[applause] [applause] >> he was born and raised in orangeberg, south carolina. that's where my mom is from. and earned his ba at the university of michigan where he was the first black student to be named co-editor and chief of the "michigan daily." he began his journalism career at the "san francisco chronicle" and joined "the washington post" in 1980 where he has been london bureau chief, foreign editor, and currently associate editor and columnist. he was a fellow at harvard and served on the council of foreign relations. in 2009, robinson was awarded the pulitzer prize for
distinguished commentary. the highest prize in journalism. [applause] [applause] >> the citation read for his eloquent column, on the 2008 presidential campaign. that focus on the election of the first african-american president showcasing gracefully writing and graphs of the larger historic picture. robinson lived in arlington, virginia, " disintegration: the splintering of black america." let's show him some love. [applause] [applause] >> thank you. thank you, austin, thank you, texas. all i can say is awe shucks. >> i read this book.
there were a lot of surprises. we were decided we were going to talk about it like a discussion, and let him do most of the talking. one the things i wondering about is disintegration. almost like case -- like disinterested. tell us how you came up with the title. >> i didn't. my wife, avis, came up with the title. i give her credit. i liked the title. my editor liked it. everybody liked it, because it does have the ambiguity about it. integration, and it suggests something that has ups and downs, you know, in the context of what's happening to black america over the last 50 years. and it just seemed right.
and we couldn't come up with a better one. so we went with that. but it was precisely for that ambiguity. because we -- that's what we were trying to express. >> i think it works in so many ways, eugene. on page four of your book, and this is what really blew my mind, it totally just blew me away, you talk about -- you introduce the concept that black america is no longer one black america. no longer one comment. that was a surprise to me. i was still thinking it was one community. as i read the book, it became clear to me, it became very, very clear to me of you talk about four different groups that are now -- have now emerged in the african-american community. can you talk about those groups? >> sure. >> can you describe them? >> sure. actually, alberta, maybe i'll read the one paragraph and talk
about the four groups. there was a time when there was agreed upon black leaders. when there was a clear black agenda. when we could talk confidently about the state of black america. no anymore. not after decades of desegregation, and urban decay, not after globalization decimated the working glass and trickled down economics and sorted the nation into winners and losers. not after the biggest waive from africa and caribbean, people don't seem to notice or care when the white man walks down the street hand in hand with a black woman. these have torn america into pieces. that's kind of the departure point for the book. i had been turning this idea over in my head for a while.
and in 2007 two things happened. one, i worked with the "washington post." we had a group of black publishing executives. mostly from the african-american press. visiting washington, they dropped by the post. i was supposed to go down and do a kind of five-minute drive by greeting in the conference room. hi, how are you? great to have you here. you know. and i went down and i started talking. and i started tossing out some of these -- this notion. i tossed out the notion of well is there a black america anymore? are there -- have -- or, in fact, are we -- several groups and to my surprise. because i broached the subject kind of gingerly.
there was such a reaction. it was such enthusiasm for talking about this subject. that the five minute drive by turned into, you know, an hour-long discussion where i talked and they talked and somebody said what about the immigrants and what about, you know, what about this and what about that? and so i said, well, hmm, maybe i'm on to something here. and then the other thing that happened was the research center came out with a poll, a survey of black americans that contained just a stunning figure. one stunning figure. and it was that 37% of the african-americans they surveyed believed that black americans could no longer be thought of as single race. and i said, wow, what is in the world does that mean?
37%. that's almost four out of ten. what do you mean by single race? they didn't really ask follow up questions. i had no idea kind of what that meant. i'm not still quite unsure. i'm not quite sure what that means. but those kind of -- those two things that encounter and that pew finding, that made me want to know more. so that's what launched me on the book. and the exploration of this question as i started pooring over census data, academic research, talking to people and marketing studies doing whatever i could. then something intervened. it's the little thing called presidential campaign. there was the guy named barack obama, you know, a name kind of that seemed to be off of the guantanamo list that junior senator from illinois who thought he was going to be president. and then it started looking like, well, maybe he was going to be president. he was certainly going to try.
and so it seemed clear as a campaign went on, it seemed to illuminate and illustrate a lot and at times answer a lot of the questions that i was asking and the issues that i was addressing. i said, well, we can't do this until after we see how this comes out. so that was the timing. you know, you have to impose at the end of the day impose a structure on your thinking. i think. and it seemed to me that you could outline four groups that constitute black america today. and it seemed to me that the distinctions among these four groups seemed to be clearer and more vivid as time went on rather than more -- than softer and more disfused.
first is a majority. 55%, maybe 54% of african-americans who it seems to me have entered the middle class. now there's a bigs a -- a big asterisk there. who is the middle class? you could certainly argue that the middle class is precarious. white, black, or otherwise in this country right now. but to the extent that there is a middle class, i'd say a fairly slim majority but a majority of african-americans have reached it. and i'm not just looking at income, but also educational obtainment and ambition and other kinds of indexes.
i call that group the mainstream. there is a, however, a large minority of african-americans somewhere between 25 and 30%. that did not climb that ladder into the middle class. that remains in this kind of stew of poverty and dysfunction in the inner cities and the rule south, you know, in places around the country. and for whom the possibilities of climbing that ladder seem to me slimmer than at any time in the last 50 years maybe than any time in the last 100 years simply because the wrunging of the ladder are no longer there. they are missing. someone of limited education, maybe with high school or whatever, used to be able to go down to the plant. get a job at the plant.
union wage, and with job security, wages good enough to take care of your family, to by a house, by a little house, send your kids to college, so they'd have a better life than you did. and when it was time to retire, you had a pension. now that sounds like a grimms fairy tale at this point. that's not the way the country works. those jobs at the plant are not there, because the plant is in china, or the plant is in brazil. but it's not anywhere near where these folks live. so i call that group the abandoned. because i to believe they have been abandoned not only in the material sense but we don't even talk about them anymore. we did during hurricane katrina. we said that was going to open a discussion about poverty.
and it last -- that discussion lasted about three weeks. then we all went about our business. and then the other two groups that are interesting because they are new. one there is a very small elite, oh, any elite is small by definition. this one is too. this is a group of african-americans who have obtained wealth, power, or influence on a scale, not just relative to other african-americans but relative to the whole country or the whole world. and, you know, obviously, who belongs to this small group? well, obviously, president obama. obviously oprah winfrey, obviously, you know, tiger woods, richard carsons, for example, the former ceo and
chairman of time warner who -- here's an example of something that could never have happened in our history. financial crisis hits. the banks melt down. citi financial group gets hit. an african-american president can look around and turn to a seasoned african-american chief executive richard parsons who used to run the biggest media and entertainment company in the world, time warner, and ask him to come out of retirement and encourage him to step in as chairman of citigroup for a time to help get it back on track. that could never have happened. so i refer to this small group as the transcend group.
there are two major components of the emerging group. one is made up of immigrants, black immigrants from the carr -- caribbean and africa and their suns -- sons and daughters. a few years ago, the african immigrant is interesting. it too a new. there's always been a good stream of immigration from the caribbean. but before, certainly before 1965, when there was a change in the immigration law and there have been subsequent changes, in the past it was almost impossible to immigrate from africa. it was just very, very difficult to do. it became easier and some programs were instituted that african immigrants from nigeria, east open ya ya ya -- ethiopia.
the numbers are still not huge. but the impact is starting to be huge. a few years ago, harvard professor skip gates of the beer summit fame, you remember the famed beer summit. he and lonnie gineer, another name that you might recognize from the past as another harvard professor, did an informal study at harvard. they looked at the list of incoming black freshmen and just picked off the african surnames. they found that was more than half of the incoming black freshman at harvard. there have been more rigorous and scientific studied that have confirmed the same thing. so the sons and daughters of of immigrants are doing well. best educated group are the african immigrants. better educated than the asians,
south asians, they don't come with a lot of money, but a lot of education. in fact, families educational aspirations they do very well. i think they are going to have a big impact in years to come. the other component of the group is biracial americans. we forget only in 1967 in the decision from the supreme court ruled that law outlawing what used to be -- where i came from in south carolina rahm thurman used to may it. we didn't know at the same that strom of guilty of it himself. [laughter] [applause] >> but that was only in 1967. this was in the middle of the '60s and '70s. at a time when social barriers
between white people and black people were rumbling. i know in the generation of my sons, it's tumbling. it's not just there. they have grown up in integrated settings. they have gone to school where diversity has been taught as a good thing. the growing number of biracial americans. and it's hard to give specific numbers, actually, but what interests me is something that president obama who was one of the groups, he belonged to several of the groups actually. one the things he said, if you recall the race speech during the campaign in philadelphia. he said something, i'm
paraphrasing here. i could no more disown my reverend wright than my own grandmother who i've heard say racially insensitive things. he did disown the reverend after the second eruption. the point about his grandmother i found interesting. because he was essentially saying that he has a somewhere different emotional relationship to white america than i do. than with two african-american parents having grown up in the south at a time when there was very much us versus them kind of sense. you know, it's not that i go around thinking us versus them anymore. that's how i was rised. and his -- you know, the way he was raised and the way he has to think of him.
it is him, it's different. those are the four groups, mainstream, abandon, tran sen dent, and emergent. >> thank you. you mentioned henry lewis gates, he represents a member of the transcendent group. but the situation that happened in cambridge brought together the intersection of race and perhaps power and him being in that transcendent group. it brought it together for him, but it also brought it together for a president barack obama. >> uh-huh. >> and how the situation was perceived and handled, you did a wonderful job of taking us through that scenario, through henry lewis gates, and barack
obama. can you talk to us about that? >> we are both journalists. you will understand the context. i love the incident. it was one which no one behaved well. everybody behaved baddy. -- badly. here you have a situation where what we think of as the traditional power relationships between black and white power and status relationships between black and white in this country were reversed. you had this rich, famous, arrogant harvard professor to say arrogant harvard professor is a redundancy. i don't know the other kind. [laughter] >> and brilliant, by the way. you know, tired, cranky coming home, his door won't open, he,
you know, gymmies his way into his house. and he feels a certain status about himself. and then a certain sense of himself. here you have this working class white police officer, sergeant who's, you know, who -- police officer in cambridge, massachusetts, probably makes a good living. it doesn't make the living that henry lewis gates jr. does. he certainly doesn't wine and dine with presidents and he wasn't on his way back from china having filmed his latest pbs special. it was a different thing. so you have the clash. and what happens? well, skip gates, who was the powerful person in this
encounter nonetheless goes off. and goes immediately to, you know, your harassing me because i'm a black man. and asked, you know, again, like an arrogant harvard professor. but kind of goes over the top. and the officer crowley is getting lip from the uppity black guy who has the nerve to dress him down. and the result is that of those two examples of bad behavior, this ends up being handcuffed and taken off to jail. i thought that was a fascinating little stance of how power relationships can work now. they don't always work this way. they can work now in the considerate and could not have
worked that way in the past. i also thought it was fascinating when president obama said what he thought and frankly what i thought at the time was a very innocuous thing. the officer had behaved stupidly. he had, after all, arrested the man on his own front porch, having ascertained he said who he was. it was his house. he arrested him. skip gates is about this tall and walks with a cane. he was not going to -- he wasn't swinging it at the officer. he wasn't in danger or anything like that. and there was no threat to public safety. and nonetheless, there was the big kind of who ha when the president said the officer had acted stupidly and then he had to say what i meant was -- then he had to invite them both for a beer to tap it down. it was fascinating to me that there was such a reaction.
>> in the country? >> from so many people. >> yeah, the reaction from the country, as i've read in your book, because of how they felt certain whites viewed what the president said, not as a statement just coming about well, this is stupid. but almost as a racial identity, could you? >> right. as if he were taking sides. >> right. >> and you know, i once wrote a column during the campaign saying that, well, will be elected president, barack obama is going to have to be perceived as the least aggrieved black man in america. he managed to do it. but i didn't know how true that was at the time. i've seen surveys -- i wish i
knew chapter and verse on this. i saw a survey once of republicans. and a -- to me it was a shockingly high number believed that president obama was advocating and instituting policies that specifically favored african-americans over others. i thought that was bizarre given that i know for a fact that the white house has taken enormous pains to frame all of the policies as race neutral. it is not possible to go to the white house and to get get -- at least get them to say -- and i think they are being honest that
-- that any part of their agenda is specifically aimed at african-americans. and, you know, that's not -- they decided not to do that. in fact, i think, it's in some ways, it would be hard -- it would be easier for a white president to say we need to do something about this -- about entrenched multigenerational black poverty and dysfunction. so here's what we want to do about it. you know, a white president could do that. barack obama can't. it is well understood at the white house that he can't. >> there's very true. our own lbj absolutely did that with the voting rights act and the civil rights act. but talking about this whole disintegration and splittering of the black community, you also
hit on the topic of the great migration. and i did not realize that by 1950, close to seven million black people had left the south because of jim crow. but you also talk about two -- two types of racism, north and south. you talk about maybe even a third hybrid. could you talk to us a little bit about that? >> well, it's just where i grew up in the south. everybody knew where they stood. okay? there was black sigh of town, white side of town, there was jim crow segregation which had the force of law. there were laws that segregated public accommodations in my town orangeberg, you know, there were stores that black people were supposed to enter through the back door.
i had real buck teeth as a kid. i went to a white orthodontist. we never could wait in the waiting room. we waited in the doctors office until it was time for my appointment. we couldn't wait with the white patients. i didn't realize who was going on until i got older. with that, that's what it was like in the south. in the north, it was subtle. but there was discrimination. like in chicago, for example, in many neighborhoods, there were -- if you bought a house, there, you know, you signed one the
pieces of paper that you signed said that you wouldn't sell it to a black person or in many cases a jew. they didn't want blacks and jews. i guess they didn't think about the possibility of anybody else with, you know, other than white would existed or would want to buy a house. so they were different. not only in term the of their formality. they were different in degree too. my father grew up -- he was born in rural georgia. as a child, he made the great migration. his mother and father had, i guess, total of six children and every one was born in a different city as they made they way north, you know, from what started out west by game through
alabama, mississippi, georgia, tennessee, ohio, and my father ended up growing up in ann arbor, michigan. it was a liberal college town. even back then. he's one the few black men, he died in 2009 at the age of 92, he was one of few black men of the generation that went to an integrated high school. that was unusual. there were acceptions. >> where going to get to some questions. if you have some questions, please get ready to line up, only ten minutes left in the session. one quick -- one more quick question, eugene, what are the ramifications of the splintering of black america? >> i think the ramifications are that one size does not fit all. that what frustrated me at the
outset was that the extent that we talked about black america, we talked about it as i thought might have been 50 years ago. but we weren't talking about it as it is now. and i think, you know, again we both -- we're both journalist. you know, the way -- we, i think, see the world is to try to understand it and write about it because one of my core beliefs is that if you -- if you -- you have to see things clearly in order to then try to figure out what to do. if you are talking about -- if you are not seeing things clearly, you are not going to see what needs to be done. and so i thought there has to be -- you know, an acknowledgment, number one. there are $40 million, roughly, african-americans. it seemed to me there has to be an acknowledgment that there are
quite a few african-americans who are doing well. that's not the say that racism has disappeared. it has not disappeared. there are lots of embassies, lots of studies, you know, every year somebody, you know, sends a white couple and the black couple with the same identical credit scores and income to mortgage broker. the black couple gets the worse deal. that's kind of standard study that gets repeated all the time. it's not kind of full parody between the black middle class and white middle class, especially in wealth. it's not like it was 50 years ago. and it's it's -- there have been changes. i think we should acknowledge that. i also think we should see and acknowledge the fact that there's far too large of a group of african-americans who haven't made the climb. as i said before, the runs of
the ladder are gone. and yelling at them, ignoring them, whatever, isn't going to work. as far as i could find many my research, what does seem to work is a holistic approach that's really intense iand very -- intensive and very expensive. you have to work on education and health and housing and infrastructure, and all sorts of things to really begin to have impact. and -- but, you know, is that politically possible? do you get -- are there 60 votes for that in the senate? i decided in the end if i was going to confine myself to what could get 60 votes in the senate, we'd still be writing. we'd have to call up, you know, blanche lincoln and the two senators from maine and ask
them, you know, what should i write? so i didn't. [laughter] >> well, thank you. we're going to move on to some questions. [applause] [applause] >> thank you. [applause] [applause] >> thank you. [applause] [applause] >> and if you would come -- [applause] [applause] >> we have about 10 minutes. so please be brief. >> do you think the -- [ microphone squeak] >> do you think the election of barack obama will make it easier or more difficult for the next african-american candidate? >> will the election of barack obama make it easier or difficult for the next black presidential candidate? well, you know, on the whole, i was say easier. because before black -- barack obama we didn't know there would -- that we'd be talking about the next black president. you know, it's -- the fact of his election opens up a possibly
that at least to many of us seem not to be there. you know, you would ask me five years ago, would there be a black president in my lifetime? i'm sure i would have said no. or i certainly would have said the odds are way against. so just by having been elected, yeah, i think it makes it easier. it might be a while. but we'll see, you know, we don't know. >> i do it from the south. and you said some things that brought some things to mind. when i was born, there was the inward. >> yup. >> but if you are a little bit more educated, you said colored, then you said negro. by the time i was a teenager, black, now the term african-american has taken hold.
do you see this as where this whole type of designation is going to change altogether in another generation. there's going to be a totally different way to refer to people of african origin? >> i have no idea. [laughter] >> you know, you charted the evolution well. and the answer is i don't know where it goes from here to tell you the truth. neighbor this will will -- maybs will stick around for a while. some people i've heard as i've been out talking about the book. a couple of times, people say i prefer black to african-american. okay. fine with me. >> i'm black. i'm still black. >> see, there you go. there you have it. >> i'm an admirer of you, watch you on tv and read your columns, one the things they noticed about you is kind of your bemused take on most things, be
they racial or political or whatever. and i just wonder where that comes from. how do you keep that? [laughter] >> well, it's not from medication. [laughter] [applause] >> i've been asked that question. [applause] >> how do you sit there next to my good friend, you know, pat buchanan and not throttle him. i have wanted to throttle him a couple of times. i've come close once. but, you know, very shortly, it comes from my grandmother. who was full of sayings. she died at 98. he was just a fountain of sayings. she used to say, well, just as well to laugh than to cry. sometimes the things that i see that we go on tv to talk about that are just so stupid and so ridiculous that you can't help but laugh at it. you know? and so anyway.
that's where it comes from. sadi smith was my grandmother. that's where it comes from. >> i don't know if you read "the new york times," charles globe's article. he said black voters are posed in 2010 to have a strategic impact. he quoted the center for political and economic -- >> yeah. >> to make the point they can do this because many blacks still reside in the areas and districts and states that have most contested or contention elections. can we given the premise of your book speak meaningfully in the way of black voters? if so, how do we strategically and politically plan? >> i think politics and voting is the one area in which, yes, we can speak meaningfully and confidently about black voters.
at least in terms of who they will vote for. especially right now. for some time -- black voters have been overwhelmingly in the support of the democratic party. i believe that one reason is the republican party hasn't made a very serious play to the black vote. until they do that, i don't think it's going to change. i also that, you know, i would put a lot of money when barack obama runs again, he's going to get somewhere in the 90s, because of his -- not just because he's a democrat, because of his historical significance. you mentioned charles globe's piece, the one question about that is, blacks have
traditionally and generally voted in lower numbers than mid year elections than in presidential year elections. in midterms, they are a smaller percentage of the electorate. so the drop off in terms of black voters is greater than in terms of white voters. so in order to have that, outside's impact which owners can have in the election, turn out is the key thing. i mean and they have to defy historical trends and come out in larger numbers opinion in that case, if that were to happen, there could be a significant number of surprises on november 2. but it's always dangerous to predict that historical trends will be upset. >> okay. into the lightning round.
two minutes i'm told. let's make it brief and let's get through it. >> i have a question in terms of in the course of creating the strands within we haven't come to a concrete general consensus of what constitutes blackness? at least, i don't think that we have. >> no, we haven't. and that's an open shifting definition. and, you know, it used to be if you had one drop of african blood, you are black. and then i wonder if that's still the case to a -- to the extent that it used to be. most people biracial, black/white do identify as african-american. i wonder if that will always be the case. or more of an identification as biracial, as there is in some other countries.
so thank you. >> i think this has to be the last question. yes. >> cutting it really close. >> yeah, you had the concept when you said 10% are elite. that was like 100 years. 50 years ago, malcolm x talked about the field negro and the house negro. he used different words. i think you know what i mean. something that said, well, the fact that blacks are fragmented politically and economically is a no brainer. it has been so long before you came up with it. and so try to find evidence of that, bill crosby got in trouble for his critique of the black under class, he says, well, you know, do you think his critique and his take on the relationship, does that
exemplify what the -- think about? >> i don't think -- i think there's some people who think that and others who don't. my only problem with bill crosby's critique is that i thought it didn't do a lot of good to yell at people. just kind of yelling. you must do better. well, fine. we're the tools. where is the possibility? >> and we do have time for the last question. >> my question and concerns for the audience make up here. it's almost entirely white and older than the average demographic. does that mean that -- well, what does that mean in regards to black african-american reading and young american reading? and the texas book festival in austin, texas? you may live here. i don't know. if you want to talk about black reading habits, particularly
african-american women are avid readers and buyers. they are sought up demographic for publishers. so i don't think that necessarily says that black folks aren't reading. they have more to do with austin than -- i don't know. i don't know. i'm glad everybody who is here is here. >> thank you. [applause] [applause] >> thank you. [applause] [applause] >> with that,up the old saying, if you want to keep something from black people, you have to hide it in a book. [laughter] >> thank you for being here. eugene robinson, there was a speed date. [laughter] >> so next time we have him back, it's going to be a long date. thank you so much. next door at the book signing. >> okay.
great. thank you, alberta. thank you. thank you. [applause] [applause] [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations] >> this event was part of the 2010 texas book festival held annually in austin. for more information on the festival, visit texasbookfestival.org. >> i'm here with michele norris, the author of "the grace of silence." how did you come up with the title? what is it about? >> it's interesting you asked about the title. i wrestled with this. the title came to me when i was on the walk with the kids. and i settled on this. this is a book about the things that my parents didn't talk to me about. painful experiences that they had that they close not to share with me and my sisters because they didn't want to clutter the path forward.
based on some of the things, it would have been easy for them to pass on the pain and frustration. they decided not to. they didn't want to junk up the engine of upward mobility. >> you are talking about in particular the shooting of your father. tell us about that. how does that set the path to write the book? >> i originally set out to write a book about the hidden conversation of the race in america and the wake of election of the barack obama. i was planning to write a book about other people and how other peopled talks about race. when i started listening to the hidden conversation many my own family, i discovered some secrets that had been kept from my generation. among those was the fact that my father was shots yeared ago when he returned from the military service in birmingham. he was shot by a white police officer at they were coming back and trying to assert their right to vote and participate in american life. he never talked about it. he never told the kids, my
mother. once i discovered this, i needed to know more about my own family history. i wound up pivoting and writing a very different book. i set up on one path and ended up writing the accidental memoir. >> in terms of what you've learned about your father's shooting and moving forward, what does that phrase, postracial mean to you? >> i got to be honest, i'm confused by the phrase. when people talk about the postracial, it almost means they are talking about getting past race. the point where it no longer matters or we no longer have to talk about it. and i think that people often confuse two terms. there's racism, which is sort of an ugly term and toxic. at one point it was quite common in america because of laws and customs and still exists today, but then there's race.
which is not such a toxic term. it's a disrupt tour. it lots of people. look around. there's a lot of different people from different races here. that's what makes america interesting. i think it's part of what makes america great. i don't know why we want to get past that. why take all of the color out of the picture. there's a reason we don't watch black and white television. looks better when there's all kinds of views. >> the book is called "the grace of silence." memoir, michele norris of npr. thank you for being on. >> every weekend booktv brings you 48 hours of history, biography, and pub electric -- public affairs. here's a portion of one of the programs. >> hello, everybody. i thank the host for the gracious hospitality. i'm honored to be here alongside
the doctor and many others. my name is reza kahlili. of course, that's not my real name. i hope i'm not scaring anyone with my appearance here the face and the voice. i was a student here in the '70s. then after they iranian revolution, i went back hoping that i can help my country. my best friend was in the revolution, and i joined the revolution in the guards. i thought that my expertise would help the establishment with infrastructure. but shortly after, i witnessed horrific events, i witnessed
torture, rape, and youth in prison, just because they didn't agree to the clerical establishment. i witnessed execution, i witnessed disrespect to human dignity, and i could no longer take it. i decided to travel back to the u.s. and i thought to myself that i can take my family and go back to the u.s. u.s. was the second home to me. i had studied here. i had friends here. but i thought that i cannot remain silent in the face of all of the horrific things this regime was doing to it's people. i thought that by contacting the u.s. authorities, i could help bring change to the government. and if the americans knew what was going on there, they would help me help the iranian people.
so i contacted the fbi. they put me in the touch with the cia. after several meetings of debriefings, in one of my meetings, the cia case officer asked me if i was willing to go back to iran and become a spy. become their eyes and ears, as you put it. i agreed. i was sent to europe, and i was trained over there to receive coded messages over the radio and write invisible letters. transferring information from at the revolutionary guards. i had expected to get multitasking watch, a magical pen and perhaps the james bond car. but none of that happens, unfortunately. i was sent in with boots and some pencils and papers.
two of my years of working in the revolutionary guards, i had to battle a lot of mixed emotions because i had to repeatedly lie to my family, a wife i was being loyal islamic force. and i couldn't reveal to them that what my true nature was and what my purposes was. because that would be endangering the whole family. i think the biggest shock to me was when i realized that the best is not getting the message. the u.s. is not realizing the dangers of this regime. the u.s. was willing to side step it's principals and for what? for greed? or oil. for more contracts with the islamic regime. even through that not only the
iranians were being hurt and their blood was spilled on the streets of iran, but the americans, the beirut bombing over 241 u.s. servicemen were killed and many other incidents. so my hopes was that the u.s. would finally realize this regime is a dangerous regime, it's full of grave danger not only to the iranians and the region, but to the very own national security. and the reason that i wrote the book was out of frustration that even to this day we are trying to negotiate with such regime as opposed helping the iranians meet the aspirations of freedom and democracy. so i guess the point that i want
to get across tonight to you is that if you looked back at history, you'll see that whenever we've imprisoned and defended the human dignity, and the evillish acts of segregation, slavery, fascism, ethnic cleansing, commune in -- communism, this succeeded in building the future for the war. today it's decision time. and we have to make sure that we know longer wait and remain indecisive. we have to help iran free itself, it should be good for the iranians, it should be great for the war. thank you. >> to watch this program in it's entirety, go to booktv.org. simply type the title or the
authors name at the top left of the screen and click search. >> joining us, richard rhodes, winner of the pulitzer price in "the twilight of the bombs." richard rhodes, realistically speaking, is there a prospect for no nuclear weapons on the planet? >> i think so. they lost the utility since the cold war. they cost up $50 billion a year. president obama has announced it is official u.s. policy that we move towards 0. it's just a matter of working out some of the security relationship that is are standing in the way. >> with regard to working out those relationships, will we will able to come to agreements with countries like north korea and iran who seem to be on the path to making their own nuclear weapons? >> they do. partly because that's the only way they can feel they can defend themselves against the major nuclear powers like the united states. but each of them has their security needs.
if we can find a way to satisfy those. north korea would like to be an ally of the united states. they have been saying that now for more than 40 years. in fact, they'd like us to build them some nuclear power plants to replace the electricity that we destroyed with bombing during the korean war. >> in the book, you talk about the secret bomb program under saddam hussein. how did the story of the bomb program grow? even if they didn't have any bombs or we haven't found any bombs so far? >> you know, we went into the first gulf war arguing they did have a bomb program that we did not know. afterwards when inspectors from the united nations and atomic energy agency went in, they found a huge effort to enrich uranium. they cleaned out of that.
the iraqis were tired of having americans in there searching. but there wasn't any proof. the fact is it is fully cleaned up by 1998. >> speaking of cleaning up, you talk also in the book about the scramble for what was left over of the soviet nuclear arsenal. talk to us about that. >> it wasn't so much the arsenal which los alamos director said to me, they have serial numbers just as our bombs do. they know our booms. -- bombs. it was the material that was uranium and plutonium, that was scattered everywhere. when the walls came down, they were like us. we went in and spent a lot of money with our real effort on our part help them begin to put all of their materials under lock and key. sam nunn the former senator
estimated that 60% of the knew dollar materials are carefully guarded and accounted for. the job still remaining to be finished. we've made a good start. >> earlier today, you had the presentation at the national book festival. tell us a little bit about that. during the question and answer period, who was most on the -- who was foremost on the minds of the people that were asking you questions there? >> i really went through my book, "the tight of -- twilightf the bombs" and talked about the serious issues and cops and robbers that came out after inspecting the first gulf war. but ultimately, what i talked about was the serious question of can we get rid of nuclear weapons. i think the questions, there was the usual question, what about iran? as if a country has not figured out how to build a bomb is as much of a threat like the united states which has at least 1200, 2,000 maybe 5,000 bombs t