Isaacs, Arnold R. 1941–

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Isaacs, Arnold R. 1941–

PERSONAL: Born February 6, 1941, in New York, NY; son of Harold Robert (a writer and correspondent) and Viola (a social worker; maiden name, Robinson) Isaacs; married Kathleen Taylor (a teacher), November 23, 1962; children: Jennifer Anne, Katherine Muir, Robert Turnbull. Ethnicity: "Nontribal human being." Education: Harvard University, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1961.

ADDRESSES: Home and office—1788 Chesapeake Pl., Pasadena, MD 21122. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Sun, Baltimore, MD, reporter, 1962–66, bureau chief in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and chief Latin America correspondent, 1966–69, correspondent from Washington, DC, 1969–72, bureau chief in Saigon, Vietnam, 1972–73, bureau chief in Hong Kong and chief Asia correspondent, 1973–78, Sunday features editor, 1978–81; freelance writer, 1981–. Towson State University, visiting scholar, 1983, lecturer, 1984–2001; Johns Hopkins University, lecturer, 1983–84, visiting professor of communications, 1983–88; University of Maryland, Asian Division, writer in residence, 1990; visiting lecturer at Northwest University, Xi'an, China, 1990–91, and Odessa State Pedagogic Institute, Odessa, Ukraine, 1991; also instructor in training programs for journalists and journalism students in various countries, including Poland, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, Kosovo, Macedonia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, and Yemen.

MEMBER: Phi Beta Kappa.

AWARDS, HONORS: Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia was named "notable book of the year" by the New York Times and American Library Association, both 1983; Knight International Press fellow in Warsaw and Lublin, Poland, 1994.


Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1983.

(With others) Pawns of War: Cambodia and Laos, Boston Publishing (Boston, MA), 1987.

Vietnam Shadows: The War, Its Ghosts, and Its Legacy, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1997.

(Editor) The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Critical Incident Response Group, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (Quantico, VA), 2000.

(Editor) Threats to Symbols of American Democracy, University of Virginia, Critical Incident Analysis Group (Charlottesville, VA), 2000.

(Editor) Public Responsibility and Mass Destruction: Facing the Threat of Bioterrorism, University of Virginia, Critical Incident Analysis Group (Charlottesville, VA), 2001.

(Editor, with Eugene A. Rugala) Workplace Violence: Issues in Response, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Critical Incident Response Group, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (Quantico, VA), 2003.

Contributor to periodicals, including New Republic, New York Times, Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune. Associate editor, Current, 1961–62.

SIDELIGHTS: The son of Harold Isaacs, a well-known foreign correspondent, Arnold R. Isaacs has achieved his own measure of fame with the publication in 1983 of Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia, his account of the last period of the war in Vietnam. Like his father, Isaacs forged a career in journalism in which he saw service as a foreign correspondent. The author once told CA that during his eighteen years with the Baltimore Sun, he "reported from more than forty foreign countries," often in the capacity of bureau chief.

It was during Isaacs's heading of the Saigon bureau from 1972 to 1973 that he became, as he described it, "responsible for coverage of the Vietnam war and the conflicts in neighboring Cambodia and Laos." The author "continued to travel frequently to Vietnam and covered the final three months of the war in 1975, leaving Saigon in the U.S. helicopter evacuation on the final day before it fell to the North Vietnamese." Many of the events of that time made their way into Without Honor, including Isaacs's account of the evacuation. "Particularly moving" was the way that a reviewer for the Washington Post Book World described these passages. Douglas Pike, writing in the New York Times Book Review, stated that Without Honor "offers vivid recollections of key moments in the war, set down with honesty by a man who saw and felt deeply."

In Without Honor, Isaacs attempts to depict the time and events in great detail, and many critics felt he succeeded. "The thud and the blood of combat and the wailing of mortally wounded nations are here," commented Los Angeles Times writer Paul Dean, "[and] so are the softer sounds of negotiations, riffled documents, the sigh of broken agreements and the tinkle of glasses on conference tables." According to a review by Harry G. Summers, Jr., in the Washington Post Book World, Isaacs's concentration "on the period between the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in 1973 and South Vietnam's eventual collapse in 1975 … is particularly useful, for too many Americans still perceive the war as waged by simple peasant revolutionaries in black pajamas armed with crude and primitive weapons." Further, in focusing on the "internal conditions that led to the collapse of South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos rather than on the enemy action," the critic acknowledged that Isaacs's report "forces us to consider the very real problems of coalition warfare."

Without Honor found particular favor for its style and tone—one that forces the reader to experience its painful subject. Gene Lyons warned in Newsweek that "Isaacs's account of the madhouse confusion of the Thieu regime's last days will be more than many will want to read, revealing as it does a client state grown so sick of war and so corrupt that elemental human bonds could not hold." For Chicago Tribune contributor Jack Fuller, the prose of Without Honor "is often so vivid that you find yourself transported back to that nightmarish time and place."

Isaacs "has produced a sound and interesting narrative," wrote R.B. Smith of the Times Literary Supplement, "which succeeds in combining vivid images of the war with the statistics and analysis that are essential for historical perspective." For many critics Without Honor is valuable both as a history and a warning—for being what Dean described as "a raw but necessary history" of a painful past. Commenting on one of Isaacs's descriptions of Saigon sleeping beneath an uneasy, artillery-lit sky, Fuller related that: "The horizon Isaacs directs our attention to is irretrievably behind us now. When the sky flashes, it shows us a place of suffering and dishonor, a wracked landscape this book will make all the more difficult to put out of mind."

The anguish of the Vietnam War did not end with the withdrawal of American troops, nor with the fall of Saigon. The war's effects have continued to ripple through the American experience up to this day. In Vietnam Shadows: The War, Its Ghosts, and Its Legacy, published in 1997, Isaacs "turns to the puzzling legacy of the war," noted Charles E. Neu in America, "weaving together personal memories and impressive scholarship to produce a wise and superbly written account of the war's enduring legacy in American life." As new conflicts have arisen in the 1980s and 1990s, the fear of another Vietnam has loomed, affecting foreign policy, military tactics, veterans, and prisoner of war/missing in action affairs, and "Baby Boomer" identity. "Examining those topics is a huge, complicated task," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "but Isaacs does so extremely capably. He amasses a large amount of solid information in each area, carefully analyzes it, and comes up with honest, insightful conclusions."

These conclusions "are sound, and his exquisite nose for detecting self-deception leads him to some awkward truths about the wartime mythologies that have become encased in middle-aged amber," in the view of Adam Garfinkle of the New York Times Book Review. As the nation moves farther from the actual events of the war and its aftermath, the myths that have grown up around the Vietnam War threaten to distort forever our knowledge of this era in American history. Isaacs's book goes a long way, reviewers suggested, to correct these myths. For instance, observed Garfinkle: "He shows that most of the country turned against the war only after the military failed to win, not the other way around." Neu was also drawn to Isaacs's exploration of how the nation responded to the issue of failure in a war. "Rather than accept the reality of our failure," he pointed out, "many Americans found a refuge in fantasies of conspiracy and revenge." Coming to grips with the war, its myths, and the effects of both on current events, represents a long journey for the nation, in Neu's opinion. And, the reviewer added, Isaacs's "book provides a sensitive guide to the twists and turns of this journey and to the anguish and uncertainty that it has produced." Beyond providing a guide to the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Garfinkle concluded, Vietnam Shadows also offers lessons. "The lessons that readers are most likely to take from [the book]," he wrote, "are that life is often painful, heroism is rarely rewarded and politics is always richly ironic."



America, September 12, 1998, Charles E. Neu, review of Vietnam Shadows: The War, Its Ghosts, and Its Legacy, p. 21.

Chicago Tribune, October 16, 1983, Jack Fuller, review of Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia, p. 33.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1997, review of Vietnam Shadows, p. 1358.

Library Journal, November 15, 1997, review of Vietnam Shadows, p. 65.

Los Angeles Times, December 18, 1983, Paul Dean, review of Without Honor, p. 5.

Newsweek, October 3, 1983, Gene Lyons, review of Without Honor, p. 90.

New York Times Book Review, October 16, 1983, Douglas Pike, review of Without Honor, pp. 9, 38; November 2, 1997, Adam Garfinkle, review of Vietnam Shadows, p. 34.

Times Literary Supplement, May 25, 1984, R.B. Smith, review of Without Honor, p. 593.

Washington Post Book World, October 2, 1983, Harry G. Summers, Jr., review of Without Honor, pp. 1-2, 14; February 10, 1985, p. 12.