Robert Massie
Robert Massie
Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War
ISBN: 0345375564
Dreadnought
Mr. Massie talked about his recently published book, Dreadnought: Britain, Germany and the Coming of the Great War, published by Random House. The book focuses on the naval race and diplomatic discourse between Great Britain and Germany, and how they helped to cause World War One. "Dreadnoughts" were early twentieth century battleships, which were extremely fast and heavily armed, built by these two great naval powers.
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TRANSCRIPT
Dreadnought
Program Air Date: March 8, 1992

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Robert K. Massie, you have a new book out called, "Dreadnought", what's that mean?
ROBERT MASSIE (Author, "Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War"): Dreadnought is a name of a ship, it's the name of the first real battleship. It was an old ship name in the Royal Navy, the British Navy, which goes way, way back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada, and in the British Navy these names are handed down just as in our Navy, names like Wasp and Hornet and Enterprise and so forth, that have come down since, since our revolution. This ah, this ship, the Dreadnought in this book, was built in 1906 and was the first real super battleship, big, fast, heavily armored, lots of heavy guns, and I chose it because it was the centerpiece and the symbol of the arms race between Great Britain and Germany before the first world war, which was a naval building race, both countries building battleships. The thing is that in the years that have passed since, the word Dreadnought has been applied to all battleships, its, its synonymous, for example, even last spring, when we were in the gulf, there were two American battleships, the last two, I suppose, the Missouri and the Wisconsin, and the newspapers referred to the, the two American Dreadnoughts, so its sort of, its one ship, its many ships, and its also a symbol of this, of this arms race, which is what this book is about.
LAMB: How long ago did you get the idea for this book?
MASSIE: Ah, a very long time ago, very long time ago. Um, I was a, when I was a boy, I was, I, I had two years, I was a Rhode's scholar at Oxford and I spent two years there in the 50s and one of the ah, my ah, sort of course was modern European history, and one of the terms I did was the, was the history of the period 1897 to 1914, which is what this book is about, the diplomacy leading up to the war and the threats and so forth, and I had, I found it then absolutely enthralling, the, the kind of Greek tragedy aspect of the coming of this war. Nobody wanted the war, ah, nobody seemed able to avoid it, and the personalities involved were all extraordinarily interesting to me. Then ah, years passed. I became a journalist. I wrote some other books. Ah, well along the way I had spent 3-1/2 years in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, and I really, I was, I was born in Lexington, Kentucky, grew up in Ashville, Tennessee, so I was a, a landlubber, but I loved the ocean and the sea and I spent these years on aircraft carriers, and I used to like to just go up and stand on the deck at all times of the day and night and just look at the water, and then when I moved east, I spent my summers in Maine, I started sailing, and I got a small boat, a little bit bigger, and then a little bit bigger, not very big, but ah, I loved, I loved the sea. So there was that, the Navy aspect, and then back in the 70s, in the middle 70s, I was interested and worried about, as all of us were, about the arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. I had done two books on the Soviet Union, on, on Russian history rather, and there were, there were, I saw a lot of parallels between our ICBM race with the Soviets, both sides building and building and trying to achieve security, and in fact never, never getting absolute security, because you couldn't, with what England and Germany were doing before the first world war, building battleships, ah spending huge sums of money, and really ah, ah, levering themselves, edging themselves into, into war. And all of these things sort of came together. I had finished a long book, I mean this is sort of funny, in an ironic sense, I finished a very long book, ah, it was a biography of Peter the Great, and I thought I'd like to do something fairly short, that I could do in a few years, ah, and I'd go back and do this pre World War I arms race. That was ten years ago, and I've been working on this book ever since.
LAMB: There's a lot I want to ask you about, you just said that, one thing I want to ask you about Peter the Great, I was sitting next to a guy at dinner one night and he leaned over and, this was when Boris Yeltsin was in town, and he said, "If you want to understand the Russians, you gotta read Peter the Great."
MASSIE: Well thank you, sir, whoever he was.
LAMB: Why would he say that?
MASSIE: Ah, because the history of Russia, ah has changed in some ways, but in a great many ways hasn't changed, and the, the character of the Russian people, the problems that Russians have in terms of dealing with climate, with the immensity of the land, the distribution system, and with the, ah, I should say provincialism, with the fear that Russians have always had of the outside. In the 17th century, and early 18th century, the time of Peter the Great, um, they were afraid of the west also. The Orthodox Church, which was the orthodoxy of the time, was just as afraid of the, of the ah, heretics, the Catholics, and the Protestants of the west, as the Communist party was afraid of capitalism and so forth. I mean, they saw something that if allowed to come in to Russia, could destroy their grip on, on, on the state, on the people, and Peter the Great saw this as something that should happen. He was the first Czar in 800 years to go out of Russia as a young man, as already a Czar. He went out, supposedly incognito, although he was 6 feet, 7 inches tall, he went out and he worked in shipyards in Holland and in England, learned ship building, because he saw the sea as a way to reach out to the world, and he brought back hundreds of really, what we would call technicians, ship builders, people who had factory skills, ah, musicians, there were military officers there already, he even brought back barbers because he wanted Russians to be clean shaven, and he, the Russians who didn't like him would say inflicted on, he brought to Russia, the first real Russian revolution, the sort of metaphor is opening a window to the west. He, he, he threw open the door and really for, for, for the 200 years of Imperial Russia, Russia was open to the west. I mean, maybe too much so almost. I mean, the, the people in the court spoke French, you know, they disdained Russian. Um, of course they were also open to the west in the sense that Charles XII invaded Russia, Napoleon invaded Russia, ah, and both were beaten by Russia, by the winter, by the courage of the people, but the, ah, the mindset of the people, their lack of understanding what democracy is, their ah, their, the fact that they, um, they have always been disciplined by, by authority. They, this is really the first, this, under Yeltsin, this is really the first democracy that Russia has ever had, and I'm talking about 1,000 years. There have been some little experiments in, in councils and so forth, but this is really the first, when you have a, a nationwide, I'm talking about the Russian republic, election, and in some of these other republics too, ah, but some of the things that, that are happening now, happened then. They were done by the Czar, by decree, and not by, and in fact, I think actually Yeltsin is doing some of these things by decree. Ah, anyway, I think what this, your friend said was ah, meant that there are some clues. I mean, history doesn't really repeat itself, but in, in the character of a people and the nature of a landscape ,there are factors that don't change, and I think maybe that's what he meant.
LAMB: What year was that book published, "Peter the Great"?
MASSIE: It was published in 1980.
LAMB: And "Nicholas and Alexandra" was about what?
MASSIE: 1967.
LAMB: What was that about?
MASSIE: That was about Nicholas II, the last Czar, and his wife, Alexandra, the Empress, who was German, and their son, they had four daughters, you had, the throne had to go to a male, after four daughters, they finally had a little boy whose name was Alexis, he was the heir to the throne, he was born in 1904, the same year as my mother, who is still living, so, if he were living, he would be 87 as she is. Ah, he had hemophilia, which had come down through the sort of royal families of Europe, really from Queen Victoria. The Empress Alexandra's grandmother was Queen Victoria. And, in those days hemophilia was really almost impossible to treat. This is a disease of, of bleeding, which um, which ah, does a lot of damage to joints, some uncontrolled bleeding. Now we do control it, by, by giving infusions, transfusions. In those days they, they couldn't do that. This little boy was, was in great pain sometimes, suffered a great deal. His mother turned to a false holy man named Rasputin, who had really two sides to his character, a, a helpful, healing side and a rather wicked side, a great womanizer, etc. And I was interested in this because, I don't know how, how much you want me to go into this, but my own son was born with hemophilia, which strikes people sort of out of the blue in about a third of the cases, and that happened with us. I was, as I said a little earlier, a journalist, I was working at Newsweek. I was very interested in what had happened in the case of the, this most famous of all hemophiliacs, and that lead over time to the writing of, of "Nicholas and Alexandra", which was a way to talk about something that I was deeply concerned about, but wasn't really ready to talk about in terms of my own son, who was then a young, very young boy. Later, ah, I, I , with my wife then, Suzanne Massie and I did write a book called "Journey", about my son Bob, who by the way is now 35, and his, our progress through the American health care system, writing about how you dealt with insurance companies and blood and schools and the neighbors and so forth, and it was a very ah, ah personal book, but it was successful in its own way. It was not a commercial success really, but ah, it struck a lot of pretty deep notes with people who had lots of, of troubles, not by any means all of them hemophilia, and that, that was a book I'm very glad I wrote, although it was different from the, the three sort of history and biographies, histories and biographies that I've done.
LAMB: Pardon the personal question, but a book in '67, one in '80 and one in ...
MASSIE: '75.
LAMB: '75?...
MASSIE: That was Journey, in '80.
LAMB: And then '91.
MASSIE: Yes.
LAMB: How, how do you live, how do you live on this?
MASSIE: Well, I've been lucky. Um, ah, "Nicholas and Alexandra" I wrote, as I said, I was a journalist, I was in my 30's, and it was a very successful book. It was one of these things when somebody, a writer who no one has ever heard of, writes a book that a lot of people want to read, and it was published all over the world. It was an interesting story. I, I think I wrote the book reasonably well, but it was an absolutely fascinating story, and my theme was, my thesis was, that the hemophilia of the Czarevitch, of the little crown prince, had more than most people had realized before, something to do with the coming of the revolution, because Rasputin, who was able to, to, to assuage the suffering of this little boy through hypnosis and so forth, became increasingly a political figure, to the horror of many people around the Czar and many people in the government and so forth, and had political power, and began to ah, say who should be and who shouldn't be in the government, and there were, I mean I sort of spelled out instances where he appointed prime ministers and ministers of the interior, who controlled the police, so that as the first world war ground along, and Russia was suffering millions of casualties, and the food distribution system was breaking down, and Rasputin was making crazier and crazier recommendations, which the Empress was forcing on her weak husband, Nicholas, ah, I, my, my point was that, that this, and I did, I didn't say that this was solely responsible, but that there was a, this was a factor here which played a considerable part. Anyway, there was, there was all this sort of family drama, everybody knew before they picked up the book, how it was going to end, with this, these executions, but the um, the reviews, even in the Soviet Union, were that this was an accurate picture of the nature, the characteristics, the behavior and the story of the imperial family, so that it was very successful, and Sam Speigel (?), the last of the moguls, made it into a big ah, you know, one of the last of the movies that had an intermission, and so I, I, I, you know, got a lot more money than I probably should have, than I thought, and, I, I lived on that for awhile. And then, when "Peter the Great" came along, to my astonishment, I, I never had any idea that this would be put on film in any way. How could you build St. Petersburg on a back lot in Hollywood?. And, the book was published in 1980 and, and nothing did happen for a very long time, and then along came a, a, an entrepreneur, who persuaded NBC, and this was in the days of the evil empire, somehow he persuaded both NBC and the Soviet government, to let him make a film of Peter the Great in the Soviet Union, use it so that we didn't have to build stuff on back lots, we used real Russian, they made the town of (?) on the Volga, which is filled with old churches and buildings and so forth, that was transformed into, into 17th century Moscow. And he built it and it was an eight hour miniseries, so ah, you know, for writers, time is money, so I was able, you, you get, you get a certain amount of money and it buys more time. That, that's what happened.
LAMB: We're talking about a new book. Do you expect there will be a movie or television series?
MASSIE: Again, I, I, I have no idea. There's, there is a fellow whose, who greatly admired ah, what Ken Burns did with the civil war, and thinks that he might do a documentary of that kind, really using still photographs and so forth, and I, he, I haven't seen any, anything on paper. Ah, I think it would be great. Ah, I don't think you could ah, see this book is really, those books are basically biographies, this book is a history of a period of time and since I have a strong biographical streak, um, I have tried to tell this history of the coming of the war, in terms of the people, who you could say brought us the war, and, starting with Queen Victoria and her grandson, the Kaiser, the German Kaiser, William II, and the British and German statesmen and the admirals who built the fleets and so forth. But there are in this book 26 mini biographies or profiles or whatever, ah, sort of in the book at the time these people stepped forward, that history sort of brings them forward, and I, I ah, sort of leave the story for awhile and talk about them, and then bring them back in, and I think it, it helps, its, its, its certainly the way I would like to have done this thing when I did it before, to know more about these men and women, and then, as they continue through the book, and are making these decisions, these wrong decisions frequently, you, you tend to understand why and to be a little bit less harsh in your judgments. But, going back to your question, I don't see how you can do this book with 20, in, in, in a dramatic sense. You could do it as a documentary. Ah, but I, I have to tell you that I never, ever thought that anybody would do anything with Peter the Great.
LAMB: 1,007 pages and $35.00.
MASSIE: Well, let me just ah, let me, let me try and lure back some of the people you just frightened away. I can't do much about the $35.00 um, although I tried. I knew that would be ah, ah, a pretty high hoop to jump through, but the pages, first of all, there are only about 900 pages of text. Not everybody has to read the notes. Those are to help ah, scholars or anyone who wants to know where these quotes came from or these facts, and I think that to do a book of this length and on this sort of broad a canvas without giving ah, without accrediting the facts, would be, would be wrong, so there is another 100 pages or so of notes and, and a lot of sort of material about the ships and their tonnage and the size of the guns and so forth, and that's for navy buffs. Um, it is still long, but "Peter the Great" was long, it was 900 pages, and it, you know, it found people like, like, like your friend. I write long books. One reason I wasn't very good as a magazine journalist, a news magazine journalist, was that news magazines have space limitations, and I'd be assigned to do a story or a cover story, and they'd, you know, you'd have a couple of weeks or something like that, maybe longer, and I'd get into the subject and I'd be absolutely fascinated, but I wanted, I, you know, I felt you can't understand what this man or woman is doing unless you go back much earlier, both in the history of the subject and in the biography of the person and so forth, and they'd say, "Massie, Massie", you know, you know, and finally after, after a while of doing that, I realized that I, I belonged writing, writing longer.
LAMB: What years did you work for Newsweek?
MASSIE: I was there from '59 to '64 I think.
LAMB: Did you write for any other publication like Newsweek?
MASSIE: Well I wrote, then I went to ah, the Saturday Evening Post, which in those years was, had left Philadelphia, come up to New York, and was trying to remain alive by being much more ah, topical. In other words, it was, it was trying to shed the Norman Rockwell image and, and, and do sort of hard hitting journalism, sort of either muckraking or whatever, and they got into a lot of trouble, but what they did was to, to hire a core of quite young writers and reporters, from Time and Newsweek and the New York Times and then the Herald Tribune, and places like that, I think the Washington Post, and ah, ah, we ah, we were ah, scrambling all over. I did a lot of, of political journalism, political profiles. I never lived in Washington, but I used to come down here. I did two pieces, for example, on, on Teddy Kennedy, once when he was running for the Senate in, what was it, 1962, I think, and then, and then when he got here, and came down as sort of the, you know, the third brother, ah, that kind of thing, and I did a big thing, because of my navy thing, in those days McNamara was in the Pentagon, and the Pentagon whiz kids thought that aircraft carriers were ridiculous, and so I did a big thing on, spent a couple of weeks on a, back on an aircraft carrier, and wrote a long piece about that, that, that kind of thing. It was, I also, as time went along, I started doing ah, ah, sort of human interest stories about a man who thought he was a, a multi billionaire, ah, a man who lived in Chicago because of some, the way some bank records had been misread, a fellow who had built a flying submarine, they were kind of, you know, looney tunes, they were, they were great fun.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
MASSIE: I live in a little town called Irvington, on the Hudson River, it's about 20 miles above New York City, just below Tarrytown, and I've lived there for 28 years.
LAMB: Back to "Dreadnought" for a moment. Ten years it took you to write it.
MASSIE: Yeah.
LAMB: Is that all you did during those ten years?
MASSIE: No, it's not. That's, that's, um, I taught two terms, once at Princeton and one at Tulane, so that's minus one year. Ah, for four years, for four of those years, I was president of the author's guild, which is the largest American writers' organization, 6,500 members, and we were very much involved with a number of ah, campaigns. I was very much involved with, the most interesting, I think, and the most threatening was in 1977 and 1978, when the tax reform, when I came down here, to Washington, 13 times, to lobby on, on the Hill, to persuade the Congress to remove a footnote, which had been put into the tax reform act of 1976, saying that writers had to capitalize their expenses, and this is a little complicated, but it meant that we were ah, writers, especially nonfiction writers, who do a lot of research, ah, deduct their expenses in the year in which they spend the money, and the Treasury Department said that we couldn't do that anymore. We had to stretch it out over all the years the book was going to be earning an income and we could only subtract, deduct the fraction of total expenses relating to the fraction of total income we received that year. Anyway, it was taking, first of all, you don't know what the income from a book is going to be, I mean look at "Nicholas and Alexandra", which was much greater, and then there are books which have great expectations, and which, which don't earn that much, its, its, its a crap shoot, really, um, but they were going to be hitting authors in the years in which they needed to spend money for research, and hitting them with, with high, not permitting those deductions, so their taxes would go up and thus curtailing the research. The Treasury was the villain ah, not the Congress. Congress had had nothing to do with this. This footnote had crept into the bill, literally one night, when the Treasury and staff had sort of put it in, and the staff had, had not known, nobody had asked the authors and we were, we were lax about representing ourselves, ah, don't authors already capitalize, well if they don't, they should, next question. And, when we found out about it, we came hustling down here to see, Senator Bradley, Senator Moniyhan (?), and Congressman Downey were the three people who helped us the most, ah, and Bradley, who had been one of the authors of the tax reform bill, said, "This can't be true," Bradley having been an author himself at one point, and his tax advisor said, "Bill, it is." So anyway, we ah, the problem wasn't that the Congress was opposed, the problem was educating them. They were opposed only in the sense that they didn't want to mess up their bill. I mean, this was supposed to be a streamlining bill, and Mr. Rostenkowski was particularly opposed to anything which was going to upset this bill, which was really his baby, and they made the demand, which I think was probably logical, that it had to be neutral. If we're going to take money that, and give it back to authors, the authors had to tell, at least they had to find a place that the (?) was going to come from. And, anyway, we came down and we went around, we saw all the people, as many people as we could, primarily on the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, who write these bills, and we had convinced the, the Ways and Means Committee, and as I recall, there had even been a vote in the House, in 1977, when suddenly, in October one day, the stock market plunged 500 points, and the White House and the, and the Congress said, "We're not, no more tax legislation, forget it," you remember, and the congressional leaders went down to the White House for three weeks and tried to figure what to do. So we had to start over the next year, and we got through there and Senator Bensen was, was on our side, and then suddenly in August, he was nominated for Vice President. He, he left town, and the, the whole thing was, for somebody who doesn't know Washington, as I didn't really, I didn't really know how Congress worked, my previous experience had been profiles of people, it was extraordinary, the, the law was finally changed, ah, the night the Senate adjourned, in 1988 ah, with three senators on the floor, and the person who really did it was Senator Dole, who had been very nice and I, I, I, I had a very pleasant afternoon with him at one point, he did it ah, it was, you know, what should I say, a unanimous vote, three to nothing. The same night, the United States, by unanimous vote of three to nothing, entered the baron (?) convention on copyright, which it had been trying to do for something like 75 years, and it was unbelievable. When we went back and explained to our members what had happened, that, that we had worked so hard, and finally that night they were just sort of ripping off legislation. Its, you know, anyway, we didn't complain, we won, and, so I did that, then I did a lot of stuff with publishers. This took a lot of time, and this was a, on the other side of the income ledger. This was a nonpaying, sort of pro bono thing, which ah, which I was glad to do, but my publisher was wondering when they were going to get the book. So, I'm trying to defend myself against the charge of laziness. Also, its long, um that's, those are, those are my excuses for ten years.
LAMB: Our, our viewers are probably saying, "When in the world is he going to talk about this book?" Ah...
MASSIE: Well.
LAMB: Anyway, 26 different personality profiles in here, but I want to ask you about this one, um....
MASSIE: This is Queen Victoria, who was really, was granny to the crowned heads of Europe. Queen Victoria, who ruled, reigned for 64 years, the Victorian age, the 19th century, the (?) Britannica, all sort of, part of her ah, her own persona. My point in this book was that this was all ah, supported, undergirded by the strength, by the absolute supremacy of the Royal Navy, and the book begins with a little sort of ah, a little short business of, about the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, when the British Navy won this supremacy, which it held for 100 years, though the, the Victorian age, which was a time of good things and bad things, but a time basically of, of world peace. There were some, there were some wars ah, from time to time, ah the American Civil War was the bloodiest. The Franco-Prussian War, the Crimean War, but there were none of the great wars, which, like the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted 20 years, before or the World Wars of our century, and this was a peace enforced really, around the world by the British Navy. My book is the story about why and how Germany, which had been built into a great empire by Bismarck, ah molded into, into the most powerful military industrial state in Europe, ruled by Queen Victoria's eldest grandchild, Kaiser William II, decided to challenge British Naval supremacy by building a powerful German fleet, the high seas fleet, and ah, I'm, I go back to describe sort of the, the drive in German pride and prestige and the, and, and commercial interests, the lack of colonies. Germany, having been created late, had no colonies, there wasn't anything left, by the time they arrived at the table, and they, they said, "We want them nevertheless." And the British were not at first opposed. They helped the Germans to pick up some sort of bits of the rocks scattered around in the oceans and some, some of the lesser available sandy deserts and so forth, in Africa and elsewhere, but ah, they were, they were first concerned and then alarmed and then badly frightened, as the Germans kept building far beyond what the British saw as, as justified. Ah, and the Germans' attitude was, "Don't tell us what's justified, we'll build whatever we damn please." And the British kept saying, "Yes, yes, but don't you understand, we're, we're an island, we have no army. If you build, we have to build too, you build one and we have to build two. Who are you building against? You don't have any enemies on the continent, that a navy can affect, and battleships don't go on wheels. We have to assume that you're building against us." And the Germans, the Admirals and the Kaiser would say, "Don't be silly, we'll never have enough to really challenge you." But you, you know um, politicians, or at least statesmen and Admirals and Generals, have to ah, have to look at capabilities ah, as much as intentions. Ah, it's not good enough when you have a powerful enemy who says, "I have no intention ever of attacking you." And you can't just say, "Well, that settles it then, I, we don't need a strong defense."
LAMB: You end the book at the start of World War I.
MASSIE: I end the book the day Britain and Germany go to war.
LAMB: What day was that?
MASSIE: August 4, 1914.
LAMB: Queen Victoria became Queen in 1837. How old was she?
MASSIE: I think 20. I forget. Let me just think, she ah, 37 to 61 is 64 years. She was born in 1820. There's going to be someone out there who says, "Massie it was 1819," and died in 1901, so she was 81. I think I've got, got it right. Um, but she ruled from 1837, I mean, to 1901, and there were, so that 64 year old men and women had never heard, never known anybody else.
LAMB: What was she like?
MASSIE: Victoria? Bismarck met her once and called her a jolly little body. She was both forbidding, ah, austere in public and very, very, very warm ah, in, in private. She treated, ah, somebody said that she treated grownups, crowned heads, like children, and children like, like grownups. She loved, she had many, many dozens of grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She loved them all, she kept track of them, but she reigned over the family, just as she reigned over, over England. That picture was taken in the diamond jubilee year, 1897, when she had been on the throne for 60 years, and it shows her as she was usually photographed, but there, which, which is why I wanted this picture, as sort of dour and disapproving. But there are a few pictures of her smiling. People, you know nowadays, an American politician is never photographed not smiling, if he can help it. He always wants to show how happy he is. But, in those days, it was considered somewhat sort of common and vulgar. Now those people, the fellow standing there with the cigar, is her son, Bertie, Prince of Wales, who waited a very, very, very long time to become King of England. Finally became King Edward VII in 1901, when his mother died, and was on the throne for only 9 years, but in those years ah, England abandoned its policy of splendid isolation, guarded by the navy, and because of the threat of German sea power, ah, made arrangements with France, which Bertie loved, and, and with Russia. Bertie was the opposite of his mother. She was dour, respectable. He was a bon vivant, womanizer, loved Paris, ah, was ah, and was loved by the British people, even the sort of working people thought he was a very good bloke.
LAMB: Who is this?
MASSIE: Oh, that, that's, that's Bertie, the seated gentleman is Bertie, as King Edward VII, ah, near the end of his life, on his royal yacht. The woman standing beside him with the incredibly slim waist, is his wife, Queen Alexandra, a Danish princess, and at that point, when that picture was taken, she was about 64 years old. She ah, kept her figure and her looks ah, remarkably well.
LAMB: When did the British empire reach its zenith.
MASSIE: Well, that's, that's a very good question, because it reached its, it's like ah, sort of, we, we hear now about corporations and ah, and individuals. At the moment it seemed to have reached its zenith, the decline was already under way. 1897, my book begins with a description of the Diamond Jubilee Naval Review, and it seemed that Britain was at its zenith then. I mean, the empire had continued to expand. Victoria had become Empress of India. Half of the world's merchant shipping was, flew, flew the British flag. The Navy was unchallenged ah, they hadn't fought a, a war, except against natives, since the Crimean war um, and yet, ah, there was a great deal that was ah, that was going wrong, and within a very few years, within three years, when Britain had to fight the Boer war ah, a lot of these deficiencies came to light. The....
LAMB: What was the Boer war?
MASSIE: The Boer war was in 1900. Ah, the Boers, who were basically Dutch descendents, in South Africa, we now call them Afrikaners (?) ah, had a very different way of life than the British settlers. The British had come and taken ah, South Africa away from these Dutch settlers ah, during the Napoleonic wars, and ah, imposed British rule, which was ah, you know, the, the same as they opposed on the American colonies ah, and these, these Dutch farmers were very independent. They had a very sort of stern religion, and they didn't like it. Some of them trekked from the Capetown area all the way up to Johannesburg and Pretoria ah, where, to the sort of disruption of their little farming state, gold and diamonds were discovered, at the end of the century. Anyway, gold rush, upheaval, political challenge, and the a, a war, in which, the, the Boer war was Britain's Vietnam. Before it was over, 450,000 British and Imperial troops, that is from Australia and so forth, had been sent to try and beat 60-70,000 Boers, who were hard riding, expert shooting calvary and totally dedicated, sort of like the Israelis. Totally, they were defending their, their, their small little country, and they were damned good. And the British weren't very good, the British Army was, was unwieldy and the soldiers were, were not really trained in this kind of fighting, and the first part of the war, the Boers just went through them like a knife through butter. Then, eventually the British put on enough pressure and herded, burned the countryside, burned the farms where the Boers were, were based. Put women and children into concentration camps, where thousands died. It was, it was a fearful thing. Ah, meanwhile, the British foreign office and government had to face that fact that Britain had no friends. The Army had proved inept, the Navy had not been challenged, but there were, there were a lot of fears, because they were fighting a war 6,000 miles away, and Britain, this was, in the last year of Queen Victoria's reign, there were demands for parliamentary inquiry and so forth, the whole kind of, sort of Vietnam and post Vietnam thing in America. What's going wrong? I mean, here we were, a few years ago we thought we were sitting on top of the world. Just like America after the second world war, you know, and suddenly we find out that nothing seems to work, and meanwhile, across the North Sea, only a few hundred miles away, the Germans are building battleships like crazy. So, anyway, this is part of the, the stuff of this book.
LAMB: Of the 26 characters you write of, who, who are your favorites?
MASSIE: My, my favorites, or the most interesting. You mean the ones I like best?
LAMB: Yes, either one.
MASSIE: Well, I think one of the most interesting, probably the most interesting in terms of importance, was ah William II, the Kaiser. He is there, you'll see him with the upturned mustaches. This was Queen Victoria's grandson. An extraordinarily interesting story. His mother was the Queen, was Victoria's eldest child, a British princess. She married the man who became the German crown prince, went off to Berlin in the 1860s, behaved with extraordinary tactlessness.
LAMB: Vickie?
MASSIE: Vickie. Ah, everything in England, she told the Germans, was much better than anything in Germany. The British knew how to do these things, you Germans don't. It was sort of like ah, you know, we used to feel that ah, ah, Germany was powerful and raw. I mean, the British laughed at the, this is, Vickie ah, um, you're right, and Fritz, Fredrich, who became Frederick, who became Frederick III, the Emperor for 99 days and left, the father and mother of Kaiser William II. And she married Fritz ah, they thought they were going to become Emperor and Empress, because Fritz' father, William I, was very old when he became emperor, but he didn't die, he lived on and on and on, into his 90s. So that when Fritz finally became Emperor, he was already himself dying of throat cancer. He had a reign of 99 days, and died, and then his, his 29 year old son, William II became Emperor of Germany with his head filled with a number of ah, um, sort of dreams and complexes and jealousies and envies, he had an extraordinarily, extraordinarily ambivalent attitude towards England. He loved it, he loved being part of the British royal family, he loved the pomp and circumstance of Windsor Castle and riding through London. He also hated it because he felt that the British patronized Germans and here he was ah, the sovereign, the monarch of this great military state, and the British just didn't give a damn.
LAMB: And William II was, was the one that had the damaged arm at birth?
MASSIE: That's right, and that was, that's another ah, part of his ah, his sort of personality. He was, he was, he had a small, miniaturized, crippled arm, damaged at, at birth by the use of forceps. It never grew. He had an extraordinarily painful childhood, partly because of this. He was the, the Prussian Crown Prince. He was going to be the German Emperor. This was a military state. He had to learn to ride and just the accounts of how he kept falling off his pony and being put back on while he was weeping and his brother was weeping and the tutor was weeping, and so forth, and his mother was ah, adamant. He had to learn to ride. No son of..... She, she ah, she forced William to become ah, the kind of man he became and yet she, throughout, criticized him... He had, it was a mother son relationship which most psychologists would say was, was not very attractive.
LAMB: Where does the name Kaiser come from?
MASSIE: Kaiser is the ah, German word for Caesar, which meant emperor.
LAMB: And they called the, the woman equivalent in that.....
MASSIE: She was called the Kaiseren(?) ah, or, or the empress. This, that was, that's William II in civilian clothes with his wife, the Empress Augusta, who was called "Dona". There you see on that, in the top hat, you see him with his good right arm, which was extraordinarily powerful ah, in compensation for the damaged left one. And on the other page you see if, if the camera can pick it up, where William is in naval uniform, you see the strong right arm and the small left arm holding gloves. This was one of the sort of cosmetic techniques he often did to sort of mask the fact that the left arm itself was, was much shorter. Or he would carry a sword over there on the left side and rest the little arm on the sword hilt.
LAMB: You know, when you read the book, you start wanting to diagram things and keep those names and families all together. When you got into this, did you know all of this stuff, before you?
MASSIE: Well, I knew a little bit of it from, from these ah, from, from years and years ago, and ah, I ah, the, the answer is, is yes and no. I, I knew enough to know that I wanted to know more. I had no idea when I was ah, when I started, how fascinated I was going to be. I, I have to say one other thing about how, how, why this book took so long. It took so long because I didn't want to finish it. Ah, I'm, I have no staff, I mean I'm not a writer who deploys people. Ah, I do everything myself because, because the research is the part that's fun. I love to go to libraries. I love to be up in stacks. I love to discover, sitting next to a book that I, I know I'm looking for, a book that I never heard of, and pull it out, and that's one of the, the things we may lose when everything is computerized and they won't let us go into stacks anymore. I also loved going to the places, going to Berlin and London and so forth. I even, through an old navy friend, went out on the battleship New Jersey a few years ago for ten days while she fired her big guns, so I'd know what a dreadnought ah, what it was when these things were fired. Um, I should say that I'm going to go on and write a, a book about the war itself, because having built these things and seeing what, what, what, what they provoked um, and having read quite a lot about it in the course of doing research for this ah, I want to go on and write a shorter book, take less time ah, about the naval war.
LAMB: This is probably not an easy question to ask or answer, because, I mean, may not be fair, but did, when you, were you trying to find new information as you went through your research process, or you just tried to get?
MASSIE: My, I, I know, I'm trying to put it together. I was trying to tell the story ah, in a way that would be ah, to, to, to give it the, the, to set it in the context to present a balanced picture of what happened, bringing in what was already available somewhere, but not really available to most people. Ah, and, and, and write a full human account of, of this historical event. No, there's nothing in there ah, that ah, hasn't been known to some other human. In other words, I did not find any document which reveals for the first time that the Kaiser did this, or the admirals did that and so forth. I did go, for example, to, there's a chapter there on the building of this, of the Dreadnought, which came from various boxes of papers in the public record office and, and the, and the navy, ministry of defence or navy library in England, which nobody had ever written. Ah, but it's not something which, for which people will say, let's say like Sy Hersh's (?) book on the Israeli bomb, which ah, of course some people even there say, "Well, we already knew that." But it's not that kind of a, of a, of new material. Nor was "Peter the Great". I ah, very much doubt whether anybody will find anything new about Peter the Great. But nobody had written a biography of Peter the Great in English. Ah, I mean a few scholars said, "Why is Massie doing this, we know all this?" It was true, they did, but nobody else did, so ah..
LAMB: Did you have to have some of the German translated for you?
MASSIE: Yeah, I did. I have, I, I speak some German and I read some German, but I had to have some help.
LAMB: Speaking of Germans, is this a photograph, by the way?
MASSIE: That's a photograph of Bismarck.
LAMB: Where, where do you find these photographs?
MASSIE: I found these photographs, now there, that's very interesting, I want to talk about that other picture. But the photograph of Bismarck came from the Holton (?) Picture Library in London. Now, on the opposite page, you have, you have a copy of a collector's item there. I suggest you keep it. You see the, you see the, that is a picture which appeared in 30,000 copies. Those 30,000 were sent back to, the book was delayed for about three weeks, in October, they were sent back, those pictures were stripped out of 30,000 copies and the, the proper picture was put in. That's a picture of the negative. You have a picture there of young Kaiser William talking to Bismarck, and of course ah, in the photograph, their faces are white and their uniforms are dark. How this got in, nobody knows. I was actually in Berlin at the time and I had this, what I thought was bad news, that the book was going to be delayed for three weeks. Ah, they said, "We have sent them out, to various people," and you are obviously one of the people, because I hadn't seen one of those for a long time. Hang on to that. I, when I got back from Berlin, Random House was embarrassed about that, but around the building, various people had grabbed copies, because it's the kind of thing that, that's interesting later on, and I had to almost physically tear one out of the hands of, of a guy and I said, he said, "This is my copy, Bob," and I said, "Yeah, but I don't have one, and I think I deserve one," so I have mine.
LAMB: If it will make you feel any better, I thought it was part of the package. I thought it was ....
MASSIE: Yeah, it was some special, some special effect? You know, they, they look sort of irradiated there.
LAMB: There are so many people we haven't even mentioned ah, who was Otto Von Bismarck?
MASSIE: He was the, he was an extraordinary historical character. I think probably the two most ah, the two giants of Europe, in European history in the 19th century were, were Napoleon, the people who, who did the most to change history or, and, and history really means the lives of everybody who lived at that time and who followed, Bismarck was a, a German politician and a younker, an aristocrat, who worked his way, he was very talented ah, very big and curiously spoke in a high squeaky voice, who worked his way up in the, in the administration of the Kingdom of Prussia, and who ah, decided that ah, Germany, which into the, after the middle of 19th century still, was a collection of 37 different states, kingdoms, grand dutchies (?), electorates, bishoprics (?) and so forth, that Germany should be unified. Italy was also unified in the 19th century. France had been a great power already for 200 years. Britain had, Great Britain had unified England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland actually until, until 1916 or whenever it was. But, Bismarck unified Germany by, by war. He fought three quick wars ah, so that all of the German states, including some great chunks, like Bavaria, were incorporated into the German empire with the King of Prussia, the Hohenzollern King, becoming the German Emperor, and by amalgamating all of this territory and power ah, he made, at a stroke, the most powerful country in Europe, on the European continent, so that when, with the most powerful army, an army which frightened its neighbors, so that France and Russia, on opposite sides of Germany, formed an alliance, because neither one felt they could deal with the Germans by themselves, and then on top of that, decided to build a great fleet, which frightened England, and so there you had Germany's enemies in the first world war, France, Russia and Great Britain, and eventually the United States.
LAMB: We, we're running out of time and I, I want to still get back to some of the people that you either admire...
MASSIE: Well, then there's, then, then, in, towards the end there, there, there are two that I really want to talk about. One is Jackie Fisher, the British admiral who built the Royal Navy and whose biography is longer than anybody else's in it because he was, he was such a, such a, there, this man came into the, into the navy in the middle of the 19th century as a midshipman, went out as an admiral of the fleet, just before the first world war, and then was brought back in as first sea lord of the war. His story is really the story of how the Royal Navy transformed itself from sailing ships powered by wind with oak hulls to modern steel ships powered by coal or oil, firing huge shells thousands and thousands of yards ah, he's the one who built the Dreadnought. The other character in there, and you'll say, "Don't we know enough about him already?" is Winston Churchill, whose story ah, he's in this book because he was, he was First Lord of the Admiralty for the years before the first world war and going into the first world war, and I, I, I tell you that no matter how many books you've read about Churchill ah, he jumps up off the page again. I concentrate just on his early life and his years as, as, as First Lord, when he had this, an extraordinary relationship with Fisher, the Admiral we just talked about. Fisher was twice his age. Churchill was young, he was, he was vigorous, he was pushy, he was boastful ah, people didn't like him, and yet he got things done, and ah, he wrote superbly, ah, he, he, as William Manchester has showed us, as others, he is a joy to write about and to read about, and he's a very, very important character in this book.
LAMB: Balfour (?) and Lord Salisbury and Lord George, you go on and on, any others?
MASSIE: There, there are the German characters and the British characters.
LAMB: Von Bileau (?)
MASSIE: Von Bileau, Holstein. Ah, um, following Bismarck and Admiral VonTurpets (?) who built the German Navy.
LAMB: What's Massie, by the way, because I want to?
MASSIE: As a, as a, where does it come from?
LAMB: Yeah.
MASSIE: It's, it's Aberdeenshire, it's Scots, ah, I...
LAMB: Did you have any allegiance to the British Isles in this thing.
MASSIE: I, I tried, when I started this book, I wanted to write a book which I felt would, could be read in both Britain and Germany and that they'd say, "He, he was fair." As it went along, I felt my allegiance, my sympathies were more with the British ah, because the Germans, I don't know whether you've had a chance to read some of the German profiles, they were really, with exceptions, ah, they were, some of them were sort of nasty bit of business. The British flaws were on the side of patronizing and sort of .....
LAMB: The Germans with British descent, or the German Germans?
MASSIE: The, these were the German Germans. Well ah, they were, what we would say would be nouveau riche. They had great power and great wealth and they were pushing their way to, and Woody Allen got it right in "Zelig", the movie about the, the man who changed from when he said, "I'll tell you about the first world war, the British had the world and the Germans wanted it." And basically that's what ah, that's what it was. So the British, who were defending the status quo, come off better because they were more peaceable. The Germans were, were aggressive and our American, because now we've, now we're the defender of the status quo in the world, so we tend to equate ourselves more with the way the British were in the 19th century.
LAMB: We've got a lot to talk about someday again, Robert Massie, if you'll come back. "Dreadnought" is the name of this new book. "Britain, Germany and the Coming of the Great War", that's World War I. Thank you.
MASSIE: Thank you.


Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1992. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.