Helmut Schmidt
Helmut Schmidt
Men and Powers: A political Retrospective
ISBN: 0394569946
Men and Powers: A political Retrospective
The former Chancellor of West Germany discussed his book concerning his years as a German politician, and now European leader.
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Men and Powers: A political Retrospective
Program Air Date: April 15, 1990

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Helmut Schmidt, author of "Men and Powers" and former chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, what is your general reaction to what's going on in the world today?
HELMUT SCHMIDT, AUTHOR, "MEN AND POWERS": Well, there are many things going on at one and the same time, and an overall reaction is difficult. I think the beginning of the decade of the '90s could be characterized as the obvious beginning of a period of detente between the great powers -- not necessarily detente in all the areas of the globe, but generally speaking, an area of -- an era of detente. And that means, probably, a decade which offers great opportunities for the individuals -- or the right of the individual or, as you Americans call it, human rights; and good perspectives, optimistic perspectives for democracy; also for the economic well being of most of the peoples of the world.
LAMB: Let me take the title of your book, "Men and Powers" -- and you talk about a lot of different people you've known in your life. Let me quote to you what you wrote. "The vast majority of the people living in both halves of the European continent and I, myself, have placed their hopes in Gorbachev's success." Is Mr. Gorbachev the single most important person in all this?
SCHMIDT: Right now, yes. The question remains: How long will he remain in office? Right now, he's the most important single individual, yes, I would agree. But, obviously, he has to fight severe battles, at least at three fronts, at one and the same time. And the probability for his success right now, at the spring of 1990, are not as great as they used to be one or two years ago -- decreasing. And one should look at his endeavor with a certain amount of -- I wouldn't say skepticism, but one be aware of the possibility that he might fail and be replaced by somebody else or by another type of government or of administration. And this might, then, call off a divergence from the route that he has taken in the last three, four, five years. Difficult to foresee. On the other hand, detente will go on even if one replaces Gorbachev by a conservative, military type of Communist government. Even then, I think detente will go on. I do foresee a period of weakness of the Soviet Union, domestic weakness, economic weakness and strategic weakness. I don't know whether it will last just one decade or maybe two or even three, but certainly it's a period of weakness that we are witnessing.
LAMB: Have you met him?
SCHMIDT: Yes.
LAMB: What do you think of him?
SCHMIDT: Very impressive man. Quick, very intelligent, obviously capable of learning from his own mistakes, ready to admit the mistakes he has committed, ready to admit his failures; also, obviously, still in a process of learning. When he started perestroika, he, obviously, had no idea what kind of complexity he was tackling.
LAMB: How do you think the American government is handling this period?
SCHMIDT: I think the handling by the Reagan administration, at least in the beginning, was rather clumsy. Later on, in approaching the end of the '80s, it became sound and solid. The handling by the Bush administration, in my view, does not deserve any criticism.
LAMB: What do you think of George Bush?
SCHMIDT: I have known George Bush since the middle of the '70s, met him several times. I think he is a prudent and rather cautious decision maker. I will not make any side remarks about Panama, but otherwise, I don't think he has made any mistakes so far.
LAMB: You write in your book that often American politicians forgot Europe in the mix, didn't stop off here on their way between here and the Soviet Union or other places in the world. How often did that happen to you, and who irritated you the most over this?
SCHMIDT: Irritated me the most?
LAMB: Yes.
SCHMIDT: I was irritated several times by actions of President Johnson, although I was not his counterpart. I was in Parliament, a faction leader -- floor leader in Parliament when Johnson was in office. Therefore, my personal encounters were very superficial only. But I was irritated several times by Johnson. Also, I was irritated several times by actions of Jimmy Carter and his advisers. With Jimmy Carter, I had frequent meetings, also encounters. I, by the way, met him just a week ago in Amsterdam. We are good friends on a good personal basis. But there was no clear cut strategy in American foreign policies in those years. There was no clear cut strategy afterwards under Reagan except the last couple of years; I'd say the last two years or so. And it seems to me that, from a strategic point of judgment, strategy being understood as what Henry Kissinger would call geopolitics, global strategy -- it seems to me that under that aspect, Nixon was a genius. And from a personal point of view, of course, Gerald Ford was the most dependable human being among the four presidents that I've met.
LAMB: You were the chancellor of the Federal Republic for eight years, elected twice by your party. During those years, who were the American presidents? Gerry Ford and Richard Nixon?
SCHMIDT: Nixon I met when I was defense minister before I became chancellor, and when I was finance minister. When I became chancellor, May '74, it was about the time when Gerry Ford took over from Richard Nixon.
LAMB: And you were also chancellor during the first couple years of the Ronald Reagan administration.
SCHMIDT: Right.
LAMB: When did you first come to the United States?
SCHMIDT: I beg your pardon?
LAMB: When did you first come to the United States?
SCHMIDT: Forty years ago -- 1950.
LAMB: Why?
SCHMIDT: I then was representing the port of Hamburg, which is my home city, at an international trade fair at the Navy pier of Chicago.
LAMB: Where did you learn how to speak fluent English?
SCHMIDT: Well, I'm not so sure whether it's fluent. I learned to make myself understood by traveling.
LAMB: You say in your book that you've traveled to the United States 100 times.
SCHMIDT: Maybe 120 in the meantime.
LAMB: How come so many trips, and did your opinion of the United States change the more often you went there?
SCHMIDT: I don't know whether it changed; it deepened; it deepened. Being born and raised and educated in Hamburg, almost of necessity, I started out as an Anglophile, England being in many ways the ideal of the Hamburgers. Later on, I understood that the world needed American leadership, and I still like the United States very much. I think I wrote in that same book -- or was it in another one? -- that if ever I had to leave my country I would go to the United States. But even later, starting in the early '60s, partially under the not so positive impact of Johnson's foreign policies, I understood the necessity of European leadership to be exerted by the French nation, by Paris. It was the time of Charles de Gaulle. I wasn't totally happy with de Gaulle's concept, but I have stuck to the necessity of French leadership in Europe since then. It's about 30 years now.
LAMB: Going back to language, most American presidents that you've dealt with don't speak another language?
SCHMIDT: At least I haven't detected them speaking any other language than English.
LAMB: Has it helped you to be this fluent in English in your international relations?
SCHMIDT: Well, one has to be; otherwise, you can't really talk to the people. You otherwise have to talk via either simultaneous translation, which means that about 30 percent -- at least -- of what you say is lost, and 30 percent of what he says is lost on his way via the interpreter to your own ears and intellect. You have to learn English, at least. It's a great advantage for the Americans and the Brits that English has become the lingua franca in the world, if only Margaret Thatcher would know that she has that enormous advantage.
LAMB: Do you resent the fact that Americans don't speak other languages?
SCHMIDT: I think -- no, I don't resent it at all, but I think it is a weakness. It's a weakness. I mean, after all, the Latin American continent, Central America, the Caribbean -- all these -- with the exception of Brazil, all these people are speaking Spanish. And, of course, American political leaders ought to be able to address the Mexican people when they visit Mexico City, or address the Argentinians when they -- when they visit Buenos Aires and listen to them speaking their own language. I think it's a weakness of the United States that you teach foreign languages in high school but don't really pursue it afterwards.
LAMB: When you deal -- you've just mentioned the French -- when you dealt with the French, can you speak French?
SCHMIDT: No, I only can say, “Oui, madame,” and it rather rarely does occur.
LAMB: Do the French resent that you don't speak their language, and to they speak German?
SCHMIDT: No, no, they speak English. The French with whom I had to deal with are speaking English. Certainly, Valery Giscard d'Estaing; to some degree, Mitterand. Most of them -- Raymond Barre. Most of the French political leaders with whom I had to deal with were able to speak English. I was speaking English, so it was not difficult.
LAMB: Last week, we spent a week in Strasbourg, covering the European parliament. Would you put that institution in perspective? Is it important? Will it get more powerful?
SCHMIDT: It is not so important today. It has been much less important previously. I have been a member of that parliament in the late '50s.
LAMB: Appointed.
SCHMIDT: Pardon?
LAMB: Were you appointed by the --
SCHMIDT: No, I was delegated by my national parliament. And at that time, it was rather unimportant as regards the shaping of the political future of Europe. It was important for me as an educational institution. I learned a lot in those four years. Now since the '70s, under the joint initiative of Giscard d'Estaing and myself, we introduced direct elections by the people for this European parliament. In the course of that, parliament has gained in stature and importance and it will gain much more in the '90s and the first decade of the 21st century. For instance, even when we are not going to have a supranational government of the European community, which would be answerable to the parliament, we certainly will have a European system of central banks, very much like the Federal Reserve system in the United States. And this European central bank system will be independent from governmental influences, but they will certainly have to be responsive to questions and hearings by that European parliament, will be the only institution that could summon the chairman of the European central bank system and ask questions of him and make himself to explain to them why the central bank system does this or that and does not do this and does not do that. So, for instance, in the field of monetary politics, of money supply politics, of currency politics, of the European community, I do foresee this parliament to gain in importance -- and this was just one example. It will gain in importance also in other fields.
LAMB: Will there ever be a single currency?
SCHMIDT: I beg your pardon?
LAMB: Will there ever be a single currency in Europe?
SCHMIDT: I hope that there will be a single currency rather sooner than later. I have been an advocate of a single European currency since ages now. I've been an advocate of the ecu as the only European currency, the only legal tender in all 12 countries. And I think it will be brought about despite the -- the reservations by the present British prime minister and despite the reservations of the German Bundesbank.
LAMB: By the way, if you lived in the United States and you know American politics well, what party would you belong to in the United States?
SCHMIDT: I have never asked that question of myself. I don't know. If I lived in the United States, I would probably not have taken to politics at all.
LAMB: Why?
SCHMIDT: Well, I'd never -- even living in Germany and -- all the time, I never made a willful decision to devote my life to politics. It just happened; I was sucked into it. When I first was elected to the German Parliament in 1953, I was being asked by people who offered me to run in their constituency -- three different constituencies at one time -- and I selected the most convenient then, which was close to my home base. I then thought it would be a nice experience for just four years to be a member of Parliament and -- and look at the scenery from a different angle. But then, more or less by habit, by taking up duties, I was sucked into it. Also, I never intended to become federal chancellor, never made such a decision. I was a little bit afraid when it happened 16 years ago. So if I had had the chance to emigrate from Nazi Germany, let us say just before the war, to the United States, I would probably have gotten into banking or industry.
LAMB: Is there any way to equate the parties in Europe with what goes on in the United States? Social democrats vs. the Christian democrats?
SCHMIDT: Difficult to say. I would say East Coast -- American East Coast, Massachusetts, for instance, or Princeton, Harvard, maybe even the Midwest, Democratic Party is closer to my own social democratic party in Germany than would be the Republican Party. Certainly not so in the South. Over periods I have felt very little sympathy for the democrats in the South. Now I have looked onto the political scene in the United States not as if I was an American myself; I have looked at it from the viewpoint -- from the point of interest of a European, of a German. And from that point of view, it didn't really matter whether you had a Republican president and Republican advisers to him and foreign secretaries, or whether you had a Democratic president. What mattered was, did the man understand the fabric of the word? Did he take the right decisions? Was he open to listen? Was he giving answers to oneself if one had questions? And I think I have met outstanding people from the Republican Party as well as from the Democratic Party. Also have I met people who were not so outstanding.
LAMB: In recent elections here in Europe, you had the Christian democrats, or a party that are known as the more conservatives, win in Hungary, in Greece, over in East Germany. Does that equate with the Republican Party winning, like, if it was back in the United States? Is there a way for us to understand this party?
SCHMIDT: No, I would be very careful to make any such equation. Greece is a particular case. Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia -- in these countries who have lived under dictatorships for half a century, the political parties other than the Communist party -- the political parties have been created only in the last couple of years. They still have to find out themselves what they are standing for. They have some basic positions against dictatorship, for instance. Now a dictatorship is more or less gone. What do you do with your freedom? How much security? How much financial stability? What kind of foreign policy? All this will have to find answers -- all these questions will have to find answers, and there will be, in the medium term, differentials in attitude between people from -- more to the right of the spectrum, people more to the left or from the center, but this remains to be seen. I would not say that the Christian democrats who just have won the last -- and the first -- election in the DDR a couple of weeks ago, I would not link them up with the Christian democrats in West Germany. It remains to be seen whether they are as conservative as is Kohl. I guess they are not as conservative. But I wouldn't make any predictions here. So what I say is these parties are so new it's difficult for themselves to define their position. It's even more difficult for us to define their position.
LAMB: For our audience, we're talking about this book and its author, Helmut Schmidt, former chancellor of the Federal Republic, and this is a book that you can get in the American bookstores. When did you write this?
SCHMIDT: Almost totally in holidays; four weeks in summer and four weeks in January.
LAMB: How long ago?
SCHMIDT: Well, the first stroke of the pen, I think, was done in '84, and the book was finished in '88.
LAMB: How well did it do and sell here in Germany?
SCHMIDT: In Germany, it sold very well, very well. Great number of hard covers being sold so far. It also was translated into some 10 or 12 foreign languages. The American edition is the last one.
LAMB: Why did it take so long for this to get to America?
SCHMIDT: I do not really know. In trying to do credit to the publishing house, I would guess that they were eager to get a first class translation; and translation sometimes takes time.
LAMB: How many copies did you sell in the Federal Republic?
SCHMIDT: Well, the publishing house itself sold nearly 400,000 hard covers and a book club sold another 200,000 hard covers. So it's quite a good number.
LAMB: In a nation of 60 million people, if you relate that to the United States, they'd sell about two and a half million copies, which is a huge success. Why did it sell so well? Do you know?
SCHMIDT: Why did it sell so well? Well, I think I still have a rather familiar name in German family households. People still remember me. And, obviously, they have some interest in what I do and what I think and what I write beyond the boundaries of political parties.
LAMB: You said in the opening that it was not really an autobiography, and then you said the following: “I have always had my suspicions of political narcissism.” What did you mean by that?
SCHMIDT: Well, I have seen so many self biographies -- autobiographies of former political leaders. With one or two exceptions, I am rather doubtful whether it serves the purpose. In many cases, autobiographies are trying to beautify their own role in their own country or their role in history and they're not really a good source for historians, and not even the best source for oneself as a reader to come to a solid judgment. I would like to mention the three exceptions that I make. One is "Bismarck," absolutely partial, far from being impartial. Very subjective, but nevertheless, very interesting reading. Secondly, Charles de Gaulle. And in between, Winston Churchill.
LAMB: You have a chapter with the title, Television Democracy Reagan Style. Why did it need a chapter?
SCHMIDT: It didn't necessarily need a chapter. I think in the German version it was a subchapter. I think it's necessary that people understand that there's a great change in the way in which a democracy is working, going from the newspaper democracy toward the radio democracy. The first great figure in radio democracy was Hitler -- it was not a democracy any longer, but the way in which he used radio to influence the thinking of the masses. And the other great user of the radio -- and he was a Democrat -- was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But now we are in the age of television democracy, and this is quite another thing. Television is an invitation to politicians to give answers in two and a half minutes; to issue statements not longer than three minutes because I know if I speak seven minutes they will cut me into pieces anyway and select a few sentences. Therefore, they confine themselves to generalities and in the main they understand that it's necessary for me to look nice, to look sympathetic, to look the public into its own eyes and to appeal the housewife who, in her kitchen, is preparing early breakfast. It is another type of democracy. You are not any more to the same old high degree trying to convince people about the quality of your argument. You are trying to attract people by your looks and by the way you speak. I deplore this development very much. Ronald Reagan was a great master in this art, but I don't think that this is necessarily to the advantage of the quality of a democratic public. But in the meantime this kind of television politics has spread all over the globe, and it's the same thing now in France and England and Germany and everyplace, not only in the United States. Like all social diseases, most of them start in the United States and then they spread over the world.
LAMB: Let me -- let me give you an example of what you're talking about and see what your response is. The last time I saw you on American television was a couple of weeks ago. It was on one of the Sunday morning programs and you were on for probably five minutes. All I remember from that, and let's see if this is what you wanted the audience to remember, is that you got irritated -- you were irritated with the question on whether or not there was going to be a reunified Germany.
SCHMIDT: Mm hmm.
LAMB: And you said, “It's not reunified. It's never been anything -- you can't reunify something that hasn't been separated.” Why did that irritate you? And that's what I remember from that quick show.
SCHMIDT: I don't recall that occasion, but obviously my irritation was twofold: Number one, I get irritated when I can't understand the question, acoustically, which sometimes is difficult over long distance, and you have a hall effect -- echo effect and other technical difficulties; secondly, certainly I must have been irritated about the word “reunification,” because the syllable “re” means putting pieces together as they had been previously. Now previously we had Hitler. Obviously we're not going to re establish the Third Reich. Before that we had the Weimar Republic, which didn't do so well, neither economically nor politically. So we are not out to re establish the Weimar Republic. Before that we had the William II's arrogant type of government. We're not going to re establish that. So I never use the phrase “reunification.” I always have been talking about unifying the German nation again, and I always have talked about putting all the Germans under one roof again.
LAMB: Let me ask you about what you said about it will never happen again -- because you can't pick up an article in the States that's written about this whole area without somewhere in the article being a paragraph saying, “But sources are worried” -- someone is worried that this will happen again. Why won't it happen again?
SCHMIDT: Why should it? You think Stalin will happen again in the Soviet Union? You think the holocaust of the Turks against the Armenians will happen again? You think the way in which the Spanish did away with the great Mexican civilization would happen again? Why should it? I think it's unfair to ask of the Germans to please prove that it can never happen again. I just feel it will not. And people who ask this question are asking that question from rather short historic memories. There have been slaughters of Jews in Eastern Europe, long before Hitler and to a greater extent. There have been attempts to conquer all of Europe by just one man, like Napoleon. For instance, my home city of Hamburg was liberated by the Russians from Napoleon -- from Napoleonic occupation. Even Hamburg was made a part of France proper -- a province. The historical memory, in the Western democracies, is a rather short memory and a very selective on top of it. For instance, nobody ever talks about almost 60,000 citizens of my city having been killed in one bombing raid in 1943. Nobody talks of -- more than 50,000, I think, 70,000 -- or how many being killed a few days before the end of the war in Dresden and Saxony, the first being done by the Brits, the second being done by the Americans. I mention this not in order to make Auschwitz appear smaller than it is. It is an enormous crime and it will last in the memory of people for a number of generations to come. And it will be casting a great shadow over any political leadership in my country for generations to come. I'm not trying to belittle this enormous crime, but I'm a little worried about the easiness with which people forget crimes other than German crimes.
LAMB: Do Germans get irritated that this issue is raised so often, and do you get a sense that it is? I mean, you read English, and as a matter of fact, I want to ask you this: You state in your book that the International Herald Tribune, an English language newspaper, is probably the best daily newspaper in the world. Is that -- do you agree with that statement that you wrote?
SCHMIDT: Beg your pardon?
LAMB: You say in your book that the International Herald Tribune is the best daily newspaper in the world.
SCHMIDT: I would still say that -- best daily paper.
LAMB: That newspaper is the one that's been writing a lot of these articles.
SCHMIDT: Not themselves. They have reprinted articles, in the main from The New York Times. They also reprint articles from other newspapers, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, but most of the articles you are referring to stem from The New York Times.
LAMB: Like Abe Rosenthal's article.
SCHMIDT: For instance.
LAMB: Did you read that one...
SCHMIDT: Yes.
LAMB: ...that famous column now?
SCHMIDT: Yes, yes.
LAMB: Again, let me ask you the question: Does it irritate you that you see this being written about all the time? Is it time to let that go by?
SCHMIDT: No. It does not irritate me. I think it's understandable. It must not necessarily be right. You hear the same things from certain people in Jerusalem, for instance, not only from New York City. And I think it would be proper if the Jews living in Germany would be asked to write their opinion. There are very few Jews living in Germany now -- I think about 5,000 in East Germany, 20,000 in West Germany, but quite a few intellectuals among them. Why not ask them to write their opinion?
LAMB: Back to your book and your chapter on television: Do you watch much television?
SCHMIDT: No.
LAMB: Why not?
SCHMIDT: I'm fed up. I used to watch television when I was active in politics. Of course, I had to watch what other people said, what they were criticizing. I didn't devote much time to it, maybe half an hour per day -- a couple of minutes in the morning and maybe 20 minutes at evening show. No, I am not regularly watching television -- from time to time, if somebody tells me that some very good play is on or a good football game -- soccer, as you would call it -- I might switch on television, but this occurs rather rarely.
LAMB: You wrote, “Europeans are often shocked when those in the White House shoot from the hip.What they overlooked is the fact that in Europe we are also marching along the road from parliamentary democracy to television democracy. It is true that the political reporting in our regional newspapers is hugely superior to that in the American press, and the political sections of the European local press are certainly read.” Go back before, to the television thing. Why do you worry that we're going (audio loss) television democracy instead of a parliamentary democracy?
SCHMIDT: Well, parliamentary democracy, you have never had in the United States. You have an emperor that is being chosen for four years and he has more powers than any parliamentary prime minister in France or in Holland or Italy or Germany. But the change from a newspaper democracy to a television democracy also means a great temptation for people who are just in a superficial way trying to catch the public's ears and eyes. It's a temptation for a superficiality, for a shallowness.
LAMB: What's going to be the impact?
SCHMIDT: I beg your pardon?
LAMB: What will be the impact on politics?
SCHMIDT: Well, I think already the impact is quite clear, namely a change toward populism.
LAMB: And what will come from populism?
SCHMIDT: Not necessarily the best advice.
LAMB: Why?
SCHMIDT: Well, because the public, to whose eyes and ears somebody is playing -- being educated and being informed by television, doesn't have the same grasp that formerly -- let us say 30, 40, 50 years ago, the educated elite in our society would have had.
LAMB: In the middle of your book you have a number of photographs, and we're going to show the audience one here of our most recent president before George Bush, Ronald Reagan. How much of a relationship did you have with him?
SCHMIDT: How much?
LAMB: How well did you know him?
SCHMIDT: Whom?
LAMB: Ronald Reagan.
SCHMIDT: Well, I think I first met him two years before he became president the first time. And I met him at several occasions before his first presidential election. I met him a great number of times in his first two presidential years. I think I knew him quite well. First -- the first extended encounter was, by the way, in Bohemian Grove in California, three days in an encampment.
LAMB: With whom?
SCHMIDT: With whom? With American industrialists, with American artists -- I remember Herman Wouk; I remember a great violinist from New York, Isaac Stern.
LAMB: Stern.
SCHMIDT: I remember Henry Kissinger; I remember my good friend, George Shultz; I remember Alexander Haig; I remember Ronald Reagan -- all in the same camp, and extended discussions -- very, very relaxed discussions, very nice, very friendly. And one gets a good feeling for a human being in such an environment.
LAMB: Were you the only person there from another country?
SCHMIDT: I don't guess so. I mentioned Lee Kuan Yew. He was from Singapore.
LAMB: That's right, yes. Do those kind of informal sessions have more impact than the formal sessions on politics?
SCHMIDT: They have a great impact on your understanding of your counterpart, not necessarily does it have an impact on decision making.
LAMB: There are some people in the United States that think that decisions are made by a very small group of people around the world. There's an organization called the Trilateral Commission. Are you a member?
SCHMIDT: Yes.
LAMB: What would you say to somebody -- the conspiracy theorists that say that the world is run by a very few people in groups like this and the Council on Foreign Relations?
SCHMIDT: You hear such theories once and again. You always also heard the theory of the conspiracy of the multinational firms or the multinational banks. That's all nonsense. I mean, in some governments the most important decisions are really being taken at the top after having heard advice from several sides. Sometimes they are being made at the top after not having listened to advice. Sometimes they are made, not by the top man, not even by his foreign secretary or his defense secretary, but a little deeper down in the bureaucracy. It differs from country to country; it differs from time to time; and it differs from person to person. The idea that just a handful of people are governing the world is preposterous nonsense.
LAMB: When you were the chancellor -- or even today -- do you find that there is a lot of contact between world leaders that never makes it into the press?
SCHMIDT: No. I thought that there was not enough contact between leaders. For instance, my friend Giscard d'Estaing and my American friend, George Shultz, and I, myself -- we established close personal contacts between ourselves and a few others when we were finance ministers. We thought it was necessary, and in many instances our meetings were not being told to the press or the media. Later on, we found that it was necessary to establish some similar group between the heads of state or heads of government. This was the birth of the so called economic summits. It was a joint proposal of Giscard d'Estaing and myself, easily accepted by Gerald Ford at the time, and it included seven heads of state -- or heads of government, in order to make these people meet -- meaning to have to listen to other leaders' concerns, proposals, interests, and not only to listen to their own advisers back home. And also it did require the people to speak out and answer questions by the other six participants. It was a very good thing in the first couple of years. Later on, it had been deteriorated into a big hullabaloo and a television affair, thousands of journalists around. The first meetings were without any journalists. And certainly it did, for instance, educate the then Japanese leaders to understand what the West was standing for. And for the first time the Japanese understood that it wasn't just enough to sit back and smile politely, and don't say anything. They were forced to answer questions. And I think personal contacts are of great importance. I always have advocated personal contacts, for instance, between the American leader and the Soviet leader, whether it was Brezhnev or, later on, Gorbachev, whether it was Nixon or Ford or Carter or Reagan or Bush. I think it's necessary, even between adversaries, that you know each other and listen to the other guy, and answer the other guy's questions. And if we want to live in peace, we have to listen to each other.
LAMB: Let me read some more about what you said in your book, about the American society: "Because of the United States' democratic Constitution and the important roles played by the Senate and the House of Representatives as well as by the media, the process of opinion formation in the United States is almost transparent to an outsider" -- almost transparent to an outsider. "The arguments and interests of others, even of its allies, seem to play a small part in the process." Why did you say that?
SCHMIDT: Well, because it's the truth.
LAMB: What impact does that have on the process, then?
SCHMIDT: Let me take an example. The concerns of the Italian political class are hardly being voiced in the Washington decision making process. You will hardly ever read much about Italy in the United States press. You will not read much about Spain as well, except during the process of transition from the Franco dictatorship to a democratic type of government in Madrid. Otherwise you won't hear much about these coun -- you won't hear much about Finland. You heard the term Finlandization or self Finlandization, which, by the way, was an offense to the Finns, who were very courageous and still are very courageous, very effective, successful people. America is so great that American media and American politicians in the main are satisfied to deal with American problems. If you were a country, not of 245 million people, but just of 24 million people, then you would much more look at the rest of the world, which is much bigger if you are so small. Now you are such big, and, therefore, you don't really look to the rest of the world. You have the same phenomenon to an even greater extent in China, a huge country, 1.25 billion people, and not really caring for the rest of the world, not -- certainly not enough. You have the same type of phenomenon in the huge Soviet Union, 285 million or 290 million people. Until Gorbachev, they didn't really care for the opinions of other peoples, of other governments or of other nations or public opinion in other countries. And there is some temptation, also, in Washington to listen to the senator of this or that state, who has some concerns about a military base in his state, which is planned to be closed down or not. This seems to be much more important for a certain type of debate than the other question, whether the threats from the Soviet Union really require so -- and so many airplanes or so and so many rockets. It's a little bit self centered, the political process in the United States -- a little bit self centered.
LAMB: You finish your book by looking in the future, and you build a triangle between the United States, Soviet Union and China. Why?
SCHMIDT: Well, I think that by the end of this century and the beginning of the next century, whatever happens to Gorbachev, even if they lose the Baltic republics and the Islamic republics at the south -- even then the Soviet Union will remain to be a strategic superpower. The United States of America will certainly remain to be a strategic as well as economic superpower, even if they cannot solve their double deficit complex. And China will be looked at as a strategic power due to its enormous size alone, 1.3 billion people at the beginning of the next century. By the way, Japan will have to be understood as being a superpower -- a financial superpower -- the financial powerhouse of the world. And hopefully, the European Community will develop into a power of the same order of magnitude -- or let me say status.
LAMB: You do say this, though: You say, "Nevertheless, the Western Europe is about to throw away its opportunity. Today it could become a subject of world history, determining its own destiny, the fourth world power, if you will. Instead, the Western European leaders are stuck in status quo ideology."
SCHMIDT: That was written before the upheavals in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia. But still that statement remains to be true. I regret very much right now there is no leadership to be seen in Europe, neither from London nor from Paris, certainly not from Bonn. Bonn would be the last one from whom I would expect leadership, and from whom I would like it to be seen exerted it. There is no leadership coming out of the Brussels Commission. They take the good weather for granted. For instance, there is no leadership to bring about a huge effort to economically help the Poles -- it's almost 40 million nation -- to help the Hungarians, to help the Czechs and the Slovaks, the East Germans, 16 million people. We Germans will be able to deal with that, and they will come upward in the course of the '90s, but it's much more important that the Poles come up, and that the Hungarians and the Czechs come up. And this needs a European Marshall Plan, so to speak, because the stability of democracy in Poland hinges upon the economic success. If they become economic -- economically unsuccessful, I would not be astonished if the democracy would prove to be fragile. And the same might be true of other countries in Eastern Europe. So the West European leaders ought to bring about a great effort in order to help these countries economically, financially. They are not doing it. They are talking about it, but are not really doing it. And there is a great example of the United States right after the war, with the Marshall Plan and the government and relief credits. If, in real terms, the West Europeans would decide to bring about such a help towards Eastern Europe -- and we certainly could do this, easily, economically -- we could do it -- it takes leadership to ask the nations for solidarity with their Eastern neighbors. And a little later on, if these arms limitation agreements really are being signed and ratified, I would not exclude the Soviet Union from getting economic help from the West, but only after arms limitation of sorts.
LAMB: We only have a few minutes left and I want to go back to the title of your book -- “Men and Powers." Were they leaders, that made the changes in Eastern Europe, or were the people themselves...
SCHMIDT: Both; and also was it the West, also was it the Helsinki final act from 1975, which spread the gospel of human rights into all these nations, including the Soviet Union. To some degree it also was, particularly, the Western alliance that stood firm, and did not yield under the threat of Soviet missiles in the time of Brezhnev. There were many factors, and one of the most important factors, of course, was Solidarnoz in Poland. It was the earliest, back 10 years ago, already.
LAMB: In your experience -- or it doesn't have to be just your own personal experience -- who are your favorite leaders of the century?
SCHMIDT: Well, I would just mention one and he is dead, Anwar el Sadat.
LAMB: And what was it about him that you liked?
SCHMIDT: Beg your pardon?
LAMB: What was it about him that you liked?
SCHMIDT: He was a military man. He had been the deputy of Nasser. Egypt is not a democracy of a Western type. He governed the country as is usual there, and as was necessary. On the other hand, he really, genuinely was pursuing to create peace in the Middle East, and he knew very well that he was risking his own life. But nevertheless, he did it. His visit to Jerusalem was one of the great deeds of an individual person in this century, and he was killed because of it, afterwards. He did believe it. We were good friends, and we had been talking religion and philosophy overnight. He did believe that it was necessary for the Christians and the Jews and the Muslims to understand that they stem from the same roots. And he had great knowledge about the origins of Islamic religion, Jewish religion, Christian religion. And if they understood that they came from the same roots, centuries ago, then would it be possible to make them understand that it was possible and necessary to create peace between themselves and stabilize peace. He was a very impressive human being, and I'm very thankful that I had a chance to meet that man.
LAMB: How do you want people to remember you and your time in politics?
SCHMIDT: I've never thought about that. I have never thought about it. I was in no way an outstanding type of head of government. I would be satisfied if they remembered me as somebody who has done his job, done his task in a satisfying way.
LAMB: What would you want the American people to either do or think about when they think about this part of the world in the years to come?
SCHMIDT: America is, in the '90s, going to scrutinize the situation, and they will search for the future role of America in the world. And I think -- or I hope that they will, among other things, find that their presence in Europe still is being necessary, because nobody knows what -- after the period of weakness of the Soviet Union, what foreign policy will be developed in Moscow, let us say, in the year 2001 or 2010. I don't know. American presence is necessary in order to keep the balance. On the other hand, I think a great task for the United States lies in Latin America; for instance, in Mexico. If I was an American leader, I would argue that, number one, is it possible; number two, is it necessary, for as Americans to help in a sweeping way, economically, to build up Mexico and solidify the Mexican democracy, and create circumstances in which not millions and millions of Mexicans or other Caribbean individuals hope to come over the -- the Rio Grande or -- or hope to come over to Florida or to California. You need a sound neighbor in the South, and I think, if I was an American leader, I would not think that these little states of the Caribbean, say, or in Central America, Guatemala and Costa Rica and Nicaragua and Panama -- I wouldn't think them to be important; I would think Mexico is important, Brazil is important, Argentina is important. And, too, the idea of a Western Hemisphere should be used to let the American nation understand that it is, to a great deal, their task to make this Western Hemisphere into a socially, economically sound society.
LAMB: If you and I were to have a conversation in 10 years, right here, what is your prediction as to what this -- the European Community will be like then?
SCHMIDT: In 10 years' time? Well, nobody will any longer be concerned with the transitional periods in Warsaw and East Berlin and Prague and Budapest. Maybe we have, in the meantime, seen a lot of difficulties and regional conflicts on the Balkans Peninsula. I wouldn't be -- I would abstain from making any forecasts as regards Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia and the like. But in central Europe, I think anybody will see central Europe as a nicer place in 10 years' time than it has been, hitherto.
LAMB: Our guest for the last hour has been the former chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Helmut Schmidt. And here is his book, "Men and Powers." You can find it in the American bookstores. Thank you very much for your time.
SCHMIDT: Thank you.


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