tv Book Discussion on The Collapse CSPAN December 25, 2014 9:00am-10:04am EST
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whchnts sithi t er tele ua sh cmewa ld bcae teyern t coerphe lghnhe me t 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
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 regars of what nk 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 what i'm telling here is a story of a successful peaceful revolution. it succeed and left behind itself an amazing amount of evidence and the people who depart in it, who want to talk. it's an amazing story. we would like to know how that succeeds. we would like to know in the chinatown help people in revolution succeed. is a great way to do so as a historian, to read the story come to learn this story. it doesn't help us to predict the next peaceful revolution but it does help us to prepare for and help others prepare for. that's the longer-term take-home
lesson. you've been waiting very patiently over here. >> okay, sorry. mine is just a simple sort of technical question. what advantages did you, did you get by working at harvard? what research advantages did you find as a political scientist there that you didn't have back in california, i think it is a? >> this project has been going on, visit multiple phases. innocents i've been working on this project for 25 years because ou of doing study abroan west berlin in 1989. so that was the reason i got interested not only in this particular story but being a historic altogether was living in west berlin in 1989 and experiencing many of these events. of course, i was very young within. very young. i was 2. of course, i wasn't thinking as a professional skeleton but i got interested and i started collecting materials than. when i really decide to write
this book i had to blow the dust off some of my own personal boxes. there was a long phase of collecting materials when i was in germany. i went back to germany as a graduate student and worked there as a journalist, ended up living in germany for over four years. this topic wouldn't let go of me.ting materials. they just kind of collective cot or there on my desktop. after i wrote the book on the foreign policy that followed the fall of the berlin wall and realize those huge curiosity about how the wall came down, once i decided to actually write this book, then it went back to germany for more targeted interviews. selected about 50 interviews and they're listed in the book. in the final phase when you'ress great for both a great library which harvard's library is coming is all screwed to grow smart people around to discuss your ideas come to show dress too, to share concepts. ..
people who are proceeding to the border crossing, how they knew about each other's activity and successes that other border crossings. >> at that point, they're sort of two ways that hackers. the first is the sheer size of the crowd that each individual border crossing. their estimates, for example, the border crossing that by the point at which herald the anchor opens up you got 20,000 people there. i can't verify that, but there's multiple estimates. the first way it happens as people see with the route is just targeted people at the border crossing. although border crossing as a side of the biggest crowd, similar phenomenon are occurring in other streets. people can see with their own eyes with happening. then there also starts to be
word-of-mouth. they realize there's 20,000 people here. i can't get anywhere near the border crossing. they run home and tell everyone. again and again you hear stories. i was sitting at a bar and someone ran in instead you should go and suddenly the bar emptied out. why was sitting in a restaurant or in my building and someone started knocking on the windows in my building. once you get people into the west, they have access to hearing radio broadcast from a seen television. that they see multiple images. you have these multiple reinforcement of this process of the law opening. cascading throughout the night. again cometh thank you very much for coming out, helping you to tell these stories. i am happy to sign books either to you or any of your holiday gift recipient. thank you for coming out