The event, hosted by the Harvard Book Store, included a screening of an installment in the film series “Out of the Book.” The 35-minute film was based on the content of Halberstam’s last, posthumously-published book, “The Coldest Winter,” about the Korean War.
Consisting of comments on the events covered in the book and on the life of the author himself, the film featured interviews with Halberstam’s friends, including Bob Woodward, Neil Sheehan ’58, and Joan Didion. Those interviewed reflected on Halberstam’s integrity, presence, and journalistic tenacity.
Sheehan, who worked with Halberstam while covering the Vietnam War, spoke on Halberstam’s bravery in combat and the stature it afforded him among soldiers. “If you go into the battlefield with them, you become a comrade, and that lasts you all your life,” he said.
Halberstam, Woodward recalled, was endowed with a “raw skepticism” that made him an effective investigative journalist. “He didn’t give a rat’s ass about the reaction that powerful people had about [what he reported]. In fact, he was glad if they were mad about it,” Woodward said.
Probing the inner machinations of American bureaucracy and the politics of the war he was covering, Halberstam often appeared to run afoul of the patriotic party-line, Didion said, but she stressed that his only opposition was to those who abused their power and sacrificed American lives needlessly.
“The books are not an indictment of America,” she said.
The film’s only footage of Halberstam himself featured the author’s criticism of the Iraq War. “This is a grievous, grievous thing and I think our children and our grandchildren will pay for this,” he said.
The film was followed by comments and a question and answer period with two of Halberstam’s friends, Kennedy School Professor Samantha Power and Boston Globe sports columnist Bob P. Ryan.
Power was briefly moved to tears as she recalled her first meeting with Halberstam, whom she said she had idolized. She added a word about how the author used his persona to drive his mission.
“David knew he was David Halberstam, in that he knew he could honor people and ensure a forgotten war would no longer be forgotten,” Power said.
Ryan added a humorous touch of nostalgia to the air, discussing Halberstam’s other passion, sports. “I’m here to represent the frivilous side of David Halberston, in so far as it existed, and it did.”
Ryan said that Halberstam, a ceaseless worker, was already working on a book about the 1958 NFL Championship Game at the time of his death.
Halberstam was killed in April 2007 in an auto accident in Menlo Park, CA.