name is? a do you know, ? >> are you going to tell met to give that away?r really? really? i cannot do that.a that is called a spoiler at the end of the book.ght [laughter] you may be a little too young to readt the book but maybe your mom can read ito and give you an idea. but i can tell you and this is very funny. truth is stranger than fiction. one of them may have been known a few pirates. su i am not kidding. there are some pirates in this book.like [laughter] . . would
>> he discussed this turbulent period with angela sten it. the director for georgetown and eastern european studies. ♪ >> i'm angela stent. i'm the director of the eastern you're red flag studies at georgetown university. and it's my great pleasure to introduce to you edward kemp. kennedy and khrushchev and the most dangerous place on book. fred kempe is the syria of the atlantic of the united states which is a leading washington think tank. for 25 years he had a distinguished career as journalist. he's the author of a number of books, among them siberian odyssey and a book about his own family and germany and his own sorts about a unified germany.
so this is, i think, going to be a very interesting discussion. fred, most people when they look back at the 45-year history of the cold war, when the united states was on the brink of the soviet union was did most dangerous in a moment in the world. >> nekeata khrushchev was the soviet premier and he probably knew anybody anywhere else and where people were willing to go to war. i think in cuba, the historians think that the backing off already was -- began halfway through that crisis week but when you had tanks faced off against each other in october of 1961 in berlin, the first and last time you had soviet fighting men and tanks against each other in that way you really didn't 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 systems, ideological systems were faced off. the second thing is the wall in berlin, when it was built in august of 1961, really shaped the contours for three decades that came after and as i argue in the book, i think it's the berlin wall that lead to the cuban missile crisis. >> host: so why did you decide to write this book? why did you choose this particular crisis and this particular city to write about? >> angela, as you mentioned and as you know, i cut my teeth as a journalist covering the cold war the last two decades of the cold war. and it was exhilarating but it was also depressing. i saw the people of poland fight, risk everything, their lives, their jobs, their families for freedom and for
independence. depressing in east germany. most of my relatives were east germans and lived in east germany and they were kind. they were generous. but they also lived lives of limited freedom, limited travel, limited scope. and i asked myself at that time -- so this was my personal reason, could one have avoided the berlin wall? could one have ended the cold war that mortgaged the lives of tens of millions of east europeans? could one have 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 recorded of our three world wars and i do think it was world war iii that ended an empire, the soviet empire. it ended a system, the communist system. and berlin was the epicenter for the war in 1961, was the most decisive year for the cold war. so i wanted to tell the story of that year through its events and its characters.
>> well, it's certainly a fascinating story. now, before we get to some of the details you have four major characters that dominate your book. they were very different characters. they were all larger of life and that interaction really set the tone for this crisis and then 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? >> guest: angela, a hollywood casting director could not have given me richer characters. [laughter] >> we had first of all the son of privilege, president john f. kennedy, handsome, brilliant. wanting to be a great historical president like lincoln and franklin roosevelt but fearful they only became that in war and in his age it would be nuclear war, for him son of privilege, 67-year-old son of peasants i literal until his 20s, survived world war ii, survived stalin's
purges and very insecure and resentful of american millionaires and then the other two characters you talked about the west german leader, 85 years old, really a great character of history, founded west germany, brought germany back from the ashes of world war ii. and then walter obert, probably the last standing stalinist. both of them distrusted their powerful opposites, conrad adenhaur distrusted kennedy and didn't have enough backbone and trusted him. and it forced khrushchev to approve the -- approve the wall. so it was a great cast of characters. i don't think even fiction could have given me a better cast. >> now you also have some very interesting minor characters in the book.
they didn't play a world historical role but they're very evocative of all the tensions and the drama surrounding berlin in 1961 and indeed since the end of the war. and you have some fascinating vignettes. could you tell us about these more minor characters? >> my favorite minor character who actually turned out to be something of a major character and i write about him in his role in this but more than it's been recorded, i think, in any book before mine and that's a soviet spy. he's a military intelligence agent and he finds himself -- and a very colorful character, boisterous, hard drinking, hard living, friends with people like "washington post" writer ben bradley so not a very secret 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 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 of a character as my four protagonists and you can only do that through the people of berlin. 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 collectization of east german and trying to escape to the west and was caught and imprisoned and there's different stories like that that try to bring home the color of this rich story. >> yes, and they certainly do. now, one of the things that i think leaps out from your book is a confirmation of the old adage that all politics is local. we tend to think of kennedy and khrushchev as these protagonists on the world stage in a global struggle but both of them were subject to a lot of domestic pressures. they had different groups of advisors telling them different
things. and they were also subject to pressuress from their own allies. as you pointed out conrad was very wary of kennedy and walter looked down on the soviet leader who he considered to be an uncultured peasant. so if you could tell us a little bit about the domestic context before we get to the great drama of that year. and 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? >> yeah, i mean, let me start with khrushchev and then we'll go to kennedy. >> okay. >> 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 1957 but then there was a u2 crisis in may 1960 where the soviets
shot down a u.s. spy plane. and khrushchev's enemies pointed to this and said this is evidence that you're being very naive that you think we can live in peaceful coexistence with the west. we can't. and so he was facing stalin's remnants who never forgave them for denouncing stalin in his own party. and the east german leader and curiously, his leverage grew with the amount of refugees that were flowing out of this country because the greater 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 bloc. it was a danger to his own political standing and then the chinese. the chinese were rising. they were trying to oppose khrushchev at that time. they thought he wasn't the worthy representative of world communism so these three things were all against khrushchev and then he was looking at a october
party congress. we think well, that's not democratic. what does he have to worry about? but he had seen other soviet leaders lose their jobs at such conferences so everything for him was pointed at that october party congress in getting through and holding onto power. >> and i think you point out very -- after stalin's death, no soviet leader was not secure in his position and they had to worry about people around them and there was a lot of politics going on 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 infrastructure are wrong. tell us a little bit about president kennedy -- and the conflicting kind of advice that he was getting both within the united states and in his dealings with the federal public west berlin. >> sorry that i raced ahead to khrushchev. i find that story interesting. president kennedy he didn't know whether he would make peace with the soviet union or through 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. >> uh-huh. >> out of retirement and that shows he wants to protect his right flank. atchison was a hawk towards the soviet union. and the people running the desk for berlin, for germany also by and large were hawks. they have to be tough, have to stand up to them. on the other hand were people like arthur schlesinger, avril harriman, and the ambassador to russia, tommy thompson who really 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 for that is kennedy barely won and he was more hawkish as a campaigner than richard nixon. and khrushchev wanted to hold onto power. 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. >> now, you point out that at the very beginning president kennedy in your view misinterpreted a speech that khrushchev had made. could you tell us something about that and then again why do you think that kennedy chose that particular interpretation of the speech? >> 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, his inaugural was one of the worst foreign policy performances of any modern president in his first year. >> yeah. >> and it started with this misreading. he comes into office trying to figure out who is khrushchev, who are the soviets? how am i going to deal with them? and khrushchev releases captured u.s. pirates on the day after his inauguration, reduces censorship, prints the entire
inaugural. >> the american inaugural, right? >> yeah. you know, bear any burden, share -- he put in 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 speech that khrushchev had delivered on january 9th, so a couple of weeks before the inauguration. and it was tough rhetoric. it was escalating the war in the developing world and it was a speech to propagandists. most people who are experts say this is nothing new but kennedy saw this as a sign so between his inaugural and the state of the union 10 days later, he totally changes his tone toward the soviet union, even before he's met with his experts and set down a policy, he turns in a much more hawkish direction. khrushchev sees that. he pulls back from his gestures. he can't afford to expose his
own flank to the stalinist remnants and he turns tough. and i think we missed a very key opportunity when the two of them might have been able to find a better way forward. >> yeah, it really shows the perils during the cold war of 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 a 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 peasant background. tell us a little bit about how the talks began, how they continued and why you believe that kennedy did so badly in this very crucial first encounter in vienna? >> yeah, and the first two words about what got us there. >> uh-huh.
>> and you're right. it was rich theater in the city of opera, 1,500 correspondents. the "wall street journal" wrote as two boxers coming in the ring. the "new york times" went back 146 years earlier to the congress of vienna and reminded of poly-rand and the dramatic was great. khrushchev refused to come to the summit and even take the invitation letter until after the bay of pigs debacle where kennedy failed at the bay of pigs. khrushchev was weaknesses. saw indecisiveness, saw that he could expose himself to this summit. kennedy -- and at the same time, he had put the first man in space so he had some momentum. kennedy came there because he wanted to repair his foreign policy reputation after the failure of bay of pigs so there they are. >> right. >> the first day kennedy gets into an ideological argument about the virtue ofs communism
versus the virtue of freedom and capitalism and he gets totally overwhelmed by khrushchev. his advisors told him not to go there and talk about it. second thing, discussion of berlin. he's not prepared for. he thought he had reached 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 totally ill-prepared. kennedy knows he's done badly. and so at the end, it's almost like he's seeking a confessor. so he goes to scotty rustin of 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. and it was a terrible, terrible performance.
>> and then -- and how did it go on from there? [laughter] >> well -- oh, one other thing about the vienna summit. the other thing i focus on -- >> uh-huh. >> everyone has written about kennedy's womanizing, kennedy's health issues. >> right. >> i think at the vienna summit they may have played a role. he had particularly great pain. we know that from his doctor. we know he had an injury earlier from a trip to canada. he was in enormous pain. and on the trip he had someone called dr. feelgood. he was the doctor to celebrities, to tennessee williams to truman capote. 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 effect of these things, the side effects are mood swings. the side effects are nervousness, anxiety. >> uh-huh. >> 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'll 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 american. >> yeah, and i should interject -- i mean, nowadays in the united states, we expect that 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, i mean, if people had realized that this was going on, i mean, there was so much that was completely hidden from the public eye and yet it had world, you know, history consequences. and it really led to a showdown there. >> it was partly hidden by the public eye and reporters and journalists knew some of this but didn't report it. >> there was a different code than even when you were a journalist. so how did the summit end? actually, it was quite a long summit, right? >> it was a long summit. >> yeah. >> kennedy returns to the u.s.
and knows he's in trouble. >> yeah. >> it starts, you know -- he gives a speech, increases defense spending. and there's a great debate in his administration between atchison and particularly arthur schlesinger and then henry kissinger comes in as well at that point as a young consultant on the anti-atchison on that point. and there's an argument about how hard a line we are going to take and this image of weaknesses at this time, while they're trying to respond to this ultimatum, khrushchev is moving things ahead and he's approved after the summit obert's plan for a border closure. >> uh-huh. >> and he puts this on fast forward. and so i think as a result of the vienna summit, khrushchev thinks he can go forward. >> uh-huh. >> i think one of the most -- 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 that's ever been said in any book quite this strongly. the message he set in vienna and afterward to khrushchev were, if you don't touch west berlin, if you don't touch the access to west berlin or west berlin's freedom, you can do whatever you want to do in your own territory and that's what khrushchev did when he approved the border closure and then the berlin wall's construction. it was all within east berlin territory. >> maybe we should go back -- i mean, you and i are so stopped on only issues of the german problem which has changed and maybe just explain again what were the issues at stake in 1961? i mean, you had the two german states founded in 1949. and 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 germany in 1961? and why did they have to take
action and maybe just to spell that out a little bit? >> what happened is though the border had been cut off between east and west germany and so there was a no man's land. there were fences and there were towers around 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 ideologies, 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 brightest of east germany. the western-most outpost of the
soviet bloc and the place, the 20 million soviets, russians had died to end world war ii. so lots and lots at stake. 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 have been in danger and let's not forget 30 years later it was a flood of refugees that started the collapse of the soviet union and the fall of the berlin wall of 1989. >> yeah, of course, in 1958 khrushchev had already thrown down the gauntlet. he issued this berlin ultimate matim where he already wanted a solution then saying he wanted west berlin to be somehow a free city and turn over control of east germany and then they started collectizing agriculture in east germany which 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 the s bomb and go to west berlin and they couldn't do anything. >> 50,000 east berliners were working in west germany. >> describe this incident in 1961. and when you do that, maybe say a little bit, without getting into too much legal detail, were the soviets within their rights to do this because there was this complicated -- were they within their rights or were they really defying the legally agreed norms for the four power occupations of east berlin? >> i'll answer that and then go to the description. they were not. and they were not because east
german forces had no right to even be in east berlin doing the things that they were doing. so if kennedy -- >> because it was under four-power allied control, britain, france, united states and the soviet union. >> so you had one thing -- one argument which was right of access and so it was a violation of that. >> uh-huh. >> if the president of the united states had wanted to make it so. >> yes. >> and then you had another which was the activities of east german soldiers and forces within east berlin which was also a violation. if the president of the united states wanted to make it so -- and that's sort of my point is he didn't want to. he actually thought -- he actually thought by helping khrushchev get out of this problem, he could reduce tension between the u.s. and the soviet union and, therefore, have more fruitful negotiations on things he cared about much more, frankly, than the freedom of berlin. >> which were? >> nuclear he is it bans, and he was -- >> and what was happening in southeast asia? >> he was also negotiating the
situation in laos and cambodia so he was nervous about all of this. 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 a city. there were cia agents, military intelligence agents picked up noise but they didn't think it was believable and didn't think they could do it and didn't take it as seriously as they should have. i went deeply into the documents in this period and the picture i draw in the first of my two chapters on this whole question was the methodical blueprints
for, you know, concrete pillars tons of barbed wire, you know, sawhorses, one man per every, you know -- on the night -- one soldier for every meter that they had to cover -- >> by the way, when did they get all this equipment from. where did they get all the barbed wire and the concrete from? >> a lot of it they had locally but the barbed wire they ordered from great britain and also from west germany. and nobody asked any questions. and so 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 citizens. and there was no response from
the u.s. or allied military. anyway, only 12,000 in west berlin surrounded by 350,000 soviet troops within striking distance of berlin. >> yeah, one of the characters that we haven't mentioned yet was the mayor of west berlin who later on, of course, became the chancellor of the federal republican and inaugurated a policy of detente with 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 where literally as you described very well in your book streets were divided. on one street you had some people living on one side of the street and one on the other. how did that affect his view of the united states? and what were his -- what was his attitude towards this? >> he was -- he was livid. and he wrote a letter saying as much to john f. kennedy which that upset kennedy because the chancellor was running against
them and kennedy saw this initially as a stunt for his election campaign. but then saw how outraged west berliners were. how much this endangered the prestige and the credibility of the united states at which time he sent some token troop reinforcements vice president johnson and general clay, the hero of the berlin airlift to reassure berliners that he would still defend berlin. the fear was that west berliners having seen this would flee out and just leave. and then east germany would win the city by default. so kennedy -- kennedy had to respond to that but billy before an saw families that were separated. lovers were separated. working people were separated. students were separated from their schools, workers suffered from their workplaces. it was a dramatic moment in history. >> i mean, people woke up in the morning, right as you describe very well and suddenly there was this barbed war.
there was a beginning of the wall of a concrete wall and 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. >> yeah. the story -- you're right. it was -- it was very dramatic. but particularly dramatic for people like gunther litman and he was a tailor that i wrote about him. he was a tailor to the stars so he suddenly can't go back and he's desperate to go back because he has no life in east germany. he's going to be put on a construction crew. he's not trusted anywhere in east germany and at that point people were swimming canals and some of them would make it. he wasn't a very good swimmer and he had heart problems and he thought, let me give this a try. unfortunately, he decided to swim the canal of the day the
east german border guards were given shoot to kill orders for escapees. and he was shot and he was killed while swimming the canal 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 waited for western response. there was none. it was only after that that the more permanent barriers started going up and at stages they got more sophisticated and more impermeable over time. >> i want to come to that in a minute but you also then describe another very dramatic incident, a checkpoint charlie which you argues was even more dangerous than the night the wall went up. would you discuss that with us? >> when general clay came back -- >> maybe say something about general clay. >> general clay, 1948 berlin
airlift. the soviets impose a blockade of west berlin in their first effort to choke it. >> uh-huh. >> 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 support. it continues 300 days later, more than 300 days later. stalin backs off the soviets back off. he becomes -- general clay becomes a berlin folk hero for having saved the city. kennedy sends him back to buck up the morale after the wall comes up. clay doesn't realize he was really intended to be more of a p.r. mechanism and so he actuallibants to start pushing back and regaining some of the four power rights that were taken away with the blessing of many of his superiors. the east germans start controlling identity cards at the border which they are
technically not allowed to do, allied attendee cards. and so clay sees through an american diplomat alan lightner with a military escort and starts running people through. 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 fraught moment. there wasn't much investigated. i try to tell this story in much more detail 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. >> yeah. >> where the soviet tanks stand down first and back off. everyone thinks kennedy has been a hero. >> right. >> but all he's really done is said, i'm going to back off from my insistence on these four
power rights. i'm going to withdraw and khrushchev withdrawals his tanks first. kennedy withdraws later but kennedy is the one who's actually retreated on the principle. >> 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 view this is a way to view the situation in europe and then move on to other things. you, i think, feel very strongly that something differently could have been done again challenging
the conventional wisdom that had the united states taken a more -- or tried to prevent the construction of the war, 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 pardon 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 was 48 hours when they first started constructing the wall, when they went on to complete it. so what do you think could have been done? >> the east german leader had wanted a border closure since 1952. you have to ask yourself why he only got it in 1961. he got it because -- because nikita khrushchev had a high degree of confidence that president kennedy would not respond. and he had the high degree of confidence because kennedy had more or less laid out the guardrails within which he could accept soviet behavior.
as long as you don't touch best berlin freedom, as long as you don't such access but he took away any question on whether he would respond to something taking place in east berlin. so that's number 1. number 2, khrushchev had his october party congress. he could not risk a failure in east berlin. it endangered him. this refugee outflow endangered him at the outflow 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 at his october party congress. i believe if kennedy had kept him guessing -- if kennedy had not sent such a clear message and had said, i will not tolerate any 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 continued to have impact throughout the soviet world. we've seen two different times, 1948 the berlin airlift where the united states 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. >> okay. and you do point out in the book and i think people will believe 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 and the 12th and the they hopeth of august. of course, there were u.s. troops in berlin then. french troops, british troops. is there something those troops could have done -- i mean, what would have happened if they would have gone out and 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'd started to try and cut it down? >> i don't have the answer to that. >> yeah. >> i think the time to have stopped it was the vienna summit. >> okay, yeah. >> but also the bay of pigs where khrushchev said, you know, in 1956 in hungary i had a threat. look how i handled it with an iron fist and look at the bay of pigs, you're showing indecision. >> yeah some >> so i think vienna was the time to show it. however, general clay is of the opinion that you could have gone through -- you still had open passage points to east berlin. >> yeah.
>> the soviets were very careful to keep open passage points for allied personnel because to not do that, would have violated four power rights so you could still go through the passage points. general clay wanted to send all our carriers, taipgz with bulldozers mounted 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 further. that was his point of view. i don't have my own opinion on that one. >> 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. someone who brought new thinking, imagination and a new 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 and you describe well and he wanted to say a-la berlina and khrushchev banging his shoe and being unpredictable. why do you think that history has judged these men in a way that you obviously believe really isn't very fair? >> by the way, i recount the language discussion about why he said that. >> right. >> and the language to make the threats right, he actually said it right so he wasn't saying it's a jelly donut. >> it's a liberal -- >> but the -- >> yeah. >> but here's where i think -- there's a lot in the book but i think the great 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 the first year of any modern presidency. if you look at his misreading of the khrushchev 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 kennedy had shown. and then the berlin wall. it's not just me saying this. kennedy says this. >> yeah. >> when he was asked by the "detroit news" washington bureau chief if he wanted to write a book about kennedy's first year, and kennedy says, why would anyone want to write a book about an administration that has nothing to show for its but a string of disasters so he's condemning himself. he does go through a migration. >> yeah. >> he does stand up at the cuban
missile crisis a year later. but my argument is he never would have had to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war, the cuban missile crisis if he had shown strength and decisiveness 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 know stronger. he goes to berlin in 1963, going through the streets of berlin, he's overwhelmed by the adoration of the berliners. he writes his speech on the way to city hall and he enuances these famous words. [speaking german] >> yes. >> 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. and we almost got a nuclear
exchange or at least we had some real dangers regarding cuba, both of which happened because of his acquiescence to the berlin wall. >> maybe if you could say a little bit about the cuban missile crisis and how you relate it to khrushchev's perception of kennedy. of the berlin crisis of 1961 and also why khrushchev in the end did change his policy. he never really did sign -- and he never signed this treaty with the gdr which gave it full control of berlin. >> the soviets were always a little bit wistful about west germany. they realized that would have been the better set without ever accepting their culpability for why east germany wasn't working. >> right. >> the reparations, the economic system they imposed, et cetera, et cetera. khrushchev thought that we had
nuclear weapons within reach of the soviet union. weapons were putting elsewhere that could reach the soup. the soviet union could not reliably reached 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, that he wouldn't do anything. and everything would be in place by the time kennedy had a chance to respond and then it would be too late. >> yeah. >> 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. >> yeah. and then i guess -- yeah -- there are some people who believe 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. and one interesting thing as you say, i think even khrushchev believed the west germans would have been better allies. in 1964, when he was under a lot of pressure and when kennedy was already gone, he planned a trip to west germany and he sent his son-in-law whom you discussed 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. a west german engineer was
attacked in a mustard gas attack by the kgb anyway. he then himself realized he couldn't solve the problem the way he tried to with the construction of the wall but as i say at that time kennedy was gone. >> yeah. germany was always the prize for the soviets. >> yeah. >> it was the prize because it was economically stronger. it was the prize because it was the center of europe. president kennedy, as the cuban missile crisis unfolds, talks about how he thinks that this is really ultimately about berlin. >> yes. >> 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 right. had we respond in 1948 and had
berlin disappeared, west berlin disappeared at that point as a free island would we have ever had 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 would have been in. >> we would have been completely different. before we move to maybe some more 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? >> yeah. i used russian, german u.s. archival material. i found a number of new documents. i also found a number of already
declassified documents that just hadn't been looked at. and hadn't been used by book authors. >> yeah. >> 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 tank showdown and he essentially says, when we allowed -- when we agreed that the soviets like east berlin like elsewhere in their empire can, quote-unquote, isolate their unwilling subjects. so he's essentially say we're cedeking east berlin and eastern european no american president had said it quite that bluntly before. so those are the sort of documents and i also have a document where general clay is threatening resignation because kennedy is not backing him up enough. so there are new documents of this sort sprinkled here and
there. and i almost forgot, the one that ended the tank showdown was a secret negotiation between the two men. the sad thing about this is all we have is bobby's oral history where he said he helped diffuse the crisis. we don't know how. we don't know the negotiating and he apologizes for not outcoming -- >> you really believe he didn't take any notes. was there a note-taker when they met. there must have been somebody because -- maybe they didn't need a translator. he spoke pretty good english. >> it was perfect english and it was one-on-one. >> yeah. >> 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 material in those papers that would be fascinating to read not just for my book but for many books. >> yeah. >> bobby kennedy said himself he didn't take notes.
>> now, you believe and you say this at the end of your book that you are 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 there are lessons that can can drawn and analogies from the berlin crisis in 1961 to the current situation in 2011. tell us a little bit about them. >> let me be careful. first of all, one of my lessons is history is complex. [laughter] >> yeah. >> and there are a lot of factors that go into an outcome. that's the reason i interweave these different stories that it's complex. but the second find something american presidents make -- presidents make a big difference with historic inflection points. i do think there's parallels between president obama and president kennedy and i think obama has be careful. we only really knew what the outcome of 1961 was in 1962 with the cuban missile crisis. we have another great year of
history, 2011. i think it will be written as 1961 with the mideast upheavals. will obama's actions in libya, similar to the bay of pigs, didn't want to intervene at first but allowed an intervention to go forward. didn't listen to the people who told him don't intervene at all, has also not listened 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 on how the mideast plays out? so there are parallels, young, relatively inexperienced historical inflection points, first roman catholic president, first african-american president. huge users of media at revolutionary times in the use of media, for kennedy, televisions. for obama, social media. but i think the real thing that 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 the kennedy mystique. caroline kennedy endorsed him. ted kennedy associated himself. i hope he doesn't associate himself with kennedy's poor performance. >> what would you like your readers to take away. what are the main things you would want them to take away from your book? >> in some ways we're lucky in terms of berlin wall when unfree systems are not resisted by free systems. and so we see this. and so 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. it could have lasted forever. >> yep. >> where, you know, would we
would have wanted to go to war? no. would we would have wanted take action to liberate the people so i think i want people to reflect and perhaps start a new debate. >> yeah. >> over whether kennedy could have avoided the berlin wall. i don't know whether i'm right but i think the debate is worth it. >> yeah. and as you say, this is one of the most -- 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. >> thank you, angela. >> 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 booktv.org and click on "after words" in the booktv series and topics list on the upper right side of the page. >> this june on "in depth" the balance between security and liberty. and the limits of international law. your questions for author and university of chicago law professor eric posner, his book includes >> women in hezbollah, that is
one of the most interesting aspects of the society has hezbollah has managed to create. i like to say that the women of hezbollah are really the cornerstone to the movement and are what has turned into something that has such an enduring and resilient bedrock. so each time there's a war, and i mean 1993, 1996, 2006, there's massive amounts of destruction. people's homes are destroyed every time. people's kids get killed. and for it to happen once, anything can happen for instance. for people to be willing with good cheer and high energy to volunteer again and again for this requires something has hezbollah managed to do which is buy in at the level of households at homes. and it's the women in these households who hezbollah has worked really hard to reach and teach and inculcate into their
view, and these women become the bedrock of the ideas and of the willingness to fight for them. so i write about this a fair amount in the book. these mothers, martyrs for example, have a very different flavor or psychological profile than mothers of martyrs, i'm going to god or the west bank. these people i met in lebanon -- they were grieving their dead children. not a single one of them ever said to me, i'm happy my child died in the service of this war. but they did say, i'm proud. i'm proud and i would send another kid to do it. and they work quite assiduously with their surviving children to instill in them a sense of pride of the martyrs in their family. it's the thing that makes -- that makes hezbollah's phalanx
of female who are willing to die such a stable part of the movement that they can count on. and, you know, it's really -- in some ways breathtaking of sophistication of the social network that hezbollah has built up around this idea. so when -- when a young fighter, let's say, dies, becomes a martyr, the party sends psychologists and social workers to the family to work with them, make sure that they deal with their depression, make sure the kids are doing okay and adjusting and succeeding at school. and this is for two reasons. one, is because they care about their members and they want them to be okay. second reason is because they want people in the society in the islamic resistance to see that the families of the martyrs are the ones who thrive the most. so if you have a martyr in the family the martyr's foundation is going to make sure the
surviving kids go to the best schools. they're going to encourage the widow to remarry and usually to someone of high status within the party. often another fighter. and the result is that they build an elite. in the core of the elite are the mothers and the widows of these martyrs who sort of exemplify the most successful manifestation of islamic society and people say, huh, this is the way to climb to the pinnacle of my society is by being willing to give my life this way in. and if i am chosen to die, then my family will be -- will be even more blessed. it's incredibly effective. >> you can watch this and other programs online at booktv.org.