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Izzy on Izzy
100th Birthday

A Celebration of the Life of I.F. Stone
November 16, 2008
Story Chapel, Mount Auburn Cemetery

Remarks by Peter Stone


Hi, everybody.  My name is Peter Stone.  I'm Izzy's nephew.

And before I begin my prepared remarks, I just don't want anybody to have a heart attack here.  The ghost of J. Edgar Hoover appears to have played a trick.  And I just want to say I have not now nor have I ever been a writer for the National Review, the actual journal.  But otherwise, it's an honor.

What's it like to grow up with an uncle who loved to disco with his wife, who was the first journalist to torpedo the Johnson administration's account of the Tonkin Gulf incident and taught himself Greek in his 70s?

A short answer is that Izzy was inspirational, an impossibly hard act to follow and an enthusiastic backer of my own career as a journalist.

I vividly recall visiting and seeing Izzy in settings that range from his summer house on Fire Island in the 1950s and 1960s to an early march on Washington against the Vietnam War that he addressed in 1965, and to echo Jack Beatty, scandalized, scandalized the audience by dissing the prominent folk singer Phil Ochs and his song "Love Me, Love Me, I'm a Liberal," which upset Izzy to no end.

And finally, seeing Izzy at a San Francisco disco called Dance Your Ass Off, where he and Esther got out on the floor and cut loose the way they did the Charleston in the Roaring '20s.

Izzy's unique journalistic gift, which he bequeathed so happily to me and devoted readers young and old, was to combine a commitment to the truth with a passion for historical context and a style that made every word count.

I first started reading the Weekly in the late 1950s when I was entering my teenage years.  I was lucky to get a head start of discovering the joys of Izzy's publication.  My father, Mark, Izzy's younger brother, had a hand in getting the publication up and running and was an avid fan.

The Weekly quickly helped shape my political consciousness as it did for thousands of others coming of age in those turbulent times.  And later, in college in the mid-'60s, I had the pleasure of introducing the Weekly to many friends in my dorm where it quickly became a healthy addiction.

Izzy gave us a deeper understanding of the early Civil Rights Movement, the risks of an unending arms race and the dangers of viewing foreign clashes between American interests and foreign threats as strictly black-and-white terms.

It also taught me and thousands of other fans how to read closely and carefully, how to think critically and how to see beneath the surface of government explanations.

Izzy cautioned repeatedly against seeing the world in Manichean terms and the dangers of myopic policies, two words that I learned from Uncle Izzy, but warnings that the Bush administration would ignore without peril.

During those years the Weekly filled a vital need for students hungry for trustworthy and inside information about the Vietnam War, which the Johnson administration was working overtime to spin and obfuscate as a war that the U.S. had to keep fighting for national security reasons.  Sound familiar, I'm sure.

The Weekly was especially exciting to read for all those varied and astounding facts that it mined from official records and the flotsam and jetsam of daily newspapers

Izzy also entertained his readers, as do Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert today, by ferreting out absurd and telling quotes from political and military bigwigs who manage to mangle language with the same abandon that we have recently come to identify with last year's Governor Sarah Palin.

It goes without saying that as a young journalist working for Ramparts in the early '70s and afterwards as a New York freelancer for much of the '80s, Izzy was a journalistic hero who often offered wholehearted backing to his nephew.

I recall receiving phone calls from him full of cheers and congratulations after I had pieces in the New York Times Magazine and the Atlantic in the early '80s, and I like to imagine he was calling me from the great beyond to cheer some more when my articles in the National Journal about the Abraham scandal led to writing the book Heist.

A man of the left, Izzy sometimes styled himself a radical, sometimes a Jeffersonian Democrat, but he was also, and perhaps more than anything, a great humanist.

He stood for freedom of expression and the right to dissent, which he did all his life, embracing causes that other journalists often were reluctant or slow to embrace, whether the cause involved Jewish refugees from the Holocaust, homeless Palestinians or poor blacks in the ghetto.

Izzy's passion for history, philosophy and literature was lifelong and it sustained him in his long years when he was indeed a pariah.

And that same passion fueled his career as a muckraking journalist, leading him once to gleefully and memorably proclaim that, I really have so much fun that I ought to be arrested.  That was Izzy's spirit.


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