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tv   Richard Aldous Schlesinger  CSPAN  December 9, 2017 4:03pm-5:41pm EST

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to [inaudible conversations] >> good questions. >> book tv is on twitter and facebook and we want to hear from you. tweet us tv or post a comment on our facebook page. [applause] >> good evening. i am warren finch, on behalf of
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library foundation colleagues, i thank you for coming this evening. and i would like to extend a warm welcome to those who are joining us online as well. i would also like to acknowledge the support of our underwriters for the kennedy library forums, the lead sponsor bank of america, the institute, boston globe, infinity, our bookstore has copies of his books available for purchase. this year marks the centennial of john f kennedy's birth as we honor life and legacy during ken ential -- centennial year and we could not be pleased to honor tonight. i'm honored to introduce today's
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participants in tonight's program. professor of history at bart college and author and editor of 11 books including mcmilan, eisenhower and the cold war and reagan and thatcher, the difficult relationship. i am also deliberated to introduce moderator, public service at new york university, award winning author, presidential historian and director of museum. please join me in welcoming richard and tim. >> thank you, and thank all of you. richard, you've written a
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wonderful book which we all have the opportunity of purposing and take it, why did you decide to write about arthur schlesinger. >> first of all, grateful for the invitation and wonderful to be interviewed by such a fine kennedy historian. i think the answer to that question actually in some ways maybe the answer lies in my childhood that one of the first historians, proper historians that i read and i can still see the gold spine of the birth edition issue of a thousand days on my father's book shelf and i hadn't realized recently when i look back the first newspaper that i wrote quoteed sclesinger
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and for me most recently he's the epitome of the historian and the action of intellectual, public intellectual and i was fascinated by the way in which he diversed those two different worlds excelling in both but also controversial in both. >> what were the surprises for you as you did your research? >> i think in some ways the first surprise was as historian that this is a man who kept everything, he knew what a historian, biographer, people like us could do with this material but i'm fairly sure looking through the papers that he doesn't destroy and leave material there, very personal things in archives that he's kept, one of slightly disconcerning things, very often
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because he wrote memoirs, you can actually see him having read the -- that me as biographer are reading too. i think the real surprise, in some ways the best quality of arthur schlsinger he's the same in public as in public. there's a kind of integrity about him that he does say what he believes and very often speaks to power too. >> we are at the kennedy library and tell us how arthur
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schlesinger's relationship with kennedy? >> a fascinating relationship, both born in 1917, yet, in a curious kind of way they almost don't seem like contemporaries and in many way they actually weren't but because schlesinger, although he was at harvard he wasn't in the same year as john f kennedy, he was in the same year as kennedy's older brother and, you know, i think that that relationship always has curious quality of both being insider but not part of the kennedy circle and ultimately i think the thing that brings them together is not some of the usual things throwing a football and so on and it is actually the relationship as a historian that
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kennedy loved history, thought of himself as the historian and so where they really bonded was over history. >> we are going talk a bit about this i hope over the course of our conversation and during the q&a to what extent do you think president kennedy was comfortable sharing his thinking with arthur schlesinger, i think that's an interesting question. i think he's comfortable in company of schlesinger, inside the white house would quite often drop by at the end of the day, kennedy would beck him in the oval and invite them to join most conversations and he quite often like illuminating about what was this like in the days
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of grover cleveland. but you know as well as i do, tim, that kennedy was interesting in that he was never really close to anyone, robert downing makes his point about the kennedy court that he uses people useful and enjoys people's company but even the characters like dave powers, they are not really -- nobody really gets close to him and this is something that i've come to realize over a number of presidents that i've looked at and worked on, reagan was very similar that almost a characteristic of those who served with distinction in the oval office and there's actually something unoval about them. >> you make very good use about the entirety of arthur's diaries, there's an edited version, but it actually -- a lot of the most interesting
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materials are not in the edited published version, to what extent do you think arthur schlesinger understood of kennedy, to what extent does he believe he understood the president? >> i think that in some ways as he say he understands the elusive quality as well and actually one of the things that he faces once he starts writing a thousand days is how to reconcile his own relationship with kennedy, let's not forget that in -- in 1959 and 1960 he was unsure about kennedy, ultimately, he thinks, well, stevenson who he is close to probably doesn't deserve another shot but he kind of flirts with the idea that maybe stevenson should have another go. he's not part of the inner circle and one of the reasons
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why and what he has to confront after kennedy's assassination is that in his heart of hearts he knows that kennedy is not a liberal in the sense that he understands it, that kennedy in many ways is a conservative president with a small say and so part of the intellectual job that he does for kennedy is almost reconfiguring him as a moral, progressive figure, trying to reconcile him not being a liberal with his conservative instincts and recasting him as a progressive kind of a president. >> let's step back for a moment because this might be surprising to some of the people listening. how would arthur have described liberal? what did it mean to be a liberal in arthur's era? >> in some ways that's kind of an interesting question and difficult question to answer because schlesinger is passing
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what it means to be a liberal but in particular he has this kind of fence of politics as an educational process. he likes the educational presidents most particularly roosevelt who sees politics as a way of identifying things which are in for public good, not just efficient things that can be improved and that's one of the things that he has to deal with kennedy and then kennedy is more of an efficient president than schlesinger would have liked. >> why don't we lay out for people, what kind of decisions would fit in this category? >> for example, when kennedy deals with question of civil rights it's not something that he comes into saying burning
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desire to -- to address an injustice, instead it's when he sees, for example, the examples of birmingham and he recognizes that within kind of a democratic society he is an -- this is an ill that needs to be addressed. yes, it's wrong but he comes to that realization not necessarily through a kind of as i say a burning desire to correct something or a burning kind of inner belief, it's because it's inefficient within society and that's why he moves incrementally on it. >> are you saying that for arthur schlesinger a liberal had to be passionate? >> i think you're right. a sense that as i say politics is about more than efficiency, that it's about this kind of sense of looking at society, kind of understanding how you
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fit within this progressive or k that runs through -- through characters like andrew jackson and president roosevelt, fdr, and then stevenson or interestingly when he was working for stevenson in the 1950's he had many of the same reservations about stevenson's liberalism. >> would you say that arthur schlesinger had ability of america, that it was always getting better? >> absolutely. a notion to schlesinger, very much something that he gets from his father, arthur schlesinger, is somebody who develops the kind of notion of progressive
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kind of history, somebody who looks history to the idea of cycles, that america is going to go through this progressive and conservative cycle and that's something that subsequently writes book about. >> what does he think the role of the individual is in creating a more perfect america? >> well, certainly for himself this is one of the reasons why historians should participate in that process, it's not enough for arthur schlesinger to be writing book, historians has to apply in direct way by participating, so even in his own individual case, yes, he does believe in the individual and then you look at his books, i mean, the age of roosevelt, the age of jackson, very much looking at the role of the individual but also just think of the title of those books u
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there's a kind of a sense of a generation grappling with these kinds of problems and a generation as a cohort moving forward too. >> before he writes because he'll have this crisis of confidence about this when he writes imperial presidency, but one world is president's life before the 70's in achieving sort of these ages -- >> you could make an argument and in fact, i do invoke that actually almost its entire frame of reference is governed by one individual and one president and, of course, that's fdr, the age of jackson in many ways is a book about roosevelt as much as it is one about the 19th century and the age of roosevelt itself is trying to take those lessons and to apply them in the
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specific contacts to stevenson and to kennedy but, yeah, he believes that the -- to use a churchillia, in the president is the person who sets the weather, the person who can -- who sets the tone for policy but also one of the lesson that is he learns from roosevelt is that it's not enough simply to be the weather-maker, that roosevelt takes his experience from first world war when he was assistant secretary for the navy and he understands that you have to -- a president has to dig right down his administration, has to follow decisions through, has to not just talk to somebody from the state department about state department issue, you might have someone from agriculture and you'll ask him about matter that you're constantly driving your agenda by making sure that at
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every level of government is something that's being understood. >> now, this book is also about people as well as ideas and one of those people, of course, is arthur. why don't you share because the book has a number of examples, arthur struggles, we think of him, those who knew him and those who read about imas a success, a man who enjoyed success after success but in your book it's clear that wasn't the case, nor did he see his life that way. tell us a bit about that very human side of arthur? >> i mean, it's actually, it's one of the things that he aligns in his own memoirs that he does tend to smooth over the struggles which he would have and on one level, it was a very smooth life, pulitzer prize in 20's, harvard and special assistant to the president, now
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-- another pulitzer prize, he has another record of success that he's envyiable and a very nice public school during very nicely when he's a boy but his parents are very ambitious and they shift him up two years and he goes from being somebody who plays baseball and sports and is kind of one a normal boy to being a little squirt. he talks about that's the age where he start wearing glasses and he's smaller and not very supporty -- sporty and he struggles at schools. his parents pull him out to another school and send him out to félix where he struggle not just because of his size and age but because he's surrounded by people who are much, much wealthier than him.
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again, he finds it very, very difficult. he's unable to really make close friendships. he makes energies to a large degree persecute him while he's there. the one thing that always pulled him back, the constant in his life, something local is here in harvard so that when he's at school he realizes that the person that he wants to become is his father, a harvard professor so much so that he changes his name to arthur schlesinger, jr. like his father. least able to pull at various times contacts to provide favors to smooth things over for him. even the way in which arthur
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senior is able to maneuver things to get -- to make sure that he gets his fellowship at the society of fellows and the offer from harvard is forthcoming even on the prizes, his father is influential, there's a sense both outsider and insider and ultimately the harvard connection even with jfk, the harvard connection is something which is kind of a -- kind of an unmoving part of his life, very often rescues him. >> think someone coming to your book that hasn't spent a lot of time at the library might be surprised at how arthur schlesinger was not in the inner circle of the kennedy administration and from your book i get the sense that he was frustrated by that. >> he was frustrated on one
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level because i think that once he goes to the white house he doesn't feel that he's over to influence events as much as he would want to so there's a kind of a sense of frustration that is personal but in some ways that frustration is born of realizing that as a special assistant without special responsibility, for example, one stage that perhaps he'll become the national security adviser, that's something that would have had real kind of authority and the staff that went with it but he's a gag fly and so on days that kennedy wants to see him or he's amused by him or is taking him seriously he can have an impact but other times you're right, he feels frustrated because he doesn't -- he's not able to make that kind of influence, have that kind of influence with the president. >> on occasion he has had impact. let's talk about those occasion where is he does have an impact
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on policy. >> yeah, i think that in many ways it's a learning curve for him because events that you've written about and demonstrate this, during the debate of pigs he's right about the bay of pigs, he's one of the few in the lead up to the bay of pig that is say that you shouldn't do this, first of all, he doesn't -- he doesn't say this face to face to kennedy and then he curses himself and goes back to his office and writes a memo saying to the president quite clearly don't do this and then he tells kennedy this, he then goes to see dean and eventually bobby kennedy says, enough, stop, and so at that point he has to do that. the lesson he learns from that it's not enough to be right, you have to be heard and so on the things covered in one hell of a gamble, berlin, he's able to be
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heard and have influence that he -- that someone like dean is taking a very hawkish line on this, schlesinger says you have to learn the lesson of the bay of pigs and you to widen your circle and get all kinds of opinions so, for example, brings henry kissinger and writes a series of memos to kennedy making clear what his policy should be and he's able to be heard and he influences kennedy and you could -- you could make an argument, it's a stretch but you could make an argument that in doing that he establishes the way in which kennedy then deals with the cuban missile crisis. so schlesinger is on the outside way, the way kennedy dealt with berlin using schlesinger's model
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has ramifications. italy is a good example of one of his major frustrations, the state department and in a thousand days it's one of the few things that he does where he stabs at somebody dean, slice and dice in that book, but you're right, he believes in something called -- he's written in the 1940's about divide for center, non-communist left, italy, something called the opening to the left, he wants kennedy to encourage a broad coalition initially that -- that takes in the noncommunist left and pushes the communists out in italy. so, yeah, that's a good example of something that he takes an interest in and he pursues in this gag fly kind of a way. >> in a sense, it's really a
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follow onto vital center. >> exactly. >> not being afraid of social democrats that they are anticommunists as conservatives. >> you know, that in a way is all part of the context of the younger schlesinger, he grew up in 1930's, to some extent he has world view that sees the rise of fascism and naziism on one side and stalin on the other side and roosevelt of democracy as beacon. by the time you get into the 40's, seen penetration by people like morris who he worked, soviet agent, he recognizes that you have to find a way for the non-communist left and the nonfascist right to work
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together in a way that excludes extremes. it's one of the reasons that there's been a lot more interest in that book, the vital center recently because there's a sense in which it resinates because it speaks so strongly about the democratic projects. >> when you get the sense of arthur's white house, arthur's thousand days, you tell stories that most people wouldn't know about theodore, ted strain relationship with arthur. .. .. making suggestions and he
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speaks in a way that's entirely appropriate to the white house on palm beach, air force one is back at the west palm beach airport and donald trump is back at his mara lago a state. having landed from mississippi, greeting
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kennedy into direct competition to just work it out. the interesting thing is something happened immediately after the assassination because during the white house years there is no question what was more important and more influential but after the assassination schlesinger is more important to the kennedy project because he is the one is more important for the family, more important for robert kennedy redefining and the current president lbj. sorenson is a brilliant speechwriter writing a book called kennedy and harvard professor, somebody much more
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experienced in the process of writing the book. sorenson struggles with the process and that could inevitably focus on the rivalry within weeks of each other the white house staff through a party and produced a cake, sorenson and kennedy racing towards a big pot of gold and it set on the cake may the best man win. there is a sense in which the rivalry is stoked, they felt it very intensely. >> five years ago the library released schlesinger's
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interviews with jacqueline kennedy and jacqueline kennedy on those tapes and you should listen if you haven't already is very at ease and your book explains why. what was the origin of this relationship and partnership? through cd or audible listening to them, sometimes you hear the clink of drinks being poured and natalie portman listening to those interviews when she prepared for the role of playing jackie kennedy but the relationship comes about in the
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1950s beyond what we were talking about, schlesinger is outside the circle, kennedy has his own team and one thing he says is if you want to get things through go through jackie, they become almost like a political partnership from the beginning and they enjoy each other's company, he suffers humiliation of being moved from the west wing to the east wing which he is quite cross about the advantage is the the east wing with jackie, they are talking and if you have the ear of jackie you have a year of the president. they have a close relationship working on projects together like establishment of the white
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house library and paying dividends immediately after the assassination where she doesn't like sorenson and encourages schlesinger working closely together but it is only that relationship, this shows what i was talking about where schlesinger says what he is saying that on the ninth that kennedy is assassinated, to jacqueline kennedy, very moving letter about the president and his legacy. the day after, he writes again to jacqueline kennedy and says you have to think about the president's legacy.
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that is a very hard letter for somebody to write the shows the closeness of the relationship but the sense implicit in their relationship, he is the historian involved in that legacy for all the advantages and disadvantages involved. >> host: i have heard from a number of people the last 15 years who would describe arthur schlesinger is not jfk's friend but bobby's friend. you argue bobby is the one who tells him about his job but to what extent did the relationship between robert kennedy and arthur schlesinger matter in the white house
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period? >> you are right to express the ambivalence of the relationship. robert kennedy is involved in a campaign the second time around in 56 and schlesinger finds him an odd, cold fish in many ways. the sense in the early period, robert kennedy is volcanic and distant at the same time and schlesinger doesn't know what to make of him. there is pragmatism in the relationship. he is the president's brother. marion kennedy sadly died, spectacularly great age,
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wonderful character, he was not enamored of robert kennedy and when she accompanied him to italy was not impressed with this behavior but it is after the white house that the relationship blossomed and became important. the pragmatism to it later turned into something much closer. >> host: to what extent, to what extent is 1000 days in your estimation as a historian, a history of the kennedy presidency? or is it a beautiful imagining of a liberal presidency arthur hoped would happen? >> it is both and it is important to say, one thing that often gets forgotten and
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brushed aside by schlesinger's critics, he says right at the beginning in the first sentence, this is a personal memoir written in the heat of the moment, documents will be released at the jfk library and other historians will come and write a more balanced account, but what he says in the introduction is what i can give is the sense of what it was like to be in the room and is won't be balanced because i was not in the room for everything and he says that explicitly, i will inevitably give more emphasis to things i was involved in, that is inevitable. so there is that and the word you used, a romantic imagining
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because it is still written, i suppose today, and elements of posttraumatic shock, an element of trauma, this is a man the year previously had resigned, harvard professorships am a fully expected he would serve out the first term, barry goldwater was likely to be the candidate, kennedy people were confident and he was expecting to be in the white house for a fool eight years and almost not quite over time but sort of 1968-69, by the time you would have gone it would be his last big book, the age of kennedy, multi-volume but it becomes something very different,
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contacts and memories written in the heat of the moment, something has to be done quickly. >> you describe the physical toll it takes, he writes it in a year. >> guest: we can say this, putting the rest of us to shame. describes he is writing 3000 words a day, getting up at 7:00 in the morning, finishing 9:00 at night, all he is doing is smoking cigars. >> you quoted someone, he writes directly to galley. which means he doesn't need editing. >> he tells his graduates a good friend and colleague, he
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says the only people he knew of, and arthur schlesinger, he's a wonderfully fluent writer banking out 3000 word today and that made him politically useful, talks about how when the two were speechwriters, schlesinger was the person, he would walk into the else club as they were called, take off his jacket, sits at his desk, light a cigar and bang out a speech and split out with a typewriter and it was ready to go. the wonderful has a wonderful fluid state. >> all that energy and excitement he doesn't have
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about the rfk book. not sure he wants to write it. i think he realizes inherent in writing that book, defaults in that book, by the time he gets to writing that he is too close to the project, getting personal dimension, he has lost one president, somebody he was close to, a professional way, when we get to 1968 he is friends with robert kennedy, kennedy is assassinated and he is worn down by the time, he is writing in the context of polarization of american politics, watergate crisis, this is a time he is in a
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cinema walking a movie, and somebody would turn around and say when the revolution comes you will be put against a wall and shot. he would walk his son to the bus stop, walking the dog and people shouting at him, a sense of america he lost, and when he writes about rfk during the white house years, who is the hero of the book because so much of it talks about jfk that robert kennedy almost becomes secondary in his own biography.
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and to reconcile. >> host: one other thing, between the writing of thousand days and the rfk book, arthur learns things about the kennedy presidency. and revelations in the church committee attempts to kill castro. and rfk is the one who told the world there was a secret deal that ended the cuban missile crisis. arthur may have known something but other things he didn't know about, the taping system. he is a historian and wasn't told about the best source of information for the presidency, john f. kennedy didn't -- jackie who knows about it. to what extent do you think the
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different tone is a product of his disappointment because he has to redo 1000 days a little bit and has a defensive tone. >> it is a sense of disappointment and he has to square the circle in ways that he doesn't do very successfully, operation mongoose and missiles and revelations, indiscretions, we often describe the darker side of camelot. the defensive tone, whatever you say about 1000 days, the sense that it is the genuine book, that may not turn out to be right or judgment may be wrong, by large in even with
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the romanticized things, the authenticity to that, even as a historian he has written about these things. the imperial presidency, talks a little bit about kennedy, things like the turkish missiles, and the mongoose, the kind of things he is criticizing in the imperial presidency. to some degree, not exactly humiliated but his analysis is off beam in the earlier book. as a historian if we step back, a very popular book, there are parts of it which are very effective but as a historian, you would have to say it is not effective in the way earlier
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books like the age of jackson or 1000 days are. >> before we go to question and answers, volume iv of the age of wisdom is like the holy grail of this book. how many times you have arthur saying to somebody this book is the next thing i'm going to do, like a book about kennedy. why do you think -- there was some pop psychology, too much fun at parties. as his biographer, his biographer, this is an intellectual biography and the story of arthur's rivalry with ted. why do you think he didn't finish volume iv? >> you are right that he constantly refers to it and a
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part of you, just let it go, let it go because when he takes up the white house job, he says i want to get back to the age of roosevelt and constantly talking about it, it is not laziness, because he writes the imperial presidency, he writes many more op-ed type books as well, i think it is too -- two things, we all know when you write a book there is a kind of intellectual energy behind the original idea and if you don't sees the intellectual energy the fires demon -- you it is difficult to reclaim that but there is another reason and the clue is in the 1950s when he is
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stealing the process of writing, he goes to london and gives lectures at the university of london which his own father gave him in the 1930s. the reason he changed his name to arthur mayor junior what he had to get a passport to go on that around the world trip with his father. this is a seminal trip for him. he does the same lectures and they are about volume 4. when he is there he almost can't write even then that he shows up, hasn't done them properly, he rushes back to his hotel. i think even then, he knew there was a problem and why is there a problem in answer to your question?
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it is likely rfk saying the problem isn't the good bit of fdr, he stops in 1936, has to deal with the supreme court controversy, the holocaust, isolationism and by this stage, i am not sure, maybe it is being a good historian, he realizes by now he is the wrong man to write the history of fdr that period. >> i would have had the opportunity, i am sorry -- i would have wanted to ask him whether having been in a white house, most of us who write about presidents, none of us are president but most of us haven't worked in the white house and most haven't been
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very close. given that he was close to a president and learned what he didn't know about that presidency, how confident could he be about reading about a presidency that occurred when he was 20 years old and far away? did he lose his self-confidence about the ability to re-create an administration given his experience in the kennedy administration? >> that is a fascinating question. he ruminates on this notion of keyhole history or the historian as participant. the other thing we have to remember is when he was strictly an academic historian, the first book coming out for the senior thesis at harvard
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and andrew jackson is writing about the 19th century but thereafter he is always writing about contemporary history and roosevelt in the 1950s when roosevelt died in 1945. that would be like us writing a book about president george w. bush and bill clinton, contemporary history, as you say, maybe by the time you get background to roosevelt it is not really contemporary history so maybe the contemporary side of it is the animating force and even in the age of jackson in some ways about the age of roosevelt. >> let's take questions.
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great. >> seems like schlesinger was a very unique historic figure in the united states presidency. has there ever been another person who is his equivalent of the 20th century and i will even ask in the 21st century? seems like there never has been and probably never will be and it appears really what we see when we look at schlesinger is the respect that president kennedy had for history and learning from history, i recall reading once during the cuban missile crisis he made some statement with the book he had recently read, i wish the
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generals had read this book, i would send them a copy but they probably wouldn't read it anyway. is that how unique schlesinger is? that we could say he doesn't have an equal in the history of the american presidency or is there someone else who is his equal that served a president? >> that is an interesting question. schlesinger himself said when he comes into the white house, nobody like me before, other people who have written about presidents, in the circle, no one brought it in in quite that way and in some ways he sets kind of a precedent. for example, when bill clinton becomes president he is a great admirer of arthur schlesinger and he wents somebody like schlesinger there so very distinguished historian, want you to be my arthur
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schlesinger, mister president, not sure that is a very good precedent. he paid a brunch as you know, and does go into the white house and have these conversations with the president. other examples, biographer of teddy roosevelt is given access by ronald reagan, quite controversial biography of reagan so there are ways in which writers come in but your question is right in one sense, nobody who really is brought in in the same way as someone who understands what is going on and involved in decisionmaking,
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actually you are here because ultimately you will have another task that in some ways you are going to be writing or involved in or helping in the age of kennedy projects. >> i wish you would in large a little bit about the fact that schlesinger had progressive proclivities and incentives, sensibility, i was struck reading some of schlesinger's essays by the fact, seem to have been influenced profoundly by lieber, the centerpiece of
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neighbors thinking, the law in human nature manifested historically. it seemed to me when schlesinger would reflect on certain historical periods he would be mindful of the fact of moving piecemeal, always imperfectly, it is a work in progress. addressing historians like william appleman williams or noam chomsky he had this grand design perception as though people engineering these huge spacious plans for decades and decades when you talk about the second world war, beleaguered, tired, old, making piecemeal
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arrangements, two grand designs, irreconcilable, the realistic conception of history. >> you are quite right to identify lieber as a member personally and intellectually to arthur schlesinger. when historian has written that effectively what schlesinger did is take the conservative analysis and apply it for progressive ends. he takes on board this idea, even quoting -- i will misquote here, i apologize for everyone, he quotes the words of pascal in his books, the just of which one of the problems for mankind, we are roots effective
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not just because we want to act in ways that are evil but often in a way that is good. he is very wary of this kind of sense, as you say, perceiving carefully but what schlesinger does is to take that and to say because of this, we can look at these, we can look at trendss and progressive ends and move in that direction but always aware we have to test these things and be aware of our own proclivities and so on. he's a great influence, the two were great friends, schlesinger was very kind to lieber after he had his stroke, organizing,
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people getting together so he could watch tv and it is personal but absolutely achieved, intellectual. >> a little aside on potential release of jfk papers, what are you looking for? >> i am the wrong person to ask that question 2. we have a real expert on that sitting next to us. i would say two things, for any historian the release of documents is always an exciting thing for all the reductions and the best material, it will take years for people, historians to work through the
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implications, no doubt it will feed conspiracy theories around this event but any documents released is a boon for historians but as i say, he was the expert, you should probably ask him to comment on that. >> we are all, oddly enough, in the death of oliver stone -- the debt of oliver stone was i say oddly enough because he created a cockamamie conspiracy, donald sutherland is one of my favorite actors, he -- i was a big fan of the baseball team -- anyway. donald sutherland in the jfk movie is the personification of the conspiracy and it involves everybody. i always found that funny because most americans, acing the right and left share, most
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americans understand our government is an efficient. some like the government but it is an efficient and others don't like the government but no it is an efficient but a conspiracy theorist assumes the government's superefficient. in that one instance not only they do this perfectly but nobody talks, nobody talks. the long and the short of it is because of the confluence of several conspiracy theories in the 90s, jfk was killed because he was going to pull out of vietnam, jfk was killed by castro who found out the kennedys were going to kill him so killed him first, jfk was killed by soviets. jfk was killed by southerners who were not happy about civil rights. jfk was killed by oil interests. jfk was killed by the mob. each of those entails a series
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of documents, the jfk -- created a collection called the jfk assassination connection. it is huge, 5 billion pages and includes each of these possible theories. it is a wound to historians. we have been mining that is 1998. the review board, a series of honest, sober, nonpartisan people got to see it all. some agencies and the fbi said to them this document, they had all the clearances, it is not relevant to lee harvey oswald and the potential conspiracy. the goal of this process was not to tell us what happened but to let us decide. this was not a warren commission, does this really,
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would this lead a reasonable person to know about lee harvey oswald? no. let's not release it. there is a bunch of that stuff, according to national archives, 50,000 pages withheld in full, portions of 550,000 pages were withheld out of 5 million. the law was beautifully written for historians but badly written for government officials. there is a section that says everything in the so-called assassination connection must be released 20 years from now unless the president at the time decides not to. that kicked the can forward. the review board did its work, these were people chosen, the act was signed by george herbert walker bush.
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can had been kicked and kicked and kicked. who would have imagined in 1992 that a manhattan developer who was well known in 1992 would be the one to decide. that is what this is about. these documents i haven't seen, but i know something about them, they have to do with the murder of trujillo. some us policies, policy, in 1998 castro was still alive. war plans were closed and you can read this but have to be a nerd like me but the national security agency found things that were responsive but look at this, you can see them, is this helpful? that stuff is in this, what
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happened today, in the agencies which were screening, nobody expected this to come out, that stuff hasn't come out, we are very bad, if it changes any top line narrative issues involving lee harvey all dewald -- lee harvey oswald, but it might and it certainly will give us detail about covert action. an example that is close, the name of the cia guy who took the poison to congo, that is closed, it will be opened. cia doesn't like to open these
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kinds of things. thanks to oliver stone every possible conspiracy got flown into the pot and 5 million pages were the result, that is my understanding. >> the thing that we both know as historians is documents reveal things nobody could have predicted. for all the agencies going through this material, all the review boards looking through this material, there will be things some historian will say you thought this was irrelevant but this is important and it may not have to do with lee harvey oswald. >> here is the thing about it, our government, i worked in enough foreign archives, i did work for the national archives but the best archival system in the world.
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britain has a beautiful building, very efficient. and destroying documents to the national archives. i'm not saying our system is perfect, we have a different system. we can demand documents, demand documents in a way no other country permits. and all the agencies to review the documents, and sometimes there were retirees who don't know anything about the story, you don't know anything about it. they might be told a list of codenames but it is their
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decision and a document that is redacted, it depends on who did it. there are documents that could be keys to a big argument that the review wouldn't have a clue about. and through the documents one by one. >> host: a great benefit of the system, some phd student focusing on a narrow area, and millions of pages identify some of those and have an aha moment and phd students around the world working on this and something else we cannot predict. a great day for historians -- >> pretty good professional
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too. >> a question about a question, kennedy was asked, i don't know where i read this or who wrote it, kennedy was asked, a reporter asked him, mister kennedy, what is your greatest qualification to be a candidate, kennedy responded, i have a sense of history, do you know if that was an accurate account? >> did kennedy have a sense of history? absolutely he did. even the fact that he could go back to his time at harvard when he wrote his senior thesis
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about the munich crisis and subsequent he punished -- published that is a book and the fact he wrote profiles in courage which he writes with ted sorensen and wins a pulitzer and simple things like he read the book review pages, newspapers and circles and sends out to a local bookseller from hyannisport, reading all the time, the question is referred to the barbara tuchman book on the guns of august about the origins of war which is on his mind around the time of the cuban missile crisis. he is a great reader with a genuine sense of history and back to what we were talking
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about before that is why he likes having arthur schlesinger around, he likes talking history and thinking about things in that historical context and as the cuban missile crisis demonstrate he does inform his policymaking, thinking in this broader historical context. he thinks about other presidents particularly why he doesn't like presidents like wilson and theodore roosevelt because to use roosevelt's own praise, their bully pulpit, proselytizing presidents, he prefers presidents like pork or trilling because they are practical, improving presidents looking in a technical way at something wrong so that is a historical reflection. he is the president with
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history on his mind. >> as historians, how do you feel? here we are. in the age of camelot. everything is looking fine. we are looking at jfk, everyone is feeling great, it is 1963, things look wonderful and a couple shots ring out and change history forever. when you guys look at a thing like that as historians, i mean, what goes through your mind? everything has just changed completely. now you go from kennedy to
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johnson and johnson to nixon. and eventually to trump. i don't believe i said that. when you guys look at this stuff and not expecting it, none of us was expecting november 22nd, i lived in new york and the first time in my entire life new york city, i could not hear a sound on november 22, 1963, not a sound, not a bird, not a car, nothing, it was that dramatic. how do you deal with that? you have the initial shock and you will go through what happened? and what is going to happen? because for lack of a better term you have to instead of being a historian you have to
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be a soothsayer. what is going to happen next? how do you deal with that? >> a very interesting question on all kinds of levels. one is that the kennedy assassination is different for you than it is for me because i am a generation later. i hadn't been born when kennedy was assassinated. it is all history. the same way i see my own students, not only do they not remember the wall coming down which is a seismic moment, and a memory of 9/11 because 70, 18 years old, they experience something like that.
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the question of how you write history like that there are two ways, and the importance in this case tragic, serendipity. and events happen the change the course of history, and as a historian the death of a president matters. the transition from one president to another means something and we think about broader context. the vietnam war, subsequent history, would kennedy have done the same thing? was he on the verge of doubling down or on the verge of pulling
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back. the question of civil rights and there is an example lyndon johnson, the great political operator, in national tragedy, and turn it into political capital by getting legislation through by saying -- john kennedy's legacy, this matters and it matters in ways in all different kinds of ways and we can debate, it is what it is, what happened to analyze to understand of the complexity. >> host: there is a great
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debate about how much we are fish swimming in the stream and it is going a certain direction and we have colleagues who would talk about forces, economic, cultural, social that are beyond one person who can delay half a generation but it is moving in that direction. what is clear to me as we debate how important we want our president to be, there are moments we want our presidents to be really important and moments we want -- in another period of history. one thing arthur had to think about, whether he freighted the
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concept of the president too much, he and his fact created if you will a literate monster, whether the system, not arthur by himself, arthur had imagined the importance, had written book centered around the president and defined ages by the name of the president and whether that was a mistake in the context of this republican that was a debate he had with himself. we have it again, i suspect. >> host: it is him thinking as a historian, he is still a professional historian, as he is coming through different stages, engaging, people writing about that changeover over a long period, during the
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late 60s he also engaged in debates, that were quite acrimonious, a historian writing about -- goes along to these graduate conferences, at princeton, and he wants to engage with these debates and there is a sense of arguing with them but also with himself, the way in which history is understood. >> question you answered
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already but we should also apply the history, anyone can study history. anyone can learn from history. the same history, different people work out differently. the lesson we learn from history, simply different point applied and pollute history. >> what history did you say? >> my question, is studying in history dangerous? should we leave these jobs to experts like you? or single master who can teach anyone so we can afford danger? myself as a physicist, we know
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in physics, you don't handle the problem in nonscientific ways and waste your time. just shut up and capture it. can give us so we don't -- mislead. >> they would take it the wrong way if you said shut up and calculate. i certainly think not to study history is dangerous and when you think about regimes throughout history that have been totalitarian or fascist regimes and authoritarian regimes one of the first things
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they come for is the articulation of history and try to rewrite history in that kind of a way but equally, even in a historical profession there is a debate about the appropriateness of applying history and arthur schlesinger was aware of the danger and he swam in dangerous waters and was aware he was doing it but also a sense, to your example, science doesn't happen in a vacuum either. rutherford split the atom but that process can be used for medical science, radiation to treat cancer but also to drop an atomic or thermonuclear
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bomb. these kinds of decisions, if you think about the great decisions we are facing now about medical ethics surrounding our dna and so on so history in many ways is the same, a sense that there are important questions, many are toxic questions but i think historians debating them with the things that are going to be may be coming out today, that is what is important, when you think about schlesinger in policymaking it is also true in his history that ultimately he is -- it is all about pluralism, diversity of views
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and approaches and something, shakes out a kind of an answer to these things. >> i believe freedom comes from skepticism and not cynicism and it is a fine line. i don't think you will here, anybody in this room who was a historian, none of you call anything we did definitive. we did not use that term. we debate with our colleagues all the time but we accept facts. and so if you have respect for facts, i don't see the
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weaponization of history that you are talking about. i know how history can be weapon eyes. lots of cultures have these use of the past that include hatred of their neighbors and that is the weaponization of history but if you permit skepticism and have real access to data i am not sure it leaves in the direction you suspect. a little like churchill with democracy, a terrible system but the best that we have or something like that, tell me the alternative of not studying history where every day is groundhog day, every mistake we made -- not saying -- my professor taught me a lot about the fact that analogies are rarely that useful for policymakers, they are not
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prescriptive but if you don't save the past, how can that be good. it will make you vulnerable by stupid -- by stupid i don't mean -- silly, incoherent and polemical views because you don't know any better, you have no database, no data point, what about that, to question it? history has problems, don't expect definitive history whatever that is but i can't imagine the alternative. >> i liked that quote attributed to mark twain because it captures what we are talking about, the ideas that history doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes and i think that is right.
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even if he didn't say it, it has a ring of twain. >> he deserves it. if you think about mark twain, someone in the news at the moment because of the recent book, he is friends with president grant. there is an element in which we are not saying what happened then is what is happening now but we are looking for residents and coming back to the point, ultimately this is why the footnote is boring as it sounds is so important to the kind of things we are writing because you can read schlesinger, one hell of a gamble and if you don't agree with something you can go to the footnote, if you think that doesn't sound right to me, you can go in my case to the new york public library and find
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the document and say he got this wrong, he misunderstood this. .. >> are there any other questions? oh, there's another one. >> i didn't realize that you had run the nixon library. so since the question is we're supposed to hearn from history -- [laughter] what can we learn? [laughter] >> oh. >> speaking -- because it's true, i mean, our parents told us this, hearn from your -- learn from your mistakes, don't make it again. so i've been told by system
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learned friends that one of the reasons we can't impeach our current buffoon is because he hasn't done anything illegal and that historians -- and i'm not sure where they quoted from -- felt that the republicans finally said, yes, we have to impeach nixon because what he did was criminal abuse of power and all the things we think. because we're right now in the middle of what you'll be writing about in 10-20 years. so i wouldn't mind a sentence or two or a paragraph. >> i almost got through the evening without talking about -- [laughter] all right. >> even though the question was asked, i feel one for you there, tim. [laughter] >> okay. well, i've done some writing about it, and i don't know if the audience really wants -- i've got a couple of suggestions for you. i'm proud of the group i've worked with at the national archives. if you go the nixon library web
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site and you go to the section on the watergate exhibit, we digitized and scanned, we dimmingtized the materials that are the footnotes, if you will, for our watergate exhibit. and we tried to have evidence of almost all the abuses of power by richard nixon. and the evidence, our documents and tape segments and oral histories that we did. go and familiarize yourself with this. it's our government. it's on a government web site. and it's the perils of an abusive president. and this is no doubt, i believe and the american people believed in 1974, there's no doubt that richard nixon deserved to be impeached which in our -- it means indicted and removed. the house impeaches, the senate removes. bill clinton was indicted. he was impeached, but he was not removed. richard nixon was told by senators of his own party that
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he'd be removed. when you go down those list of horribles and you see the extent to which richard nixon used power to hurt people, to hurt his enemies, you will understand why he abused his trust. and i think that's a good standard for impeachment or removal. and i'll leave it up, i mean, i'm just one american, so just go look at that and make up your open mind. your own mind. [applause] >> first of all, i want to say thank you, mr. naftali, for presenting a really, a point of view of integrity on cnn. it's really wonderful to hear from historians, you and douglas brinkley. >> thank you. >> the amazing commentators really bring a sense of logic, which is really greatly appreciated. i was really young during kennedy's administration, but as
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i've gotten older and learned about the way the press reserved information, it didn't disclose everything about kennedy especially with things that would be harmful, you know, and deleterious to his presidency. and i realize that there was a lot of reserve in the press. i wonder if you would comment on freedom of the press and the future of freedom of the press in this climate under, you know, the pressures of this president in and i'd just like to know your point of view about where you think freedom of the press and freedom of information is going. >> i mean, as you rightly say, during the kennedy administration it's almost the last gasp of a particular kind of media environment, and edward heath who went on to be the british prime minister in 1970, the cabinet mier the at that time -- minister at that time
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pinpoints it to kind of the early 1960s, and he says until then there was respect. and the specific example he gives is when journalists start following him home. so there's a kind of a sense in which the press was much more respectful, that, you know, for example, eisenhower's private life in many ways, perhaps not quite as colorful as jfk's but, you know, there were indiscretions there too, none of which were reported. once you get into the 1960s, obviously, everything begins to change. i think it's television that changes that. it's the -- and that's the trajectory that we're on now because obviously living in the current digital kind of media environment. i think as well the other thing that i would say that seems to be very different to me as someone who's moved to america from a different system is that in the early 1960s there were
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still within the american media a sense of impartiality that whichever network you reported for, there was a sense in which your first duty was to impartiality. that's something which is ensleeped in law in the -- enshrined in law in the u.k., that television companies have a duty for impartiality for which they can be fined if they're found to be in breach of that. the written press is very different. but, you know, i think that this is a kind of a sense in which who today in the american media stands for detachment, for that kind of impartiality, perhaps you could argue that some of things like npr and pbs and so on kind of have that. but they, it seems to me that they interpret that in a way that simply because of the environment has to be very
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careful. so impartiality doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be, that you can't say that one thing is right or one thing is wrong, you have to give equal to both sides. but it means you have to back up your analysis with data, with evidence, with facts as tim was talking about. so that's the thing that i would worry about going forward, that where is that going to come from, you know? where are -- when we want to know what is really true, what are the arbiters of that? and i think that that's as much to do with the new technology and working out how as a society we're going to deal with that. that's very complex. >> thank you for those nice comments, and cnn certainly gives me a, an opportunity to say what i think i should and to contextualize what we're going
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through. i want us to have time for this last question. your last question. >> i sort of have two questions. i'm just curious -- >> no, only one question. no, no, one, i'm sorry. >> i'd like to have your thoughts on what seems to be a changing in our history with so many statues being removed and taken out of view, and it's like we want to dissociate ourselves with all of this history, and yet that's part of our history, whether we like it or not. that's been there. and i would like to have your thoughts on it. >> i mean, obviously, that is a very controversial topic today. my view about it is that it seems entirely justifiable to me that statues which quite obviously would give offense to
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particular communities should not stand without context. so what i mean by that is that statues, for example, of the kind in the south that we've been talking about, i understand why some of these statues would be removed. but i wouldn't wish to see them destroyed. i would wish to see them put into some kind of environment that provides context, that recognizes that they are part of the history of the united states. because, you know, the controversy is not something that is just from today, you know? these are things which have been controversial and are born out of controversy throughout the entire history of the united states very often. so in some ways maybe my response is precisely that of a historian, that we don't want to wipe these things from the record, but we immediate to understand them -- we need to understand them in the context
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of history to contextualize them. because i think ultimately by contextualizing them, we understand them, and then we're able as a society, we're able to move forward. >> i want to thank richard and you for a splendid conversation. you now have an opportunity to purchase richard's book and to enjoy it yourself. thank you. thank you, richard. [applause] great. fun. well done. ♪ ♪ >> every weekend booktv offers programming focused onion fiction authors -- on nonfiction authors and books. watch a


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