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Jeremy Hogan
Reflects on David Halberstam

David Halberstam at Indiana University - Photo by Jeremy Hogan.

It was with shock and sadness that I came across the front page of the New York Times online yesterday evening: David Halberstam, one of the greatest American journalists of the 20th century, was killed in a car accident yesterday in California.

It was a month ago almost to the day that I was in his presence; he had come to Indiana University to speak with journalism students, professors, members of the community and even the staff of the local newspaper. I had photographed him once and listened to his analyses of the current war in Iraq. He said we need to “cut and walk” because it isn’t working and we shouldn’t have gone there in the first place.

It could be argued that the war in Iraq is different than the Vietnam war in many ways: first of all it’s in the desert, second there isn’t a country like China supplying the weapons (though some claim Syria and Iran are doing so) and third this is a war about terrorism not about communism.

But, there are so many similarities: the U.S. government trained the South Vietnamese to fight for themselves and they were unable to do so effectively. When Halberstam was covering the Vietnam War during the early 1960s U.S. advisors were “training” the South Vietnamese to fight the communist North Vietnamese so we could leave. The U.S. trained Iraqis are supposed to secure democracy so we can leave.

Two, this is a guerilla war where the enemy is not necessarily seen, in Vietnam children ambushed U.S. soldiers with grenades and now in Iraq children set off IEDs with cell phones.

Three, my father is a Vietnam War Vet and he told me the North Vietnamese were “terrorizing” the South Vietnamese and the United States was there to give them Freedom. The goal of the United States was to help them gain their freedom and then leave but as the 60s went on we were drawn more and more into the war.

In 1965 Lyndon B. Johnson decided to escalate the war and send more American troops since the South Vietnamese troops weren’t getting the job done and a culture of corruption had made America’s attempt to mold Vietnam a failure. Now today, we have the surge and many more than 20,000 troops will be sent to Iraq.

Does this seem familiar?

By the mid 1960s David Halberstam was no longer reporting on the war in Vietnam. But a few years later my own father would be there and my own father would eventually come home extremely troubled, not only about what he saw there and what he did - including a stint in Cambodia in 1970 - but about what the United States had become.

There is another difference too that Halberstam pointed out: It’s not the children of the wealthy and the middle class who are fighting this war it’s the poor mostly and since there is no draft there is very little of the outrage on college campuses now that was present in the 60s. I have to admit that my father is no fan of Jane Fonda and his listening to the Beatles and Jim Hendrix and Bob Dylan is somewhat surprising given how much the whole hippy turned yuppie crowd seems to have pissed him off. Basically, from his working class perspective, he thinks they’re spoiled people that don’t understand anything about how the world really works. Caught in the middle, I see things not only from my father's point of view, but having gone to college, from other points of view as well. But, that’s the subject of another essay.

It was with great interest 10 years ago when a college professor gave me a photocopy of an article in Vanity Fair about a book that was about to be released called, “Once Upon a Distant War” by William Prochnau. A few months later I read the nearly 600-page book from cover to cover and learned how a small group of journalists went to Vietnam believing in the war and quickly learned otherwise by getting on helicopters and going out to battles where they spoke with the people doing the fighting not some people as a think tank in Washington, D.C.

David Halberstam in Vietnam - 1963

As a reporter for the New York Times Halberstam reported things that were much different than what the "official" sources in Washington, D.C. were telling the Washington based media who were not on the ground in Vietnam seeing the actuality of what was really happening. President John F. Kennedy was so enraged when he read Halberstam’s reports in the New York Times that he called Halberstam’s bosses and demanded that he be reassigned. But, Halberstam was reporting the truth as he saw it not what some Washington politicians wanted reported which were a series of delusions based on their own political goals not the reality of the situation.

Presently there are hundreds of public relations agencies that are spinning a thousand different stories and some of these agencies helped spin the media and this is partially how we got into this current situation in Iraq *. However, as someone said, Halberstam couldn not be spun. And this is the best kind of journalist.

However, three years ago had Halberstam said the things he was saying a month ago about the war in Iraq, to a mostly upper middle class college audience of professors and administrators, there would have been a lot more skeptics than there are now four years after the beginning of this war which has cost thousands of lives and much more money than the governments is telling us.

When I heard that Halberstam would be coming to town and I would be photographing him I was very interested in doing so. You know they say, sometimes one shouldn’t meet their heroes, or in my case, see them in person but I say not necessarily so. Because the Halberstam I photographed from a very close proximity was as gracious as could be, smart, intelligent, urbane and much more impressive a person that I ever would have imagined.

David Halberstam at Indiana University - Photo by Jeremy Hogan.

Someone asked David Halberstam who is doing a good job reporting the war in Iraq, there was a pause and then he said John Stewart. Then Halberstam gave praises about Hunter S. Thompson saying he was one of the ones that got right the story about the Vietnam War.

Yesterday was a very sad day in American journalism and now it falls upon my generation of journalists to fill Halberstam’s shoes, not to mention Hunter’s, and they are indeed big ones to fill.

Will my generation of journalists just watch John Stewart and complain about how bad the future of journalism is? I don’t have the answers and I can’t remember a time when journalism was a more demoralizing profession to be involved with but the stakes are the future of journalism as a credible force for good and not to mention, the future of this experiment we call America.

A Tribute to David Halberstam at

Click Here to Read stories from the Journalists who worked with Halberstam on some of his biggest stories and share their memories of his work and his bright Spirit.

Click Here to Read stories from the Journalists who worked with David Halberstam on some of his biggest stories and share their memories of his work and his bright Spirit.

 Click Here to View Bill Moyers "Buying The War"

* Air Check
Be sure to watch Bill Moyers "Buying The War" a documentary focusing on the corrupt actions by the dominant political and media organizations which deceived the American people into the invasion of Iraq. Click Here to View.


Click Here To Learn More about Jeremy Hogan

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