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tv   Book TV After Words  CSPAN  December 3, 2011 10:00pm-11:00pm EST

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max hastings talk with the u.s. editor half the daily telegraph, tony harnden. >> welcome to after words. i'm tony harnden of the daily tell -- telegraph. and with me, the man who brought
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me into journalism 17 years ago. max has written a superb single volume history of the second world war. it's been critically acclaimed on both sides of the atlantic already. the washington post described it as a monumental achievement. the sunday times of london, group, -- gruesome, chilling, and magnificent. max, in britain, it's all hell broke loose, and here it's inferno. >> you let publishers make up their open minds what the audience wants. i chose the title, "all hell let loose" in britain because what you hear about what people experienced in battles and ship sinking, something telling the store would say, "and then all hell broke loose." because it's a common cliche, i
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think it a very important sense those word capture what being in the second world war meant to hundreds of millions of people, because their ordered world, the world they had grown up with, was completely destroyed around them. they found unimaginable things happen to them. the publisher got this phrase on this size of the pond, inferno, because many of them saw things that were like pictures of the inferno, human beings torn to flesh and blood, ordered communities, sundered intosive -- into ' -- if we hey our taxes and we drive on the right side of the road, we're going to be all right. and of course, these were the assumptions that were actually
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destroyed for so many people around the world. so that's a long-wind explanation why i chose the titles. >> you mentioned a book -- so many books on the second world war, and it was almost impossible to include even the books you yourself own. so i guess the obvious question is, did the world need another book and why tide you decide -- why did you decide to do this volume? >> two reasons. i wanted to complete my personal cycle about the second world war. i've written about it from many aspects. this is the ninth book. i have written about the pacific war and of the european war. but i wanted to do two things. first of all, there was some things i still wanted to say about the war i thought were worth saying, and i'll come to what they were in a moment. secondly, i wanted to anxious a
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question that a great many younger people, a generation not old enough to experience a war, asking grandpa, what was the war like? the answer, of course, it was vastly different if you were an american pair trooper or a british air crew or a polish jew or a chinese woman. one try tuesday -- tries to explain what it was like for these people. in my book no pictures of the generals. we know about that. this is about ordinary people. the war from the bottom up. and they -- so many things people don't grasp about the global nature of this. for example, i was staggered by the statistics. >> statistics don't tell all the answers bought few months ago, the former head of the british
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army, said, what can you tell us we don't know already? i said, let's try on a few numbers. what proportion of germans would you guess were killed on the eastern front, the russian front? he says, maybe 60%. the true figure is over 90% of the german soldier. the eastern front was the defining area, the defining front in the war against naziism. but n the same way casualties. i also said to my british general friend, i said, well, what percentage of the total casualties in the war would you guess were british or american? he said, i don't know. maybe 2% each? the russians took 65%. the chinese took 23%. a lot of people don't even know china was in the war. a million yugoslavs.
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and the statistics aren't all of it but they are still amazing, you had, for example, if you were a german -- a russian soldier you had a one in four chance of being killed. if you were a british soldier you had a one in 20 chance, in if you american, one in 32 chance of being killed. now, there's something else that is very important. one has to qualify this by saying, it's almost insulting to say to people who went through the experience of war that other people had it worse. so it's the perform of historians, sitting in our comfortable television studio, to say here's the truth. if you were a g.i. or british soldier under a mortar barrage and your mates being blown to bits around you to have somebody come over and say, actually, it's much worse on the russian front, this is insulting. if you're an american or british
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housewife, struggling to cope with remarks, to say, did you know in lenin grad, they're eating in -- in bengal fathers are selling their daughters. so, we always have to maintain that sense of humility and must never forget, here we are all 66 years old and we can say these clever things but we must never lose the sense that, forget about the statistics for a moment. anybody who went through the war, went through all manner of things. whether you were american or british chinese or german, a number of things thank god we have been spared. >> one of the fantastic things about the book is the an anecdotes, not about combat but 's life and how you weave
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this into a global narrative. and you have done this much more so in this book than previous books. is that something you developed a sense of? >> i tried to put this in all the things i haven't had the opportunity to say in other books. for example, food. in an earlier one i wrote an entire chapter about dropping the atomic bomb. but i wrote a lot about food because for most people who lived through the war, food, or lack of it, was absolutely the defining reality. in many societies, which were starving, that it was absolutely terrifying what people went through in lenen grad, 800,000 people died. 800,000. and they were reduced at one point, 20,000 people were dying of starvation every day. every day.
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and these are ordinary, decent, educated people. and they suddenly find there was nothing to eat. chinese peasants, 1942, find themselves eating elm bark and dried leaves. you find -- i quoted the diaries of british housewives who complained by hell because hey they had too men dried eggs. a lovely story of this british boy called derek lambert. and you had your remarkses, but in addition to rations, everybody tried to supplement their ration with what they could -- with vegetables and fruit and you tried to make it. and derek lambert told this story about how one morning, at breakfast, he said my father, looked at the pot that had been put on the table, and -- spread some of it on his bread and
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tried it. he turned to his wife and he said, what was that? said, carot major laid, and his father carried the pot out into the guarden guarden and poured e compost heap. carrot marmalade, these are delicacies, but food -- the argument busy food, you have more than a million vietnamese died of starvation because ojapanese who were administering vietnam in those days, around vietnam ruthlessly, and elderly vietnamese set off with their experience of 1943-1944 famines in vietnam were worse than the wore with the french and the
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united states later, worse anethol the b-52 bomb something. over a million and a half people die of starvation in vietnam. food, food, food, become obsessions. our parents, grandparents, in the united states and britain, we were lucky, because although the food was dreary and american housewives complained they cooperate by steak. compared you with everywhere else -- the other people who did well were the germans. no significant hunger in germ in may 1945, until hitler starved the rest of europe to feed his own people. when the war ended, without hitler, they were hungry. >> of course, one of the most horrific and compelling stories is the seeming of leningrad, a
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wife sawing off the leg of the husband to eat. up imaginable. >> these stories we're only now really starting to get the -- these are not state secrets, or they shouldn't be, but a lot of wonderful material in report. i had this terrific russian researchers who has been coming up with wonderful stuff for both of us, and you're suddenly getting these accounts surfacing by russians of what happened. after the war, stalin wanted the world to believe that the people of lening.l.a.a.d. survived their siege through here jim, and of course, it wasn't -- there was a lot of stowickic, but they had no choice because anybody who ran away was shot. stalin was the one who deployed
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troops behind the front lines to simply shoot down anybody who ran away so the men in the frontline knew that if they hung in there against the german, they might well get killed, but if they tried to turn and run they would get killed. >> the russians more than any other army killed their own. >> 300,000, the statistics, how many of their own they killed, dereliction of duty, quite incredible, almost as many as the british army lost in the action during the course of the war. so all this stuff is coming out of russia now because the old russian myths are falling to pieces and we're being told the truth about the degree to which compulsion decided this. for example, i quoted in the book, extraordinary -- the secret police reports from the battle of -- one of the officers being shot for drunkenness on
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the front line or for being found when they were supposed to be leading their bat -- battalions, they were being comfort by their campaign wives. and these are extraordinary stories and because of all the decades of the soviet era and all this stuff was hidden and we were supposed to belief the russians were braver than we are. it's amazing. when i complain to my wife and say it's hard work writing books, and she says you love it. and of course i do. you've done it. you've written a terrific book. it's so thrilling sitting in these archives in the far corners of the world. and even now, almost 70 years after the war, we're getting stories that for a very long time people were unwilling to tell, just how gaslit was.
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>> now, you were born in 1945, after the end of the second world war your far was war correspondent. the way you lived the post world war 2 period, you had been researching and writing about the second world war for ha years so you have an incredible perspective. how has your perspective changed from comics as a child to now? >> i grew up as an awful lot of people in the united states and britain grew up. my father adored the war. he found is terrifically exciting. he loved adventures and had a lot of adventures. when i was a kid in the 1950s, i used to read memoirs and books about the second world war at the rate of two a week and i thought the whole thing was a glorious romp. and my father brought me up to believe that -- he said you'll be able to become an army
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parachutist and all those other things that are interesting. said unfortunately the germans aren't available to pay their three-quarters of an hour on the other side. so i grew up with this ridiculous boy's vision of the war, and only gradually one grows up and over the ensuing 40-50 years, one understands the reality. and one moment when it really got to me, and that was when i was writing one of my first book about the second world war, bomber command in the late '70s, when there were a lot of old air crews still around. one evening i was sitting in a little suburban home talking to another man -- then he was only in his 50s, who had been in the crew of pilots who had been awarded a posthumous victorian cross for staying with the
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aircraft when it was badly damaged so the others could jump. and this navigator said to me, i always remember the night before that last ship. we were all in the pub in lincoln and he said we were teasing jimmy, the pilot, because he was 19 years old and never kissed a girl in his life and: and i suddenly thought, what good does do it a young man to have won a posthumous vic korean cross and he is dead, at the age of 19, never having kissed a girl in his life. and that's the first moment you feel the overwhelming tragedy that, yes, for some fortunate young men, men who flew mustangs or spit fires or people in special forces or george patton or winston churchill they found the wore stimulating and exciting, but for most people it was terrible. you were separated from loved
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ones for years, and you worried like hell about whether your wife at home was being faithful to you, worrying whether you would see your kids again and all the rest and it's taken my 30-40 years fully to understand that and it's been a long downie from the kids' comics view to growing up a bit. >> so much military history concentrates just on the battlefield. >> i went through -- when i finished the manuscript, i went through it, and i cut out every single reference to divisional numbers or army numbers i could possibly identify without making the story incoherent, and although i told the story of the war, that people nowdays don't care whether the 53rd division went right or left. what they're interested in is what it meant to human beings, and that's what i tried to do, and made it simple so we don't
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fill in all the numbers of armies and so on. this is just trying to tell what it was like at the sharp end, what it was like for the little people. they knew so little, for instance. only the great generals and the war lords really new much about anything beyond what they were saying. most people, even in britain and the united states, there was a fog of propaganda and uncertainty, and if you're on the frontline, let's say, you could guess something about who was winning and how things were going by whether your side was moving forwards or backwards and by the level of casualties. even that wasn't a reliable indicator. i remember looking at the memoir of an american soldier named eric diller, and he described how his unit was cut off from
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the main american army in the the fill -- philippines form 17 days and the didn't understand the predicament of his unit until after the war was over. an old friend of mine, british kole, my, who worked deciphering german codes, a terrific job, and a sensational movies about that. all these people who were doing the decrypting, they understand what they're doing. i remember roy saying to me, he said, yes, we knew what we were doing was important and it was urgent, but nobody told us anybody how it impacted the battle and whether it meant ships got sunk or didn't. it was only movie makers who presented that. so this terrible uncertainty, who can you trust, who is telling the truth, and so much propaganda and so much bulls
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hitt, frankly. and it was worst if you lived in japan or germany, but even in the united states or britain you only had the luxury of starting to tell the truth when the war was over. >> always been a sense in britain and the united states, this was a good war, morally and unambiguous, and you yourself at the end say, well, the bottom line is, the alternative -- >> the key point, what i tried to explain, it's been very important to all of us, both our paints and grandparents' generation and our own, the vision of the war is a good war. first of all, one thing i'd like to emphasize, the united states and britain, by allowing themselves with the soviet union in order to defeat hitler and letting stalin's tyranny do most of the dirty work of defeating
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the nazis, this was a huge compromise, and it seems to me that except for the one enormity, the single enormity of the holocaust, these were both terrible people. the soviet union did terrible things. and the result of it all was that at the end of the war in 1945, stalin demand his price for having played -- done the lionies share of defeating nazi. i, and the result was 90 million deeply unhappy people found they, at the end of the war we were celebrating and these poor, poor people in poland, for whom the british and the french had gone to war, they had just
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exchanged the nazi tyranny for the soviet tyranny, and what i said at the end of this book is that we just have to recognize that victory did not produce universal justice, fairness, freedom, decency. it produced some of those things, portions of those things, but some of the first unoccupied people of the world, we can't say that victory brought a new and glorious era. the only thing we can say is that the other side had won it would have been far, far worse for the world. so you can never have the complete satisfaction of saying, yeah, we were the guys in white coats and all gloriry. but it wasn't like that. and we should now -- we've grown
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up enough, nearly 70 years, to recognize that, and my admiration for the part those generations that went through the second world war and what they did, is absolutely up bounded, but we have to look at it in a bit more -- >> you don't shrink from the uncomfortable truth. you highlight the incident of the u.s. marine taking japanese heads and sticking them on poles. british war heroes, commander meiers victory, upsetting his men grievously by machine gunning survivors, enemy survivors. >> trying to see the perspective. i mentioned that some of the people who did these things ex-if they had been on the side that we've have didn't in the dock at nuremberg. and it wasn't -- whether you were on the winning side, meant
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that nobody ended up in the dock, and american g.i.s massacred italian prisoners in sicily. nomex of putting them in the dock. >> you mentioned austria. >> the austrians got off. we chose us -- treat it austrias victims, but the truth was austrians had done unspeakable things and got off scot-free, and not like the nuremberg was mistaken but we have to recognize the limitations. things just aren't quite as convenient or quite as black and white as we want them to be. >> but they never are. >> history is not -- there's a wonderful phrase, one of the great diaries of the war written by a german woman in berlin,
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about the may 1945 -- she wrote, this is the stuff of hoyt. i realize we're living through history. the story of tales up told and songs up sung, but she said history seen close up is an uncomfortable muddled business. she said, tomorrow i will have to go out and try to find some nettles to eat and find some coal to avoid freezing to death. >> all history is local and personal. >> all history is about what it means to you or -- it's talking about what is happening to other people on the other side of the world. allow know is if you're, let's say, a house wife in ohio who is husband has been out in the pacific for two years and don't know if you're going to see him again, you don't want to hear a thing about what a terrible time they're having in china or lenin
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grad. and all you know is it's hellish for you, and so trying to explain how different it was for all this extraordinary variety of people. one of my favorite hobby horses -- i always tell everybody, everybody should write their autobiography. not everyone will find publish ares but for their children and grandchildren. it was not surprising, sometimes cynics say we're all too obsessed with the second world war. but this was the greatest event in human history. it was one of the most terrible events in human history, and scarcely surprised we want to see what can we learn from it and what can we understand from it. i don't think there's anything in the least sinister about the way in which we all continue to
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read about and write about, the second world war. we're just trying to learn more about it. the only thing that could be sinister, there is an almost indecent fascination waive the nazis. you almost get shivery feelings about the way some people are obsessed with the nazis. and those people who glamorize it. and i suppose -- the only bad review of my books issue made it sound too gloomy. the reviewer said my dad was a submarine commander and he loved it. i said, what does that prove? of course if you were a submarine commander you had a lovely time. >> you mentioned your own father and having myself reported from afghanistan, and written a book about afghanistan and also being in iraq. maybe it's in the moment thing,
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but soldiers is what i was trained to do. i'm loving it. almost like all their lives it's dad and their professional live is there for this moment, and you do highlight that. and can't believe he is on then bridge of the ship and the admiral is paying attention to what he is saying. >> again, one has to be -- if you were an adventurer, every nation had its share of adventurers, some were german panzer officers and some were on the bridge of royal navy ships. if you were an adventurer, it was great. but, for instance, we've always in britain made a big thing about soes, special agents who worked behind enemy lines.
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there's very very good quote from an soe officer in albania, and he wrote about how after he and his mates had had a wonderful morning of statementing an attack on a german convoy down the road and tried to get shelter from a nearby village and their interpreter said in the end, he begged and pleaded with the local villagers, they slammed the door in his face and told him to go away, and he said afterwards, we were young men, british and all having a great romp, but for these people, they knew that what we had done to the germam or italians -- they were going to be along within days or hours and they were going to burn the village and quite likely they would kill the adults. might well kill the children. they would destroy their crops. they would do -- so those local
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people, they had a stake in what was happening, and in the adventures of these soe people. he said, we british have this rather selfish idea of other nations that refuse to help with our wars. we don't understand. but if you're an albanian peasant you see in stake in anything but protecting your family and your livelihood and your little hut and all these huge issues that british and americans are busy fighting for the cause of freedom. well, the same way for an indian peasant. an awful lot of people in india -- most of than indian army remained loyal to britain but an awful lot of indians couldn't see the point of the allies defeating the axis of the world if they, the indians, were going to remain british empires.
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they were going to be denied freedom and independence, and i quoted in the book, who later became the first and greatest prime minister of independent india in 1947, he said after pearl harbor, if i'm asked where are my sympathies in the war, i say i'm hesitating to be with america, britain, russia, china, but he said then if i'm asked, aim i going to fight for their cause, he said, how can i fight for freedom which is denied to me as an indian? because here i am sitting in a british prison cell. it was extraordinary. the british were pretty -- the americans, roosevelt, passionately pleaded with churchill to promise indian independence, and churchill wouldn't have anything to do with it.
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now, there were huge problems of india being granted independence in the middle of the war with the japanese at the gates. who knows when the might have happened. nevertheless, churchill went on expecting the indians just to be loyal, loyal servants of the raj. most indians wanted the british to go, and we were stupid in our reluctance to see that. >> you mentioned roosevelt and churchill, and although, as you say, you focus on the -- strong presence in the book and your other books. i talked about you not shrinking from truth. with churchill, although you clearly admire him and hard to see how britain could have union continued after june 1940 if it wasn't for churchill you write about the famine, which i guess
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many young people would not even know happened. >> the bengal famine is the greatest single blot on the allies participation in the war. many people haven't heard about it. at least one million and as many as three million people died while they were dying in hundreds on the streets of calcutta, while in the british clubs, whites were able to get up limited eggs and bacon. this is not a pretty story. what happened with the bengal traditionally got most of its rice from burma, and the japanese occupied burma, and then there was a cyclone, and appalling weather conditions to which east bengalis very prone, and suddenly there's famine, and the viceroy appeals to the
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british government to send relief supplies to east bengal, and churchill won't do it. he pleads strategic needs for the war. he says we need every ship we have for sicily and italy and all the other operation we're carrying out. we can't afford to send ships so relieve starvation in india. it was shocking. churchill behaved very callous lou, very brutal. the viceroy in charge of india, and wrote later when it come to starvation in holland, that hundreds of british bombers were diverted to drop food supplies to holland, he wrote, a very different sense of priorities in the british government when it's europeans who are threatened with starving to death. some dutch people did starve to death. so, it was a very ugly story,
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and it was -- this is what i mean about moral compromises. it would be quite untruthful and would have been easy to relieve famine in bengal. it was going to be very difficult with -- in the midst of the world war, burt the fact that churchill refused to try and that shipping allocations to india and the rest -- were to be cut because of the demand of the amphibious operations in other places. it was not as bad but it was -- famine in another british possession, and several famines in which east africa in which people were very, very hungry, and these are ugly stories that nobody wanted to go there 20 or 30 years ago. of course, the main -- the big picture of the war, the big
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battle, and tito, and all the great battles, the pacific war, the big events, but we don't have to be aware of all these other things that were going on in which more people were dying. one simple fact, fundamental, you had a better chance coming out of the war in one piece if you were wearing a uniform, if you were a servicemen, than you did if you were a civilian most of the casualties in the war were civilians, victims, who never carried a firearm, never shot anybody, who simply starved or died from disease, whether it was in china or east bengal or russia. it's -- you had chance of being a hero if you were wearing a g.i. uniform or a british uniform or a russian uniform, but an awful lot of these housewives and children -- i
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mean, russian soldiers, i quoted russian soldiers in the book. what really ground you down was when you saw tiny children who could do nothing, who could play no part but suffering this total fate. the old in the war. russia, stalin said they can't bring anything to the party and they got absolutely manipulate mall remarks. so if you were young or old, you would more likely starve to death. >> a part in your book, your discussion of the different armies. i mean, in term0s efficiency,. the red army incredibly brutal. and the question is, is it easier to produce a better army
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if you're your -- you're a totalitarian regime. >> british and american troops knew if they tried hard and the other side had them surrounded, then the civilized thing to do was to put your hands up and go to the war camp. the notion in our culture, moderation and respect for a human life to go for futile sacrifices, but the germans didn't shoot as many of their own people as the russias did but they shot plenty, and if you run away and got caught you got shot. but i'm very interested in one of my themes i think is very interesting, or certainly fascinates me and i hope it fascinates readers -- a sort of contradiction that on the one hand the german army fought battles brilliantly well.
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german soldiers right to the end were killing more russians or british or americans than we took casualties. but this was completely -- the fantastic stupidity with which the germans and the japanese ran the whole war, in that the americans and the british ran their war machines far, far better than the german. for example, we mobilized civilians much better. neither the japanese or germans give civilians authority in running the rationing system or running anything, or for example, the intelligence operations that we did. so we used the civilians brilliantly. the british and american war machines were run magnificently well. i think the united states navy
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was america's outstanding force, and i think the royal navy was britain's outstanding force. the more i learn about the united states navy -- u.s. air was also pretty good, but the u.s. navy, with overwhelmingly served by men who were civilians before the war, many had never seen the sea. they did brilliantly, in the pacific especially. and that was remarkable. it is this peculiar contradiction that here you have -- you put an ss panzer division, and people with fight brilliantly. thank god we had hitler working for our sighs. the nazis were so incompetent, you fine all these gangsters no more, no less, people like himler, these are just gangsters who were given enormous
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authority, given fantastic control, latitude, which they were quite unfit to exercise. the only thing they knew how to do is kill people, and thank god we had all the virtues of democracies came to the for, the way we mobilized our countries to organize the war. the american industry did a fantastic job and the american economy provided the means for the allied neighborses, inclusion the russians -- the russians marched to berlin on boots made in america. why were they made in america? because most of the cattle had been killed in fighting. so american boots, traveled in studebaker trucks and radios were made in the united states, and american canned meat. kept them going. so, american and british achievement, economic and industrially, was absolutely
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fantastic. the one more looks how incredibly -- one example. the japan dhhs first of owl, how the japanese thought they were ever going to be able to make a successful war against the united states, with ten times their economic power, god acknowledge -- god only knows. and then to launch a war, knowing you're completely dependend on imported materials, and yet they did nothing -- they created wonderful aircraft carriers and battle ships. they did nothing to create a credible commerce defense force. they're antisubmarine techniques were miles behind the allies. they had little radar, ineffective air patrols. so their commerce -- american submarines got to work but they almost had a free run. in the latter part of the war, american submarines were able to operate on surface indaylight,
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because the japanese were so incompetent, and if one is singling out americans always give enormous praise to the band of brothers and 101st airborne and all that, and this is all absolutely just they deserve all this attention and so on and so forth. but actually one group of people who did more than anything else in the united states, the united states navy submariners. there were 16,000 men. a tiny force, which manned the submarines. they made the decisive contribution to defeat of japan. what they did was fantastic. heavy losses. they lost a lot of people, but god, they were good, and, god, what they did was terrific. >> in terms of the american experience, you talk about the prepearl harbor when americans did not want to go to war.
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and then we discussed already the relatively speaking light casualties of the american forces, and of course the american mainland was untouched, and there wasn't the suffering you had in many other parts of the world. i was struck by a quotation where you said that with nosons of victory for the americans and i was struck by the quotation about americans -- i think it was the last time having a belief anywhere own virtue and conscious moves their own dominance. how did that world war experience inform the united states in conflicts afterwards? vietnam and maybe even now? that quotation would ring true today. >> it was extraordinary, but every other nation that has experienced the second world war eenemied with a strong sense of victimhood. they suffered and they knew it. the british utterly impoverished
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as well as been heavily bombed and rocketed and god knows what. there was the united states, which emerged from the war victorious, richer than they'd ever been in its history, its economy having expanded dramatically during the course of the war. and americans came out of the war feeling they'd not only been virtuous, which indeed they had, but not only been right, they'd also hugely increased and enlarged american power in the world, and they felt fantastically good about themselves. there was a contrast -- the british wanted to feel good about themselves. they felt the british generation who thought the war, we have done well. but then they're utterly broken and entirely dependent on american loans to pay the bills, and there they are living
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through this terrible phase of austerity and the collapse of the british empire, but the united states did enter a golden era. no doubt. the immediate post war era. returning heroes and in very few cases in history where americans returning heroes they did come back to a land of milk and honey, where america prospered mightily afterwards. it was sort of bound to be that way. but obviously it meant a shock later when america found it couldn't always get its way in the world when, as you mentioned, in vietnam, and so on and so forth, correspondingly great, but america hat had this wonderful 30 years after the second world war, when offering seemed to go its way. sure there, was the soviet union out there with the cold war, about i first came to this country in 1967 and i came from a prosperous english middle class background, -- but i was
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awed be the wealth and power of the united states and the confidence of the united states, and that was still -- that was before the sense of defeat in vietnam came through. it was before really -- obviously i arrived just about the time things started to go sour. i just caught this last glimpse of what it felt like to be americans in that wartime generation, which was terrific. >> a combination of innocence and confidence and sort of americans can-do, and that explains a lot about the post war period as you say. >> well, it was extraordinary. one never ceases to be, i suppose, -- if you believe, is a certainly do there is such a thing as the american genius but americans are more conscious of that in me immediate post war
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era than hey have ever been able to sense. but in a way they have had to have a reality check, because for most of us, most of the time, maybe we in one sense suffer more when things don't go our way because we don't expect them to go our way, but for the post war period, americans expected things to go their way, and so they damn well did. >> you talk about adventurers, and you're an adventurer yourself, you've been in 11 war zones, most famously the faulkins. how has your own experience of war close up and living -- in the falkins -- >> everything i experienced myself is nothing compared with
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what the people went through in the second world war. i remember so well after the falkins war in which there was a battle -- everybody has forgotten almost -- called goose green, which resulted in 17 killed, and i remember hearing old home and a british prime minister who served in the first world war, and i remember listening to him -- somebody was talking about goose green at a lunch i was at, steady, old man, he said, this is my war. a battalion that lost 17 wouldn't even know they were in a battle. and that's true. i learned a lot from personal experience about the ways of soldiers and what it's like. give you one example. soldiers talk about women but actually my experience enwhen you're on the battlefield, you would give absolutely anything
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for a bath, hot meal, and to be able to sleep in a bed, preferably alone so you don't want to believe all this stuff about power, and it's the sort of thing -- you have to talk about women, but how much -- there are other priorities. an american marine in the pacific who said, the real thing he was waiting to get back to when he got home, apart from wanting to sleep in pajamas, he was going to keep flushing the toilet for hours just to hear the water run. >> didn't have to dig a hole anymore. >> what you learn from being on battlefields, you learn about how terrifying it is to be under fire and you learn how difficult to make your limbs move from one place to another when you're really scared. so you learn about that. and you just learn about what it's like to spend -- i spent nothing like the people who were actually in the second world war -- being filthy dirty, utterly exhausted, hungry, cold,
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desperate for a drink. so you learn a little bit about that. and you learn how soldiers talk and think and you learn about weapons and you see aircraft shot down and you learn about that. the main thing you learn is just to be unbelievably grateful that one has survived and to be unbelievably grateful to those who did the things that did in our parents' and grandparents' generation. >> tell me how you go about writing -- one of the things that strikes me, you were a newspaper writer for ten years, and you have always been incredibly prolific, and the tales you write in 2,000 words, or 6,000 words on a good day, and even now you churn out -- i hope you don't mind me using that -- columns and you also do this. how do you manage? >> i love to write. it's what i do. a colleague of mine, when we
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were both young man, i said i don't know why we do this business, and we should be bankers and make pots of money and my friend said to me, why we do this, it's the only thing well know how to do. i can only say, the thrill -- my father when i was a teenager, used to talk to me about the challenge of a blank piece of paper, and i didn't understand what he meant when i was a bored teenager, but now when i sit down on a blank screen and you well to that excitement and i feel so fortunate and privileged that people are willing to read some of the things that one writes. >> the other quotation, neil collins, he said, you were complain about something in canary building, and he said, well, beats working for a living, doesn't it? is that also -- >> so many people in the world are unlucky enough to have to do jobs to pay the rent.
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they don't enjoy what they do at all, and you and i are terribly privileged people because we do something we enormously enjoy doing, and certain lay part of it i can say nothing has given me greater pleasure, and i travel around the world, including up and down about 35 american states, sitting, listening to very old men talking about the extraordinary things that happened to them, when they were dashing, handsome young men, and i never ceased to be absolutely fascinated by listening to those tales and had the chance to translate all those stories of men and women and children, from 70 nations. it's -- it beats working. it's fascinating. if you, as we all are, fascinated by human beings and how they behave,, what you find in wars, but especially in world
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war ii, world war ii -- some people still -- others film depths of evil in a way that commands the awe of posterity and certainly commands the awe of myself. >> and tell me about your dad? people are fascinated by how writers get through the day, and you're doing -- >> i usually start -- my dogs walk at about 6:00 in the morning, and whenever it's light in the winter. and then i sit down at the screen and you just start writing. i think one -- people have different techniques. for example, roy jenkins, a close friend of mine, roy would write maybe 500 words a day and then -- he was reluctant to
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change. i work completely differently. i write an awful lot of words and then change them and change them so i might write in the space of a morning 6,000 words for a book like that but very few of those 6,000 words will emerge in the final draft of what i do. but one is constantly refashioning, and the miracle of working with a computer, i wrote my early books in the precomputer age on type writer. it's so easy to slot things in and take things out, and all the time you're -- but the other skill, i think the other thing is indispensable you have to be able to read a huge amount. i'm in the beginnings of what happened before the first world bar and the first campaign. and pulling together the research -- i have a researcher getting together material, and i have a young german working for me in austria, and germany.
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i do a little french. when you end up at the moment i have 500 pages of typewritten notes, and i suppose i'll spend in the next 18 months or two years rear fashioning all that stuff into a coherent narrative. you still get that thrill, and i just found on my e-mails this morning that my russian researcher send me another batch of wonderful stuff from a russian memoir, unpublished russian memoir of what happened to him in 1914. and you just feel that terrific thrill. you think, you know that i find this fascinating and exciting to read and you know that somebody else is going to find it fascinating and exciting to read. i suppose the hardest part is getting started. writing the first 50,000 words of a book, especially a book
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like that, is tough. i've written 23 books now all told. when you get started, you never really quite believe how often you have done it, that you're going to get to the end, and then after you have -- my wife says i'm terrible to live with through the first 50,000 words, and then after that you think, maybe this is going to work. >> you talk about 1914 books. that's going to be the next book. have you finished with the second world war or still got more to say? >> the important thinges -- i'd like to think i've never written a book just for the money. i've always written them because i thought i had something to say. at the moment i feel that constitutes the last big things i want to say about the second world war. its up a to another generation of historians, including you to pick up the baton and take over. but one may find something. who is to say, in a few years,
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you come across something. always great revelations. but sometimes just something pops out of the woodwork that will excite you and provoke you and you feel, there's a story here i might want to tell. for the moment i'm loving working on "1914" and the reception has been so terrific from readers. from now on, i say it'sure turn. >> this is certainly a very excite and provoking book. an incredible achievement, and thank you for writing it. thank you for being here today to talk about it. >> thank you for having me, tony. ...


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