BRIAN LAMB, HOST: David Kennedy, author of "Freedom From Fear," you say in the introduction that you went to a number of battlefields, thanking some veterans. Tell us about that.
Professor DAVID KENNEDY, AUTHOR, "FREEDOM FROM FEAR": Well, I went to--the most memorable of those trips, actually, was to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, which is a very difficult place to reach, you know, physically. It's not on the usual tourist track. But I took a group of mostly Stanford alumni down there. And I gave some lectures on World War II. We had a group of maybe 75 or 80 people and about a dozen or two of those were veterans of the Solomon Islands campaign. And that was a real education. We'd stand on these airfields and they would describe how they crash-landed or how they watched somebody crash land and how the--they all dove for the bunkers when the Japanese planes came over and so on. It was--it was quite an education.
LAMB: Where else did you go?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, with that group, we went to Guadalcanal itself and Savo Sound, of course, which is right there in Tulagi, which is right across Savo Sound, and then around the Solomon chain a bit. And we wanted to go to Bougainville, but that was--there was political u--unrest so we couldn't get in. Then I went with another group a few years earlier to Anzio and Salerno, in Italy, and then I went with a group to Normandy about--well, that was--actually that was on the 50th anniversary of the--the D-Day summer. It was 1944--1994.
LAMB: What happens to a writer when you get to see those places up close, especially when you wrote this book?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, you know, I--I wrote a book earlier on the First World War, and I made a point of walking all the--all the major American battlefields from World War I just to get a physical sense of what they looked like and what it must have felt like to be there in combat. These World War II trips, actually, that I just mentioned were a little bit different, because not only was I trying to get a sense of the physical locale, which was sort of my first objective, but I had the added bonus of having these--these veterans with me and hearing their war stories. So it was a--kind of a compound thing. I got not--I was able to soak up not only the physical landscape, but a lot of the psychological landscape, the landscape of memory as well. But it's--I think it's indispensable for a writer about these kinds of military topics to--to know the terrain. It's so--it's so important in understanding the--how the action unfolds.
LAMB: Nine hundred and thirty-six pages.
Prof. KENNEDY: Yes.
LAMB: How long did it take you?
Prof. KENNEDY: It took me 11 years to finish this book.
LAMB: How'd you do it, and what's in it? If somebody's not heard about it and not seen it, what would they get?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, they'd get a pretty complete history of the Great Depression and the New Deal and World War II. Those are the three big topics. The working title for the book when I first went to work on it was simply "The New Deal." And I think, actually, in the publisher's mind, they s--they understood that as the core subject. In fact, as the--the work on it unfolded, more than half the book is
about World War II.
LAMB: Y--you--I want to ask you about some people. You start it off by talking about four men and you end it talking about four men. Why don't we go through them and tell us a little bit about what you think of them.
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, the--the very first historical character who appears in the scene in this book is Adolf Hitler. And I--I was able to locate where he--where Hitler and Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin--where they all were at the moment they heard of the end of World War I, in 1918--in November 1918. And that discussion of those four people and where they were--actually, there was a fifth, but I couldn't quite get him physically located, but I got him in the scene in the prologue--is Fumimaro Konoe, who's the f--the last peacetime civilian prime minister of Japan, 1941.
And I--they constitute the discussion in the prologue because I'm trying to set the scene in the reader's mind that there--that World War I was an immense perturbation of the international environment, a great disruption. And it's against the backdrop of that lingering disruption that all this subsequent history will play out, the history of the Depression, the history of the New Deal and, of course, the--the great sequel to World War I, which is World War II. And I did that deliberately because the--the next big long patch of the book doesn't look at the international scene very much at all. But I wanted to establish firmly in the reader's mind from the outset that this history takes places in the context of a greatly disrupted international environment.
And then I come back to them all at the end, although some of them are dead in--by--by 1945. Fact, the only one who's alive and in power in 1945 is Joseph Stalin, and he--he, in a sense, closes out the book as a way of reminding the reader that another period of great international tension was to follow; this was the Cold War. So this--the title of this book, "Freedom From Fear," captures what I think is the essential accomplishment of this generation, that they--they diminished elements of fear and uncertainty in the life of this society, in the life of American individuals, but they didn't banish all fear from all human history, and there were still--there were still problems to follow.
LAMB: Where was Adolf Hitler at the end of World War I?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, he was in a--recovering in a--a hospital in Pasovolk in eastern--the eastern part of Germany, and he'd been gassed in a later phase of the war by--by the British, in a British attack. And the--the gas attack had temporarily blinded him so he was in invalided out to this recovery facility way in the eastern side of Germany. And he was in a hospital with a lot of other recovering war wounded. And a chaplain came to tell him and the other men that the--the German government had surrendered, even while the German army was more or less still intact in the field.
And though there's some controversy about the reliability of Hitler's memory of this moment, it's more or less the moment when he and others begin to think that they've been betrayed by the civilian leadership. This is the great stab in the back. They're enormously resentful of the--the wastefulness of their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their comrades in arms. And if not precisely at that moment, certainly shortly thereafter, Hitler sets himself on the track of trying to avenge this great injustice to the German veterans and to the German people. And there's no question, I think, that--that he--he--he's the first character in the book for--for good reason, because in--throughout this whole period, between the end of World War I and the conclusion of World War II, he's the single actor who, more than anybody else, drives the action and di--disrupts the scene and s--World War II is his war, I think, to a disproportionate degree. Chur...
Prof. KENNEDY: ...Churchill's--sorry.
LAMB: ...I just wanted to ask you one thing about Adolf Hitler. You--you referenced--the first book you reference is "Mein Kampf." How many--and then in the bibliography in the back, there are lots of books. How many books do you think you read to prepare yourself to write this book?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, the number's in the hundreds. I couldn't tell you--I never did an exact count. But there is an enormous literature, you know, about the history of the interwar period, about the--the onset of the Depression and the New Deal, World War II. I--I--in--in fact, I do not to claim to have read every single thing written about those matters. But, yeah, I did a lot of reading and it took 11 years to put this together.
LAMB: An--and in this book, is it all from secondary sources or primary sources?
Prof. KENNEDY: No, it's almost all from published sources, but it--but by this point in time, a lot of what we would call primary sources are published. For example, "The Churchill-Roosevelt Correspondence," in a wonderful edition, edited by Warren Kimball, is--in three volumes is--is beautifully reproduced and annotated and a very reliable primary source, though you can find it between two covers in published form. This--this great series, "Foreign Relations of the United States," which the State Department publishes, is another primary source, but you don't have to go to an archive to get it, and you can get it between printed--between covers in your own university library. So there's a lot of that kind of material in there.
But I did virtually no archival research for this book. It's not that--that was not my intention. The--the idea of "The Oxford History of the United States," in--in which series--this is a volume, is a series that was originally conceived by Richard Hofstadter and C. Vann Woodward some years ago. The idea of the series is to bring to general readers, not just to specialists and not--certainly not just to captive student audiences, to bring to them the best current scholarship and--but to make it an accessible form and a narrative form so the general reader can get it. And that meant distilling the best of this rather considerable body of literature into an accessible account for the general reader.
LAMB: I was just showing volume three, four, five and 10--no, th--your--your volume is nine, actually, isn't it?
Prof. KENNEDY: Yes.
LAMB: And it's--it's three--let me just back up, why did you list here volume three, volume six, volume nine and volume 10?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, th--the answer is simple. There--there are nine--or 10 actually, projected volumes in the series, eventually, when it's finished. But they have not been published in chronological order. The first volume published was about the American Revolution. It's by Robert Middlekauff, called "The Glorious Cause."
The second volume published was about the Civil War by James McPherson. "Battle Cry of Freedom" it's called. Third volume published was "Grand Expectations" by James Patterson, which covers the period from the end of World War II down to the early 1970s. The fourth p--volume published was mine, this book, "Freedom From Fear," but it obviously covers chronological period earlier than the last book that was published. So it just depends on when the various authors in the series have managed to get their work done.
LAMB: How were you picked to be the author of this period?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, the--the general editors of the series are Sheldon Meyer, editor at Oxford Press, and C. Vann Woodward, the dean of all American historians, age 91, but still going strong. Great Southern historian. They asked me to--to write this book and it was an offer I couldn't refuse.
LAMB: What w--what were you doing when they asked you originally?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, when they originally asked me I had just finished writing this book about the First World War called "Over Here." And actually I c--I can prove this because it's in the--the preface--the forematter to that book. I said something in the last sentence of the preface to that book about how the First World War is but a prelude to a far greater war a generation later, but that's another story for telling another time. So I already had it in my head to do something with the Second World War. And then they came and said, `Would you do this volume on the New Deal and World War II?' And I said, `Well, it's a bit more than I was anticipating,' in terms of the range of the subject, but, `sure.' If you're in my business, which is the history of the United States in the 20th century, which is what I mostly concern myself with, there's no question that the--these two events, the Depression and World War II, are the most deeply formative events in the history of this society. I dare say in the history of global society in this century and I--I just couldn't pass up an opportunity to have a good long go at this.
LAMB: What do you do full time?
Prof. KENNEDY: Full time, I--my day job, as they say, is I--I teach history at Stanford University.
LAMB: What years?
Prof. KENNEDY: What--what years do I teach?
LAMB: Students--the students, yeah.
Prof. KENNEDY: Oh, I teach everything from freshman to post-docs. That's--that's the way Stanford works.
LAMB: And how long have you done that?
Prof. KENNEDY: I've been teaching at Stanford for 32 years, since 1967.
LAMB: Let me ask you a political question because you might remember that C. Vann Woodward was one of the three historians that led the group of 400 that opposed the idea of peaching--impeaching President Clinton. Were you involved in that at all?
Prof. KENNEDY: I signed that letter, yes.
LAMB: Does it worry you that when you get involved in politics like that that people might, you know, react politically to you when you do a history book like this?
Prof. KENNEDY: No, not really. I--I--I really think--well, le--let me say--another reason why I leapt at the chance to do this book in this series is because I've long believed--and I was a student of Woodward's I should probably say in truth and disclosure, back in the '60s, so I probably learned some of this from him, but I d--I do believe that it's part of the--the civic responsibility of historians to--to be part of the public discourse of their time and to speak responsibly out of whatever they think they understand about the past, about the present. I just think that's a responsibility we have as historians. So I signed that letter about the Clinton impeachment because I--my own view was that the impeachment remedy was wildly disproportionate to the offense. And that was--that--that's--that's full stop. That--that's the n--that was the nature of my belief about the matter and that's what prompted me to sign the letter.
Sure, some people object to that kind of--taking that kind of position. But that goes with the territory. I do--I don't think we should shrink from expressing ourselves just because somebody might object.
LAMB: What do you think of FDR?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, I'll tell you a story about that. I think FDR is a very great historical figure. But this--the subtitle of this book is "The American People in Depression and War." And I'm quite insistent on the--the explanatory value of that subtitle. A few years ago I was teaching at Oxford University in England and I had the great privilege of meeting Sir Isaiah Berlin. And in a moment that was very flattering to me, when we were introduced, he--he professed to know something about me. He said, `Oh, you're the person that's writing this new biography of Franklin Roosevelt.' Well, he had it a little wrong. I said, `No, Sir Isaiah, in fact, I'm not writing a biography of Franklin Roosevelt. I'm writing a general history of the American people during the Great Depression and World War II.' And I said, `In fact, as a writer, it's a problem for me not to succumb to the enormous charm of Roosevelt's historical personality and turn it into a biography against my better judgment.' And s--Isaiah Berlin grabbed my arm and fixed me with a gaze in the eye and he said, `Oh, my boy, succumb. Succumb.' Because he thought Roosevelt was such a great world historical figure, that it was the proper way to tell the story of this time, was the story of his engagement with these events.
But that's not--I try not to do that in the book, though, necessarily Roosevelt is the dominant personality of this era. There's no--in--in the history of this country at least. There's no question about it. And he--he does figure quite prominently in the book.
LAMB: You called Herbert Hoover, in the early part of the book, a great humanitarian, and take a take on him that I think those that have, you know, a simple image would probably be surprised, would you say?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, a lot of people have been--and a lot of reviewers have seized on this as a surprising element in the book. In fact, I go back to the purpose of this series, which is to bring the best in recent and current scholarship to a general public. It's no surprise to most professional students of this matter that Hoover's reputation in folklore has been badly distorted. So my--my fellow professional historians, I think, would not find this so surprising. We--we've long since come to the conclusion that Hoover got a bad rap in a lot of the standard accounts.
And i--the great humanitarian was what he was called, popularly and publicly after his effort during World War I to organize international relief for--for occupied Belgium--German-occupied Belgium. And he--I--as I view him, and as a lot of other people view him, he was a--quite a person of quite advanced views for his era. He was no old laissez-faire 19th century style conservative. He meant to use the presidency actively and he did, in fact. But he got swamped by the scale of the Depression and by his own political ineptitude, eventually. And I--I think of Hoover as something of a tragic figure, a person of rather considerable creativity and energy and great intelligence, who's just overcome by events that are beyond his control.
LAMB: Go back to--we were talking about "Mein Kampf" for a moment, if you read "Mein Kampf" back in--in what year did it come out?
Prof. KENNEDY: F--well, s--1924, give or take a year. It's--it's the early '20s.
LAMB: So you've got Hitler after the--1918, after World War I, writing "Mein Kampf." If you read that then, what's in there that would tip you off as to where he was headed? Is it all there?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, you know, among the people that read it early on was Franklin Roosevelt. He--he read it well before Hitler came to power. And it convinced him that--as he said, `Hitler is a madman.' But neither he nor anybody else, I think, could anticipate just how influential this madman would be. I think they regarded him at first as an aberration when he came to power. But then he--he closed his fist over the entire apparatus of government in Germany and made the whole country subservient to his will and made more trouble for the world than anybody could anticipate.
LAMB: Go through the other men. You were starting to talk about Winston Churchill. Where was he after World War I?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, Chur--Chur--Churchill, because he's such a wonderful writer and a--and a great documenter of his own life, he--he was the one that was the easiest to fix in time, most reliably. We know precisely where he was. He was in his office in London looking down into a street below and he knew that Big Ben was gonna ring the chimes at 11 AM on November 11th, 1918, the famous 11th hour of the 11th month and so on and--on the 11th day of the 11th month. And he records in his--his own memoirs how he looked down into the street and first he saw one girl all by herself come out of a storefront or an office building into the street and then suddenly hundreds of other people poured out of these buildings and all celebrated the end of the war. And then he tells us what he was thinking at this moment. And, of course, the first thing he was thinking was how glad he was that it was all over. But he also says--and I--I quote this in the book--he said some--something to the effect that a--a knell rang in the ears of the victors, even in this moment of celebration. Because he knew that the--the war did not settle all the problems it had caused it and in the future most likely held considerable trouble. So hi--his is, in a sense, the most prophetic tragic view of what the--the next couple of decades will hold.
Prof. KENNEDY: He--he knows that the world--th--the--the world's problems are not solved by the peace at Versailles.
LAMB: What was he doing then?
Prof. KENNEDY: He was a--a minister in the British government. So he was...
LAMB: Member of Parliament?
Prof. KENNEDY: Yes, minist--member of Parliament, as he would be, of course, to hold a ministerial post.
LAMB: Where was FDR?
Prof. KENNEDY: FDR was assistant secretary of the Navy. And, in fact, just weeks before the Armistice--or months before the Armistice, he had traveled to the--the front in France and made a tour of--kind of whirlwind tour of the battlefield. He later referred to that quite often, particularly in the presidential campaign of 1940 when he would repeatedly say, `I have seen war. I know what war can do. I hate war.' Well, that was kind of true. He'd seen some very safe areas of the front. He had not really been exposed to any particular danger. But he had seen some of the destruction of--of the First World War in France and so on. But i--y--on November 11th, 1918, of course, he was in Washington, DC. And actually it's not he, but Eleanor who records in her autobiographical writing how they felt at the moment of the Armistice, how--how--what a celebration it caused and so on.
But we also know that Franklin Roosevelt had, just a few weeks earlier--actually, a few days earlier, gone to Woodrow Wilson and asked if he could please resign his Cabinet post as--as assistant secretary of the Navy and take a commission in the Navy and actually go to war as a military officer. And Wilson told him, `It's too late. The war is virtually over. The negotiations are so far advanced that it's just a matter of days or weeks, so that would be futile.' So Roosevelt never had a--a uniformed military career.
LAMB: And what about his polio? Had he had polio yet?
Prof. KENNEDY: No, the polio comes a few years later. When he's actually vacationing at the family summer home at Campobello is when it first presents itself. And then, of course, for most of the following decade of the 1920s, he spends trying to--to recover and he--he--product, again, of this indomitable, rather phenomenal willpower of his, he continues and persists in the belief that he will recover, much contrary to the best medical advice that he could get at that time. People did not recover from polio, which is what he had.
And he--as we know, he never did regain the use of his legs, although he developed this capacity to "walk," quote, unquote, in a peculiar way. He w--he had these big heavy 10-pound steel braces on his legs and he--he learned to be able--if he could balance on something, had a s--on somebody's arm, he could throw one hip forward and then the other hip forward, 'cause he had mobility above the waist. And it was a--a version of a walk. He could only do it for a few paces. He really couldn't cover much ground with it and it was quite awkward and lurching. But it was enough that--so that he could present himself in public as having, at least, partly recovered. And he could stand--if he locked the knee device on the brace, he could stand at a--at a platform if he could hold onto it and balance, so that he could give a speech standing up.
So there w--the fact that he had been crippled was not exactly a secret. But the public was more or less given to understand that he'd effected at least a partial recovery from this. And he was careful in public not to display himself in a wheelchair or being physically lifted, as he had to be in and out of automobiles and so on. The only occasion that I know of when he--he broke that discipline or that practice was when he came back from Yalta, in early 1945, and he addressed the Congress sitting down. And he made a reference to the fact that, `It's easier for me to sit than to stand with 10 pounds of steel on my legs.' To the best of my knowledge, that's the only public reference that he ever made to his disability.
LAMB: Where was Josef Stalin right after World War I?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, Josef Stalin, at the end of 19--end of World War I, 1918, is al--bec--in the nature of the case, he being Stalin, it being revolutionary Russia, he's a little more difficult to place precisely. But we know just before November 11th, 1918, he'd been in the city that was then called Tsaritsyn. It's later called Stalingrad. Still later called Voldograd. And he'd been a commissar--a political commissar there and his job was to punish political enemies, which he did by murdering them. Probably at the moment of the Armistice, he was back in Moscow. His precise whereabouts are a little illusive. But he was clearly, at that moment, one of the leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution and part of his responsibility was to extinguish as many political opponents as he could get his hands on.
LAMB: As you know, you say the primary cause of the Great Depression reads--the first sentence of his memoirs was the war of 1914 to 1918--the memoirs of Herbert Hoover, in your introduction. Talk about the Versailles Treaty. Who was there, what did it say and what impact do you think it had then on the Great Depression and then on World War II.
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, th--th--the--the--the big four negotiators of the Versaille Treaty, of course, were the American president, Woodrow Wilson; the--the British prime minister, Lloyd George; the--the French premier, Georges Clemenceau; and the Italian premier, Vittorio Orlando. Orlando is really a minor player in this, but he--nevertheless, he had one of the so-called big four seats at the Paris peace talks. Th--the negotiation, actually, takes place at Paris and the document is signed at Versailles. So we commonly call it the Versailles Treaty.
Th--the great product of the--the negotiation, particularly from the American point of view, in 1918, 1919, was that the--all the signatories agreed to create this new thing called the League of Nations. And, of course, Woodrow Wilson was the great champion of creating this new institution. And then one of the bitter ironies of the end of World War I is that the American Senate rejects the treaty that would have taken the United States into the League of Nations. And the United States retreats rather markedly from the, kind of, limited, tentative internationalism that Woodrow Wilson had tried to promote. So that's the first big breakdown, you might say, of the treaty mechanism, is that the Americans refused to enter into the League of Nations.
But the--you know, the--the most penetrating analysis, I think, of the Versailles Treaty ever written was written in--in its immediate aftermath by a British observer who was there for most of the negotiations, the--the famous economist--he wasn't then quite as famous as he becomes later, John Maynard Keynes, and a wonderful book called "The Economic Consequences of the Peace." And the--the--the c--the central argument of that book is--where Keynes says that the--the Versailles Treaty perpetuated in peacetime the greatest economic and political crime of the war, which was the economic division of Europe. Europe, before 1914, had been quite a functionally unified continental economy. Lots of international trade and capital flows and so on. It--it really functioned as a single economic unit to a considerable degree. The war disrupted all that.
And then because of the--the punitive measures imposed upon Germany by the treaty: reparations payments, the--the suppressing of the German coal and steel industry, taking away from Germany control over her own inland waterways, her own merchant marine, taking away her colonies. All of these flowed from the treaty. Keynes said this--this is an insane perpetuation in peacetime of the economic disruptions of the war by formal treaty arrangement. And th--he--he predicted that the--the war would--that the treaty would sow the seeds of another war and he was absolutely right.
LAMB: I want to jump way out of context here, because as you know, in 936 pages we could have a 14-hour interview easily. I--because I wanted you to talk about someone named Lorena Hickock, and you talk about her trip around the United States, her eyes and ears for President FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, she--and Doris Kearns Goodwin told us about her b--living on the second floor of the White House. Who was she? And why did you talk about her in your book?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, l--let me--I'll answer that directly, but let me just back up a step because it was--as a writer about the Depression and the New Deal, it was a structural problem for me to avoid doing what I think most writers have done and that is--about this issue, and that is to describe the Depression, to describe Hoover's failed attempt to deal with it, then to bring Roo--Franklin Roosevelt on stage. And the implication is that at that moment everything's hunky dory again and we're on the road to recovery. In fact, the Depression persists until 1940 or even 1941. And in--by some measures--rather obvious measures, in fact, Franklin Roosevelt is no more successful in licking the Depression than was Herbert Hoover. Unemployment rate never goes below 14 percent in all the two Roosevelt New Deal administrations.
So when I was writing the book, I progressed through the prologue and the--the scene--where I set the scene in the 1920s and the Hoover administration, the onset of the Depression. But I had not yet painted any human face with--what the actual human impact of the Depression was. And both of the editors, both Vann Woodward and Sheldon Meyer, got on my back about, `Well, where's--where's the human suffering of the Depression?' And my response was, `I'm deliberately waiting till we get well into the 1930s, into the Roosevelt administration, to describe that because I want to make the point that the Depression persists and I don't want the reader to get the idea that the Depression is a Hoover problem and then Roosevelt solves it.' So I wanted to wait until 1934 or '5, in the chronological account before I really rendered for the reader what the Depression looked like.
Lorena Hickock served my purposes beautifully because she was a reporter, one of the few really prominent women news reporters of the era, who got very close to Eleanor Roosevelt during the presidential campaign of 1932. She was assigned to cover Eleanor during the campaign. In a sense, she lost her professional journalistic objectivity and became more of a flack for Eleanor Roosevelt than a reporter. And it became impossible for her to work as an objective journalist any longer, so Eleanor got her a job.
LAMB: Let me stop and ask you, though, what kind of a power did she have working for the Associated Press and writing about the president--or to-be and Eleanor Roosevelt?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, as I say, she--she was--most women reporters--women journalists in that era were conventionally assigned to the feature page, and they wrote--wrote the society column or what have you. She was not. She covered hard news stories and she was one of the principle reporters on the--the--the Lindbergh kidnapping case, for example. So she had quite a national reputation as a--as a hard-nosed reporter.
In any case, Eleanor Roosevelt gets her a job as a kind of roving field reporter for Harry Hopkins, the chief federal relief administrator in the New Deal, and her assignment is simply to drive around the country and write back to Hopkins what it looked like out there and how these relief programs were working or not working. And because she's such a skilled reporter and a wonderfully observant reporter and writes so well, she served my purposes just wonderfully as a--somebody who in the mid-30s, not in the early '30s, not in the Hoover years, but in the Roosevelt years, is documenting just how God awful the Depression is out there.
She--she drove, particularly around the--the upper Midwest and the South were the two regions she spent the most time in, but also the Northeast and even the far West. So it was th--it was the timing of when she's writing. That--that's part of what appealed to me. It was her skill as a reporter and an observer which appealed to me. Then there's another thing about her which appealed to me and that is that she--something happens to her when she's out on the road in Depression America. She comes to an understanding that what she's looking at--the misery that she's looking at, is not simply just the result of the Depression, that she's looking at the accumulated misery and suffering of generations of wild, unregulated industrial revolution, th--that--she's looking at what I call in the book, the old poor, not just the Depression poor. And that she underst--the comes to an understanding that the issues that have to be addressed here are not just relief from the Depression, but really some far-reaching structural reform that will deal with the accumulated problems of a century's worth of unbridled industrial revolution in the United States. So for all these reasons, she just served my purposes wonderfully well.
LAMB: When did she get so close to Eleanor Roosevelt that she moved into the second floor?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well I couldn't date that for you precisely off the top of my head, but, yeah, they--she--she and Eleanor become very, very close. There's at least one biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt, Blanche Cook, who suggests--doesn't quite say, but suggests--that they may have had a--even an intimate physical relationship. I think the evidence on that, frankly, is--is dubious, to say the least. It's possible, but I kind of doubt it.
LAMB: What about--you know, a lot of our viewers, and we hear them through our call-in shows, are suspicious of reporters being too involved, too close to the political system. What's your experience when you read back in those days? Were reporters as close as Lorena Hickock in cheerleading FDR?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, Lorena Hickock's an extreme example in a sense, because she had to give up any pretense of objective journalism and went to work for the White House, you might say. But, in fact, if--if it's true, and I think it is substantially true, that the press has in the last half-century or so moved into some worrisomely intimate relationship with the people of--of--on whom it reports, the political establishment. To the extent that's true, we can trace the--the roots of this to a large degree right back to the New Deal, because Franklin Roosevelt, I think very shrewdly, very cleverly, co-opted a lot of the working press.
He did it in his first week in the White House. He summoned the--the Washington press corps into the Oval Office and regaled them with stories and kind of false intimacies and cut them in on all kinds of background information, told them he was changing the rules for presidential press conferences. It was the practice before then that they had to submit questions in advance, in writing, and the president could not be quoted directly unless he gave express permission, and so on. Roosevelt changed all that. He said, `I'll answer questions on the spot.' That's one thing that's--that was new, and he said, `I will also, on occasion, give you' what he called `background information.' He said, `This will not be for print. You can't put it in print. It's just for your information so that you'll understand the news better.' Well, that's the master stroke, because he's--he's bringing them right into the--or giving them the illusion, at least, of bringing them right into the circle of power, telling them he's going to give them information that will make them feel close to events, though they can't use it in print unless he tells them so.
Well, they were right--right in his hand, right there, and then a lot of them were there ever after. Now he--Roosevelt thought that in a sense, he had to do this, he had to somehow co-opt or--or seduce, you might even say, the working press, because all the editorial staffs and the publishers of the nation's major newspapers were against him. And, indeed, that's largely true. The most notorious example of that is the publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Robert McCormick, who was one of his great and flamboyant adversaries. So Roosevelt thought, `I'll have to work at another level, with the actual working press. I--I'll bring them into my orbit, because I'll never get the editors and the publishers into my--into my orbit.'
LAMB: Another thing--again, it's a little bit out of context--we--we hear in civics class that the three different branches of government, there's a definite separation between the Supreme Court and the others, but you tell a story in here about Louis Brandeis having an impact on the Social Security bill in a strange way. How did it happen?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, Brandeis was, of course, on the Supreme Court. He's--he's appointed earlier on by Woodrow Wilson; first Jew ever appointed to the Supreme Court. And through his daughter and son-in-law, he made some key suggestions to the drafters of the Social Security Act about how they might contrive to avoid what looked to be insurmountable constitutional obstacles to putting the federal government into the business of unemployment relief. It was on the unemployment side, unemployment insurance side, of the Social Security Act that he--that he intervened.
But, yes, and I think you might say he--he skirted the very edges of--the boundaries of what was permissible for a Supreme Court justice to do in terms of intervening in the legislative process. He did it by indirection, to be sure, but he did it quite deliberately and purposely. He called these people to his house and--and he read them some court decisions, and he glossed them for them and he said, `Now here's where I think you can find the proper loophole, where you can draft legislation that'll pass judicial muster.' So he was coaching the drafters of the Social Security Act on how they could avoid being voided by the Supreme--a Supreme Court decision.
LAMB: Where did you find all that? Is it obvious?
Prof. KENNEDY: That information, actually, I--off the top of my head, I don't remember precisely where I found that account, but it's--again, I didn't excavate it out of the archives; it's--other writers have written about it. I think it's maybe...
LAMB: I've got "Elliott: Recollections of the New Deal" as a footnote on that page.
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, yes, he--he's one memoirist. That's a wonderful memoir, actually, Thomas Elliott's memoir. He was a young lawyer at that time, one of the craftsmen, the--the--the technicians, drafting the Social Security Act. He--yes, you're absolutely right, he's one person that writes about it. But there are others. But h--yes, his--his was a very fresh memoir. It was published, actually, while I was--in 1994, I believe, while I was working on the book, and that--that was very instructive to me, because it was such a fresh, first-person account of how the Social Security Act got drafted.
LAMB: How do you get into this business in the first place? Where'd you--where were you born?
Prof. KENNEDY: I was born in Seattle, 1941. As I'm fond of saying, I'm--I'm an odd--in an odd way, a child of the Depression, because my parents were married in 1930 but couldn't afford to start a family for--until the Depression was over, 11 years later, which is--accounts for the date of my birth and it also accounts for the fact that I have no siblings.
LAMB: What did they do?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, my father--when the Depression came, he was working in a mining camp in the Cascade Mountains in Washington state, and almost within a matter of weeks after he married my mother in 1930, the mining company he was working for went bankrupt, and this camp was in a very, very remote location in the north Cascade Mountains. In the wintertime, which lasted about seven months, from October till May or so, it was a two-day snowshoe trip out to a cleared road, so it was rather a grim place to be. And for reasons that are a little obscure to me, the two of them ended up staying there in what became a ghost town for eight years. My father had no cash income till he went to work on a PWA project, the Grand Coulee Dam, running a grocery store in 1938.
LAMB: What's PWA?
Prof. KENNEDY: Public Works Administration. It's one of the great New Deal public works construction agencies. And then he eventually got a job as a federal inspector of defense contracts in the Puget Sound area as World War II cranked up, and then--then he felt secure enough to--to have me. So in that sense, I--I think of myself as a child of the Depression.
LAMB: Where did you grow up, then?
Prof. KENNEDY: Then I grew up in Seattle, till I went away to college.
LAMB: Where'd you go to school?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, I--I went to college at the place where I now teach, at Stanford University in California.
LAMB: So you've been at Stanford for how many years total?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, my--my accumulated time at Stanford is now, I guess, about 36 years, but I went away to graduate school at Yale in the '60s--that's when I studied with Van Woodward, and--and with my great doctor father, as we say, John Blum, who was the person that supervised my--my doctoral work the most.
LAMB: What do you think got you interested in history?
Prof. KENNEDY: Hmm. Actually, I can be quite specific about that. I--when I--I went to college originally intending to be an electrical engineer and went through much of the engineering curriculum at Stanford. And at a certain point, I took a--a history course, a little bit randomly, from a--an absolutely marvelous scholar and a truly remarkable human being by the name of David Potter, and Potter--the name of the course was the American Character--and the--and the problem at the heart of this course was, simply, is there such a thing as a distinctive character to American society, historically construed? Can we really speak responsibly about a--some distinctive aspects of American society? Well, that turns out to be a rich, deep, analytical problem, and Potter was a brilliant teacher, and he kind of put that problem on my agenda and got me going in history, and I've been with it ever since.
LAMB: And what--when you went to put this book together--you say it took you 11 years--give us the physical place you do it, and how do you--how do you keep track of all this, and what's your method of putting words finally on paper?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, I'm not very pleasant to live with when I'm writing something on this scale, I should say, and I'm sure my family would testify to that effect. My--my writing habit is to get up early in the morning, 6 AM or so, and to work for--write for four or five hours before I make myself fit for public company, before I shower or shave or anything else. So the m--the morning is my writing time, and I just cha--as a--metaphorically speaking--chain myself to the--to the desk and--and write for four or five hours.
Some time four or five years ago, I read that Ernest Hemingway could produce 1,000 words a day, and he thought that was a good, solid, consistent professional writer's pace. If you could write 1,000 words a day, day in and day out, you were doing pretty darn well. And someplace along the line, I--I internalized that and took that on board as my standard, and I--I consider it a successful day if I can get out 1,000 words.
LAMB: Did you write more than the 936 pages and have to cut it back?
Prof. KENNEDY: To be honest, no, in any real sense. The--the--the publisher did, when the final manuscript came in, express some worry about the size of the book, and they said, `We'd like you to cut about 100 pages.' Well, I went back over and I managed to cut about 12 pages, so i--it's not much shorter than what I submitted.
But, you know, it's--it's this length for good reason. It's--you can't--in my judgment, you just can't write responsibly about events of this magnitude and gravity without giving them this kind of serious detailed attention. The--these were the great crises of the century, after all. They've made us who we are as a people and as a country, and I think the s--the story deserves to be told in full.
LAMB: Near the middle, somewhere, this is written. `As Churchill later explained to his war Cabinet, Roosevelt, quote, "said he would wage war but not declare it, and that he would become more and more provocative. Everything was to be done to force an incident. The president made it clear that he would look for an incident which would justify him in opening hostilities."'
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, Churchill at that moment is talking about the Atlantic, of course.
Prof. KENNEDY: And the--the--there were incidents on the Atlantic. Th--here--and here's the interesting mystery about this. If I--my memory is correct, that remark is made in, like, September of 1941, maybe August of 1941, after the Argentia Conference...
LAMB: It's near August, yeah.
Prof. KENNEDY: ...the conference that--where the Atlantic Charter is--is...
LAMB: Before Pearl Harbor.
Prof. KENNEDY: Yes, well before Pearl Harbor. At that time, the Am--the Americans--the Roosevelt administration is trying to decide whether or not, or how, it can escort the merchant marine convoys that are taking lend-lease goods to Britain. There's a lot of American munitions of war and materiel flowing to Britain, but the Lend-Lease Act of March 1941 explicitly prohibited American naval vessels from escorting these merchant ships that were carrying goods to Britain. Well, there was an obvious problem here, because the Congress had authorized the expenditure of money in lend-lease to get the goods to Britain, but then it stopped short of taking measures to ensure the goods actually got there by protecting them from German submarine attacks. And Roosevelt was turning every wis--which way looking for a legal means to get these--these ships protected. So he--he did begin to convoy, through a lot of convoluted devices, declaring first Greenland and then Iceland to be part of the Western Hemisphere--he just arbitrarily said they were part of the Western Hemisphere; therefore, American ships can go out that far without violating the provisions of the Lend-Lease Act. That was an egregious fiction, but he did it anyway.
And he expected, and so did Churchill--this was what Churchill's referring to--that at s--at some point, the Germans would attack an American naval vessel; that this could be used as an occasion for Roosevelt to go to the Congress and ask for a declaration of way, which is precisely what had happened in 1917. What--that--that was what Woodrow Wilson used as an occasion to ask the Congress for a declaration of war, was the German submarine sinkings of American ships in February and March of 1917.
Well, in fact, there are several naval incidents that follow: The Reuben James, the Kearney, the Greer are attacked by German submarines in the fall of 1941, but Roosevelt does not use these sinkings as an occasion. He doesn't--does--he--he--he--to use Churchill's language, he doesn't call them an incident that demands that the United States declare war on Germany. So there's--there's a puzzle here about why Roosevelt still, at this late date, is hesitating actually to use one of these incidents to go to war with Germany. The answer seems to be that he's not ready for war. It wouldn't have done any good to declare war, because he doesn't have an Army to fight with, and he doesn't have much of a Navy, either, at this moment. So what good would a declaration of war do? It would just unleash the Germans to undertake absolutely unrestricted attacks on American ships, but the United States didn't have much capacity to throw a counterpunch at that point.
LAMB: I picked up on some words that you used. That's why I'm reading these different areas. `Quote, "I tell you the blunt fact that the German submarine fired first upon this American destroyer without warning, and with deliberate design to sink her," unquote, the president misleadingly said.'
Prof. KENNEDY: Yes. Well, he--yes--that's Franklin Roosevelt there in a public description. He was describing to the American people this attack on the Greer--I believe it's in September of 1941--and he rendered that to the public as i--as if it were an unprovoked attack by a German submarine on an American destroyer. The story--the actual story is a lot more complicated than that and not--not as simple as Roosevelt painted it, and he knew better. He kn--he knew the facts of the matter.
The--the American destroyer had actually made sonar contact with a German submarine and radioed the position of the submarine to a British attack plane, which had torpedoes that could have dropped--it could drop from the air onto the submarine, and the American destroyer held position relative to the German submarine for several hours and tracked it as it moved so that it could continue reporting the position to this German pl--pardon me, British plane. The British plane actually dropped some airborne torpedoes on the submarine, did no damage. The German submarine, for evidently good reason, believed that it was under attack from the Greer, from the American destroyer, so fired back on the Greer, and didn't hit it, or didn't do any damage, any considerable damage. And Roosevelt, in his public account, omitted entirely the fact that the American destroyer had made the first contact with the submarine, had radioed its position to the British aircraft, that the British aircraft had dropped the aerial torpedoes, and that's why the German submarine had attacked.
And it--it--it appears there that he was trying to do what he--what Churchill reported that he was going to do, to use this as an incident that would be sufficiently--he could render it to the public as sufficiently provocative that he could then ask Congress for a declaration of war. But he doesn't do that. He doesn't ask for the declaration of war, again, I think because in reality, he had enough good sense to realize that he had nothing to gain at that moment from a declaration of war. The--the--the great American contribution to the war effort was going to be the output of its industrial economy, and it was still mobilizing for the war, and there was no reason to disrupt that process at that point.
LAMB: The next page you say, `Roosevelt's prolonged indecision and his ultimate deviousness in implementing the escort policy have exercised generations of critics.' How devious was he through his whole four terms, or three terms plus a few days?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, the Greer episode, I think, is probably the most famously documented bit of deception and misleading the American public. The more famous episode, or the more sensational episode, where he's frequently accused of deception, of course, is the Pearl Harbor attack. But the reality is that there's never been a scintilla of credible evidence brought to bear--or brought forward to--to--persuasively to--to argue that Roosevelt knew in advance about the attack on Pearl Harbor, and certainly not that he contrived to have that happen. But th--you know, we have to remember, he was dealing here with a public and with a Congress that had repeatedly made clear its isolationist commitments and its--its deep desire not to get drawn in to this European conflict.
Roosevelt, I think, early on--I think as early as 1935--began to understand that the United States had somehow to find a way to put its weight in the scales to check aggression, particularly Nazi aggression in Europe and Japanese aggression in Asia. But the Congress and the country r--did not necessarily agree with that. In fact, they rather deliberately disagreed with it. So Roosevelt's--much of Roosevelt's effort as president from 1935 right down to the end of 1941 and Pearl Harbor is a--you might say a presidential civics campaign to educate the American public and through the public, the Congress, about the necessity to break out of this isolationist mold and somehow to--to play a part in the--in this international scene.
LAMB: I wrote down a bunch of dates, one after another: January the 20th, 1945, FDR inaugurated for the fourth time; February, the Yalta Conference; April the 12th, FDR dies; April the 28th, Benito Mussolini shot; April the 30th, two days later, Hitler shoots himself; May 8th, 1945, the war's over. How did...
Prof. KENNEDY: The war in Europe is over.
LAMB: Yeah, but how did they deal with it back then, all those things happening one after another? What was--what'd you find in the media when you went back there and looked at it?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, you know, the remarkable thing, I suppose, is that a--y--you might have added that shortly thereafter, the Churchill government is rearranged in--in England, and Churchill's out of power by July of 1945. In the middle of the Potsdam Conference, Churchill is--has to give up his chair and Clement Atlee becomes the new prime minister and sits in it. The remarkable thing is that in--in all the--all the great belligerent states on both sides, victors and--and losers alike, the only state that maintains kind of evident political continuity is Russia, the Soviet Union. Stalin stays in power. The United States has a new president, Britain has a new premier, the German--the whole German system is smashed, the Japanese system is smashed, the Italian system is smashed. And out of this, you might say diplomatic and political rubble, people are--are obliged to reconstruct the world. It's really quite extraordinary that they did it as well as they did under these absolutely chaotic circumstances.
LAMB: In--near the end, I want to read what you also wrote when you were talking about--about 1945 and FDR. You say that, `How poorly Franklin Roosevelt had prepared for the post-war era. How foolishly he had banked on goodwill and personal charm to compose the conflicting interests of nations. How little he had taken his countrymen into his confidence, even misled them.' How much--how often did he mislead his countrymen?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, I--what I'm referring to there especially is the, I think, rather Pollyannish message that he repeatedly told the American public that the post-war era would be an era of cooperation between the Western allies--Britain and the United States--and the Soviet Union. What he was hoping for was somehow domesticating Joe Stalin and bringing the Soviet Union into the family of nations, making it behave itself as a responsible international partner. But in no--in no way did he prepare the public for the kind of confrontation with the Soviet Union that forms what we know--what's known to history as the Cold War. There was no--no hint publicly from Roosevelt that there might be difficulty in this relationship.
However, we also know that in--inside the Grand Alliance--that's Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union--there's one strong, unmistakable signal of the fact that Roosevelt understood that there was likely to be trouble in that relationship after the--the war, and that's the fact that he d--quite deliberately and repeatedly refused to share with the Soviets the secret of the Manhattan Project, the atomic bomb project. That's a Bri--that's an Anglo-American project. The British, in fact, early on in the war, came to Roosevelt and said, `You know, we think the terms of our treaty relationship with the Soviet Union require us to tell them that we're working on this weapons project,' and Roosevelt--the Roosevelt administration--is saying, `Oh, no. If you--if you tell--if you insist on telling the Soviets, we're gonna cut you, the British, out of the project. We'll do it all ourselves.'
LAMB: You say that Harry Truman walked up to Josef Stalin--I don't know whether he walked up to him or not, but you say that he nonchalantly said, `Hey, by the way, we have a new weapon,' and that Josef Stalin just kind of tossed it off and didn't pay any attention?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, yes, that's--that's a--a moment. He did walk up to him, literally walked up to him at Potsdam in July of 1945. It's a moment that has long puzzled historians because there's a lot of the preparatory work for the Potsdam meeting in which Truman is quite clearly thinking how he can use this--the fact that the United States now has a successfully demonstrated nuclear device--because he gets news of the successful test of the first atomic device at Alamogordo, New Mexico, during the Potsdam Conference--and he--he has clearly been thinking, `How can I use this to get some leverage with the Soviets?' or, as he puts it in his own Missouri vernacular, `How can I get a hammer on those boys?' he says. And then the moment comes when he can raise the hammer or use the weapon in some way, diplomatically, and he doesn't. He rather casually tells Stalin about this, and this has been a puzzle for a lot of historians to try to figure out why it was that Truman failed to use the--the--the atomic weapon as a diplomatic lever over the Soviets at Potsdam.
LAMB: Why so much made of the atomic bomb in comparison with what you discuss here--I don't mean you do, though often in history does--of dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and on Nagasaki and not as much attention on the Tokyo raids, which killed how many people?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, the--the fire raids on Japan, the fire bombs...
LAMB: On Ja--all of Japan.
Prof. KENNEDY: ...what--what Henry Stimson later said, `What we now call conventional bombing,' that is, pre-nuclear, killed nearly a million Japanese, before the--the atomic bombs were dropped, and one single raid on Tokyo, the night of March 9th-10th, 1945, the single fire raid killed 100,000 people in one night. That's nearly double the people killed at Nagasaki, and something--approaches--about 60,000--and approaches the number killed at Hiroshima, which is 130,000, 140,000. So the point I make in the book is, there's--there's great drama attached to the two nuclear attacks, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, but they represent no kind of crossing of a moral threshold. They represent a technological novelty, a more efficient instrument of mass destruction.
But the moral threshold, I argue, had been crossed a long time before, if by moral threshold we mean the--the frank acceptance of the tactic of mass slaughter of civilians as a way to bring the enemy to his knees. That was precisely what we were trying to do with the firebombing of Japan in the first five or six or seven months of 1945, before the nuclear weapons became available. And I don't think there's much moral distinction between being incinerated in the hundreds of thousands by napalm, which is what we were dropping on Japan earlier in 1945, or being incinerated by a nuclear blast.
LAMB: You say that--that FDR gave the shortest inaugural address in history, the fourth one, 573 words, and then you say that--that he knew for about 10 months before he died that he had a serious heart problem. Wh--what do you think of that, that he knew that, and that the doctors knew that, and that he went to Yalta and went through all that process?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, you know, Roosevelt once said, when he was a y--much younger man, he said, `No man who has tasted public life will ever willingly give it up,' and I think he was really married to the idea of himself as the--the first citizen of the United States and the--the president of the United States, and it was just psychologically, I think, impossible for him to give that up. I think it was irresponsible of him to run for a fourth term. He knew he was ill. Some of his intimate associates knew he was ill, and yet, he persisted. And to compound the irresponsibility, he paid the most minimum kind of attention to who would be, most likely, his successor. Th--he--he--he must have understood--he could not help but understand that whoever was his vice-presidential running mate in 1944 would almost certainly become president before that term of office had expired. But, in fact, he did not give much attention to the selection of Harry Truman. He scarcely knew Truman before 1944, and he didn't tell Truman some of the most important facts he needed to know to be a responsible president--never told him about the Manhattan Project, about the atomic bomb project.
So this was--this was not Roosevelt's finest hour. He--a--a more responsible leader, I think, at that moment would have stepped down. To be sure, it would have taken a tremendous psychological effort to give up power at the moment, on the eve of victory in this war. It was--clearly, the war was winding down by that moment, and he knew that if he just held on a little longer, he would--the laurels of victory would be his. You can imagine how psychologically difficult it was for him to step down at that point, but I think a w--a wiser and more responsible leader would have, or at a minimum, would have given much more attention to who was going to be his successor and prepared his successor better.
LAMB: Very little time left. If you could talk to someone in this book that you were--as you were going through this, you said, `I wish I could ask them the questions that come to mind,' who would it be?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, you know, honestly, I think it probably would be--because of what we were just discussing--it'd be Harry Truman, and my question would be, `Why did you allow James Byrnes, your secretary of State, to delete from the Potsdam Declaration what was in the original draft, which was the offer to the Japanese that they could surrender on the condition that they could preserve the institution and the person of their emperor,' because it was--it's arguable that the peace faction within the Japanese government, if they'd been guaranteed that condition, might have had a sufficient--sufficiently strong political position, that they would have surrendered in July of 1945, before the atomic weapons were used. But we withdrew that offer of that condition. It was in an early draft of the Potsdam Declaration, and they were confronted with the choice of utter destruction of their historic political system, which had the emperor as the central part of it, or to fight to the finish. And in those circumstances, the war party, the militarist party, still very strong in the Japanese government, said, `We will not throw in the towel.' So it took the nuclear attacks finally to convince them.
LAMB: Another book for you, next?
Prof. KENNEDY: Well, I'm sure there are more books in my future, Brian, but at this moment, I don't know what it's gonna be.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like: David M. Kennedy our guest, "Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929 to 1945." Thank you very much for joining us.
Prof. KENNEDY: Thank you.
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