Journalist was 'wise old Asian hand'
Stanley Karnow, an award-winning author and journalist who worked on a definitive book and television documentary about the Vietnam War and later won a Pulitzer Prize for a history of the Philippines, died on Sunday morning. He was 87.
Karnow, who had congestive heart failure, died in his sleep in his home in Potomac, Md., said his 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 dates 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 newspaper, 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.
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.”
Karnow 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.
He 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.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Allegheny Valley Hospital volunteers give back, get rewards
- Pair of NYC officers killed in ambush shooting
- ‘The D’oh of Homer’: Professors employ TV’s ‘Simpsons’
- Secret Santa saves the day for York County senior center residents
- Service with a smile: Win at gift-giving with in-home indulgences
- ‘Collector’ exhibit shows another side of famed photographer Michals
- Pittsburgh police break up customer fights over Air Jordan 11 shoes
- Kurds apply pressure to Islamic State
- Children treated to gifts, peaceful holiday party at Lincoln-Lemington church
- Licensing boards increase fees to cover costs that include investigations
- Edgeworth home offers modern conveniences, antebellum-era charm