tv Giles Milton Checkmate in Berlin CSPAN August 5, 2022 8:22pm-9:06pm EDT
questions. we want to thank michael kimmage historian catholic university for stopping by history as it happens, and i hope you all enjoyed this interesting discussion about what's going on today. remember everything happening today comes from somewhere and that is the goal the aim of history as it h
>> c-span's american history tv continues. you can find the full schedule on your program guide or c-span.org/history. >> welcome to this virtual event series. hard to believe but we have been open 50 years this year. we have some great authors to share some time with us. tonight we have giles milton, best-selling author of 11 works of narrative history. his most recent works -- work is churchill's ministry of ungentlemanly warfare, being developed into a major tv series. he also published in 25 languages. he was in london and burgundy. he is in conversation tonight
with editor of literary and market fiction and memoir, author of local girl and we wish you luck and the wild ride of publication. acquisitions for holt include happiness which was a reese witherspoon and the parking lot attendant which is a new york times notable book and shortlist. victoria gosling's before the room. welcome, giles milton, good to see you tonight. >> thank you, so nice to be here. >> hello to both of you. great to be here. >> i will let you get on with it. giles and i will dive into the conversation rather than reading something.
we have so much to talk about. >> that works for me. >> wonderful. i worked with giles, it was my pleasure to read it a handful of times it was fascinating every time. it really does read as a thriller, a page turner, a wonderful book. the book is set after world war ii as the war was ending, during this time in four sectors in the book follows the leaders of those that germany was divided into and it was entertaining and shocking how many characters they were in this time. they are larger than life, felt i was watching a quentin
tarantino movie. wonderful detail. i am curious if you knew this place was famous for these characters and that drew you to this subject matter or if you discovered it when doing research and ran with it. >> so many books published about the second world war, hundreds and hundreds and nothing is written about the immediate postwar period and for me it is a fascinating period because the whole world is up for grabs. the war has been won by the allies and who will win the peace, this is a big issue. stalin has all of eastern europe and central europe as well. everything will focus on the city of berlin because stalin is controlling east germany. it is agreed to victorious allies, the brits and russians
will share control of berlin but berlin sits squarely in the soviet control area of occupied germany. the tension and potential disaster and fallout that can happen, be set by the geographical position of berlin so western allies coming into the city are entirely surrounded by territory controlled by stalin's red army. that is the setting for everything that will happen. it is a fabulously dramatic story that will unfold. >> really is a fascinating situation. one of the great things about the book is giles makes clear what the stakes are right away. we understand on the human level the interpersonal conflicts and larger things that are at stake.
you mentioned stalin is a character in the book and other villainous characters with helpful name recognition and real heroes that are fun to cheer for. names i haven't heard before but came to love by the end. i was curious if you had a favorite person even if it was one of the bad guys, colorful and interesting, even if they were doing that. if you had a favorite, a person you were drawn to, a person who captured your attention if you were meeting him. >> the main character in the book, and all-american hero, being airbrushed from history is colonel frank howling man haole. he is going to end up as commandant of the american sector. a fascinating character, full
of energy, dynamic, and he's determined to get his way in berlin, he finds himself left to head in a class with his soviet opposite number. they will never ci to eye. what is interesting about colonel haole is the americans and the brits, with instructions from the government to get on with soviet wartime partner. this helped win the war, governments in washington and london are determined to keep this going but colonel haole, when he arrives in berlin, the cold -- these are not allies. he writes in his diary and memoir, came to berlin thinking the germans are the enemy and i realized straight away the soviets are the enemy.
the soviet commandant is thereunder instruction from stalin to kick the americans and british out of berlin. they want to take over the whole of berlin, the states are massive, the whole of europe up for grabs. and colonel haole is determined to prevent the soviets from taking control of berlin so enough about the story. what drew me to it is the wider political geopolitical battle taking place. you have stalin, roosevelt, truman, and the picture on the ground, a microcosm where it is fought between these commanders, but a personal way
of telling a big geopolitical story. >> it does feel very personal and i knew these men so well is men, that was so well done. haole has a heads up, realizing these men will not be his allies. he's in conflict with his own country, what is the big turning point when everybody realized you were right, we are not going to come to an agreement, what is the big turning point? >> haole is saying we've got to change policy. winston churchill comes to america, truman invites him to make the famous iron curtain speech.
this is a wake-up call to the world, churchill says stalin can no longer be trusted, these are no longer allies, we got to change foreign-policy. total scandal in america. the idea is to keep working with stalin. churchill put differently, he can't be trusted. one of the soviet sniper clocks working at a soviet embassy in canada defects to the west and defects with a huge bundle of explosive documents that reveal soviets have been spying on the american nuclear program, what is taking place with western allies developing a nuclear warhead. these two events are really important and the third thing, don't know how well known it
is, george kennan, the famous diplomat in the american embassy in moscow writes his famous long telegram, in a similar tone to churchill set out the facts that the soviets cannot be trusted. in 1946 these three things happen, with haole continually banging on the drum, this is when truman begins to change his foreign-policy completely and you end up with the truman doctrine to protect countries threatened by the soviet union and followed by the marshall plan a dramatic turnaround in policy which is the idea to rebuild germany and rebuild germany in a democratic western form basically. everything begins to change and haole is to play a massive role in this. he is in berlin seeing things
firsthand and he can crank up this new policy and get the policy changed. >> the main guy here, my school had never heard of him. i love that i give him such attention and why is he more of a household name? >> the show was stolen by lucius clay. everything that has been written was written about him and he's going to berlin today. streets were named after lucius clay. he's mentioned all over the place whereas haole has been written out of the history books really. during the course of this book i have -- one of his sons lives
in california, pretty aggrieved over the years that his father never got the credit that he is due. .. writes, it's a wonderful read. i discovered in the ark-pennsylvania, this massive diary which is wonderful setting up his single added handbook warfare really. so yeah, some people do get history and they take something to bring them back in again. >> you mentioned that archive and i know there are some,
there's a lot of materials here. some of them are new, you're using new materials here, documents that are cited very often and i'm curious about those relationships with the documents, what new, what you learn from them and kind of how you found them and the research process. >> i am a bit nerdy really. a lot of my life in the archives. both in london and in d.c., the national archives there. it's quite interesting but those don't go into archives everyday. you often order up and you have very little idea what's going to be inside because the catalog records are not great. thereafter book fair and there's no interest in you open one it's gold dust and it's fantastic. one of the things i discovered
was crime and berlin, there's this paradise. i turned up a file, this is a story protected from london with a team of people to try to crack the crime rate. detective inspector tom says, he basically finds himself investigating the biggest crime ring in the history of crime. it's absolutely fantastic because the city is full of gangsters, you name it, they are all there. the last remnants, they rated everything. rare metals, works of art, so tom sent in their, he works alongside the americans to try to bust the crime rate. i was all in this file and went it came to washington, there was
another file in the national archives as well as washington so the whole chapter of the book is this story busting this primary. just things like that, fantastic, never written about before. completely unknown territory and that's one of the joys of working in the archives. >> you did all of your research first before that pen to paper, you make sure you have all of the information and know what it's going to be or you write as you go? >> the overall research, i know the structure of the book, doing so much research, you turn your head, i'll research half of the book at a time and then write it. but another thing i love doing
is the defendants of these people so the british common, a name almost as good as frank halley called loony time. i chased his daughter in scotland and she said his archives are in a suitcase in a spare bedroom, why do you come up. it turned out she was it a quarter work with her name, she was part of the family and went to her house and spelled out all of these archives. the full stuff. of course she went to visit her father and had her own memories of this city of complete ruin. bodies lying in the ruins, they risk stories but very powerful story of what berlin was like in 1946, 47 when she was there.
>> how far were you when you decided this person who will kind of talk with you and give you this firsthand material, firsthand stuff, how far were you when you met with her and discovered this? >> i was quite early on in the book and it was in porton discovery because i did not want the book to be just about men, because of the time. , the leads tend to be male but there is a story of the women of berlin. in 1945, berlin is a city of women and children because the men were prisoners, there are very few men in the city. i uncovered i have to say harrowing memoirs, letters and diaries of the women who suffered enormously when the
army came in to berlin, the soldiers were literally drunk on victory and they were drunk and came through and they raped and abused many of the women in berlin. it was very important and a difficult story to tell and a difficult story to read. but it was very important to tell it because it was part of the story that women of berlin would live with this for decades "afterwards". it also explains partly why the women in berlin were so desperate for the americans and british and later the french as well. desperate for them to arrive to bring some sense of order because it's not only a city in ruins, it's a city without any government at all. without electricity or gas or water without anyone, anything. the americans in the city bringing in 25000 troops each, they are coming in to a place of
total anarchy. it's important for people to realize just how trashed the city was at the end of the second world war. even when the armies arrived, the soldiers they had never seen anything like berlin. nothing like in the city. >> is such a fascinating contrast in the book between pat, gorgeous detail and i felt like it was like that. with the houses the people took over, leaders of the army set themselves up nice and headquarters of course and they set themselves up, settings and headquarters -- talk a little bit about that, the soviet kind of took for themselves.
>> the soviets and british and americans as well. it's a tale of two cities because on the one hand you have the berlin's who are starting, minimal russians in that way. the soviet moves in and they have access to and cigarettes, cigarettes on the black market and they have access to and this cigarettes, alcohol to end the sources of finance as well so they can buy absolutely anything they want from sex, certainly one thing they deserved after fighting their way through berlin but they can also by any sort of food, any sort of alcohol, nightclubs bring up almost immediately when they move into the city and you are right, they can also requisition any property they want in the west of the city where the americans and british are about this is where all the great
industrialists burst berlin used to live, with their requisitioning forms, they turn up at the door and they take them with the houses in the story, it is absolutely fascinating story about the highlight lives by allies but also of the soviets and that contrasted. the stories -- the champagne, the caviar. it party time. the stories affect contrasting with berlin on minimum ration. a lot of people would say the germans deserve it, they lost the war, they treated their territories appallingly and americans and british felt like that but when you read some of the accounts of these women and children who have not had any part of the war in some working in the resistance, it's a
difficult story to read. >> would you say the british command bringing his daughter, was not an outlier or how much of his family life was going on for these generals and leaders, is that a one off could you speak a little bit about that? >> by 46, 47, the americans were all bring in their wives, partly to cut down with the local berlin women, they brought their wives over and children they set up schools set up in berlin precisely for the children, so people like frank halley went to school in berlin, huge influx but things got very tense, i don't know how much time we've got to talk about the blockade but as things reached crisis, the americans and british realize we are in a dangerous situation here. we got lots of women and
children potentially stuck in the city under siege position so often left or some of them left at that time as the soviet declared the berlin blockade. >> all of this is drawn into beautiful detail in the book affect contrast so it sounds like you've met at least two of the defendants of the book, was there anyone less excited to meet you louis resistant telling their stories? i'm curious to know more about those relations and how often that haven't. >> one that i think it's really worth speaking about, he's slightly written out of the story so the americans have taken complete credit and justifiably because without american manpower, the airlift could never have happened.
was it possible to feed a city of two and a half million people by air? it's never been done before in history and the soviets have declared blockade of the western sector of berlin, completely isolated. it's a bit like a medieval castle. the american and british are stuck inside the city and they have no access to the city because the road and rail think across germany have been cut. the only possible way of keeping the city alive, two and a half million inhabitants is by air. can this be done? almost everyone said it was impossible but i like to think in times of crisis, it's good to call it a true, they have this marginal weight and he's a complete mathematician, he's brilliant. he's cap a slide rule and massive tables and he sits down and works out actually feasible
possible to feed them by air. he believes it is, he goes and says this is my mathematical formula to feed the city. using six airfields in western germany, occupied by the americans to airfields in the west sector of germany and this will be the most extraordinary event in the history of aviation. this will require planes landing, flying in five level into the city, planes landing every few seconds of the to airfields in berlin to keep the city alive. he has been totally written out of the story here particularly in american history, he doesn't get imagine. very grieved by this and i had long chats with her and she had a lot of documentations about her father and his role.
as i said in the. >> it was a wildly ambitious plan with little margin for error. it's one of my favorite sections in the book, you do a good job showing how tough it would be and then they discover it is possible, and ambitious plan, everything needs to go right and you are on the edge of your seat the whole time. >> one statistic tells the whole story, an absolute minimum for those berliners. they needed to find four and a half thousand tons of food every single day. a standard plant at the time could carry two and a half so
you are going to have to have planes flying in round-the-clock. once they greenlight the airlift, this is where it gets exciting. the americans from honolulu to alaska to hawaii, everywhere across america, planes are brought in and likewise from the british, from across the world from india, the pacific, the first bring in their planes as well and it's a mass conversion planes and these are trying to keep the city alive, it's a heart rendering story. >> it really is it's a beautiful story where everybody converged into the scale and works together. at the same time, a wonderful story, a great section of the book. great, so another question, you were surprised everything you
learn, you know so much about world war ii, he written several books about it, this is your era, your area, you have so much expertise here and i'm curious as you were doing your research, you can't wait, i thought i was going to tell this story, was going to go here but i had this part of the story wrong, when you surprise? >> surprised me, i read a lot about the big three, when churchill, roosevelt met in crimea and the other big conference at the end was a conference where churchill and truman at that time, they meet. what surprised me was the extent to which both roosevelt and churchill and truman and true trail would prepare, they believed the man of his word. barely he had no intention
whatsoever of living up to the promises he made particularly the promises at the altar. by the time the war comes from he's basically got everything he wants and so truman and churchill really, they are in a bit of a backseat because he's one everything he has one and get they go on wanting to work with him and keep up this wartime and that's where real tension comes in with general halley on the ground and this is ridiculous. this guy cannot be trusted, he wants to kick us out of berlin. the key to change policy. it's all happening on a personal level, you know? >> do think the other people outside were ready to be firm right away? do think people's resistance
speak to stalin athleticism or just to have every eager everyone was with turmoil and siding? >> from everything i've read was absolutely brilliant, he was a very evil individual, he was a british negotiator and used to what he was getting what he wanted. he is months away from dying, a very sick man. they had to have some meetings in his bedroom with him in that. perhaps he was not on his best. churchill likewise, i don't think he was on his best but he was drinking unbelievably heavy. one of his aides described him as bucketful's of champagne. churchill cap sank i like that man, i like that man. i can work with him. i think he used it to his advantage. after the conference, i read
interestingly the, they were thinking we really got everything we wanted. so i am fascinated by stalin because he was so evil and yet could be so charming and seduced so many people, i think he seduced both churchill and truman and roosevelt. >> fascinating. i'm curious we are almost out of time. we are getting the heads up to go to audience questions in a minute but alas question i have i think we have time for one more. this is history that took place a long time ago but one thing that is fascinating, it also shows how we got to now. it sets up the legacy of this time, it led indirectly and seemingly directly to the way we live now. i'm curious what you think the lasting legacy is you cover in this book.
>> our relations with russia, almost the new cold war. , the russian ambassador at the uk described as close to frozen the other day so i don't think the story has gone away at all, he is ever present. how do you deal with this particularly now with him in charge? gangsters are running the place. i think -- it's a very relevant story. what you do? what came out of the event in my book was nato with the guaranty of the safety of the west, the entire cold war period. it's interesting to look at how relations with russia are going to evolve the next few years and how we as the west work together to contain this volatile situation inside russia.
>> to do again what we did. >> you realize how each characters count in these historical episodes. character plays a major role in these dramatic events in history. >> absolutely and that's one of the best, one of the things i love the most is that comes through, how much the individuals shape history. even just their habits. i went to turn over to questions from we have our first audience question in the first one, for the any minor characters you wish you could have spent more time on? >> you come across so many in the course of your research and it's difficult to know which ones to focus on. some of the soviet ones i might have, it would be nice to google information, it's difficult to get access to the russian archives these days but a story
i was pleased with in the book which i managed to get from the russian archives, i have a good friend whose russian and did some of the research for me, a story of the platoon of soviet soldiers who broken captured and took their way up and hung out the soviet flag on the roof. like so many of the stories in the book, the stories of six men was written out in the history books, they never got the credit they were deserved and selling promised the first soviet soldiers in and the ones who were captured would be showered with medals and awards and everything. these guys, one of the main characters, they never got anything. they never got any recognition. it's stories like that i don't know, i feel sometimes you're
giving credit to people who achieve remarkable things and felt better that they never got the credit in their lifetime. >> i'd like to know how does the pandemic affect the writing of the book? does it make it more difficult? >> i was extremely fortunate and i know the real problem during the pandemic, obviously the libraries were closed but as we said earlier, i do my research and that i write the book. it's a year of research and regular of writing sometimes. what i do when i go to the archives, echo drop everything of interest. i loaded to my. >> so i have absolutely everything i need. i have thousands of documents on my. >> but i was fortunate because i was for me, it was a time just
to bury my head getting stuck into the writing but i know so many writers who basically missed a year of their life because they went and couldn't do any research during that year. >> i remember you are right on time with the delivery date even though the pandemic was happening. so many authors were behind and you were right on time. i remember reading the first half of your book on the fourth of july it was like the whole country was kind of closed in a way. there was very little celebrating the way you are used to, parades and gatherings so it was a nice way to celebrate the fourth of july when there is a lot of usual event were kind of moved. so what is your favorite archives? >> which is my favorite archives? that's a very tricky one. in london, we have a great
museum of warfare, all of the many wars over the centuries and there are particularly good -- it's largely diaries, letters and memoirs. stories of individuals and for me, these individuals, these stories of men and women who often are not very well known, they achieve remarkable things in their own lifetime, these are the stories that interest me more than the collections and documents of states which of course are important interesting for the framework of the book but what really gives the meat of the book is the story of individual accounts, people in berlin in july 1945 when the americans and british arrived, and remember it reported, describe it and all the details of it, what the weather was like and what they ate for lunch that
day, physical little details that enabled you to bring life to the story. there's one archives like that and it's the army archives in pennsylvania. as another one like that because unlike the national archives in d.c., they've gone out of their way to collect diaries and memoirs and that's where generals complete set of diariet detail, not just the politics of berlin at the time, what he's wearing, but the atmosphere of the meeting was like so all about is wonderful. it should be said, these four, they met every week, the four sectors of the government in berlin. what's wonderful about the archives is that every single word ever spoken about room was being recorded history because
secretaries stenographers writing down everything and the progress of the politeness into outrageous arguments, they were all recorded on paper so that was a wonderful resource as well, you feel like you are in the room at the time when these explosives are taking place. it's a miracle it didn't start punching each other because by 1948, they were true. >> that is fascinating. that's very cool. did the book affect your view on world war ii? >> it sheds a very different light on the wartime alliance, a story that fascinates me. when america and britain went with the soviet union, this was
the most unlikely alliance in history. a few decades earlier they had their own troops on the russian soil fighting against the very people with whom they found themselves in the wartime alliance. that whole side of things is fascinating. of course it ends explosively and that's how the book ends as well, with a blockade, the airlift when the wartime alliance falls apart and quite dramatic fashion. >> wonderful. thank you. i want to thank kyle's milton for joining us here at tattered cover. >> before hugo, can you let us know where we can find online? >> my website is simple,
www.giles milton.com, just my name. you can find me on twitter and the book itself, you can buy it everywhere. great independent bookstores of course and barnes & noble and it's available. if you have enjoyed this book, i would love to go out and buy it. also, please leave a review, it's very important for me to make others others to read the book. >> it is rich and fascinating stuff. >> thank you for having us on, a real pleasure to be able to talk about this. >> thank you for joining u