Halberstam: Ho’s happy hagiographer

David Halberstam

One last foray into the career of writer and journalist David Halberstam (1934-2007), who on his death, as we’ve noted, was the subject of breathtaking paeans throughout America’s mainstream media. The thrust of most of these glowing obits was that he’d been that rara avis, a brilliant investigative reporter who was, at the same time, one of the most incisive analysts of the events of the day.

On the contrary. Halberstam was celebrated in the usual places for one reason and one reason alone: because he provided a certain demographic (i.e. the kind of people who read the New York Times religiously and believe every statement they encounter there) with texts designed to confirm their lockstep prejudices and received opinions. Originally a cheerleader for the Vietnam War, for instance, Halberstam changed his mind about the subject exactly when all the right people in the U.S. changed their minds, and in The Best and the Brightest he told them exactly what they wanted to hear about the not-so-wise men who had led America into what he now professed to view as a quagmire.

The Best and the Brightest, published in 1972, was a huge hit and made Halberstam famous, as we’ve discussed. Another book of his, issued the year before, is less well known and deserves some attention here. It’s entitled, quite simply, Ho. Michael Lind, in his own 1999 book about Vietnam, described Ho as “perhaps the most sympathetic portrait of a Stalinist dictator ever penned by a reputable American journalist identified with the liberal rather than the radical left.” Bingo. For instance, the book “omits any mention of the repression or atrocities of Ho Chi Minh’s regime.” Lind reminded us that in 1945-46 Ho oversaw “a reign of terror in which thousands of the leading noncommunist nationalists in territory controlled by Ho’s regime were assassinated, executed, imprisoned, or exiled.” While Halberstam, in Ho, condemned South Vietnamese President Diem’s “massive arrests [of] all his political opponents,” he breathes “not a word” about “the far more severe repression in North Vietnam.” Some examples:

Ho Chi Minh

The Maoist-inspired terror of collectivization in the mid-fifties, in which at least ten-thousand North Vietnamese were summarily executed because they belonged to the wrong “class,” is not mentioned. Nor is the anticommunist peasant rebellion that followed; nor the deployment of the North Vietnamese military to crush the peasants; nor the succeeding purge of North Vietnamese intellectuals; nor the fact that almost ten times as many Vietnamese, during the brief period of resettlement, fled from communist rule as left South Vietnam for the North. The equivalent of Halberstam’s book would be a flattering biography of Stalin that praised his leadership during World War II while omitting any mention of the gulag, the purges, and the Ukrainian famine, or an admiring biography of Mao that failed to mention the Cultural Revolution or the starvation of tens of millions during the Great Leap Forward.

Michael Lind

As if all that weren’t bad enough, Halberstam omitted “mention of Soviet or Chinese support for North Vietnam after 1949”; failed to note that “Ho’s dictatorship modeled its structure and policies on Mao’s China and Stalin’s Soviet Union”; was silent about the fact that members of the Chinese and Soviet military actually “took part in the Vietnam War”; and so on. Lind examined the sources cited in Ho and noticed something very interesting: Halberstam systematically avoided citing “everything critical written about Ho Chi Minh” by those sources. In short, this writer who after his death was eulogized throughout the American media for “speaking truth to power” was, in fact, a happy hagiographer of a totalitarian tyrant.

Saddam’s buddy

hitchens1
Christopher Hitchens

Over the course of his long career in the Commons, George Galloway has become a unique figure on the British political landscape. Describing himself as a “revolutionary,” he hates Britain, hates America, hates the West, hates democracy, hates capitalism. And he hates them all so very much that he seems to love every form of despotism that represents a challenge to these things. The worst day of his life, he has said, was the day the USSR fell. As Christopher Hitchens once noted, Galloway has been involved ever since in “the pathetic search for an alternative fatherland.” He found it in Saddam’s Iraq, gushing that “just as Stalin industrialised the Soviet Union, so on a different scale Saddam plotted Iraq’s own Great Leap Forward.”

gallowayhussein
With Saddam

While savaging leaders in the U.S., Britain, and elsewhere in the West, Galloway was an unapologetic fan of Saddam, whom he visited twice in Baghdad. In a 1994 speech, he addressed the bloodthirsty tyrant directly, saying: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.” When Saddam invaded Kuwait, Galloway defended him, calling Kuwait – counterfactually – “clearly a part of the greater Iraqi whole, stolen from the motherland by perfidious Albion.” He also whitewashed Saddam’s massacre of Kurds and Shias, insisting that there was “massive violence on both sides.”

gallowayusay
With Usay

In 2002, the Mail published an “interview” Galloway held with Saddam, in which their chumminess comes through vividly. He also palled around with Saddam’s son Usay, known as “The Wolf,” whose own barbaric practices include the killing of thousands of people and the torturing of athletes who didn’t perform as well as expected. Recordings exist of George and Usay joking about weight loss and putting down the U.S. “I’d like you to know,” the Scots MP promised the Iraqi tyrant’s heir, “that we are with you till the end.”

gallowayaziz
With Tariq Aziz

If he was friendly with Saddam and son, he was even closer to Saddam’s deputy premier, Tariq Aziz. While Aziz was in power, Galloway counseled him on warfare: “Don’t stand in lines, or hunker down in trenches….You will be mown down or buried alive.” When fighting a superpower, he advised, stay in motion. “I brought Tariq Aziz all the writings of Che Guevara and Mao Tse Tung on the arts of revolutionary war and he had them translated into Arabic,” Galloway later claimed. “Fight a war of movement, take the uniforms off, swim among the Iraqi people and whatever their views on the regime, they will undoubtedly provide deep aquifers of support for a patriotic resistance.”

gallowaypresentingsaddamwithpennant1994
Galloway presenting Saddam with a pennant, 1994

In 2006, by which time Aziz had been taken into custody by U.S. forces, Galloway wrote him a letter of sympathy that began “Your excellency, dear brother, friend.” Describing Aziz’s detention as “cruel and unjustified,” Galloway told Aziz: “I have thought of you and of the long days and nights we spent in each other’s company….I have made many enemies in this struggle. They are your enemies also. They are my enemies because I am your friend.”

But Galloway’s Iraqi ties are only a tiny part of a very large and ugly picture. More tomorrow.