Edited by Karl Weber
Public Affairs, 340 pages, 2006
Izzy Stone, one of the greatest independent journalists in American history, published I.F. Stone’s Weekly from 1953 to 1971.
By reading the documents rather than attending government press conferences, Stone proclaimed truths that the government preferred to keep hidden.
Perhaps his greatest truth was that all governments lie and are not to be believed unless proven to the contrary.
His four-page weekly, appearing more than 50 years ago, reveals how prescient he was. And it showed the validity of the French saying: “The more things change the more they stay the same.”
“There is no excuse for poverty in a society that can spend $80 billion on its war machine,” Stone wrote. The numbers always increase today to ever more obscene levels but the point doesn’t change.
He rightly complained that “the center of political gravity” has been pushed to the far right. (It’s far worse today.)
Stone, who became a radical as a teenager by reading books by Jack London, Kropotkin and Marx, noted that nothing was to the left of his weekly than the Daily Worker, U.S. communist paper.
Karl Weber writes in an editor’s note that the columns reveal Stone’s “factual precision, historical depth, unpretentious learning, mordant wit and passion for justice.”
And Peter Osnos observes in the introduction that Stone was a Jew whose religion really was humanism.
Stone denounced the “stupidity of the Vietnam War.” He blasted government secrecy in the purported interest of national security.
Stone showed his civility by decrying the student denunciation of cops as pigs and pointing out that shouting four-letter words is no argument.
He deplored the death penalty, calling it “a noble rebuke to an un-Christian Christian world.” He decried U.S. bombs dropped on the innocent in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Foretelling drone killings today, Stone wrote that “victory by airpower is victory by terror against the civilian population.”
He noted that Americans search out Vietcong atrocities with indignation but dismiss U.S use of napalm and its saturation bombing as mere technology.
He rightly complained of “the sickness in the South.” (Columnists these days write about the return of Jim Crow but Apartheid Jim never left. You almost wish the South had won the Civil War.)
Stone’s best and wisest columns dealt with Israel. He wrote:
• “Political agreement will be impossible as long as a single Jewish state in Palestine is demanded.”
• For the Arabs to recognize Israel “is to acquiesce in the wrong done them by the conquest of Palestine.”
• “The U.S. press is overwhelmingly pro-Zionist.”
• “Israel is creating a moral schizophrenia in world Jewry.”
Stone did not mention the historic refusal by Lillian Hellman to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952 because he then had no newspaper outlet.
Hellman refused to testify about former communists while others like film director Elia Kazan ratted.
“To hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is inhuman, indecent and dishonorable,” Hellman wrote to HUAC. “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”
Izzy did not miss much else. He was that newspaper rarity: on the side of the angels.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.