalities of the players and the times they lived in as much as on the games themselves.
In particular, Halberstam depicted the 1949 Yankees and Red Sox as symbols of a nobler era, when blue-collar athletes modestly strove to succeed and enter the middle class rather than making millions and defying their owners and talking back to the press. In 1997, Halberstam received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby College.
After publishing four books in the 1960s, including the novel The Noblest Roman, The Making of a Quagmire and The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy, he wrote three books in the 1970s, four books in the 1980s, and six books in the 1990s including his 1999 The Children which chronicled the 1959-1962 Nashville Student Movement. He wrote four more books in the 2000s, and was working on at least two others at the time of his death.
In the wake of 9/11 Halberstam wrote a book about the events in New York City, Firehouse, which describes the life of the men from Engine 40, Ladder 35 of the New York City Fire Department. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, the last book Halberstam completed, was published posthumously in September 2007.
Halberstam died in a traffic collision on April 23, 2007 in Menlo Park, California, thirteen days after his 73rd birthday. He was en route to an interview with former San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants quarterback Y. A. Tittle for a book about the 1958 championship game between the Giants and the Baltimore Colts. After Halberstam's death, the book project was taken over by Frank Gifford, who had played for the losing New York Giants in the 1958 game, and was titled The Glory Game, published by HarperCollins in October 2008 with an introduction dedicated to David Halberstam.
Howard Bryant in the Acknowledgments section of Juicing the Game, his 2005 book about steroids in baseball, said of Halberstam's assistance: "He provided me with a succinct road map and the proper mind-set." Bryant went on to quote Halberstam on how to tackle a controversial non-fiction subject: "Think about three or four moments that you believe to be the most important during your time frame. Then think about what the leadership did about it. It doesn't have to be complicated. What happened, and what did the leaders do about it? That's your book."
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Pulitzer Prize-winning Korean War correspondent Marguerite Higgins was the staunchest pro-Di?m journalist in the Saigon press corps, frequently clashing with her colleagues such as Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett and Halberstam. She claimed they had ulterior motives, saying "reporters here would like to see us lose the war to prove they're right."
Conservative military and diplomatic historian Mark Moyar claimed that Halberstam, along with fellow Vietnam journalists Neil Sheehan and Stanley Karnow, helped to bring about the 1963 South Vietnamese coup against President Di?m by sending negative information on Di?m to the U.S. government in news articles and in private, all because they decided Di?m was unhelpful in the war effort. Moyar claims that much of this information was false or misleading. Sheehan, Karnow, and Halberstam all won Pulitzer Prizes for their work on the war.
Newspaper opinion editor Michael Young posits that Halberstam saw Vietnam as a moral tragedy, with America's hubris bringing about its downfall. Young writes that Halberstam reduced everything to human will, turning his subjects into agents of broader historical forces and coming off like a Hollywood movie with a fated and formulaic climax.
|Interview with Halberstam on The Reckoning, October 1, 1987, C-SPAN|
|Booknotes interview with Halberstam on The Fifties, July 11, 1993, C-SPAN|
|Discussion at Fisk University with Halberstam and panelists who were profiled in The Children, March 26, 1998, C-SPAN|
|Discussion with Halberstam on Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made, February 22, 1999, C-SPAN|
|Discussion with Halberstam on War in a Time of Peace, October 7, 2001, C-SPAN|
|Halberstam interviewed by Ben Bradlee on the influence of The Best and the Brightest, February 13, 2005, C-SPAN|