The Wisdom of Abe Rosenthal–It’s the Heat

David Andelman wrote a tribute in Forbes about the Timesman who just passed away this week. The Times takes a lot of flack, but Abe Rosenthal was a class act.

“After three months of total immersion in Vietnamese at Berlitz, I was heading to Saigon as a newly minted foreign correspondent. Abe (it took me a long time to get past “Mr. Rosenthal”) had summoned me to bid farewell and to give me a final word of advice. It was one that I would carry with me to 58 countries and was, perhaps, the single most incisive commentary on much of the Third World that I have heard, before or since.

There is one immutable reality about the lands where you are going,” Abe began, smiling benevolently, but his eyes boring through me behind his trademark black-rimmed spectacles. “Through history and until today, it has been the principal determinant of every event you will cover and the motivation of every individual you will meet. It is the underlying force behind the politics, the culture, diplomacy, peace and war.” He paused for effect. “It is the heat. It is inescapable, all-pervasive and unavoidable. And it affects the behavior of every living being who is subjected to it.”

Abe was right, of course. As he was unfailingly right about almost every aspect of the world he reported on and whose agenda he wound up determining every time the presses rumbled to life in the basement of 229 W. 43rd St.–the Times building.