Lies, lies, lies: David Halberstam

David Halberstam

The historian and journalist David Halberstam, who died in 2007 at the age of 73, was one of those mid to late twentieth-century figures who were held up as lustrous luminaries by mainstream American culture (another one, whom we discussed recently here, was Walter Cronkite) and who, upon their death, were publicly mourned almost without exception. Roger Kimball, noting in the New Criterion that Halberstam had over the course of his career acquired “an inviolable place in the pantheon of liberal demigods,” offered a few examples of high-profile obituaries that praised Halberstam in strikingly glowing – and strikingly similar – terms. Even the headlines were strikingly similar: Newsweek‘s obit was entitled “A Journalistic Witness to Truth,” while the New York Times‘s ran under the title “Working the Truth Beat.” (Others included “Speaking Truth To Power All His Life” and “Halberstam Spoke Truth to Power.”)

Beginning in the 1950s and for decades thereafter, Halberstam was one of those guys who were almost always at the center of the action. Raised in New York and educated at Harvard (where he was managing editor of the Crimson), he went on to report on the civil-rights movement for the Nashville Tennessean and from Vietnam and then pre-Solidarnosc Poland for the New York Times. He then wrote a series of big, fat, bestselling, and highly influential books about such topics as JFK and his cronies (The Best and the Brightest) and the mainstream news media of the day (The Powers that Be). Both his newspaper reportage and his books helped shape the way in which his educated contemporaries thought about the America of their time.

Almost universally, Halberstam’s reporting was viewed as stellar: in 1962 he won the George Polk Award, in 1964 the Pulitzer Prize. But there were dissenters who made vitally important points about his work. Upon his death, the editors of the New York Sun noted that Halberstam had played a key role in shaping the “enlightened” American view that U.S. involvement in Vietnam was morally wrong and strategically ill-advised and that U.S. actions there had had overwhelmingly negative consequences. The Sun added that more recent historians of the Vietnam War had reached drastically different conclusions than Halberstam did.

Mark Moyar

One of those historians was Mark Moyar, who own commentary upon Halberstam’s death was bluntly headlined “No Hero.” Writing in National Review, Moyar lamented that the mainstream-media obituaries for had “made clear that Halberstam’s elevation to the status of national hero is intended to be permanent.” Therefore, argued Moyar, it was crucial “to point out how much Halberstam harmed the United States during his career.” Moyar cited “the viciousness of his attacks on public servants he disliked,” among them then-President George W. Bush, whom he had recently attacked with “snide malice and arrogance.”

General Paul Harkins

In his writings on the Vietnam War, charged Moyar, Halberstam had “horribly tarnished the reputations of some very fine Americans, including Gen. Paul Harkins, who served as head of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and Frederick Nolting, who was U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam.” Halberstam hadn’t just offered opinions about these men with which Moyar disagreed; he had presented “false portrayals” of them, smearing them in ways that pained their loved ones years after their deaths.

Along with fellow journalists Neil Sheehan and Stanley Karnow, Halberstam had also deliberately lied about Ngo Dinh Diem, President of South Vietnam, both in print and in private conversations with Diem’s opponents in the U.S. government. They “convinced Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge to accept their reports in place of much more accurate reports from the CIA and the U.S. military, which led Lodge to urge South Vietnamese generals to stage a coup.”

The coup occurred – and, three weeks before JFK’s assassination in Dallas, Diem was murdered. But it wasn’t just Diem that was killed. With his death, South Vietnam lost an effective government – and an effective independent war effort. The precipitous decline in the South’s fortunes in the struggle against Communism led the U.S. to feel compelled take up the slack by pouring its own armed forces into the country. The rest is history.

More tomorrow.

Defending Ahmadinejad

mahmoud_ahmadinejad1
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran from 2005 to 2013, called the Holocaust a “myth” and a “lie” and maintained that AIDS was a Western plot to destroy the Third World. He banned Western music from Iranian radio and TV and severely limited Internet access for most Iranian citizens. Even more than his predecessor, he cracked down on protests and tortured dissidents. He persecuted women and academics and forced scientists into retirement. Oh, and he promised to “wipe Israel off the map.”

On September 24, 2007, at the invitation of Columbia University’s then president, Lee Bollinger, Ahmadinejad delivered a speech at Columbia as part of its annual World Leaders Forum. While some members of the university community publicly criticized the invitation, others cheered Ahmadinejad on his arrival. For them, it appeared, hailing the Iranian leader was yet another way to express their contempt for then U.S. President George W. Bush.

bollingermich
Lee Bollinger

Ahmadinejad’s speech received a mixed reception. Audience members laughed when he insisted that there were no gays in Iran, but applauded his negative remarks about Bush and the U.S. government and his insistence on the need to study “the root causes of 9/11.” The introduction to Ahmadinejad’s speech was given by Bollinger himself, who took the opportunity to call him “a petty and cruel dictator.” Bollinger may not have been the most hospitable of hosts, but his remarks were nothing less than factual.

But Hamid Dabashi, the Professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia whom we’ve been discussing this week, was outraged. Writing in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahran, he condemned Bollinger’s remarks in the harshest terms. Bollinger, he maintained, was a “white supremacist” whose remarks exuded “mind-numbing racism.” They echoed “the most ridiculous clichés of the neocon propaganda machinery, wrapped in the missionary position of a white racist supremacist carrying the heavy burden of civilizing the world.” They were, indeed, nothing less than examples of “propaganda warfare…waged by the self-proclaimed moral authority of the United States.”

dabashi4
Hamid Dabashi

A columnist at the New York Sun suggested that Dabashi’s article was “perhaps the most severe public indictment yet of Mr. Bollinger’s behavior.” Judith Jacobson, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia, called Dabashi’s article “sheer demagoguery,” adding that “attributing President Bollinger’s remarks or behavior to racism is absurd.”

churchill
Ward Churchill

Then along came Ward Churchill, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder who attracted national attention in 2005 because of an essay in which he’d described those killed at the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns.” Charged soon afterwards with plagiarism and other types of professional misconduct, he won support from fellow radical academics around the U.S. One of them was Dabashi, who in a published statement compared himself and other professors who had rallied around Churchill to the members of the slave army in the 1960 movie Spartacus who, when a Roman general demands that they identify their leader so that he can be executed, refuse to do so and instead stand up and say, one after the other, “I am Spartacus!” “Today,” wrote Dabashi, “every single professor teaching in the remotest parts of this country with an abiding conviction in the moral duty of democratic dissent is Ward Churchill. In the company of that magnificent chorus of hope for the democratic future of this country, I too am Ward Churchill.” Churchill was fired anyway.

The Ivy League’s poisonous Iran apologist

low_library_columbia_university_8-11-06
Low Library, Columbia University

Many of the useful stooges we’ve examined on this site have been university professors or – like the so-called “Cambridge spies” – have been radicalized while they were university students. As it happens, New York’s Columbia University has figured prominently in the annals of useful stoogery. And of all the departments at Columbia, the one whose faculty has, in recent times, arguably provided more instances of world-class useful stoogery than any other is the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, known familiarly as MEALAC. During the next couple of weeks we’ll meet some of the stars of that department.

dabashi1
Hamid Dabashi

First up: Hamid Dabashi, now 65 years old. Born in Iraq, Dabashi was an undergraduate at the University of Tehran, earned a Ph.D. in the sociology of culture and Islamic studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and pursued a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. He was a protégé of Edward Said, whose blanket indictment of Western scholars of Islam, Asia, and the Middle East as “Orientalists” incapable of shaking off colonial-era attitudes toward colonized peoples became dogma for experts in those areas of study. Now 65, Dabashi been at Columbia for many years, holding the title Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature.

edward_said_1999_dpa_akg_0
Edward Said

During his tenure, he’s made more than his share of highly charged remarks and racked up more than his share of controversies. He’s called Israel a “racist Apartheid state” and equated Gaza with Auschwitz. In 2004, a Columbia graduate named Scott Schonfeld who had been a student of Dabashi’s two years earlier told the New York Sun that Dabashi had canceled a class on Israeli Independence Day “so that the students could attend an anti-Israel demonstration.”

9-11-attackIn January 2005, reacting to the American response to 9/11, Dabashi told the New York Times that “these are the dark ages….This is not the United States I moved into in 1976. I don’t recognize it. I’m in sort of moral shock.” We’ve tried without success to find any example whatsoever of Dabashi expressing shock over Islamic terrorism – for example, over the train attack in Madrid that, only a few months before his comment to the Times, took the lives of 192 people. Nor did Dabashi seem to recognize that the repulsive remarks he made about Jews in an article published later in 2005 might plunge his own readers into a “sort of moral shock.” In the article he describes a visit to Israel, which he depicted as “a military base for the rising predatory empire of the United States” and a “miasmatic mutation of human soul into a subterranean mixture of vile and violence.” He painted a nightmare picture of Israeli streets full of soldiers “with very long machine guns hanging from their necks.” Ben-Gurion Airport? It was “a fully fortified barrack” where all and sundry were “treated like hazardous chemicals.” On the flight home, he was made “nauseous” by the sight of a Jewish mother and father and their five boys in yarmulkes. Once back in New York, he concluded that

Half a century of systematic maiming and murdering of another people has left its deep marks on the faces of these people…the way they talk, walk, the way they greet each other….There is a vulgarity of character of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture. A subsumed militarism, a systemic mendacity with an ingrained violence constitutional to the very fusion of its fabric, has penetrated the deepest corners of what these people have to call their “soul.” No people can perpetrate what these people and their parents and grandparents have perpetrated on Palestinians and remain immune to the cruelty of their own deeds.

rosenblum
Jonathan Rosenblum

These lines might have been writing by Hitler himself. Quoting them, Jonathan Rosenblum wondered at the fact that “no one has suggested that Debashi might be fired or even reprimanded for speaking non-scientific nonsense” – even though an Ivy League professor who had written, say, “that black teenagers have distended ears from prolonged exposure to ghetto boomboxes held close to their ears, and wide lips from eating too many watermelons,” would surely have been “summoned for a disciplinary hearing and sensitivity training,” not to mention subjected to boycotts and sit-ins.

luria
Victor Luria

After the publication of Dabashi’s article on Israel, he received an email from a Columbia Ph.D. student, Victor Luria, a Romanian and a former IDF member. “I have rarely seen such a revolting excerpt of anti-semitism as your article in Al-Ahram,” wrote Luria, who is now a research fellow at Harvard Medical School. Instead of replying to Luria’s email, Dabashi forwarded it to Columbia’s provost, historian Alan Brinkley, as well as to other university officials, claiming that Luria’s remarks represented a threat to his physical safety and demanding that university security officers take “appropriate measures” against this “militant slanderer.” Brinkley refused, saying that Luria had made no threats against him.

More tomorrow.