Skip to main content

tv   Book TV  CSPAN  May 21, 2011 10:00pm-11:00pm EDT

10:00 pm
challenge, creation care, environmentalism, secular green, planetary survival, the blow does need someone to show it how to live better and as he always was in life, johnny appleseed is out there even now as the razor thin line between president, future command and myth and the imagined ready to lead the way. ..
10:01 pm
>> he discusses to this tur blen period. from angela stent. >> i'm angela stent. i'm director for the center of eurasian, and east european studies at georgetown university and it is my great pleasure to introduce you to frederick kempe, author of "berlin, 1961:kennedy, khrushchev and the most dangerous place on earth." he had a distinguished career as a journalist. his last position being the editor of the european "wall street journal." he's the author of a number of books, among them sibeerion odyssey and a book about his own
10:02 pm
family and germany and his own thoughts about a unified germany. so i think this will be a very interesting discussion. fred, most people when they look back at the 45-year cold war think about the cuban missile crisis when it did come to the brink of a war with the soviet union was the most dangerous moment in that cold war. you think otherwise. why do you think better minimum in 1961 as the most dangerous place on earth? >> guest: partly because nikita khrushchev described it that way. and it was where people were to go to war. i think in cuba as a historians think that the backing off already began halfway through that crisis week but when you had tanks faced off against each other in october, 1961 in berlin had you had soviet men and women and tanks against each other,
10:03 pm
you never did know how it was going to turn out so i think it was more important for that reason. also, cuba was not the epicenter of the cold war. berlin was. berlin was the place where the two ideological systems were faced off. the second thing is, the wall in berlin, when it was built in august 1961 really shaped the contour and where is it led to the cuban missile crisis. >> host: why did you decide to write this book and this particular city to write about? >> guest: angela, as you mentioned and as you know i cut myself teeth on the cold war. it was depressing. i saw the people of poland in
10:04 pm
1981, risk everything, their jobs, families for independence. most of my relatives were german and lived in east german but they were kind and generous but they lived lives of limited freedom, limited travel, limited scope. and i asked myself at that time, so it was my personal reason, could one have avoided the berlin wall and ended the cold war that mortgaged the lives of tens of millions of east europeans. could have it ended it earlier. that's the personal side. on the historical side, i think the cold war is the least -- the worst reported and the worst reported of our world wars, and i think it was world war iii. it ended the communist center. and berlin was the epicenter for the war and 1961 was the most decisive year for the cold war so i wanted to tell the story of
10:05 pm
that year through its events and its characters. . >> host: well, it's certainly a fascinating story but before we get to some of the details you have more major characters that dominate your book. they were very different characters. they were all larger than life and their interaction really set the tone both for this crisis and really for the rest of the cold war until the war collapsed. so tell us about the four main characters and how you see their main interactions with each other. >> angela, a hollywood casting director could not have given me rich characters. [laughter] >> guest: you had the son of privilege, president john f. kennedy, handsome, brilliant. wanting to be a great historical president like lincoln and franklin roosevelt but fearful that they only became that through war and in his age that would be nuclear war. against him, son of privilege, 43 years old, 67-year-old son of peasants, illiterate until his 20s, tough, formed through war,
10:06 pm
survived world war ii, survived stalin's purges but very insecure. and resentful of american mill taxpayers and then the other two characters you talked about the westerner, really a great hero of history, founded west germany, brought germany back from the ashes of world war ii. and then walter o-bert, probably the last standing stalinist. both of them distrusted their powerful opposites, conrad distrusted kennedy and didn't think he was experienced enough and didn't have enough background to handle the soft and a lot of people are khrushchev and leveraging his weaknesses into forcing khrushchev to approve the -- approve the wall. so it was a great cast of characters.
10:07 pm
i don't think fiction could have given me a better cast. >> host: you had some minor characters in the book and they are very evocative of the tensions and the drama surrounding berlin in 1961 and indeed since the end of the war. and you have some fascinating vignettes there. could you tell us a little bit more of these more minor characters? >> guest: yeah, my favorite minor character who actually turned out to be something of a major character and i write about him in this book more than it's been recorded than any book before me and that's a soviet spy who's a military intelligence agent and he finds himself and a very colorful character, hard drinking, boisterous and friends with ben bradley so not a really secretive spy. and then the -- he becomes the conduit between kennedy and khrushchev. very interesting back-channel that john f. kennedy approves with this soviet spy and his
10:08 pm
brother bobby kennedy the attorney general. so that's the most interesting of the minor characters. the vignettes i added because i wanted berlin to be as rich as a character as my four protagonists. so there i had everyone from the miss universe of that year who was an east german refugee to a farmer who tried to escape -- it was resisting the collectivization of his farm in east germany. tried to escape to the west and was caught and imprisoned and i tell the sorry of his resistance against east germany and different stories like that throughout to try to bring home the color of this rich story. >> host: yes, and they certainly do. now, one of the things that i think leaps out from your book is a consummation of the old adage that all politics is local. we tend to think of kennedy and khrushchev as these protagists on the world stage and a global struggle but both of them were
10:09 pm
subject to a lot of domestic pressures. they had different groups of advisors telling them different things. and they were also subject to pressures from their own allies. as you pointed out conrad was very wary of kennedy. so if you could tell us a little bit about the domestic context before we get to the great drama of that year. when president kennedy came into office, what were the different sets of advice that he was receiving on how to deal with the soviet union? >> guest: yeah. i mean, let me start with khrushchev and then we'll go on. i think the domestic politics that surrounded khrushchev, i think that's where the book really sheds some new light because domestic politics drives foreign policy. look at president obama today. look at others before him. khrushchev had never consolidated his power. he defeated a party coup in
10:10 pm
1957. but then there was a u2 crisis in may 1960 where the soviets shot down a u.s. spy plane and khrushchev's advocates pointed you are living naive that we can live in peaceful coexistence with the west. secondarily, as you said east german leader walter obert. and curiously his leverage were growing of the refugees flowing out of his country. the greater of the danger of east germany imploding the greater the domestic pressure on khrushchev to do something about it. it wasn't just a danger to the soviet it was the danger to his own political standing. and then the chinese. they were rising. they were trying to oppose khrushchev at that time. they thought he wasn't the worthy representative of world
10:11 pm
communism. and he was looking at a party communists. but he had seen other soviet leaders lose their jobs at such conferences so everything for him was pointed at that october party congress and getting through and holding on to power. >> host: and i think you point out -- i mean, after stalin's death, no soviet leader was really secure in his. they always had to worry about the people around them and there was a lot of politics going in the soviet union. it's just not -- it wasn't going on the same way as it was in the united states but people who think this was a monolithic structure are wrong. tell us a little bit about president kennedy and the people whom the conflicting kind of advice that he was getting and -- but both -- within the united states and then also in his dealings with the federal public of germany, west germany. >> guest: yeah, and i'm sorry i raced into khrushchev but i find that story fascinating. with kennedy, he wanted to be a great presidency but he didn't
10:12 pm
know making it peace through the soviet union or with conflict with the soviet union. so you see him very ambiguous about that in the beginning. he calls dean atchison, secretary of state for truman out of retirement. and that shows he wants to protect his right fang. atchison was a hof towards the soviet union. and the people running the desk for berlin and germany also were hawks. you have to be tough. and others were arthur schlesinger, avril harriman and tommy thompson who thought engagement was the only way to go. and you see this tension in kennedy but the hawkish elements of domestic politics both for khrushchev and for kennedy were dominant. and the reason kennedy barely won and he was more hawkish as a campaigner than nixon and khrushchev wanted to hold onto power.
10:13 pm
so even though their personal instincts would have been to get along and find some accommodation, the domestic politics was pushing them to more of a confrontation. >> host: you point out at the very beginning president kennedy in your view misinterpreted a speech khrushchev has made. >> guest: yeah, i mean, i think, angela, the most significant finding of this book, and this is after six years of research looking at documents, really think about it, is that kennedy's first year in office in the inaugural year was the worst foreign policy performances of any modern president in his first year and it started with this misreading. he comes into office trying to figure out who is khrushchev? who are the soviets and how am i going to deal with them and khrushchev releases captured u.s. pilots on the day after his
10:14 pm
inauguration, reduces censorship, prints the entire inaugural in profit. >> host: an american inaugural? >> guest: you know, bear any burden, shoulder -- he pulled the great colorful words of president kennedy. khrushchev was trying to send a message, look, i really would like to work with you but we have some problems to solve. i think it was genuine. kennedy was given a cable and was given a text of a speech that khrushchev had delivered on january 9th so a couple of weeks before the inauguration. and it was tough red rick. it was escalating the war in the developing world and it was a speech to propagandists. most people who saw that who are experts, this is nothing new but kennedy saw this as a sign and so between his inaugural and his state of the union 10 days later, he told changes his tone toward the soviet union even before he set down with his experts, he turns in a much more hawkish defection.
10:15 pm
khrushchev sees that and he pulls back from his gestures, he can't afford to exploit his own flank and he turns tougher as well. so i think at that point we missed a very key opportunity when the two of them might have been able to find some better way forward. >> yeah, it really shows the perils i mean, during the cold war trying to figure out what was happening in the soviet union and interpret these words. and in the end you had to rely on instincts. so i would say the most dramatic part of your, again, gripping book is a depiction, a description and discussion of the vienna summit. the first time that this newly elected, inexperienced young handsome american president met with this veteran wiley soviet leader as you say who came from a peasant background. tell us a little bit about how the -- how the talks began? how they continued and why you believe kennedy did so badly in this very crucial first encounter in vienna.
10:16 pm
>> guest: yeah and the first two words about what got us there. it was the summit of the television age, you know, the "wall street journal" wrote about it as two boxers coming in the ring, you know, the "new york times" went back to 146 years earlier to the congress of vienna and reminded of tali drama and it was great. khrushchev refused to come after the bay of pigs debacle where kennedy failed the bay of pigs. khrushchev was weaknesses and indecisiveness and could expose this to the summit and kennedy put the first man in space so he had some momentum. kennedy was there because he wanted to repair his foreign policy reputation after the failure of bay of pigs so there they are. the first day kennedy gets into
10:17 pm
an ideological argument about the virtue of communism and he gets totally, totally overwhelmed by khrushchev. his advisors told him not to go there. they told him not to talk about it. second thing, discussion of berlin. he's not prepared for it. he has -- he thought he'd reach a presummit agreement that nothing would be negotiated and khrushchev lays down a threat of war and an ultimatum saying the status of berlin had to change or he was going to change it unilaterally. kennedy was ill-prepared. kennedy knows he's done badly and so at the end, it's almost like he's seeking the confessor. so he goes to scotty rustin from the "new york times" and he says worst day of my life, worst performance of my life. he savaged me. and he knew that he had appeared weak to khrushchev and khrushchev thought he was weak
10:18 pm
and it was a terrible, terrible performance. >> host: and then -- and how did it go on from there? [laughter] >> guest: well, oh, one other thing about the vienna summit. the other thing i focus on is everyone has written about kennedy's womenizing, kennedy's health issues. he had particularly great pain and we know that from his doctor. we know he had an injury earlier from a trip from canada. he was in enormous pain. and on the trip he had someone called dr. feelgood. he was the doctor to celebrities. and he was shooting him up with a mixture of enzymes and steroids and amphetamines to keep him alert, to keep him from depression. but if you look at the side effects of these things, the side effects are mood swings. the side effects are
10:19 pm
nervousness, anxiety. you know, he did show mood swings at the end of the summit. he did show nervousness and anxiety. these are national security consequences with these sorts of shots. we never know how it affected him but when you think about vienna, the 67-year-old soviet peasant might have been in healthier shape than the 43-year-old handsome. >> host: today in the united states we expect we have the right to know as much as possible about the health and personal lives of our presidents. as you point out in the book. about this is going on. there was so much completely hidden from the public eye. and it has world history consequences. it was hidden from the public eye and reporters and journalists knew about this but didn't report it. >> host: there was a different code even when you were a journalist. so how did this summit end?
10:20 pm
it was quite a long summit, right? >> guest: it was a long summit. kennedy returns to the u.s. and knows he's in trouble. he gives a speech and increases defense spending. and there's a great debate in his administration between atchison and particularly arthur schlesinger and then henry kissinger comes in at that point as a young consultant on the anti-atchison side at that point. >> host: yeah. >> guest: and there's a real argument about how hard of a line to take, how are we going to respond. how do we overcome this image of weaknesses? at the same time, while they're trying to decide how to respond to this ultimatum from khrushchev, khrushchev is looking at things ahead and he's approved after the summit walter's plan for a border closure. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: and he puts this on fast forward. so i think as a result of the vienna summit, khrushchev thinks
10:21 pm
he can go forward. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: i think one of the strongest findings of the book and i feel very strongly about this, kennedy helped write the script for the berlin wall. i'm not sure it's been said before in any book this strongly. the his words were if you don't touch west berlin -- if you touch the access to west berlin or to the freedom, you can do whatever you want to do in this territory and that's what khrushchev did when he approved the border closure and then the berlin's construction. it was all within east berlin territory. >> host: maybe we should go back -- i mean, you and i are so steeped on the german problems which has changed and maybe just explain again what were the issues at stake at 1961? i mean, you had the two german states founded in 1949. nobody in the west had recognized the gdr, east germany. it had very little legitimacy. it was completely dependent on the soviet union for its existence. why was there a crisis in east
10:22 pm
germany in 1961? and why did they have to take action and maybe just to spell that out a little bit? >> guest: what happened is, though, the border had been cut off between east and west germany, and so there was a no man's land and there were fences and towers along that border, there was no border or dividing line inside of berlin. and so here's a city of 3.2 million people. you have two ideologyies. the dividing line of the cold war but all it is is a line. there's nothing stopping people going back and forth across the city. so what happens is the better economic conditions turn in west germany and there was an economic miracle with jobs galore. the worst situations -- the situation got in east germany because people came to take those jobs. and so you had a flood of refugees but it wasn't just refugees, it was the best and
10:23 pm
brightest of east germany. the western-most outpost of the soviet union bloc and the place the 20 million soviets and russians had died to end world war ii so lots and lots of things. the more the refugees came out, the greater the danger of implosion of east germany. and so you really had a situation where khrushchev had to stop this bleed or his entire soviet bloc might be in danger and let's not forget 30 years later there was a flood of refugees that started the collapse of the soviet union and the fall of the berlin wall in 1989. >> host: yeah, and, of course, in 1958, khrushchev had already thrown down the gauntlet. he issued this berlin ultimatum where he wanted a solution then saying he wanted best berlin to be somehow an independent free city and then turn over control
10:24 pm
of it to east germany and they started collectivizing east germany and people didn't want that and they were fleeing out and, of course, you could as you point out very well in the book go to the station in east berlin, get on a train and go into west berlin and nobody could really do anything. so -- >> guest: 50,000 residents of east berlin worked every day in west berlin so they were going back and forth every day. >> host: and then 2,000 a day were fleeing just before the war come up. >> guest: absolutely, yep. >> host: describe to us now the dramatic events of the night of august 12th and 13th, 1961. and when you do that, maybe say a little bit about, without getting into too much legal detail, were the soviets within their rights to do this because there was this complicated four-power allied control where they were in their rights or were they really zweig the legally agreed norms for the four-power occupations in both parts of berlin? >> guest: i'll answer that and
10:25 pm
then go to the description. >> host: yeah. >> guest: they were not. and they were not because east german forces had no right to be in east berlin doing the things that they were doing. so if kennedy -- >> host: because it was under four-power allied control, britain, france, united states and the soviet union. >> guest: so you had one thing -- one argument which was right of access and so it was a violation of that. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: if the president of the united states had wanted to make it so. >> host: yes. >> guest: and then you had another which was the activities of east german soldiers and forces within east berlin which was always violation. if the president of the united states wanted to make itself and that's sort of my point he didn't want to. he actually thought -- he actually thought by helping khrushchev get out of this problems, he could reduce tensions between the u.s. and the soviet union and, therefore, have more fruitful negotiations on things he cared much more, frankly, than the freedom of berlin. >> host: which were. >> guest: nuclear test ban, and -- >> host: and what was happening
10:26 pm
in southeast asia, right? you point that out also as well. >> guest: he was negotiating the situation in laos and cambodia. he saw a global situation and he thought by fixing berlin he could make a more pliable khrushchev, indeed he didn't because what happened was khrushchev read all this weaknesses and then we had the cuban missile crisis but getting a little bit ahead of myself. 3.2 million people -- imagine that. the idea of drawing a line and putting up a wall and putting barbed wire and closing off that kind of city. there were cia agents, military intelligence agents, who had picked up noise about this noise but they didn't think it was feasible and they didn't think he could do it. and they didn't take it as seriously as they should have. i went deeply into the documents during this period and what fascinated me the most in the picture that i draw in the first of my two chapters on this whole
10:27 pm
question was the methodical blueprints for, you know, concrete pillars, tons of barbed wire. you know, sawhorses, you know, one man per every -- you know -- one soldier for every meter -- >> host: where did they get at this equipment from, where did they get the barbed wire and the concrete from some? >> guest: they had some locally and they ordered from great britain and the husband nobody asked questions. and some people say, you know, of the period we're saying this reads a lot like the building of concentration camps in its specificity and its methodical laying out. and the execution -- the execution was so fast, it was so complete, it was so perfect that they didn't have any of the backlash that they had feared from their own -- from their own
10:28 pm
citizens, and there was no response from the u.s. or allied military, which were only 12,000 in west berlin surrounded by 350,000 soviet troops within striking distance of berlin. >> host: one of the characters we haven't mentioned yet was the mayor of best berlin who later on, of course, became the chancellor of the federal republic and inaugurated from the republic of detente and the soviet union. what was his response to this because after all these were his people in west berlin who saw this wall actually going up were literally as you described very well in your book streets were divided. in one street you had some people on the street living on one side of the wall and others on the other. how did that affect his view of the united states? and what were his -- what was his attitude towards this? >> guest: he was -- he was livid. and he wrote a letter saying as much to john f. kennedy, which upset president kennedy enormously because billy brant
10:29 pm
was running for congressman and kennedy saw this initially as a stunt for his election campaign. but then saw how outraged berliners were and how it endangered the prestige of the united states at some time he sent some token troops reinforcements to reassure berliners that he would still defend berliners and he thought he would just leave and east germany would win the city by default so kennedy -- kennedy had to respond to that. but billy brant saw families that were separated. lovers were separated. you know, working people were separated. students were separated from their schools, workers separated from their workplaces. it was a dramatic moment in history. >> host: i mean, people woke up
10:30 pm
and suddenly there was the barbed war and there was a beginning of the wall that then became a concrete wall and then was refined. if you could mention some of the very dramatic and very sad stories of people who still tried to get out. and how the rules changed for the east german border guards about what they were told to do. >> guest: yeah, the story -- you're right, it was very dramatic but particularly dramatic for people gunther. and he was tailor to the stars, the people in the theaters and, of course, west berliners was a glittery place and he suddenly can't go back and he's desperate to go back because he has no life on east berlin. he will be put on a construction crew and he's not trusted anywhere in east germany and at that point people were swimming canals. he wasn't a very good swimmer. he had heart problems but he thought let me give this a try.
10:31 pm
and fortunately he decided to swim the canal on the day that east german border guards were given shoot to kill for escapees and he was shot and killed and that was the first death, the first fatality of the post-wall period. and the wall didn't go up overnight. it's a misunderstanding. it was barbed wire. it was barriers. it was guards. and for 48 hours, the east germans and the soviets watched for western response. there was none. it was only after that that the more permanent barriers started going up and then in stages they got more sophisticated and more impermeable to that. >> you describe another interesting point of checkpoint charlie which you argue was maybe even more dangerous than the night the wall went up. could you discuss that with us? >> guest: when general clay came back -- >> host: maybe say something about general clay.
10:32 pm
>> guest: 1948, berlin airlift. the soviets impose a blockade of west berlin in their first effort to choke it. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: general clay, without the approval of president truman starts an airlift of supplies. it's so popular, it's so successful he gets -- president truman's enthusiastic's support and it includes more than 300 days later. stalin backs off the soviets. general clay becomes a berlin folk hero for having saved the hero. kennedy sends him back to buck up the morale after the wall comes up. clay, however, doesn't realize he was really intended to be more of a p.r. mechanism and so he actually wants to start pushing back and regaining some of the four power rights that were taken away with the blessing of many of the superiors.
10:33 pm
the east germans start patrolling identity cards at the border which they are not allowed to do. identity attendee cards and clay an american diplomat with a military escort and starts running people through. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: and he supports them with tanks. over time, khrushchev decides he can't put up with this and he brings up soviet tanks. and so it becomes a game of chicken. who's going to blink first? any nervous trigger finger could have started world war iii. it was a very -- it was a fraught moment. i tried to tell this story much more detailed than it's been told before, and then the way it's diffused is one of the great mysteries, i think, of the history of the period. where the soviet tanks stand down first and back off. everyone thinks kennedy has been a hero. >> host: right. >> guest: but all he's really done is said, i'm going to back
10:34 pm
off from my insistence on these four power rights. i'm going to withdraw. and khrushchev withdraws his tanks first. kennedy withdraws later but kennedy who's actually retreated on the principle. >> host: yeah. so now we come to the very important point. i think your book really challenges the conventional wisdom that the united states really didn't have any other option but to accept the building of the berlin wall. in 1956, you know, the eisenhower administration didn't give any assistance to the hungarian freedom fighters who were fighting the soviet troops when they invaded even though they sort of promised to. and basically in washington, the united states had accepted the division of europe even though it didn't say so publicly because it was, and as you point this out in the book, they viewed this -- this was a way to stabilize the situation in europe and then move on to other things. you, i think, feel very strongly that something differently could
10:35 pm
have been done. again, challenging the conventional wisdom that had the united states taken a more aggressive attitude towards -- or tried to prevent the construction of the wall, it could -- the situation could have escalated to, you know, a hot war to a confrontation, even possibly a nuclear confrontation and that, therefore, it was the better part of prudence not to do anything. so tell us why you think something else could have been done? and how you think that could have been done. as you say, there were 48 hours between when they first started constructing the wall and when they went on to complete it. so what do you think could have been done? >> guest: the east german leader had wanted a border closure since 1952. you have to ask why he only got it in 1961? he got it because -- because nikita khrushchev had a high degree of conference that president kennedy would not respond. and he had the high degree of confidence because kennedy had
10:36 pm
more or less laid out the guardrails within which he could accept soviet behavior. as long as you don't touch west berlin freedom, as long as you don't touch access. but he took away any question on whether he would respond to something taking place in east berlin. or something that even violated four power rights and that's number 1. number 2, khrushchev had his october party congress. he could not risk a failure in east berlin. it endangered this refugee outflow endangered him at the outparty congress. more dangerous to him would be a crisis that got out of hand where, you know, the u.s. with its far greater military superiority in general, nuclear superiority started a war. so -- so he had to have some real confidence he wouldn't be facing a failure in his congress. i think if kennedy kept him guessing, if kennedy had not sent a clear message and had said, i will not tolerate any
10:37 pm
change in the four power rights of berlin, i think -- i think that khrushchev would have had to think twice. now, does that mean east germany would have collapsed? the soviet bloc would have ended earlier? history doesn't reveal its alternatives. however, there's no doubt that an east german-continued implosion would have had an impact throughout the soviet world. we've seen two different times, 1948 berlin airlift where the u.s. stood up and the soviets backed down. 1956 in hungary where the u.s. took no action and the soviets were dominant. but there were no u.s. troops in budapest. there were no allied soldiers. it was not the epicenter of the war. so i actually don't think khrushchev would have taken a risk of the wall and in the first 48 hours he was watching for u.s. response. so it's my view -- it's my view that kennedy could have prevented the berlin wall. >> host: okay. and you do point out in the book and i think people will believe
10:38 pm
this now, you know, we did have some advanced knowledge that this might happen although not quite in the way that it did but let me come back to the night of the 12th and 13th of august. so when they started putting the barbed wire up. of course, there was u.s. troops in berlin then, french troops, british troops. was there something that those troops could have done? i mean, what would have happened if they would have gone out to try to physically prevent the east germans who as you say didn't really have a legal right to do this from constructing the wall? or maybe the next morning if they started to try and cut it down? >> guest: i don't have the answer to that. >> host: yeah. >> guest: i think the time to have stopped it was the vienna summit. >> host: okay, yeah. >> guest: but also the bay of pigs where khrushchev said in 1956 in hungary, i had a threat and look how i handled it with an iron fist and look at the bay of pigs you're showing indecision. i think vienna was the time to stop it but general clay -- you
10:39 pm
still had open passage points to east berlin. you know, the soviets were very careful to keep open passage points for allied personnel to not do that would have violate four power rights so you could still go through the passage points. general clay wanted to send all our carriers tanks through those open passage points and then come back and remove the barriers with the shovels on the tanks. he felt -- he felt strongly if one had done that in the first 48 hours, that the soviets would not -- would not have gone for it. that was his point of view. i don't have my own opinion on that one. >> host: yeah. okay. so now we come to a paradox. i mean, history has judged kennedy much better than they've judged khrushchev. i mean, in general in this country, in europe, in other parts of the world, president kennedy is still seen in a very positive light. as someone who brought new thinking, imagination and a new
10:40 pm
view of the world. khrushchev, both in the united states and particularly in russia is viewed as a kind of erratic, somewhat buffoonish, unpredictable with harebrain schemes and so what we remember of president kennedy is him standing up in berlin in 1963 and you describe that very well and saying, which maybe meant that he was a donut but any he understood -- he wanted to say a la berlina and we think of khrushchev banging his shoe on the table. why do you think history has judged these men in a way that you obviously really believe isn't really fair. >> guest: by the way, i recount the language discussion about why he said that. [laughter] >> guest: in language to make the threats right, he actually said it right so he wasn't saying it's a jelly donut. >> host: it's in the book. [laughter] >> guest: but -- but the -- >> host: yeah. >> guest: but here's where i
10:41 pm
think -- there's a lot new in the book but i think the greatest attention will be on the fact that i condemn president kennedy's first year in office as one of the worst foreign policy performances of any -- in a first year of any modern presidency. if you look at his misreading of khrushchev's speech, bay of pigs, he could have either not intervened at all or he could have intervened decisively. khrushchev talks to his son sergei about the weaknesses i showed. then the vienna summit which we talked about, then the berlin wall. and it's not just me saying this. kennedy says this. >> host: yeah. >> guest: when he was asked by the "detroit news" washington bureau chief eli able if he wanted to write a book about kennedy's first year and kennedy said why would anyone want to read a book about an administration that has nothing to show for itself but a string of disasters? so he's condemning himself.
10:42 pm
he does go through a migration. he does stand up at the cuban missile crisis a year later but my argument is he never had to bring the world on the brink of war if he showed strength over berlin and the bay of pigs. and then, of course, he then gets the bug. and he sees the way to handle this is to be stronger. he goes to berlin in 1963. going through the streets of berlin, he's overwhelmed by the adoration of the berliners. he rewrites his speech on the way to city hall and, of course, he announces these things. [speaking german] >> host: yeah. >> guest: but he gets there after having made these mistakes and so you still have to condemn him because we're stuck with 30 years of berlin wall.
10:43 pm
and we almost got a nuclear exchange or at least we had some real dangers regarding cuba, both of which happened to his acquiescence to the berlin wall. >> host: maybe if you could say a little bit more about the cuban missile crisis and how you relate to khrushchev's perception of kennedy. in the berlin crisis of 1961, and also why khrushchev, of course, in the end did change his policy. he never really did sign -- he never signed this treaty with the gdr that gave it full control of berlin? >> guest: the soviets were always a little bit wistful about west germany. they realized that that would have been the better set of -- >> host: yes. >> guest: without ever accepting their own culpability for why east germany wasn't working, the reparations, did economic system they imposed, et cetera, et cetera. khrushchev thought that we had
10:44 pm
nuclear weapons within reach of the soviet union. there were weapons elsewhere that the u.s. could reach the soviet union. the soviet union at that point could not reliably reach the united states. so he needed this in cuba. he also thought -- and he talks about this. he thought through his experience in berlin that kennedy wouldn't respond. that he'd huff and puff but he wouldn't do anything. and that everything would be in place by the time kennedy had a chance to respond and then it would be too late. >> host: yeah. >> guest: and so -- and so he was acting, he thought, in a fashion where previous experience would say that, you know, i'm on relatively safe ground trying this at this point. >> host: yeah. and then i guess -- yeah, there's some people who believe
10:45 pm
that he also put the missiles in cuba because he believed that he would then offer to remove them if there were some broader solution to the german question which he felt was still not resolved. so i think it's very important to know that even though they did build the wall, they imprisoned the east german population and so they solved that issue. they didn't solve the broader question of, you know, what was going to happen to germany and the fact that east germany didn't have greater legitimacy. one interesting thing is you say, i think, even khrushchev believed that the west germans would have been better allies. in 1964 when he was under a lot of pressure, when kennedy was already gone, he planned a trip to west germany and he sent his son-in-law whom you discuss for preliminary conversations and he was about to make a trip to west germany, the first by a soviet leader since the end of world war ii. and he possibly would have made some deal. and then he was overthrown before he could leave. in fact, a west german engineer
10:46 pm
was attacked in a mustard gas attack probably by the kgb and it's interesting, that he then himself realized he couldn't solve this problem the way he had tried to with a construction of the war. but as i say by that time kennedy was gone. >> guest: yeah. germany was always the prize for the soviets. >> host: yeah. >> guest: it was the prize because it was economically stronger. it was the prize because it was at the center of europe. it was a prize because of history. and president kennedy and they go into this in some detail. president kennedy as the cuban missile crisis unfolds talks about how he thinks this is really ultimately about berlin. >> host: yeah. >> guest: the soviets are not going to shed light over cuba but they might just over berlin and so one was very watchful while responding to what would happen in berlin, and you're
10:47 pm
right. how do we not respond to the 1948 and if berlin had disappeared, west berlin might have disappeared at that point as a free island, would we ever have german unification as we had it. and europe reuniting as part of the free world. i don't know. you know, how things happened over cuba. if the missiles had been implanted at that time. if it became dangerous. and khrushchev were willing to negotiate berlin for havana, i can't imagine any u.s. president would have gotten away with it. but what a different world we have been at that point? >> host: it would have been completely different until we move to maybe some current issues, what were the main sources that you used for this book? what's new in this book because obviously other books have been written on the subject? >> guest: yeah. i used russian-german-u.s. archival material. i found a number of new
10:48 pm
documents. i also found a number of already declassified documents that just hadn't been looked at it. and hadn't been used by book authors. >> guest: yeah. >> host: there's a particularly wonderful document. secretary of state dean rusk sending a cable to general clay as he's asking him to back down in berlin with the tanks showdown and he essentially says when we allowed -- when we acquiesced and used the word "acwes"a "acwehe "a "acwehe "a "acwehe is -- acquiesced, and he's essentially saying we're ceding it to the soviet union. nobody had said it quite that bluntly. i also have a document where general clay is threatening resignation because kennedy is not backing him up enough.
10:49 pm
so there's new documents of this sort sprinkled here and there. i also forgot, the one thing that ended -- ended the tank showdown was a secret negotiation between bolshikof and bobby kennedy. all we have is bobby's oral history where he said he helped diffused the crisis but we don't know how. we don't the negotiations. >> host: was there a note-taker? there must have be -- they needed a translator. >> guest: it was perfect english and it was a one-on-one. >> host: yeah. >> guest: the one thing that hasn't been released is a lot of robert kennedy's papers. they're still being held by the family. and so there's all sorts of materials in those papers that would be fascinating to read not just for my book but many books. >> host: yeah. >> guest: bobby kennedy said himself he didn't take notes of
10:50 pm
those meetings. we won't know until those papers are released. >> host: right. okay. now, you believe and you say this at the end of your book that your book does have lessons for us 50 years later. we have again a young u.s. president, not very experienced in foreign policy and you think that there are lessons that can be drawn and analogies of the berlin crisis from 1961 to the current situation in 2011. tell us a little bit about it. >> guest: let me be careful here. first of all, one of my lessons is history is complex. [laughter] . >> host: yeah. >> guest: and there's a lot of factors that go into that how can and that's the reason i interweave these stories and look at things from all different sorts of perspectives, complex. the second finding american presidents make a big difference at historic inflection points. so do think there's parallels between president obama and kennedy. and i think obama has be careful we only really knew what the outcome of 1961 of 1962 with the
10:51 pm
cuban missile crisis. we have another great year of history, 2011. i think it will be written in 1961 with the mideast upheavals. will obama's actions in libya similar to the bay of pigs? didn't want to intervene at first and allowed an intervention to go forward. didn't listen to the people who told him, don't intervene at all? and did not listen to the people who said intervene with purpose. the question there and i don't have the answer to this is how will this be read by our rivals, our adversaries and our friends? and what impact could this have when the mideast plays out. there are parallels, young relatively inexperienced, historical inflection points, first roman catholic president, first african-american president, huge users of media -- revolutionary times in the use of electronic media for kennedy, television. for obama, social media. but i think the real thing that
10:52 pm
i take away from this, there are huge global consequences from american decision and also from indecision. so, you know, obama has associated himself with kennedy mystique, caroline kennedy endorsed him, ted kennedy endorsed him. i hope he doesn't associate himself with kennedy's performance in 1961. >> host: in the last couple minutes, what would you like your readers to take away? what are the main things you would like them to take away from reading your book? >> guest: in some ways we're lucky with the cold war because we had an iconic symbol, the berlin wall. >> host: uh-huh. >> guest: of what happens when unfree systems are not resisted by free systems and so we see this and i want people to take away the fact that there are consequences for presidential decision. this one -- it was 30 years of extended cold war. and president kennedy could not have known it was going to end 30 years later. >> host: yeah. >> guest: it could have lasted forever.
10:53 pm
>> host: yeah. >> guest: where, you know, would we have wanted to go to war? no. would one want to take action to accelerate the liberation of tens of millions of east europeans, poles, czechs, hungarians, astonians? so i think i want people to reflect -- and perhaps start a new debate. >> host: yeah. >> guest: over whether kennedy could have stopped the berlin wall. >> host: as you say, this is one of -- less has been written about the cold war in general has been written about the other two major wars and so there's still a lot more research to be done. so i would highly recommend everyone to read berlin 1961, kennedy, khrushchev and the most dangerous place on earth. and i thank you very much for this conversation. >> guest: thank you, angela.
10:54 pm
>> that was "after words," booktv's signature program in which authors of the latest nonfiction books are interviewed by journalists, public policymakers, legislators and others familiar with their material. "after words" airs every weekend on booktv at 10:00 pm on saturday, 12:00 and 9:00 pm on sunday and 12:00 am on monday. you can also watch "after words" online. go to and click on "after words" in the booktv series and topics list on the upper right side of the page. >> on the go, "after words" is available via podcast through itunes and xlm. visit and click on podcast on the upper right-hand side of the page. >> and now holly tucker provides an account of the first blood transfusions which took place in france in 1667. and the fallout from those
10:55 pm
experiments. >> all right. well, we are going to get started very shortly. holly is going to get her computer plugged in and i'll do an introduction while she's doing that. i'd like to welcome you to the national museum of health and medicine's first science cafe. we called it the medical museum's cafe and we were really thrilled to do this. this is one of our outreach programs that we're doing sort of in conjunction with opening up a new building. so if you're from silver spring -- i think we've got a lot of people who are from this area or really close to our neighbors. our museum is going to be opening up in a new facility in silver spring maryland this fall. we're currently located at walter reed medical center. and the medical center is going to be closing through -- now through september. and so in that time period, we're actually going to pack up and move all of our collections to a new location in silver spring. if you're familiar with the forest glenn area, if you're
10:56 pm
familiar with the seminary, we'll be right across the street from that so you'll be able to visit us there this fall so we're looking forward to it but in the meantime, we're doing some things in the community to make sure that our audiences and even new folks, our new neighbors will get to know us and they'll become familiar with us and they'll want to participate in programs at the museum itself. so we hope that this science cafe will be something that you enjoy coming back to when the topic is of interest to you. we'll do this either on a monthly basis or a bimonthly basis so if you are interested in this, if this is something that appeals to you, do sign our grid at the back of the room. there's a little clipboard and you can give us your email address and we can let you know about upcoming programs and activities that might be of interest to you. so please do so. and feel free to snack. reuters is here with a book sale. holly would have a couple minutes at the end to sign our books. so i would love you to enjoy that. i'd like to introduce you to our speaker. and she can take her time and
10:57 pm
get ready. but holly -- this is holly tucker. and holly majored in french and political science at indiana university and then she went on to earn her ph.d. at the university of wisconsin-madison. currently she's a professor of both french and the history of medicine at vanderbilt university. she teaches courses on history of early medicine, medicine and literature as well as other courses on early french literature and culture. i was first introduced to holly -- i feel like i know her but i was introduced to her -- this is our first time meeting by subscribing to her blog and i've been a fan of hers. i would encourage to you google it and it would come first thing up. it's an interesting blog. they call it a community for curious minds who love history. its odd stories and good reads. it started out as an area where she and her students could communicate and now it's really grown. so that actually a lot of scholars and writers are sending books to her and her students review them so i always find out
10:58 pm
about a lot of very interesting history of medicine book topics just from reading her blog and learning about what's going on in their community. so i would encourage you take a look. i was really thrilled when i saw that holly was releasing her own new book. she talked about it on the blog and so we have got to have her for the science cafe for the medical museum and it makes perfect sense. this is the type of very casual conversation. she knows that but i want you to know that. if you all have questions, feel free to interact. if you have comments i hope that you will make them. her book is interesting because it is history of medicine. but it also brings out current topics and things that we're all concerned about. welcome. [applause] >> so as we plug in, i can tell
10:59 pm
you as i left arlington about 2.5 hours ago -- [laughter] >> i checked on my ipad. [inaudible] >> okay. oh, sure. >> and the ipad you can do mapquest or google it. and i had directions and i actually hit directions walking and it said if i walked from arlington to here it would take me 12 hours. and i think i really should have taken that. [laughter] >> as i sat in the parking lot of all of your various highways so thank you all for being so kind and patient as i was sitting on the interstate well, freaking out just a little bit. so as we get set up, i do want to talk to you a little bit about the origins of this book because it's been a fascinating experience for me. i started it about five years


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on