tv Book Discussion on An Empire on the Edge CSPAN December 7, 2014 7:00pm-8:00pm EST
at harvard and be in the cambridge community while i wrote this book so many great resources that helped me to rite this book. i have been asked a number of times about the origins of this book. the reasons i wrote it. and that actually has to do with my previous book called "1989, the struggle to create post cold war europe." these books are in the reverse order. 1989 talks about the foreign policy that followed the fall of the berlin wall. the collapse is actually about the fall of the berlin wall. so the new book is a prequel to my previous book. this book is about the foreign policy that followed the fall of the berlin wall, and when i did book types i'd say, i'm here to talk about the foreign policy that followed the accidental opening of the berlin wall. and often i would not even get to that sentence. somebody would interrupt me and say, time-out. what do you mean the accidental
opening of theber win wall? that was the polite version. sometimes i also got, you're an historian. don't you know that president reagan opened the berlin wall? when he went to berlin in june of 1987 and said, mr. gorbachev, tell down the wall, that the wall opened. i got that question so many time is realized that it was not a one-off question, that it was a deeply held belief here. there's actually a cartoon in the new yorker about it. it has man reading a fairy tale to his daughter, and it con 'tis of the falling, tear down this one, one king said to the other, and don't came, and they all lived happily ever after. you know when something earned it's own new yorker cartoon it's a cultural phenomenon. i thought for the 25th 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall there should be a good book in english about this topic. i read german. i lived in germi, and i thought
if i didn't read german, what would i read in english? the more i looked, i realized there was not one good book on the opening of the wall in english. then the more i thought about it i realized this lack of a good book, this lack of an accurate account was more than just a historical interest. the belief that the united states single handdiddley opened the wall has -- affects on u.s. foreign policy to this day. it has the effect of making the united states think that it single handedly opened the wall with little risk and little cost and can repeat the general, wrote, from berlin to baghdad, which was a frequent saying in washington in 2001. also gave right to a very triumphant attitude about the berlin wall. so, for example, at the george h.w. bush presidential library, you see this statue of horses --
a statue of horses galloping over chunks of the berlin wall, showing the triumph of the american wild west over the berlin wall. there's a similar statue at the ronald reagan presidential library. it is a much simple erstad few, single panel of the bull what is princess is if you think about the eye-watering price of real estate in southern california, you suddenly realize how much it means an entire hilltop is dedicated to this memorial. it's part of the ronald reagan presidential library site and also his grave site. so, these are just two of the memorials that exist in the united states. there are many of them. there's one in missouri, number in washington, dc. the fill embodiment of the sense that the united states opened the wall. if the author of this event and can repeat it. and when i actually looked at the evidence, when i actually interviewed the people who were
there, that was not the story i saw. there's a saying in english, success has many fathers. the opening of the berlin wall was a huge success. so nowdays there are many, many fathers, and for the 25th 25th anniversary i decided to try to let the actual fathers and mothers of the event speak in their own voices. so, thank you very much for taking the time to come out tonight and help me tell their stories. let me still talk about famous people for a minute, to set the context. of course, the context, the cold war context, the superpower contest was crucially important. nothing i'm going to tell you about the details of the opening of the wall challenges that. the contest between mikhail gorbachev, the leader of the soviet union time magazine's man of the year, time magazine's man of the decade. man of the year in 1988 and man of the decade in 1990 and then went on to the nobel peace prize and a number of other awards.
he came to power and instituted reforms. made clear that soviet tanks would stop rolling into eastern europe, as they had done in poland and hungary and east germany in the past. he made clear he wanted reform to be the order of the day. but that wasn't enough to open the wall. it creates the possibility that it can open but not the actual reality of the opening. he of course dealt with his american counterparts, president ronald reagan and president george h.w. bush, who previous to becoming president was vice president george h.w. bush under reagan, and he had a series of summit meetings with ronald reagan but they did not result in any agreement to open the wall, even though though there were agreements about arms control. i when president george h.w. bush took office in january 1989, it turns out that he had an entirely different attitude. that was one of the biggest surprises of my research, was discovering the way that the
bush administration -- when i say bush today i'm talking about george h.w. bush, the 41st 41st president of the united states, not the son, not george w. bush, the 43rd president of the united states. when george h.w. bush took office, even though in public they said very kind things about the departing president reagan, internally the tone was very different. so internally, president bush, when he took office in 1989, essentially stepped on the brakes. he and his team thought that gorbachev might not be for real and might be trying to lull the united states into a false sense of security and they didn't want to be trapped by the ruse. there was a tiny chance he was for real but he could be dispensed with a single bullet and the soviet union retaped the capability to destroy the united states. so either way, either he was a fake or for real, either way the result was the same. the new bush team thought they needed to be very wary of hip. so the new bush team decided to really clean house in a radical
way. political scientist aren't as interested in the history of this period, just interested in the mechanism of political transition, so how one presidential administration switches to another, studied this transition from reagan to bush as one most hostile ever, as paul light, an expert has put it, the bush administration, quote, fired everybody. and the internal discussion shows why. secretary baker talked about reagan holdovers who were incapable of thinking things aany, whose thinking was mush, and the bush team needed to restore american security. so, this intense process of american soviet reproachment comes to a halt under the bushed a information. so he is not making progress on a plan to open the berlin wall either. matter of fact it start -- he actually ended the practice of annual summits with gorbachev.
so i'ms like a new chill is returning to the cold war, and then even more frighteningly in the spring and summer of 1989 there are protests throughout china. that's most viz nibble tianimen square, in the heart of beijing, where chinese art students build a goddess of democracy who stares down mao in the face in tianimen square. those who visit the square know this statue is no longer there. of course, in june 1989, the people's liberation army starts shooting at the people. clears the square. there's of course the famous image of a row of tanks halting briefly in front of what a man who is now known as tank man, lone demonstrator who is soon hauled away to we not not where. the happens in the summer of 1989 and is deeply scary. i'd like you for the remainder of my talk to keep the imof tianimen inquiry in -- tianimen square in your heads.
be know the ending of the berlin is peaceful but the people i'm going to talk about, the people on the streets don't know that. the image they have in their mind is of tianimen square. they're very afraid that the practice of a communist regime using force to defend itself is something that will be repeated in cold war europe as well. so, they don't know if this is going to happen to them or not. so, if you can just keep that kind of sense of uncertainty in your mine is a talk about the rest of the events it will help you understand the mental world and some ways the courage of the people i'm describing. in the summer of 1989, there were of course protests in europe as well. the solidarity movement in poland, under leadership of electric valencia, has tried continue constitute reforms in poland. it was a crucial trail blazing movement from protesters across eastern europe and the
summer of 1989 it gets the polish regime to agree to semi free elections. semi free. itself actually wins 99 of the 100 seats it's allowed to contest. but it has to still share power with the communist regime. so it seems like that might be the way forward. a very slow process where the reformers grab one handhold but still have to share power. that might be how change comes to eastern europe. but then something very expected happens. the hungarian regime, which is also interested in reform, the hungarian regime decides to put holes in the iron curtain. at first only for its own citizens. it decides to open the border for hungarians to cross into austria. what they do not anticipate is that other east europeans and east germans will try to sneak out through the holes as well. and the hungarian government is bound by treaty to east germany not let east germans out.
it can only make this decision for its own citizens. so first it has to restrain and send back the east germans and does so with force and there's even an east germn who is killed in front of his wife and child in august of 1989, trying to get out via hungary. and it becomes a huge crisis and the west german chancellor, helmut kohl says to the leader of hungry, i have friends who run banks. you let these east germans out and my banks will be very good to you. so the hungarian leader decides to let the east germans out in september of 1989, and indeed, west german banks immediately afterwards are very, very good to hungary, and make loans to hungary. so, now there is a hole in the iron curtain. what is happening is east germans are going south through
check shaq slovaca, to escape via back into west germany, a whole flow of people going down and up from east germany down to czechoslovakia, through hungry and back up into west germany, and this officers the east german regime. it seemses themselves bleeding to death. so the east german regime tries to choke off travel to hungary, and that only results in a new crisis which is refugees piling up in the west german embassy in prague. so the east german machine makes the decision too seal the borders to east germany entirely. this turns out to be a huge mistake. it turns east germany into a pressure cooker. there's a theory of life under dictatorship that helps explain while. according to theory if you live under a dictatorship you basically have three choices how to conduct your life.
loyalty, exit, or voice. and what that means is either you can just be loyal and just put up with and it not complain, and stay quiet. which had happened during long periods in east german history. or you can exit. you can try to flee, and so when the border opened, between hungary and astoria, suddenly exit became an option. then when the east german regime sealed off east germany, exit was withdrawn and loyalty seemed no longer tolerable so the only remaining option was voice or protest. and so there starts to be massive protests, particularly in the southern part of east germany, region historically nope at saxony, because people have been trying to get to czechoslovakia and hungary and get stuck there. so people who have given up everything, put everything -- taken everything they can in two okays taken their children they are fed up and are not going to go home. as you tart to see in this region huge numbers of protests. they're particularly large in
this city, the city of leipzig, a city in saxony. i realize this might be hard to see the text you. don't need to see the exact words. if you're interested in the details, feel free to buy the book. but let me just point out a few things to you here. your see a ring road here around the city center. that ring rode is where an old medieval wall was built and when it was turn down it was turned into a ring road. here's the main train station up here. what starts to happen in the city of leipzig. starts to be large protests at the nikolai church, and the protesters come out of the -- they meet at the church, come out, gather here at the square, and they try to get as far around the ring road, around the city of leipzig as possible, and the police and east german secret employs stop them.
this keeps happening again and again and the police are using increasing level of violence and more people show up and they use more violence and it becomes apparent to everyone involve that the night of october 9, 1989, october 9, is going to be the showdown, and one of the biggest surprises in my research -- i thought i knew his time period fairly well having already written a book about it. one over the biggest surprises when i got into the secret police records, local police records, the east german regime was planning a tianimen level event in leipzig on the night of october 9 them. guns went out, towards shoot went out. machines guns went out. it's hard to save exactly how many but at least 8,000 security forces deployed. possibly over 10,000. hospital staff were told to come in, bring extra blood reserves. hospital staff had leaves cancelled. schools dismissed kids early.
businesses sent people home early. the regime prevented foreign journalist from coming to the city because they didn't want the world to see what they were planning. the dissidents involved decided they need teed do two things of first they needed to show up in massive numbers to show they were not afraid. and safety in numbers is a huge factor in order to get as far around the ringing a possible. another small group of dissidents decided they should do something else. they should try to film what was happening so that no matter what happened, if it was bloodshed no matter what then world would see it. so try to film a video cass set and something smuggle it out ann in charm of doing this was this man here,. i apologize for the poor quality of this photo. it's an east german secret police photo taken without his knowledge or permission. it's actually part of a series. he was followed extensively by the secret police as he put it to me, almost like having a weird diary of your own life you
didn't write because there's a complete record of his daily movements for most days and photos. here's a series of three surveillance photos. here he is again. with his back to the camera. and now here is another surveillance photo. and the reason the seek credit police followed him, he decided the way to fight the regime was with information. he had started making video casssets of environmental abuses and human rights abuses and started smuggling them out to the west, to a friend in the west, who worked at a we were television station. and then they would then be broadcast. and turned hut owas really good at this so good in fact he actually was earning so much money in the west as a video journalist he owed taxes on his footage, which became a problem because his friend had to pay it for him. and secret police were frustrated by the man's activities and the only reason they didn't put him in jail is
they figured he couldn't possibly be causing as much trouble by him as he was causing. they figured he had to have dozens of helpers, possibly including western intelligence agencies, and they decided they would follow him and interrogate him but not arrest him because they wanted to catch him meeting with his helpers so it could arrest them as well. the problem was the really was doing this mostly on his own or the help of two other friends. so the secret police would openly follow him. five guys would stand in the courtyard of himself building and follow him but he never met with the help everes. didn't know this 0 so he lived in constant fear of arrest and constant fear that the five agents or more following him around would steal his cameras, but it didn't happen. that was crucial in the fall of 1989. so, in the fall of 1989, october 9th, he lived in berlin. he and a friend go to leipzig and hide on the roof of a church, on the northern arc of the ring road around the city
center of leipzig. so as their friends are gathering to march, they basically crouch down in pigeon dung on a church roof and prepare to film whatever is going to happen, and on the ground, the protesters assemble, and something amazing happens. despite everyone knowing that this was going to be the tianimen, in the diaries've people who were there you see in the notes, i tonight is china. despite all of that, at least 100,000 people, possibly more, show up to protest. and the regime did not expect that. and they also maintained strict nonviolence. so they give no cause to the security forces to attack, which is good, because the ordered said if you are attacked, you're allowed to attack in response. so the roughly 100,000 people assemble and they start to move across the ring road, some the local commander, the party commander on the ground, doesn't know what to do.
he is -- the party commander already is someone who didn't expect to be in charge that night help was actually the second party secretary. the man who was supposed to be in charge was the first party secretary, but he had, and i'm not making this up, you cannot make this up -- he called in sick that night. and so the second party secretary suddenly found himself in charge of this deployment. these at least 8,000, possibly more, armed men. and the plan was if the armed men other not stop the protest in the church, that stop them from gathering and moving up the ring road, the plan was to attack them at the eastern knot, sharp bend in the road. and the idea that was smart because the road took such a sharp bend the demonstrators have to slow down. so the plan was to attack here at the eastern knot and as the crowd of people starts moving towards the eastern knot, the
second party secretary study decided -- he doesn't need to -- suddenly decides to call east berlin and say, are we really going to do this? he is starting to worry he is being set up. and he is going to cause a bloodbat and then will be tried for war crimes or worse. so he calls east berlin, the head honchos and gets one of the big party bosses on the phone, and says, are we really going to do this? and this is when the protesters are about 15 minutes away from the eastern knot, and the big part boss says,'ll call you back. and then he doesn't. and so this second party he can of sect, as the crowds were purchasing, the phone fails to ring, begins to feel he is being set up and issues an order to retreat. copies of that order to retreat survive. and so the securitier toes pull
back. he says pull back but if you are attacked you can still attack. so it's crucially important that the protesters maintain nonviolence because they could still have gotten shot if they had in any way attacked but they development. the dissident loaded worked very, very hard to lecture everyone, tell everyone, ministers have given ceremonyons saying use only nonviolence, and it works. so, with the permission of ziggy i can actually show you a piece of historiedow clip from the night. he and his friend are on the roof of the church. they have no idea what they're going to see, blood bath with security fors or what. i'll show you the footage of what they see coming around the curve.
[shouting] [whistle] [shouting] >> what the yous are shouting is -- does anybody speak german? what the crowds are shouting is german for "join us" and shouting that to the security fors and it's actually working. as they're sweeping across the road, gradually the security forces are putting aside their weaponed and joining in the protests. you can see in a moment the camera starts to sway because the notice on a roof directly opposite them other men openly making a video who they assumed were secret police agented. they suddenly have to duck.
[shouting] now the chant is switching to "we are the people." you can see the camera sways wildly because they're trying to cover up the red light on the camera to a void detext. -- avoid detection. >> can you sew where that was -- >> yep. so that footage was actually made from the reformed church on the northern, a of the ring road of leipzig on the night of october 9th. and the filmed the whole demonstration. it's so long, two hours. after that they wait for another hour because they don't want to be arrested as soon as the come down but finally they come down
and are able that night to smuggle the video cassset out to west berlin where it is then shown on western television stations, announced as the work of an italian camera team to protect them. so that is hugely important. this is a still photo of the same event because two things have now happened. number one, the regime has retreated and, number two, that retreat was broadcast, and both of those things are important. both the protesters and their chroniclers are important. because that footage is then broadcast back into east germany, other east germans throughout the country see and it are emboldened and start protesting in their own cities as well. now you have a peaceful revolution in full swing in east germany. and gradually that -- those massive protests claim a victim. the very top boss, a man named eric hon nick kerr, is ousted. he in response to what i just showed you, wanted to escalate the violence yet again.
he actually called for aerial attacks. in the second world war, dresden was fire bombed from the air. unthickable even to his colleagues they would do that. so there is an internal palace coup and the top box is ousted. he is replaced by man who becomes head of the east german ruling regime, the socialist unionist party. and he takes over and decides to use a different approach because this approach of steadily ask lating violence is self-defeating. he decided he is going to talk a good game in public, but not actually change much in private. so he is going to make it sound like he's going to copy gorbachev and institute reforeigns without actually doing them, and most importantly, on the night of november 9th in 1989, in divide berlin, he decides to announce some relatively minor changes to immigration rules as
a soft to the crowds. the regime still retains its ability to control the movement of people absolutely on a whim. it still has the berlin wall. still dart ted berlin wall. nothing changed. the bottom line has not changed. he's going to announce a reform that sound goods in public. but the problem is that, at the press conference to make this announcement, the member of the politburo who announces it botches the announcement and makes it sound as if the changes are real. and in the superheated atmosphere, where people are mobilized and energized, have lost their fear, this announcement has an amazing reactions. the politburo member making a mistake, that is nothing new. they made mistakes all the time. but in the context of a superheated atmosphere of 1989, people have an amazing response and decide to charge the checkpoints in the wall ask that was new.
i find this amazing, the interaction between individual mistakes and broad societal forces and what happens is as a result of this press conference, -- that's the member of the politburo who mistakenly makes it sound-a-the wall is open before the assembled media, including tom brokaw, after he makes the announcement, people go to the checkpoints in the berlin wall. let me just describe to you a little bit about berlin. you see a map here of the city of berlin. also in my book. and west berlin consisted of the french, british, and american sectors, the soviet sector was east berlin. the west berlin had a wall around it entirely. of course because all of berlin is an island inside east germany. this made west berlin the only city in the world with an exact outline viz able to astronauts but a the wall is fully lit along the entire helping at all hours of darkness.
so west berlin's outline was visible frontal outer space. to go into east berlin or jest germany you had to do to a check point. those are the little dots. the key border crossing that night was this checkpoint ryan here, the northernmost inner berlin check opinion. why that checkpoint? the other ones were in more design locations and the party had generally given the real estate nearby to secret agents, military officers, loyalists, people who wouldn't storm the wall. but the street is in a bad neighborhood, because there are lot of dissidents, actually where ziggy, the man who made the video footage, lived. he and his friend were among the first to go to the check point. when i interviewed his friends, other dissidents about the moment when they heard the press conference -- i naively thought they would say great things about the press conference. i would say, wasn't that a great moment when you heard the wall was open and the dissent would
say, it was fantastic, i knew i had my freedom. instead something very different happened. they said, that guy was an idiot but it was useful because it was leverage. we could make the border guards' lives miserable. so they went to the crossing in huge numbers and made the border guard's' lives difficult. ...
>> at the top it says overview of border crossing. the orientation is the same. so east berlin is down here, west berlin is up here. you come through the buildings here, the car lanes are over here, and this is the final guard post and the final bridge. and the man in charge that night, the senior stasi officer on duty that night is this man, harold yeager. harold yeager is the man who opens the berlin wall. harold yeager is an unlikely candidate for that title. he is a complete loyalist. he's been working there for 25 years. he had an additional three years of service before that. he actually with helped to build the wall. i pulled his entire service record that still survives from the former stasi, and he had in all of those years of service
one minor demerit and a rath of awards. -- a raft of awards. he said he believed the wall was tragic but necessary because if we had not, there would have been world war more, so it was -- world war iii. so this was a man who was very committed to his job. this was not a man who was secretly trying to bring down the regime. but in the course of that night, he finally, the course of that night he becomes the man who, as i said, opens the wall. so how does that happen? well, let me go back to that image of the border crossing. he actually sees the press conference on television. he's on a 24-hour shift that started in the late evening and went through the night into the next day. so he watches television at the border crossing on the job. and when he sees that press conference, he can't believe it. he simply cannot believe it. he calls his superior officer and says -- and he's using some expletives that i won't repeat here -- he says what just happened? i have no orders. what did he just announce?
and his superior officer says it's business as usual, keep the gates closed. then he calls back and says, you know, i've got a dozen people here telling me the wall is open. his superior officer saids business as usual, keep the gate closed. he calls back again, it's getting to be more like a hundred people. his superior officer says keep the gates closed, business as usual. he told me, i interviewed him twice, he told me he made 30 phone calls over the course of the next four hours, and he never got any useful instructions. only once did he get anything other than keep the gates closed, and what he got actually made matters worse. after he'd been calling for a couple of hours, one of his -- his direct superior finally said i'm tired of your phone call. be quiet, i'm going to patch you into a call with my boss so you can hear what i'm telling you is true. so he gets patched in, and he hears them saying this guy yeager's reporting hundreds of thousands of people, is he
delusional? is he an idiot? is he even capable of assessing the situation accurately? and the phone line goes dead. this gets his back up. he thinks, you know, they're going to call me a coward and ask if i can file an accurate situation report? and what they don't know is he's also going through a cancer scare. now, it turns out he doesn't have cancer, but he thought he did. he'd had a number of tests, and he actually has a doctor appointment scheduled the next day to get the test results. and so for that night he feels like he may be a dead man anyway. and then what really tips him over is what happens when his boss finally calls him back. his boss calls him back and says, all right, all right, we finally have a suggestion for you. go to the eastern side of the wall and pick out the biggest troublemakers, the people who are really screaming to get out, and actually let them out because, hopefully, the rest of the people will just quiet down without those really big loud mouths. so what you should do is you should pull them aside, take
their passport, stamp their face, let them out, don't tell them they've just been expelled forever. so, of course, unsurprising one of the loudest groups is ziggy and is his friends. they get pulled aside, they get their faces stamped, their passports are now in museums, and they get let out. and they don't know they've just been expelled forever. this causes two problems. people on the eastern side figure out the system. if you get loud, you get out. [laughter] and so it ups all the volume and the tension on the eastern side. and then a new and really serious problem emerges on the western side. among the people let out first were some young parents, and no one expected that the people let out would turn around and come back. and so the young parents didn't actually want to emigrate, they just wanted to have a quick look. and they come back to the western side and say we're back, we just wanted to look, we want to go home, our kids are home in bed. and they're told you've been
expelled forever. you can't go home. now, i know that sounds like a bad joke, but you have to remember when the berlin wall went up, it actually did split families immediately, and they didn't see each other for years or even a decade in some cases. and so these young parents, as you can imagine, are beside themselves. once they realize the guards are serious, they start screaming, they start crying, they do what you would do if you were suddenly told you're never going to see your children again. and the guards on the eastern side can't handle it, and they call for harold yeager, they say, sir, you're going to have to come deal with these people. so harold yeager goes out, and when faced with these grieving parents, harold yeager snaps. harold yeager, for the first time that i can find, disobeys a direct order and lets those parents back in. and when i interviewed him, he said that was to me personally the key moment. that was the beginning of a slippery slope of disobedience. because then more people want to come back, and the guards say,
sir, and he says, fine, let them back in. and then westerners start showing up, and he finally says, fine, just let them in. so there's this whole cascade where he just starts one by one to tear down structures of his professional life and his mental world and, finally, by about 11:30 he's got what he estimates to be 20,000 people on the east, he's already disobeyed more orders in one night than his whole career. he finally looks around at his fellow guards and says either we're going to shoot all these people, or we're going to open up. so harold yeager, fortunately for history, makes the decision to open up, and here is the result of his decision. so that is the homer street border crossing. here's the final guard tower, here's the bridge, beyond is west berlin. you see the people flooding across, and you see cameras capturing it, his colleagues looking on up here in the guard tower. and once again both the event itself and the chronicling of the event are important. the wall is open, and because
people are filming it, that gets broadcast. and so now it's not just some members' mistake. now at homer street the wall really is open. and when the other border crossing checkpoint guards see this, they think oh, well, maybe i should open up too. so in an ad hoc, uncontrolled fashion, one by one the other border crossings open. now, it's not kilt. there are hard liners -- it's not consistent. there are hard liners. for example, at the branden burg gate, there is no checkpoint. there's actually no way to get through, so people have to go up and over the wall, and the stasi actually reseals this area. so actually by the early hours of november 10th, they have retaken the gate, and there's also military units trained in combat and urban terrain that are mobilized to retake the city. but because the wall -- because the opening caught everyone by surprise, because it was in the middle of the night, a number of the decision makers who needed to okay a really massive
military response, particularly the ones in moscow like gorbachev, are actually asleep. and so by the time the next, early the next morning that moscow wakes up, there is a military response committee organized, it's too late. by that point there are millions of people. not just thousands or tens of thousands, there are millions of people in transit, and it's too late to reseal the berlin wall. so the wall stays open, and i think in closing it's important to keep in mind the actions and the courage of the locals. so you remember this, i talked at the beginning about this assumption of american authorship. let me now show you bourne homer street today, the site i've been describing. this is actually bourne homer street, and you can see how unspectacular it is. this is actually my personal photo. the white lane lines are the leftover lane lines from the bourne homer street border cross, and the reason i took this photo is because i got a tip that they were going to tear up the whole site and put in a discount grocery store. so if you go there now, there's
a discount grocery store there. i ran around and took as many photos as i could of the border crossing. this was in the year 2010. now, a historical society did protest this, and they did put up some informational panels, but they're nothing like the massive american monuments. as you can see, this one has already fallen prey to weather, and somebody put a sticker in the middle of it and peeled it off. that's supposed to be a picture of the crowds going across the bourne homer street bridge, but you can see what's happening to it. there's a few others, but they're not really very substantial. now, in some ways i actually find this low key approach to bourne homer street in some ways more, more -- less problematic than the triumphalist american response. the germans prefer lower key monuments dotted along the path of the wall that memorialize individuals who died trying to escape, that tried to sort of remember the individual human stories. and i actually find that better than this assumption that it was the united states
single-handedly that did it and they can single-handedly go from berlin to baghdad. one of the -- and i'll conclude with this. one of the interviews i did in the book was with this woman. her name was marianna, an important dissident. and after the wall came down, she went on to a career in politics in united germany. she actually became a successful politician, and then she became head of the stasi archive, the collection of documents that survives from the fall of the wall. now, that's a very important post in germany. the first head is now actually the president of the whole country. and she was the second head of the stasi archive. and i interviewed her, and she was very happy to talk to me even though she's very busy. she said, you know, so glad you're going to tell this story in the west to english speakers, she said, because, you know, so off if i meet people from the west, they seem to assume that the wall opened and the opening of the wall gave us our freedom, and in reality it was the other way around. we fought for our freedom, and
then, because of that, the wall fell. so thank you very much for your attention. i'm happy to take a few questions about the process, the interviews. thank you very much for coming out tonight. [applause] because it's on television, if you could just wait until the mic comes over to you when you ask your question, and if you could identify yourself and speak toward the mic, that would be good. >> hi, i'm eileen -- [inaudible] >> hi. >> thank you so much. fascinating. i have family on both sides. i'm wondering what happened to, i think it was a man, who as you said, botched the announcement -- >> oh, yes. [laughter] >> um, was there anything that happened to him? what became of him? >> yes. his name, his name was -- he's this man sitting here. his name is, he's still alive although unfortunately he's very ill and i hear he has dementia, so i was not able to interview him, his name is gunther. he was a member of the
politboro, the leading body of the ruling party, and he was responsible for media affairs. but despite that title, how shall i put this? being a member of the politboro, you didn't have much incentive to develop media skills. when you have a regime that can censor all the newspapers, and in east germany they would actually just write the headlines in the news stories, you don't really need to understand how to deal with journalists or anything like that. so he had very little experience in western-style press conferences. so this was a new development. and he, his lack of experience really showed on the night of november 9th when he gave this press conference. for example, that announcement that he botched, he didn't even bother to read it until he was live on air, even though he had it in advance. so he just assumed that he knew what was in it, and when he pulled it up and he mumbles his way through it, it's almost, it's almost impossible to follow him. i viewed this videotape over and over again. but certain words pop out at you, and the words are things
like "permission to cross the border," "possible or every east german," "including west berlin." there's all kinds of other phrases, but it's harder to hear that. and so the journalists in the room heard these key phrases, and the wire reporters for -- the young ones in the room, the fastest way to get news before the internet, the wire reporters run out of the room before he even finishes speaking, and the first wire report saying the wall is open actually goes out at 7:02 p.m. now, he starts to realize something's going horribly wrong, and he starts to back pedal as best he can, but the reporters are already out. it's too late. the reporters are already reporting. now, as i said, a politboro member making a mistake is nothing new. they make mistakes all the time, but the bottom line was always the same, right? there was a border, there was a wall, and there were armed border guards in front of it. what really changes matters is the power of the peaceful revolution coming up and crashing against the wall and
forcing people like harold yeager to deal with them. so gup they are can't believe what's -- gunther can't believe what's happening. he actually goes on a sort of forlorn drive during the course of the night to see what's happening, but he doesn't issue any orders or anything, and he eventually ends up being tried in the united germany, and he is convicted because of the regime's participation in the deaths on the borders, and he is one of the few members of the politboro who does show a sense of responsibility. and he serves his time and then basically lives quietly and becomes very ill and now, as i said, has dementia and is reportedly in a home. so he is a tragic figure after this evening. another question? yes, over there. >> where's yeager? >> the question is where is harold yeager today. yeah, harold yeager is -- now, harold yeager i was able to interview. i interviewed him twice. by opening the berlin wall, he put himself out of a job.
the man had 25 years of experience in guarding the berlin wall, and he had just opened it. and so he put himself out of a job, and he never again held steady employment. he had a bunch offed jobs. he actually -- of odd jobs. people would get in the taxi and say take me to where the wall used to be. he -- and i can just imagine that scene in the taxi. i can just imagine him saying, you know, i used to work there, and the person sitting in the back saying, yeah, sure he did. and he actually owned a newspaper store, and then he worked as a security guard, and now he's retired. he lives near the german/polish border in a small cottage that's moment to be a summer cottage, but he's winterized it. under the complicated provisions of german unification, he is able to receive some fraction of his pension from his time from the service, so he lives on his pension. and he is one of the few border guards who is willing to talk to
scholars, so is i'm very grateful to him that he made the time to talk to me, and i think the world is grateful that he didn't decide to shoot. again, this is another one of those accidents. his direct colleague could have had night shift that night, was reportedly much more of a hard liner, and border guards at other border crossings did call up reinforcements with armed, with machine guns. so i think it was a very happy accident that he was the person on duty at bourne homer street border crossing that night. yes, a question. >> so thanks a lot, this is a great story. i went through checkpoint charlie in the summer of 1969 -- >> '69. >> so i'm glad it's not there anymore. [laughter] it's previous incarnation. i have a question, couple questions about communication which are intriguing to me. one would be about how communication, um, happened between the crossing that you're
describing and other crossings if people were hearing what was going on there, how were they hearing, you know, when it was happening. you mentioned maybe later there might have been reports on, you know, western television or something. but the earlier -- there's another question about the film that you showed, and it's also about the press conference. to what -- you know, there are networks. i mean, the u.s. agencies, intelligence agencies would have had an interest in something like this maybe facilitating it, not that they made it happen, of course, by any means. how did that film, you said it got out -- >> yep. >> -- to the west. how did it get out to the west, and also and in the past the cia have had assets in the associated press, for example, all that's documented over many years. is it at all conceivable that somebody was eager to rush out
of the press conference with a partial characterization of -- particular characterization of the wall is open? what is the evidence, if there is any, about those linkages that might have helped sport this? >> -- support this? >> yep. so i tell a lot of those details in the book, so if you're interested in the details -- obviously, i would say this because i wrote the book, but even if i hadn't, it's an hay amazing story. -- amazing story. the video on the night of october 9th. it has to do with something called the conference on security and cooperation in europe which was an agreement involving the united states, the soviet union and the countries of europe to try to improve human rights in europe. now, the soviet union had signed it because it also in the eyes of moscow guaranteed the borders in eastern europe, which is something moscow had hoped to get in a world war ii peace treaty. but, of course, that peace treaty had never happened, so the soviet union signed the csce final act which it saw as the
next best thing. but it didn't realize how dangerous the human rights provisions in that treaty were. and among other provisions, they allowed for special border crossing privileges for western journalists in eastern europe. some of these were worked out in subsequent conferences, not in the final act itself. and so there were west german journalists stationed in east berlin, and they were allowed to cross the border without a search. and so i tell the story of one of them who worked very closely with ziggy and became his main courier. and so that night when ziggy and his friends make the video, they get back to berlin, they get the videocassette to this west german journalist who then crosses into the east and delivers it to a television station, and it's then broadcast as, quote-unquote, the work of italian journalists which, of course, it's not. so i tell the story of how that is smuggled out. then moving forward communication on the night of the press conference it, obviously, it's possible that there were intelligence
operatives masquerading as journalists at the press conference. that's certainly possible. i don't have information on that one way or another. but even if they had sort of had a plot to report the wall was open, they had so much help from the actual journalists there that they hardly needed to lift a finger because so many journalists -- i mean, you can imagine, right? it's the story of your life. so many people reported the wall was open in so many languages that it's possible one of them was working for an intelligence agency, but the net effect was cumulative from all reporters. and finally, the communication -- that's a very interesting question. i discussed that with harold yeager, the head officer, and he said that they -- because it was such a centralized system, he said they were very strongly discouraged from talking to each other. so it was a spoke, you know, a hub and spoke system. so you call the central, and we'll call other people. all right? and so he said we were very strongly discouraged from cross-checking with each other which he said was difficult that night because when he was
calling 30 times to superior officers and failing to get answers, he at some point started thinking what are other people doing at other border crossings. but he didn't really have any easy means, there was no standard means set up for him to communicate with them on a regular basis since that was not how it worked. it was a centralized system. so he had, for that night, surprisingly little contact with the other border crossings. it's interesting, i've had someone who was involved who said this shows you what happens when you leave people there dangling. this is a failure of management in leadership just generically, even if you don't care about the details. so what does start to happen is there are, again, western reporters who are covering this breakthrough at bourne homer street, and they're broadcasting on radio and television that bourne homer is open, and at the border crossings they do have
televisions, and they can see those images. again, there's this interaction throughout the evening between the media and the actual events where it points, the -- at points the media's causing the story it's reporting. so, again, even if you're not interested in the particular details of east german history, it's a great story of how in the modern era television and politics interact. so it's a very complicated story -- >> i was actually think of how the dissidents and the others gathered at the border crossings, how they, if they knew what was going on at -- >> that seems to have been very ad hoc and spontaneous. for example, ziggy and his friends, there was a bar where they usually drank, and so one of his -- zinggy was -- ziggy was this that bar, one of his friends that saw the press conference went into the bar and said the wall is open, let's go. some of his friends said, you're nuts, have another drink, and one of his friends said, no, let's go check it out. some of them said if we're not back in a couple hours, we're in the west.
and they actually didn't get back for five days. [laughter] i think there was a question -- actually, let me go to the back, young man over there. >> so you started talking at the beginning of your speech about how people like, i guess, in the united states -- >> yes. >> -- think that the u.s. was the one that really opened the wall. >> with yes. >> for the or younger generations, like people my age, how do you think would be the best way to clarify that we didn't? >> well, what i'm using here to step back and be a little academic, if you'll forgive me, i am a professor, it's hard to avoid, is i'm using what political scientists often call a powder keg model which is to say that in order to understand a revolutionary event or a dramatic event, you need to understand not only the powder keg or the fuel, but you also need to understand the sparks or the catalyst that set it off. and academics such as myself have long been with better at studying the powder keg than at studying the sparks or the catalyst. so, certainly, the cold war contest provides the necessary context, right? so the reforms that gorbachev
institutes, the fact that he's making clear tanks will roll into eastern europe, meanwhile, in the western side the support that the u.s. gives organizations like solidarity, that all matters. i'm not saying, you know, the united states is unimportant. it's just that that doesn't actually open the wall. it creates the context in which the wall can open, but you need a spark or a catalyst. and there was an article that was very influential to my thinking as i was writing this book by a man named ned lebeau who used to teach at dartmouth, and he said, you know, catalysts aren't like buses, they don't come along every ten minutes, they don't all look alike. we can't just talk about the powder keg and just assumes the catalyst shows up and it'll have a standard result. the nature of the catalyst and the way they interact with the powder keg actually gives shape to the explosion of the revolution. and i realized he was right, and i thought, you know, i need to look at the catalyst, at the locals. i need to actually look at the people who turned the potential for the opening of the wall into the reality of the opening. and i think the sort of takeaway
lesson is the united states, it needs for foreign policy to pay anticipation to the locals. it goes badly wrong when it fails to do that. i think the united states is good at context creation, but it's bad at producing specific results. it's better when it empowers people on the ground to actually push through and make those final changes. and it's also better if -- it's not advisable for the united states to just sort of assume that it's single-handedly responsible because it becomes a delusion that you can do this elsewhere regardless of what the locals think. i think that is, in many ways, the take-home lesson. even if you don't care about the details of the story. in essence, it's a successful, peaceful revolution. it succeeded and left behind itself an amazing amount of evidence, and there are people who took part in it who want to talk. it's an amazing story. and so we would like to know how that succeeds, we would like to know in the united states how to
help peaceful revolutions succeed, and here's a great way to do so as a historian, to read the story, to learn the story. it doesn't help us to predict the next peaceful revolution, but it does help to prepare for it and help other people prepare for it, so i think that's the longer-term take-home lesson. you've been waiting very patiently over here. >> oh, okay. sorry. yeah. mine's just a simple sort of technical question. what advantages did you, did you get by working at harvard? what did, what research advantages did you find as a political scientist there that you didn't have back in california, i think it is? >> well, i should say this project has been going on, there's been multiple phases. and in essence, i've actually been working on this project for 25 years because i actually was doing study abroad in west berlin in 1989. so that was the reason i got interested not only in this particular story, but in being a historian altogether, was living in west berlin in 1989 and experiencing many of these events. of course, i was very young
then, very young -- [laughter] i was 2 -- [laughter] so, of course, i wasn't thinking as a professional scholar then, but i got interested, and i started collecting materials, in a sense, then. so when i decided to write this book, i actually had to blow the dust off some of my own personal boxes. so there was a long phase of collecting materials when i was in germany. i went back to germany as a graduate student, and i also worked there as a journalist. i actually ended up living in germany for over four years, and this topic just wouldn't let go of me. i always just kept collecting materials. and they just kind of collected dust, or they were on my desktop. but then after i wrote that book on the foreign policy that followed the fall of the berlin wall and realized there was a huge curiosity about how the wall came down, once i decided to actually write this book, then i went back to germany for more targeted interview ises. so i did about 50 interviews, and they're listed in the book. but then in the final phase when you're just sitting down and writing, it's great to have both a great libr