pulitzer prize winner is honored by the military library. he discusses his writing career with ed tracy, president and ceo of the pritzker military library in chicago. >> the pritzker library presents a presentation from chicago. your host ed tracy. [applause] >> thank you. the best his torian -- historian shares attributes with journalists. they have a keen sense of details in a complex situation and pull the strands of a story
together and letting to brash assumptions secure the truth. in a class by ourself is our guest tonight applying lessons from career in journalism to his work in history. he has sifted through countless military records, and then put on paper the sights, sounds, and smells of the experience as if a good friend were recording a favorite trip or sharing the passing of someone close. tonight, we take a journey through the life and career through an accomplished military man, rich atconditions. later on, we'll be taking questions from our studio audience and those watching from the internet. covering not only germany and nato, but bosnia. he's the author of several books
including the world war ii classics, army at dawn, and day of the battle, as well as in the company of soldiers which followed the 101st airborne division and general david petraeus in iraq. crew crusade and he's at work on the american role in the liberation of europe in world war ii. his awards include the pulitzer prize for reporting and public service, the 2003 pulitzer prize for history, the 1989 george poke aware for national reporting, and the 2007 gurled r. ford award for distinguishing reporting on national defense. please join me in welcoming the 2010 recipient for the pritzker military library award in
military writing rich. [applause] >> it may be eds sigh to give you award for your work. >> i'll take them. >> you would take them. [laughter] >> this is a fascinating career. do you ever wonder if you will wake up and something else will happen? >> i'm afraid i might wake up and something else will happen. i've been very lucky and with many people i've blundered into a real passion, and that was the newspaper business, and then that provided me with the tools and the experience and the wind at my back to become a full-time narrative historian, and so the arc has been unpredictable at times, but i couldn't be luckier. >> i wanted to think of a creative way to talk about all the things that you've done tonight, and i asked a lot of our mutual friends to submit questions to me over the last month and a half, so we're going
to journey down through ideas -- i asked them all, what would you ask rick if you were sitting with him, and one of the people who responded was carol who gave me the concept of truth in journalism and truth in narrative writing. shemented to know if how these thought processes are similar and how they are different. >> well, carol is a history professor at pen state. she was at one time head of the society for military history. you know, i think it's a question of lenses. when you are a journalist, you can look at things through a certain lens of a certain length with a certain aperture on it. when you are writing, say, instand history as a journalist, and i would say this time with general david petraeus, a kind of instant history, that's a
different lens and aperture. when you write what professor allen, previous winner this award calls true history, then that again is a different lens and a different aperture. i think that what i have found at least is that distance on events allows you to see things that obviously you can't see when you are in the middle of them obviously, but when you have that distant, say 65 years from world war ii, it's sometimes hard to recapture the immediacy, the ambiguity of the experience that carl young called it as when you're getting shot at for example or what it smells like because the vivid nature of the sensory swirl of any intense event, war more than any others, is something that is hard to capture when you're at a
far distance from it, so i think my ambition has been to capture what it smells like, but without forfeiting all of the requisites of true history, real history, including the rigors of scholarship, the rigors of documentation, but to allow a reader to access the experience, that historical experience, that in a way in some respects approximates that of the experience of a journalist. >> realtime versus the historical view of things, when you're looking at a situation, is there any time in your process that one's arguing with the other? i mean, which one wins? >> well, sure, there's always a tense or a friction of some sort i suppose. the truth is that when you're
writing narrative history like the trilogy that i'm writing now, you're looking for a kind of olympian perspective on things. you want to have a stateliness in the voice that's very difficult to achieve as a newspaper reporter banging it out on deadline, and so voice dictates to some extent which of those different perspectives will win out, and by voice i mean and everybody here who is a reader knows what voice is, you recognize it, you hear it, and there's an authenticity to voice that's very important for a good his historian or writer of any sort to capture, and i'm always listening to be sure that the voice is authentic and accurate. >> do you enjoy one more than the other? obviously, today, you enjoy being a historian, but for all those years, and you were in
combat with general petraeus, different kind of a situation. >> yeah. >> recording note taking, research, the people you talked to. >> yeah, i think newspaper reporting, journalism in general is a young man's profession, and i can't pretend i qualify anymore so having done it since 1976 and still having a lose affiliation with the "washington post," i cherish that world. it's a world under siege right now for fiscal reasons, but it taught me a great deal, and it taught me a great deal about writing. it taught me a great dahl about, you know, i was an english graduate student here at the university of chicago, and you can be precious as a graduate student of any sort and particularly an english graduate, and one thing journalism did for me i got pass the the preciousness of it.
if i didn't sit there and bang it out, i didn't get paid, and that strips away your illusions that every little word absolutely must be perfect, so i think that that was actually a useful part of my maturation as a writer. >> you grew up in germany, an army brat, and the time that you spent early on in germany in europe, did that help develop your interest in world war ii, and was anyone influ encial -- influence you with the writing? >> my father was a lieutenant and we your in salzberg for three years of my life. i can't say there was a great influence there. i was three years old and i don't remember any of it. [laughter]
frankly, there was always a question of what were we doing in central europe in the mid-50s? we were there because my father who had come into the army as a lieutenant in 1943 got out after the war ended, went back to college, and then went back to the army and made a career out it, and growing up on army posts around the country in the 50s and 60s, world war ii was certainly very much part of the landscape. it was part of the culture. there were a lot of world war ii vet -- veterans around needless to say. i think i was impresented with innative interest in it in that respect. as far as influences in writing, you know, i was encouraged by my parents. i had some skill at it as a teenager, certainly an interest in it, and then the usual
procession of teachers at various levels who encouraged it, but i found, and i certainly preach this to others who are interested in is the best way to determine if you are good at it and if you like it is you have to get out and do it. you can talk about it and so on, but it is very much a physical act, and, you know, one of the things that people discover that i have certainly discovered over decades is it's a very solitary thing. even in a newsroom composing, you are doing it by yourself, and as a big writer of big fat books, i have the, you know, it's really a fortress of solitude, and you are confined there until you get the task done, and if you don't like that, if you're enough of a social creature that you cannot handle that solitude, then it's probably not the right thing for you, and sometimes that takes
awhile to determine whether or not you are constitutional suited for it. >> your editor and also ob obviously knows how you write your books and you have a deep long research process that you're targeted in your outlining, and then you write. can you expand on how you approach this? >> sure. targeted is a nice word. compulsive would be another word. [laughter] it dee deuterates from there. [laughter] well, as one knows leading the path for many of us, the research fades and is long and tedious depending on what you are writing about. if it's as big as world war ii, it can be incredibly long. i began working on this trilogy
in 1999, and the third volume should be published in 2013. that's 14 years of my life. that's deep research, and for me that involves a lot of our research, the secondary material because the library is full of books on world war ii, and it doesn't begin to scratch the surface of all the books. amazon listed 50,000 titles. the secondary research is daunting. where you make your money and where it's fun is primary research where you are rooting through various archives, large and small around the country and around the world. i lived in washington, d.c. so i'm fortunate to be close to the national archives, the military history institute in pennsylvania where the army keeps many records, the library of congress and so on, and there's other obscure archives, and i'm crawling. i'm looking for, you know, civil
war, a novelist, and then wrote a trilogy on the civil war saying a fact is is not a truth until you love it, and i'm looking for facts to love, and that process, you can obviously wander into the woods and never wander out, so i set deadlines for myself, and the deadline for ending research on volume three was the end of april of this year, and then i'm stopping. i did stop because you just got to stop. you can never grasp all of it, and then i spend, just coming to the end of the process now, months, and i've been spending since the end of april, constructing a very large cumbersome process and various notes in the archives and deciding where this goes, where
that goeses, where this goes. i got a narrative structure and it fits or it doesn't fit, you snow? a lot involves throwing things out. that's the hardest part in some ways. the outline which i'm just about finished is 600,000 words. that's more than twice the length of this book, but now i've got a map, and i've got an index of where everything is located, and so as i'm now combing out the outline, cleaning it up, and the next days is writing which i'll start right after thanksgiving, and i will use that outline as a guide to myself of where i'm going and telling this immense tale, this profound tale, the greatest tragedy in human history, and if you don't have a map, you can get lost very easily, and so i
will use that as my road map as i negotiate my way through volume iii. >> you started writing one book, and then decided it would be three? >> it was three from the beginning. >> okay, yeah, because nothing could be 2400 pages long. [laughter] >> well, you know, i've always thought of it as one book, but i'm just making people buy it three times. [laughter] >> i want to talk a little bit about traveling around and finding these archives and these people. i get a sense there are about 20 or more knowledgeable people in the world who know where this stuff a hidden, but i know you go to battlefields, walk, and talk with people. tell us about that part of the research. >> i think it's very important to spend time there because the ground really speaks to you. anyone who has ever been to get
-- gettysberg knows the ground speaks to you. what's important to me it also to have a better understanding of topography and understand the operational issues involved. i spend a lot of time there and having lived in berlin for three years in the mid-90s, i was there for the 50th anniversary of d-day, and the bulge and so on. that was the first opportunity really to look at that ground, and then i've been back subsequently, and i just think it's a critical part of, among other things, the emotional resonance of what you are trying to write. i believe deeply it is a profoundly emotional subject, war. to somehow unplug yourself from
that emotion is a mistake, and one the ways you remain plugged in is to go there and see what they did and where they did it and so on. i also believe that it's important not to glorify. you know, the notion that all the brothers were value went and all the sisters were there is false. they had had enormous feet of clay like we all do and to accommodate that somehow as you write about it historically makes them, i believe, more profound characters, and in many cases, they are required to overcome their shortcomings, and i believe that is one the reasons that these characters can still resinate with us now
decades after they are gone. >> you've also talked a little bit about your idea of try ang giewlation -- triang giewlation and can you talk about that process? >> have i talked about that? >> yeah, actually, it was -- well it was the opposing forces and the citizens, so by visiting you get that third picture, that third area. >> yeah, i mean, clearly in any conflict that's fought across a landscape that includes non combats, that's important to understand. that's the resonance of it. those of us who enthusiast and you see a little town where there were a bunch of shoe maker s living and then you have lee
and this enormous historical thing falls on the town and understanding the impact it had on individual lives, every day lives is important, and obviously for what i'm writing about now, world war ii, fell on a lot of towns and a lot of cities, and trying to understand that so that you understand the opposing forces, allies, but also those who are caught in between somehow. that's an important part, i i think, of history. >> a friend of ours asked that he said to say rick is one of my favorite people. give him my best. prior to your trilogy, much was written about the american experience in world war ii, what did you encover in your research -- uncover in your research that most surprised you? >> well, every day i'm surprised and i'm surprised every day that i'm surprised at this point.
one of our great soldiers, ph.d. from north carolina and a very, very interesting character. well, the many things that surprised me, and i think one of the things that surprised me early on as i was coming to this as a no vies not studying this for a lifetime, but i was surprised at the degree of american generals. bradly, patton, the list goes on and on and on that are anglo fhobes. he escapes that kind of anglo
phobia that entraps many. it intensifies as the war goes on, and there's all kinds of reasons for it. one of the reasons is there are fundamentally 19th century men. george marshall born 1880, eisenhower born in 1890, and it's not that far removed from their boyhoods to the brit british as our enemy where the british try to keep us from getting independence, burned the capitol in the war of 1812 and so on. i think they are deeply imprinted with there's other reasons too with world war i experiences also. this surprises me. coalition warfare is the game here. the best team is going to win world war ii. eisenhower understands that in his bones, really. really, that's his job too. historian a midland field officer at best.
that's not his job. his job is to hold together in desperate coallation which has many forces pulling on it, and one of the forces is this deep seeded an mist that many of our generals in particular feel towards the british, and so that surprised me. you know, there's many surprises about character and lack of character that you come across. i continue to find things that, you know, one of the great things about researching a subject that is as bottomless after world war ii, and it is bottomless. people will be writing about it and hopefully reading about it 500 years from now is that no one has looked at everything. the u.s. army records alone from world war ii. that's one service, one country, weighs 17,000 tons. all right. no one has looked at more than a
small fraction of that, and so there's -- it's obviously daunting, but there's opportunity there because you can do your crawling, and if you are an archive rat like i am, you can find wonderful things that have not been found. i'll give you one example. the english channel as you know is a body of water separating the united kingdom from france and if you want to attack france, you have to cross that channel. well, that's a difficult proposition because you know that there's enemy forces there waiting for you, and you know to slide over it -- fly over it or even to land with gladiers or airplanes is difficult and to sail across is difficult. what's your alternative? digging underneath the tunnel. the tum as we now call it was an idea that came up in thinking of
no doubt a room for of young smart majors #, and they did a study. they studied whether or not it was physically feasible to channel under the tunnel and attack that way. the study came back. i found it in the national archives. it's a really wonderful thing. the study came back and said, yes, this is feasible. it would require moving 50,000 cubic meters of soil, and it would take, i don't remember, it was 100,000 men, six months i think to dig this thing, but there was one problem they could never get passed, that last 10 feet. [laughter] because you have the entire in this case german army waiting for them. they could never figure out how you got passed that barrier, and that was put on the shelf. there's lat lots of things like
that on the shelf, some not as whimsical. it's one of the fun and motivating things that i find about this enterprise that i've undertaken because you can still find very interesting things. >> are there larger archives that may be out there somewhere? someone knows that might come around? >> well, certainly personal archives still crop up a lot. over the stuff that comes to me now, and i suppose anyone who writes serious about world war ii is stunning, almost overwhelming. it's hard to deal with. a lot of it is very interesting, and a lot of it is really primary source material. some guy who was a corporal in the 85th tuition who had a literary flair kept diaries even
though they were prohibited. that was an incentive to keep a diary. [laughter] some of them are really fantastic, and some of them are just now still coming to light. this guy dies and his children find it and instead of doing the awful thing of throwing it away, they try to dispose of it in a responsible way. all of that material that i collect rkt i put in military history institute in pennsylvania, so that stuff keeps -- >> i just want you to know we also do that very thing here. [laughter] you do it well. >> you know, the notion that you're going to find a anything similar, that's not going to happen, not with world war #-r material, but, you know, it's not inconceivable there will be important cashes of letters.
historians have since 1943 have been looking for the letters between eisenhower and his secretary, some believe his lover, i don't believe that, his driver actually she was. maybe somebody will find those letters at some point. you know, i think there's still material out there, and there still are memories to be coaxed. every fewer number unfortunately, but i think the big cash is we know where they are. >> how are we doing, institutions doing in cataloging that making it available to you. you said it's hard when people send this to you, but how are we doing? >> i think it's a mixed bag frankly. some institutions have taken it very seriously to heart, sometimes belatedly.
a institute in pennsylvania for example put serious money into a new building and professionalized their or civile treatment, and now it's a first-rate institution. the navy, crummy. amazing. the navy cares about heritage, but not history. amazing. navy yard in washington, d.c. is really unfortunate it's not better. you know, what would be -- >> what would be better? what wold you like to see when you go in? >> the navy is going to have a cow -- [laughter] >> no, i'm not talking about the nigh vie, but just in general. >> well, what you are trying to do here. you had money, put in in a nice facility, you have plans and ambitions and a public agenda, and it's good.
what you don't see at some archives is a sense that really regardless of the archives whether it's local, state, or federal, it is a public institution. you are keeping in trust our collective heritage, and if you don't know what you're doing, you should get out of the way and let somebody else come in here who does who what they are doing. whoever is holding the pursestrings for that institution should put them out, and make sure that material is preserved as long as possible. paper will last for century. digits, we don't know how long those last. that's a big question. what happens to all of david petraeus' e-mails of which there are probably hundreds of thousands at this point. will they go away? will they be accessible to historians 50 years from now?
great building in college park maryland the federal government made an effort to have least make the building suitable the archives are something of a mess. it's not the archive's fault but the inherent records in the army. and if you go to any set of records from 1944, they are literally crumbling in your hands. little paper dust all over the desk and the floor so 17,000 tons trying to him digitize that as a preservative is physically impossible at this point. so, it's a serious issue. >> thankfully there are people like you writing about it. i imagine you tunneling into these things and looking for
them. garrey weinberg would like to ask a question here. he asks that how well, and [inaudible] we are going to jump for a little bit. how well and how quickly do you think the american army recovered? >> i feel like i am sitting from my professor weinberg. [laughter] well, the kathleen pass was fought in february, 1933. the army, very green would bring commanders that landed in north africa with the british on november 8, 1942 and had advanced eastward across the northwest africa, and on february 14th, 1943, the germans, under to for a competent commanders, one you've probably heard of and the other launched a surprise attack
directly against the americans, particularly the 1st armored division and brought the american forces back more than 70 miles in terms of yardage lost it was the greatest single battle defeat for the u.s. army in world war ii back farther than evin -- in december of 1944. it was a humiliating loss. there were 7,000 american casualties. the fact that was not a strategic victory for the germans was not because we were particularly adept at preventing them from seizing a strategic victory as because they were out of fuel, out of time, to some extent hope. so my hope is that casting is a kick in the teeth that the future among others to what eisenhower, in the balance. eisenhower, even before he
thought he was going to be released. he wrote an extraordinary letter to his son, john, was a cadet at west point saying it may be necessary for my superiors to relieve me of command and reduce me to my permanent rank which was lieutenant colonel. at this point he was a three-star general, and roosevelt with and give him the fourth star until he proved himself. if this helps, he writes to john eisenhower i don't want you to worry. these things happen in where mac. it's an extremely testament to the character actually. there is a lot hanging in the balance including future prez of's -- president fate. my sense is that he was a relatively small speed bump what he found is after the striking defeat in february of 1943, the
german and italian forces destroyed. they're completely defeated if you have to under 50,000 access prisoners bad and in the northeast corner of to nisha and was a loss of manpower that almost rivaled back. nothing makes you recover from a bump in the head better than a good victory i think the success that can relatively swiftly after he helped the army in particular to get past this existential moment really and it blooded those units, some of them quite literally, but what you see in the mediterranean
generally, starting in north africa and then we go to sicily in july, 1943, and then salerno september, 1943. this whole mediterranean campaign for the american armed forces is a kind of system now at. we are determining who is capable from those who are incapable tall levels starting with the commanders but on down to the platoon leaders and squad leaders who can do it, who can't do it? who is physically able to handle it? this was not well understood the physical rigors of it. who is lucky verses on lucky at the napoleon most cherished and his generals, and it is in the mediterranean that we are going through this system of process. it is a very important part of the maturation of the american military in world war ii.
it's a very important part of building that force that's going to go into normandy in 1944. and castor bean was an ugly but necessary part of that. it's been a lot of our friends talked about leadership and preparing leaders and the world war ii to current iraq. who stands up for you? who would you like to look at in world war ii? in terms of the leadership of our forces? >> well, there are a lot of good ones. there tends to be a denigration of the u.s. military by some historians that whenever there mocked a battalion fought in american battalion or one regiment fought an american
regiment that the germans tend to be tactically superior that mono monitor the better military. this is just nonsense because it's pointless. global war is a clash of systems. it is which systems have produced the wherewithal to project power in the atlantic, the pacific, the indian ocean, southeast asia which system can produce for the civilian leadership to create the transportation systems, the civilian leadership that is able to produce 96,000 airplanes in 1944 so when you look at it that way, you can see that really particularly when we have got the russians pleading for us that the comparison of german and american forces are german and anglo-american forces and a
small tactical level is life and pointless. if you look at individual leaders i start with eisenhower. you've lived with him not very closely intimately for 11 years. my respect for him deepens constantly, i see those feet of clay. you want to reach back through history and shake him by the lapel because he is operationally sometimes really less than you would like. he makes mistakes. he let things go past. if you are paying better attention it wouldn't happen, but in the larger scheme of things, this ability to hold together the coalition i went through earlier, i think eisenhower is a very critical figure in our national history. there are generals who are increasingly lost to history
ayaan to add my ear doherty much boreman texas spent six years of his life teaching school mostly in a one-room schoolhouses in oklahoma before he came into the army. he proves to be one of the best battle captains in the united states army. he lands as a brigadier general, part of patton's invasion that goes into monacco. he doesn't know what he is doing more than anybody else does, but the sifting out that is going on among other things, people set to the top who tend to be really very capable and lucky and he is one of those. by the end of the war he goes from 1944 being a one star general to commanding an army in italy and in between he does a lot of admirable things including taking over the force and preserving the force. he's remarkable. so there are a number of
tactical commanders like that. i tend to be less enthusiastic frankly about omar bradley i think is overrated. george patton is sure a lot of fun to write about, but i clearly see his deficiencies as a commander. i think that the slavin the soldiers in sicily, two incidents a week apart in august, 1943, was on pardonable to get it shows a defect in character. do you want your son to be slapped by his commander? that's not how we run our military. so, i have less enthusiasm for some of the guys who tend to get a lot of ink, and somebody virtually forgotten by many people these days, jacob debtors. he commands the six army group.
he's on the same level as omar bradley's commanding group and differs is to the south, that seventh army and with the french army invaded southern france. they come up their own folly and swing through the mountains, captor strasbourg and go on into the southwest germany. he is very capable, he is a very good tactician, but second only to eisenhower in his deft touch with allies. he doesn't speak french, they are not all that easy to get along with. [laughter] and he is dealing with a prima donna whose the french commander and differs is really good at it and that is a critical part of his job. so, my intent is that, you know, to bring some of these guys back from the dead. and who hopefully make them breathe and walk across the room again in a way that allows the
21st century audience leadership to push it. >> what about today's leadership? e ruth day tremendous book about petraeus and 101st, and you say and you're talking 2004 and in 2007i would commend to people on our web site because they are brilliant about your second book and also the 101st book, but you said in that talk you developed a great respect and friendship with general petraeus. you were by his elbow every day. what is it like today with the benefit of several years that have passed? >> he has put more rocks in his rot issac since he would say since then. i've known dave petraeus said he was a major. not very well but a bump into him at the pentagon and i would
go back to pub win 1990. but i didn't know him very well and in december of 2002, i was between books and we were about to start volume to and posed having going off with the army and in fact push came to shove in iraq, so i contacted petraeus and he was at fort campbell taking over the command of the 101st airborne the previous summer, and i wrote him an e-mail and i said we know each other not well can i talk about going to the 101st of the 101st to place to kuwait and iraq and as he always does, he responded instantly as if he's there with a keyboard waiting for your e-mail that is still a trade that he's got, i don't know how he does it. so i went down and we've been in our friendship or acquaintance i
guess and spent two or three days with him and his senior commanders, brigade commanders we told him what it was i was interested in doing, told him i was basically a book writer and i would like to consider doing both, that maybe there was a book but there was sure going to be a series of newspaper with coverage if the war came and i said can i go with you, i'm too old to go with a rifle company but i would like to be positioned and i think a division talk a technical provision center, you can look at the battalion and the core, and my friends of the pentagon had told me that it looked like the 101st is likely to go into
the fight and i said can i come with you? can i be embedded in your headquarters and he said sure. next i know i'm at fort campbell, february and off we go and i was with him at his elbow all day, every day really with the capture of baghdad in march of 2003. she is a pretty remarkable guy. you almost come to know him well. he is exposed if not overexposed if this point. myett admiration because the fact that now he has been ron carey in the site for us and did his job since 2003 before that in bosnia.
he's got many of the characteristics i think that are important for a good and successful senior military wartime leader. he's very intellectually agile. sparks just are coming off of that the old brain of his. he's extremely competitive. it pains him to the wall. his aide, now a lieutenant colonel is at our house for dinner commanding a battalion in afghanistan now and he is home on leave briefly and at that time ana, 2003, he says he's the most competitive man on the planet. [laughter] that's true. it's certainly true, and it's a big characteristic to have somebody who doesn't like to lose. he's a pretty good listener. i notice that from the beginning
and nothing i have seen since then has changed my mind. he would listen to the captain of tactical led by scott to fight the 101st airborne for example. there's no imperial ken david as he sometimes divisive recalled him and what we are seeing now is the ultimate test think has got to fight in afghanistan that isn't like the fight in iraq. he's using the persian iraq and afghanistan but it is a different place as he would be the first to say. there was a timetable and the clock was ticking. he would be 58-years-old next week. even he is tired and who can blame him? if you consider that he has been
overseas in command, in combat twice as long as any general in world war ii and the american journal. how can he not retired. >> i want to take a moment before we run out of time here. we have a very special guest, and hiroshima veteran. where are you? [applause] that was a good point to make because this is a different format. our forces are fighting it 24-hour/7 combat situation and to quote najaf petraeus tell us
how this ends. >> that is the right question. they asked me that and it was outside much of 22 -- outside of najaf march of 2003 and things were not going that well and we were in the middle of the worst sandstorm he can ever possibly imagine. we are standing outside face-to-face. tell me how this ends. tommy how this end. it was a very good question for that war and for the current war he's got an answer to that now and can speak for himself he's having it thrown back in his face and is required to have an answer but still the right
question. we certainly know this better than anyone. that war, world war ii, a country with 130 million people, armed forces of 16 million everyone has scan in the game, everyone is engaged somehow, everyone has some one at risk, today we have a country of 307 million, we have armed forces of about 2 million altogether. it is a tiny fraction of the country, it's a tiny proportion of what we had in world war ii, and almost no one has scan in the game. almost no one has someone at risk. almost no one has an investment in the same way that every american family had in world war ii. it's very important to understand that. it's very important for the home on leave to see his daughter for
essentially the first time having been away for eight months and so, you know, it's i think understanding the different dynamics and the different cultures of the war of the past and present. >> we are coming to a close of the television portion of the web portion will continue, and i just have one last question from someone in your past, this is someone in your life, but from the women of science, and understand you have been quoted as saying after studying the war for many years, you feel it's time to turn things over to winter. [laughter] why would they feel that way? [laughter] well, this is true i have to admit, they are my wife, jane, who works at the national institutes of health, and my daughter, sarah and her final year of medical school,
university of illinois and wants to be a surgeon and whenever they come into the house together to call him a man of science and it is true i think i have become as the consequence of being a student of war a radical feminist. [laughter] i think, you know, we could do worse than just turn everything over to the women. [applause] and let them run things for a while. my bet is that we would see fewer war of choice. and so, you know, i am half serious about it. i think that there is a lot of testosterone floating around when it comes to war, and there is a lot of manhood proofing and someone that is inimical to the wellbeing of the species of the
republican. and so i think anything we can do to grapple with that would be useful for all of us. >> very important topic and you have said and done and accomplished in your lifetime is truly amazing. tomorrow you will be awarded this lifetime achievement award. this is the pritzker military literary award. you will receive that in chicago and we couldn't be happier that you are receiving this. [applause] our thanks to rick for joining us. you can learn more about the library of it, the audio podcast or view other programs by visiting pritzkermilitarylibrary.com. for all of the staff of the library, chaim et tracie. thanks for joining us. [applause]
>> i still have 16 pages of notes and questions from outside but we are going to turn over to the audience of this point and max is there and here is the first question. >> i would like to thank you and congratulate you on your upcoming award, but i'm curious. you have my curiosity piqued. how'd you answer general petraeus when he asked to that question? asked you how are we going to end this? >> tell me how this ends. well, as a journalist at that point it isn't my job to answer his questions and i wouldn't presume to do that. it is my job to try to understand as fully as i can with the non-including the brain of the 101st airborne at the time. so, why didn't answer. i looked in those blue eyes of his, and i saw that he was troubled and a really troubled me. i will tell you that. it was a very unsettling moment. i will also tell you dave
petraeus is pretty comfortable in his own skin but when i came back to washington mainly guess it was the middle of april, 2003, and we were writing this book and it was going to be excerpt in the "washington post" when the book came out the following spring, the spring of 2004i sent him the excerpt, i said to him in my cover note rather than have you read this in the "washington post" tomorrow, when it was going to run, why don't you look at it now? and certainly if i made any errors, tell me now. she had virtually nothing to say of a fan to ask me if i would delete that phrase, tell me how the sense. because he said he felt there was an important to it, that it
sounded as though he were questioning the national command authority and for the guy at that time who was only a two star anonymous to most americans who didn't have the statute he's got now obviously he was sensitive to the notion that he would appear to be in pertinent. and i said it's got to think about this. so i really pondered it and i wrote back to him or call him, if they wrote to him and said i can't do that, i can't take that out, and the reasons why include i heard you say more than once, to me more than once, but i heard you say within earshot of others, staff officers and so want it became a private joke between us and then as jokes to in a small command circle became a wide joke. tell me how this ends, and i
said this is the right question. you ask the right question. probably should have been asked before we are actively in iraq, publisher has been asked by people of the high your pay greater than you are, but this is the question. and i had other reasons also, but he came back to me and said okay that's kind of how this. i'm not going to sold about it. i understand you have your dhaka i have mine. now people have written books called tell me how this ends. >> hang on. >> quick question about your time in germany. i first went to germany in 68
and studied german for a while and took the usual tour and went back in the 70's with a friend of mine who was a high-stakes german collector and he was visiting the guys that had gotten the knight's cross and he was buying their stuff. the last time i went was an 08 and had these fancy barge tour retirees, and i saw something i had never seen before which are memorials to the resistance, the hitler resistance and i had never seen these before any time in the germany and i was wondering if he would comment on that, if you had seen such earlier or if this is just a brand new thing. ..
in fact the plotters were, you know, they were not jeff sewnian -- jeffersonian democrats. >> yeah, i know that. >> they would not recognize the derivative of it today in germany, so the probably, you've obviously seen them, i can't recall offhand seeing other markers like that around, but, you know, there are some heroic figures in world war ii who mostly were executed for being heroic, for standing up for righteousness, and the germans celebrate them to some extent, but they have by and large no i luges that this represents a
meaningful subculture of the third right, and, you know, i've always been impressed by the extent to which germans are educated about the catastrophe. they understand, they know world war ii history better than american students by far. they are taken on field trips and that is something that every young german understands and lives with, and so, you know, whether -- i lived in germany last summer. i was a fellow at the american academy in the fall of 2009. it didn't come to my attention that this was a new, necessarily new upsurge of efforts to congressmen rate the resistance. >> this is a question going back to sources and archives in
research. you mentioned the question of well, we have access to all of the e-mails of general petraeus, and a question came up recently that some organizations are now discovering that such can be useful for historians but extremely dangerous at the moment for the organization that's creating them. you have agencies and groups who are -- they don't put anything down where it's electronically copied or data wants to be free, they are free to leak out. that's a problem for the future. going back to the past, there were problems. people worried about archives that might be problems or for people who had ongoing careers and activities, and there's a rumor out there that the fire which destroyed part of the british records was in late 1940s destroying a lot of the records the special operations executive, and there are rumors
this happened because we screwed up a lot and some of the people involved were still active in politics and it was an embarrassment and it was a national fire that destroyed this embarrassing stuff. in your research into our archives, have you run into anything that stuff has seemed to have gone away or is it buried because it might have been a problem for someone at some time in >> if there was a deliberate effort to burn those records, they didn't set enough fires. [laughter] there's still a fair amount of it around. there's a catastrophic fire in st. louis of the army's personnel records in something like 70% of military records of the world war ii generation up to, i can't remember when i end date was, but it was a substantial loss of personnel records. there's no evidence that that was done little deliberately.
you know, you find sure. there are things that you think were probably written down in some form and you can't quite find them. the thing i find most aggravating about this issue is that there's been an attempt to reclassify things, and so particularly after 9/11, you had nsa, national security agency, and other spook organizations going into the national archives and reclassifying things that had been declassified for decades, so that it's hard sometimes to get at things that was easy to get at, was open to anyone for a long period of time. it has to do with sources and methods of code breaking and so
on. the good folks at the national archives by and large think it's ridiculous. >> what percentage of that is it if >> it's a very tiny percent. i find things and look at the records we talked about armyier in the boxes, and there will be a sheet put down inside, and on it is this record has been removed per cia or whatever, and i find it enough, and i file freedom of information act requests to get it out, and of course, they answer it's decades by the time they get around to answer that request to de-declassify things again. that aggravates me. i don't think it's anybody looking to protect their reputation these days. there's a certain hysteria
involved rather than personal vanity, so, you know, i would say generally offhand i don't know of examples of official records. now, there were guys who kept diaries, personal records that have not seen the light of day, and sometimes they see the light of day very late in the game. i'll give you an example. jeffrey keys, one of those generals i talked about who was quite confident and largely unknown today. he was an accolade and friend of pattons who was given command of second corp. in italy and was at -- was the commander, the corp. commander at the casino and the river. he was a pretty large player in the italian campaign. very interesting guy, west pointer, said to be the only man who can stop jim thorp on a
football field. he's a tremendous athlete, and after vol fume i came out, i got a phone call from a man in pittsburgh who said i'm jeffrey key's son. he was also a west pointer, one of the classes in the 1940s, and he said, did you know my father kept a diary? i said, no i didn't know that. he said, would you like to see it? [laughter] oh, yes. [laughter] so he flew from -- very nice of him, he flew from pittsburgh to the dallas airport, and i picked him up at the airport and went to the hotel, and he reached into his bag and pulled out this bound diary and handed it to me and said do right by my father. i said, okay, i'll try. i'll do my best.
i'm not going to write, but i'm very interested in it, and so it proved to be not like pat ton's diaries which are extraordinary where no thought goes unuttered to the diary. [laughter] they are in the library of congress variable for anybody to look at now as well as his spelling and grammar, but they are very interesting, and again, you see among other things deeply anglo foe fibbing, and it helped me in writing volume ii. he was someone i was trying to bring back from the dead at least at that period of time. those things are still kicking around and will hopefully continue to surface one way or another for years to come. >> in light of the fact we
ultimately prevailed in europe, this might be a rather difficult question to answer, but what would you say was the largest or the worst or the greatest american strategic mistake that we made in the european theater? can you elaborate on that at all? >> well, let's talk about the things we did right first briefly. you know, the first real central strategic decision that is made by the anglo american alliance at least is germany figure, and that's made shortly after pearl harbor. there was recognized widely as the right decision, and that has held up very well. the presumption was germany is the strongest of the ax us enemies and if you defeat germany the other powers, japan and italy fall like rotten fruit fry vine once germany is gone.
the strategic decision really somewhat by default by quite conscious to allow the russians to do most of the fighting for us. 26 million dead russians. that's 26 million americans who don't die. we have 291,000 battle deaths, american battle deaths, about 400,000 dead in world war ii. it's a small portion of the bleeding of the russians are doing, and consequently the effort to keep the russians in the game through the land lease and all the other things we had to do or wanted to do, that's a, you know, a correct and an important strategic decision. the decision to go into north africa is a complicated, an i wouldn't call it a strew teggic mistake, but a strategic conumb
drum. we go into there virtually everybody in a military uniform because franklin roosevelt believes that with this green army of green commanders, that staging in britain and crossing the english channel and marching for berlin is not a great idea, that you're likely to suffer a substantial reverse, and so against the advice of marshall and eisenhower writes when fdr makes # the decision that we're going to north africa, makes ited ent of july 1942 and signs it commander in chief and eisenhower writes this is the blackest day in history which is a free overstatement given the blackness of other days, but he believes the mediterranean is a
sump and once you are there, it's hard to get out. the decision to go there which i think made sense has collateral strategic decisions which involve going to southern italy and so on because among other things, there's no shipping to get that half million man force that is in north africa back to britain to stage across the english channel or go anywhere else. you don't have the where with all to do it. my feeling is that italy becomes increasingly strew -- strategically undone. there's not a good understanding by anyone why particularly once we captured the airfields in southern italy and can really take the air campaign home to the fatherland from the south in addition from the many air bases in great britain, why going up the mountains in the winter makes a lot of sense.
partly it's because you don't have a lot of alternatives at that point. you don't want to stay inactive. the russians are expecting you to be fighting and so on, so that becomes a strategic mire, and it's still controversial to this day. you can argue it around or argue it square. other than that talking about northwest europe, i'm hard pressed to find what i would say is a major strategic error that the allies made. people have been argues about yalta since it ended in february of 1945 and arguing there was strategic errors made there. i actually don't believe that. i think that roosevelt, sick as he was, played a weak hand pretty well, about as well as he cowed. -- could. i don't believe the post-war
europe and iron curtain resulted in decisions that were made. i just don't believe that. it's hotly contested, and there's fine historians that have argued over the decades and do argue that that was part of a collection of strategic mistakes that were made. >> yeah, i have a question about the invasion of sicily and operations and just read the book and obviously read your books before. obviously, it was successful, but if it wasn't successful, how would the invasion have gone since the germans seemed to have bought that -- it wasn't going to be sicily, it was going to be east or west of there, so if that failed, what would have happened do you believe? >> well, mincemeat is one of the most flamboyant operations of the war. if you are not familiar with it, get familiar with it because
it's great fun. the british have a genius and for operations that require very detailed thinking through of consequences, and mincemeat is the man who never was. there was a subsequently a book written about it by that title and a pretty good movie by that title and now another new book about the same thing. mincemeat involves taking a corpse and for a long time it wasn't known who that corpse was or actually there were lies told about who it was. we now know it was one who killed himself by taking rat poisen, and it turns out that tox logically rat poisen has made the indications of drowning, and so they took this poor guy, his name was glenn douer michael, and dressed him
up in a marine major's uniform and hand cuffed to his wrirs a briefcase filled with phony papers, and took him from united kingdom to the southern coast of spain, and ejected him from the submarine as long as some debris to make it look as though he died in an airplane crash and the papers indicated he was flying to britain, and the papers indicated very clferly that -- cleverly in fact that the next phase after the north african campaign would not be an invasion of sicily which is what we were planning to do which was obvious, but in fact, we were looking at sardina and greece, and so the effort was to get the germans to look both ways. the corpse washed ashore as the
british knew it would. they turned the documents over to the germans. the germans essentially took it hook, line, and zinger, and came to believe that in fact these were awe authentic documents. what would have happened had there been no mincemeat, history would have unfolded just as it did. we landed eight divisions. germans had two. they had two more once the invasion took place. there were hundreds of thousands of rather inept italian troops there, most of whom had no interest whatsoever of fighting an ang glow american fighting force. sicily is a small place to conquer, 100 miles from one end to the other. it was a force not to be stopped even if the germans heeded those who continued to believe that
sicily was a more likely landing place for the next invasion even if they had moved another division in. it was going to be a relatively short campaign. the campaign of sicily ended up being six weeks. if we're going to land in sicily and not thinking greece as vividly as their imaginations allowed, maybe it took seven weeks. it's not a history changer, but it's a great story. [laughter] >> thank you, and thank you for each and every one of your books. >> thanks. >> you profoundly talked about the profound tragedy of war, and what i have found in reading your books is that your voice of pain comes through and probably no more so for me than in the long gray line. would you speak about your literary pain? >> yeah. i've never called it that.
i don't want to be too grand about it. the long gray line is about 1966. i got interested in them when i was a newspaper reporter in kansas city. my father's best friend by a coincidence of history had a son in that class. that's how i got interested in him as a reporter. i went to the 15th reunion in 1981. they lost more men in vietnam than any other west point classes. they had 30 killed in a class of 57. they -- 579. they had been propelled by idealism and the notion that they were going to go off and win whatever war needed to be won. it wasn't clear in 1961 what war that would be and then come
home. well, it didn't work out that way. they go off as platoon leaders to a platoon leaders war very ill-prepared. the army did no favors for them to be platoon leaders in the jungle and they got shot to pieces, and they stampeded out of the army as quickly as they could. they had a four year commitment then, so in 1970 they could get out, and that exited in such numbers that the army commissioned a study called why they quit, resignations from the west point class of 1966. i went to the reunion and wrote a newspaper series about it, went to the 20th reunion, and at that point a full generation of army officer, the guys who stayed are now retiring after 20 years, and then i wrote the book about it. you know, that 15th reunion i just -- they always go to the cemetery. i've subsequently been to their
30th and 40th reunions. i always think of them as 18-year-old boys showing up on our day in july 1962 reporting to the man with the red sash. they always be 18-year-old boys to me which becomes harder to maintain when you look at them because they are now in their late 60s, but the reality of young men dying young is never more profound than when you go with them as you do at every reunion, to the west point cemetery, and they honor the dead, those who are buried there, and quite a few died in vietnam and those who died subsequently are buried there. it's deeply moving because there again, they are 18 years old. the world is their oyster for a moment, and then it just hasn't turned out that way, and today, back to back in section 36 where most of them are buried are all
those new graves because that's where the recent west pointers were killed in iraq and afghanistan are buried, that same part of the cemetery, so it's profound, and it deeply affected me as a writer, deeply affected me as someone interested in military history and deeply affected me as a citizen. it still does. i'm very close to them. it's like having 579 older brothers whom i very profoundly admire because they went through a lot not only in vietnam, not only at west point which is hard enough, but vietnam, and their lives afterwards because they came back from vietnam and instead of being the leaders of the generation that they had once been, they come back and they are per rye yas in the generation and that class a a fault line in american history, and they are despised by many in
the country for what they did, and so, you know, their pain would still reside in them to this day. it's something that you don't have to dig very deep to feel it. >> time for one more question. >> could you comment about any discussions # about the -- institutions about the use of the atomic bomb in germmy. >> the use of the atomic bomb in germany? well, you know, i think the germans were lucky the war ended in may. you know, i had looked, maybe you know, i've never seen definitive evidence of planning to drop the bomb on a german city that was, you know, they didn't know until very late in the game that the thing would work, and so to my knowledge there was no operational
planning of the same sort that was going into building b-29s for long range bombing missions and b-29 carry the bomb to hiroshima. there was great anxiety about what the germans were capable of doing in terms of building an atomic weapon of some sort, and there's an interesting biplay that i've been looking at for the next volume. when we go into strasberg -- i mention the 6th army group sweeping up, and there was a very deliberate and well-organized effort to find out how far the germans are in their atomic research, and the extent to which they are capable of pulling off something like the manhattan project, and we knew through various interesting
intelligence means that strasberg was one of the centers of german thinking about this. there were physicist and others in that city. most of the fish got away, but they left behind their stuff. it showed what had been suspected, but not known quite clearly, and the documents went quickly to roosevelt personally. it's an interesting chain of correspondence that the germans couldn't do it. they did have the ability. they were way, way bind, and there was no evidence that there was anything even approaching a german atomic bomb, so, you know, that allowed us to be less anxious about that aspect of german war making.
you know, would we have drop the atomic bomb on berlin had the russians not swept in there in the beginning of may 1945? at that point, my guess is no. it wasn't necessary. you didn't have the same kind or same sort of military circumstances. they were different. they were beaten badly enough at that point. had the atomic bomb been available in the bulge? would we have thought about it? well, probably. i mean, there were serious thoughts given. one of the things i found that's most interesting is the target list for using chemical weapons against the germans in normandy if the germans used it first. there were two lists i found. i don't think this has been seen before. one list is do we care about french casualties, and the other list is no, we don't care about
french casualties. [laughter] churchill was so agitated at the v-weapons, the v-1's in particular that he became quite exercised and insisted there be further thoughts of us initiating chemical warfare against the germans, and even bilogical warfare. this went up very high levels and discussed among the british. eisenhower got wind of this and said let's get serious. this is absurd. that's not going to do anything for us militarily. he was quite incensed about it, but it gives you a sense of the passions that are at play here. the brits at this point have been, you know, taking