Farewell to Ina Ginsburg and Arnaud de Borchgrave (03/16)     Print

mosettig sm-285x255By Michael D. Mosettig, former Foreign Editor of PBS News Hour

  When I was traveling for six weeks out of Washington, there was only one event in the city I genuinely felt I had missed ---the music-filled, Kennedy Center memorial farewell for Ina Ginsburg. Sadly, I was back in time for the commemoration of the life of Arnaud de Borchgrave. Beyond living long, celebrated and more than full lives, these two Europeans emerged from a shared experience -- the deadliest human-made catastrophe in history, Europe's descent into barbarism and the Second World War --to be pitched on to Anglo-Saxon shores and eventually to Washington.

  In the process, both of them, to the European manor born, became -- by choice ---Americans, part of the core experience of America, two remarkable chapters in its immigrant history. And once here, they pursued lives that most of us lead only in our imaginations -- debonair and elegant, fluently multilingual, gliding gracefully through the salons of power.

  I was lucky enough to know them both, though far from making any claim to a deep and intimate friendship. Like hundreds of others here, my life was enriched through the acquaintance. Ina and I shared an Austrian background. As a young correspondent in Europe, I used the same desk Arnaud had occupied two decades before at the UPI office in Brussels.

  Ina was patroness of the arts, the Washington connection for Andy Warhol, the woman whose social links were genuinely bi-partisan. Arnaud was the journalist of legendary exploits. The lives of both have been chronicled fully since she died at 98 in November and he at 88 in February.

  Those lives, active until the end, were a refutation of the most quoted --and most wrong-- lines of F. Scott Fitzgerald: that there are no second acts in American life. Both had been through multiple divorces. (One of Ina's most touching characteristics was her desire that among her friends, ex-spouses would be friendly or at least civil with each other.) Both often re-invented themselves, Ina from a Georgetown doyenne to fixture at Studio 54 to an interviewer who first got Robert McNamara to admit he had misgivings about the Vietnam War while he was executing it. Arnaud, from journalist to think-tanker. Arnaud was basically fired from one of the best jobs and expense accounts in journalism as Newsweek's chief correspondent and responded by co-authoring two best-selling novels and becoming editor of the Washington Times. Under his command, the small circulation conservative newspaper gave fits to the bigger and richer Washington Post with its almost daily scoops, not only on doings in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, but also on the local metropolitan beats.

  Such tales of resilience should hardly be surprising. Ina was on a refugee ship that would have been sent back to Europe but for the intervention of Eleanor Roosevelt. Arnaud was on the last ship out of Bordeaux to England, with his mother and sister always one step ahead of the Nazis after the invasion of his native Belgium. He famously went on to fib about his age, enlist in the Royal Navy at 15, serving on a destroyer in the Murmansk convoys and on a landing craft at the Juno Beach. As his friend and collaborator Martin Sieff noted, Arnaud did all this when most boys are still struggling through high school.

 And both left their mark in the evolution of Washington from a sleepy Southern town to a much more interesting and livable city. Ina was instrumental in the creation of an opera company, hardly a surprise for a Viennese, at the American Film Institute and in the creation of a serious art gallery at the Federal Reserve Board headquarters. Arnaud brought to the city an intellectual rigor increasingly lost in partisanship. Though he and President Reagan constituted a mutual admiration society, he became at a cost to personal relationships a staunch critic of the neo-conservatives and the second Iraq war. One of his last columns warned of the consequences to his adopted country of the erosion of its middle class.

  As journalist and author Martin Walker wrote, Arnaud was a small-l liberal in the European tradition, a believer in free press, free trade and free thinking who above all hated totalitarianism of any stripe or religious zealotry. Ina tilted more to U.S. style liberalism, but counted Justice Antonin Scalia among her close friends. Above all, her radars were always out for any back sliding by her native Austria to far-right or neo-fascist politics.

  Perhaps the biggest divergence between the two was in the music selected for their memorials. For Ina, it was opera and Hayden. For Arnaud, the farewell tune sung by an audience at least a third foreign was Lee Greenwood's " Proud to be an American".

  As one's friends age, the tendency is to avert a gaze to any sign of increasing frailty. With Ina, it showed when she started conducting conversations with me in German. I last saw Arnaud at Ina's wake in November. Always proud that he was so fit and vigorous into his 80s, he was sitting rather than standing and told me matter-of-factly that his doctors "have given me three to six." I was too stunned to ask if he meant weeks, months or years. He was gone in the three months.

  I have always thought there was one poem written to and for the generation that saw its youth vanish between the Great Depression and World War II and determined if they survived both, they would lead the rest of their days with a 24/7 intensity that subsequent generations would have trouble matching. The poem is Edna St. Vincent Millay's First Fig:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light!

  Now two of those lights, set alight in Europe but grown to full brilliance in America, are extinguished. The clouds that gather at dusk in Washington have turned a darker shade of gray.