tv Call-in with David Maraniss A Good American Family CSPAN December 22, 2019 5:10pm-5:46pm EST
scale because they been a real thorn on our side. when castro died we thought they would probably fold, they would go away, it hasn't happened. in fact, the cubans have a really ãband they are giving our technology also, the cuban services is very disciplined, very effective they are good spies and we need to take them seriously. >> james olson, serb cia for over 30 years this is a copy of his new book "to catch a spy" published by georgetown university press. >> thank you very much it's nice to be here. >> now we are joined by the author of this book that american family david marinus. who were elliot and mary? >> elliott and mary were my parents. elliott marinus was a lifelong newspaperman my mother was a book editor. and they are the central figures in this book which is
about the most difficult period of our family's lives.>> what did you find out that your parents had been communists at one point i knew as i was growing up but it was never talked about. it was a shadow of our family's life. but the time i knew my dad he was conscious of him, he had moved on and survived very well and taught me all the lessons i used in my own journalistic career, don't fall for any rigid ideology, search for the truth wherever it takes you. it was only a shadow in our family after that. but at the same time, you didn't talk about it within the family was it was it because tothey wanted to keep it camped down or why? >> i don't think my father was embarrassed by it but i think he didn't want to be defined by it. he had learned some lessons
from that soperiod he always ma clear his idealism and optimism. it was different times. he was in a different place he wanted his family to flourish so it wasn't brought up. >> how did it affect your life growing up? >> it affected my life mostly from ages 2 to 7. it was two years old when my father was called before the house un-american activities committee so i have no memory of that. after he was named, he was fired from his job with the detroit times in our family bounced around for five years until we ended up in madison in 1957. those were years of trauma in moving for our family i was the youngest of then three kids and i think it affected my older brother and sister more.
they want to have to go to three elementary schools in one semester i was younger than that so for me it was just sort of a family that was being vagabond. but nothing ideological or political to my memories of that. >> here at c-span and book tv we've known you professionally and personally for a really long time. reading this book it seems that this is probably out of it's fair to say the toughest book you've ever written. >> i'm not sure. i use the same methodology for this book that i do for all my books, get all the archival documents you can, talk to everyone you can, go to the places in the erbook the feet feel the geography of the book trade appears to the mythology, to find the real story so i've never written a book this personal and although it deals with history of many other figures in the book parts of it a lot of it is in first person
because i'm writing about my own family. it had a deeper psychological and emotional effect on me than any of my other books. >> did you ever have the chance to talk to your parents about why they joined the communist party at a young age? >> i never did. it's the one interview i've done in my life i backed away somewhat for the life of my father. it was only after he was gone. this is probably been inside me all along. when i write all these books about other people 's ãbby the end i knew more about their families than they did.
later. >> david maraniss is our guest we will talk about the 1950s, red scare in america during that time. if you'd like to call in and participate here's how you can do so, 202-748-8200 if you live in the east central time zone ã ãyou can also text him a question if you would like to include your name and city and that text number is, 202748 8003. >> who were the michigan sex? >> six members of the communist party in michigan who were
tried and convicted a little bit after my father was called before the committee under the smith act and this happened all over the country where communist leaders were accused of wanting to overthrow the u.s. government. there was number in almost every one of these cases there was absolutely no evidence they'd been plotting to overthrow the government. the government policies just by being a communist leader in the united states that's what you wanted. the first trial was in new york city the bowling square trial in 1949. >> was it illegal to be a communist? >> and various point it was illegal to be a communist if you are registered to be a communist. there are periods throughout the 40s into the 50s where
>> arthur miller played a role in this. >> he certainly did. he was a student at michigan he is very close friend of one of the three students went over to write in the war. before that he went to abraham lincoln high school in brooklyn. he said i wanted to fight and not where i should've fought in that war but if i knew if i did i knew i'd be killed and never be able to become famous for his playwright.
miller in 1952 the same time my father was being called in the committee. >> they would hold these field hearings. >> house un-american activities committee. formerly the house committee un-american activities. they came the chairman and several members of the committee came to michigan their main intent was to root out the communists in the united auto workers union. my father and dozens of other people were collateral damage of that effort. my father was not a member of the uaw but there was an
informant who became known as the grandmothers by. >> bernice baldwin.>> bernice baldwin had been recruited by the fbi in the early 1940s to join the michigan communist party she rose through the ranks for nine years became the secretary of the party came in from the close of these hearings and named hundreds of names coming across during the whole period my father was one of those names. as soon as he was named by her, he was fired from his job. >> and then subsequently fired from the cleveland plain dealer and other jobs, correct? we>> five years of blacklisting we went from detroit to brooklyn lived in a small apartment, three kids and my parents with my father's parents back to ann arbor to live with my mother's parents and he got a job at the plain dealer through a friend who had worked with him at the michigan daily but the fbi came to the editor of the play dealer and
said he fired a communist or former communist. he was fired from that job and bounced around again for another few years. >> for some reason ended up in the quad cities area of iowa and illinois what was it about the quad cities? >> there was a strike thereby the printers by the international typographical union against the newspapers there. the itu set up a paper called labor daily run by the printers and edited by people like my dad who'd been bouncing around for various reasons so he was hired as the editor of the local addition of that paper. in sort of the incubation of his return to newspaper. >> that was the quad city labor daily "a ragtag collection of leftists is what you call them. >> my father was one of them. >> who was it that hired him for madison where he ended up establishing himself. >> that's a wonderful story
might his dad he had newspapers in his blood. he was really good at it. he loved every part of it the layout, talking to the back drop, editing, writing, and he put out this really nice looking strike newspaper. hello wisconsin by the founder and publisher of the ãtimes who was a close associate of robert mccall of the ãbat one point he saw the strike paper and basically said who's putting this out better than our paper? it was right when labor is daily was about to fall he found out it was elliot marinus he invited him up to madison and hired him in the summer of 1957 joseph mccarthy the symbol of the arrowhead just died i was eight years old the
milwaukee braves became my team and went on to win the world n series that year. life became good. madison really saved our family. >> when you look back when you write historical nonfiction like this you kind of do you try to put yourself in that era? so.very much >> was their legitimacy in your review now to the red scare? >> certainly legitimacy to the to the fear of communism at that point. the korean war was going on so the tension was there the cold war it was the middle of the cold war. there were indeed people recruited by the soviet union to spy in the united states. the reality of that was exaggerated many fold and used as a weapon.
here it was used as a weapon against a lot of people who are just living their lives. were not spies and not doing anything except expressing their political belief. >> 202-748-8200 for those in eastern and central time zones, 202-748-8201 if you live in the mountain and pacific time zones. we are talking about the mccarthy era. did your father ever come into contact with mccarthy? >> no. to arthy died before we got his contact. so it should be under stood h that senator joseph mccarthy ofa wisconsin was the senator. he was the chairman of the subcommittee doing many of the same things as the house un-american activities committee. except his focus was mostly on what he thought were communists in the federal government. he was the leading demagogue of that area. one of the interesting
connections is that one of the congressman on the committee who interviewed my father was elected to the senate right after that join the committee with mccarthy and saw mccarthy's demagogue and really helped president eisenhower and others undo mccarthy and a decade later would write a book called days of shame regretting everything he'd done during that era. >> what was your mother's fall during all these moves and during the red scare? >> my mother was political too. she was as ideological or more so than my dad. she had been a member of the young communist move. she was not followed by the fbi there's no fbi report on her. maybe the sexism of that i don't know but in any case, the moment my father was called before the lecommittee my mothe
parents experience? >> never talk to wendy about it. she died long before i ever started to do this book. i did interview both my brother and sister for the book. >> have kept you long enough let's hear from our viewers. i apologize for keeping our viewers on hold. mike is in la crosse wisconsin. you're on with david maraniss, "a good american family" is the name of the book. >> am sorry to say i'm from wisconsin. >> mike, are you with us? >> i'm sorry to say i'm from wisconsin, currently the big black market political history. what are your thoughts on roy cohen. roy cohen.
there was a lot of dysfunction because it would've happened during that period. >> that was fascinating because it took a long time to find her and some of the other grandchildren. she basically said she didn't know the story of her grandmother. she didn't really find out about it until her mother died. in the closet of her mother she found all these articles about spy.grandmother
she said did your dad talk to you about it? i said not really, i sort of knew but was never discussed. we sort of bonded over this. this history had the opposite effect on our families but similar effects as well. he's she ended it by saying that was a weird time wasn't it? walter reuther of the uaw has a big part in your book as well. how did he come about? >> is interesting walter reuther is a major figure in the previous book which is about ã >> once in a great city. >> when he was really the uaw was the heart of the labor movement. this is 10 years earlier and reuther is trying to insert himself and survive in is very one of his missions was to root the communist out of united
auto workers. he wasn't really cooperating with the house un-american activities committee but he was sort of caught in the middle because he too wanted the communists out for different reasons that the labor movement then couldn't be defined by its leftist instincts. >> text for you from chris in newburgh maryland. "do you think there is a risk of a red scare something on a similar scale scope happening today?". >> i think it's different but there are some parallel. i would say the use of fear is a political weapon is being evidenced today.is i would say the definitions of who is american and who is not our quite similar. although they are different people are turning against but in that era it was
intellectuals and leftists and communists. today it's muslims and people from latin america trying to come into the united states but that same issue of what does it mean to be an american is prevalent and evident today as is a larger question of what is the role of the freedom of speech in the american life. and what is the patriot and who is it? >> carol, holland l florida, hi carol. >> hi, i'm ãband i have a lot in common with you. i've been watching and listening to your story. we left brooklyn in 1946 to go to detroit. my father worked in the automotive industry and couldn't get work in brooklyn as i understood. i didn't understand a lot. i was probably anywhere from eight, nine, 10 years old but i knew my father was a communist
and i love my father and thought he was the kindest most caring person in the world and i would come home from the school and watch the mccarthy hearings and it was very scary and i remember hearing people talk about dirty economies and dirty red people. i didn't know if they were going to come get my father, my father was from hungary but lived in russia before coming to the united states. i'm not sure exactly where he got exposed to communism but i know that that was something that was an important part of his life. my mother did not share that with him. they lived very separately. it was a time that made its ti mark and i always remember the concept of fearing the russians
and the text message you just received reminded me of how strange i think it could be that we have something like that happening again. with people fearing people like themselves but trump and putin seem to be so connected that i don't understand the idea that americans are going along with it and not wandering, the russians are coming the russians are coming, i used to hear that and feel that. i really have nothing more to share it's just it was interesting coming from brooklyn and winding up in detroit my father passed away ã >> carol, thank you for sharing
your story with us.>> have a couple thoughts about that, one is that we all know you can never sort of judge somebody by in terms of their kindness, their goodness, their relationships with people by their ideology. he can be people jerks of ideology or wonder people of any and geology. the second part is that there is an assumption that people a false assumption people were members of the u.s. communist party during that period didn't love america. your father i'm sure loved america as much as my father did i father fought in world war ii for four years and and lead the black units that went to okinawa. the thing about today is that everything seems upside down. then the fbi was from my family's perspective the bad guys were out in my father. now the fbi is trying to find the truth. then it was russia considered
evil by conservatives and now embracing russia. everything is kind of discombobulated today. >> david maraniss, do you remember resentment or fear during this period in the household? >> one of the interesting things is that i never felt ãb my father would talk about, like for joe mccarthy or richard nixon who was in on the house of american ãbefore that. because he was in a different place i never allowed myself to think until i was doing this book about what might have been going on inside my dad from 1957 when we got to madison until he retired. his anxiety he might've had
that somebody would come and say, you are a former communist and try to blow up his own life. it never happened. i didn't even think about it. now i shudder thinking about the inner anxiety my father might've had. >> george from oregon, please go ahead with your question or comment for david maraniss. >> i think you meant to say james. i have a cold and i'm calling ã >> i absolutely did. i was going to my next question and david knows what it is now. james, sorry.>> thank you both for speaking today. i would like your in-depth reasoning as to why it is that things are so upside down and were then too in the 50s when you have all these folks talking about the free markets and let people don't subsidize businesses, let people vote
with their dollars. same with politics, why wouldn't they say, there are some communist party people out there, let's see how they fare with the american public as long as they don't have sensitive government jobs or whatever. i'm trying to figure tout mayb you have an idea, what is the human psychological dynamic that causes such hypocrisy? >> i think a lot of it has to do with power. when it comes to gain power and hold onto power. and use fear as a manipulative of device. that's a essential factor in it. that goes along with whatever lidded is midseason might be and fears that are used as a tool for power. >> george crockett. >> george crockett was my father's lawyer during those
hearings. he was a civil liberties lawyer, african-american who saw a connection between the government's treatment of u.s. eecommunist and of african-americans. in terms of limiting freedoms. trying to show the connection it was not a communist himself he was a leftist but not a communist. he later went on to be a congressman from detroit and federal judge. very well respected sort of well-educated michigan law school after the smith trial in 1949 all the lawyers defending were charged.
you talk about the smith act which was what came. >> the smith act was made for a congressman but it was essentially saying that if you were among other things a uncommunist if you are a member of the communist party in the united states, that meant that you wanted violent overthrow of the u.s. government and therefore you could be prosecuted. >> david maraniss, how do you conclude a good american family you tell the story? >> therefore, we did have a very good american family, we survived it, and i am essentially i learned more about myself writing this book as well as about my parents and about america and i'm basically an optimistic person and one of the things i'm thankful for my
family ãbfather for his he went to this horrible crucible. he didn't lose his idealism. he did it become neoconservative stocks frenetic. he became a more open and person who taught me everything i believe about life and journalism. the fact that we got through that elect to optimistically think we will get through it again. >> give people the truth and the freedom to discuss it and in all will go well. >> but never really did quite, that's an idealistic notion that folks should want to live up to. it was the motto of my father's newspaper the madison capital times. >> "a good american family", the red scare and my father, personal book by david maraniss. he's been on book tv several times for many of his books we appreciate your taking calls and talking to her audience.
>> thank you. >> book tv covers book fairs and festivals around the country. here's what's coming up, our 2020 festival season will kick off in january with a rancho mirage writers festival in california followed by the savanna book festival in georgia. then in march book tv visits arizona for the tucson festival of books and later that month the virginia festival of the book will take place in charlottesville. for more information about upcoming book fairs and festivals and to watch our previous festival coverage click the book fair tab on my website booktv.org. thank you everyone for coming today. really delighted to be holding this discussion on self-evidently this is a great reason to be discussing this we are here