BRIAN LAMB, HOST: David Fromkin, where did you get the title "In The Time of The Americans"?
Mr. DAVID FROMKIN, AUTHOR, "IN THE TIME OF THE AMERICANS": On an island in--in the Caribbean, the--the island of St. Lucia. I was being shown around the island by a taxi driver who was my guide and I saw some ruins through underbrush and stopped to investigate. It turned out to be the ruins of a landing strip. And as I later figured out, it was a landing strip that was built there just before the United States entered the Second World War at a time when--when we had already decided, however, to come to Britain's aid. And when I asked the driver what that was, what he said was, `It's from the time of the Americans.' And I loved that phrase, and it kept resounding in my head and I knew I had to use it as a title sometime for something. And when the proper subject arrived, I knew (snaps fingers) that was it.
LAMB: When did you get the idea for this book?
Mr. FROMKIN:When the Soviet bloc collapsed followed by the Soviet Union.
And I was so grateful not really for what had happened, but for the fact that
I was alive to witness and see the end of the story and see how it came out.
And then I thought, `It's not just the end of one story, it's really the end
of many stories.' And that was how I had the idea for the book.
LAMB: What's the time frame of the book?
Mr. FROMKIN:The time frame--it's the--it's a generation--excuse me--a
generational history, if you will. It's about American leaders who were born
in the 1880s or early 1890s, and who played in any role throughout the 20th
century. It ends on Inauguration Day, 1961, when the generation with which I
deal, Eisenhower's generation, handed over the torch to the younger
generation, Jack Kennedy's generation.
LAMB: Five men here on this cover. Why these five?
Mr. FROMKIN:Actually--actually, the book follows more than five. The--the
book follows mo--more in the nature of a dozen or a dozen and a half. These
five were amongst--amongst the most prominent and the--they were, I felt,
typical--typical, as it were, o--of all--but it really isn't just about those
five men. It's about those five men and their--their peers, their friends,
their enemies, and throughout the book I, therefore, follow the careers of,
oh, maybe about 15 or 18 people.
LAMB: From what perch have you written this book? Where do you reside all
Mr. FROMKIN:I'm--I'm not quite sure...
LAMB: Where do you live?
Mr. FROMKIN:Oh, where do I live? I live in New York City and since--since
last year, I've been commuting to Boston University where I'm chairman of the
International Relations Department. But during the whole of the time that I
wrote that book, I was in New York City.
LAMB: Doing what?
Mr. FROMKIN:Writing the book. It was--it was practically full time.
LAMB: How many books have you written?
Mr. FROMKIN:This is the--this is the fourth.
LAMB: What kind of books have you written before this one?
Mr. FROMKIN:The--the book immediately before this was a--was like this, a
history intended for a popular audience. It was a called "A Peace to End All
Peace," and it was about the creation of the modern Middle East--how that
happened, how that came about. And that book had a--I'm--I was very happy to
say a--a--you know, a great success. Before then, I had written a--a theory
of international relations called "The Independence of Nations," and my first
book was a--a--a--a book about politics and government, a sort of philosophy
of politics, called "The Question of Government."
LAMB: How about a--just a thumbnail sketch from your perspective of the five.
Let's start with F.D.R.
Mr. FROMKIN:Roosevelt is the most difficult character to write about, I
should think, in the whole of history. He was a man of immense
contradictions, and I don't know of any biographer of Roosevelt who ha--has
felt that he's really somehow got the whole man or found the secret of him.
Roosevelt was an aristocrat; he was born to a wealthy and--and prominent
family. He seemed, as a young man, to be a--a person who is intellectually
shallow. He--he wasn't very good at school; he wasn't very interested, it
seemed, in serious things. And even l--after he embarked on his political
career, even after he became president of the United States, there were many
who came away from conversations with him thinking him a person who had very
little information, very little intellect, didn't seem very serious. And on
the other hand, he was this man who, in the great strategic decisions of the
Second World War, on the big things, was just about always right when
even--even--even the most accomplished of his professional advisers were on
the other side. He's a true mystery, but a magic personality; somebody
endlessly fascinating to think about and to write about.
LAMB: Harry Truman.
Mr. FROMKIN:Harry Truman was deceptively simple. He seemed simple; he made
himself seem simple. He was actually, it seems to me, a very engaging person,
a very smart person, but much more--had much more depth to him than--than
he--than he let on. He--he played the part to perfection of an ordinary man.
He was not an ordinary man.
LAMB: Dwight Eisenhower.
Mr. FROMKIN:Eisenhower, oddly enough, because he was so different from
Truman in so--so many ways, was much like him in that Eisenhower pretended--he
pretended to be unable to speak clearly, unable to write clearly. He played
the part also--just--just a plain old good guy and he, too, was a man--of--of
great depth. And as we n--now know, he was a president who was very much in
charge of his presidency while--while allowing others to be out front there
and seem to be making the decisions, but he made the decisions.
LAMB: George Marshall.
Mr. FROMKIN:George Marshall was a person of great character who impressed
himself on--on--on--on his contemporaries by--by force of his virtue and his
character. He was a great organizer, a great administrator and played a
tremendous role in the winning of the Second World War.
LAMB: General Douglas MacArthur.
Mr. FROMKIN:MacArthur was a fascinating figure. He was a man of--of--of
genius, of brilliance. He was a--a--a--a--a flashy, colorful character who
lived an extraordinary life. He was amazingly courageous on the battlefield.
He--his was an extraordinary persona, which--a persona that he worked hard and
his mother worked hard at creating.
LAMB: What different--let me go back the other way. What different jobs did
General Douglas MacArthur have in his life?
Mr. FROMKIN:He was a--until his retirement, he was--he was a professional
Army officer throughout his life. He--he went--went to West--West Point,
graduating top of his class and achieving the highest grades of anyone
other--since Robert E. Lee. He served in--in many posts. From the beginning,
he did heroic deeds, beginning in--in 1914 with a visit to--to Mexico. I
think I'm right on that--1914. I might be off by a year. He was a courageous
battlefield general in the First World War and, of course, he was
our--our--our--our general in the Philippines at the outbreak of the Second.
He was in command of the--of the southern part of the s--Pacific campaign in
the Second World War. He was our commander and--occupation commander in
Japan. He was our initial commander in the Korean War, and he retired to a
job as chairman--chairman of the board of a large corporation.
LAMB: I don't know if this is a fair question, but I'm going to ask it on
each one of these men. What was the biggest mistake that General MacArthur
made in his life?
Mr. FROMKIN:Greatest mistake that he made was in Korea, not stopping at the
waist of the peninsula after he had won these great victories at Inchon. He
didn't stop when he could have stopped. He went ahead to the Yalu frontier
and--and--and--and--and--and set up an enormous disaster, which clouded his
reputation. Had he stopped where he should have stopped, I--I--he--he--he
would--he would--he would truly, I think, be remembered as one of the gr--one
of the great, great generals.
LAMB: What did you mean by the waist in the 38th parallel as being...
Mr. FROMKIN:I mean ab--above the 38th parallel, but he--there's
a--there--there--there's a spot where the--the--the mountains go down and--on
a--on a north/south basis, and you don't want--if you're a commander going
there, you don't want to get in that position because you have to split your
troops this way and that way. But he did that and he shouldn't have done
that. He should have stopped.
LAMB: Did he go all the way to the Chinese border?
Mr. FROMKIN:He went all the way up, yes, although there were signs that if
he did so, they'd come in against us with their limitless manpower and--and he
shouldn't have done that.
LAMB: Korean War what years?
Mr. FROMKIN:Korean War began in 1950 and--it--it was--it was around--about
then that all of this occurred that we're talking about.
LAMB: Did General George Marshall make any mistakes? And what was the--what
were the jobs that he had?
Mr. FROMKIN:General Marshall was also a professional soldier. He went not
to West Point, but to Virginia--Virginia Military Institute and was
served--served in the First World War as a very much admired and highly
effective staff officer to the American commander, General Pershing. He, just
before the Second World War, became America's chief of staff, and it was he
who organized our victory in that war. Later, he became both secretary of
defense and secretary of state. And it seems to me that all of Marshall's
serious mistakes were--didn't matter. It didn't matter because he was wrong
when he--when in--he was wrong in thinking that when Nazi Germany invaded
Soviet Russia in 1941, he gave the Russians no chance. But his superior,
President Roosevelt, did. And time and again, in the Second Worl--World War
on--on several really big things, Marshall was wrong. But it didn't matter.
His boss, the commander in chief, Franklin Roosevelt, made the right decision,
not following Marshall's advice. So I don't think that anything on which he
was very wrong had consequences.
LAMB: We could come back to this, but I--in--in case we don't, let me just
ask you, for those people who don't know the answer, what was the Marshall
Plan, and why was it named after him?
Mr. FROMKIN:Marshall was se--secretary of state at the time. He set forth
the plan in a speech at Harvard. President Truman named the plan for him, in
part out of admiration for him, in part out of generosity and in part because
Roos--Ro--Marshall had, indeed, played a major role in getting together the
various groups that--that conceived of this plan. It was a plan to save
Western Europe. Western Europe was then in dire straits economically, and
therefore socially. Society had broken down. The link between the
countryside and the city had broken down. The farmers kept the food, didn't
send it in to the cities, because they didn't have faith in the money with
which the cities could pay. People were starving. It was the coldest--1947
was the coldest winter within memory in Europe and, yes, there was the threat
of a Communist takeover. But beyond that, it was simply the fact that these
countries--our friends, our allies were--were simply going under.
And Marshall's plan was--was a plan for the United States to put up the seed
money, the pump-priming money so--t--for these societies to get on their feet.
But the key element of it was it was the Europeans themselves who would have
to create the plan for their recovery. We'd back them, but they had to do
the--they had to create the plan. It wasn't a plan that we were going to
think of and tell them, `You do this because this is what we want you to do.'
Marshall had--had--had--had--had the wisdom to see that--that we had--if these
people were going to stand on their own feet, they had to make the plan, they
had to make the decisions. What we would do is simply give them the--the
bridge financing so that they could do it.
LAMB: What jobs did General Eisenhower have?
Mr. FROMKIN:Eisenhower, another professional soldier, went to West Point,
was a drill master in the--in the First World War--never got overseas, though
he wanted to; was in the peace time Army; served as an aide to General
MacArthur when MacArthur was chief of staff; and was the American general in
command of our first Atlantic campaign offensive by leading our troops into
North Africa in 1942. He then became the commander who won the war in Europe
for us as commander of--of our attack on--on France and Western Europe. He
was NATO commander after the war. He was president of Columbia University for
a while, and then ran for the presidency.
LAMB: How did it work there when--you--you point out in your book that
General Eisenhower was called out of being president of Columbia University,
and I think George Marshall was called back in dur--during the Korean War from
another job. Where were all these men at that point, and how did they--who
called them back and for what reason?
Mr. FROMKIN:Well, Har--Harry Truman called them back. Truman called back
Eisenhower because--because we really needed him to--to--to--to serve
in--in--in--in--in Europe as our--as our NATO commander when NATO was set up.
And--and Marshall was called back because he was needed during the Korean War.
He--he had been in retirement.
LAMB: And they just came back in, put on their uniforms and went back to
Mr. FROMKIN:Yeah. But this was a generation that believed strongly in
service and the service to their country.
LAMB: Did General Eisenhower make any mistakes--big mistakes?
Mr. FROMKIN:No, I don't think that he--I don't think that he did. He
certainly made mistakes, but I--I--I--I think, for example, he was mistaken
not to have, from the beginning, come out flatly against Senator Joseph
McCarthy and I think he should have--should have denounced the Indiana
senator, Senator Jenner, who--who had called General Marshall--it--something
like a traitor in a living lie--some--some--some terrible thing that
Eisenhower knew was untrue. He was not very brave morally when I think he
should have been. But if--if you mean the kind of mistake that--that--that
has dramatic, terrible consequences for the country, then I think that
Eisenhower made no mistakes.
LAMB: Joe McCarthy did what?
Mr. FROMKIN:Joe McCarthy made a career of denouncing people as spies,
traitors and Communists, whether they were or not.
LAMB: Wisconsin, Republican.
Mr. FROMKIN:Yes. Began as a Democrat--switched.
LAMB: In the Senate?
Mr. FROMKIN:No. Before it--before the--before the war, he was a--he was a
judge in Wisconsin, he was--he was a member--he was a Democrat, but he
switched to the Republican Party and ran for the Senate in 1946, just after
LAMB: Harry Truman. What jobs did he have?
Mr. FROMKIN:Harry Truman had lots of jobs. He didn't have the money to go
through college, so he worked in many--he was--he worked as a--as a bank
clerk, he was a farmer, he speculated in minerals leases, he went into the
Army into the First World War as a citizen soldier. When he came back with a
partner, he went into the haberdashery business; tried to make suc--success of
that. But his--his successes came when he became--when he--when he went into
public life. He became a judge and he ran for--for the Senate, and as a
senator, he made a name for himself. And during the war, he headed a
committee that looked into the industries that were supplying the war effort,
and that was an outstanding job that he did, and that brought him to public
LAMB: Make any mistakes?
LAMB: You say that he didn't know F.D.R. hardly at all whe--he was vice
president for three months and then F.D.R. died. He didn't really know him at
Mr. FROMKIN:Didn't really know him and, as a matter of fact, Roosevelt had
intervened against him the last time he had written--ru--the last time he ran
for the Senate, so Roosevelt was not close to him politically. And he knew
very little about Roosevelt's foreign policy or what commitments had been made
or about the various secrets that the president had in the running of the war.
LAMB: The last person in reverse order is F.D.R. What were the jobs that he
Mr. FROMKIN:Roosevelt was wealthy and didn't have to work. He began his
career as a lawyer--didn't spend very many years at it; ran for the state
Senate in his county in--in--in New York. After one term there, he went to
Washington as assistant secretary of the Navy, in which capacity he served
during the First World War. He then ran for vice president in 1920.
After--unsuccessfully--after a gre--after a bout and a fight against polio, he
returned to politics, ran for and--and--and won the job of governor of New
York, and then ran for the presidency and was elected for an unprecedented
four terms. I think any--of--of him, you can truly say that his career was
being president of the United States.
Mr. FROMKIN:No big ones.
LAMB: At the end--practically at the end of a 620-page book--by the way, did
you have to cut it down?
Mr. FROMKIN:No. I tried to, because I like thin books myself, and I made
it as--as--as thin as--as thin as I could. But this was--these were men
who--who lived the history of the 20th century, and I was following them for
80 years and it just wasn't possible to present the material in fewer pages
than I did--or at least I couldn't.
LAMB: At the end, there's a footnote I want to read. `Yes, in the 1990s, the
United States has problems it did not have in 1945, including budget and trade
deficits, but these two, in the author's view'--I assume that's you--`are
essentially political problems. That is, what is difficult is not solving
them, but having the political will to do what is necessary to solve them.
That also is the message in the text above.' Is that the message in the
Mr. FROMKIN:There are many messages in the book, but th--that
is--that--that is one above all. These were--these were people who--who had
the character to win, who had the character to do--to do things the right way,
who had courage. And--yeah, their's is a success story and--and--and--and
success was--was--was, in my view, due--due to these qualities of courage and
character that they had.
LAMB: William Bullitt?
Mr. FROMKIN:William Bullitt is a minor character who appears a great deal
in the book because he almost always seemed to be there when big things were
happening. There are--there are people like that, people who are there
where--you know, where the action is. He was such a person. He was very
bright, maybe the brightest man in his--in his class at school, in a class
that--that had a lot of bright people in it at Yale. He's charming. He's
good-looking. He was from a wealthy family that was related to everybody,
and he was glib and--and fast. He wanted very much to be involved in the big
decisions, and so he was. Throughout--throughout much of the first half of
the 20th century, if you look at what was going on, Bill Bullitt was there.
I had found that--that--and I'm not alone in this--that it makes--it makes for
a more interesting book for you as a reader--for me as a reader--if there is
some character whom you can follow through the action year after year and
year, see things through that person's eyes. Bullitt is that, in many ways,
for this book. I can follow him because he was there.
LAMB: How did you find out about him, and is there new information in the
Mr. FROMKIN:There's information that isn't generally known. There are no
secrets in the book that are revealed. Indeed, that would not be possible.
The Bullitt papers are--are--are no longer even here in this country, nor are
they available for--for--for scholars.
LAMB: Where are they?
Mr. FROMKIN:In Ireland in a locked trunk, I am told.
Mr. FROMKIN:The person who owns them took them there and has left them
LAMB: Who owns them?
Mr. FROMKIN:His daughter. But I--I--I--I was not in contact with her. And
the--the papers, by and large, were--were--had been available at Yale years
ago, so--and--and they were seen by scholars and so I was able, from secondary
sources, to--to read those papers. And sure, I'd--I'd--I'd heard
about--I'd--I'd heard about him from time to time before setting--setting out
to work on the book. But when I found him everywhere--and he was a witty
man--a witty, charming interesting man, it was kind of fun to--to--to follow
events through his eyes.
LAMB: Who made him ambassador to France and ambassador to Russia?
Mr. FROMKIN:Franklin Roosevelt did. He--he didn't know Roosevelt
particularly well--there's--there's some question whether he really knew him
at all before Roosevelt ran for the presidency in 1932. But Bullitt made it
his business to establish connections with Roosevelt, to volunteer his
services and he met Roosevelt about a month or two before the elections and
impressed Roosevelt with his fast mind and his extraordinary knowledge of
European politics. And--and Roosevelt gave him a few jobs that he did very
quickly when--when Roosevelt was elected and then he became ambassador first
to Russia, then to France.
LAMB: You say at the end, though, he wrote a book that wasn't very nice to
Mr. FROMKIN:He was embittered at the end. And he--he--the--the really
bitter book, however, was the one he did with Sigmund Freud, the father of
psychoanalysis; the--the book the two of them did together on Woodrow Wilson.
That was the president that--that--that Bullitt really felt betrayed by.
Mr. FROMKIN:Bullitt, then a very young man, in 1919 was sent by the
American delegation to the peace conference. He was sent on a mission to the
new Bolshevik Communist government of Russia to Lenin to see if somehow
th--the West, the Western allies, could make a deal with him, with Lenin. He
was sent on this mission--he understood it--by Wilson--that--that it was
Wilson who had sent him. In any event, Wilson seemed to authorize that trip.
Bullitt went; he came back with an awfully good deal. I mean, if that deal
had been made and--a big if--if Lenin had kept it, it would have been a very
advantageous deal from the point of view of the United States and Britain and
their allies. So Bullitt--very proud of himself. He was a young man in his
late 20s and trusted with this very important mission. He--he did it. He
came there. He succeeded. He came back. He expected a hero's welcome and
instead Wilson simply disavowed him.
When afterwards Wilson also seemed to abandon his political principles by
making agreements at the peace conference contrary to what his liberal young
supporters thought he would agree to, Bullitt had an opportunity to say that
Wilson not only betrayed him personally, William--William Bullitt, but--but
Wilson had betrayed his ideals and had betrayed a whole generation of liberal
young Americans who had followed the president and idolized him and had
LAMB: How did you first get interested in history?
Mr. FROMKIN:I always have been. That's--that's all--all I can say. It
wasn't--it--it--it's an interest that I've had since childhood. I've always
had a passion for politics and for literature, and history, of course, is
where they come together.
LAMB: Where'd you grow up?
Mr. FROMKIN:In Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And my--my--my favorite books growing
up were the Alexandre Dumas historical romances. Those were the first books
of history that I read--full of romance, full of action, a lot of sword play
and such--and those were my favorites.
LAMB: What was your family like?
Mr. FROMKIN:My father was--my father was a lawyer and m--my--m--my parents
were--were both people who read a great deal. And--and my earliest memories
are of roaming around my father's library, pulling out the books and looking
at them, reading what I liked.
LAMB: Where'd you go to college?
Mr. FROMKIN:I went to college at the University of Chicago. I went under a
program that then existed--I went to college from 10th grade high school
and--under another system that--then--then applied, I--I placed out of two
years of college. So I--I graduated--I graduated college when I was 17 and
then I went on to law school, also at the University of Chicago. And much
later, I went to the Univ--the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies of the
University of London in London. But I did that after serving in the Army for
a few years.
LAMB: How many years in the Army?
Mr. FROMKIN:Three years.
LAMB: Where were you?
Mr. FROMKIN:In--al--almost the entire time I was in Verdun in northeastern
France. I--I was trained--I had my basic training at Ft. Benning, Georgia,
and then I was trained as an Army lawyer at the University of Virginia and
then went over to Verdun.
LAMB: What was your first civilian job?
Mr. FROMKIN:Working for a Wall Street law firm called Simpson Thatcher and
Bartlett. So long ago was it that my--my first day's work was for Cyrus Vance
and he was then a junior partner in the firm. He is now, of course, very much
the senior partner.
LAMB: You still know him?
Mr. FROMKIN:Yes, I do.
LAMB: How long were you a practicing lawyer?
Mr. FROMKIN:It--it's hard to say because I--I--it--I sort of gradually did
it less and less and less. But I was--I was a full-time lawyer an--and I was
full--and I was a lawyer in the Army for three years. But I was a full-time
lawyer in civilian life for about five years--five or six years, and I left
Simpson Thatcher after a few years because I wanted to pursue other--other
possibilities. I found myself doing less and less and less legal work, but
I'm not sure what the year is that which I sort of stopped.
LAMB: What did you do next?
Mr. FROMKIN:Became involved in a--in a number of business projects and then
I started to write and--and, of course, now I'm a university professor, so...
LAMB: How long have you done that?
Mr. FROMKIN:I started a year ago, and it's been challenging and great fun.
LAMB: You mean, until a year ago, you were in business.
Mr. FROMKIN:Until a year--well, until a year ago, I'd--the last few years
before--before coming to--to Boston, I focused almost entirely on my writing.
LAMB: Whe--when did you think you could write books, and why?
Mr. FROMKIN:I always thought so, but I thought that I wou--what I was going
to write--I--I didn't think I was going to write non-fiction. I thought that
I was going to write novels. And somehow that didn't happen. But at--at--at
a certain point, I thought--you know, I've always thought of myself as a
writer. I thought that everything that I'm doing is getting experience that I
will write about some day; I really ought to sit down and write. So I sat
down and started writing.
LAMB: When you went after this book right here, how did you approach it? How
did you--how did you manage it?
Mr. FROMKIN:Do you--do you mean the...
LAMB: Well, when you sat--when you sat down to--when you decided, `I'm going
to write this book...'
Mr. FROMKIN:Oh, how...
LAMB: ...how did you organize it?
Mr. FROMKIN:OK. I talked--I talked the i--I talked through the idea for
the book with--with my agent, my literary agent, and with one or two close
friends. And having done that, I--I--I sat down and drafted out a book
proposal, in draft, sent it to my agent; she had some suggestions and
corrections and so on, did several drafts. When we finally got it right, the
way it looked right, with an outline and--and--and--and--and such, she
submitted it to a number of editors at various publishing houses she thought
would be--would be interested in it. She then held a book auction at which
the various publishers bid for the right to do this.
And then when I had the relationship established with--with Alfred Knopf and
my editor there, Ashe Green, we talked over what I should do, and then I sat
down and started to write.
LAMB: How long did it take total to write?
Mr. FROMKIN:It took almost four years.
LAMB: You dedicate this to `John and Martha Watts, who make it all
LAMB: Who are they?
Mr. FROMKIN:They're wonderful friends of mine who built a wonderful boat
and are--and are sailing around the world in it. And I, at one or two points,
joined them. They are pioneers in living the kind of life that I would like
LAMB: There's--there's this following paragraph I want to read and I want you
to unwind it.
Mr. FROMKIN:Oh, OK.
LAMB: It's deep in the book, about 518 pages in. `Hoover'--J. Edgar
Hoover--`now generally believed to have been homosexual, also was a homophobe
and was enraged that a degenerate such as'--either Ophey (pronounced Ophie) or
Ophey (pronounced Offie), which--which is it? Ophey (pronounced Offie)?
Mr. FROMKIN:I don't know. I think Ophey (pronounced Offie), but...
LAMB: ...`could hold office. It was Ophey, of course, a homosexual himself,
who had been in charge of Bullitt's campaign to smear Sumner Welles for his
Mr. FROMKIN:These were a group of very ambitious people who would do
anything to eliminate one another.
LAMB: What year would that have been?
Mr. FROMKIN:The--OK, the campaign against Sumner Welles w--w--which is the
end--the end of the paragraph you read, but unraveling it would--is--it's in
order of time.
LAMB: Who was he?
Mr. FROMKIN:Sumner Welles was a--was the undersecretary of state, the
number-two man in the State Department. The number-one person, the secretary
of state, was Cordell Hull, a courtly old politician from--from middle America
and a man of great political power and influence in the administration of
President Roosevelt. Hull had been secretary of state throughout. Sumner
Welles, who was considerably younger than Franklin Roosevelt, was a sort of
protege of his. His mother had been a family friend either of Roosevelt's
family or Eleanor Roosevelt's family, I'm not quite--I don't quite remember.
But in any event, he was a family friend, he was a person of old and very good
family. He chose a career in the State Department with the encouragement of
Franklin Roosevelt. And whe--when he became number-two person in the State
Department at the end of the 1930s, he was the person at state that the
president talked to, going--circumventing the secretary of state, who should
have been the person that the president spoke to.
So there was a great deal of resentment by many people of Welles because he
had access to the president ….and--and--and--and great
influence. William Bullitt had a friend, a family friend, that he had hoped
would get that job of undersecretary, but didn't. Welles got it. And Bullitt
wa--a--at that point, needed a job for himself. He had been ambassador to
France, but France had fallen to Nazi Germany, and so Bullitt was back here in
America. Bullitt wanted--I think wanted that jo--he wanted either that job or
he wanted the j--secretary of state job. But in any event, he decided on a
campaign to drive Welles out of government. And, as I say, it's quite clear
that it was because Bullitt wanted that job.
And Welles, when--when--when--when drunk, it seems, had propositioned some
sleeping car porters on a train. The episode had been more or less hushed up,
but Bullitt investigated and got a lot of documents to show that this
homosexual episode had taken place and Bullitt came to President Roosevelt,
presented his evidence, pretended that it--gave--gave a kind of false story as
to where the evidence came from, and tried to get Roosevelt to fire Welles.
And when Roosevelt wouldn't do it, Bullitt had his henchman, Carmel Ophey,
his--his--his aide, his--whatever you want to call him, but he was--so he
was--he was the person who did things for--for Bullitt--went around showing
these incriminating documents to, apparently, anybody he could get to look at
them in--in--in--in this campaign.
So that's--that was the beginning of this whole messy thing. J. Edgar
Hoover, the head of the FBI, in turn, wa--wanted--wanted--wanted--wanted to
get rid of--of--of Bullitt's man, Ophey, who it turns--it--it is--it is said
was--was--was homosexual--or at any rate, there were allegations that he was.
So all of these people were using--us--using allegations of homosexuality
against one another.
LAMB: Was this all stuff you found in other books, or...
Mr. FROMKIN:Yeah, it was.
LAMB: As you know, behind Lenin's tomb at the Kremlin is buried an American
by the name of John Reed. And you talk early in this book that John Reed, I
think, and Walter Lippmann were roommates?
Mr. FROMKIN:They were--I--they were not roommates, but they were--they
were--they were classmates. They knew each other--they knew each other in
college and Lippmann was very prominent in his college class. He was...
Mr. FROMKIN:At--at Harvard. In--in--in a great class. He was the
president of various student clubs. And Reed, who felt wa--wha--himself
somewhat of an outsider, was somebody who tried to get in to many of these
clubs. In any--any event, they knew each other from college.
LAMB: Walter Lippmann's name comes up--I mean he--I--I checked--I--I seen
so--I had seen it so often, I checked the index, and he gets more mentions
even than President Truman or some of the other main characters you have in
Mr. FROMKIN:In part because he was one of the most articulate men in the
LAMB: What did he do then, and how long was he involved in American political
Mr. FROMKIN:He was a journalist. He was an editor. He--he--he wrote a
column. He was the original pundit, in the sense that he--he--he was perhaps
the first person to write a column of political opinion on a regular basis in
a journal that was--that was followed by readers throughout the country. He
became a great--a great force--I mean, now--now the idea of--of--of--of--of
people with a political column is a very old-hat kind of thing. We--we--we
don't think of it as--as new. In Lippmann's day, it was. And--so he was--he
was always writing about events; he often was involved in them.
He was extraordinarily influential as a journalist from--from the very--from
the very beginning--from--from when he was in his 20s--extraordinarily
brilliant person. And he--he was the--the subject of an outstanding biography
by my friend Ronald Steel quite some--some years ago. And he's--his is a very
good vantage point, also, through which to see the big events of the 20th
century because he was always--because he wrote about them and he wrote
intelligently about them.
LAMB: He was the editor of The New Republic--what years? Do you remember?
Mr. FROMKIN:He was--he was at--there at the start of The New Republic
in--in--in 1914, or if not at the start, then shortly afterwards. And he
became the editor just very soon. I--I don't--I--I don't--I don't remember
the exact date, but he--he was the editor in the 19 teens.
LAMB: How did John Reed get to the Kremlin wall as--where he's buried?
Mr. FROMKIN:John Reed was a romanticist and he--he had been first to Mexico
to witness the revolution there, because he loved the idea of revolutions.
And--and he went to Russia during the First World War, and loved Russia. He
said everything Russian was better than anything else. And then he was there
to witness the taking of power by Lenin and his followers--the Bolshevik
Revolution. And he--he wrote back dispatches filled with sort of white-hot
fervor and he--and--and--well--very excitingly. And he wrote a great
first-hand account, "Ten Days That Shook the World." And he was a hero to
many young Americans because--because he seemed to be living such a romantic,
revolutionary, artistic life. That was John Reed. And--and--of--of cour--and
he took a very favorable view, to say the least, of the--of--of the Bolshevik
leaders. He was completely won over to their cause and--and--and--and--and
that's how he found his way to the Kremlin wall.
LAMB: What would you hope people would get out of your book after they read
Mr. FROMKIN:A sense that R--Franklin Roosevelt was right to think that
Amer--that America can do anything that Americans want to do, that re--that
really, in a--in a trite place, where there's a will there's a way, and that
if we think we can do it, we can do it.
LAMB: Do you feel, after looking back at this entire century, that
Republicans or Democrats did it better?
Mr. FROMKIN:No, just because of the structure of the book and the--the
period that I've taken, of course, it's--the biggest political figure is
Franklin Roosevelt, who is a Democrat, but--but great things were accomplished
under Republicans. And this generation had two mentors--I mean, throughout
the generation, they--they--they had two polls of discourses and thought--one
was a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, one was a Democrat, Woodrow Wilson--and
they learned from both.
LAMB: Let me go through some people and some countries and just get your
LAMB: ...based on the fact that you write about World War I at some length
and World War II. France.
Mr. FROMKIN:France is a country of which I'm very fond. I love being in
France. I love French food. I--I love French wines. I love French
literature. I have close friends in France. I love living in France.
France's politics, in the period about which I write, were absolutely
disgraceful. They--there were--France, in the period about which I wrote, let
us down in--in--in important ways. In the First World War, France let us down
at the peace conference by imposing a peace that--that was unwise because it
was a harsh peace that France could not enforce. It was--it was--it was a
kind of peace that made inevitable the Second World War, and many, many, many
of the counsels and--and--and--offered by our president, they were quite wise,
but the French imposed their kind of peace, a bad kind of peace, that brought
about the Second World War in which they didn't fight. They gave--they--they
really gave up without much of a fight. So I think that, alas--I say this
because I'm very pro-French--France's role in the period about which I write
was not a creditable role.
LAMB: Great Britain.
Mr. FROMKIN:Great Britain, I'm quite--quite the reverse. Great Britain had
her finest hour in the period about which I--I--I write. There was a time
before the United States entered the Second World War and before the Soviet
Union was involved when Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany and--and was
brave to just the most incredible extent. And so I should think Britain comes
out very well in the book.
Mr. FROMKIN:Russia--Soviet Russia come--comes out as a country, I think,
that we all--that we tended to misunderstand, but which I don't mean that we
misunderstood in one sense. I think that Americans, both pro and against
Soviet Russia, tend--tended to misunderstand the Russians, who, at times,
pushed through policies that really seemed much more simple than we were
willing to credit them with. The policies pursued by Stalin were simple,
brutal, often, from our point of view, quite wicked, but--but--but--but
simple. They--they wanted territory and they took it. And we had all sorts
of complicated notions. They--they were doing very simple things like just
Mr. FROMKIN:Germany was at--at--at--at her worst in the period about
which--which I--I write. Not--not nearly in--in--in the obvious years, the
Nazi--the Nazi years. But going back to the First World War where we had
always supposed, until quite recently, that German--that the outbreak of the
First World War was as much a political accident for Germany as for the other
countries involved. But now, through discoveries made by great German
historians, starting with a man named Fritz Fischer, we know that a handful of
people at the top of the German government came--came quite close to actually
plotting and fermenting and causing the start of the war; not the German
people, not even--even the--the German parliament, but this small group of
people around the kaiser did plan the war, did want it, did start it.
Mr. FROMKIN:The United States comes out very well, indeed, in--in the book,
having--the--these were years in which America had tremendous challenges, the
enormous--the two world wars, the Korean War and--and--and the outset of the
Cold War, the Great Depression. And coming up against each one of these
enormous challenges to our national prosperity, our greatness and in some--in
some cases to our--to our existence, the United States always rose to the
challenge and produced great leaders--the leaders that I write about.
LAMB: Winston Churchill.
Mr. FROMKIN:Winston Churchill is--in the years treated by this
book--was--was at his greatest and--and if one looked outside the United
States, one would say certainly the greatest of the world's leaders
during--during the period about which I write.
LAMB: Woodrow Wilson.
Mr. FROMKIN:Woodrow Wilson, a man very difficult to understand, of great
eloquence, but very inconsistent; sometimes--sometimes seemingly an idealist,
at other times seeming to betray those ideals; a difficult and--and complex,
immensely eloquent and immensely interesting man.
LAMB: Averell Harriman's mentioned a lot.
Mr. FROMKIN:Yes, he is. Although Harriman was--was--was--was not so much
a policymaker as--as one who executed policy, but he was one who believed
strongly in--and especially in the last part of his--last half of his
life--in--in--in national service, and he's--he--he contributed greatly to the
success of the Lend-Lease Program in particular. He's also a notably sensible
amba--US ambassador to Moscow and a--a--a critical and--and intelligent
observer of the world scene.
LAMB: You mention something a couple times in here. You mention "The
Education of Henry Adams," but you also write about--and I've seen it so
often, I want to ask you about it.
LAMB: It's right out here, Rock Creek Cemetery...
LAMB: ...is the statue called Grief, and you write about Eleanor Roosevelt
spending time out there. Why?
Mr. FROMKIN:It's a--it's a statue that seems to--to evoke what it was meant
to evoke. He--Henry--Henry Adams had it--had it done be--in his great sorrow
at the unexplained, inexplicable suicide of his wife. And at some point when
people feel--feel grief, it's--it's a statue which seems to speak to them or
comfort them or...
LAMB: Who was Henry Adams, and why--just maybe we'll mention "The Education
of Henry Adams."
Mr. FROMKIN:Henry Adams was an--was a member of a very distinguished
American political family going back to the Founding Fathers, to John
Adams--John Quincy Adams. Henry Adams was a major American writer who's--who
wrote two masterpieces, "Mont-Saint-Michel & Chartres" and "The Education
of--of--of Henry Adams," which--which is a book about what--what he--what he
tried to learn in his--in his lifetime and his--essentially his public
lifetime. He was a person of great--whose--whose--whose thought was of great
influence. He--he also gave out the first PhDs in history--in--in--in the--in
history in the United States.
LAMB: He gave out the first PhDs in history...
Mr. FROMKIN:Yes, in...
LAMB: ...in the United States. Where?
Mr. FROMKIN:At--at Harvard and his--he gave out either three or
four--the--amongst the group receiving the first was Henry Cabot Lodge, who
grew up to be the senator known for having opposed American entry into the...
LAMB: You're talking about the senior. The...
Mr. FROMKIN:Yes. Henry Cabot, yes.
LAMB: Not the--the father of the former ambassador to South Vietnam.
Mr. FROMKIN:The grandfather.
LAMB: When you want to read good history, where do you go? Individuals is
what I'm talking about. Who do you like to read?
Mr. FROMKIN:I--I--I--I lo--I love to--to reread 19th century histories.
I--I--I love Macaulay; go further back, I love to read Gibbon. In--in our--in
our--in the 20th century, I've read and reread the books of the English
historian A.J.P. Taylor, who writes with great wit and verve. But I love
history so, I--I--I've--I've--I--I won't say I read it undiscriminatingly, but
I read widely.
LAMB: How do you know when to trust it?
Mr. FROMKIN:Look at sources, check footnotes, but an awful lot of it is
just feel--just from--from--from--from--from reading the way in which
propositions are put in a book, you can get, I think, a pretty good sense of
how--how responsible the--the--the--the author is. If there's a question, go
check--go check the footnotes and see if they check.
LAMB: The reason I ask you is that, you know, you--in that ch--paragraph I
talked to you about Sumner Welles and Carmel Ophey and...
LAMB: ...J. Edgar Hoover. Deke DeLoach, who used to work for J. Edgar
Hoover, sat right where you are sitting and said that J. Edgar Hoover was not
Mr. FROMKIN:And I don't know. I--what--in--in--in dealing
with--with--with--with these things, what was important to me was not what
happened or what they were. The--one dealt with perceptions, rumors,
allegations, and--and this was an intrigue. The importance of the--of it
was--was the use of rumors, innuendos and allegations in a fight, in a
political fight, and--and--and that was all that I cared about.
LAMB: This is a heck of time to bring it up, when we're near the end...
LAMB: ...but World War I and World War II--what started World War I?
Mr. FROMKIN:As--assassination of the heir to the Habsburg Empire's throne
in Sarajevo in June of 1914, followed by Austria's ultimatum to Serbia, which
act--asked Serbia, in return, practically to give up its independence in
atonement for this--for this act, which Serbia may have--may or may not have
had any connection with. And there was then an alliance system throughout
Europe, so that when one country came in on one side, another automatically
came in on another side. And that's how the war started.
What we now know, however, is that for a couple years beforehand, the German
kaiser and his military advisers had planned, at about that time, to have a
war, and that they expected an episode like that in the Balkans to provide
them with a pretext and it did.
LAMB: What got us in?
Mr. FROMKIN:What got us in was the s--the sinking of--of merchant--US
merchant vessels by German submarines.
LAMB: What started World War II?
Mr. FROMKIN:From--Wo--World War II started because of--of a tax by Nazi
Germany on her neighbors and--and--and Germany's attempt to create something
in the nature of a world empire in alliance as--later with--with Italy--with
Italy, yes, and with Japan and with other countries. From our point of view,
what started it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese followed by a
declaration of war against us by Nazi Germany.
LAMB: But why did Germany--I mean, you alluded to the Versailles Treaty
earlier. Do you think the Versailles Treaty was what brought about World War
Mr. FROMKIN:I think that had Hitler come to power in Germany, even without
the Versailles Treaty, Hitler's program being what it was, Germany--Hitler's
Germany would have aimed at world conquest. But I think that the Versailles
Treaty played a great role in making Germany the kind of country where Hitler
could come to power.
LAMB: What got us into the Korean War?
Mr. FROMKIN:That--whe--when North Korea attacked South Korea, we had to
figure whether that was just one country attacking another or whether North
Korea was acting on behalf of the whole mo--we thought monolithic Communist
empire. If so, we felt we had to--we had to go in to repel their aggression.
LAMB: At what point does your book begin--what year, and what does--year does
Mr. FROMKIN:It begins in 1880 with the birth of the several people who I
follow throughout the book. It ends on Inauguration Day in 1961 when Jack
Kennedy, a member of a much younger generation, takes over from Dwight
Eisenhower, the last representative, in public life, of my--of the generation
with which I deal in the book.
LAMB: What's your next book?
Mr. FROMKIN:A short history of the world, followed by a forecast of what
Mr. FROMKIN:That's what my agent asked.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book we've been talking about--the 620-page
book--"In The Time of The Americans: The Generation That Changed America's
Role In The World" by David Fromkin.
And we thank you for joining us.
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