Karnow, Vietnam reporter-historian, dies at age 87
Stanley Karnow, the award-winning author and journalist who wrote a definitive book about the Vietnam War, worked on an accompanying documentary and later won a Pulitzer for a history of the Philippines, died Sunday morning. He was 87.
Karnow, who had congestive heart failure, died in his sleep at his home in Potomac, Md., said son Michael Karnow.
A Paris-based correspondent for Time magazine early in his career, Karnow was assigned in 1958 to Hong Kong as bureau chief for Southeast Asia and soon arrived in Vietnam, when the American presence was still confined to a small core of advisers. In 1959, Karnow reported on the first two American deaths in Vietnam, not suspecting that tens of thousands would follow.
Into the 1970s, Karnow would cover the war off and on for Time, The Washington Post and other publications and then draw upon his experience for an epic PBS documentary and for the million-selling “Vietnam: A History,” published in 1983 and widely regarded as an essential, even-handed summation.
Karnow’s “In Our Image,” a companion to a PBS documentary on the Philippines, won the Pulitzer in 1990. His other books included “Mao and China,” which in 1973 received a National Book Award nomination, and “Paris in The Fifties,” a memoir published in 1997.
A fellow Vietnam reporter, Morley Safer, would describe Karnow as the embodiment of “the wise old Asian hand.” Karnow was known for his precision and research — his Vietnam book reaches back to ancient times — and his willingness to see past his own beliefs. He was a critic of the Vietnam War (and a name on President Nixon’s enemies list) who still found cruelty and incompetence among the North Vietnamese. His friendship with Philippines leader Corazon Aquino did not stop him from criticizing her presidency.
A salesman’s son, Karnow was born in New York in 1925 and by high school was writing radio plays and editing the school’s paper, a job he also held at the Harvard Crimson. He first lived in Asia during World War II when he served throughout the region in the Army Air Corps. Back in the U.S., he majored in European history and literature at Harvard, from which he graduated in 1947.
Enchanted by French culture, and by the romance of Paris set down by Americans Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller, Karnow set out for Europe after leaving school not for any particular purpose, but simply because it was there. “I went to Paris, planning to stay for the summer. I stayed for 10 years,” he wrote in “Paris in the Fifties.”
He began sending dispatches to a Connecticut weekly, where the owner was a friend, and in 1950 was hired as a researcher at Time. Promoted to correspondent, he would cover strikes, race car driving and the beginning of the French conflict with Algeria, but also interviewed Audrey Hepburn (“a memorable if regrettably brief encounter”) fashion designer Christian Dior and director John Huston, who smoked cigars, knocked back Irish whiskies and rambled about the meaning of Humphrey Bogart. Friends and acquaintances included Norman Mailer, James Baldwin and John Kenneth Galbraith.
Bernard Kalb, a journalist, former State Department spokesman and longtime friend who met Karnow when they were both working in Hong Kong in the 1950s, said Karnow described journalism as the only profession “in which you can be an adolescent all your life.”
“You never lose your enthusiasm and the depths of curiosity to engage with the world. That’s what it means,” Kalb told The Associated Press on Sunday. “Stanley took those particular drives of adolescence all through his life.”
Karnow’s first book was the text for “Southeast Asia,” an illustrated Life World Library release published in 1962, before the U.S. committed ground troops to Vietnam. It was partly a Cold War time capsule, preoccupied with Communist influence, but was also skeptical enough of official policy to anticipate the fall of a key American ally, South Vietnamese president Ngo Dihn Diem, an event that helped lead to greater American involvement.
Like so many others, Karnow initially supported the war and believed in the “domino theory,” which asserted that if South Vietnam were to fall to communism its neighbors would too.
But by war’s end, Karnow agreed with the soldier asked by a reporter in 1968 what he thought of the conflict: “It stinks,” was the reply.
“Vietnam: A History” was published in 1983 and coincided with a 13-part PBS documentary series. Like much of his work, Karnow’s book combined historical research, firsthand observations and thorough reporting, including interviews with top officials on both sides of the war. Decades later, it remained read and taught alongside such classics as David Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest” and Michael Herr’s “Dispatches.”
“There are not many carefully delineated judgments in the book. But that is more a comment than the criticism it might be, for Mr. Karnow does not claim to have reached a sweeping verdict on the war,” Douglas Pike, a former U.S. government official in Vietnam who became a leading authority on the war, wrote for The New York Times in a 1983 review.
“Because he has a sharp eye for the illustrative moment and a keen ear for the telling quote, his book is first-rate as a popular contribution to understanding the war. And that is what he meant it to be.”
The PBS series won six Emmys, a Peabody and a Polk and was the highest-rated documentary at the time for public television, with an average of 9.7 million viewers per episode. Along with much praise came criticism from the left and right. The liberal weekly The Nation faulted Karnow for “little analysis and much waffling.” Conservatives were so angered by the documentary that PBS agreed to let the right-wing Accuracy in Media air a rebuttal, “Television’s Vietnam: The Real Story,” which in turn was criticized as a show of weakness by PBS.
Karnow completed no books after “Paris in the Fifties.” He attempted a study of Asians in the U.S., which he abandoned; a history of Jewish humor that never advanced beyond an outline; and a second memoir, with such working titles as “Interesting Times” and “Out of Asia.” He also cared for his ailing wife, Annette, who died of cancer in 2009. A previous marriage, to Claude Sarraute (daughter of French novelist Nathalie Sarraute), ended in divorce in 1955. Karnow had three children.
He was often called on for speeches, panel discussions and television appearances and asked for his opinions on current affairs. One query came in 2009, through his old friend Richard Holbrooke, at the time the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan. Holbrooke wanted advice on U.S. policy in Afghanistan and put Karnow on the phone with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander. Karnow and the general discussed similarities between the wars in Afghanistan and Vietnam.
“What did we learn from Vietnam?” Karnow later told the AP. “We learned that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
Schools must provide sports for disabled, U.S. says
WASHINGTON (AP) — Students with disabilities must be given a fair shot to play on a traditional sports team or have their own leagues, the Education Department says.
Disabled students who want to play for their school could join traditional teams if officials can make “reasonable modifications” to accommodate them. If those adjustments would fundamentally alter a sport or give the student an advantage, the department is directing the school to create parallel athletic programs that have comparable standing to traditional programs.
“Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage, and this guidance will help schools ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or on the court,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement announcing the new guidance Friday.
The groundbreaking order is reminiscent of the Title IX expansion of athletic opportunities for girls and women four decades ago and could bring sweeping changes to school budgets and locker rooms for years to come.
Activists cheered the changes.
“This is a landmark moment for students with disabilities. This will do for students with disabilities what Title IX did for women,” said Terri Lakowski, who for a decade led a coalition pushing for the changes. “This is a huge victory.”
It’s not clear whether the new guidelines will spark a sudden uptick in sports participation. There was a big increase in female participation in sports after Title IX guidance instructed schools to treat female athletics on par with male teams. That led many schools to cut some men’s teams, arguing that it was necessary to be able to pay for women’s teams.
Education Department officials emphasized they did not intend to change sports traditions dramatically or guarantee students with disabilities a spot on competitive teams. Instead, they insisted schools may not exclude students based on their disabilities if they can keep up with their classmates.
Federal laws, including the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, require states to provide a free public education to all students and prohibit schools that receive federal money from discriminating against students with disabilities. Going further, the new directive from the Education Department’s civil rights division explicitly tells schools and colleges that access to interscholastic, intramural and intercollegiate athletics is a right.
The department suggests minor accommodations to incorporate students with disabilities onto sports teams. For instance, track and field officials could use a visual cue for a deaf runner to begin a race.
Some states already offer such programs. Maryland, for instance, passed a law in 2008 that required schools to create equal opportunities for students with disabilities to participate in physical education programs and play on traditional athletic teams. And Minnesota awards state titles for disabled student athletes in six sports.
Increasingly, those with disabilities are finding spots on their schools’ teams.
“I heard about some of the other people who joined their track teams in other states. I wanted to try to do that,” said Casey Followay, 15, of Wooster, Ohio, who competes on his high school track team in a racing wheelchair.
Current rules require Followay to race on his own, without competitors running alongside him. He said he hopes the Education Department guidance will change that and he can compete against runners.
“It’s going to give me the chance to compete against kids at my level,” he said.
Some cautioned that progress would come in fits and starts initially.
“Is it easy? No,” said Brad Hedrick, director of disability services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and himself a hall-of-famer in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. “In most places, you’re beginning from an inertial moment. But it is feasible and possible that a meaningful and viable programming can be created.”
Casey Anthony files for bankruptcy in Florida
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Casey Anthony filed for bankruptcy in Florida on Friday, claiming about $1,100 in assets and $792,000 in liabilities.
Court records show that Anthony, who was acquitted of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in 2011, sought Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in federal court in Tampa.
Her listed debts include $500,000 for attorney fees and costs for her criminal defense lawyer during the trial, Jose Baez; $145,660 for the Orange County Sheriff’s office for a judgment covering investigative fees and costs related to the case; $68,540 for the Internal Revenue Service for taxes, interest and penalties; and $61,505 for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for court costs.
The filling also states that she is a defendant in several civil suits, including one brought by Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez for defamation in Orange County Circuit Court.
Fernandez-Gonzalez claims her reputation was damaged by Anthony telling detectives that a baby sitter by the same name kidnapped Caylee. The detectives were investigating the 2008 disappearance of the girl, who later was found dead. Anthony’s attorney said details offered by Anthony did not match Fernandez-Gonzalez and clearly showed Anthony wasn’t talking about her.
Court papers list Anthony as unemployed, with no recent income.
An attorney for Anthony, David Schrader, did not immediately respond to messages from the Associated Press.
Anthony lists about 80 creditors in the 60-page court filing. The claims largely cover fees for legal, medical, psychiatric and forensics consulting or services. But one claim covers a debt for scuba diving services.
According to the courts, the aim of seeking Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection is to be discharged of most existing debts — essentially to obtain a fresh financial start. A trustee may have the right to take possession of and sell non-exempt property and use the sale proceeds to pay creditors, but Anthony lists little in the way of assets. A debtor may still be held responsible for some obligations, such as taxes and student loans.
The filing came on the same day that a Florida appellate court set aside two of the four convictions she faced for lying to detectives during the investigation into her missing daughter.
Though Anthony was acquitted of killing Caylee, jurors convicted her of four counts of lying to detectives, and her attorneys appealed those convictions. Anthony was sentenced to time served for the misdemeanors.
She was sentenced to a year of probation after her release from jail for an unrelated case. For her protection, her whereabouts have been kept secret since she was released from state supervision last year.