It’s not every day that a play with a strong Vietnam War theme opens on Broadway. One of those days is tomorrow, Wednesday, April 25, when the drama “The Columnist , ” written by Pulitzer Prize winner David Auburn, opens at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on West 47th Street. The play is a fact-based, fictionalized look at the life of the now largely forgotten American newspaper columnist Joseph Alsop. It features his strongly hawkish views on the Vietnam War in the 1950s and 1960s.
John Lithgow stars as Alsop, who died in 1989 after a long, influential career as a political columnist for the New York Herald-Tribune . “A fervent New Deal liberal with an obsessive anti-Communist streak, he urged an all-out push for victory in Vietnam and attacked those who disagreed as cowards, Communists or both, ” Eric Alterman wrote of Alsop in The New York Times .
“At one point during the Vietnam War, President Lyndon B. Johnson was reported to have commented, when he decided to deploy another 50, 000 troops, ‘There, that should keep Joe Alsop quiet for a while.'”
Alsop, Alterman wrote, “would drop by the United States Embassy in Saigon every so often to be chauffeured around the war zone by Army helicopter and confer with the top military and diplomatic brass over fine wine and French fare. Inevitably he would return to report that the war was proceeding swimmingly, save for a few misguided ‘young crusaders’ and Communist sympathizers among the American press corps there.”
One of the play’s characters is David Halberstam, the former New York Times Vietnam War correspondent and author (The Best and the Brightest, et al.) who was one of the most prominent “young crusaders” who was highly critical of the U.S. war effort.
Halberstam, for his part, harshly criticized Alsop, as in this passage in The Best and the Brightest : “He had never quite forgiven the State Department for allowing the United States to stand idly by while Chine went Communist. China had fallen despite his warnings, but he was still a forceful advocate of the domino theory, a man skilled in the ways of Washington, well connected politically and socially, and while he would not stoop to the kind of tactics which had marked McCarthyism, he nevertheless could make the case for holding the line in a way which implied that manhood was at stake.”
“The Columnist” will have limited run on Broadway. The show is slated to run until June 24.