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tv   [untitled]  CSPAN  June 6, 2009 6:30pm-7:00pm EDT

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first wounded came back on d-day, if they were lightly wounded and they got patched up and they were able to talk, forrest started interviewing them in the afternoon of d-day about what happened that morning. he went on to do a lot of interviews and became one of the founders of the oral history association and to become, in my view, america's best historian. c-span: is he still alive? >> guest: yes, he is still alive, and we will be together at omaha beach on d-day, tomorrow. c-span: where does he live? >> guest: he's moved to kentucky. he used to live in washington. he lived in washington until about two years ago. c-span: i have a strange feeling i passed him every day in the building i lived in here, 20 years ago. did he live in arlington, va.? >> guest: that's where he lived, 111 army-navy drive. that's it. he is a great man. c-span: i saw an article about him a couple of months ago, or maybe a year ago, about george marshall. >> guest: he did a four-volume "life of george marshall," which is one of the classic american
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biographies. forrest had exclusive interviews with marshall that stretched over a 10-year period, and that's awfully good. c-span: go back to general eisenhower. what was he like to know? >> guest: he was without any question the most impressive man i've ever met. monty once said of eisenhower, "he has but to smile at you and you trust him at once," and i certainly had that experience of eisenhower. monty said, "he has the power of drawing the hearts of men toward him as the magnet attracts the bits of metal." he was wonderfully concerned; he was marvelously concentrated. i was just a kid. i was 30 years old when i was interviewing him. i'd walk in to interview him, and his eyes would lock on mine and i would be there for three hours and they never left my eyes. and he talked about what i wanted to talk about. there weren't any
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coughs and there wasn't any shifting of position and there wasn't any looking off to see what an aide over here or over there was doing. there wasn't any looking at the watch. it was straight on. "let's talk about what you want to talk about. my time is valuable, your time is valuable, let's get at it." he was a man who had great concern for others. i was teaching at hopkins and going up two days a week to gettysburg to work with him in his office, and he used to worry about where i would eat on the way home. he would warn me against certain restaurants, because he had made that drive so many times. can you imagine? c-span: this is kind of a leap, but you write in one of the nixon books about your wife being a great help to you, but she didn't care a whole lot for richard nixon. i don't know that i got that strong of a statement out of you. what did you think of richard nixon, and what did mr. eisenhower think of choosing him years later? did you ever talk to him about richard nixon? >> guest: not very much. i was
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interested in the war in the years that he was still alive. remember, he died in 1969. nixon had only been president for less than a year when eisenhower died. eisenhower was ambivalent about nixon, as most people who knew nixon were. he admired certain things about nixon; he regretted quite a lot about nixon. he found it amazing that nixon could live a life without any personal friends. he used to shake his head at that. "i don't understand how he could do that." he used to say that nixon spends too much time trying to look like a nice guy instead of just being one. for myself, i began as a nixon-hater. i went to the university of wisconsin. i was a liberal, and i thought nixon was just the worst of the worst -- a man without character, a man who everything he did was contrived. there was no spontaneity to the man, as far as i could see. everything was done on the basis of, will
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this hurt or help dick nixon politically. so i was right up there with the nixon-haters until i began working on him. now, when i wrote about ike ... c-span: how many books about ike? >> guest: three -- i had to look for things to criticize because i knew i wouldn't be believable if i didn't have something critical to say about the man. but nixon was just the opposite. i started off looking for things to admire in nixon, because i knew i was going to be critical about an awful lot in his career. i was a bit surprised, and even more, to find there was a great deal about nixon that i admired. i came out of the whole experience not liking mr. nixon. he never wanted to be liked, anyway -- he wanted to be respected and admired -- and i came out of eight years of working on nixon respecting and admiring him for many things. there is always another side to nixon. i'm not saying that he was innocent; i'm not saying he
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got railroaded. he should have been driven from office, and he did an lot of terrible things in his career, but he did an awful lot of good things, too. c-span: who is moira? >> guest: that's my wife. c-span: how much does she have to do with these books? >> guest: indispensable. at the end of every day i want to hear how it came out. one of the things that drives me as a writer is curiosity, and i never can know what really happened until i sit down and have to write it up. after i've spent eight, 10 hours at the typewriter, i'm dying to hear what i wrote. i don't want to just read it; i want to read it aloud and get a reaction and a response. so at the end of her day, she sits down with me, and if i've done 10 pages that day or 15, she listens and then she jumps me. she's always accusing me of triumphalism and making me cut back on that. i like to fly
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the flag high, and moira wants to be a little more critical than that. c-span: it's moira, spelled m-o-i-r-a. >> guest: yes, irish for mary. c-span: where did you meet her? >> guest: we met in baltimore. my first wife had just died. i had two kids. c-span: what year? >> guest: 1964. her husband had run off, leaving her with three kids. we lived in the same block, didn't know each other. we came together, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. c-span: now, you also cite, i think, stephanie and grace. >> guest: yes, those are our daughters. c-span: that you had together. >> guest: no. i had two kids, she had three, but we've got five kids. c-span: what did grace and stephanie have to do with the books? >> guest: stephanie does a lot of research for me, and grace has done quite a lot of research for me. i pay them handsomely. some might say i overpay them. but they do very good work. one
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of my favorite chapters, for example, in the d-day book, is "d-day on the homefront." it opens with a scene from helena, montana. i had asked steffie, "go through the local paper and tell me what happened in helena on d-day," and she came up with this just crackerjack of a story that opens the book. grace has done similar research for me in my other books. c-span: that chapter, as you can see here, it's greatly underlined ... >> guest: it was great fun writing that chapter. c-span: let's go back to that. "the official nazi news agency" -- it looks like "trans-ocean" -- "was the first to announce the invasion." >> guest: yes. c-span: what was the premise of this chapter? what did you try to do with this chapter? >> guest: i just wanted to know the answer to what happened around the world as the news came, and i just walked my way around the world. new york, of course, was a magnet to me because you got so much coverage. you got the times.
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they did a great editorial that began on june 7, "this is the moment for which we were born." you had the new yorker, and the new yorker had a wonderful "talk of the town" the week after d-day. and there was so much going on in new york in world war ii. it was really the world capital, even more so than it was to be after the war. i went to little towns in ohio and little towns in virginia and cities like chicago or columbus, ohio. i just wanted to see what happened in those cities. and then i started going around the world. in rome there was already a celebration going on -- they had just been liberated -- and it just got bigger. and anne frank. i got out the diary, because i remember vaguely in the back of my mind that she had written something about d-day. well, it turns out to be -- i mean, you have to be a stone not to cry at that anne frank entry on d-day. gertrude stein was up in the hinterlands where italy
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and switzerland and france come together, trying to just get through world war ii. i've always liked her writing, and i wanted to see what it was like for gertrude on d-day. well, she gave me a hell of a good story, about the germans bowing to her because she was an american. bowing to them -- they'd never done that before. and her friends calling her on the telephone and saying, "congratulations on your birthday." "well, it wasn't my birthday, but we knew what they meant." c-span: there is a headline here -- the wall street journal headline ... >> guest: i love that one. c-span: ... "invasion's impact" -- this is d-day or the day after, i guess. >> guest: june 7. c-span: "invasion's impact marks beginning of end of war economy -- new problems for industry." >> guest: that's called putting first things first. that's wall street's business. c-span: the new york daily news threw out its lead articles and printed in their place the lord's prayer?
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>> guest: yes. c-span: would that happen today? >> guest: you'd have to have a d-day to find out, and we're never going to have a d-day again. it was a unique moment in world history. a couple of scenes from those homefronts that are very dear to me, one in canada. the french-speaking delegate, the leader of the french, got up and asked permission on this day to sing the "marseillaise," and it was granted. for the first time in the french parliament the "marseillaise" was sung, followed by "god save the king." franklin roosevelt put together a prayer that morning. they got it to all the radio networks who broadcast it through the day, very slowly so people could write it down. remember, in those days we had afternoon editions of the newspapers, and the afternoon newspapers printed that prayer. at 10:30 eastern war time, roosevelt went on the radio and led this nation in prayer, and from what i can tell from my interviews -- and i
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remember this myself. i can remember being on my knees with my mother when this prayer was read by roosevelt on the radio, and we all joined in. it was the most wonderful moment of national unity. c-span: and you remember. >> guest: i remember doing the prayer. i remember being on my knees with my brothers and my mother, and we had the radio on. i remember it was cbs. c-span: john eisenhower graduated from west point on that day? >> guest: yes, on that day, and his mother was there for the graduation. c-span: mamie eisenhower. >> guest: yes. two days later general eisenhower, who was never one to overstate things, sent a telegram of congratulations on the graduation, and said, "i'm sorry i couldn't have been with you, but i had some other things to do." c-span: there is a story that you have in a footnote, "if we should meet an officer who ranks above me but below you" -- do you want to tell it? >> guest: john was just out of west point. he was very rank-conscious, and they were walking down the streets of london. john said, "dad, if we meet an officer who ranks below
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you but above me, what do we do? who salutes first?" ike scoffed and said, "john, there is not an officer in this theater who doesn't rank below me and above you." c-span: why did he decide to fly his son, who was a brand-new second lieutenant, all the way over to europe just to spend three weeks over there? >> guest: he didn't. general marshall did. john showed up as a surprise to his dad. marshall arranged that john should have his furlough after his graduation in europe with his dad. it was typical of marshall to have that kind of thoughtfulness. c-span: "the atlantic wall" -- these are your words -- "must therefore be regarded as one of the greatest blunders in military history." first, describe it. >> guest: well, it's hard to describe briefly. it was the greatest construction project of all time. this was way bigger than the great wall of china, way, way bigger than the maginot line. people who go to europe today aren't aware of it because so much of it was underground, and some of it had been blown over with sand, but it's still
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there. it will be there forever. c-span: and it goes from where to where? >> guest: it goes from the north sea down to the spanish border, and at every conceivable site of a landing -- that is, any place where the cliff wasn't absolutely vertical -- they had out to sea underwater obstacles with mines on them to blow up the landing craft at the water line, antipersonnel mines, antitank mines, barbed wire, antitank ditches, more barbed wire, more mines. looking down on all of these beaches where it was possible for a landing craft to come in, they had big fortifications. i mean, concrete 24 inches thick, with steel reinforcing rods running all through them. people who have been to that coast in normandy know, they took direct hits from 14-inch shells and survived. beautifully built fortifications, set up to fire enfilade down the beach. they had holes in the ground surrounded by cement, and they could set mortar crews in there.
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so those mortar crews were invulnerable. they had a spotter who was right up on the edge, and he'd call out the coordinates -- they had zeroed all this in advance -- and drop that shell in there, and off it goes and they knew where it was going to hit. that only begins to describe the complexities of the atlantic wall. the problem with the atlantic wall was, it had no depth to it. once through, you were through. there wasn't anything behind it. and once through, the guys to the left on the atlantic wall and to the right were immobile. they didn't have organic transportation. they didn't have trucks, they didn't have jeeps, they didn't even have bicycles. they were just stuck in the thing. so once through you were through, and that was the victory on d-day. we got through the atlantic wall. not very far. the british were supposed to get to cannes on d-day. they didn't get there until july, but they got through the atlantic wall. the americans at omaha were supposed to get seven or eight kilometers inland. they got less than a kilometer inland, but
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they got through the atlantic wall. germany put such a tremendous effort into the thing, and it didn't hold up the allies for even a morning. we paid a price, 10,000 casualties, but we got through. c-span: how did you decide what went into this book? was it hard? >> guest: i sat down with the transcripts of all 1,300 interviews and read them through. c-span: how many pages? >> guest: some of them 50 pages, some of them only 10. the average would be 20 pages. c-span: you read them all. >> guest: i read them all through, and in that first serious read-through -- because i had been collecting them and reading them as i went along -- at that first serious read-through i put maybe half of them aside. what i was looking for was phraseology or anecdote. then i read again the half that had survived the first cut, and i cut it again by half. then i
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read the 300 or so that remained with a marker and started marking and divided them up into navy, air force, rangers, 16th regiment, 116th regiment, set them down and sat down at the computer and started trying to put the story together. i was talking earlier about my curiosity -- i wanted to know what happened on the beach. i knew what happened from ike's point of view. i'd known that for a long time. i wanted to see how it played out in action. that's where i got all these surprises on what happened and found out that what ike had thought had happened, what cornelius ryan had thought had happened, what zanuck thought had happened wasn't what happened. c-span: where did you do this? >> guest: i have a cabin in northernmost wisconsin that i go to in the summers where i do almost all of my writing, and i
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just sat there and did it. c-span: why did you pick that spot to do it? >> guest: it's been in our family for -- i've spent at least a part of every summer of my life there. my grandfather purchased -- it's 20 acres with a small lake. my grandfather was in the corps of engineers in 1938, so he had a salary, and this place came up for sale for the back taxes, $161. he bought it, and he built this log cabin, and it's now become mine and it's where i go in the summer. c-span: can you write anywhere else? >> guest: sure. i have an office in bay st. louis where i live during the fall and winter. one book i started -- i did a book called "pegasus bridge," which was the action that opened this d-day, and i spent a month in britain interviewing the survivors of the company who pulled this off -- 30 of them,
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one day each. then i guess i spent about two weeks with the company commander, john howard. i was there two months, and all i was doing was absorbing, absorbing, absorbing. the day came to leave. we were in a hotel room out by heathrow, ready to go. i woke up at 3 a.m. with my head just full of these stories. it was a little room, there wasn't any place to go and i didn't want to wake moira up. i went into the bathroom, sat down on the john, took out a yellow legal pad and started writing. it came time to wake her up, 7 a.m. i did; we got dressed, got in a cab, went out to the airport. i'm writing in the cab as we go out. we got to the airport, got checked in, sat down to have coffee and i did some more writing. got on the plane, flew home to the states -- i'm writing the whole time. as the plane landed in new york i had the first chapter done. c-span: obviously, you get excited about putting the words on paper. how do you get your
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reward? not just in your head, but do you see it anywhere? what's the best thing anybody can say to you? >> guest: oh, i get lovely letters from people from all over, and it just means the world to me. people say nice things to me about the books. they tell me that they've read them and they enjoy them, and that's the big, principal payoff. it especially comes with veterans. it most especially comes when veterans tell me that you've got it right. i did a book recently called "band of brothers" about a company in the 101st airborne. one of the things that they did was, in their training they had to run up a mountain, down by toccoa, georgia, every morning. i've had seven rangers who have been through the benning jump school write to me and tell me they read that book, and after they graduated from jump school they went straight up to toccoa to see if they could run up or not with a full pack. now, that's pretty satisfying.
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c-span: with all the exposure over the last month, is your recognition factor going up when you travel? >> guest: yes, it is, and i don't like this taste of celebrityhood. c-span: why? >> guest: i like being a writer, and i was a pretty well-known writer before this last month, but nobody knew my face. i wish it were back to that way, and it will be as soon as we get past june 6. c-span: can i ask you a question about the haldemann diaries? >> guest: sure. c-span: i know that's not the book, but this came out in the middle of all this. we'll show the audience what it looks like if they haven't seen it. jo haldeman, the wife of the late bob haldeman, says that bob haldeman wouldn't agree with some of your conclusions. what are those? >> guest: number one, my conclusion is that he was guilty. jo will not accept that, and he never would accept that. i used to argue with him about it, that, "you didn't go to jail for nothing, bob." c-span: guilty of what, by the way? >> guest: guilty of covering up a crime, which is what he was accused of; guilty of perjury,
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both in court and before the ervin committee. c-span: if someone hasn't been paying any attention to what these diaries are, a 30-second thumbnail sketch of what are they? >> guest: haldeman kept a diary every night of his period of chief of staff, which ran through the whole of the first nixon administration and into the first six months of the second nixon administration. every night he dictated an entry to the diary that ran to sometimes an hour's worth of dictation. it's a marvelous insider's look at american politics as it is played at the center. c-span: how did you get involved in this? you have a foreword and an afterword. >> guest: i had done a lot of interviewing of haldeman in my work on nixon, and we had gotten along quite well together, actually. he had consulted me a bit about this, and then when he died, before this book was published, putnam's asked me if i would write an intro and a conclusion to it. i said, "i will if you'll guarantee me that the whole diary is available to my fellow historians." they said, "absolutely, it is. it's going to be on cd-rom so that historians are free" -- this is
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about 20 percent of the whole of the diary, but the whole thing is now available to historians. and i said, "the other condition is that i can't have a censor on this. i know that jo is not going to like some of the things that i am going to say about her husband, but she is not going to have a censorship on it or i'm not going to do it." i was perfectly delighted they gave her a chance to do some writing in there and to say that she thinks i'm wrong about some things. c-span: i underlined this -- i don't remember why -- "so he concludes the more a person is educated, he becomes brighter in the head and weaker in the spine." >> guest: that's nixon that haldeman is writing about there. oh, it's full of stuff like that -- terrible stuff on the blacks, terrible stuff on the jews, terrible stuff on the ivy leagues, terrible stuff on america's elite. it's astonishing how many people nixon hated, and it all comes through in this diary. what also comes through is what a hard
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worker he was and how much he did accomplish, so this is the real thing you're seeing here. it's a unique document. we have no other chief of staff who kept such a document. c-span: with all your books, 17 books, what more do you want to do? >> guest: i'm right now into chapter 16 of a biography of meriwether lewis, which has been a dream of mine since 1976. we -- moira and i and our kids -- wanted to do something special for the 200th birthday of the united states, something other than watching fireworks and getting drunk. we decided we were going to go to lemhi pass, which is on the idaho-montana border. it's the place where meriwether lewis became the first american to cross the continental divide. we camped up there that night, and we had the most gorgeous night, with the stars. you could reach up and touch them. we brought some booze along, and we had some students with us, and we got royally drunk and sang "god bless america" and other patriotic songs, lying on our
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backs, looking at these stars. i've wanted to write about lewis for a long time, and for one reason or another -- i was going bandied the to write about lewis when i finished with ike, and alice mayhew, my editor, said, "no, steve, you've got to do nixon next." i said, "alice, i don't want to do nixon. i don't like nixon." you know, that's a big undertaking, to write a biography. she said, "you've got to do it." i said, "no, i'm not going to do it." then she got me. she said, "where else will you find such a challenge as this?" so i did the nixon. that meant putting off the meriwether lewis. then it was time to write the d-day book, as i absolutely had long since planned to spend 1991 and 1992 and the first part of 1993 writing about d-day. well, i've got d-day behind me, and now it's meriwether lewis. c-span: where would you put the d-day book in your accomplishments? >> guest: i always think my last book is my best. so right now it's my best, but this meriwether lewis book, wait until you see it.
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c-span: what's the best thing about that so far? >> guest: lewis' relationship with thomas jefferson. i love writing about thomas jefferson, and he had a very special relationship with meriwether lewis. they were neighbors. lewis' father died when lewis was very young, but he had been a friend of jefferson's. then lewis was jefferson's secretary for two years, living with him in the white house, just the two of them. you know, jack kennedy had that great line, when he had the nobel prize winners for dinner at the white house. he said, "there has never been such a gathering of brains and talent in this house since thomas jefferson dined alone." the only thing wrong with that line is, thomas jefferson never dined alone. he dined with meriwether lewis. c-span: our guest has been stephen ambrose. you can find him at the university of new orleans, and a lot of other places, and this is what his newest book looks like, "d-day, june 6, 1944: the climactic battle of world war ii." we thank you for joining us. >> guest: thanks for having me. stephen ambrose pass delay in 2002.
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tiananmen number of books including undone encouraging comrades, brothers, fathers, heroes, sons, the house. he was an adviser on saving private ryan and taught history at several colleges and universities. to sign up more visit the publishers web site at simon for more information about the authors and books featured this a us on line ed and click on encore booknotes. >> this summer booktv is asking, what are you reading? >> senator mitch mcconnell, what is on your summer reading list? >> well i have just finished a couple of books i would highly recommend, jon meacham's by accuracy of andrew jackson, which was fairly recently out. fabulous, a different blood at
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andrew jackson. previous biographies that i have read of him, and i have read sobel, he focuses mostly on his presidential years and a good deal about his personal life, how important his family was. his wife died right after his election so was never in the white house but he had a collection of relatives who served as advisers and supported him and this is really delves deeply into their relationship with him and also the infamous what was commonly referred to as the peggy eaton matter, which was the wife of one of his cabinet members who had been maligned. he defended her and made it into a really big issue, so meachem is a good writer and is a good read. i also have finished a book actually since than that is older, been out a couple of years by michael korda.
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a biography of eisenhower. very well written. it dawned on me how i had never actually read it any eisenhower books and felt like that was a gap in my reading and i needed to fill, and i would highly recommend that to everyone as well. i am going to move on to a book, the author actually escapes me, a book that has been out a while called the best year of their lives. it is about 1948 and the life of richard nixon, lyndon johnson and john f. kennedy which was recommended to me by senator barrasso from wyoming who is also a voracious reader of american history. and also, interestingly enough there is a book about the republican leader of the senate coming out june the 15th. by an author named john david
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dyke, called republican leader, a political biography of senator mitch mcconnell. so, i expect i will read that. i have not seen it although i was interviewed by the author, and since it is about me i expect i will read it. >> to see more summer reading lists and other program information visit our web site at >> artist talks about growing up in iraq under saddam hussein. his decision to move to the united states and the killing of his brother by a u.s. missile and 2004. this event hosted by busboys and poets in washington d.c. is halo over an hour. >> thank you so much. you guys are in for something truly remarkable


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