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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  May 23, 2011 12:00am-1:00am EDT

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cannot explain it getting hooked on politics at the ridiculous early age. i date myself but summer of 1952 we only had a radio in my grandfather's cottages into yankee games and one day my mother said we couldn't because the head to listen to the convention convention-- republican convention it was the knockdownñixd drag out by between taft andñi eisenhower and getting up to look at tom dooley and says we followed the before and you took us down the road to defeat. not what you see at a convention these days. i did not know what this was about. they talked about you new
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rule but i knew something cool was going on. because of the same reason rivera should not play third base. [laughter] sewed just say there it is tough enough to talk about. [laughter] i have a couple more books of modicum but they are in this arena. we appreciate you coming. [applause] . .
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>> he discusses this period and the lessons it may lend to current u.s. foreign policy with angela stent, the director of georgetown center of east european studies. ♪ >> host: i'm angela stent, director of the center for east european studies at georgetown university, and it's my great pleasure to introduce to you frederick kempe, author of berlin, 1961. the most dangerous place on earth which is a truly gripping book. frederick kempe is the ceo and president of the atlantic counsel of the united states, a leading washington think tank. for 25 years had a distinguished
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career as a journalist. his las position being the editor of the european "wall street journal," the author of a number of books, and also the book about his own family and germany, and his own thoughts about a unified germany. this is, i think, going to be a very interesting discuss. fred, most people when they look back at the 45 year history of the cold war think the cuban missile crisis when the united states did come to the brink of nuclear war with the soviet union was the most dangerous moment in the war. you think otherwise. why do you describe berlin in 1961 as the most dangerous place on earth? >> guest: plater -- partly it was described that way there, and it was where people were willing to go to war. i think in cuba, the historians think that the backing off was already beginning halfway through that crisis wake, but
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when you have people faced off against each other in berlin, the first and last time there was soviet fighting tanks ready against each other this in that way, you didn't know how it was going to turn out. it was more important for that reason. also, cuba was not the epicenter of the cold war, berlin was. it was the place where the two systems were faced off. the second thing is that the wall in berlin, when it built in august of 1961 really shaped the contours for three decades that came after, and as i argue in the book, it's the berlin wall that led to the cuban missile crisis. >> host: why did you decide to write this book and choose this particular crisis and in particular city to write about? >> guest: angela, as you mentioned and as you know, i cut my teeth as a journalist covering the last two decades of the cold war, and it was
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exciting, but depressing. i saw the people of poland, shipyards in 1980 and there after, fight, risk everything, their lives, their jobs, their families for freedom and for independence. depressing in east germany, most of my relatives were germans living in east germany and they were kind and generous, but they also lived lives of limited treatment, limited travel, limited scope, and i asked myself at that time, this 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 one have ended it earlier? that's a personal side. on a historical side, i think the cold war is the least, the worst recorded and worst recorded of the three world wars, and i think it's world war
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iii that ended the soviet empire and the system and it was the een center for the war in 1961 which was the most decisive year for the cold war, so i wanted to tell the story of that year through its events and characters. >> host: it's certainly a fascinating story. before we get into the details, you have four major characters that dominate the book. 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. 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] first of all, there was the sign of privilege. president john f. kennedy, handsome, brilliant, wanting to be a great historical president like lincoln and roosevelt, but fearful they only became that through war, and in that age,
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nuclear war. against him, 43 years old, 67-year-old son of peasants, ill lat rat until his 20s, tough, formed through war, survived world war ii, but very insecure, and resentful of american millionaires, and then other characters you talked about, the west conrad leader at 85 years old, a great hero of history, founded west germany, brought germany back from the ashes of world war ii, and walter, the last standing stalinist. both of them distrusted their powerful opposites. conrad distrusted kennedy. thought he was not experienced enough, didn't have enough backbone to handle the soviets, and walter distrusted crus chef and that's about overcoaxing and
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leveraging weakness into forcing kruschev to build the wall. it's a great cast of characters that hollywood couldn't give me. >> host: there's interesting minor characters in the book. they didn't play a major role, but prevoktive in the attention -- prevoktive of the drama in the war through the end. you have fascinating people there. can you tell us more about the my characters? >> guest: yes, my favorite minor character who ended up being a major character and it's recorded in my book, and that's the spy, a military intelligence agent and he is boisterous, hard drinking, hard living, and then
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the -- he becomes the conduit between kennedy and kruschev. it's interesting and they approve it and that's the most interesting of the minor characters. the vignettes i added because i wanted berlin to be a rich of a character as the four protagonists and you do that through the people of berlin. i had everyone from the universe of that year who was an east german refugee to a farmer who tried to escape and was resisting the collecting of farms in east germany, tried to escape to the west, was caught, imprisoned, and i tell his story about the resistance of east germany, and more stories throughout that try to bring home the color of the rich story. >> host: yes, and they certainly do. now, one of the things i think leaps from your book 1 the
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confirmation of the old add damage that all politics are local. we think of them as the protagonists on a world stage and global struggle, but they are domestic pressure, advisers telling them different things and sujts to pressures from their own allies. conrad was weary of kennedy and others looked down on the soviet leader, so if you could tell us a little bit about the domestic context before we get to the great drama of that year and then president kennedy came into office. what was the different sets of advice on dealing with the soviet soviet union? >> host: let's start with kruschev and then kennedy. foreign politics drives domestic
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politics. look at president obama today and others before him. never consolidated his power and defeated a party, and then there was a u2 crisis in may 1960 where the soviets shot daven -- down a u.s. spy plane. that was showing that we are naive. he was facing stalin's rem -- remnants in his own party, and walter, the german leader, and his leverage grew with the amount of rev few gees flowing out of the country because the greater the danger of east germany imploding, the greater the danger to do something. it was a danger to his own political standing, and then the chinese. the chinese were rising. they were trying to oppose at
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that time and they thought he was not the representative of world communism, so these three things were against him and he was looking at an october party congress. we think that's not democratic, what does he have to worry about? he had seen other soviet leaders lose their job at such conferences. everything for him was pointed at the october party congress and holding on to power. >> host: i think you point out that after stalin's death no soviet leader was secure in his position. they had to worry about the people and there was a lot of politics going on in the soviet union. it's not going on the same way as it was in the united states for people who think it's a mon littic structure will wrong. tell us about president kennedy and the conflicting kind of advice he was getting and both within the united states and then also in his dealings with the federal public of germany,
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west germany. >> host: i'm sorry i raced ahead, but i find that story fascinating. >> host: yeah. >> guest: kennedymented to be a great -- kennedy wanted to be a great president, but didn't know if it would be through piece or conflict with the soviet union. he's ambiguous about that in the beginning. he calls dean afterrenson, secretary of state of truman out of retirement. he wants to protect the right flank. he was a hawk towards the soviet leader and the people running the desk were hawks, have to be tough and stand up to him. on the other side were author and the extent to the russian 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,
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both were dominant, and the reason was kennedy barely won and was more hawkish in the campaign than richard nixon. 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 that kruschev made. tell us about that and why did he choose that interpretation of the speech? >> 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 thinking about it is that kennedy's first year in office was one the worst foreign policy performances of any modern presidency in his first year, and it started with
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this misreading. he comes into office trying to figure out who are the soviets, how will i deal with them? kruschev releases captured u.s. pilots, reduces censorships, prints the entire inaugural. >> host: the american inaugural. >> guest: right. the great colorful words of president kennedy. he was trying to send a message, look, we want to work with you. i think it was genuine, but kennedy got a text of a speech delivered on january 9, and it was tough rhetoric. it was escalating the war, and it was a speech to propaganda. kennedy saw this as a sign.
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he totally changes his tone towards the soviet union and turns it into a hawkish direction. he sees that, pulls back on the gestures, and can't afford to expose his own stank and turns tougher as well. at that point, we missed a key opportunity when the two of them might have been anal to find a bet -- able to find a better way forward. >> host: it shows trying to figure out what was happening in the soviet union and interpret the words, and in the end, you had to rely on instincts. the most dray maltic -- dramatic part of your gripping book is a discussion of the vienna summit, the first time this newly elected, young hand smit american president met with this veteran soviet leader who came from a peasant background. tell us a little bit about --
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how the talking began, how they continued, and why you believe that kennedy did so badly in this very crucial first encounter in vienna. >> guest: first, two words what got us there. you're right, it was rich theater in the time. it was the first television age, and the wall street journalist wrote as it about two boxers coming in the ring, and "new york times" went back to the 146 years earlier, and the drama was drieght. khrushchev refused to go. he saw weakness, indecisiveness and saw he could expose himself in the summit.
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kennedy, at the same time, put the first man in space, so he had momentum. kennedy went there to repair the foreign poly reputation after the bay of pigs. there they are. first day, kennedy gets into an ideological argument about the virtues of communism and virtues of freedom and capitalism, and he gets totally, totally overwhelmed by khrushchev. the advisers said don't go there our talk about it. second thing, discussion of berlin, he's not prepared for it. he thought he'd reached a presummit agreement that nothing would be negotiated, and khrushchev lays down a threat of war and an ultimate may tum saying the status had to be changed or he would change it unilaterally. kennedy was totally unprepared. kennedy knows he's done badly, and at the end he goes to scotty of the "new york times" and says
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worst day of my life, worst performance of my life. he savaged me. he knew he appeared weak to khrushchev, and khrushchev thought he was weak, and so it was a terrible, terrible performance. >> host: how did it go on from there? >> guest: oh, one other thing about the vienna summit, the other thing i focus on is everyone's written about kennedy's womanizing, kennedy's health issues. >> host: right. >> guest: i think the vienna summit played a role. he had tremendously great pain, and we know that from the doctor. he was in enormous pain. on the trip, he had someone called dr. feel good, the doctor to celebrities, and he was shooting him up with a mixture of enzymes and steroids to keep
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him alert, to keep him from depression, but if you look at the side effects of these things, it's mood swings, the side effects are nervousness and anxiety. you know, he did show mood swings at the end of the summit. he showed nervous and anxiety. these are national security issues. we'll never know how it affected him. the peasant might have been in healthier shape than the 43-year-old hand smit american. >> host: i can interject. nowadays, we have the right to know as much as possible of the health and lives of our presidents, and if people had realized this was going on, i mean, there was so much that completely hidden from the public eye, and yet it had world, you know, history consequences, and it really led to a show down there. >> guest: partly it was hidden
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by the public eye and partly reporters knew some of this, but didn't report it. >> host: a different code. how did the summit end? it was quite a long summit; right? >> guest: it was a long summit. kennedy returns to the u.s. knowing he's in trouble. gives a speech, increases defense spending, and there's a great debate in his administration between achenson and then harry kissinger comes in as well as a young consultant at that point, and there's a real argument about how hard of a line to take, how are we going to respond and overcome this image of weakness? at the same time while they are trying to decide how to respond to the ultimatum, khrushchev moving things ahead and approved
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after the summit walter's plan for a border closeture and -- closure and puts it on fast forward. i think as a result of the vienna summit, khrushchev thinks he can go forward. one of the strongest findings in the book, kennedy helped write the script for the berlin wall. i'm not sure that's been said quite that strongly. the messages he sent in vienna and afterwords to khrushchev, if you don't touch west berlin's freedom, you can do what you want to do in your own territory, and that's what he did when he put up the wall or approved the border closure and the berlin wall. it was all within east berlin territory. >> host: we are steeped in the issues of the german problem, but maybe explain what were the issues at stake in 1961? i mean, you had the two german states founded in 1949, and
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the -- nobody in the west recognized the gdr of east germany, had it little legitimacy, dependent on the soviet union for existence. why was there a crisis in east germany in 1961 and why did they take action? spell that out a little bit. >> guest: what happened was though the border had been cut you have between east and west germany and so there was a no man's land, 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 ideologies, the dividing line of the cold war, but there's 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 and jobs
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galore. the worst situation got in east germany because people came to take those jobs, and so you have a flood of refugees, but not just refugees, but the best and brighter of east germany, the western most outpost of the soviet block and the place that 20 million soviets, russians had died to end world war ii, so lots and lots at stake. the more of refugees came out, the greater the danger of implosion of east germany, and so you really had a situation why khrushchev had to stop this bleed or his entire soviet block might have been een dangered, and let's not forget, 30 years later it was a flood of refugees that started the collapse of the soviet union and fall of the berlin wall. >> host: of course in 1958,
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khrushchev threw down the gauntlet and wanted a solution then saying he wanted west berlin to be an independent free city and turn over control to the east germans, and they started collecting agriculture in east germany, and people didn't want that and fled and you could go to the station in east berlin, get on a train, and go into west berlin and nobody could really do anything. >> guest: 50,000 residents of east berlin worked in west berlin. >> host: 2,000 a day were fleeing. describe to us the day in 1961, and when you do that, say a little bit about were the soviets within their rights to do this because there was complicated ally control and
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were they within their rights or really defying the legally agreed norms for the four power occupation of both parts of berlin? >> guest: i'll answer first, then the description. they were not. they were not because east german forces had no right to be in east berlin doing the things they were doing, so if kennedy -- >> host: because it was under full ally control? >> guest: right. there was one argument that was right of access, and so it was a violation of that. if the president of the united states had wanted to make it so, and then there was another which was the activities of east german soldiers which was also a violation if the president of the united states wanted to make it so. that's the point. he didn't want to. he actually thought -- he actually thought by helping chf get out of this problem, he could reduce tension between the u.s. and soviet union and
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therefore have more fruitful negotiations on things he cared on more than -- >> host: which was? >> nuclear arm bans. >> host: you point that out. >> guest: there was a situation in cambodia and nervous about this global situation, and by fixing berlin he thought he could make a more pliable khrushchev. up deed he didn't because what happened was khrushchev read the weakness, and then there was the cuban missile crisis. 3.2 million people, imagine that, the idea of drawing a line and putting up a wall and barbed wire and closing off that city, there were cia agents, military intelligence agent getting noise about it, but they didn't think it was feasible. they didn't take it as seriously
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as they should have. i went deeply into the documents, and what fascinated me the most in the first of the two chapters of the question was the methodical blue prints for, you know, concrete pillars, tons of barbed wire, you know, sawhorses, you know, one man per ever -- on the night, one soldier for every meter. >> host: where did they get the equipment from? the barbed wire and concrete from? >> guest: a lot was local, but the barbed wire came from great britain and west germany. they had amounts of it, and nobody asked questions, and so some people say, you know, of the period we're saying this reads like the building of concentration camps in its specificity and methodical laying out, and then the
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executions was so fast, so complete and perfect, they didn't have any backlash that they had feared from their own citizens, and there was no response from u.s. allies or military. >> host: now, one of the characters we have not mentioned was from west berlin and became the chancellor of the federal republic and inaugurated a policy. what was his response to this? after these and were literally as you described in your book, streets were divided, and how did that affect his view of the united states and what was his
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attitude towards this? >> guest: he was livid, and he wrote a letter saying as much to john f. kennedy which upset president kennedy enormously because running for chancellor and kennedy saw this as initially as a stunt for his election campaign, but then saw how outramminged west berliners were and how much this endangered the press stege and creditability of the united states at which time he sent troop reenforcements, vice president japson, and -- johnson, and the hero of the berlin air lift, to reensure berliners he would still defend berlin. the fear was west berlin would just leave and then the east germany would win the city by default. kennedy had to respond to that, but billy saw that families were
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separated, lovers were separated. you know, working people were separated. students were separated from their schools, workers separated from workplaces. a dramatic place in history. >> host: people woke up and there was the barbed wire and the concrete wall, but just, if you could mention some of the very dramatic and sad stories of people who still tried to get out, and how the rules changed for the east german border guards on what they were told to do. >> guest: the story, you're right, it was very dramatic, but particularly dramatic for a tailor that i write about. he was a tailor to the stars of west berlin, the people in the theaters, and west berlin was a glittery and still is a glittery place. he suddenly can't go back, and he's desperate to go back because he has no wife in east germany, he's going to be put on
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a construction crew, not trusted anywhere in east germany, and at that point people were swimming canals and people were making it. he was not a good swimmer and had heart problems, but decided to swim the canal on the day that east germman border guards gave shoot. he was shot and killed while swimming in the canal and that was the first fatality of the post wall period, and the wall didn't go up overnight. it's a misunderstanding. it was barbed wire, barriers, and guards. for 48 hours, they watched. there was none. it was after that that the more permanent barriers went up, and in stages they got more sophisticated over time. >> host: i want to come back to that in a minute, but you describe another dramatic incident that you argue was more
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dangerous than the night the wall went up. could you discuss that with us? >> guest: when general clay came back -- >> host: say something about general clay. >> guest: 1948 berlin air lift, the soviets impose a blockade of west berlin in their first effort to choke it. general clay, without the approval of president truman, starts an air lift of supplies. it's so popular and successful he gets the support and comets more than 300 days later. stalin backs off, soviets back off, and regime clay becomes a -- general clay becomes a hero for saving the city. kennedy sends him back. clay, however, doesn't realize he was really intended to be more of a pr mechanism, and so he actually wants to start
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pushing back and regaining the power rights that were taken away with the blessing of many of the superiors. the east germans start controlling identity cards at the border which they are technically allowed to do, and so clay sees through an american diplomat with the military escort and runs people through, and he supports them with tanks. over time, khrushchev decides he can't put up with this and brings up soviet tanks. it becomes a game of chicken. who will blink first. any nervous trig l finger could have started world war world iii. it was not investigated. i try to tell the story in more detail than told before. one the great mysteries i think of the history of the period
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where the soviet tanks stand down first and back off, everyone thinks kennedy has been a here row, but all he's really done is said i'm going to back off from my insistence on the power rights and withdraw. khrushchev withdraws his tanks first. kennedy withdraws later, but kennedy is the one who actually retreated on the principle. >> host: yeah. so now we come to the important point. your book really challenges of 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 assistance to the hundred garrian freedom fighters when the soviet troops invaded even though they promised to, and the united states accepted the division of europe even though it didn't say so publicly because it was, and you point it
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out in the book, they viewed as a way to stabilize the situation in europe and move on to other things. you, i think, feel very strongly that something differently could have been done. again, challenging the convention name wisdom that had the united states taken a more aggressive attitude towards or tried to prevent the construction of the war, it could have, the situation could have escalated to, you know, a hot war, to a confrontation, even possibly a nuclear confrontation, and 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's 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: east german leader wanted a border closure since 1952. you have to ask why he got it in 1961.
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he got it because khrushchev had a high degree of confidence that president kennedy would not respond, and he had the high degree of confidence because kennedy more or less laid out the guardrails within which he could accept soviet behavior. as long as you don't touch west berlin freedom and access. he took away any question of whether he would respond to something taking place in east berlin air lip. number two, khrushchev had his october party congress and could not risk a failure in east berlin and endangered him at the october party 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 he had to have some real
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confidence he wouldn't be facing a failure in the october party congress. i believe kennedy kept him guessing and not sent such a clear message saying i will not tolerate any change in the 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? soviet block would have ended earlier? history doesn't reveal its alternatives, however, there's no doubt that an east german continued implosion would have had impact throughout the soviet world. we've seen two different times, 1948 berlin air lift where the u.s. stood up and the soviets backed down. 1956 in hungary, the u.s. troops did not. there were no troops in budapest. i don't think khrushchev would have taken a risk.
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in the first 48 hours, he watched for the u.s. response. it's my view kennedy could have prevented the wall. >> host: you point out in the book and i think people will believe this now that, you know, we had some advanced knowledge this might happen, but let me come back to the night of the 12th and 1th of august. when they started putting the barbed wire up, was there something then? of course there were u.s., french, and british toons in berlin. was there something they could have done and physically prevent the east germans who, as you say, didn't have a legal right to do this from constructing the wall, or maybe the next morning if they tried to cut it down? >> guest: i don't have the answer to that. i think the time to stop it was the vienna summit and also the bay of pigs where khrushchev said, you know, in 1956 in
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hungary i had a threat and how i handled it and the bay of pigs you show up decision. vienna was the time to stop it. general clay with open passage points to east berlin. the soviets were very careful to keep open passing points because not to do that would have violated full power right. you could still go through the passage points. general clay wanted to send tanks with bulldozers mounted through the open passage points and come back and remove the barriers with the shovels on the tanks. he felt strongly if one did that in the first 48 hours #, the soviets would not have gone further. that was his point of view. i don't have my opinion on that one. >> host: now we come to a paradox. history judged kennedy better than khrushchev. in general, in this country, in
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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, in the united states and particularly in russia is viewed as a e raddic schemer, and what we remember of president kennedy is standing up in berlin in 1963 and described it very well which meant he was a donut, but i wanted to say i'm a berlin air lipper, and -- berliner, but khrushchev banging his shoe and being unpredictable. why do you think history judged the men in a way you believe is not fair? >> guest: i recount the language discussion about why he said that, and language makes
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the stress right. he said it right. he was not saying it was a jelly donut. >> host: it's in the book, yeah. [laughter] >> guest: here's where i think -- there is a lot 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 the first year of any mod earn presidency. if you look at the misreading of the khrushchev's speech, bay of pigs, he could have either not intervened at all or intervened decisively. khrushchev talks to his son about the weakness showed, and then the vienna summit, then the berlin wall, and it's not just me saying this. kennedy says this. when he was asked by the detroit news when wanting to write book
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about his first year, kennedy says why would anyone want to read a book about an administration that has nothing to show for itself other than a string of disasters? he's condemning himself. he does go through a migration and stands up at the cuban missile crisis a year later, by my argument is he never would have had to bring the world at the brink of nuclear war if he showed strength and decisiveness over berlin and the bay of pigs, and then, of course, he then gets the buck, 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 overwhelming by the admiration of the berlin air lippers, -- berliners and rewrites his speech on the way there, and he
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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 the berlin wall. >> host: maybe say more about the cuban missile crisis and related to khrushchev's perception of kennedy. in the berlin crisis of 1961 and also why khrushchev, of course, in the end changed his policy; right? he never really signed this treaty that gave it full control over berlin. >> guest: the soviets were always a little bit whysful about west germany and realize that was the better set of allies to have without ever accepting their own ability why east germany was not working,
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the reparations, the economic system they imposed, ect., ect.. khrushchev thought that, you know, we had nuclear weapons within reach of the soviet union. they were put in turkey and 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 through -- and he talks about this. he talked through his experience this berlin that kennedy would not respond, just huff and puff and not do anything, and everything would be in place by the time kennedy would respond, and by then it would be too late. he was acting, he thought, in a
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fashion where previous experience would say that, you know, i'm unrelatively safe ground trying this at this point. >> host: 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 was some broader solution to the german question which he felt was still not resolved, so i think it's very important to note even though they built the war, imprisoned the east german population and solved that issue, but not the border question of what was going to happen to germany and the fact east germany did not have great legitimacy. another interesting thing is you say khrushchev believed the west germans would have been better allies. in 1964 under a lot of pressure, when kennedy was gone, he planned a trip to west germany and sent his son whom you discussed for preliminary conversations and about to make a trip to west germany, first by
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a soviet leader since the end of world war ii or first ever, and he possibly would have made a deal, and then he was overthrown before he could leave. in fact, a west german germing was attacked in a mustard gas attack by the kgb anyway. it's interesting that the end of the story that he himself realized he couldn't solve the problem the way he tried to with the construction of the wall, 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 the prize because of history, and president kennedy, and the epilogue goes into this in some detail. >> host: yeah. >> guest: president kennedy as the cuban missile crisis unfolds talks about how this is really ultimately about berlin and the soviets are not going to shed
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light over cuba, but they just might over berlin. one was very watchful while responding to what would happen in berlin, and you're right, they asked a lot of questions about history. had we not responded in 1948 and berlin disappeared at that point as a free island, would we have had germanupification as -- unification as we had it and part of the free world? i don't know. how things happened over cuba. if the missiles had been planted and was danger and khrushchev was 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. >> host: completely different. before we move to maybe some more current issues, what were the main sources you used for this book? what's new in this book because
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other books have been written on the subject. >> guest: yeah. i used russian, german, u.s. archives. i found a lot of new documents and a number of declassified documents that had not been looked at our used by authors. 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 when the tanks showed up. we were essentially saying that the soviets in east berlin like elsewhere in their -- he is saying no president or secretary
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of state had ever said it quite that bluntly before. those are the documents, and there's a document where general clay is threatens resignation because kennedy is not backing him up enough. there's new documents of this sprinkled here and there. the one thing that i think ended the think show down was a secret negotiation between bobby kennedy. the sad thing about this is all we have is bobby's oral history saying he helped diffuse the crisissing but we don't know how . >> host: you believe he didn't take notes? was there a note taker when they met? there must have been somebody. did they need a translator? >> guest: they had perfect epg lish and it was one-on-one. one thing not released is robert
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kennedy's papers. they are still held by the family. there's all sorts of material that would be fascinating to read for many books. bobby kennedy said himself he didn't take notes. we won't know until the papers are released. >> host: you believe and say this at the end of the book you 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's lessons that can be 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, the lesson is history is complex, and there are a lot of factors that go into an outcome. that's the reason i interweave the four stories and look at things from all perspectives. complex. the second finding is american presidents make a big difference
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. i think obama has to 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 like 1961 with the middle east upheavals. will president obama's reaction didn't want to intervene at first, didn't listen to the people who said don't interveep at all, has also listened to the people who said intervene with purpose. the question then, i don't have the answer to this, is how will this be read by the rivals, adversaries, and our friends? what impact does this have on how the middle east plays out? there are parallels, young, relatively inexperienced, first roman catholic president, first
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african-american presidents and use of media for kennedy it was television, for obama, social media, but i think the real thing that i take away from this is there are huge global consequences from american decision and also indecision so, you know, obama has associated himself with kennedy mystique. i hope he doesn't associate himself too much with the kennedy's performance in 1961. >> host: okay. in the last few minutes, what do you want your readers to take away and the main things to take from reading your book? >> guest: in some ways we're lucky with the cold war because we had an iconic symbol, the berlin wall of what happens 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
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are consequences for presidential decision. this one tfsz 30 years of extended cold war, and president kennedy could not have nope it was going to end 30 years later. it could have lasted forever where would we have wanted to go to war? no, but would wop want to take action that liberated tens of millions of east europeans? so i think i want people to reflect and perhaps start a new debate over whether kennedy could have avoided the berlin wall. i don't know if i'm right, but it's worth debating. >> host: it's less written about the cold war in general has been written about, but the other two major wars and 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
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dangerous place on earth," and i thank you very much for this conversation. >> guest: thank you, angela. >> that was "after words" booktv's signature program where authors are interviewed by journalists public policymakers and others familiar with their material. it airs on 10 p.m. on saturday, 12 and 9 p.m. on sunday, and 12 a.m. on month. you can watch online at and click on the topics list on the upper right side of the page. [inaudible conversations] >> captain sully is the author of "highest duty," captain, what is the highest duty? >> to do the best we can to take care of each other.
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passengers are my first responsibility. the book is more than the hudson river landing and more about my life and the preparation for it. i had to have an insightful survey of my life and the important people with me that day to help me think about the lifetime of experiences along with my crew, and so i think finding one's passion early in life, being dill gent and willing to work hard to become experts at it leads to a purposeful life full of passion, and i think that's what helped me more than anything else, that day on the river. >> so what led you to writing the book? was it the landing in the hudson river? >> absolutely, that was a big part of it. i think the book was already in me, my life story, but that was the imptous story that needed to be told, and i needed to make sure i could tell it through my eyes. >> well, you know, half of the world has seen the video of that
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landing and everybody exiting the plane at this point. what was your thought on impact? >> well, i'll tell you a quick story about what happened immediately after the landing. you see, my first officer that day and i had never landed an air liner in a river before, so we didn't know what to expect, and i didn't know how successful i would be in making the touch down, you know, gentle enough to keep the plap in tact. i was confident i could, but i can't know how hard it would be because we had no thrust. after we landed, stopped in the water, right before i opened the cockpit door and evacuated, the first officer and i turned to each other in the most amazing coi understand dense saying well, that's not as bad as i thought. that was the first reaction. >> what do airlines look for in airline pilots that they seem to have this calmness? >> well, what we exhibited that
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day and forced on ourselves was a practiced calm that professionals learn. it's not a calm, but having this discipline to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand even though your body's normal human reaction is to respond with a spike in blood pressure and pulse and narrowing of the intense sudden life threatening stress. we did our jobs to spite it. >> in your view now as a retired u.s. air captain, is the airline industry secure in the united states? >> you mean in terms of our security from threats? >> in any way. >> or financially? >> no, more of threats and more of air traffic, you know, ect.. >> well, i think that we're working very hard to manage all the risks both in terms of the safety of the system and air traffic control and also in materials of our security, but
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there's always more to be done, and we're always trying to find new ways to learn from experiences and do it better in the future. that's what i'm trying to do now is keep being an advocate for the highest professional standard in my profession. >> how are you doing that? >> by speaking out. the events of last year gave me a chance to have a greater voice for things i cared about all my life. first officer is also doing that, and in terms of trying to do our best to fix the system, we are not done yet. >> sully, highest duty is name of his book. thank you, sir. >> thank you very much. good to be with you. >> next, edmund hall, former ambassador to yes , yemen talks about efforts in that country. this originally aired live on


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