Peter Jennings
Peter Jennings
The Century
ISBN: 0385483279
The Century
"We have sought," write Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster, "to distinguish our story from other histories by holding each chapter up to a litmus test: Have we looked at this time from the perspective of someone who lived through it? And in doing so, have we captured a sense not only of the events of a particular era, but of the mood, the prevailing attitudes?" Thus, the experiences of ordinary men and women come to life in sidebars that appear throughout The Century. Sharpe James, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, recalls the sense of excitement and possibility he felt when Jackie Robinson became the first black ballplayer in the major leagues. Gilles Ryan remembers what it was like to be a high-school student in Dayton, Tennessee, during the Scopes Trial. Connie Chang talks about emigrating to the United States from Korea and establishing a liquor store in Los Angeles, only to have it destroyed in the civil unrest.

Comparisons to Harold Evans's The American Century are, perhaps, inevitable, but in addition to the emphasis on ordinary lives, The Century is further distinguished by the effective use of color photography (as well as several black-and-white shots). The book's sweeping narrative, shaped by Jennings and Brewster's comprehensive text, also flows a bit more smoothly than Evans's telegraphic prose; one can almost imagine Jennings reciting from these pages as he hosts the ABC/History Channel documentaries to which this book is a companion piece.
—from the publisher's website

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TRANSCRIPT
The Century
Program Air Date: December 27, 1998

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Peter Jennings, author of--or I should say co-author of "The Century"...
Mr. PETER JENNINGS, AUTHOR, "THE CENTURY": Emphasis on `co.'
LAMB: ...with Todd Brewster. You ask us in the beginning to read this like a novel. Why?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, I suppose what we really want to do at the beginning is emphasize this is a journalist's history, this is a journalist's work, not an historian's work. Todd and I like to say no historian in their right mind would take on 100 years in 600 pages, if the period at all.

I think because we want you to pick it up and read it anywhere. I don't want you to think of it as encyclopedic. I want people to think that it's experiential; that you can pick it up anywhere, and you can look at a picture or you can read a caption. The captions are quite long, as I think you've seen--and you can just take off. And it's driven by people stories. Todd is the real architect of this, and he likes to joke with me that while we did all of the interviews with the eyewitnesses for the television news, he says, `You know, in the book, they're really full-formed characters.' But they're not sound bites as they often turn out to be in long history programs even. So that's what I guess we mean by read it like a novel. Think of it as an experience rather than a history.
LAMB: You say you did the interviews. Is that what made up the little vignettes, as you went along, from the individuals?
Mr. JENNINGS: Mm-hmm. All of the eyewitnesses--we interviewed about 500 people. This is a--the genesis of the book is a television series--end of the century, irresistible for a television network and for journalists; irresistible because this 100 years has provided so much brilliant visual material. And we wanted to do it. And somebody basically said, `Well, why don't we do it as a book as well,' which I think is rather a way to people in television of saying, `We've got to have something that's slightly more lasting here.' Todd came into our lives and, thanks to him, the book developed this character of its own, this life of its own, got finished before the television. But I don't think we ever anticipated it would be as an exciting a project.
LAMB: How long is this series?
Mr. JENNINGS: There are two series really. There's a whole series for The History Channel, which is about 17 hours, which runs on The History Channel in April. Then there are 12 hours, which run in two-hour blocks, on ABC in late March and early April likely--quite different series.
LAMB: One of the first pictures in the book is Frederick Jackson Turner.
Mr. JENNINGS: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: Who was he, and why did you start with him?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, we started with him because, while this is not a book designed to extol the American century, it is designed as a piece of work seeing the world through American eyes. And so we thought it would be helpful at the beginning to have some sense of who Americans were at the turn of the century.

And Turner's idea was pretty elementary and an attractive one. He was the man--a rather obscure, certainly not distinguished historian from the University of Wisconsin in the late 1890s who declared that Americans were not simply transplanted Europeans, but a different kind of people, shaped not so much, as we say, by their history or by their national institutions as by their environment. He writes very briefly--May I?--`The wilderness masters the colonist. It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin. Little by little he transforms the wilderness.'

Turner wrote of this inexorable pull West for Americans. `But the outcome,' he says, `is not the old Europe. Here is a new product that is particularly American.' We thought it would be useful at the turn of the century to begin to give some flavor of who Americans were beginning to think they were and no longer really transplanted Europeans, which, of course, changes right away in chapter two as America gets pulled back to Europe by World War I.
LAMB: As you know, you were born above the United States.
Mr. JENNINGS: Yes.
LAMB: What year?
Mr. JENNINGS: I was born in 1938. This is--I'm 60 this year.
LAMB: What town were you born in?
Mr. JENNINGS: I was born in Toronto. My father was a broadcaster. He was a broadcast executive by the time I was born, had been a radio newsman before that, became an executive for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. And then when I was quite young, about 11, we moved to Ottawa because the CBC head office moved there, and so I grew up in a little Anglo community in rural western Quebec, which was very exciting--the inexorable pull West. Frederick Jackson Turner would have approved of the environment in which I grew up. So I have this rather mix--born of urban parents of Anglo-Scottish stock growing up in French Canada, sadly not learning French as a child but having a rural upbringing.
LAMB: Did you stay Canadian? Have you still...
Mr. JENNINGS: I'm still Canadian, yes.
LAMB: And why then immerse yourself in America like this--or the United States?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, I came to America in 1964 as a reporter determined to go and see the rest of the world. I got offered a job by ABC. I was so intimidated by the notion of coming to New York the first time that I said no. And I woke up about six months later in a cold sweat and said, `Oh, God, what have I done?' And I wrote them and said, `Could I change my mind?' But I wanted to see the rest of the world, which was a very distinctly young Canadian thing to do.

I came here, was plunged immediately into the coverage of civil rights in the mid-1960s and then worked for 20--you know, I worked here for five, maybe seven years. Then went and spent about--almost 20 years in the rest of the world, always at ABC's behest.

My challenge when I first came to America was to work in every one of the 50 states, a silly challenge, but an interesting one. It kept me going. And then I became overwhelmed by the notion of learning as much about the country as I could as I went along. If you work in television--you know this as well as I do. If you work in television, one of the things we fail to do, I think, is to show Americans about their country, and so I've always wanted to do that. So the idea of doing this project was, for me, yet one more great learning experience.
LAMB: You say in the introduction that your father asked you to go outside and describe the sky when you--in the early days of whether or not you were going to be a broadcaster. Why do you remember that, and what was he trying to get at?
Mr. JENNINGS: Because--I think what my father--my father was at--we were at home in this little English town in--as I said, in western Quebec. I was interested in being a broadcaster. My father was not only very good, but did a lot of live broadcasting, describing the opening of Parliament and the visits of kings and queens.
LAMB: Do you look alike?
Mr. JENNINGS: No, not at all. I look more like my mother. And the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation did a lot of live broadcasting, took it as a public service to cover great events, and if you wanted to get ahead, if you wanted to do well, you had to describe things. And not--as my father used to say, and not talk too much over the sound of the horses' hooves.

So he sent me out one night as a kid, as an exercise, to go and describe the sky. And I went up and I stood on the little veranda outside my parents' bedroom, and I looked up at the sky and I said, `Yeah, man, look at that, blah, blah, blah' and I was downstairs in five minutes. My father said, `Well, that was rather quick.' And he taught me a great lesson, which I'm now trying to pass on to a lot of other younger broadcasters. He said, `Go up and look at the sky again and imagine that it's a pie, and just take a little slice of it and describe the slice. Then take the next little slice next to it and describe that, and then talk about the relationship between the two slices, and you'll begin to describe events and affairs and you'll begin to have some notion of context.'

And he's right. And it taught me very young that as a broadcast journalist, the most exciting thing in the world for a broadcast journalist is to go on the air and do a live event. You're totally in command. There's nobody who can tell you to shut up. They can cut your microphone. It's basically your decision about where you go and what you cover, but if you don't have a sense of context and if you have no history, forget it.
LAMB: I want...
Mr. JENNINGS: So it was a good lesson.
LAMB: I want to show some of the photographs and get you to talk...
Mr. JENNINGS: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: ...talk about them, just like you would if you were on the air. And the first one is a picture of some young people in the coal mines of Pennsylvania called the Breaker Boys. What do you see in this picture?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, if I may, without presuming too much, give a nod to Katherine Bourbeau, who's our photo editor. She's done a spectacular job. What we asked her to do--what Todd and I asked her to do was to look for the less-than-obvious picture, to look for the unpredictable picture of the time. And what you see with the Breaker Boys, of course, in the coal mines of Pennsylvania is what drove the Progressive movement. And because it's a two-page photograph here of the alarming, appalling conditions in the mines at the time--the average industrial laborer's workweek was 59 hours, but they often worked 84 and 85 hours. And these kids would sit in little bins trying to sort coke and other stuff and flint out of the coal itself. Horrible conditions.

And what I love about this picture--and I must say I love all about them--is the eagerness that I end up feeling of just constantly looking deep or as deeply as I can into every face.
LAMB: The next photograph--and these were just chosen at random to kind of signify the different eras that you wrote about--is one of Theodore Roosevelt, who is the president at the turn of the century. What do you think of him?
Mr. JENNINGS: Energy and a locomotive with pants, I think somebody once called him. This is at Grant's Tomb, Decoration Day. Look at the guys in the front row to start with--not everybody paying attention. But Roosevelt brought in a stream of fresh, pure, bracing air from the mountains, and he just gave the country such unbelievable sense of energy. You go--said Richard Washburn describing him after a visit to the White House, `You go into his presence, you feel his eyes on you. You listen to him. You go home and you wring the personality out of your children.' An extraordinary man of adventure. The Panama Canal--we were very struck by David McCullough's book on the Panama Canal and Teddy Roosevelt's devotion of energy to that. Changed another dimension of America and the rest of the world.
LAMB: You have a list in the back of the book of 100 suggestions.
Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah. I'm glad you noticed.
LAMB: How hard was that to come up with, the list, and how did you do it?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, to be honest again, I defer to Todd most of this time because for-- and Todd and I were talking about this just the other day to figure how much we'd been able to dip into all of this 100 books and others, and Todd much, much, much more than I. There's so many good books about the century. It's such an extraordinary period. We just thought--Can I look at it?--that the--that in each case here, what you got was--and underneath each book there's a good little description of why we think the book is a good choice.

So under, for example, David McCullough's book about the Panama Canal, just the building of the Panama Canal, under a wonderful book about New York life in the 1920s we'll do a little more description. These are books that just caught the eye, that seemed to catch the period. What we wanted to do with the book is-- I feel a little bit like we're shilling here--was to catch the essence of the times. The whole--as I said at the beginning of the book, is very--designed to be very experiential. The eyewitnesses are designed to drive it in many ways. We asked them to just simply remember what it was like to live through the period, and so these books supplement what it was like to live through the period more than they are designed to be academic histories of the time.
LAMB: Let's look at the next photo, which you often see it referred to--Archduke Franz Ferdinand as the one who was assassinated beginning of World War I, but you rarely see the assassin. Here's a picture you've got of...
Mr. JENNINGS: Gavrilo Princip was a 19-year-old student at the beginning of 1914.
LAMB: On the right there.
Mr. JENNINGS: On the right. He was a student of ethics and literature and politics. And he's the young Serbian who fired the shot. I'm embarrassed to tell you that this reminds me of something much more contemporaneous. Johnny Burns of The New York Times spent an extraordinary winter in Sarajevo in 1993 and I think in many ways did more than anybody else to save the city of Sarajevo, at least to keep the Western attention on it. And I went to join him late in that winter, and I took all of his clippings with him--all of his news clippings because The Times, for some unbeknown reason, hadn't been sending him his clippings. And in return he took me out as close as we could get to where Princip had shot--I drove there. And he took a little bit of rubble off the ground and gave it to me as his way of saying thanks to me for bringing his clips, and I still have it at home.
LAMB: Now you know, the--couple of articles have been written about you that you took some chance when you went over to Bosnia. When did you go there the last time?
Mr. JENNINGS: I've been there several times. I went two winters in a row, '93, '94, which were the tough winters. I don't think I took any other--any more chances than any other reporter who went. It was kind of important to go. Not a lot of people wanted to go.
LAMB: What is it about you that makes you want to go do that?
Mr. JENNINGS: I think it depends where you go. Sometimes I want to go just because I want to see. Sometimes I want to go because I've never been there before, and I've traveled a lot. In the case of Bosnia, I didn't want to look back-- I have fairly young children--teen-age children. I didn't want to look back 10 or 15 years from now and have them say, `What did you do during that war, Dad?' I know that's kind of corny, but I didn't want them to ever accuse me, as a lot of people could've been accused in the early stages of the Bosnian war, of paying no attention to this human--some would argue the worst human disaster since the end of World War II.
LAMB: How many kids, by the way, do you have?
Mr. JENNINGS: Two. I have a 19-year-old girl, who goes--is a freshman at Amherst, and I have a 16-year-old son, who is a--who takes exception when I refer to him as being a Bohemian, but he's a wonderfully, worldly, sensitive guy.
LAMB: Either one of them going into your business?
Mr. JENNINGS: I don't know. You know, I'm rather struck by how many children of journalists or broadcasters end up going into the business. My instinct is to say I rather hope not because the business has changed so much. When I was a young reporter and going off to Egypt, for example, they'd say, `Go do a thing on Egypt.' And you could, you know, go up and down the Nile for two or three days, talk to local politicians, have a couple of good meals, take your time and file from Egypt. The CNN-ization of the world, not to mention what the rest of us have had to respond to in technological terms, means you're in Cairo today and Calcutta tomorrow and that's very hard. So I'm not sure I want them to live a life which wouldn't give them the leisure of learning as much as they could about the local culture.
LAMB: As we go through this, comment any time you want to on what impact you think things like World War I had on this century or this picture, where you see Mr. Lenin there in the right-hand corner and behind him, one of your feature interviews with Alexander "Sasha" Bryansky. He lived...
Mr. JENNINGS: Mm-hmm. Born 1882, targeted for execution by the White Guards.
LAMB: Fellow there with the beard and the cap on.
Mr. JENNINGS: That's right. That's right. But managed to escape.
LAMB: Did you interview him?
Mr. JENNINGS: No, I didn't. One of our producers did. He died in 1995. A great many of our eyewitnesses are still living, but some of them have died. But if you--and I know you've read this one. Here's somebody who just makes Lenin's arrival back in Russia so incredibly dramatic for us and I think in many ways works better in the book even than he does on television because you can take the leisure of looking through it again.
LAMB: There's a--the next photo is of women in a railroad car smoking cigarettes. And one of the things it points out in the cutline of it is that men had leather seats, women have cloth seats, as you can see there. What's that picture say to you?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, this begins to talk about the--we're into the 1920s now, of course, which was new jobs, new fashions and certainly, for a woman, new morals. I think what impressed Todd and me both about the '20s ultimately was the tension in the '20s. The '20--if you're looking for a truly important decade in the century, you look at the '20s. There's the cars coming, the motion pictures are coming, people are beginning to go to the movies. Radio is coming along. Women are beginning to change in quite dramatic ways. But what--I think what struck us more than anything else was the profound resentment and the sense of disorientation that other people had, who were not particularly part of this. But here you have two women, as many women did, displaying an overt side of independence that was characteristic of at least this development in the '20s.
LAMB: When you put this whole project together--the book, the audio, the television for History Channel, the television for ABC...
Mr. JENNINGS: It's terrifying.
LAMB: ...how many people, how much money?
Mr. JENNINGS: To be honest, I'm not quite sure about the money.
LAMB: Somewhere I saw $25 million. Is that close?
Mr. JENNINGS: Wouldn't surprise me. It wouldn't surprise me if you think of this much television and this much book, and probably more than 100 people certainly by the time we are finished doing all of the television. It's an enormous project. It's the biggest project we've ever done at ABC News.
LAMB: Is it done?
Mr. JENNINGS: The History Channel project is done. The book, thanks to Todd, is done. The ABC network series is not yet done. What we've done with the--The History Channel is quite chronological. In terms of the ABC project, which is the sort of the network project, which will come late March and through April, we've taken ideas. For example, we'll devote one whole hour to Lindbergh. We'll devote one whole hour to the technology of the moon. We'll revisit Iran. We'll revisit Vietnam. We will look for one whole hour on how Hitler came to power.
LAMB: Are you worried about the ratings?
Mr. JENNINGS: No.
LAMB: Does it come at a sweeps week or anything like that?
Mr. JENNINGS: No, no, no, no. To be perfectly honest, I don't think you'd get this on in sweeps week, such is the new world of television that they wouldn't put this on in sweeps week. That's too high a gamble for a network. But they will put it on in prime time. I'm pretty convinced now that my management sees this as a long-term commitment, something which marks us as being different, something which they want to do because it's important at the end of the century and not something which they think will get them a mass audience, though I have to tell you we were talking, you know, not too long after the book has been published and we've now had the experience of seeing the book sell quite well and I think that's wonderful.

But what really is the most satisfying thing is to see people start to open up about the century. I was in Arizona and I was signing a book for a man. He said, `Could you make it to such-and-such Norton.' And I said, `Norton, Norton, yeah.' I mean, you're always looking for an historical reference at this point, and I said, `I recognize the name.' He said, `Yes, my grandfather designed the Norton bomb site.' And almost everywhere you go and talk about the century--and I think this is going to accelerate next year for everybody. We're going to be looking for those, you know, memories in the family attic about the century. And more of us, of course, are connected to the past now, still, than we are to the, you know, hopeful technology of the future.
LAMB: In this next picture--photo, anything like this ever happen in Canada?
Mr. JENNINGS: I'm not sure what you're looking at. No.
LAMB: Lynching at Lawrenceville, Georgia.
Mr. JENNINGS: No. America--you know, Canada's--for one thing, was at the end of the Underground Railroad and certainly not at this particular period of time, but Canada escaped, for much of its history, the terrible racial experience of the United States. I'm not sure learned from it in every regard. Canada now has a significant non-white population both in the two largest cities, Toronto and Montreal, and the country's not immune from its own measure of racism, but, no, nothing like this.

It's interesting because when I grew up in the 1950s, Canadians were a little pious about this and often looked at the United States with a misplaced measure of superiority, as Canada didn't have this particular problem. And this is the one I remember so clearly growing up. And when I came here and was assigned to cover the civil rights movement, I realized what--how complicated it was, how much pain there was involved for all concerned in the country. Somebody asked me the other day what I thought was the saddest thing of the century, and I was caught slightly off guard and I gave some gratuitous answer about how man is still killing man with such vigor at the end of the century. The saddest thing of the century, of course, is that America has not managed to solve its racial problems.
LAMB: The next photo is of a preacher--a priest. As a matter of fact, was he Canadian?--Coughlin?
Mr. JENNINGS: Father Coughlin, no.
LAMB: I don't know why I remember that because he was from Detroit.
Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah.
LAMB: But what I do remember from doing a book on him--Charles Warren from the University of Oakland in Michigan--is that he would have an audience, out of 120 million people on a Sunday afternoon, of something like 30 million or 40 million.
Mr. JENNINGS: Masterful performer.
LAMB: But you've lived through 34 years at ABC, where you used to dominate, and that's all changed in the sense that the--with all the cable channels and everything else, your audience...
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, for one thing, you came along.
LAMB: Well, but your audience is--your audience in numbers is the same, but the percentage is down. Do you feel the difference when it was 30 years ago?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, 30 years ago, don't forget, I was a very small fish and, you know, living, as we all did, in the shadow of Huntley and Brinkley and Cronkite. What I do remember 30, 40 years ago was how people looked to the three networks--two networks, really, NBC and CBS; ABC being a non-starter at the time--for this sort of centrality in life. I think it is still true--I always think when I come to Washington about the Challenger disaster because I was here when the Challenger blew up.
LAMB: You were waiting to see President Reagan?
Mr. JENNINGS: I was waiting to see President Reagan in the White House and, you know, rushed to the bureau, was on the air for 11 1/2 hours. And when it was over, I went back to the hotel to come upon the bulldog editions of The Times and The Post. And I was struck--`God, they've got 30 pages on this story.' And I was immensely struck by how the country must have been moved by watching the television.

And I went to see Dan Boorstin, who was then the Librarian of Congress, and asked him to put this in some perspective for me. And he said, `You know, television is what we had at the--to replace the campfire at the time of Western development. When the people had a disaster on the wagon train, they sat around the campfire and now people sit around television.' They still do. They sit around more of us, but in the event of a national--when John Glenn went up again on Apollo, people gathered for that one occasion again around the television sets again to have this shared experience.

But it has--in terms of how many options you have, it's just changed unbelievably. I don't think you'd get--I don't think you'd get a Father Coughlin on radio again with the same kind of impact. The largest radio audience in America I think probably belongs to Paul Harvey, still on ABC at 80, I think. Rush Limbaugh and others, you know, sort of share a large audience, but I don't think anybody would ever have the audience or the power that Father Coughlin had.
LAMB: This is way out of context with our sequence here, but back in the back of the book--and I underlined it...
Mr. JENNINGS: Right.
LAMB: ...you say, `Intellectuals worried about its impact on society,' and what you were talking about there was the Internet.
Mr. JENNINGS: Yes.
LAMB: You find people in the intellectual world that you've talked to that worried about what that impact will be, and what is the--what are they worried about?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, first of all, I don't think we know what the impact of the Internet is. I think we've come to the end of the century generally nervous--some of us generally nervous about the impact of technology, generally wondering where it will lead us in the next century. And I keep running into intellectuals who are afraid that what the Internet does is it puts so much information out into the society without any particular value on it. And so you never quite know what you're reading and you never know what source you're using.

It's a problem for us--less a problem for you than it is for us--because the audience does not always understand the difference between you and the Internet, and the audience is asked all the time now to make some value judgment about information. And I think the intellectual concern, to some extent, is that the Internet has made so much information available, but it hasn't helped us particularly in understanding its relative value to other information.
LAMB: Here's a photo of Adolf Hitler. What was his impact on this century?
Mr. JENNINGS: Remind me what page you're on because I absolutely--oh, I can look here. Page one sixt--what I am--this is, I think, one of the most stunning pictures in the book and one of the most stunning pictures I have ever seen of Hitler. There are a couple of others, by the way, of Hitler posing in a studio as he practiced his picture--but here's a picture of such clarity taken at a rally in Berlin in 1934 that you can look deeply into the faces of all the people.

We were talking the other day about, you know, all these years after the war, there are still books coming out all the time reconsidering Hitler and his place in life and reconsidering the German involvement in Hitler and reconsidering how he came to power, which we'll do in at least one of the hours in the television news. I think you can accomplish an enormous amount just by looking at this picture...
LAMB: What was his impact, in your opinion?
Mr. JENNINGS: ...and looking...
LAMB: What did he do to us?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, the only reason I pause is because I can't imagine anybody capturing that in a single phrase. Clearly the competitor for the--with Stalin for the most evil man of the century.
LAMB: Could you ever have anybody like him again?
Mr. JENNINGS: It's an awfully good question. This is the ultimate cautionary tale, isn't it? If you understand in any way, shape or form that Hitler doesn't just explode onto the scene, that Hitler came to power in a series of carefully designed ways and in so many instances where there were opportunities to stop him, to dissuade him to reconsider. And so he came to power in--one might argue, almost in a democratic process. So on that basis, yes, perhaps Hitler could come again.

Somebody asked me the other day where would I have wanted to have been a reporter at in history, and the answer is I would have wanted to be a reporter at the time of the concentration camps so that we might have served some useful purpose of preventing it or halting it or attracting the world's attention to it.
LAMB: Middle East expert Dan Pipes was here one time.
Mr. JENNINGS: Right.
LAMB: And he--in his book on conspiracies, he totaled up 169 million people that were killed, murdered, slaughtered this century.
Mr. JENNINGS: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: What do you think, based on--looking back at this century in your book, will happen in the 21st?
Mr. JENNINGS: I haven't the vaguest idea.
LAMB: Can it happen again like that? Can that...
Mr. JENNINGS: No. I mean, it's a horrifying thought that it could happen again. But I think that one of the things you learn as a journalist, and I hope historians know this even better, is not to make predictions. Wouldn't it be horrendous to think that anything like the first war, which had such an impact on the century, could happen again?

And yet, you know, if you and I were younger, we'd be out the door tomorrow to Rwanda, we'd be off to Kosovo, we'd be off to Bosnia, we'd be off somewhere in the world all the time covering slaughter. But on that scale again? I went back to Cambodia in--I've forgotten the year now--the late 1980s, I guess, and the hardest thing for me to grasp when I went back was: Could it ever happen again? But it happened the first time under the pretty clear glare of the rest of the world.
LAMB: Photo of a UAW union group at a General Motors plant of--how are the unions doing in 19...
Mr. JENNINGS: '37?
LAMB: Well, how are they doing now compared to where they were back then?
Mr. JENNINGS: Oh. Well, you know, in the very short run, union--some unions are having something of a--having something of a comeback. Some people in the labor movement are feeling better today than they did last year. Again, I think it's--it's awfully tricky to be getting--to make predictions about where the union movement is going. We live in fat economic times at the moment; more people have more wealth today than at any time in the century. In 1937, at the time this picture--one of our witnesses is Victor Reuther, Walter's brother, who talks...
LAMB: Another photo in the group to--in the book, too?
Mr. JENNINGS: I have to go and--I have to be--see what page you're on. This is a big book. I have to see what page you're on--196.
LAMB: Yeah, he's the...
Mr. JENNINGS: Talks a little bit about--there's a wonderful story in here about how a woman faints in an auto plant on the West Side of Detroit, and Victor Reuther goes to her and says, `Do you think you could do the same thing again tomorrow?' He manages to get her to do the same thing again tomorrow, and that's how he effectively gets people out on strike and gets union membership up again.
LAMB: Another photo is a Russian child weeping over a dead mother. I don't know if you remember this photo. It's on the screen now.
Mr. JENNINGS: I do it very well and--I do remember it very well, and when I look back at this picture, as I do so often, it's a picture we've--it's a picture repeated so many times. It's just a very intimate picture. You know, seven million citizens, civilians, succumbed to the violence in World War II. Many of our witnesses tell about what it was like to go through those horrible winters. I've often wondered why we put this picture in, except I guess it's just so stark, yet so intimate. If you had--one page forward or one page back, I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember, in this global nightmare you get some--there's a fabulous picture of trying to get supplies into Leningrad during the winter.

And those of us who--those of us in subsequent generations just don't have any--one of the things I note about the Depression, one of the things I feel about the second war, about the--my grandfather was in the first war--is how subsequent generations just don't have any--as hard as you try, as hard as you try, it's very difficult for us--impossible for me, in many cases--to understand the depth of this. Our eyewitnesses are very good at trying very hard.
LAMB: How many photos in the book? Do you know?
Mr. JENNINGS: I think about 500, I think--a lot.
LAMB: We have a picture of some--what appears to be--it says prisoners lined up in an unidentified concentration camp, and that's another theme in your book; the Holocaust, the Jewish life all through this century. How did the Jews come out of this century in the world? How are they looked at? How do they--you know, have they assimilated in the world, in this country? What's your view?
Mr. JENNINGS: No. Well, yes--the answer's yes and no. I mean, aren't you struck as much as I am by the prevalence of anti-Semitism still in the world today? You and I are--again, are talking at the time when it's been a struggle to get the Swiss banks to look deeply into their history. We're talking at a time when General Motors and Ford are accused of collaborating with the Nazis in World War II. I think we--I cannot imagine a time when we will not or should not be haunted by what happened in World War II and by the determination to wipe out a race of people.
LAMB: Did you have any particular way that you covered this whole issue in the book? The way you covered in the--how about the television part of it?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, I--again, I--trying to find a phrase for it is difficult. I think we wanted people both in the book and in the series to feel less the glamour—the glamour and the glory of war than the horror of war. Have you--you've had Paul Fussell on your program whenever? He's a--be a wonderful guest for you because--military historian. We were much affected by the--his harsh appraisal of war and how man went from the honorable soldier of World War I to the soldier of World War II, where everything was a target and everybody was a legitimate target, where citizens were bombed--where civilians were bombed by both sides.

So I hope--and Todd, I think, will agree--that we've taken a rather harsh view of war. There's--you cannot escape that America comes and saves the world in many cases, but you can't all escape the fact that America's late to come into both wars.
LAMB: Whittaker Chambers. Was this...
Mr. JENNINGS: I…
LAMB: Was this...
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, the picture is...
LAMB: ...issue brought to a conclusion in this century?
Mr. JENNINGS: No, not for some, and not for some because Alger Hiss continued all these times. I interviewed Alger Hiss once here in Washington. He went all these--period protesting his innocence. The picture of Whittaker Ch--we could have chosen several pictures of Whittaker Chambers, but in this case you have one which talks a little about his past in the Communist underground...
LAMB: Did you...
Mr. JENNINGS: ...and that he lived a life of deceit. It's not a flattering picture, nor is it meant to be.
LAMB: Did you reach your own conclusion as to who was right and wrong in this?
Mr. JENNINGS: Never. Never. Did you?
LAMB: Is it a touchy issue, do you think, still?
Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah, I think, you know, there'll continue to be people on both sides of the issues for a very, very long time. I think more and more--or, increasingly people have come to conclude that Hiss was guilty, but you'll still find people out there who will support his claims of innocence.
LAMB: Another name that has been used, even recently, is Joseph McCarthy.
Mr. JENNINGS: I think what absolutely fascinates us about this particular picture is there you see McCarthy with all of his admirers. And, you know, accuse first, research later.
LAMB: Did people know...
Mr. JENNINGS: The most-destructive anti-Communist of his time.
LAMB: Did people know of him in Canada? Can you remember that when...
Mr. JENNINGS: Yes, but nothing with the same power that we had here. One of the very first things that ABC ever did as a network was to televise in full the Army-McCarthy hearings. Nobody else did them. I was surprised at the time. But, clearly, one of the most destructive politicians of the time. Could he come again? Yes, but I think it'd be a good deal more difficult.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. JENNINGS: Because I think people would be quicker to jump on him now than they were. President didn't jump on him very quickly at the time. Took a long time before Edward R. Murrow worked up that quite astonishing level of courage, which I don't think we would think of so--I just don't think people would keep him at arm's length today as they did then for such a long period of time. Again, for those of us who didn't live through it, the picture of McCarthy has on the backside of that page the testimony of Lee Grant, an actress who was blacklisted and went on to campaign for years to abolish the policy of blacklisting. But the horror that people lived through as a result of McCarthy--I think it's very--it is immensely difficult for people of this generation to understand.
LAMB: What did he do wrong? What was his big sin?
Mr. JENNINGS: Accuse first, ask questions later--accuse first, ask questions later. Take advantage of the paranoia of the times.
LAMB: The next picture is Montgomery, Alabama, and it kind of represents the number of the--picked out of here--the whole civil rights movement. What did television do with this story, do you think?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, of course, this is where television begins to play an enormous role in the civil rights movement, and not to mention where a lot of young television journalists' names were made. This is when television, probably as much at any time in its modern history, plays a role in enabling the entire country to participate in a tragedy. From Montgomery, Memphis, all through the South in the mid-1960s, television was everywhere. It was on the news every night. There was no escaping in the South in 1964, no matter where you lived in the country, what was happening.
LAMB: What kind of marks would you give Americans on race today?
Mr. JENNINGS: As we said before the program, `Isn't it great?' That's why I like to sit there and ask the question. Well, I think again it depends who you are, doesn't it? I mean, I'm always struck by my black friends who say it's no better today than it was 30 years ago, and that's awfully hard to hear from a black friend. There's no question that the growth of the black middle class in the country has been enormously significant.

But blacks and whites, for the most part, in America continue to lead separate lives. I mean, you're asking for a grade. You couldn't--I couldn't give a grade, but it's painful. It is painful today. I have one particular black friend who is very successful, and it doesn't occur to her, even though we're very close friends, to invite me to black parties? Pretty tough at the end of the century.
LAMB: Randall Robinson sat there and talked about his brother, Max, who was...
Mr. JENNINGS: Right.
LAMB: ...an anchorman at ABC...
Mr. JENNINGS: Partner of mine for a long time.
LAMB: ... and said that Max Robinson thought that Frank Reynolds was a racist. I never asked anybody else whether or not they wanted to counter that. Did you see Frank Reynolds as a racist?
Mr. JENNINGS: Oh, I knew Frank very well, and, you know, and this was a trio of broadcasters: Frank and me and Max. I was in London; Frank, here; Max, in Chicago. I think Max was wrong, but I think Max was troubled deeply by the challenges of being black and being the first serious black anchorman in the country. It was a burden that people enhanced by asking him to be more sometimes than he was; died young, a troubled man in many ways. But I think he was wrong when he thought of Frank as a racist.
LAMB: Here's a photo of a man in Wisconsin, president for 1,000 days.
Mr. JENNINGS: Yes. And so, somebody once said to us, when they first looked at this picture, `You don't have to look at it from the front to recognize who it was.'
LAMB: His impact, in your opinion?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, he's my first president person. We concentrate on five presidents in the book, he being one. I was in Dallas shortly after he was assassinated. He was a great hero, even in Canada. And when he and Mrs. Kennedy paid a visit to Canada, they were treated as conquering heroes. Too short. We have just--have you talked to Sy Hersh on this program? You know, we did a television series about the other side of Kennedys in conjunction with Sy's book. A lot of people objected to seeing another side of the Kennedy White House at the time, yes, but unrequited, unhoped.

But I remember--Do we all not?--the hope and the sense of commitment to the rest of the world and the sense of potential accomplishment that so many people had during the Kennedy presidency, the degree to which he attracted talented people to come and serve in the administration. People were profoundly angry when we took a look at the other side of the Kennedy White House.
LAMB: Did you interview John F. Kennedy?
Mr. JENNINGS: Mm-hmm, only once and only on the road.
LAMB: How old were you then?
Mr. JENNINGS: Never sat down with him.
LAMB: Do you remember?
Mr. JENNINGS: In my 20s--yeah, in my mid-20s.
LAMB: You picked in this book a photo at the Lincoln Memorial...
Mr. JENNINGS: Right.
LAMB: ...from behind the head of Abraham Lincoln.
Mr. JENNINGS: Right.
LAMB: Why? What was this particular picture--particular reason why you picked it?
Mr. JENNINGS: Those are not C-SPAN lights. They might be today. In all of the pictures in the book, we wanted people to see it in a slightly different way. In all of the pictures in the book, we have tried to get beyond the traditional obvious picture with which we're all familiar. And so here's a chance where you can get not just the sense of all these people who were here for the 1963 March on Washington, but you get some sense of the relationship of the memorial itself and beyond. And you get a touch there of television lights showing--new technology played such an enormous part of the century, conveying this to rest of the country. But you find this with a lot of pictures in the book. We want people to look just slightly beyond the conventional picture.
LAMB: Do you have any sense of what Martin Luther King would think of what's happened since his death in the civil rights movement?
Mr. JENNINGS: Yes. I think he'd still be struggling. I think he would still think he was deeply involved in a struggle. I think he would be profoundly--maybe not profoundly. I think he would be dissatisfied. I think he would be talking in the same way. He would be angered by many of the same things. He wouldn't be having to worry about Bull Connor in Alabama anymore. But I think Martin Luther King Jr. would be dissatisfied.
LAMB: What has--and then the next photo is this--the Harvard student at the memorial for JFK. What has assassination done to us? And by the way, have there been any assassinations in your lifetime in Canada?
Mr. JENNINGS: No. No. No. And I may surprise you. I take a rather--not a benign view of assassination, but I think if you've come here from somewhere else, as I have, even from someplace as much like the United States as Canada is, you have a sense of resilience in the country that maybe other people don't have. Almost every time somebody describes a tragedy in America for me, whether it's a moral tragedy or an assassination--I remember, covering Kennedy's assassination, at the end of three days breaking down utterly, but never having any doubt whatsoever that the country would dust itself off quite quickly and move on again.

So I--as you know, "The Century" opens with assassination. I've always thought it didn't change America very deeply; that what it is to be an American, what it is to be the republic is so deeply ingrained that while it sets us off in many ways and robs us of potential, the country is as strong as ever.
LAMB: Now the next photo we'll have up in just a moment is the photo--it combines two things: Richard Nixon, Watergate and the POWs in the Vietnam War. And this is the return of the POWs for--Richard Nixon speaking to them. I think it's at the State Department.
Mr. JENNINGS: You know, I've said this to many of my friends in the business that Watergate is a great blank hole in my life because I wasn't here. I was overseas. And so trying to appreciate the impact that Watergate had on the national life at the time, which, by the way, has had tremendous residue since, is very, very difficult for me. But, ironically, I was sent to the Philippines to welcome the POWs home from Hanoi. And so I just have--I'm unabashedly embarrassed by this--I have no feel for how Watergate really tied the nation in such knots.
LAMB: How about Vietnam?
Mr. JENNINGS: I did two very early dilettante visits in 1965 and '66--very, very short, dilettante visits. And it didn't take more than that to realize that the country didn't have a particular sense of what it ultimately wanted to accomplish in Vietnam. And when we look at America at the end of World War II, with the sense that America would be the nation to save democracy, and you then look again--switch pan, as we say in television, to look at America in Vietnam, not sure how to save democracy, if that's what it was all about. I think you get a really good sense of the dilemma that happens at the end of the century, too, as a result of Vietnam.
LAMB: You dedicate your book to your father, Charles Jennings, who died...
Mr. JENNINGS: And Todd to his father.
LAMB: Todd--I mean, your father died in--What?--1973?
Mr. JENNINGS: 1973.
LAMB: How much of your success was he able to witness?
Mr. JENNINGS: He came to New York when I was quite a young reporter. He knew me as a foreign correspondent, which I think he quite liked. My father almost came to the states permanently at the end of the Depression. He was offered a job here with NBC. He was thrown off the train by an immigration man at the border and told to go home again. He got home before everybody else at his going-away party had sobered up and became something of an imperialist as a result.

But I remember him saying to me, after I'd been here a long time, that there was so much opportunity in the United States that I should probably not think about coming home. But I thought about going back to Canada for many years and trying to pick up where he left off because he had made a very, very distinct contribution to public broadcasting in the country. And that's something in which I still believe.
LAMB: How much has your Canadian citizenship had to do with a--and maybe it's just my observation. I seem to hear those Canadian accents coming through the ABC overnight show from time to time, some of your anchors. Are you bringing--I mean, do they see you as a friend, and then do they come in? Or do you reach out and recruit?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, we have all of--all three of the major television networks have all hired a lot of Canadians. We've hired quite a lot at ABC. Canadian Broadcasting has a history of preparing a young man or a young woman to be a broadcaster and a journalist, not just one or the other, and it's turned out to be a very good proving ground.
LAMB: They do it differently than they do in the United States?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, they--there's, I think, more emphasis on the journalism than there is in some of the private, independent-affiliated stations around the country. It's also true that a lot of people now do so well at local stations around the country they're happy to stay at local stations and don't want necessarily to come to work at the networks. It's also true that Canadians, I think, as a group, all want to go and see the rest of the world on somebody else's money, and that Canadian broadcasting news organizations don't have the money to send them as far afield as ABC, CBS and NBC have had over the years. And so this is a good place to come and use as a springboard to go see the rest of the world.
LAMB: Have you ever seen any resentment on the part of Americans that you aren't a citizen here?
Mr. JENNINGS: Sometimes. Sometimes. It depends. The answer in general is absolutely no. After 30-some odd years here, it is inescapable that we are living among the most generous people on the face of the Earth, no question about it, who care far less about where you come from than what sort of a contribution you make while you're here. But on occasion, when I do a broadcast and treat a subject with which people quite vehemently disagree, I will get bus money sent to me.

We did a program a couple of years ago on the decision to drop the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki--on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And while we made no value judgment whatsoever about whether the bomb should be dropped or not, some of the more conservative radio commentators picked it up as being that, even before it was on the air. And on that occasion, more than any other, I got a lot of mail saying, `Why don't you go back to Canada?' But it doesn't happen very much anymore.
LAMB: You left school when you were 16?
Mr. JENNINGS: I did, 17, yes. Yes, 16, 17.
LAMB: Why did that happen, and would you do it again like that?
Mr. JENNINGS: I think I was bored. I was embarrassed about--I'm still embarrassed about it, and God forbid my--I'd beat my son around the ears in the faint hope that he'll never be like his father. I think I was just bored. And now that I'm middle-aged, I love the process of learning more than at any time I ever have in my life. This has been a great experience in that respect. But I just think I was bored, and I wanted to go and see the world and I was impatient. And that makes me think that I probably didn't have very good teachers, and so I've come to revere a great teacher. I've come to relish every single opportunity to learn anything.

It's difficult in our jobs, we anchor types, you know, because we're going from pillar to post all the time. You think--I used to think that the anchor job was a job in which you should read books instead of magazines, magazines instead of newspapers, newspapers instead of the wires. But the sad part is they're flat-out jobs all the time. You go in in the morning, you're just flat out through the entire day. And so there's much less reflective time than perhaps the job should have. But every single opportunity to learn, ever since grade nine, once I was past 20, has just been a magic moment.
LAMB: There's a photo in the book of Ronald Reagan--not actually of Reagan, the president, but a poster that he's holding up--a woman--or a woman is holding up. It just brings up the whole issue of Ronald Reagan. His impact eight years as president? What do you think?
Mr. JENNINGS: Will continue to be debated. After the years of doubt which proceeded Ronald Reagan, we call our Reagan chapter, if you will, A New Morning. And I think that's a pretty easy description. I think they'll go on debating forever whether the end of the Cold War is a result of Ronald Reagan or happened on his watch. But there is no question whatsoever in anybody's mind that--or there should be no question, in my view, in anybody's mind that Ronald Reagan gave the country, after a very dark period of time, a new sense of feeling good about itself and feeling strong about itself.

And I keep thinking about the hostage crisis, which is at the end of Jimmy Carter's watch and at the beginning of--you know, and ends with the beginning of Ronald Reagan's, how at the time of the hostage crisis, we thought America was in such desperate shape. And who could have imagined where we would be today? And Ronald Reagan took us through that transition and gave the country a new, strong, vigorous, hopeful sense about itself. That alone--put all the other aside, put the Contras, the Khomeini, put all else aside about Ronald Reagan, I think he will always be remembered for that.
LAMB: A mother smoking crack with her baby on the bed.
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, I mean, what do you say about the--about this? This has been the--this has been the curse of the inner cities. It is now a curse of a wider population in the country. This picture, more than anything else, is intended to be a reminder of what drugs have done to this society. We have not found a successful way to fight drugs in the country--illegal drugs in the country. I sometimes think that the war on drugs, as waged by Washington, is enormously hypocritical, you know, but it's there to remind people the--you know, the late-century agony America's cities, for the most part.
LAMB: Any other reporter that you know of that was there in 1961 when the Wall went up, and like yourself, there--and we have a photo of the Wenceslas Square, which is Prague...
Mr. JENNINGS: Prague--Todd and I were both--Todd Brewster and I were both there in Wenceslas Square...
LAMB: But you were also at the Wall...
Mr. JENNINGS: ...on this occasion.
LAMB: ...when it came down.
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, I was very lucky, you know, because Eastern Europe was part of my beef, so I was there in--beat--I was there in Poland for that. I was in Hungary for the end of that. I was there in Czechoslovakia with Todd for the end of that. And then I was there in Berlin. And it's more a happenstance than anything. I think it's just a reminder of how old I am. In 1962, some--as my--best of my recollection is, Lufthansa had just opened an office in Ottawa and said, `Does anybody want to go to Germany?' You know, they're offering you a ride. And I was working at a television station and said, `Yeah, I'll go.' And, of course, I went on that extraordinary summer.

And then to be there when it came down is--there's a thing in the book; I've forgotten exactly who says that it was 10 months in Poland--it was 10 years in Poland, it was 10 months in Hungary, it was 10 weeks in Czechoslovakia, it was 10 hours in--10 days in Roma--10 days in East Berlin and East Germany and 10 hours in Romania. And you could be there as a reporter for all that whole last rush to the end, and that was an extraordinary feeling. It was exciting to be in Berlin when the Wall came down, but for me, in many ways, I don't--I've never talked to Todd about this. For me, in many ways it was more exciting to be in Prague.

I'd gone to see Havel in--you know, in the Charter 77 Days, and I remember the people in Wenceslas Square in Prague. They took their house keys out, and they rang them. The bell was tolling for the end of the Communist regime. I think that's one of the most dramatic moments I remember about the end of the Soviet empire.
LAMB: In all the folks you've interviewed over the years, when do you find yourself satisfied that you've had a good interview? What makes it good for you?
Mr. JENNINGS: I think it depends on what kind of interview you're doing. If you're trying to fill--if you're doing an exploratory interview, in which you don't know anything about the ground you're going over, the sheer forthcomingness of the subject is satisfying. And to that extent, I think probably the most long-term, satisfying interview I ever had: with Anwar Sadat, which lasted about 10 or 11 hours over a long period of time. He took all of our transcripts and made a book in English out of it. And he was very forthcoming after a while because he trusted me, and he'd not been talked to by a lot of reporters.

In the short-term interview, if you know what you're looking for from a subject and you want them, in essence, to fill a hole or put a piece of cement in a chink, then you're satisfied when they've said what you hoped they were going to say.
LAMB: Do you have a favorite thing in this book?
Mr. JENNINGS: Yes, I actually do. The opening paragraph of Chapter 2, which we did first, which is the beginning of World War I. Do I or do I not have time? Are we out of time or not?
LAMB: No, we've got a minute, if you can find it.
Mr. JENNINGS: Oh, I can find it. I can find it, but whether or not I can do it in a minute is another matter.
LAMB: Give it a try.
Mr. JENNINGS: `On Christmas Eve, 1914, four months and 22 days into the bloodiest conflict the world had known, a handful of German infantrymen of the 103rd Saxon Regiment began assembling holiday candles along the parapets of their muddy trenches. Members of the queen's Westminster Rifles, watching them from their own dugouts across no-man's-land 100 yards away, were shocked by what they saw. Suddenly, one of the Germans called out, `Englishmen, Englishmen, don't shoot,' and followed on with a full-throated version of "God Save The Queen."' I'll cut it short. `The Englishmen responded, singing an Austrian hymn. And all over the Western front that 1914 holiday season, men who were enemies met as friends. They took snapshots of each other and traded supplies, a tin of British jam for a piece of German chocolate. They sang carols, swapped stories and analyzed each other's chances for victory as if they were handicapping a sporting event. And then just as quickly, as it had all begun, the excitement ended.

"I know this statement will take a bit of believing, but it's absolutely correct," wrote the English gunner Herbert Smith in his diary. "Fancy a German shaking your hand as though we were trying to smash their fingers and then a few days later trying to plug you."'
LAMB: Peter Jennings, author, along with Todd Brewster, of "The Century," thank you very much.
Mr. JENNINGS: Thanks for having me.


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