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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  May 5, 2013 6:35pm-7:01pm EDT

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at a meeting, and the door was opened by a woman, and turned out that she was his wife, and there were these children clinging to her skirt, and she was not -- i discovered, allowed out of the flat unless she was in his company, and this was very rarely. i was shocked by it. you know, making inquirelies, thinking about it, discovered that the parallels between women in saudi arabia, which, of course, much, much more extreme example of how women can be cultured away and denied access to the public's sphere and only allowedded to enter it if they are in company of a male relative, and that for extreme saudi arabia, but some extent, this sometimes happens among people, zealous commitment in the bible belt which is worth mentions because it's a civil liberties issue and issue of
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women in the societies. >> host: finally, i want to ask about another book written "among the dead cities," was the bombing, the allied bombing of germany and japan moral? >> guest: i don't think it was. i was very intrigued since a young boy, i wanted to be a spit fire pilot in the battle of britain involving time travel, better eyesight, and my mother's permission because i was 5 at the time. as i read more and more about it, i came to recognize this equivocation, always, about the nature of the area bombing campaigns. this was the indiscriminant bombing of cities by night, and not looking for individual military important targets, but just trying to demoralize the population and hurt the population, and it seems to me that the allied effort, especially the western allies, the united states and united kingdom, had great duty, to beat
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naziism, an evil thing to be defeated, but never allow ourselves to get away with thinking because that was the overriding concern, everything else that we did was okay, that we can't inspect our own activities, and the idea of indiscriminant bombing of civilian populations, that we did night after night, week after week, month after month; year after year, i think it does require investigation. the same with the at tom bombing of jay -- japan. we didn't do ourselves any favors. we have to learn the lessons from it, ask ourselves hard questions. the ends don't justify every mean, and so we've got to be ready to confront our past and make use of what we learn from it for the future. >> host: booktv viewers want to contact you, is there a website? >> guest: yes, if they were to look at the new college of the humanities, that's the college of which i'm there, and they
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will get hold of me through there. >> host: "cheers, america," how an englishman loved to learn america, mr. webb, when were you in the states, and why? >> guest: i was sent to the united states in 2002. >> host: sounds like a sentence. >> guest: well, to be honest, at the time, it field like one. i didn't know anything about the united states. i was based in brussels for bbc, the bbc correspondent there, got a call, do you want to go to america? i thought, well, i don't know anything about america. i don't know anything about the politics. never had a particular interest
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in the place, but i do not one thing. i know this from films, it's sunny there. i'm sick of living in brussels where a friend said it's like the inside of a milk bottle. in the olden days, milk came in bottles that got clouded up, and that's what it's like to live in europe's capital. we give it a go. on the basis, frankly, of no knowledge, not a huge amount of interest, we decided to accept the offer of a job, and i say "we," my family, i had very young twins then, just born in brussels, so we went off to the u.s., and, obviously, had a grim time just after the attacks of 9/11, the next year, and we thought we'd give it a go, and giving it a go turned into quite liking it, and quick liking it turned into liking it a lot, and liking it a lot eventually turned into loving it, and we had another child who was born in washington, d.c., so he's a u.s. citizen, and we stayed all
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of eight years, and developed this kind of relationship where our families now intertwined with the united states because we have a u.s. citizen in our midst, as she often remind us, and she was said to me once, i'm only staying with you, i'm going back to america where i belong. she's 9 years old now, developing a passion you get at that age, particularly, if you're an american, but more importantly, i think, i realize that all the presuppositions, the british people in particular have about americans, and, actually, europeans as well have about americans, are either untrue or are semitrue, so i thought i'd set out both in the reporting when i was based in the united states, but also in this book, to kind of set a few of the things right. >> host: what is one of the presuppositions? >> guest: here's a big one, that the united states is really like britain, only a bit bigger. bigger cars, bit more space, but
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apart from that, you are crazy about guns, really, like you speak roughly, speak english, what you assume is english, but apart from that, you're like us, wrong, big wrong, as you know, and i think all americans know, but as british people fail to know, we are utterly, utterly separate, culturally, we could not be more different. the realm springs of where we come from are so different, which is odd when you think of the may flower and think of the special relationship recently downgraded to an essential relationship, is that a downgrade or upgrade? i don't know. anyway, think of the relationship between the two countries, you kid yourself into thinking that there is a kind of cultural closeness, but there is not, and you are so utterly difference from us, and i give, you know, one example in the book, which sounds facetious,
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but, actually, a deeply important one. british people are often drunk, i'd say, and american, decent americans, going about their everyday business are not. i give the example of coming back to britain during the time i was based in the united states, sitting on a train, going to oxford from london, and there were a group of young people, i mean, in their 20s, working people, sitting behind me, discussing, for the whole hour it took to get to oxford, how drunk they'd been the night before and how they'd been sick and how this had looked and felt, and, you know, it was -- it was ease -- eskimoes have words for snow, and they were talking about words of being drunk. it is a conversation you could not have imagined hearing, and there is something about this
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country, something about our relaxed attitude, our lush attitude to drubbingen -- life, drunkenness is one of them, pushing us in a place that's not your place. you're straight-laced, one way of putting it, more puritan is another way of putting it because of the background and the formation of the american character through that initial burst of puritanism, but, also, fundamentally, you are more serious, i think. america is a more serious place, and everything that screams out of you from hollywood and from tv, generally, and from knowing american, hey, about you, it couldn't be less true. you are fundamentally, in your core, a serious people. we are fundamentally, in our core, a kind of battered and rather drunk p and unserious people, and i think, you know, getting that straight and
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exploring why it is and where it comes from, certainly, for me, in the whole eight years in the united states, was an endless fascination. >> host: in "cheers, america," you mention the special, special relationship between u.s. and u.k. writing america's relationship with china is far more important than its relationship with england? >> guest: yes, absolutely. the idea that the united states needs to base foreign policy in the future on us, our little country without our dwipped ling resources, that somehow because of our rough comedy of purpose with democracies, we believe in freedom, roughly speaking, because of that, we are somehow going to be important to you in the future, i think, couldn't be more wrong. the united states has to base a
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thorough good analysis where the world stands in vis-a-vis the united states, on relationships more difficult relationships, but, ultimately, much more productive relationships with the world's coming powers, and, obviously, china is absolutely prime among them. that doesn't mean that you completely dismiss us or that on occasions we don't do useful business together, that doesn't mean on occasions it's useful, stim, for an american president to come to london and see the queen and beam the pictures across the united states, but, actually, when you think about who americans are in future generations, where they come from, what they believe in, the idea that they have the same since of britain and britain people being part of them is mad. that just isn't going to be the future america, and that classic
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example of that, i went to see a very senior person in the obama white house to say good-bye when i was leaving in 2009, and we had a little discussion, and i said to this person, why was it that one of the first things the obama white house did that caused a lot of upset in britain, this, was get the best of winston churchill that was in the bush oval office, and chuck it out, get rid of it? why did he do that, your bestest ally in the whole world, and the guy looked at me, and said, oh, people are mad? we thought it was eisenhower. he said, what other guy looks like -- i thought, you know, he was only half joking, actually, because that is modern america. it is people who have a view of the world that is not the kind of mayflower view of the world, it's not the view of the world you get in kansas city, missouri. it's not the view of the world among the kind of older
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generation of white americans who regard, you know, britain as being something special, and i spent a lot of my time, particularly in the flyover states based in the united states, you know, pretending to be hugh grant, basically, that english thing, and people loved that, but i'm very, very aware that future america is not that america. future america comes from china, has ties with mexico, with croatia, russia, all these nations around the world, and doesn't have that kind of sense of itself as being based in britain and british thought, and i think on both sides, american and british side as well, we have to understand that. >> host: you talk about visiting kansas in the flyover countries. what did you experience? what were the questions asked of you? >> guest: first thing, i say this to british people, is
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america is a nicer, gentler place than we give it credit for. we are too obsessed in britain with guns, and we have a kind of easy sense and you give the example in a book, and it's one of my favorite places in the whole united states is des moines, you go to des moines or the towns outside des moines, which every reporter does every four years, and every foreign reporter does because the caucuses, the iowa caucuses are important, and where the whole presidential thing begins, and you go quite a few times getting a sense of what it's like to live in that kind of state, and it's a friendly, gentle place. i remember being in, actually, it was not in des moines, but a small town in iowa, pulling up
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to let our tv crew and get some coffees, and i parked where you are not meant to park, and a cop came up, lights on, eni thought he'd move me on, walked up, motioned to roll down the window, i did it, sorry, and i work for the bbc, we're getting coffees. he said, sir, you go out and get warm. i'll look after the car while you are in there. i thought there's no other country in the world where that kind of friendliness, openness, ability to just take stock of the situation and be easy about it, and no other country in the world would have that to the extent it happens in middle america, so i actually came away from middle america really rather loving it. it's not the future, but it's a terribly important part of the america's past, and i hope that some of the things that inform middle america, some of the ways of life that have been spawned and nurtures in middle america
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do actually last the test of time and do influence the waves of immigrants who come to the u.s. in the future and the people who already there who are going to be driving the future because i think middle america is, again, one of the things that's underestimated of europeans is being an important part of the america more generally, and it is an important part, so i really love it. >> host: justin webb, how would you explain to the british people about the u.s. congress, the u.s. president, how they act, cooperate, don't, itself? >> guest: i think that american politics is broken to an extent that a lot of americans don't yet fully grasp, and i know that among those who carry about these things, there's a real discussion in the united states about the failure of cooperation on capitol hill, about the way in which this is a level of hatred, and that's not too strong a word in modern
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america politics, not even relatively recently, but i actually think go go further than that, and i wonder whether there is an extent to which the u.s. constitution, this wonderful document that is in so many ways being so grate for you, you -- is vast, not fit for purpose in thed photos earn age. i think you have too many elections. i think the house of representatives is a failed body. i think you have to get to grips with the gerrymandering taking place on both sigh sides, -- both sides, but you have a house that is just doesn't do what it was originally meant to do, and where members of the house, those members of the house who worry about reelection, and there are not many of them, but those who worry about reelection, reelections are constantly raising money, and the rest just sit there and are
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very much beholding to the extremes of the party because that's what got them in and could get them out in terms of getting booted out by the parties themselves. i think there's structural issues that affected your politics very badly. i think as well, a failure on both sides of the political aisle of people to speak plainly to the supporters about the choices facing the modern united states, that's not a structural thing. that's a choice thing. i don't know if it's because of the internet age, whether it's because of the level of the basis has fallen away, the -- there is something that has prevents now, american politics being the open, honest endeavor that it should be. you could say, hang on a sec, never has been, and policy is a
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rough business, and if you look back over american history or of the british history, you see all sorts of poor practices in the past as much as there are today, but i think we have reached a stage where people are disgusted, if that's not too strong a word to use, and i don't think it is, disgusted by what they see among the political class and tail euroof the political class to be straight with people saying these are the choices issue and the classic issue at the moment facing the republican party, seems to me, this is question of the extent to which america is a welfare state, the extent to which america is as europe is, a place where everyone, to an extent, is looked after, and i think it's a legitimate debate, and it's not something i would impinge on, and i'm sympathetic as an american way of doing
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things because it's done well over 2 # # 00 or more years, so i'm not in any way, shape, or form in the book suggesting americans should be more european, and, in fact, rather the opposite, but you have to be honest with yourselves about the extent to which you are that frontier people where you don't depend op any government, federal government, state government, anything at all, do it yourself, or whether actually in the modern age, that's unrealistic, whether it's setting up businesses, whether it's providing the infrastructure that modern societies depend on, whether it's keeping the citizens relatively healthy and able to participate fully, everyone to their full extent, to the extent of their capabilities, and all those things, you got to decide the extent to which you want america to be a place that is genuinely inclusive, and it seems to me that that debate is a good debate to have, but it's
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not a debate openly in the u.s. policies. >> host: page 93 of "cheers, america," people could take issue of what you say in the photograph. this is justin webb writing, "we talk about the u.s. being a religious place, and it is, but the south is where the spooky action is. the south is where church attendance really is above 50%, close to 60% in states like alabama and louisiana. drive around the south on a sunday morning, and the chapel car parks are filled to overflowing with dukes of hazard pickup trucks, a mini rush hour when the faithful drive home, spitting chewing tobacco out of the broken side windows into the ditches bordering the enless space of the fields." >> guest: it's true. who could argue with that? seems to me like an honest portrayal. i think, i mean, it's another much issues where, as we said
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right at the start, you know, britain and america are so different. one of the great cultural chasms is religion. there are plenty of religious people in britain that attempt to be a private thing. in the united states, you know, that's not the case. it's extremely public, and it's out there, and you have an extent to which religion is salient in society, generally, in politics, in culture, that just marks you out as being sw, certainly in terms of post-industrial society, not that just different from britain, but everyone in the whole world, and it's fascinating. number one, why that is, but, number two, where it is, and i think the geographical divisions in the modern united states are fascinating, and, again, one of the things that outsiders don't grasp, a geographical division in politics where republicans you see particularly hard line
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republicans as it were, the extremes of the party being based much more now in the south than in the rest of the country, you look at the debate about guns that's going on at the moment, the importance of the south, that kind of sense of the south, in that dpeabt, as opposed to the big cities, and, you know, here in britain, an awful lot of people regard everyone in america carries a gun, a concealed weapon. you actually go there, go to the big cities, go to, i don't know, rural south carolina, and there's a huge different because in rural south carolina, there's quite a lot of gun, not just one, but ten if you're a real man. if you're living in manhattan, it's very unlikely you got any. that sense of division between the south and the rest of the country, i think, is a really important one. the reemergence of the division, and i'm not suggesting there's another civil war, but i am
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suggesting it's an important aspect of modern america, and i think the religiousty, the sense of religious belief being something you want to ram down people's throats, that you want to say it informs me, and it should inform you as well, and i want to live in a country where we believe these things, and we act on them, that is very much, i think, in modern america a southern thing so where i wrote kind of semifacetiously about the pickup trucks and all the rest of it, i do think that the religious everyonetous of modern america sure of heck doesn't come from los angeles or from connecticut or -- it comes from the south, for better or for worse. >> host: justin webb, you seem particularly taken with america's suburban culture. why is that? >> guest: because we don't
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really have it in britain, actually. there's a genius about america suburbs because what you managed to do is live in comfort and modernity, but at its best, you kept that kind of wellspring of volunteerism, of sense of pioneer spirit, like you managed to melted the two in a way that's clever, and you also got the freedom, the -- we associate with america, but you've also, actually, got a lot of rules that we would regard as quite dramatically draconian. one, particularly from suburbs. fist day arriving in washington, d.c., we parked outside our new house, and the neighbors came round and welcomedded us as you expect, but they said, you have to move your car. why? because you parkedded facing the direction of traffic, and we lived in brussels where you park in the middle of the road and nobody cares. ..
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>> there a lot of aspects that you can see. that may be part of the two together. i think actually, it is in the suburbs of the united states. in a but in a way, you have the biggest interactions on how to live. >> host: what about efficiencies? are americans efficient


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