Oberdorfer, Don 1931-
Oberdorfer, Don 1931-
PERSONAL: Born May 28, 1931, in Atlanta, GA; son of Donald and Dorothy (Bayersdorfer) Oberdorfer; married Laura Jane Klein, April 24, 1955; children: Daniel, Karen. Education: Princeton University, A.B., 1952.
ADDRESSES: Home—4630 30th St. NW, Washington, DC 20008-2127. Office—Nitze School for Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, 1619 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036-2213; fax: 202-663-5891. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Charlotte Observer, Charlotte, NC, reporter and Washington correspondent, 1955–61; Saturday Evening Post, Washington, DC, assistant editor, 1961–65; Knight Newspapers, Washington, DC, national correspondent, 1965–68; Washington Post, Washington, DC, White House reporter and columnist, 1968–72, Northeast Asia correspondent, 1972–75, diplomatic correspondent, 1976–93; Johns Hopkins University, Nitze School for Advanced International Studies, Washington, DC, journalist in residence, 1993–. Princeton University, Ferris Professor of Journalism, 1977, 1982, 1986. Military service: U.S. Army, 1952–54; served in Korea; became lieutenant.
MEMBER: American Society of Journalists and Authors, Authors League of America, Asia Society (member of board of trustees, 1987–89), Council on Foreign Affairs.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Award nomination, National Book Foundation, for Tet!: The Story of a Battle and Its Historic Aftermath; Barnet Nover Prize. White House Correspondents Association, 1980, Edwin M. Hood Award, National Press Club, 1981 1988, and Edward Weintal Prize, Georgetown University, 1982, 1993, all for diplomatic reporting; Woodrow Wilson Award, Princeton University, 1996.
The Turn: From the Cold War to a New Era; The United States and the Soviet Union, 1983–1990, Poseidon Press (New York, NY), 1991, revised edition published as From the Cold War to a New Era, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1998.
Princeton University: The First 250 Years, Trustees of Princeton University (Princeton, NJ), 1995.
The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1997, revised edition, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Changing Context of U.S.-Japan Relations, Japan Society (New York, NY), 1998.
Senator Mansfield: The Extraordinary Life of a Great American Statesman and Diplomat, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC), 2003.
Author of foreword to My Years with Gorbachev and Shevardnadze: The Memoir of a Soviet Interpreter, by Pavel Palazchenko, Pennsylvania State University Press (University Park, PA), 1997. Contributor to magazines and newspapers.
SIDELIGHTS: Prior to his retirement from the Washington Post in 1993, Don Oberdorfer was a journalist specializing in foreign affairs. He became a journalist after completing a tour of duty in Korea with the U.S. Army in the early 1950s; as a newspaper reporter he earned a reputation for careful, well-researched writing, a reputation that extended to the reception of his books. Bruce Cumings, reviewing The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, described Oberdorfer as "the sort of well-informed and conscientious journalist with a lifetime of experience that academic specialists can learn a lot from." Oberdorfer covered Vietnam for Knight newspapers during the hottest years of the Vietnam War, and his first book, Tet!: The Story of a Battle and Its Historic Aftermath, examines the war's most famous conflict, in which the persistence of the North Vietnamese against vastly greater forces purportedly turned the tide of American sentiment against the war, despite the battlefield victory of the Allies. Twenty years later, as a diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Post, Oberdorfer wrote a book on the end of the Cold War, called The Turn: From the Cold War to a New Era; The United States and the Soviet Union, 1983–1990. In this work, the author questions whether the end of the Cold War was due to the efforts of peace-minded individuals or was the inevitable result of primarily economic forces beyond anyone's control. In The Two Koreas, Oberdorfer examines the relations between North and South Korea and the United States since the end of the Korean War.
Scholars and journalists alike have claimed that the 1968 Tet Offensive was the turning point of the Vietnam War. Although American decision-makers had advance notice that the Viet Cong planned to attack numerous South Vietnamese cities and American military installations, they did not believe that enemy forces could mount an effective campaign. Nonetheless, Americans at home were bombarded with a public relations media blitz intended to bolster support for U.S. military action, and a million Allied soldiers were ordered into the field. After nearly a month of strenuous fighting, which began with a Viet Cong attack on January 30, 1968, the Allies succeeded in their efforts and the North Vietnamese evacuated their stronghold at Hue. Some 4,000 Allied and nearly 5,000 South Vietnamese soldiers were killed, as well as more than 14,000 civilians; enemy losses were estimated at 58,000. In Tet! Oberdorfer defines the Tet Offensive as the battle that everyone lost.
According to Oberdorfer, Tet gave impetus to a rising tide of pacifism at home. Though technically the Allies had managed a military victory, responsible decision-makers and respected journalists were shocked by the bloodshed, graphically recorded in photographs from the front lines. Staunch supporters of U.S. military intervention in Vietnam were forced to reevaluate their positions. The American public found the power to voice its collective opinion in such a way that Washington was forced to respond. The administration of President Lyndon Johnson was severely damaged by public opinion, and the war was allowed to wind down.
Oberdorfer's analysis is no less critical of the press—in which he was an active participant—than of the military and political leaders who molded the conflict. John Franklin Campbell wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "As an unblinking dissection and self-criticism of news-media methods from inside, Tet! sets what one hopes will be a useful precedent." In the New Republic, Richard Dudman commented that Oberdorfer "has a nice sense of reportorial independence, of US officialdom, of his colleagues who sometimes travel in packs, and of his own preconceived notions. And, not the least, once he has the facts he can spin a good yarn." Jerrold L. Schecter in Time magazine referred to Tet! as "rich but raw instant history," a devastating expose of illusion on the part of American military commanders who expected a quick and easy victory.
In The Turn Oberdorfer shifts from Vietnam to the Soviet Union, focusing on the years when relations between the Soviet Union and the United States took an about-face and the Cold War that had endured for decades between the world superpowers came to an end. Oberdorfer spotlights the diplomats on both sides in his account, relying on interviews with and the correspondence of American president Ronald Reagan and secretary of state George Shultz and Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze. In particular, Oberdorfer highlights the efforts of Shultz and Gorbachev, though he did not convince Commonweal reviewer David Callahan that the diplomacy of these individuals did more than "probably accelerate" the end of the Cold War. "Ultimately, the cold war ended as a consequence of trends far beyond the control of individual actors," Callahan commented, citing the lackluster economic situation of the Soviet Union in the early 1980s as a pivotal factor. Michael Howard, in a review for the Times Literary Supplement, described The Turn as "a work in which expert journalism effectively becomes serious contemporary history," referring to the author's reliance on his own firsthand accounts of many of the meetings and their participants as a working reporter for the Washington Post. New York Times Book Review contributor Michael R. Beschloss observed that Oberdorfer "has brought us the most thorough account yet of what we can all agree was a crucial era in world politics.'The Turn' does much to fill the gap between the daily journalism of the time and the history that will one day be written on the basis of classified documents released by both Governments."
Oberdorfer was also an eyewitness to many of the historical events he recounted in The Two Koreas, in which he details the numerous conflicts involving (communist) North and (capitalist) South Korea and the United States since 1971. Based on hundreds of interviews with participants, his experience as a journalist working in Asia for the Washington Post, and study of government documents, Oberdorfer "constructs a lucid, balanced, thoroughly credible account of the last twenty-five years on both sides of the armistice line," reported Arnold R. Isaacs in the New York Times Book Review. Further, Isaacs noted, Oberdorfer puts these events in the context of the changing Asian economy and the events of the Cold War in an attempt to fill the gaps in our knowledge of what is considered one of the most volatile regions in the globe. To that end, this book "must be seen as a true public service," wrote Robert A. Manning in the Boston Globe. Though some critics, like Thomas H. Henriksen writing in the Washington Post Book World, noted that Oberdorfer's focus on political leaders yields a narrative that "often relegat[es] Koreans to walk-on parts in their own history," Henriksen nonetheless concluded that "The Two Koreas majestically fulfills Oberdorfer's goal of drawing attention to the role outside powers have played in the two Koreas' history."
In Senator Mansfield: The Extraordinary Life of a Great American Statesman and Diplomat, Oberdorfer draws attention to the role of a man who spent most of his long career in public service trying not to draw attention. Yet the unassuming statesman who emerged from Montana mining country served nine U.S. presidents of both political parties with great, if previously unheralded, distinction. According to Oberdorfer, one of Mansfield's greatest commitments was to convince Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson that military action in Vietnam was not called for and could not succeed. Though he was ignored, he was right. In the 1970s Mansfield worked with—or in spite of, according to some sources—Richard Nixon to foster diplomatic rela0tions with China. Overall, Mansfield spent nearly thirty-five years in the U.S. Congress, including the longest stint on record at the time as majority leader of the U.S. Senate. In "retire-ment," he spent a dozen years as U.S. ambassador to Japan and a roughly equal length of time as a consultant on China and the Far East. Much of his work was conducted behind the scenes, where he apparently preferred to be. "There are parts of this fine new biography" wrote John Aloysius Farrell of Senator Mansfield, in his New York Times Book Review assessment, "that could break your heart." Oberdorfer wears his heart on his sleeve, as the subtitle of his book makes clear, but he also presents a balanced account of Mansfield's life, according to the author's critics. In general, as David Greenberg observed in the Washington Post Book World, "He paints Mansfield as a man of uncommon decency and class … a throwback to simpler times." Andrew H. Malcolm commented in the Los Angeles Times Book Review: "Oberdorfer's diligent research and professional prose, ensure that the Montanan's life, its example and its many lessons can quietly live on."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, November 20, 1971, review of Tet!: The Story of a Battle and Its Historic Aftermath, p. 436.
American Spectator, January, 1992, Fred Barnes, review of The Turn: From the Cold War to a New Era; The United States and the Soviet Union, 1983–1990, p. 67.
Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, November, 1992, Donald M. Snow, review of The Turn, p. 192.
Atlanta Constitution, November 21, 1997, section A, p. 8.
Arms Control Today, April, 1992, Jack Mendelsohn, review of The Turn, p. 30.
Best Sellers, November 1, 1971, review of Tet!, p. 346; November 1, 1972, review of Tet!, p. 366.
Booklist, December 1, 1971, review of Tet!, p. 314.
Bookwatch, January, 1992, review of The Turn, p. 10; December, 1997, review of The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History, p. 5.
Boston Globe, November 17, 1991, p. 74; November 16, 1997, Robert A. Manning, review of The Two Koreas, section L, p. 2.
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May-June, 1998, Bruce Cumings, review of The Two Koreas, p. 62.
Choice, March, 1972, review of Tet!, p. 114; September, 1986, review of Tet! The Story of a Battle and Its Historic Aftermath, p. 58; March, 1998, review of The Two Koreas, p. 1246.
Christian Science Monitor, November 4, 1971, review of Tet!, p. 10; November 8, 1991, John Hughes, review of The Turn, p. 14.
Commonweal, February 28, 1992, David Callahan, review of The Turn, pp. 24-25.
Contemporary Review, September, 1998, review of The Two Koreas, p. 165.
Far Eastern Economic Review, November 6, 1997, Richard Halloran, review of The Two Koreas, p. 58.
Foreign Affairs, spring, Robert Legvold, review of The Turn, 1992, p. 206; November-December, 1997, Donald Zagoria, review of The Two Koreas, p. 173.
Foreign Affairs Annual, 1992, review of The Turn, p. 206.
History: Review of New Books, summer, 1992, review of The Turn, p. 145.
History Today, October, 1984, review of Tet!, p. 46.
International Affairs, October, 1993, Ole Diehl, review of The Turn, p. 746.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1971, review of Tet!, p. 792; September 1, 1991, review of The Turn, p. 1144; September 15, 1997, review of The Two Koreas, p. 1442.
Library Journal, October 1, 1971, review of Tet!, p. 3133; October 1, 1991, John Yurechko, review of The Turn, p. 124; October 15, 1997, Charles Hayford, review of The Two Koreas, p. 77.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 2, 1997, review of The Two Koreas, p. 11; March 7, 2004, Andrew H. Malcolm, review of Senator Mansfield: The Extraordinary Life of a Great American Statesman and Diplomat.
National Interest, summer, 1992, Nathan Glazer, review of The Turn, p. 102.
New Republic, October 16, 1971, Richard Dudman, review of Tet!, p. 36; March 9, 1998, Robert Kagan, review of The Two Koreas, p. 38.
New York Times Book Review, October 17, 1971, John Franklin Campbell, review of Tet!, p. 2; December 5, 1971, review of Tet!, p. 88; October 27, 1991, Michael R. Beschloss, review of The Turn, p. 11; October 26, 1997, Arnold R. Isaacs, review of The Two Koreas, p. 27; October 12, 2003, John Aloysius Farrell, review of Senator Mansfield: The Extraordinary Life of a Great American Statesmen and Diplomat.
Observer, March 22, 1992, review of The Turn, p. 63.
Orbis, spring, 1992, Adam Garfinkle, review of The Turn, p. 289.
Parameters, winter, 1997, review of The Two Koreas, p. 177.
Publishers Weekly, July 12, 1971, review of Tet!, p. 71; August 23, 1991, review of The Turn, p. 49; August 31, 1992, review of The Turn, p. 71.
Slavic Review, winter, 1992, Joseph L. Nogee, review of The Turn, p. 860.
Time, November 8, 1971, Jerrold L. Schecter, review of Tet!, p. 108.
Times Higher Education Supplement, October 30, 1992, Margot Light, review of The Turn, p. 23.
Times Literary Supplement, January 8, 1993, Michael Howard, review of The Turn, pp. 8-9.
USA Today, October 16, 1997, section D, p. 8.
Wall Street Journal, February 8, 1972, review of Tet!, p. 16; October 18, 1991, David Brock, review of The Turn, p. A12.
Washingtonian, July, 1993, p. 19.
Washington Post Book World, October 24, 1971, review of Tet!, p. 4; December 5, 1971, review of Tet!, p. 29; April 22, 1984, review of Tet!, p. 12; April 21, 1985, Arnold R. Isaacs, review of Tet!, p. 8; October 6, 1991, review of The Turn, p. 1; October 12, 1997, Thomas H. Henriksen, review of The Two Koreas, pp. 3, 10; June 4, 2004, David Greenberg, review of Senator Mansfield, p. 10.
Washington Times, January 18, 2004, Martin Sieff, review of Senator Mansfield.
Wilson Quarterly, winter, 1998, James R. Lilley, review of The Two Koreas, p. 104.
World Policy Journal, fall, 1993, Michael Mandelbaum, review of The Turn, p. 97.
Hill Online, http://www.hillnews.com/ (February 5, 2004), Albert Eisele, review of Senator Mansfield.
H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, http://www.h-net.org/ (December, 1998), review of From the Cold War to a New Era.