Monday, April 23, 2007

David Halberstam

A note from Donald W. Faulkner, Director:

We acknowledge with great sadness the untimely death of author David Halberstam, the best and the brightest of his generation of journalists.

We remember his deep, measured voice, punctuated always by the audible pursing of his lips; we remember his silver hair, his ample eyebrows, his glasses, his geniality. We remember his height. Most of all we remember his brilliance.

Halberstam last visited the Institute just before the fateful 2000 presidential election, on November 2nd of that year. We made a television show of his visit that was broadcast a number of times in the years following. We hope to present it on our website in streaming video in the near future.

I can remember David standing on the university podium in the early-evening dark, snow flurries flying, and his talking in a live feed with one of the area television stations. In the brightness of the camera lights, it was a delightfully disjointed experience. Not having any idea of the questions asked him – they all came into his earpiece – we puzzled at answers he provided that involved Al Gore’s chances, Yogi Berra, Viet Nam, and Eisenhower. Each question seemed as though it must have been a non-sequitur, but he answered each with grace and an elegant kind of patience.

He had his own interesting perspective on Al Gore – Halberstam worked early on in his career at “The Tennessean” - but he seemed to be fond, in then-recent elections, of the efforts of Ralph Nader, a childhood friend . As I recall the story, David was launched from the family nest during his young school days to go and live with an uncle in Winsted, CT. There he met a cantankerous classmate whose father owned a diner in the small, northern Connecticut town. Halberstam remembered the younger Nader as the only person more vocal than Nader’s father. He was able to carry on arguments endlessly. But David on that Institute visit sensed the significance of the issues at hand in the 2000 election, then only five days away, and was ready to set aside his childhood allegiances.

There are two other things I recall about him vividly, one small, the other large. The small one was that he always traveled first class, the only way, he said, to get leg room. The other was how, during the question-and-answer session after his evening lecture at Page Hall, he responded to a question about Robert McNamara and Viet Nam. I have seen great men do slow burns, but it was quite something to see the raised hackles on a tall man’s spine at so many years’ remove from the events of which he spoke. Halberstam was unforgiving and would, I thought, have damned McNamara to hell were it in his power. I think it was the only time I saw such long-held and steeped passion. But then, he spoke for a generation. He often did.