BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Tad Szulc, author of the new book, "Then and Now: How the World Has Changed Since World War II." Of all of the books you've written, how important is this one to you?
TAD SZULC, AUTHOR, "THEN AND NOW: HOW THE WORLD HAS CHANGED SINCE WORLD WAR II": Well, because it's the most recent, it's the most important. It is very important, because in a way, it's a summation of what I've been doing as a reporter all my life.
LAMB: What's the period -- and I know you started in 1945, basically, and moved forward to 1989. What period during those years was your most interesting time?
SZULC: Personally, as a reporter in the very changing world, there have been different periods. There was a Third World period. There was Asia, Latin America developing, very much Eastern Europe in the '60s. I was in Prague -- the 1970 invasion. Maybe one of the good things, from the viewpoint of a career, is the world changes with you or you with it and therefore, what you really get is a series of sets of remembrances -- and I don't think terribly useful to try to single out, hey, this was the most interesting story. They all were very, very good, reflecting all kinds of different worlds.
LAMB: You did daily journalism for how long?
SZULC: Twenty-six, 27 years -- five or six years with wire services, 20 years with The New York Times and that seemed like enough of daily journalism.
LAMB: Were you on the road all that time?
SZULC: For The New York Times, out of the 20 was 14 years as a foreign correspondent, twice in Washington -- the first time at the outset of the Kennedy administration, which seems like a century ago, which is 30 years ago, almost -- and then again in the late '60s. I was pretty much all over the world most of the time.
LAMB: The end of the book you write that the last word of this book was written on December 31st, 1989. Where did you write this book?
SZULC: Here in Washington, where I live.
LAMB: When did you start writing it?
SZULC: Actual writing was started the summer of last year, of '89, because, you see, the writing's kind of the easiest part of it. It's not -- it's the organizing of the material that is the most complex because you don't know where you're really going until suddenly something clicks in your mind and you say, "Bingo. Hey, this is the way I want to go." So once -- I should say this works for me. Once it clicks in my mind, for whatever reason it clicks, and I sit down, it just becomes as a matter of being at a typewriter and getting it down, except this time it was a great distraction. Eastern Europe became a strong distraction; Gorbachev became a strong distraction -- because I had it all finished by October before going on a totally different project to Bhutan, which is in the Himalayas. And I came back the day the Berlin Wall came down, so I spent about three or four weeks adding 20,000 words, saying, "Hey, and by the way, Eastern Europe is gone from communism. So it took the time I told you plus the catching up with reality, because that reality became a very, very enlightening sort of set of events.
LAMB: In the last paragraph you admit to being still an optimist. Since you wrote the last couple paragraphs in this book, a lot has happened in 1990. Are you still an optimist?
SZULC: Basically, yes, because, I mean, most of the forces let me be subjective I would like to believe that most of the forces, in the end, seemed to have pointed in a correct or a plausible direction. OK, right now we have a situation in the Persian Gulf, in the Middle East, which may get out of hand or not. I like to believe that it will not because nobody's long-term interest is served -- not Iraq's, not anyone else in the Middle East, certainly not the United States, by having a violent confrontation. I think what has begun to happen to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe -- I just spent a long period in Eastern Europe until a couple of weeks ago. That is basically positive, all things being relative. It is not great, but it beats that which it was.
So I think, by and large, if we do not necessarily concentrate too much on the event of the day of the week, we don't try, it seems to me, to add an interpretation based on the weeks or the year's events. Through the course of history I would say, yes, I would on balance be optimistic in a very difficult world, to be sure.
LAMB: OK. You started writing this in '45 -- I mean, you're writing about 1945, forward. Is there anything that we can learn from your book over these years that might help us better understand what's going on right now in the Middle East?
SZULC: In the Middle East, specifically, I would imagine, simply the total chaotic disorderly way in which events have a way of happening, largely because there are -- governments find it very difficult to -- how shall I put this? -- to work out formally the set of policies in which they can jointly or commonly plan for that which they perceive as their welfare. I speak now of Lebanon as I do of Israel and the West Bank, Libya and so on.
I think what we have witnessed since the creation of state of Israel, let's say, and World War II, there is a series of misunderstandings, misadventures, miscalculations. And miscalculation is the key word here, in terms of what have we learned, if anything.
I think there's two things. It does away with conventional wisdom, and I think all of us stand to get involved in the conventional wisdom, saying, "It's going to happen because it happened before." And I think it's very dangerous to do this kind of projections, and secondly, the danger of miscalculating. You know, the Arabs did in '73, in the Yom Kippur War against Israel. Israel may have miscalculated the politics of the occupation of the occupied territories and that which we have been witnessing recently, the intifadah and the Arab uprising.
Has Saddam Hussein miscalculated? Probably yes. But I would say that kind of looking back, as you propose that I do, I would say miscalculation is that terrible danger which hangs over the people and events of the Middle East. So I would try to very carefully think three times before deciding, this is what this means.
LAMB: Have you been over in that area much?
SZULC: Over the years, yes. Last time was in September, a year ago, nine months ago, I guess.
LAMB: What countries have you gone to in that general area? You been to Iraq?
SZULC: No, I have not. I've been, over the years, to Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria.
LAMB: How would you describe that part of the world? What are the things that come to mind when you think of that region?
SZULC: This is like way back when I worked in Latin America. One, I would try not to say "Latin America" when talking about then 20 -- today, 30 countries. I would hesitate to say "Middle East" as one concept, as one idea. There is the North African Magreb -- Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco -- which is one set of situations and problems. You have Egypt, which right now seems to be this overly intellectually, politically, if not, militarily center of Arab affairs. You have the Persian Kingdoms, which are that, in the feudal sense as well as the sense of powerful economics. And then you have the sort of unhinged part of the Middle East, which is still Iran, again Iraq, Syria, to a large extent. So what you have is a mosaic of almost unrelated, unconnected situations which, as a common denominator, have the language, which, of course, is spoken differently -- the Arabic -- between Syria and Morocco, for example.
All they have in common is -- not very much, aside from religion, which is maybe the only binding element, the Islamic faith. Otherwise, the interests are so dispersed. The societies are so different between the rich and the poor, total authoritarian, the less-so. And maybe this lack of cohesion explains, in part, what we're talking about earlier, the unpredictable character of that whole set of nation-states.
LAMB: We'll pick Israel. Do you think that the problems surrounding Israel will ever be solved?
SZULC: Not for a very, very long time, because I think everything militates against it -- demographics, in the sense of growing Arab populations around them; and now being changed, somewhat, by a massive immigration of southern Jews, which is part of, if you will, demographic aspects of a war which is being waged. Where there were hopes -- there were a year ago, two years ago, of settling the Palestinian situation, which led to the US-PLO -- Palestine Liberation Organization -- contact. I think these hopes have been dashed, in general, and prior to the Iraqi-Kuwaiti war; now I think this has been set aside for a long, long time. I don't see all this being rebuilt. The tiny beginnings of confidence, which perhaps existed, I think, they're gone for a year or two, depending what happens. Israel will continue being a garrison state for a very long time.
LAMB: If I remember correctly, I think you mentioned that there haven't been many effective leaders over there besides Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. If that's right, who do you see over there now, that you've met or known, that has any potential for leadership?
SZULC: You know, on the grand scale, to which I alluded, probably nobody. Begin, as prime minister, representing a very special kind of viewpoint at the time, political or ideological, rather, center in terms of Israeli history -- almost biblical, religious desire to bring back the biblical lands -- was a very, very outstanding personality, whether one liked or did not like his policies. Since then, I think, they have been condemned to mediocrity, as most of the world has. So they shouldn't feel too badly, because they're in good company of mediocrities elsewhere. But I do not see a great leader who will emerge to bring a solution.
A year and a half ago I was in Algeria with Arafat, of all people, doing a magazine project. And we were having dinner at an Algerian government residence with Algerian ministers, and the conversation was in Arabic, but courtesy -- parts of it were being translated for me by Arafat or others into French or English. And someone remarked, "If Israel only had a Charles de Gaulle today, who would, in some fashion, as de Gaulle did with French Algeria in 1962 -- who would today find a solution. For that, there," said the Arab speaker at the table, "might be the beginning of a solution." But there's no de Gaulle or anything even remotely portraying a de Gaulle, in terms of majesty of office or the vision, imagination that these kinds of situations require.
LAMB: Did you ever meet de Gaulle?
SZULC: I was a very young reporter. Let me put it this way: I was in his presence, and I'm using the words advisedly, because being there, you were really being, I think, in the presence of a very majestic fellow human being.
LAMB: You write about, I believe it was you and your mother, who escaped from Biarritz over to Spain.
SZULC: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: When was that?
SZULC: That was the night after the fall of France, which takes us back -- as a child I heard de Gaulle doing the great broadcasts from London on June 18th, I believe, exactly 50 years ago this summer, said that France would go on fighting, as indeed she did.
LAMB: What was General de Gaulle doing then?
SZULC: He had just fled to London, because the French government had fallen.
The armistice with the Germans had been signed. Marshal Petain -- the very elderly marshal -- had become head of state; Pierre Laval, basically pro-German at the time, prime minister, was in power. And de Gaulle fled to London on a small airplane to promise that France would continue to fight from overseas -- which, again, was not a empty gesture, because, you will recall that at that time France still had enormous territories in Africa, Northern Africa, Casablanca of other memories, Lebanon, Syria and a great overseas empire which played a very crucial role, subsequently, in bringing the French back into the world picture. So those are the memories of 50 years ago this week.
LAMB: Where were you born?
SZULC: In Warsaw, Poland.
LAMB: How did you get to France?
SZULC: By attending a prep school in Switzerland and then spending a summer of '39 in France with my mother -- in the south of France -- when the war came -- and the rest is history.
LAMB: How long did you spend in Spain?
SZULC: Oh, we were just crossing Spain very, very quickly on my way to Portugal. And then, on my way to Brazil, where my father lived. I went back to Spain many, many, many years later as a New York Times correspondent.
LAMB: How did you find yourself in the United States?
SZULC: By coming from Brazil in 1947, deciding that, if you wanted to be a journalist, this was the place to do it. And I believe it has worked, up to a point.
LAMB: Why did you want to be a journalist? Where did you get that interest?
SZULC: You heard this before. I guess it's an idea I've had since I was a kid and during World War II, and I never had a desire to be a lawyer, a doctor or a fireman or a policeman or a statesman. And I started doing it when I was 17 or 18 years old in Brazil and I continued here. I guess one is born with semi-vocations or semi-attractions to crafts or ideas.
LAMB: Were your parents interested in public affairs and politics and world affairs when you were growing up?
SZULC: Yes, very much so. My father was in a quasi-diplomatic service in Poland before the war. He was the economic representative of the government, traveling around the world, so the family was very much world-conscious. I had gone to a prep school in Switzerland, which was a mixture of people from all over the world -- from the Middle East to Europe, Latin America. So I had a kind of an early start on being a foreign correspondent or foreign whatever.
LAMB: When you moved to the United States, where did you live?
SZULC: New York City.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
SZULC: I never finished college. I just went to work almost instantly for the United Press, which still exists, and then I joined The New York Times some years later.
LAMB: How old were you when you went to work for UPI?
LAMB: And during those first years when you were I guess, with just UP at the time -- United Press ...
SZULC: It was UPA, actually. It was called the United Press Association then.
LAMB: What did you do on that first job?
SZULC: Spent about a year -- or less than a year -- in the office, doing what was known as filing a wire, which was preparing copy for specific clients, like in Mexico or -- or Puerto Rico. And then, very quickly, I was sent to the United Nations, which then was starting up, if you will recall, in Lake Success, Flushing, New York, and then in New York City. And because I had a few languages, it seemed that it would make sense. So in 1949 I started commuting every day from New York City to Lake Success, which is a small town on Long Island, instead of New York, where the world organization first lived in a converted wartime plant before the huge edifice that you now know has been built in Manhattan.
LAMB: And how many languages do you speak?
SZULC: Five, reasonably well or fluently -- three, four, five, more or less. I was in Eastern Europe, as I said, this spring and I went to six countries, and I was getting more and more confused because my Slavic languages kept getting mixed up. I wasn't quite sure whether I was waking up in Czech and going to bed in Polish or Russian, and then I was communicating in a language which was totally my own invention, but sounded Slavic, and got my breakfast.
LAMB: Let me go back a little bit to The New York Times. How did you get that first job?
SZULC: By applying for it, by being introduced by common friends, one of whom was a gentleman who was a great institution in this town -- Arthur Crock was a great columnist with The New York Times, who died about 10 years ago, and he gave me an introduction. In those days the greatest favor a young reporter could receive was to receive a great introduction and then you're on-your-own type thing. And Mr. Crock, as we called him then and now, gave me that introduction and then I was on my own, and I was hired and stayed there for 20 years.
LAMB: Can you remember your first overseas assignment?
SZULC: Yes, very much so: Southeast Asia, April, 1955.
LAMB: Was it the beginning of what turned out to be the Vietnam War?
SZULC: No, his was immediately or less than a year after the end of the French war -- the French defeated Dien Bien Fu in the French War against what then was called the Viet Minh -- still the same cast of characters -- still the Hanoi people. When I was stationed between Hong Kong and Taiwan, which then was called Formosa, I was mainly concerned with the China coast, but I did a great deal of traveling around the rim of Southeast Asia, which was Burma, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
And Vietnam -- South Vietnam, to be precise, was undergoing the beginning of the creation of that state which we came to know as South Vietnam, the American client some years later. This was President Xiem's appearance for the first time under American auspices in Saigon, in 1955 -- the battles against the river pirates and so the consolidation and the beginning of the United States taking over where the French had left off the year before, because the roots of American involvement really go back to '55.
LAMB: Could you see Vietnam coming that early?
SZULC: You mean American Vietnam? No, of course not. No. I don't think anyone did.
LAMB: Did you report on the Vietnam War at any time during our involvement in the '60s or '70s?
SZULC: Indirectly. When I was in The New York Times bureau here I was concerned almost full-time, as quite a few of us were, with the Washington end of the story, if you would, the diplomatic, the political end of it. I was in Vietnam a few times on very quick trips with the secretary of State. I never covered actual combat -- you know, in the sense that other people did. I was taken to the Delta and smelled the, you know, bits of this and that. I escaped the years of war coverage.
LAMB: What's the difference between The New York Times then and now? In other words, that's the title of your book. When you start out back there in the early -- in the late '50s and early '60s, what's the difference in the two newspapers over these years -- what it is today?
SZULC: Oh, I think there's almost everything which we can define by -- in your generation, I think the quality of people is much higher. The degree of education, sophistication of reporters, correspondents, editors is much higher. I think it reflects the change in education patterns in this country, the desire of people to specialize in that craft. People speak foreign languages today, which they did much less or not at all, a few exceptions, in the early '50s.
However, basically the same thrust, the dedication to the world as a place to cover, the commitment of resources, people to foreign coverage -- that simply has been improved, refined, modernized, obviously technology has played a role, is playing a role. But basically the same guiding ideas remain, I would imagine, simply because you cannot improve on a very good idea. And it still remains the best newspaper in the world, the most complete newspaper in world.
And you have to make adjustments, which different editors like Abe Rosenthal, in his time, did to modernize, to bring new people and new ideas to keep up with the changing world. Paying attention to the Third World begun in my time, in the `50s and the '60s, simply because the Third World was simply being born at that time. Today the Third World is being covered by everybody as a day-in, day-out reality, including Iraq, just as we sit here. I would say, basically, apart from structural changes, how do you design the paper, conceptually, philosophically the idea of the great, high-quality coverage, I think, remains. And I believe it's perceived that way pretty much all over the world.
LAMB: More or less powerful than it was 30 years ago?
SZULC: Very hard to say because I'm not quite sure what measurements we would apply. I would say where we live, you and I, in Washington, DC, probably as powerful; elsewhere in the world, perhaps less. I think the role of television has, to some extent, detracted from the impact of newspaper or newspapers. But again, one says this and then we do notice at the same time that the circulation of principal newspapers continues to grow -- not go down. Some people, evidently, go out -- of course, the population base is larger, too, than it was 30 years ago, but, you know, most journals are over two million of day -- The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post over one million, so readership continues.
How do we measure the impact? It's probably idle to speculate. I would say it's considerable. It's probably not less than it was. But then again, our society has changed. I think the government has changed, the Congress has changed, societal responses are different. Some think the fabric, the quality, if you will, of this influence has changed. Maybe it's more of a thoughtful background influence, rather than the influence of great investigative stories or page-one stories -- possibly, today's editorial page. The op-ed pages influence people more. But, you know, at the same time, you do see how television responds instantly to that which is in the newspapers. If there's an exclusive on page one in The New York Times or Washington Post or whatever that evening, the networks will have it.
I know and you know, that every network executive begins the day by reading the three or four main morning newspapers and then sees how the morning show on his network compares, in terms of news, for instance, with The New York Times newspaper -- something that the quality of influence changes and still remains very, very great, as it should.
LAMB: You went to Eastern Europe, saw six different countries? Name them, please.
SZULC: Poland, East Germany -- which still was East Germany then -- Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria.
LAMB: What are your impressions, overall?
SZULC: Cautious pessimism.
LAMB: Cautious pessimism. Why?
SZULC: Because there was a great deal of euphoria last year -- out from the people, the liberation, of the six days of fall of Communist governments. It all seemed marvelous, which it was. Democracy was being restored. What has happened since last fall, since last winter, this spring and this summer, I believe, is the realization how incredibly difficult it is to get out of a generation of dictatorship, which is more than a formal form of government. It's not only police state, in the sense of being put in jail or censorship. It's a whole psychological, emotional, mental set of attitudes which define -- well, at this point -- two or three generations. You do not overnight get out of terrible habits of living in corrupt states and dictatorial states.
Human behavior -- the great difficulty -- to give you example which strikes me so much -- the great difficulty in decision-making by people in institutions, because for 30 years, 40 years people were told by the powerful state where to go to school, where to go to work, what kind of production of whatever, how to mold economy; suddenly the big brother is gone and, "How do I make my decisions today. Whom do I ask?" That's number one. All kinds of very disturbing things are emerging again. All the nationalisms within Eastern Europe -- Hungarian minorities in Romania; Hungarian minorities in Slovakia; Poles and East Germans; the whole Yugoslav situation; a touch of anti-Semitism is back. A lot of things which kind of vanish from sight during the years of Communism are reappearing, which I suppose is a price -- a terrible price, but nevertheless a price -- that is paid for. The First Amendment is for freedom of speech. People are free to say anything -- some horrible, depressing, offensive things again. It's the price of freedom, I guess, and societies must cope with it.
I would say the great danger right now is the economy, which was very fragile, obviously. The unprecedented experience of trying to shift almost overnight from a command economy, from a controlled economy, which were the Communist economies under the central plans, to what we call the market economy, capitalism, if you will. You know, it's easier said than done, this dismantling -- structures that are ossified, that have 40 or 50 years ingrained habits -- back to what I was saying about decision-making -- which you don't learn overnight -- enormous debt. Poland alone has $40 billion of external debt. Hungary has the largest per capita of debt, and so on and so on. And what you get, suddenly -- in the recent weeks since I left Eastern Europe -- is the Middle Eastern war.
You see, Eastern Europe is totally dependent -- except for, to a very minor extent Romania -- on imported fuel, energy, oil. And till now, most of it came from the Soviet Union at soft, low prices under the CommiCom System, which was the Communist Common Market System. As of January 1 of this coming year the Soviet Union will charge in hard currency, which means in dollars. The Eastern Europeans, once upon a time, got it as barter or very, very cheap. This was a problem for those in Eastern Europe, from the viewpoint of the local governments, having to marshal -- find -- the hard currency to pay for it, but then oil was at $15 a barrel. In the last 10 days it's become $26 or $27. So what you may be facing -- and this is just beginning to happen -- is that the -- Eastern Europe now freely set on the road to free economy, let us say, which suddenly is being zapped by this unbelievable fuel bills. And there are no alternatives. There's no other place where they can get it. They had a terrible time planning to pay $14 a barrel. I believe it was $27 this week. It may be $30, $35 -- who knows? -- next year.
So this alone could dismantle, damage, shatter all these fragile economies, and therefore -- I keep repeating the word fragile because it's a word which is so basic to that whole transformation of Eastern Europe. Everything is fragile, the society, the institutions, the new parliaments, the new economy, the new politics. If this occurs and, in the midst of trying to reconstruct economies, and bear in mind no one in the world has any experience in this. How do you go from here? This could be a lethal thing for that part of the world. Four days ago I have no idea, but it cannot be very good.
LAMB: The book is called "Then and Now," and the author is Tad Szulc. He's our guest and we have about 25 more minutes to go. This book starts in about 1945, in Mr. Szulc's life, and goes up to 1989.
Let's go back to world leaders. You're talking about the Eastern Europe countries that you visited. Which leader in that part of the world are you most impressed with?
SZULC: You mean the current crop?
LAMB: Yeah, of the six countries you visited.
SZULC: From the new generation, if you will, Havel -- President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia is obviously the most visible.
LAMB: Is he good?
SZULC: He is very good. He's a very fine playwright, which is his profession. He became president by sheer accident of history. He happened to be one of the very few members of the Czech dissident movement after the invasion of 1968, the Soviet invasion. He found himself in November at the head of a kind of a shapeless movement for democracy. He was outstanding in that. He became president kind of by default. There was no one else that Czechoslovakia had produced at that point. He was subsequently -- or I should say, in elections of this spring of the month of May, a parliament was elected for the first time since 1946. And then the parliament re-elected Havel for, I believe, a five-year term.
He is -- I think he's a marvelous example of, to use a hackneyed expression, but I think it works here -- of the king-philosopher. He's the intellectual. He's the artist. He's the thinker; he's the visionary, all of which is positive, encouraging, splendid.
Question: is he a man who can govern and deal with all the problems we've been talking about a little while ago, like the economic change, the collapse of the economy? I do not know. I have certain reservations. What an extraordinary presence of this kind can also work at a time of great sacrifice, which is around the corner.
In Poland you have a very mixed picture. You have a Lech Walesa, the man who personifies -- or did -- Solidarity -- the free trade union movement, which begun, that whole effort, in 1980. He is at odds with the prime minister, Mazowiecki, who's his intellectual adviser in 1980, during the strike period, and again, there, I think, disturbingly, you have the so-called democratic side split in the middle between Walesa, who now appears to wish to become president of the republic and who's a bit of a demagogue, to put it pleasantly, and Mazowiecki, who is kind of a quiet, softspoken man of very little charisma, but enormous popularity because people trust him -- because he doesn't say very much -- doesn't promise too much, except, you know, sweat, tears, blood and that sort of things.
Mazowiecki, I think, has the potential, historically, to outdistance, if he survives it, Walesa. I think Walesa was a great symbol of the battles of the '80s. These battles are behind Poland. He is not, in that sense, a de Gaulle, who could transmute the qualities of worth and leadership, these being similar to, I would say -- in the 1980s, to the postwar period of Reconstruction. One of the interesting people to me is General Jaruzelski, the president of Poland at this juncture, who is a Communist by tradition, I guess is the word -- I'm not sure about conviction. That's another story -- who has, in a rather extraordinary way, created or helped to create a situation of a very peaceful transition from Communist dictatorship to elections last year, in June of 1989, to the democracy which exists today.
And it does occur to me -- I spent some time with him, though, in my last visit, a couple of months ago in Warsaw. We talked a great length about -- I was curious to hear his version of how certain things happen, how power peacefully changed hands, because you will recall conventional wisdom here said that the Communists will never go away peacefully. Well, here, it happened, and I think that here -- when the hatreds, the emotions, the passions of today are gone, I think history may judge Jaruzelski in a kinder and gentler way and a more constructive way than the general -- dark glasses, who called martial law and had Walesa in prison. It was a very long, a very difficult period of transition. So he stands out. I named, for you, as leaders Havel in Czechoslovakia, Mazowiecki in Poland. That is about it -- not very impressive.
In Budapest, the prime minister will do his best for the economic transition, another crisis coming. The president, who's basically ceremonial, Proust, is a charming gentleman who's a poet, a playwright, a novelist, spent six years in prison after the great Hungarian uprising of '56. He will not play a leading role. Romania's a total disaster. Bulgaria is still coming out of the turmoil of it all. It's like all over the world, there just is not -- there's no surplus of great leadership at a time when it's very much needed.
LAMB: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I remember you writing that the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution was the most important event in this century.
SZULC: This was the view of Sir Isaiah Berlin, who's one of the, I guess, great thinkers of our time, who continues at his age, which is almost 82, and teaches at Oxford. It certainly was, looking back prior to the autumn of last year, because it had spawned so many situations, so many conflicts, so much horror -- prewar period in the Soviet Union and the Stalinist terror, that part of World War II which was defined by the existence of its state, the postwar pressures, the Cold War for which we have lived. I would say 1917 was the great date of this century until some still undefined -- that is, to my mind -- day of 1989 when that era ended -- so very soon we'll have to look for the exact date or month of year when we can say that is strongly arch of rise of Communism or Marxism of 1917 came to an end 79 years later in Eastern Europe. So I would say that 1917 now has been replaced by whatever we have been or are witnessing in that great, vast world which is the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
LAMB: But you wouldn't have had the 1989 if you didn't have a 1917?
SZULC: Well, that's true. You would not have peace without having war. In that sense, it's true.
LAMB: Let me ask you about leaders that you've known over the years. If you had to list a couple that you spent the most time with, got to know the best, had the most admiration or either disdain for, who would they be?
SZULC: I will not try to place priorities because I think it's kind of pointless. I would say the people at the very beginning of my career and the end of their career who stand out incredibly, obviously are de Gaulle in France and Churchill in the UK. People not as well-known in the outside world whom I came to know in the '50s and the '60s were people like Jean Monet in France and Robert Schumann in France, maybe Adenauer in Germany, in the sense of creating the kind of European unity which now will lead to the common market, the end of European rivalries, hostilities. They were not page-one people, but I think they were very basic people, in terms of truly visionary leadership which is creating the kind of economic societal world in which we live.
In this country, I think that people were probably unfair to Eisenhower. I think he probably did more, in the context of his time. We lived in his time -- I guess you and I did, anyway, and maybe we were rendering too many judgments of the day. My own impressions of him, he probably looks better and better as time goes by, say, I having voted for Stevenson twice at the time. President Kennedy, obviously, extraordinary promise, extreme attraction for our generation 30 years ago. I traveled with him somewhat here and there, knew him personally. Of course, we don't know where it would have led, had he lived. Can you imagine, he would have been in his 70s today if he lived? Obviously, tremendous impact on American history. Ghan -- sorry, Nehru in India at the time whom I knew as a young reporter; his daughter, Indira Gandhi, whom I got to know quite well much, much later, was someone I will remember. Again, as I said, I'm not going for comparisons or priorities. Chou En-lai, the foreign minister -- prime minister of China, whom I have met, unfortunately, very, very few occasions, was obviously someone who played a great role in history.
LAMB: Let me read just a sentence from your book. "In the United States, George Bush was devoid of exceptional vision and appeared uncertain in his leadership qualities. He seemed unable to match Gorbachev's sense of epochal change and to act accordingly." George Bush -- has your opinion at all changed since you wrote that?
SZULC: This was, as you pointed out, earlier at the end of '89. I think that President Bush, in the last six months, has exceptionally improved on his own sense of leadership, of foreign policy. We're in the midst of a conflict right now. He appears to me, as a taxpayer or a citizen, to have done the correct thing. I would still reserve judgment. I would not eat my words at this point yet. I've known him -- had the pleasure of knowing him personally since the United Nations in '71. I think it gets better and better, but let time tell.
LAMB: "In Western Europe, only Francois Mitterrand stands out as a worthy successor to General de Gaulle as a man with a sense of history and a sense of human culture." What's so good about President Mitterrand, besides that?
SZULC: Trying something extremely hard, which is to modernize one of the most ossified societies in Europe, a nation that has lost every war in -- I was going to say in living memory -- it's much longer than living memory if you go back to 1870 and the Franco-Prussian War. To try to encourage -- which I think he has done quite well in the almost 10 years now of being in power -- of encouraging two great traits in the French psyche or the French talents, which is unexpectedly, at least, high technology. France has become one of the world's great leaders in technology and communications, much more than we are right now. They are much more advanced than we are in communications systems in the country and a great deal of brand-new technology.
At the same time, I think he's done extraordinary things to encourage that which we like to call "culture with a capital C," which means arts, architecture, music. We can get in an argument with someone as to whether the new Bastille Opera is an architectural jewel or not, but the idea that the state does spend that kind of money on national culture is important. I cannot think of the figure right now, but I believe that the French state spends about $200 million a year only to conserve historical monuments in the country. You have this extraordinary beautification of Paris, the pyramid at the Louvre.
Question: are those lasting things? I guess they are. Do they define where society goes? I would imagine they do because it cannot be -- this is not, you know, Romania of Ceausescu, who builds an extraordinary edifice in the middle of nowhere. This, in France, evidently, brings along a certain support of a nation. He was re-elected after seven years against a very respectable opposition from the other end of the spectrum, and today, of course, he has -- I think the great test is how does he lead France in a Europe which suddenly is changed by the unification of Germany, and France loses the great leading political role she had until now.
LAMB: Here's what the book looks like. It's called "Then and Now" by Tad Szulc. How did you organize this book? How did you approach it?
SZULC: Slowly, by dividing it -- it occurred to me the only way to make it manageable was to divide it in 10-year periods. You have 1945, then the '40s, the '50s, the '60s and so on through the '80s. I suppose you could do it by theme subjects. I was concerned that it would become too confusing, too hard to keep track of. So the idea just went back to the original idea of how you write a newspaper article: you always should be telling a story, whether you're a novelist or a historian or a reporter. What I tried to do, here in this book, is to tell a story -- tell this story of what's happened in the 45 years during which I've been racing around the world, and watching people and writing about people and reading the writings of others, and the chronology was the only way in which it would work, I thought.
LAMB: There are an enormous number of dates and places and people and events and wars that are listed in here. How much of that did you just pull out of the air, and how much of it did you have to go back and research and write down and organize?
SZULC: Well, you do -- in the start, you do go back, you do research, you do organize, you know. One has books one reads. I have all those resources available. Today's technology makes it even easier, you know. A telephone call will get you a date. This was the easiest part. I think the hardest part was to take that enormous mass of material which faced me before I sat down to write and try to organize it, try to maintain a balance among different events, strains, patterns of history; not to overemphasize one or underemphasize the other. So I suppose it was more of a matter of subjective judgment, and I think that gave me the most work I should say I got a great deal of help from my wife, who works with me, who does marvelous research of the kind that you ask and other kind of research.
One should know where you're going, I guess, or once I thought I knew where I was going, it kind of began falling into place, so as you went along -- as I went along, you would stop and say, "What was the exact date of Stalin's death?" Well, you just look it up in the fine biography of Stalin by Adam Ulam or someone, and there it is. You know, there's so much that's available for this kind of research.
LAMB: What time of day do you write the best?
SZULC: That kind of varies. You know, one of the beauties of being on my own is I work at home. I wake up at 3 AM, I go downstairs at 3 AM and I type away. No special hours. I like to work at night, sometimes in the afternoon. It's nice. I like to sit outside on my terrace and work in the sun. That's the beauty of working at home. I can do it anytime.
LAMB: You made a point in the preface of saying there are no footnotes in this and you didn't want to confuse everybody. Why did you do that?
SZULC: Because as a reader of this kind of books, I get enormously confused by- maybe it's my failing -- of being reported back and forth to often very minor points. What I chose, instead, is to have a very long bibliography upon which my research was based, and in the text, rather than footnotes or chapter notes, to try to tell the reader what is the source for a given set of situations -- or I could have attached little numbers to each page and then say this particular information came to me from The New York Times on such and such a date or from an interview from whomsoever. And I just thought that it was easier to -- on my own, to maintain the narrative flowing.
LAMB: This is the dedication in the book. "This book is for all the people in the world who deserve a happier human condition." What led you to write that as the dedication?
SZULC: Because -- well, I spent so much of my time as a reporter going around the world, and seeing the wars and the revolutions in the Third World, and the concentration camps and the refugee camps and the terrible violation of human rights and the unfairness of it all. Even though, as I said earlier, I'm still optimistic. I think maybe what lacks at this point in our time of transition from era to era is a greater attention to human condition in the most literal sense of the word and the -- Andre Malraux, if you will -- from whom the title is borrowed of that line. So trying to emphasize a return to values of -- to humanistic values. This book has quite a bit toward the end about the Third World and about disease and about violation of human rights and hunger and demography and infant mortality and all the things that really should not exist in a world which is as rich as ours is. So that's what I had in mind, the human condition of two-thirds of the five billion who are the population of the world.
LAMB: You give some credit to the nuclear bomb in here as the reason why that there is no world war or hasn't been a real world war since 1945. Do you think that'll be around with us for a long time?
SZULC: Unless someone like Saddam Hussein in Iraq goes absolutely mad and if he has one, then, yes, I think the deterrent, horrible as it sounds, has worked. You know, the proof is that the United States has had the nuclear weapons since 1945, the Soviets since '49. Neither of the superpowers, even at the worst of the crisis, has used it. The only danger, it seems to me -- and it is quite a danger -- that it may emerge from a Third World situation -- a Libya, in Iraq, in Iran -- which are not in the control of reasonably sane, responsible leaderships which, after all, obviously, we have had in most of the superpowers. We had -- the Soviets have had. Unless it's a madman, I think it will remain because there's obviously no interest -- I think people want to survive, basically.
LAMB: Does the United States have an obligation, if they find out that somebody like Saddam Hussein or Qaddafi has the nuclear bomb, to go in and get it, take it away from them?
SZULC: We've been saying for so many years that one should assassinate or go and bomb countries. Since there is no formula for human behavior for survival -- you will recall 1981, the Israelis took out an Iraqi nuclear -- or Syria's facility. I would say that if we really know -- "we" being everybody, let's say the West -- if we really know that there's a nuclear danger, I would say on balance, now that you put me against the wall on this, I would say yes, because the price of taking it out may be lesser than risking it being used. And that's the kind of world in which we live. I would say -- with great hesitation and great sadness -- I would say yes to your question.
LAMB: I've just got a last question. What is your next project?
SZULC: I have just finished a tour of Eastern Europe which will appear in a national magazine before too long. I'm starting on a new book which will come out next year, which has to do with the extraordinary way in which three million people of Jewish faith have been saved in Eastern Europe and in North Africa from an extraordinary combination of American private organizations and Israeli intelligence organizations, a story that's never been told before and about which I do not think I shall be talking more until it's written.
LAMB: Here's what the book looks like. "Then and Now" is the title by Tad
Szulc. Thank you very much for joining us.
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