David Halberstam, 1934-2007

 

[San Jose Mercury News article: Author David Halberstam killed in crash near Dumbarton Bridge]

Posted April 23, 2007

 

This is terribly upsetting and so full of bitter irony.

Two days ago I heard him speak eloquently at U.C. Berkeley Journalism School about how at age 73 he's not even thinking about retiring because he loves writing so much. He just finished the galleys for his Korean War book and had a contract for two more. Halberstam recognized what a privilege it was to have attained the recognition from peers and the ability just to write books for a living.

But he also indicated that it was much, much more than a job. From covering the civil rights movement in the South in ways that most other reporters wouldn't or couldn't, to upending a nation's misconceptions about how the Vietnam War started, Halberstam was a guiding light for a profession now so commonly associated with shallow celebrity trash and flash -- or worse.

It takes public intellectuals like Halberstam, who have seen war first hand, to give weight to assessments that, for example, the conflict in Iraq is potentially "cataclysmic." Judging by the number of young people in the audience Saturday night, though, I'd say he succeeded at passing on the passion for truthfulness and thoughtfulness to at least two more generations.

-- Michael Stoll