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Dear Greyhawk,There's a bit of insight into the man there, and it jives with what I've read elsewhere.
I just ran across your beautiful post about Steven Vincent. You said a lot of things that were very poignant. Most especially this: "Neither I nor NRO or the NY Times could get his words read by as many people as the bastards who killed him did today." Exactly.
Steven was an extraordinary writer and it was beyond me why his blog went almost unnoticed...despite the claims by bloggers in the last few days that they loved Steven's blog. On days that I checked, the daily hits would hover at less than 200. Last week, Charles Johnson at LGF linked to the blog, and the count went up to nearly 1000 one day.
I've read your blog for many months, and I've never written to you. And I regret it...just as you mentioned that you had regrets that you never emailed Steven. He almost surely would have replied and I think you would have been greatly impressed by his tender concern for our soldiers. Steven and I had many email exchanges over the last nine months. It started when I commented on his blog, and he wrote me a thank you note. I wrote him back and mentioned that I had a son in Iraq. He wrote about my son a couple of times on his blog.
You questioned in your post about using the word "journalist" for Steven. That he was. He was also a hero, and a guy from New York who took too many risks and stayed too many days where he should not have been. I pray that his sacrifice will be worth it.
In January I discovered his blog and emailed him to ask some detailed questions about something I had recently read about Iraqi domestic politics. He got back to me in 24 hours with an equally detailed response. I thought that was very charitable of him. Shortly thereafter I invited him to write some guest posts here on Adventures and was flattered when he agreed. I was just a little ole blogger after all, and he was a published writer.You can find the rest of his thoughts and those guest posts here.
But what an amazing man, who took the time to respond to comments and emails in a way that shames most of the rest of us - myself included. The man had discipline, as Nick Gillespie makes clear:
He was great to work with. His story pitches were clean, crisp, and to the point. He hit his deadlines without fail.Gillespie is Editor-in-Chief of Reason, and published several of Vincent's pieces. But that quote above is a minor point in his full tribute, which you can read here. Along with several links to more of his writing, the story offers this insight:
Unlike many journalists, he actually spent much of his time - in retrospect, perhaps too much of his time - out and about, beyond the comforts and protection of an office or an apartment. He was fantastically well-traveled, especially to places on the busted seams of history - places like Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong on the eve of its annexation by China.A man of the world, - it's no surprise his idealogical opponents still respected and listened to him:
Steve was a complex person and a quintessential New Yorker. "A natural contrarian" in the words of his friend gallerist Becky Smith, he was a political conservative in the left-leaning art world and a former East Village squatter who dressed in suits.Although that believe the worst line is likely misinterpretation, clearly here was a man who could place himself in any environment and thrive.
As his friend Steve Mumford put it, "He was an amateur in the 19th century sense of someone who followed his passions, and he became an art critic because he wanted to be yanked off his feet by a work of art. He became disenchanted as the New York art world he knew from the '80s became increasingly professionalized, and after 9/11 he felt that he had a cause he had to follow. He wasn't an ideologue, but he believed that the Islamic world had to look within itself. And the possibility of dying in Iraq didn't deter him one bit."
He was one of us who believe that the great experiment claiming so many lives in Iraq is the moral hinge on which the world now turns.
Which still leaves endless room for disagreement. On one of the handful of occasions on which I saw him - mainly at political-discussion gatherings at my house - I argued strenuously with Steve for his readiness to believe the worst of Islamic traditions and Shiite theology in particular.
But we shared the American belief that one of the bedrock values of our society is dialogue with complicated people one doesn't always agree with. Steve wanted Iraq to be a place like that - five or 50 or 500 years from now.
Vincent, a professional who was a delight to work with, loved Iraq and its people, calling it "Beautiful Basra" in his last e-mail to me. National Review Online is honored to have published Vincent and we're all praying for Vincent's family and his longtime translator.Follow that link and you'll discover his writings at NRO - an amazing collection.
Steven Vincent, "natural contrarian... political conservative in the left-leaning art world and a former East Village squatter who dressed in suits" was educated at Berkeley:
Steve and I both transferred to UC Berkeley at the same time. At Berkeley, Steve liked to poke fun at the left wing establishment ensconced there. Sproul Plaza is Berkeley's historic main campus square and in our day it was always packed with a dizzying array of booths promoting various liberal causes. Steve wanted to cart in an old covered wagon and dress up like a gypsy, complete with donkeys and unwashed children. He would claim he was from the oppressed country of Bosrovia, which he made up. He created a fake map and squeezed Bosrovia in there somewhere between Roumania and Bulgaria. He wanted to stand on a milk box and make impassioned liberation speeches all day long. He was never quite able to pull that off, but to this day I can't get that hilarious image out of my mind. He was a tremendous wit.That's from a reflection written by an old friend, and you can read the whole thing at Arthur Chrenkoff's, including this hint at his entry into the art world:
When we met up in New York in 1980, my sister in law got us both jobs as security guards at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The job were extremely monotonous. I remember one day the museum had closed the main European painting section. Steve was given the assignment of standing at the entrance and telling the public that the section was closed. Everyone kept asking him all day long why it was closed. Steve started a game up to keep his mind active. He tried to tell each person a different reason why the section was closed. "It's the Plague, sir." he would deadpan. "The section has been quarantined. Please step back for your own safety." "It's Black Thursday, Ma'am. On this date in 1888, three French impressionists plunged to their doom off the Loire bridge in Paris. The section has been closed in their honor." Needless to say, Steve had no problem coming up with as many different answers as he needed.And this confirmation of his adventurous spirit:
After college, Steve bummed around Europe on the Railpass junket for a few months. He went to Ireland. Many times I heard him tell a fascinating tale of a couple of weeks he spent living in Belfast with some dangerous IRA types. That experience probably whetted his appetite for adventure travel later in life.Set your drink down and read the whole thing.
I began this discussion with a look at the man who answered emails, and I'll close on the same note. An email to Reason, from a young reader responding to Steven's death and an article by him there:
As a matter of fact, I enjoyed it so much that I wrote Mr. Vincent an e-mail expressing my admiration for the article and asking him about how he got into the freelance journalism business (a field which, as a high school senior on the cusp of college, I was thinking about pursuing . . . and as a rising college sophomore, still am). Not only did he respond -- and from his apartment in Baghdad no less -- he also wrote me probably the best advice I've received yet in my life. He offered tips on how to get into journalism and words of wisdom on how to approach it once there (he was adamant about maintaining an independent voice, which he himself said he was slowly cultivating with his freelance political writing). Perhaps more enticing, however, was his wild and daunting vision of the best way to spend one's twenties . . . working shit jobs, being a down and outer in Paris and London, generally taking advantage of the simple freedom that accompanies that decade of your life in the most exuberant ways possible.And so we come to the bottom line: go west, young men, or east or north or south. I've seen the world myself, and though diminished by the loss of Steven Vincent it's a still a fine place to be.
I never met him. I know him well.
Steve's family requests that donations in his memory be made to Spirit of America, an absolutely appropriate and worthy charity we've supported here for quite some time.
If you purchase Steve's book In The Red Zone: A Journey Into The Soul Of Iraq via this link, we'll add our portion of the profits to our donation to SOA too.
It sounds like Mr. Vincent lived a life that some of us only dream of. What a brave and adventurous soul. His words will live on in history.Posted by A Military Mom at August 8, 2005 01:23 AM
Steven was living proof of the power of the individual. That made him a target in Basra, but we as a nation will see to it that the mission gets accomplished.Posted by Matthew Goggins at August 8, 2005 01:44 AM
I just read Gillespie's tribute at Reason Online. It was very good, but it stumbled a bit at the end. I left this comment in response to it at the Reason site, Hit and Run:
Nick Gillespie wrote a great piece about Steven Vincent.
But I want to point out something Nick says towards the end that detracts from an otherwise terrific memorial.
For journalists, his murder forces us to wonder what stories are worth dying for. His murder is somehow simultaneously an inspiration to us and a cautionary tale, a standing challenge and a tragic example to avoid.
Will history vindicate his hopes for Iraq and the wider Middle East? The truthful answer is almost too horrific to admit: We won't know for a long time to come. In the meantime, we can only hope that his blood, and the blood of all the other innocent dead in Iraq, won't just disappear into the desert sand.
Yes, Steven's murder is a cautionary tale, but not in the sense that Nick seems to be telling us.
It's a tale that cautions us about the infiltration of the police in Basra by Shiite militias. It cautions us that the British forces in Basra have abdicated responsibility for the proper vetting and training of the police forces in Basra.
Steven's tale does not caution us against risky investigative journalism in dangerous places. In fact, it tells us the opposite: one man, armed with an unflinching curiosity and an internet connection can make a huge difference in this world of ours.
For Nick to use the phrase "a tragic example to avoid" in reference to Steven's life and death means one of two things: Nick needs a better editor, or he just doesn't get what Steven was really all about.
And we can do a lot more than "only hope" that Steven's and everyone else's deaths in Iraq do not prove to be in vain: we can get off our comfortable butts like Steven did and fight to make the outcome worth the sacrifices.