Newspaper article International New York Times

Jonathan Schell, 70, Author and Advocate of Disarmament

Newspaper article International New York Times

Jonathan Schell, 70, Author and Advocate of Disarmament

Article excerpt

Mr. Schell's first book, "The Village of Ben Suc," chronicled the systematic devastation of a South Vietnamese village by American forces.

Jonathan Schell, a best-selling nonfiction author whose books explored warfare in its myriad 20th-century incarnations, from a scathing indictment of United States policy in Vietnam to a sobering portrait of the world in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, died on Tuesday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 70.

The cause was cancer, his companion, Irena Gross, said.

Mr. Schell came to public notice in his early 20s with his first book, "The Village of Ben Suc" (1967), which chronicled the systematic devastation of a South Vietnamese village by American forces. He came to greater prominence in 1982 with "The Fate of the Earth," a study of the perils of the nuclear arms race that spent several months on The New York Times's best-seller list.

Both books, like many of Mr. Schell's, had originated as articles in The New Yorker, where he was a staff writer for two decades.

Most of Mr. Schell's books -- his others include "The Time of Illusion" (1976), about Watergate, and "The Abolition" (1984), a sequel to "The Fate of the Earth" in which he called for complete nuclear disarmament -- centered on what he considered to be the United States government's repeated betrayals of the public trust. Their origin, he argued, lay in the constellation of arbitrary decisions, national self-mythologizing and received half-truths under which the government had long operated.

Mr. Schell was praised by many critics for his cleareyed reporting, his erudition, his unfussy prose and the persuasive force of his arguments. Other reviewers, however, decried him as naive, alarmist and overly confident of his own moral stance.

Critical response to "The Village of Ben Suc" within the pages of The Times exemplified this division.

Reviewing the book in the daily Times, Eliot Fremont-Smith called Mr. Schell "a sensitive observer and a cool and lucid writer" and called the book "one of the most sobering indictments yet seen of the purposes and conduct of the Vietnam War."

Reviewing the volume in The Times Book Review, the journalist John Mecklin, while praising some aspects, went on to say, "If 'The Village of Ben Suc' must be rated high as an indictment, it must also be labeled as slanted journalism, mainly because of its multitudinous sins of omission."

With "The Fate of the Earth" Mr. Schell was widely credited with helping rally ordinary citizens around the world to the cause of nuclear disarmament. …

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