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tv   Book Discussion on The Upstairs Wife  CSPAN  February 21, 2015 1:02am-2:04am EST

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. he said, blair set to leave the country looks to you quote is the representative of a washington family and that was hardly an exaggeration because here after all was the son of george washington's most famous eulogists and is the symbol of george washington's adopted child. so now only one word separated robert e. lee from the pinnacle of his profession from command opal will be the largest american army ever raced from glory perhaps that no american since george washington would know. what did robert e. lee say? he said he opposed secession and he did oppose the session. that secession was illegal and equally significantly he that george washington was supposed to secession. that was no given at the time because people on both sides of the conflict claimed george washington for their own. secessionists they george washington was a rebel who rebelled against the union with
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the british. on the other side unionists will say george washington in his farewell address said the price the union of any allegiance. actually robert e. lee is reading a biography of george washington in the months before the civil war and he is hearing these arguments and he concludes that he basically agrees with the unionist position. he believes george washington would have opposed secession. so what else does lee say to francis blair? he says he would would gladly washes hands of slavery. he would gladly get rid of all slavery if it would avoid war rate but then he says how can i raise my sword against my native state? here the blair family position says lee hesitated that is lee told the story he gave the answer once, no biggie turned down the command though he did not turn his commission to the
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army surfer more than three decades. he returns to arlington house. he soon learns that virginia in fact has voted to secede from the union and there on april 20 the writes a letter resigning from the army and his wife recalled recall that decision to resign the severe struggle of his life. three days after sending that resignation letter lee is welcomed in richmond is the new commander-in-chief of all virginia's armed forces and the convention president, the president of the virginia secession convention says basically that robert e. lee is the second coming of george washington and he hopes that what was once said of george washington will soon be said of robert e. lee first in war first in peace, first in the hearts of countryman. the very worst that harry lee used to describe george washington.
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so we face this tragic tension in lee's story. robert e. lee for his part would say he didn't have a choice. it wasn't so much that he said he made the right choice. he said he made the only choice. it was very much like him to say he could never have his own way so we decided to have virginia's way. but at the same time we also know that other virginians made different decisions. winnefeld scott his mentor in the army decided to stay with the army and when robert e. lee came to winnefeld scott and told him he had turned down the man at that union army winnefeld scott said to lee, lee you have made the greatest mistake of your life but i fear will be so. it's true the decision that robert e. lee made cost him terribly. one of the very first things
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that happens after robert e. lee decides to fight for virginia is that union soldiers cross the bridges from washington and c. sierra lincoln heights were robert e. lee had lived and if you have ever been to washington you know why they did this. because of the confederacy had managed to fortify those heights overlooking the city of washington you could have destroyed washington. and in time as the casualties mount in this were union authorities are going to decide to turn arlington the state were robert e. lee married the daughter of george washington's adopted son into that cemetery that we know today. and that is just the beginning. i think as you read how lee's decision to fight against the union toward its ties to its founder you'll be astonished because it's shockingly personal the price that we paid. now my wife, i bring her up again, we'll tell you that the reason i became so fascinated by
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it this decision is how a reversible it was. and as a writer i have a very different -- because i can write something in research and i can change it a million times and revise it and that's what writers do. but we never had that luxury. there was no going back. we talk so often about social movements and trends and we sometimes forget that history is not inevitable. history can turn on the decision of a single individual and here was such an example. robert e. lee's decision forever change the course of american history. you ask yourself how did it change the course of american history? just imagine the counterfactual. what would have happened if robert e. lee had accepted that command? what would have happened if a soldier most associated with george washington has a beginning in that george washington had created? what would we think of our country? how would that have changed her outlook and there's perhaps no better place to honor that question then arlington.
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if you go out past the graves of men who died defending the union and you go up to arlington heights which robert e. lee's father-in-law virginie billed as a memorial to george washington but is now a monument to robert e. lee, it's a national robert e. lee memorial and you stare across the potomac river at the city of washington you will see the washington monument rising in the distance. but before the washington monument is the lincoln memorial memorial. that's a powerful symbol for our country because for all the property of these connections george washington, he is no longer the american that most folks associate with george washington. that honor belongs to the sum of kentucky who was born without a single connection to george washington. that honor belongs to abraham lincoln. herman melville woods wrote who looks at lee must think of washington.
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in that so deep with grievous meaning that is that. i hope you'll read about an ibook and i hope you will come to washington to see some of the places i describe and i'm so thankful to all for coming. i'd be happy to answer your questions. thank you. [applause] [applause] yes? >> there's a story after the war in a church a black man comes forward coming of the story. myself i don't believe it but i would like you to comment on it. because it is told in several ways. could you comment? >> sure. the story is robert e. lee is in a church and there is a black man praying and robert e. lee and no one knows what to do. robert e. lee goes up and kneels
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beside him. that's a story that's been told by many people. the truth is we don't know. it was told many years after the event so it's very difficult to evaluate the accuracy of the story. i have just actually seen a recent article of people debating it so unfortunately i can't answer the question. if there is some evidence that something like that happened what were robert e. lee's motives for doing it is something we can answer. it's possible what he was thinking was he's didn't like people feeling awkward and the best way to put this event behind was to go on with his business and set an example for upper body else but they should also go on that with their business. so we just don't know. it's a great story you brought up and i can't say it's not true and i can say it is true so it's right on the front lines of history. yes? >> i don't understand what happened to lee after the war.
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he visited the greenbrier and i know he spent some summers there and there was one summer a few years after the war was over confederate generals were there as well. he ended up signing something known as the greenbrier doctrine. can you talk about that? been after the war he leaves appomattox and goes back to richmond and has this vision that maybe he will try to get a plot of land to farm. if the union authorities would allow him to do that. ..
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becomes president of washington college, and today, of course, we know washington college as washington & lee university because it was immediately renamed as soon as robert e. lee dies. now, lee did go out to the greenbrier lot and there was -- he did participate in the greenbrier document that you named, and -- that was an example where he was trying to be drawn into politics and he was often reluctant to do this at least openly, because he felt that he had voiced some
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politics at least openly was not very useful. a couple other examples of people trying to draw him into politics. he was called to washington to testify before congress shortly after the war and he was asked all kinds of question and they want him to speak for virginia, and he didn't wasn't to do that at this point. but he does answer questions. and he says, i don't even read newspapers anymore, which isn't completely true. he still has a very firm understanding what is happening in the country so he is slightly pulling a fast one and in his private correspond yeps he remains extremely engaged in politics, very opposed to what he sees as the radical republicans and what they're doing to the country, and he actually -- i told you before the war, he was opposed to secession and thought secession was illegal. after the war, he actually changed his views, and you may have heard these letters. he says maybe secession wasn't
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illegal and maybe the founding fathers always permitted secession, and so i think it's understandable why he might have changed this view. he has just bun through this horrific war. led thousands of men into battle and at some point he injures seeks essentially absorbs theson argument -- the southern argument for secession so lee does one other important thing, and i'll mention this right now. just because he thinks now that secession might not have been illegal herb tells people this matter is forever settled. he tells them to raise their children as americans, to put the civil war behind and go be productive citizens. yes. >> did you find any evidence of where his antislavery feelings came from? i mean, did re -- he read -- where did that come from?
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>> so, that's a great question. robert e. lee married into a family his mother-in-law was very religious, and she took the attitude -- she basically was one of the leading members of the american colonization society, and she thought it was basically a religious duty to prepare slaves to find freedom in african colonies. and this was a very important mission to robert e. lee's mother-in-law and then to his wife. robert e. lee wasn't so active necessarily in the american connellizeation society, but actually his father-in-law became somewhat active as well and when he died, he actually left a will as i mentioned, but the will had something else. it said, you must raise enough money to pay off my debts and my legacy. but you must emancipate my slaves within five years. now, these are completely
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impossible goals to reconcile. because he can't pay off the debt and legacies the estate owes if he is a emancipating the work force he needs to raise the money, and this whole conflict actually plays out in the national media before the civil war, because there's a great national interest in what happens to these slaves because people know that robert e. lee's father-in-law was george washington's adopted son and robert e. lee actually struggles with this. he at some point says that his father-in-law has left him a terrible legacy. >> he has great affection for virginia obviously, because he is a native virginian, but there's so much in his life that must have drawn him to have great affection for the nation. west point, united states army didn't just live in virginia.
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he lived all over the country. what tipped the scales in your opinion? >> well, i think what tipped the scales -- you're absolutely right. he constantly talks about how he -- how much he loves the union and his devotion to the union. but he has been taught from his very first day that his first allegiance is to virginia, and even in that time people were surprised. they said, seems strange to us that someone who was so associated with george washington is ignoring the message of the george washington's farewell address but lee never waiverred in the question. he always felt he had a duty to virginia and was determined to fulfill that duty. so he is either going to portray -- betray his country or go to war against his home state, and that we be very difficult to so. not to say other virginians didn't make the choice. it's just to understand it was an extremely difficult decision to have to make.
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>> yes. >> how about the statement that one of the differences between lee and washington was that washington realized that the commander-in-chief was -- what he mainly had to do was not lose the war, and that lee never had that insight to possibly end the civil war that would have been true. >> right. that's one of the criticisms often leveled at robert e. lee. if you think about the civil war was very different than the revolutionary war. the -- he joined he revolutionary war, george washington was facing an enemy who was an ocean away. robert e. lee was fighting an enemy that was a river away. and he very much felt that time was not on his side. that's sort 0 a revisionist arguement to say he didn't feel that. he thought the longer the war
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went on for the more men the union to brick to bear and union armies would come to the south and cause damage he thought the south social order would snap, and basically he felt he had to break the north's political will before the south had its social order snapped. that's why you find him so devoted to the concept of trying to tee destroy the union army and even after his greatest victories, the battle of chancellorsville in 1863 he is frustrated. you think about his greatest victory. he doesn't celebrate it because the union army got away and he felt he had to destroy the union army. and there is -- i think there is a good arguement to be made for his point of view that time wasn't necessarily on his side. >> i came across an interesting comment in jones' -- toward the end of the war, there's a -- [inaudible] -- katrina -- crown lee as
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caesar and maybe win this thing. >> it was published in newspapers at the time. newspapers openly said, basically, george washington was essentially a dictator at the end of the revolutionary war. what we need right now is robert e. lee to take that authority. now lee him was never interested in that. he felt that he could barely do what he had to do to oversee the army of northern virginia. how could he possibly take responsibility for everything else? that said he does end up accepting the title of general in chief of al the confederate forces, which just makes his job all the much harder and you might thing he celebrates this as a great honor, but he sees it as a burden and not something to celebrate because, again, it's a sign of just how desperate the times were that people were saying things like that. yes? >> how can you not support
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social order in the south and be for the southern evidences of secession and rebellion. he wanted to have social order maintained as it was. how is that possible to do so? >> i think you can make the argument that he had a more gradual view and he would have said that, for example it wasn't that he was opposed to emancipation. but he was in favor of it he said after the war, gradual emancipation. he said that was always his point of view. he doesn't mean he necessarily wanted everything to happen at once. and i think part of the key is understanding robert e. lee was truly a conservative and in fact he was so conservative he ends up being unable to rebel suppose you could say against rebellion. might be a key to understanding his personality. he can't rebel against rebellion
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and he gets -- basically decides he can't have his own way, he'll have virginia's way. >> supports the south rebellion and slavery, didn't he? >> i think, as a backdrop question that's true and there's no escaping that. the point that you're making. in fact, what the cause ends up becoming -- robert e. lee is somewhat aware of that, because later in the war there's some confederates holding out hope for foreign recognition, and robert e. lee is not interested in hearing it because he says to rest of the world this looks like a contest between slavery and freedom and as long as that's the case no foreign power will intervene on our behalf to so put aside those thoughts. i think the point is well taken. yes? >> did you come across anything in his writings about his thoughts about lincoln's assassination? >> he actually gives an interview when he gets back to
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richmond, which is not like him. and he is on the record with his views about that. and he is very disturbed by it. he thinks this is a terrible act, and his biggest fear is that the north is going to blame this on the south, and it's going to lead to retribution or even worse, and he thought it was a terrible act. >> of the signing of the treaty of appomattox, and what i have read, lee was so formal in his military gear and france was just the opposite. is that accurate? >> that is in fact accurate. pretty much that moment has been described that way ever since it happened. robert e. lee comes in, and he is buttoned up to his throat. grant has his blouse kind of not even fully buttoned. robert e. lee has this fancy
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sword. grant has no sword at all. robert e. lee had beautiful spurs. grant comes in with muddy boots. robert e. lee has this perfect posture, grant is sort of slumped over looking, and you have this amazing contrast between two great generals and it's something that people noticed then and have noted ever since. yes? >> i believe that robert e. lee's graduating second in his class at west point, and was at the time they usually went -- became engineers. how was he able to get into the infantry and where did he learn all his o.j.t. to be the head of the northern virginia army? >> i'm glad you asked. actually he was an engineer. he did graduate second in his class and subpoena the engineers and that was considered the most prestigious branch of the army
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you can go into. the reason why he whereas coming through -- was coming through louisville in 1837. he was on his way to st. louis to perform some work on the mississippi river. during the mexican-american war he puts his skills to work because engineers played an important role in deciding where armies can go and lee has what is called then a peculiar talent for topography and recognizes he can see routes around he mexican army, but his background as an engineer comes back during lee's early campaigns in the civil war. we tend to have this image he was immediately successful in the civil war. that's actually not true. his first campaigns were disasters. he was sent to western virginia in 1861, and he has a very elaborate battle scheme for what will happen and requires independent columns to converge all at the same moment, and the plan is just a complete failure and newspapers in the south
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actually say, robert e. lee is too much of an engineer to be able to command. he is not a soldier, and what we need right now is fighting men. now, of course in 1862 when robert e. lee chases george mccell land off the peninsula those damn newspapers are speaking very differently about mr. lee at that point. >> what was grant's opinion about robert e. lee. >> grant says that lee has -- it's almost impossible to be able to read his facial expressions. even in this moment of ultimate defeat for lee, he is holding himself together with complete self-control and grant knows that. the other thing that is so interesting about that meeting between grant and lee is that grant actually has a pretty good memory of robert e. lee from the mexican-american war, and lee has been struggling to sort of picture grant's face the whole
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time he has been fighting him, because during that time robert e. lee what much more important that ulysses s. grant and there's one more meeting -- another meeting that happens between grant and lee and that takes place at the white house when grant becomes president and robert eastern lee actually goes to the white house and meets the newest occupant. you can only imagine what that meeting must have been like for robert e. lee. >> you say he had this peculiar talent for looking at poverty. so the gettysburg fiasco where he did not take his lieutenant's advisements under consideration, do you believe his permit of holding things in and being in control and being overwhelmed with the loss of stonewall jackson just before had anything to do with his poor decisionmaking? >> he certainly looks back at gettysburg and never gives an
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explanation why it failed. he is not getting good intelligence because jeb stewart disappeared, his cavalry commander, and he goes another a joy ride before gettysburg and lee relies on him for intelligence help believes his core commanders don't act in unison, and he believe even if pickets charge, it could have succeeded if he had proper artillery support but no one told him they were rung low low on artillery. i think pickets charge as a sense of frustration for lee. he has to destroy the union army and feels he is running out of time. if you go a back to chancellorsville, you look at robert e. lee's view of the battle, he is furious. furious at joseph hooker who escapes and a lot of confederates think that hooker's final position at chancellor'sville was a strong position, and robert e. lee was
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planning to order a frontal assault against that position but hooker withdraws that night, and so in some sense, hooker makes the greatest mistake of his life by retreating, and saves-eastern lee from making a mistake that will make the pickets charge. >> did lee ever write down what he thought of arming slaves as confederate soldiers? >> he did. he was asked that question directly, and he did say that he thought at this point it was better to begin to enlist african-americans in the fight and he thought you had to have include emancipation as part of the deal because the people would not fight unless they would get emancipation and basically the attitude was it's better to have them fight with us if they're going to be fighting against us. so he does take that view. yes? >> i believe after the war there was a lot of pressure on lee
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from former generals and officials of the former confederacy to write his moment moyers and he procrastinated and died in 1870. was there any preliminary material he might have gathered together that was available for historians and so forth? >> there is, actually. it's a relatively recent discovery. lee did say right after the war he wanted to write his memoirs but you have to remember he had lost almost all of his personal papers during the war so he is actually writing letters and asking people to send him those documents. so he can try to reconstruct some idea of what has happened but it's such a frustrating process he basically does abandon the project. what he does instead is write a memoir of his father and he writes a short buying agraph of him and that's an awkward task
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bus he goes through, and you can see this in his edits to the biography of his father where he crosses out certain things. it says his father zealously opposed the virginia resolution from 1798, and robert e. lee crosses that out and he doesn't
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you feeling for him change as you went through the journey you described, and from the
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compelling question that drew you to him, did you find some reconciliation yourself? how did you feel about his decision as a historian? >> i'm glad you asked that question. actually, going back to the previous question so much we'llly think of robert e. lee as a symbol for one thing or another and is such a divisive figure in our society and we're always trying to make him represent something. regardless of whatever you think about the civil war, and what i found some which was wonderful at the time was by looking what he actually wrote, and looking at the letters he wrote to his wife and his children, i got to see a man who could be very funny at times, who could be sometimes flirtatious with women, but he also has an extreme sense of frustration, feeling he could never have his own way in life and that he was always being forced into roles not of his own choosing, and
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there's something about that, i think, that makes this story very tragic. i think robert e. lee's story is a unique tragedy in american history. yes? >> as president of the washington college how effective was he and what was his life like there and what was his emotional state there following the war and his experience. >> he was actually a very involved president. you might think he took the post and was going to sort of let other people do the work, but that wasn't much like robert e. lee, he actually held long office hours. when boys didn't do their work they were called in to see general lee, and we can only imagine how that went. but w actually we know. a lot of them left with tears. he actually was quite progressive in his ideas about education. he thought at this point that we needed to -- college needed to
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expand offerings to prepare people for jobs in the south at that time. so he expands the school dramatically increases its endowment. one program he proposes is a scholarship for field -- for a course of study in a field that he dislikes, which is journalism. i think people see robert eastern lee after the war and a lot of people see him taking long rides on his horse, traveler and they wonder what is on his mind because they can see a sadness in his eyes and so his son said one can only imagine what he was thinking during those rides. yes? >> i thought the story of reconstruction has been somewhat re-assessed recently or not too long ago or do many americans still look at reconstruction
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through the eyes of "gone with the wind." >> you're absolutely right. people definitely look at it differently. i didn't mean to imply it looked at it one way or another when i said what robert e. lee thought about it. that sort of -- what robert e. lee thought bat about what is happening to the country, not so much -- i don't know if you care to know what i necessarily think and i think reconstruction has been re-evaluated and we see a lot of good things that came out of reconstruction that are very different from the old traditional narrative and a lot of ideas that would later find their time in american history and we're certain lay better country because of it. yes? >> does lee ever address a guilt about the deaths of many, many thousand men under his command? >> yes. so i guess i answered the question two different ways.
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when hi is talking about those people, the union army, he would be perfectly blunt often says he wishes that he could have destroyed more of the army because he thinks it's so essential to victory to destroy the union army. but after gettysburg he does say -- don't have the exact words but he basically says he wishes he could never see blood again or have to watch bullets be fired ever again because he has seen so many good men die. i think that is a statement of -- i wouldn't say it's regret but it's certainly a sign of just how much these deaths affect him and actually i didn't get a chance teen mention this put one of the very first most personal deaths that happens to robert e. lee is during an early campaign in 1861 in western virginia. the brings as an aide another great grand nephew of george washington and this man is actually the heir to mt. vernon and he dies under robert e.
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lee's command, and this has a devastating impact on robert e. lee. he feels the loss very sharply. >> was there a final question? >> as you studied the characters back then, how do they compare with the casualties today in washington? is there -- [laughter] sounds like this guy is this way? >> i say in the beginning, when con fronted with a tough question, there's one thing you expect washingtonians to do and that duck. >> are you from washington? >> i'm not washington. i think it's just so hard to say. i'm often asked and have been asked recently what robert e. lee say about the way the world is today. and i think it's just impossible question. it's just -- we can't know because so much has happened and it's not fair to stick him from
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1870 the last thing he knew, into 2015, and say what do you think about healthcare reform or something like that. he couldn't have even conceived of where we are as a country, -- one think we can know he would be fascinated by the develops in transportation because he was an engineer to the end, and he did have this great feeling about the country being bound together by these different modes of transportation, whenever he took a train, he would clock and say, it could have been a half a day faster if it had been run more efficiently. so i think he would find that very interesting. but as for a political situation, i'm going to take a pass on the question. it's just too hard to make comparisons. the civil war is such a unique period in our history, and i think we can all agree that we hope that the matter has been forever settled and our country never has to undergo something like that ever again. >> thank you. >> thank you.
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[applause] hour. --
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[inaudible] -- welcome him now. [applause] >> it's always a particular pleasure to launch my minibook tour here at the university of pennsylvania book store because the university of pennsylvania faculty in this area were instrumental in helping me work out some of the kinks on what i
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call the first draft of this manuscript. so i'm very grateful to them and repay my gratitude by being here tonight, and i appreciate the fact that those people who helped me, those professors, are here tonight as well. so it's somebody said it's very difficult to summarize 739 pages of text in a book talk but then somebody else said before the cameras started rolling, that the book reads only like 620 pages, it reads so fast. so my strategy will be to talk a little bit about what is in the book and spend most of the time on questions and answers. somebody asked me, do we really need another biography of stalin? and i said to them, well, let's think about this for a second. the most consequential, strongest dictatorship that
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world history has ever known, life and death power of a single individual over hundreds of millions of people. victory in the biggest war that's ever been fought, world war ii against the nazis. a nuclear arms super power from a peasant country in a single lifetime. and i'm thinking, yeah well that sounds like a pretty big subject and maybe we do need another biography of stalin because my second point this person was, name the stalin biography we currently have that is so big important and successful, that there's no room to re-examine the question. and we certainly have had good buyographys over the year him favorite remains the biography from 1935 boris suverine. he was a participant in the events and appears in this volume. and i thought that even though there have been many subsequent ones that there was still room.
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to try to write a biography that would equal the man and equal to the history that he lived through and made himself. that was the goal. we'll see. the readers will determine whether it's successful or not. the book proceeds on multiple levels. one issue it argues that geopolitics is a principle driver of history. that a state-to-state relations are really major, maybe even the driver, of history across the world. for example we have this concept called modernization, how things modernize you. go from the a more traditional society to a more modern society. i make the argument in the become that this process is driven almost entirely by state to state relations. the big and powerful countries acquire new technology, new forms of politics and
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organization, new forms of mass culture, and they force the others to match them to modernize along with them, or to get colonized, annexed taken over by them. if you don't have a steel industry that matches the british steel industry, they're going to send their boats into your harbor and what are you going do do about it. say it's unfair? you're either going to match them or they're going to take you over. they're going to put their boot on your neck. so i go through to demonstrate how geopolitics, state-to-state relations is a driver of hoyt. in fact the very process of modernizize we take as the core aspect of the world we live in today is driven primarily, in any view, by the state-to-state relations geopolitics question. so russia is a great power in the international system before
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stalin is born. and then under him it becomes an even greater power and is able to do that by modernizing but that modernization is not an automatic process. it is a process driven by international competition. okay. the second area of argumentation has to do with dictatorship. we often think of authoritarian regimes as a default regime, for example, if democracy fails, you get authoritarianism. i argue at length and demonstrate in the book that author tearian regimes including dictatorships, have to be built and maintained. they don't arise automatically when democracy fails. in fact when democracy fails you often get nothing. you get chaos. the authoritarian systems have to be built up and maintained, and this is a very difficult challenging process. and i show how first lenin, with his team and then stalin, built
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and sustained a dictatorship in this part of the world. the third argument is about the consequences of ideas. ideas are extremely important in history, and stalin was a true believing marxist from an early age and his ideas, his beliefs were extremely important in just about everything he did. this doesn't mean that ideas determine the way history flows because one of the ideas of marxism, that stalin himself propagated, was that any means are necessary to reach the ends to reach the goal of building socialism. therefore you can violate even your own ideas in pursuit of your ideas and still be true to your marxist beliefs, in stalin's view. nonetheless ideas are extremely consequential and this is also, i hope, demonstrated in the book. and then finally the fourth
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level of argumentation has to do with how history works. individuals, of course are important and they make choices. their actions have consequences, but only within a larger landscape of big structures and impersonal forces, and so the job for the historian is to relate to big impersonal forces. the geography of where your country is located, the size of your population, your natural resource base the productivity of your peasantry, the type of agriculture you have. the other country that surround you, i could go on. very large structures in history, and you have to take those structures into account before you can describe where agency where historical action has an impact or doesn't have an impact. it sounds a lot easier than it is to do in practice.
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to relate to big impersonal structural forces to the actions of individuals. small and modest individuals as well as big dictators they also are only understood within larger structural forces. these are the four different levels of argumentation or building blocks of the book in my view. there are others which are not quite on this level that i could go into. okay. having laid out that sort of menu of how i constructed the book let me tell you a little bit more about the context. this is a book which is about russian power in the world, and about stalin's power in russia, and both questions are really important. it does not begin with the details of stalin's early life. it begins with the details of russian power in the world. stalin is going to be enormously
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consequential. he is going to affect deeply and in some ways permanently at least to this day the problems of russian power in the world, and so it's very important to understand the big gigantic world context into which he is born. the 1870s, germany is unified under bismarck. this creates a brand new big power on the european continent. germany, which we have today. that same decade of the 1870s, there's something called a restoration in japan which is enormously important for japanese history. it creates a consolidated modernizing nation. japan that can compete in the international system. both of these happened to flank the russian empire, germany is on one side, the european side japan is on the other side. the asia side. and this transforms the world in which russian power will
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operate. it just so happens that the same decade the 1870s this guy joseph stalin his future name, is born, in the periphery of the russian empire. so it's important to set up as i said at the, the world into which he is born in order to understand the role he is going to play in history. now, somebody who is born to a poor family on the periphery of the empire -- his mother was a wash are woman his father was a cobbler, a shoemaker -- could never have dreamed about becoming the ruler of the largest state in the world, one-sixth of the earth's hand mass. i was impossible in 1878 when joseph stalin was born to think this little boy, the only surviving child of the washer woman and the cobbler, could possibly one day aspire to be a ruler, let alone a ruler on the level he exercised power.
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the only way that could happen is if the whole world was destroyed. if all the existing governmental structures were torn down. if empires fell. if governments and states were ruined wrecked, and of course that's what happened in the great war. without the great war store, it's impossible to understand where this guy could come from and how he could get into the position he is in. so it's necessary to go through and explain for the reader what happened in the great war, world war i, and how the old world destroyed itself, making an opening for an individual like this from the periphery from the poor family, a marginal character by any estimation, when he is born in 1878. but obviously a world historical figure within about 45 years. okay.
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so russian power in the world. stalin's power in russia. how did he get power and how did he become the person he became? now, if you know stalin's biography from reading other versions of it there are many really fantastic stories. in some of the existing biographies of stalin and i took it upon myself to go and see in the original documentation whether these fantastically interesting stories happened or not. and you will if you're familiar with his biography, not find some of those great stories in my book. because i don't believe they're supported by sufficient documentation. they're very dramatic they're fantastic, if you're a writer and a reader to latch on to but this book, very closely follows the documentary record. let me talk a little bit about the documentary record the source base the document is
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examined for this book. the soviet union obviously left behind a lot of paperwork. a tremendous amount of paperwork. there's communist party archives. there's soviet state archives. there's separate soviet military archives. there's separate secret police archives. there's separate foreign policy archives. and there are separate archives subcategories of each one of the ones i just named. for example, the secret police archives, the former kgb the current fsb exists in five different incarnations i know of. military counterintelligence is in siberia and unfortunately they wouldn't let me into the military counterintelligence archives. counterintelligence is normally in the military archives but in the soviet system is in the secret police. that's where they put
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counterintelligence. even though the archive itself wouldn't let me in -- i went there and person and was denied access -- i was still able to access a tremendous amount of military counterintelligence documentation. how? because some other people have been granted access to those documents, for example dimitri who left in the united states 55 microfilms of original documents, much of which are military and police documents. so if you read through those documents that dimitri used for his book, you get a lot of access to things like military counterintelligence, which otherwise you'd be blocked from seeing. in addition the military counterintelligence archives is bragging about its history, and publishing document collections. tremendous amounts of very large substantial, multivolume
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document collections are published by the archives, to try to show that they work pretty well in the past. so the documents are selective and you have to be careful in their use, but nonetheless there's a gigantic treasure trove of military counterintelligence documentation, which is available in american libraries in published form. in addition there are a handful of scholars who are still alive and had access to this archive. for example alexander has had access and they've published emtheir own books. 500 pages, 600 pages, based upon original documentation, in which they quote a lot of these hard to access documents. so if you follow the russian language history publications very thoroughly, you can in fact access the documents through them.
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even if they won't give them to you directly. then of course we live in the age of scanning. and a very substantial number of documents were available to me because the researcher had worked in the archives, had scan -- been able to scan a copy and was willing to share scanned copies of the documents with other researchers. so, in other words, even though access to the secret archives is uneven sometimes blocked sometimes given only to very few preferential people there are work-arounds, ways to get your hands on this material. and i discovered that my problem was not access to the documentation but volume. i was just overwhelmed by the mass of documentation. absolutely crushing amount of stuff to read through. which is one of the reasons the end no.s and bibliography are
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substantial because i worked through a great amount of material. now, there are probably things i have not seen that i would like to see and if i ever get to see them i may change my mind about some of the issues. but from everything that i was able to see and i have to tell you, it was very substantial work -- 11 years of my life -- i am confident that i have found not only new information but been able to confirm some things that happened in the past and been able to show that some things we think happened didn't happen. so it's very important, at least for me personally that this is not a speculative book. this is not a book that puts words in anybody's mouth. this doesn't imagine scenes that took place. this doesn't do what some biographies do effectively, which is called filling in the historical record when it's lacking.
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by imagining how your character probably thought, probably felt, what they probably said what they probably went through why they probably did something, there are many things where i can make that statement. i believe i have a sense of why something happened. probably i could tell you. but i refrained from doing that in the book as thoroughly as i could, in instances where i failed to do that, i hope people will point that out for reprint or further editions. so that is the main theme of the book russian power in the world, and stalin's power in russia and that is also a sum of the work that intent into doing the book and the type of documentation upon which it's based. so what's the story? what's the story that one would hear? if one sat back on the couch, turned the lights out yet remained awake and listened to the audio version of the book.
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did that sound improbable? [laughter] >> the story is one of a person who is not one thing not unidimensional. he is both really smart and really blinkered, both extremely talented and very awkward he is both a people person and a loner. most everything you can say about stalin the main thing to say about him was he was a complex, contradictory character, and moreover he changed over time. one of the things i did most thoroughly was to figure out when he began to exhibit sociopathic behavior. this is a guy who murdered millions of people. where did that come from and when did it begin? it's very hard to explain why somebody becomes a person like
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that. we had previous explanations. for example, his father beat him enhe was a child which traumatized him and therefore, he went on as an adult to murder tens of millions of people. i found this an implausible explanation because my father beat me to a pulp when i was a kid and i have yet to accomplish any type of murder on that scale. in fact, i've never murdered anybody. except in print. so i tried to get away from the psychologizing, which is unsatisfying to me, and instead to try to document those around him and when they began to perceive that he was either a little bit strange, a lot strange, dangerous, or sociopathic, because after all, how are people subsequently many


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