BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Balint Vazsonyi, author of "America's 30 Years War," what's your book
Mr. BALINT VAZSONYI, AUTHOR, "AMERICA'S 30 YEARS WAR: WHO IS WINNING?": It is about America's 30-years war, which began roughly
30 years ago and produced what I perhaps should call a national divide
underneath a thin layer of countless issues--a national divide over
dimension, over magnitude that this country perhaps has not
experienced since the time of the Civil War.
LAMB: Why do you think this is so?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Because when I first arrived here about 40 years ago,
it seemed to me that most Americans agreed on most basic things--I
would almost go as far as to say on all basic things. There were all
sorts of differences, healthy differences, about the ways America's
principles should be applied to the issues of the day, but there was
no question about America's basic principles.
And roughly 30 years ago I began to notice a split and a growing
number of Americans who no longer believed in those principles. And
today we have arrived at a time when I think it's fair to say that
certain of our fellow Americans think of this country, this society,
as the most successful in the history of mankind and believe that the
reason for that success is to be found in America's founding
principles. Others believe that it's really the shortcomings of
America that make up our relevant history, and therefore those
principles need to be replaced. And what the book explains in a much
broader and deeper context is how the second group looks to the only
known alternative, which is the European Socialist model.
LAMB: What's your favorite thing about the United States that you've
Mr. VAZSONYI: The people, I think without any question. I don't
know what magic and what incredible inspiration led the founders to
the point where they laid the foundations of this society the way they
did. But the result is that people have come here from all over the
world, from countries where, as we know, people are not particularly
nice to one another and pretty bad things happen.
Now those biologically same people, identical people, come here, sign
on to these, well, if I may say, articles of incorporation, if I may
so refer to the Constitution and the Declaration. And somehow they
become different people, people who know how to live and work with one
another. And that really was what hit me when I first arrived. Also,
of course--and this is an important part of it--the relationship
between government and the governed, which is something that, of
course, many people have written about and is basic. But, you see,
growing up in Europe, you get used to government as--acting as the
possessor of power. And here, I found out what it is when the
government is public servant, but that's a matter of the past.
LAMB: Where have you lived in the United States?
Mr. VAZSONYI: I first arrived in Tallahassee, Florida, because
I'm--I'm a pianist by profession, and I had already embarked on
a--kind of an international career by that time. And there was a very
great Hungarian musician, perhaps the greatest Hungarian musician of
this century, who spent his last 10 years teaching at Florida State
University. And, actually, it was he who invited me and arranged for
a little scholarship and found someone to sign my papers. And so
Tallahassee, Florida, was my...
LAMB: What was his name?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Erno Dohnanyi. And his name is known today through
his grandson, who is the conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra. But,
of course, I mean, he--Dohnanyi was probably, in many ways, the
greatest, or among the greatest, pianists of the century and a very
distinguished composer and conductor. Very few people remember now
that the New York Philharmonic, when it was the New York State
Symphony, invited him in the 1920s to conduct them for whole season,
even though he's least known as a conductor. But to answer your
question, I started off in Tallahassee, Florida. Then...
LAMB: What year?
Mr. VAZSONYI: This is 1959 and '60. Then I was the first artist in
residence at the Interlaken Arts Academy, which was the a--the
yearlong extension of the national music camp of great fame and home
to many music-loving young people--I think they started in 1929 or
something like this--and it is just next to Traverse City, Michigan.
So my wife and I have lived there. Then I was professor of music at
Indiana University in Bloomington, spent a couple of years in Miami as
dean of music at the New World School of the Arts, and now we live in
Washington. In between, there was a year in New York--I'm in a
traveling profession and I've had a traveling life.
LAMB: Why did you--at what age were you when you came to Tallahassee?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Twenty-two.
LAMB: And what was it besides the invitation and someone
re--w--willing to sign the papers wanted--made you want to leave
Hungary to come to the United States?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, I left Hungary, in fact, in December 1956 when
it became obvious that the uprising against the Soviet Union failed
and after the Soviets reinvaded Hungary. For a few weeks there was
some degree of hope that the world would not let this pass. And I
remember looking at the calendar every day and hearing over the Voice
of America and Radio Free Europe how thousands were crossing the
border at night. And I kept asking myself, `How long--how much longer
do I want to hope?'
But eventually, in the middle of December, I thought it made no sense
anymore to wait. And I walked across in the dead of night, like
200,000 others. And for a couple of years I was in Vienna because,
even though I had planned to come to America very early 1957, some of
your older viewers may remember that President Eisenhower took it upon
himself to let in, I think, 40,000 Hungarians above the official
quota, which at that time was taken very seriously by Congress. And
Congress didn't like that at all, and they shut down Hungarian
immigration for two full years. And so it was when they lifted that
ban that I was able to come.
LAMB: Were you a pianist when you left?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Oh, yes. I s--started playing the piano when I was
five, and within a few weeks of--of studying piano, I knew that that's
what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And I was 12 when I gave
my first public concert.
LAMB: What did your parents do?
Mr. VAZSONYI: My father was the export director of a textile company
and my mother was simply a homemaker. They both played an instrument,
but I never heard them play. And, in fact, America has a lot to do
with my becoming a pianist because, when I was five years old, I was
taken to the cinema to see a film--again, some viewers might recall
that Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland used to make two or three films a
year in the late '30s, early '40s. This one was called "Babes in
Arms." And there was a beautiful tune in there, a very haunting
tune--now I know--I didn't know the title then--it's called "Where or
When." And apparently, the next day I walked to our piano, which I'd
never touched before, and played the whole thing complete with
harmonies. I was told later that my mother was sitting in the bathtub
and assumed that I had turned on the radio, which I was forbidden to
do, and came out to admonish me and found me next to the piano, and
the rest was a kind of foregone conclusion.
LAMB: At some point in your book, you suggest that even if you could,
you wouldn't move back to Hungary or choose that again as your
country. Did I interpret that right?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Yes. And this is notwithstanding the fact that I'm as
at home in the language as I've ever been, and when I go back for
visits, nobody suspects that I don't live there, in fact. It's a
particular source of pleasure when people ask me for directions,
people who are--who reside in Budapest ask me for directions there.
And, you know, I've published in Hungarian recently and my friends are
there. But once you have tasted America and once you realize what it
is to live freely, you don't want to do anything else.
LAMB: You also saw another movie that you cite--and a couple of them
you cite in the book. One of them is "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
Why? What was that--why did you mention that?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, there was a fairly narrow window between Nazi
occupation and Soviet occupation at the end of World War II, a couple
of years during which Western movies could come into Hungary. So I
was about 10 or 11 when I saw that film. And it was the first time
that I saw a visual representation of Washington and how Congress
worked and the type of people that were American, and--and that I was
at an age that I could actually understand some of what was going on.
And it made a deep impression on me because--I mean, I couldn't
articulate it then, but if I may put it like that now, the--the evil
person, the evil senator in that film was someone who, in fact, didn't
come up to standard in terms of America's ideals. And America
was--America came across as a country where the right thing carries
the day, it wins. And I had just experienced World War II and the
Soviet armies were all around us, and it didn't look to me like a
world where the right things win. So it was interesting to see that
on the screen.
And, again, chance would have it that because we--we began to hear so
much about Communists and communism, that very soon after that I
decided to read "The Communist Manifesto" by Marx and Engels, thinking
that I might as well try to get firsthand what everybody's talking
about. And I think the two, in plose--in close proximity, have played
a decisive role in my--in my youth, because it was not a very
difficult decision to make.
LAMB: When you mentioned it so often in the--in the book, I got my
copy out of "The Communist Manifesto." I--it's a little, tiny book.
Mr. VAZSONYI: Yes.
LAMB: Did--did--when most people see it, are they surprised at how
small it is?
Mr. VAZSONYI: I don't know. I--I can't remember that far back what
my reaction would have been to the size. I was--I--I remember more
what my reaction was to the content.
LAMB: Here it--it's--what I did--I've got it open to a page that I
wanna ask you about. It's "The Communist Manifesto," and there
are--there are 10--you talk about the 10th item--Mr. Marx and Mr.
Engels listed 10 things in here. They said, `Nevertheless, in the
most advanced countries, the following will pretty generally be
applicable,' and the 10th one on this list is, `Free education for all
children and public schools, abolition of children's factory labor in
its present form, combination of education with industrial
production,' etc. First of all, when was "The Communist Manifesto"
Mr. VAZSONYI: 1848.
LAMB: And who was Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, Marx was a student of philosophy and someone who
began to write about philosophy. What we know about his life shows a
person who didn't find it very easy to get along with or get on in the
world. And I think reading what he writes shows a person who had
serious difficulties relating to humanity as, for instance, did Russo
before him. These are people who seem to care a great deal about
humanity as a whole but not about individual people, and they don't
have much relationship to them.
In any event, there was a--a French philosopher by the name of
Proudhon who wrote something called the--"The Philosophy of"--oh,
gosh, I--I--now it comes to my mind in every language except in
English. Marx turned it around and--I don't know why I can't think of
the title right now in German and in French, but not in English. "The
Misery"--"The Misery"--"The"--"The Philosophy of Misery" was the
Proudhon book, and Marx responded by writing "The Misery of
Philosophy," and that kind of put him on the map.
And, obviously, he became interested in socialism, which had been all
around. And, interestingly, in this book that you are holding in your
hands, he already differentiates among seven different kinds of
socialisms, all of which he rejects in favor of the one and only, his
and Engels' version, which they call communism. And that is a very
interesting pointer for people who really lose their way in trying to
understand what socialism is, because socialism has this incredible
ability to appear in different guises. At the drop of a hat, it can
always dress itself up in local colors. That's why in Germany, under
Hitler, it was very different from Lenin than in Socialism in the
Soviet Union or Mao's in China or the British labour parties or the
American liberals. And it always avails itself of things that are of
particular interest to the people who happen to be there. This
becomes a lot easier to understand if we realize that, already, Marx
lists seven of them, which he all rejects, and all those people call
So socialism really is a particular agenda rather than a true
philosophy or a set of principles. For instance, in the way America's
founders had given us a set of principles, socialism is an agenda of a
certain kind, and anything in the service of that agenda is
LAMB: Well, on this list of 10 things that apply--and I--I just
wanted to read a couple of 'em and see how many of 'em you think apply
to this country. This comes out of his "Communist Manifesto." Number
one is abolition of property and land and application of all rents of
land to public purposes. Number two is a heavy progressive or
graduated income tax. Three, abolition of all right of inheritance.
Four, confiscation of the property of all immigrants and rebels.
Five, centralization of credit in the hands of the state. Six,
centralization of the means of communication and transport in the
hands of the state. Any of these apply now to this country?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Oh, many of them to--to varying degrees, of course,
property being the--one of the most important dividers between what I
call in my book the Anglo-American side and the Franco-German side
of--of philosophy and looking at society. On our side, p--the
guarantee of property, ever since the writing of the Magna Carta, has
been considered to be joined at the hip with freedom. There was--the
guarantee of property guarantees freedom because the first aspect of
freedom is that you can freely dispose over the fruits of your labor,
and nobody can take it away from you, except in the form of some kind
of due compensation in return...
LAMB: Let me--let me stop you in the middle of that. Property in
France or in Germany--you said the Franco-German philosophy.
What--what's property mean in those two countries compared to what it
means here in the United States?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, property rights in the United States were, of
course, inherited from England, and I think those who read the Magna
Carta will find that most of the provisions apply to the protection of
property because, really, the loss of freedom always began with the
strong taking the property of the weak. And the Magna Carta sought to
remedy that and, of course, America's founders produced the best
possible set of documents to do that.
Now, unfortunately--and I say this in inverted commas--the guarantee
of property is not a relative concept. Property--and by this I mean
the money you earn, the shoes you wear, the land you own, anything
that is yours, it is either yours absolutely or it is not. There's
really nothing in between. Now the American form of government really
doesn't work unless property's guaranteed, and socialism doesn't work
if property is guaranteed. And beginning with the French Revolution
and its philosophical preparation and then continued by German
philosophers--and that's why I call it the Franco-Germanic side--that
is really at the core, at the heart of the de--debate.
And if you look at any kind of welfare state, if you look at the
redistribution and entitlements in our time, you realize that property
is no longer guaranteed. If you look at the power of the
Environmental Protection Agency and its ability to declare something a
wetland and bar the owner of that property from using the property as
he wishes to use it, that is no longer the guarantee of property. So
we are obviously not at the state now, yet, where the state simply
comes into your home and takes your piano or my piano. But once
property's not guaranteed, who tells us where it ends?
LAMB: An--another couple of these items that, aga--would you call
these the principles of communism?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, no, I don't think communism has principles. It
has an agenda. I think these are items that they thought were of
LAMB: Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by
the state, the bringing into cultural--cultivation of wastelands and
the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common
plan. Eight, equal liability of all to labor; establishment of
industrial armies, especially for agriculture. Nine, combination of
agriculture and manufacturing industries. Ten, free education--and we
get--you mention this in your book--free education for all children in
public schools. Again, wh--what's--where's that stand in the United
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, what I've mentioned, I think, in particular
detail is the school-to-work program of the current administration,
which is straight out of point 10. The free public education is
something that I think a lot of people have come to agree with that it
should be available. And some of those items that you read really
don't apply to life today in particular, but there are enough of them
And, of course, the heavy graduated income tax, which was the second
point, is something that socialists would never give up and, of
course, that's one of the most hotly debated issues and has been for a
long time. As you know, of course, income tax was not part of
America's founding and was really quite a late arrival and was
introduced by stealth, as all these things, promising the country that
it will always be just 1 percent or something like that and, `Let's
not even bother. It's too much discussion.' And, of course, we know
where we are today.
But school-to-work is really such a verbatim adoption of that part of
the 10th point that I think it is--it was worth mentioning in the
book. And generally speaking, the--the means of production is
something that perhaps we should comment on because a lot of people
think that socialism really is when all the means of production are
taken into public ownership. I believe, after long thought given to
the matter, that the public ownership of the means of production as
well as the killing off of millions of people and the establishment of
a monolithic--monolithic party organization, where all the excesses of
adolescence, they are not germane to the final agenda of building
socialism or communism.
Incidentally, communism is the end station. There's nothing--no stop
before everything is a transition, before--and any socialist who tells
you differently is trying to hide the fact which was just recently
confirmed again by China's visiting president last year who, once
again, wanted to make sure that nobody makes any mistake about the
fact that all socialists work toward the establishment of communism as
the end state.
Anyway, coming back to these excesses of adolescence, I think over the
years communism and socialism, whatever we call it, has come of age
and people have come to realize that, first of all, why kill off all
sorts of people who will be very happy to produce for the common good
if they are just permitted to live? Why take away the means of
production when, in fact, taking off the cream is much easier, a kind
of protection racket? Let people do--let people plant the seed and
harvest the p--the produce and let's just, you know, let them know how
much they have to give to the socialist cause.
And a monolithic party, which embarrassed itself so many times over
the de--pa--past decades, again was replaced in the case of America
with myriads of single-issue organizations because they realize that
getting people interested in something that they naturally like and
prefer is a very American thing, and people get passionate about the
one thing that really interests them and don't much care and don't
much realize that all these single-issue organizations are--really,
together, ad--advocate and--and promote the socialist cause.
LAMB: You jump in your book from "The Communist Manifesto" to things
like the Discovery Channel, which you say has a political influence.
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, I--I don't--I don't have any way of measuring
how much it has. I know how much it tries because those extremely
appealing pictures--and it's--it's really amazing how far we have come
in showing what happens at the depth of the ocean or in the depth of
the jungle or within a bird's nest. There is this pious, monotone
voice invariably pointing out in--both in very overt and in subliminal
ways what a rotten creation man is and how all these animals would be
just lovely and peaceful creatures, just having the time of their
lives, occasionally killing each other for food--that's
unavoidable--but that, really, man is the enemy and everything that's
bad on Earth comes from man. And, you know, it's one of the
LAMB: Do you think it's done on purpose?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, why would anyone write a narrative w--using
words that the person doesn't mean? Let me give you another example.
NBC had a doc--it wasn't a documentary. It--it was one of these
two-night dramas with the title "Virus," and it--it was the usual
alarmist entertainment. And it ended with a narration underneath the
credits, and the narrator said, `Somewhere in the depth of the rain
forest, this terrible virus is hiding. It is ready to unleash its
terrifying power on this unfortunate planet when we least expect it.
But this virus is not the greatest enemy of this planet. Man is,'
fade. Now you might suggest that this was done accidentally, but I
don't know if I could agree.
LAMB: You talk about television news and the makeup of the anchors.
What's the point?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, it's a--it's a s--a subject that is debated
quite frequently, that the media is biased on the socialist side. And
please forgive me that I don't use the euphemism of left and liberal
and progressive because, as I try to explain in the book, we might as
well return to plain English and call socialists socialists. In fact,
I think socialists owe it to this nation to tell us what they are.
And before answering your question, which I'm not trying to evade, I
think it would be a wonderful idea if the country would be given an
opportunity to vote on whether it wants to go socialist. Perhaps it
does. Then let's not hide it. Let's put it to the vote, but in open
To come back to your question, something that just happened to me--so
I'll speak with some authority--there is some interest in a political
proposition called the `third way,' because both President Clinton and
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain have expressed an interest
in finding what they call a third way. And one of the very
distinguished columnists wrote a--a sizable article just a little
while ago suggesting that it would really be worthwhile to look at
this possibility, and perhaps it is an answer.
And one of the NPR morning shows invited this columnist to talk about
the `third way,' and I received a telephone call asking if I would
also come and represent whatever I happen to believe in. And I said,
`I would love to come,' but in the end, the host decided that he only
wanted socialists of various--various hues to be present and not
someone who represented the American principles, and the invitation
was withdrawn. And this is just a tiny thing. I could--there are
daily occurrences. I mean, David Broder, for instance, who is a
highly distinguished and highly respected figure, reported recently
on--on an executive order that the president tried to slip by the
country. It has a number, Executive Order 13083, which--because some
people realized the danger in it, was actually brought to the point
that the president had to suspend it.
And the report in The Washington Post, wr--written by a highly
distinguished journalist, didn't say anything about what that
executive order, had it stood, would have done to the country and the
Constitution. It kind of reported in lukewarm terms that--that there
was resistance, and the White House will have to rethink it. But I
was just asking myself, if a Republican president had tried to
basically undo the Constitution with an executive order, what the
reaction would have been.
LAMB: B--back to the anchor thing--and the reason I brought it up is
'cause I remember you referring to the fact that there are usually
four anchors on a television news show on a local basis, and--two of
'em news, t--one of 'em weather, one of 'em sports, and that there is
always a racial mix: Hispanic, a black, a woman and all that. Have
you noticed this as you've traveled around in all the cities that you
Mr. VAZSONYI: Mostly. Mostly.
LAMB: And what does that mean, if that's the case?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, what it means is that we live in a world of
quotas, which I consider as much running counter to American
principles as anything possibly could and that, as part of the
30-years war, forces have surfaced in this country which have somehow
brought about a con--the condition in which radio stations and
television sta--television is special, of course, because it's
visual--feel that they need to show this kind of a mix or they will be
in trouble, and--and people do get in trouble. I mean, there
is--there is no question that there's a quota system in the
universities, at the workplace, with federal contracts. I mean,
it's--it's a hotly debated topic.
What is not perhaps stated as clearly as I would like to see it stated
is what the basic American principles have to say about this and that
opposite views are views opposite to the basic American principles.
Let me--let me not speak in riddles. When I arrived in Tallahassee in
1959 and I found that there was, in fact, segregation, I was extremely
upset because I was deeply disappointed to find that what I had taken
for Communist propaganda about America was, in fact, true, at least in
certain states. And as soon as I could speak English--it took a
little while; I didn't speak any when I arrived--I certainly became
very vocal about it, to my detriment, which I didn't mind. I--I took
on more formidable foes in Hungary.
And I was delighted--really delighted in the early '60s, when I saw
that a growing majority in America really wanted to do something about
this and settle the score, so to speak, and--and even the playing
field at last.
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, I--let me put it in a different way and say make
absolutely certain that opportunity is available to all equally and
that everybody gets equal treatment by the law, because I think these
are the two things that we can provide through the legal system.
Other--other aspects of this depend very much on human behavior and
the flexibility of certain people and a lot of other things. What the
law can do and must do is to provide equal treatment to all and make
absolutely certain of equal opportunity for all.
I also thought that this development would finally enable all of us to
treat one another as individuals and that all remnants of group
treatment would disappear. And, therefore, I have to confess to my
unending disappointment that the last 30 years have seen a greater
fragmentation into groups than I ever thought possible in America, and
that's what we see on the television stations, among other things.
LAMB: In the back, in your book--by the way, before I forget it, you
ran for mayor of Bloomington, Indiana.
Mr. VAZSONYI: Yes, in 1991. I was drafted, because the official
candidate had to drop off for personal reasons, and with 90 days in
the campaign, there had to be someone.
LAMB: Did you win?
Mr. VAZSONYI: No. I didn't win, and there was very little chance
that I would win against a three-time incumbent with 90 days and very
little name recognition. I may have noticed that my name provides a
little bit of a stumbling block, but having run was an experience I
wouldn't trade for anything, with my wife going door to door every
night. I really felt that, at the end of it, I came of age as an
American, even though I had already been a citizen for--I don't
know--27 years by that time. I--I came of age as an American, and I
don't think that I would dare to raise my voice in these matters that
are raised in the book had I not had that experience, as a
LAMB: Where do you live now?
Mr. VAZSONYI: In Washington, DC.
LAMB: And what do you do full-time?
Mr. VAZSONYI: I am a senior fellow of the Potomac Foundation, and I
am the director of the Center for the American Founding, which I
started about two and a half years ago. I haven't given up giving
concerts altogether, but I have to say that I put in--put piano
playing, to some extent, to a back burn--on a back burner.
LAMB: I--if we saw one of your concerts, who would you more than
likely be playing?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, I tried to play all great music, but the bulk of
my repertoire is between Mozart and Brahms, I would say, which is not
to say that I don't play any Bach, which is before Mozart, or 20th
century music, which is after Brahms. But the bulk of it would be
Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt.
LAMB: Any reason for those? Any political reason for those?
Mr. VAZSONYI: No, there's no political reason, but I've developed a
very early, I might say, special relationship with Beethoven because
the one and only classical recording we had at home was of his 7th
Symphony. And I found myself playing that just by hearing, you know,
through--through the ear.
LAMB: You could sit down to the piano and just repeat what you heard?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Mm-hmm. Well, that's how I started, and that stayed
with me. And, in fact, there were times in my teens when I could play
whole operas that way that I didn't have the music to. I just went to
the opera house. But, in any event, the Beethoven 7th Symphony became
a big thing, and I didn't realize how far it would take me. Probably
the most unusual thing I've ever done as a pianist was to perform the
32 Beethoven piano sonatas in the order of composition over two days
in New York, Boston and London during the last official Beethoven
And I started a little television production company in the '80s in
order to produce television documentaries o--and films about
composers. There, again, the first one was Beethoven. And before I
realized why I constructed this--this program in my mind, which had as
its musical frame the 7th Symphony--and it was only after I had
committed the whole thing to paper that I realized that I was really
chasing my childhood there. But--so Beethoven has always been very
special. I think Mozart is special for anybody who's ever heard a
note. And with the others, it was just affinity that developed at
various times. With the very first Schumann piece I played and the
very first Brahms piece I played, there was just an affinity.
LAMB: You haven't mentioned a famous Hungarian pianist.
Mr. VAZSONYI: Liszt.
Mr. VAZSONYI: My very first gramophone record--the offer came when I
was about 26--was for eight Liszt rhapsodies. I'd never played a
Liszt Hungarian rhapsody before in my life, hard that this may be to
believe. I was given six weeks to learn those eight pieces. And the
funny thing about that recording is that it has remained in the
catalog until about last year, which would make it 35 years. And High
Fidelity, when they had an issue of the complete Liszt discography,
somehow picked my recording as the best representation of the
rhapsodies, which I really found funny because, you know, I would give
half my arm to play one of them like Horowitz. I don't think I ever
did. But since one gets a lot of bad reviews, which are not always
deserved, I was happy to have a good one that perhaps I hadn't
LAMB: Now can people go to the music store and find Balint Vazsonyi
and the recordings of yours?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Yes, I think they can, some CDs that they can go to
the Kennedy Center and--and find the vi--videocassettes of these
composer films that we have made. They are--or they can log on to
some Internet merchant and find the same thing.
LAMB: Have you recorded a lot in your life?
Mr. VAZSONYI: I've made about 13 or 14, but they were called--what
were called LPs. Now they are called CDs.
LAMB: Back to the book.
Mr. VAZSONYI: OK.
LAMB: In the back, you have a glossary of terms frequently used and
sometimes misunderstood. First, why did you need the glossary, do you
Mr. VAZSONYI: Because so many words have come into use, and people
don't know anymore why they use them. And more disturbing, people
don't really know what they mean. And I just thought that a book that
uses so many words and takes issue in the body of the book with so
many words might benefit from--or, the reader might benefit from--from
looking at some of these. Simply, the whole purpose of the book is to
ask readers to think again. And perhaps this would be a good time for
me to say that every day I ask myself the question, `How audacious is
it to be an immigrant, who didn't grow up here, to be someone who
spent his life playing music and not studying politics,' although I do
have a PhD in history--`how audaci--how audacious is it to step before
the American people and say, "I have some important issues to raise.
Will you give me your time and read it?"'
And I--whenever I speak in public, I try to include some kind of an
apology or at least a message that I'm aware of the unusual scenario
here. So having said that, let me add that the whole point of the
book is not to twist people's arms, not to turn their heads or--or ask
them to--to believe what I believe. What the book intends to
accomplish is, first of all, to show in a very realistic way where I
believe America really is today, how we got here, give a--a fairly
extensive road map of how the two branches of--of political philosophy
g--thought have evolved, where they have been, in what they have
resulted and, therefore, where they might take us.
And simply ask people to, please, look at these things in the harsh
light of day, and I honestly believe--because, first of all, I believe
in the wisdom of the American people and in their goodness, and I also
believe in the rule of the majority--if people look at these things in
the crude light of day and decide that the founding principles had
served their time and they need to be replaced by the socialist ones,
so be it. And let's try it, but let's do it not by default, but
LAMB: By the way, where'd you get your PhD in history?
Mr. VAZSONYI: I got it from the University of Budapest. Somewhat
unusual story--I mentioned Dohnanyi, the great musician, who brought
me here. At one point, I was asked to write his biography; nobody had
ever written about him. And when that book was published in Hungary,
the Hungarian National Academy offered me an honorary PhD because it
was such original research and I, so to speak, resurrected a national
treasure. And I said that I was greatly honored, but I really don't
want an honorary degree. I would be extremely happy to have a real
one, to which they said, `All right. If you are prepared to defend it
as a dissertation and go through the entire process, be our guest,'
which is what happened. And so I got a--a real PhD.
LAMB: But before I forget it, I grew up in a town that had a Kossuth
Street, and I'm not even sure that's the way you pronounce it, but
it--I didn't find out who Kossuth was until we did our Tocqueville
series here because Kossuth did some of the same things that
Tocqueville did--came to this country. Who was he?
Mr. VAZSONYI: He was...
LAMB: And how do you really pronounce it?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Kossuth (pronounced KOR-shoot). He was really the
architect of Hungary's war of liberation against Austria, the Habsburg
empire, which broke out in 1848, a year we had already mentioned
earlier today because it's the same year "The Communist Manifesto" was
published. And that was--that was a struggle that seemed to be
successful for more than a year, and Kossuth was the leading figure.
And he delivered a speech which was the--really, the equivalent of the
Declaration of Independence because he dethroned the emperor of
France, Joseph. And when the Austrians were not able to persevere
militarily, interestingly enough, they called in the Russians. That's
well before the Soviet Union, but I think it would help viewers to
have some idea of how Hungarians feel toward Russia, because it was
the troops of the czar that finally beat down the Hungarian war of
And Kossuth, after that, came to America and was received with
tremendous warmth and spoke to Congress and had all sorts of rallies
and gave famous speeches and had...
LAMB: And there--and there's a bust of him over in the Capitol.
Mr. VAZSONYI: There is. And--and there's a house named for him in
Washington, DC. And he had hoped, I think, to raise enough interest
for America to somehow pick up the cause of Hungary. You know, it's
very difficult when you are in the middle of an extremely elated and
almost victorious effort to believe that it's over--it's just over.
So in--after 1849, as after 1956, many people hope and try.
LAMB: Before I forget it, also, your--the--your organization--and is
it Potomac Foundation?
Mr. VAZSONYI: The Potomac Foundation is, really, the host
institution of the Center for the American Founding.
LAMB: Who--who funds it?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, the Potomac Foundation has its own--very modest,
but its own means, and so the center was originally funded by the
Potomac Foundation and, to--to a very important extent, still is. But
in the last two years, we have also acquired the contributions and
sponsorship of simply private citizens who are interested in what we
do and some smaller foundations.
LAMB: What do you do?
Mr. VAZSONYI: What we do is, we advocate and practice discussion of
all national issues as they relate to America's founding principles.
And we believe that for continued success of this society, we need to
return to the rule of law, individual rights, the guarantee of
property and a common American identity for all our citizens.
LAMB: How many people are involved? How much money's involved?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Oh, our budget is--is very small in terms of think
tanks. It hasn't even reached $200,000 a year. We are only two and a
half years old. We would like to expand. It started out with a
one-page kind of pledge we called "Reaffirmation of the American
Founding," where I first tried to articulate founding principles in a
kind of manageable form. And some members of Congress signed that and
then started recommending it. Actually, it was sent around in the
form of a `Dear colleague' letter, and then people around the country
s--started signing it. By now, they--they--they can do it on the
And we go around and hold town meetings where we present the founding
principles and invite people from the community, who are on the other
side of this debate, to--to argue it. And there is an audience which
is then also participated to invite--to--invited to participate. And
these are extremely interesting events, because one finds out why
people believe that the Constitution should be abandoned and the
founders really weren't that good after all. And what I find is that
wherever I go and we have these town meetings, the people on the other
side have a fairly brief list of items they bring up, and it's always
the same items.
So that's how I realized that those on the other side simply look at
the few shortcomings of this country's history as the relevant history
and judge everything based on that.
LAMB: Book is published by Regnery. It's endorsed by Kate O'Beirne,
Morton Blackwell, Dr. Paul Craig Roberts and Edwin Meese III. What
does all of that mean?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, it meant that they happen to be the ones, I
guess, who were--who were asked when the book was ready to be printed.
But I would say that--that Edwin Meese and Paul Craig Roberts are both
members of the advisory committee of the center and were from day one.
And I found it very interesting, reassuring and--and very moving that
someone of my background or, let's say, someone with my absence of
background in this realm could go and sit down with Ed Meese, who at
that time knew very little about me, just listened to what I had to
say for a--about half an hour, and would put his name on there. After
all, a former attorney general of the United States, a man
of--of--of--who--who stands in--in--in high esteem of many, it--it was
quite a big thing to do.
And Paul Craig Roberts, of course, is a--a very well-known syndicated
columnist. So--Kate O'Beirne, whom you mentioned, is the
im--Washington editor of National Review, to which I've contributed
with some frequency. And, actually, we also started some panel
discussions on Capitol Hill on these principles for members of
Congress and senior staff, and all the aforemention--aforementioned
have been on some of our panels for these discussions--Edwin Meese
and--and Paul Craig Roberts and Kate O'Beirne. And I guess they were
the logical people to ask for opinions because they have watched my
comings and goings from the day I came to Washington.
LAMB: Another book that I had to dip into, because you mentioned it
so often, was this one, "Mein Kampf" by Adolf Hitler. Why did you
write--why did you refer to this so often?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, I don't know. I--I--I'm surprised that it was
that often. I think the importance of Hitler, "Mein Kampf" and the
Third Reich is in the very strange phenomenon of today, which is that
a whole lot of people properly think of Nazi Germany as the ultimate
evil but utterly fail to think of the Soviet Union in the same way.
And so Hitler is the devil incarnate, but Lenin had some--quote,
unquote, some "good things" to recommend him. And his picture is on
the walls of many a philosophy teacher in--at our universities today.
And I find it extremely important for our salvation and our continued
survival for people to remember, first of all, that the Third Reich
was used by the National Socialist German Workers' Party, `socialist'
being the operative phrase, and their initial manifesto is no
different from "The Communist Manifesto." It's simply another form of
And I found in analyzing these two regimes--and I've lived under both;
I was eight years old when the Nazis occupied Budapest. And my family
has distinguished itself, if I may so phrase it, being persecuted
equally in both regimes. So I feel that I have something to say about
And my very first essay called "The Battle for America's Soul" was, at
least to 50 percent, about the twin phenomenon of the Third Reich and
the Soviet Union. And it's extremely important to realize that under
the thinnest possible veneer, they are absolutely identical in their
agenda, in their methods, in their enemies. You see, everything I do
has so much to do with recognition--something I suddenly remembered,
which was that both the Germans and the Russians, when they occupied
Budapest, in the first--we did the same thing as their first act in
office, and that was to forbid any contact with the English-speaking
In other words, listening to a BBC or Voice of America broadcast was a
high crime for which people went to jail instantly. And I said to
myself, `If it's true, as Stalin would have us believe, that Nazi
Germany and the Soviet Union were mortal enemies, that Nazis and
Communists are mortal enemies, why did the two of them do exactly the
same thing? Why did the two of them use exactly the same house of
horrors with building, tools and personnel to torture people and kill
people?' Because it's the same horrors in Budapest that both of them
used. And that started me thinking, really, and here is the result.
LAMB: Another movie you mention in your book is "The Candidate,"
1972, I think. Why did that get your attention?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Well, since you mentioned "Mr. Smith Goes to
Washington," it--it--it will not come as a surprise that, since the
age of 10, I've learned to look upon American movies very much as a
mirror of American life. And it seemed to me an interesting
comparison--to engage it in the book--to look at a 1972 film where
Hollywood wants us to be and where Hollywood wants us to see the hero
and the hero's beliefs. So I start with "The Candidate," 1972, go on
to "Regarding Henry" and end up with, I believe, "My Fellow Citizens,"
to show how the "The Candidate," played by Robert Redford, is already
very different from the Jimmy Stewart character in "Mr. Smith Goes to
Washington," in his rhetoric and in his disapproval of America. But
his disapproval of America in that film is still mixed with some
degree of humor, which I try to quote in the book.
By the time we get to "Regarding Henry," there is no humor; there is
only disapproval of America and those who have built America. And
then by the time we come to "My Fellow Citizens," it's the quota
system in an almost ludicrous manner, except that nobody laughs about
it, and perhaps it's nothing to laugh about. It's something to take
And what I hope very much is that people will look at my actual
statements and examples and--and actually pick up this debate, because
I would love--love nothing more than to have unlimited opportunity to
be challenged on every word I've written in this book. And I would
like to say here and now, if you don't mind that I abuse your
hospitality, is that if those who are criticized in this book will not
challenge it, I will certainly take it as an acknowledgement that
everything in the book is as it's written.
LAMB: At the end, in your glossary, you have something called
commissars. Who are they? Are there commissars in the American
Mr. VAZSONYI: Yes. Commissars--and I use the word because it's the
most appropriate word to use. Commissars are a product of the last 30
years, and I explain in some detail--there's also a--a long chapter of
commissars in America. But the glossary at the end actually gives
four commissar biographies, because it's a totally new type of human
being. These are people who have never done a job that other people
consider a job. They have worked in the movement--the political
movement all their lives, and all they do, really, is they mete out
punishment or they administer rewards to those who politically agree
The reason I present four biographies is that I want to show the
reader--and I asked the publisher to print them in columns side by
side--to see that these biographies read like carbon copies of one
another. These are four entirely different people. But, you know,
they finished school and they immediately went into these movements
where they can, if I may put it this way, settle their score with
LAMB: So these are real people.
Mr. VAZSONYI: These are real people. The reason that their names
are at the very end of each biography rather than at the beginning and
in parenthesis is that I wanted to show that it's the type that is
important for us to realize, not the actual people. The--the v--the
device of giving their names at the end in parenthesis actually comes
from Debussy's preludes written for piano--were to underscore that
these were his impressions of the sails of a ship, not the real sails
of a ship. He puts the title of each prelude at the end of the piece
in parentheses. So that gave the idea.
But I think I set it up with an interesting little story that happened
in Hungary, when the new secretary of the local Communist Party went
to introduce himself to our great composer, Kodaly. And Kodaly said,
`What happened to your predecessor?' And the new secretary says, `He
went back to his trade.' Kodaly says, `What was his trade?' `He was a
hatmaker.' And Kodaly says, `And what was your trade?' `Well, sir,
I've always worked in the movement.' So Kodaly says, `Where will you
go back?' And it's not right for America to have a whole class of
people who have no place to go back except the movement.
LAMB: Last question to you: This cover--your idea?
Mr. VAZSONYI: Not really. My idea had something to do with the
flag, but it was--it was really more something of a shadow and
possibly our white, five-pointed stars acquiring other colors. But I
think there was a shortage of time, and this was proposed among many
others and I accepted.
LAMB: Not really the last question. I have one more for you.
The--you have a question on your book, `Who Is Winning?' Can you give
it in a--10 seconds who is winning, in your opinion?
Mr. VAZSONYI: At this point, no one is, and I would like to have--as
a result of this book, to make sure that America does.
LAMB: Balint Vazsonyi, the author of this book, "America's 30 Years
War: Who Is Winning?" Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. VAZSONYI: Thank you so much for having me.
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