tv QA CSPAN December 28, 2015 7:00pm-8:01pm EST
to make the payment structure more convenient. >> the narrative of artist and songwriters feeling like they don't understand where their money is coming from is not new. but i think we are living in a world today where everything is trackable. so the nsa can know where i am, where you are, what you are talking about on your cellphone. there is no reason artist and creators shouldn't be able to know where their songs are being streamed and how they are being paid for that. >> watch the "the communicators" tonight at 8 eastern on c-span2.
>> this week on q&a our guest is erik larson out with his book "dead wake." with world war one being fought in europe, the lusitania liners sailed to liverpool, england with 2,000 passengers and crew on board. >> cspan: erik larson, your new book, "dead wake," you start off first sentence, "on the night of may 6, 1915, as his ship approach the coast of ireland, ccaptain william thomas turner left the bridge and made his way to the first class lounge." what are you talking about?
>> this is the night before the lusitania was torpedoed. the ship was that day, on friday- the next day on friday, may 7th was going to enter the so-called the "zone of war" declared by the german navy. the water surrounding the u.k. had become this- they had designated this a zone of war. so the night before, captain turner was going into the lounge to actually talk to passengers during the intermission in the talent show, the nightly talent show, one of the features of
transatlantic voyages. and he had some sobering news but also some comforting news to convey. >> cspan: and this is 1915. >> guest: 1915. >> cspan: may 6, 1915? >> guest: may 6 is the night when this scene takes place. may 6, 1915. >> cspan: what's going on in the world? >> guest: well, what's going on in the world obviously is war. america is not in the war. the war broke out in august of 1914, and very quickly, the war has proven to the world that it is going to be a very different sort of war than anything that came before, and it has already begun to involve civilians. the german army executed civilians in belgium. there were air raids over- air raids, believe it or not, in zeppelins over britain and shellings of coastal towns by the german navy. so things were darkening and changing. poison gas had been used for the first time on a- lethal poison gas had been used for the first time on the, on the battlefield. in washington, we had a grieving
president wilson, very, very much a lonely, grieving man. he had lost his wife of many years in august 1914 at about the same time the war broke out in europe. and he was deeply, throughout the rest of 1914, been deeply, deeply troubled, but by now, by may, he's in love. he's head over heels in love with a woman named edith bolling galt, a 40-something widow in washington, d.c. it's not clear yet whether she is going to fall in love with him back, but he loves her. he is writing passionate love letters to her by the dozens at this point. that's pretty much the context, war and passion. >> cspan: you really start out by saying this: "i first started reading about the lusitania on a whim. " what was the whim? >> guest: you know, when i come- when it comes time for me to look for my next idea, it's always a difficult time. difficult, sufficiently
difficult, in fact, that my great friend and publicist, penny simon, coined a term to describe it. she says that's when i'm in "the dark country of no ideas. " and i was in the dark country of no ideas, and when i'm in that country, i always try to just read. you know, if something occurs to me, and say, well that sounds interesting, i'll start looking into it. and the lusitania had always been kind of been on my, on my back burner, but i'd always been reluctant to even think about doing a book about it, because it seems to me almost like, it seemed at the time, and this goes back about five years ago, kind of too obvious a story, too much low-hanging fruit, and usually i like to have an idea that's complex enough that i can be fairly assured that there's not going to be competition from another writer. i like to have barriers to entry. but the lusitania was always there in my mind. i have a thing about maritime history.
i think we all have this kind of romantic maybe, maybe sort of, i don't know what you call it, kind of jungian archetypal need for maritime romance, i don't know. so that's something that i've felt, and here was the lusitania. titanic obviously had been done to death, not something i'm going to do. so i was intrigued. i didn't know anything about the lusitania. i started reading because i had nothing else in my plate. and as soon as i start reading, i thought, now this is interesting, you know, the hows of what happened, the actual- the actual sinking of the ship. for example one of the first details that caught my attention was when i read that during the actual sinking, one fully loaded lifeboat fell on top of another fully loaded lifeboat. and this just opened my eyes to the fact that this is what the story is. this is about this human disaster. it's not the geopolitical, desiccated sort of thing that we
learned about in high school. you know, like, i don't know about you, but when i was in high school, i learned about the lusitania; it was sort on a timeline leading up to world war i, something that you knew occurred and then you forgot about it. you went on to the start of the war and so forth. so i started reading about it. i still was discouraged, though, by the fact that it seemed like it was too obvious, and then- and also because there had been a lot done before, but i realized five years ago that the anniversary was coming, the 100th year anniversary, which of course is going to be in may, on may 7, 2015. as a rule, i am very skeptical of tying books to anniversaries. i don't think readers care. i also feel that it just about guarantees that somebody else will be writing a book on the same subject, but being a former journalist, i'm always interested in like why write about something today? why do it now? it was just enough to tip the scale in favor of maybe doing a little bit more exploration. i was living full time at the time in seattle and decided i
was going to take a quick, quick hop down to stanford to the hoover institution, which i knew had a, had an archive, a collection on- of lusitania materials, and it was there that two things happened. one, i got a glimpse of the fact that there was this really rich, lush archival trove of material, things that had not existed in that sort of quantity for any of my previous books. things that i knew could be- could be elements for storytelling. the second thing that happened, i was sitting at a table in this archive, and one of the archivists came over and set a plank of wood down right next to me. and on this plank was branded cthe name lusitania, and this
was a shard of a lifeboat that had been found on the irish coast on a beach next to the corpse of a dead lusitania passenger that made its way to the hoover institution, and here it was on this table next to me. i always look for that sort of sign. i don't mind that in a hocus pocus way. i don't mean that in a sort of a, you know, spooky afterlife way. what i mean is, there's something about having a tactile connection to the past that is very powerful for me. and i took it as a kind of a sign to say, yes, let's keep this- let's keep this going. let's continue looking into this. and then one thing led to another, and suddenly i was embarked on this journey. and what i found was that indeed there was such an amazing amount
of original archival stuff that it would present me with an opportunity to do something that i had not, in my view, been able to achieve previously, which was to create- to essentially put on my alfred hitchcock hat and make this as suspenseful a work of nonfiction as i could possibly do. that's why i did this book. it was an exercise in suspense. >> cspan: here's some video that you shot. we're going to do about two minutes of this, and first off when we run it, just stay quiet for a minute and get the feeling of it. (video plays) when did you do this? >> guest: i was on- with my wife, i was aboard the queen mary 2 on a january crossing this past 2015, and i was on this voyage, well this is my second voyage on the queen mary 2. the first one i took because i wanted to get a sense of what it was like to actually cross the ocean on a ship, something i
felt that i really needed to come to understand. this was shot on the second one. both voyages ended up- the first one, for a time, in a force 10 gale, three days. and this one, it was six out of seven days we were in force 10 gale on this ship. and i was shooting this through a lower deck through a window, because it was just such stunning- such stunning ferocity in the sea. it was just really amazing. the ship, i must say, was very stable. that ship, they worked it out with the queen mary 2. >> cspan: we can see that, if you look at the horizon, it doesn't move much. >> guest: yes, it doesn't move much. they've got the stabilizers out, you know, this is a- this is a stable platform. >> cspan: same company. >> guest: same company, cunard. >> cspan: but not owned by the british anymore? >> guest: different ownership now, yes, yes. and in fact, also the archival records of the old cunard steamship company had been essentially severed from the company, and it was not â >> cspan: what did you learn by being out there?
>> guest: so much. i will tell you, you know, it's- i always say, always go to the scene of the crime, you know, if you will. and being on a ship in the middle of the ocean, you can think about it and think you understand before you actually sail, but there's nothing like actually being out there and realizing, even today, if something catastrophic happened to that ship, not much everybody can do for you. hours and hours before anybody can come to help you. i realized other things, for example, when you're in the middle of the ocean, you can't- you can't smell the ocean. you know, we're all accustomed to going to the beach and having beachy smells and so forth. but you can't smell it because there's nothing generating odor. it's, it's sort of an empty- empty scent. it's kind of- the air is perhaps moist and full of, you know, at times, spray, but you don't smell the things that we
associate with the sea, like, like where the sea forms a boundary with the land. you don't smell that at this- in the middle of the ocean, which i found fascinating. the other thing that was really striking, and this is relevant to the story at hand, is that today, whenever you sail on a cunard ship, before it leaves the harbor, before it leaves the dock, you have to muster in your- your emergency station. and you have to put on your life jacket, fit it, strap it on, and then they give the ok to take it off. so important, i can't tell you how- when you put that thing on, it becomes very real, the potential threat, what can happen to you if you're in the middle of the ocean and there's
a problem. and the reason that's relevant is because, you know, in the case of lusitania, there was no such requirement, and that actually had a catastrophic result for many passengers. >> cspan: the cruise was for how many days? where it did leave from? where it was heading? >> guest: this would- this â >> cspan: the lusitania. >> guest: it was, first of all, we have to be very careful about our terminology. cunard is very sensitive about this even today. it was a voyage. point to point, it was a voyage. so, it was setting out from new york harbor, again, on may 1. it was bound for liverpool, which is sort of an inland port. it was the home port of all the cunard ships. and ordinarily, with the- with the lusitania, it was to be a- it would had been a five-day crossing, very fast ship. five days was a remarkable achievement in that time, but there was one unfortunate- what proved to be an unfortunate aspect of this voyage, which was that cunard, in a cost saving measure, had shut down the
fourth boiler room on a ship, the fourth of four boiler rooms. >> cspan: like those four stacks that we see. >> guest: each stack, each funnel, which by the way were about 24 feet across at the top. each funnel, the smoke coming from that came from the boiler room below. so only three of the boiler rooms are functioning, which essentially extended the trip to about- about seven days. they extended the trip, and that became very, very relevant for what eventually occurred. >> cspan: one of the things that comes through in your book is the issue of coal and the impact that coal had on this whole trip. >> guest: right, right. yes, so the ship, it's- it's one of the things i found very striking. from outwardly- outwardly, the ship is, it's just this beautiful thing. you know, it's just clean lines,
huge, glamorous, the whole deal. inside, amazingly labor-intensive with vast amounts of coal stored in the ship along, along what were referred to as longitudinal coal larders on both sides of the ship and also at front and rear. and the reason these were significant, they held, by the way 6,000 tons of coal for this, for this voyage. the reason these longitudinal bunkers were important is because they were an artifact of the original deal with the british government that allowed this ship to be built. the government specified- wanted certain requirements. the ship had to be fast, had to be able to do 25 knots, actually 24-3/4 knots. and the government specified that it also had to sort of essentially be built to a battleship specifications.
the idea of these longitudinal bunkers being that coal was thought to be the equivalent of armor in a- in a ship. and the reason for that is that the british government wanted the ship to be configured in such a way that if the royal navy needed to, it could commandeer this ship and turn it into what was referred to as an armed auxiliary cruiser, that is, to mount guns on the ship. in this case the plan was, i believe, for 12 6-inch guns, which is a significant amount of armament. so the ship was essentially a glamorous ocean liner, but with the hull configuration and coal storage configuration of a- of a battleship. the thing consumed about a thousand tons of coal a day in the course of the voyage. tremendously labor-intensive, just shoveling and trimming and shoveling and trimming, you know, 360 firemen, you know, at a time, dealing with this thing. it's an amazing effort.
>> cspan: how do you correctly pronounce the name of the u-boat captain? >> guest: first of all, the german is kapitã nleutnant, you know, captain lieutenant walther schwieger. schwieger. >> cspan: here's a picture of him. tell us about him and his role in this whole thing. >> guest: you know, initially, going into the- into the project, i thought ok, fine. we have villain-hero. captain william thomas turner, hero; villain, schwieger. as i started doing research into him and into the submarine and so forth, i found that i was growing increasingly sympathetic to him. he's a young guy, 30, handsome, well-liked by his crew, humane. at one point, he had six dachshunds aboard his ship, four of which were puppies. a colleague of his in the
submarine service, a fellow submarine captain said of him after the war, "he wouldn't hurt a fly. he wouldn't hurt a fly. " and this patrol that he set out on, and i have to emphasize, he was not at any point stalking the lusitania per se. he was not after the lusitania. that's a common misperception. he was simply assigned to hunt troop transports in a certain location, but this voyage that he set out on just- this patrol, in his case, proved to be filled with mishap, with frustration, with bad weather, and you- i've actually heard from readers already that they find themselves rooting for captain
schwieger in the saga, which is very interesting. i didn't necessarily intend that, but you know, i believe very firmly- i don't believe in heroes. there are no unalloyed heroes, every hero has warts, and every villain has, you know, potentially good qualities. except adolf hitler, i make an exclusion for him. so it proved very interesting, looking into him. >> cspan: in his career, how many ships did he blow up? >> guest: i cannot recall the specific number, but he was already, even at this point, one of germany's submarine aces, and he was so young. he was one of the few, actually, in the submarine service, one of the few captains of u-boats who had actually been in the service before the war began. so he was already very, very experienced. he was clearly adept; he was an ace, and you know, one of the most valued members of the service.
>> cspan: let's take a look at captain turner and tell us about him. >> guest: captain william thomas turner. you know, he's the kind of guy that if you boarded the lusitania on the morning of may 1, you know, and you had any anxiety, you would look at captain turner and you would most likely feel that anxiety start to slip away. he's the kind of guy you would want as a captain. he looked- he looked fit. he was built strong. he looked like a man of substance. he was a captain who had come up from the sailing ranks. he'd been a cabin boy at the ridiculous age of 8. he had come up through the ranks on sailing ships, had worked his way up through cunard to become one of their absolute top, top captains. and this was at this point his third stint as captain of the lusitania. they rotated captains as they do, as cunard does in fact today. >> cspan: roughly how many people were on board?
>> guest: well the ship, another kind of interesting thing, given the, given the anxiety that surrounded the period, had a full- full passenger load. a the ship had about 2,000 people aboard. that includes passengers and crew, so- and actually a record number of children, interestingly. >> cspan: going back to the submarine, how many did they roughly have on a submarine? >> guest: thirty-six. thirty-six people, yes. >> cspan: one of the things that popped out, i mean, as i was reading â >> guest: and six dogs. well, the dogs were not aboard at this point. >> cspan: one of the things that popped out at me that you said that in those days there was no sonar? >> guest: right, right. >> cspan: so these subs, or this u-boat, could sit on the bottom of the ocean, and no one would know they were there?
>> guest: absolutely, yes. >> cspan: what role did that play in this whole thing? >> guest: well, another thing to throw into the mix first is the fact that also, not only was there no sonar, which of course is the classic trope for all of us who have seen, you know, world war ii submarine films with ping, ping, you know, that whole thing. there are also no depth charges, not yet at least. that would come much later in the war. the submarine was able to sit on the bottom in certain circumstances. it had to be in water that was not too terribly deep, because otherwise the pressure would destroy the hull. this was significant because, strangely enough, world war i submarine was not terribly good at staying underwater. i mean it could go under water obviously.
and it was very- very much a lethal weapon when it was, but it couldn't stay underwater for very long, and it couldn't travel very fast. its maximum speed underwater was 9 knots. one way to avoid surface attack from destroyers and so forth would have been to sit on the bottom, on the sandy bottom in the north sea on the other side of the british isles. in the deep atlantic, that was not an option. there, a submarine had to keep moving, and if it was being dogged by destroyers the whole time, as happened to schwieger on this patrol. it was being dogged by destroyers that â >> cspan: by british destroyers. >> guest: by british destroyers. it didn't have the option of just stopping and nesting on the bottom and waiting until everything passed. it had to keep moving. the problem is, that limited range, and when it reached at the end of that range, it would have to either, either surface and recharge its batteries or- well there was no other option. so imagine being-as with the case with schwieger-imagine being followed by destroyers, and you are, you're traveling along at your maximum undersea of speed of 9 knots, your batteries are- these were electric engines underwater,
diesel-powered while you're on the surface. imagine, you know, you're running underwater and your batteries are so strained that they're actually beginning to crackle. and schwieger notes in his war log, which he thankfully left behind, that had the destroyers continue their pursuit, had they not, had they not at last left them behind, he would have a serious problem, because he would have to essentially surface right in their midst, and that would have been absolutely fatal. >> cspan: by the way, where did you go to find the most on captain schwieger? >> guest: i got bits and pieces of schwieger and u-20 all over the place, but the main, main place, the main places: the archives of the united kingdom, the national archives of the united kingdom in kew in london, wonderful place, one of my favorite places in the world. but also significant bits and pieces at the- at the churchill college and the churchill archives at the- at cambridge.
but really the primary trove was the archives of the united kingdom, and there- you know, one of the things that i came across that- that actually is new to my book, i came across a collection, large collection of british naval intelligence reports, which were compilations and narratives based on interrogations of captured submariners, captured german submarine crews, in which they- the british naval intelligence analysts and whoever was doing the questioning, asked them about their patrols, about how the submarines worked, what the tactics were, but also asked them about what other commanders were like, what other crews were like. and this was fascinating to me because it showed that there was no one "type" of german
submarine commander. they covered this very interesting span from absolutely ruthless to really very humane and kind of lazy. and one guy was notorious for being a lousy shot. he couldn't hit a thing with a torpedo. he eventually got transferred out, but there was also a lot of comment about schwieger in this thing, schwieger in the u-20. schwieger was this very well-liked, nice guy. he kept coming up in the interrogation report. so that was- that was very interesting to me, but there were a lot of other, you know, there were a lot of- there was a ledger, actually, that tracked all of u-20's patrols just based on something we haven't gotten to, but the ability of the german- of the british navy to intercept and decode german naval communications essentially, well for most of the war. >> cspan: you're talking about room 40? >> guest: room 40, yes. >> cspan: room 40 was where? >> guest: room 40 was in room 40 at the old admiralty building. initially â >> cspan: did you go there? >> guest: â initially. i went to the admiralty building, i did not get into room 40.
>> cspan: what does it mean by admiralty? >> guest: well admiralty is essentially the british, the british naval apparatus. >> cspan: who was running it? >> guest: there's the royal navy, and the admiralty was running the- was in charge of the royal navy running the admiralty. the first lord, the first lord of the admiralty was winston churchill. the first sea lord, that's a distinction, first sea lord was jacky fisher, and what's significant there is that jacky fisher was supposed be do the day-to-day operating guy in the navy, and churchill was supposed to be sort of the ceo. sort of like ceo-coo, only churchill, and anybody knows or has read about churchill, churchill was not going to take anything less than an intrusive role in the management of whatever he's managing. and so there's a lot of, a lot of conflict between these two guys' very different styles. >> cspan: but you pointed out
that churchill was 40 and jacky was 74â >> guest: seventy-four, yes, yes. >> cspan: let me read something that you have, a quote. >> guest: sure. >> cspan: this comes up a couple of times. this is on page 190. >> guest: sure. >> cspan: i'll just go to the meat of it in which churchill wrote that it was quote, "most important to attract neutral shipping to our shores in the hopes especially of embroiling the united states with germany. " >> guest: right. >> cspan: that happens more than once in your bookâ >> guest: yes. >> cspan: â and you're reading along, saying, "this is a lot to pay. " i mean, how many americans lost their lives on this, do you remember? hundred and some? >> guest: in lusitania? >> cspan: yes. >> guest: hundred and twenty-eight. >> cspan: how many- how many people didn't survive? people didn't survive?c people didn't survive?ccc >> guest: twelve hundred.
>> cspan: how many did survive it? >> guest: seven hundred ninety-five. >> cspan: but what about churchill? and you say there's a big misconception that we got in the war right after the lusitania was blown up. >> guest: yes, yes. ok. so context. there can be no doubt that churchill would have welcomed an incident that would have gotten america into the war early. and he said as much, well, first off, he indicated as much in that passage you just read. this was- he had written a note to the head of the board for trade saying that, you know, we need the traffic from america, and if some of it gets in trouble, all the better. so there was no illusion about the fact that this was something that he would have welcomed. the story gets complicated when the question- when the question arises as to, you know, what ultimately happened to lusitania? why was the lusitania allowed to enter the irish sea without escort, without the kind of detailed warning that could have been provided to captain william thomas turner but was not? and this has led to some very interesting speculation about was the ship essentially set up for attack by churchill or someone in the admiralty? and it's interesting.
i found no smoking memo, and i would have, believe me, i would have found a smoking memo if it existed. that is to say, there was nothing from churchill to jacky fisher or to somebody else in admiralty saying, "let's let the lusitania go into the irish sea because we want it to get sunk. " nothing like that exists. however, there is a collection of evidence that if you- if you tried to use that evidence to prove without a shadow of doubt that the ship was set up, that there was a conspiracy, you couldn't. however, if you flip it around and you, sort of like scientists like to pursue the null hypothesis, if you flip it around and try to prove that there was no conspiracy, you can't. it's the same kind of thing. i find it very interesting that one of them-a very prominent british naval historian, and actually a former british naval intelligence guy-had in a book about room 40 and so forth, had said at first that his view was, as he put it, it was a
monumental cock-up, an error, a mistake. it just happened, and it was a not conspiracy. later in life, this gentleman is interviewed, and this interview is on file at the imperial war museum in london. he says that he had a change of heart, new things had come out, and he said that- he said that, you know, now thinking about it, he said, "as much as i love the royal navy," he said, "i have come to the conclusion that there was a conspiracy," he said, but he doesn't know what kind, who was behind it, but he says there's just- there's just nothing else that explains that particular set of evidence. so i'm very content to hang it on him, but it's fascinating. it's fascinating. a small part of the book, butâ >> cspan: you know, i've got a problem. we- the first time we talked was "the devil in the w
we're going to show on the screen a map to show basically where the ship was. >> guest: amazingly like glass, which is very rare for those waters. a warm spring day, the irish coast is 12 miles off, visible, luminescent green in the distance. the fog that had absolutely socked in the irish sea had lifted about an hour or so earlier in almost miraculous fashion, just suddenly like gone, you know. so here is this ship sailing through this glassine sea, and what happens then, when schwieger launches his torpedo, if you can imagine this, i mean,
a torpedo leaves a very, especially world war i torpedo, left a very obvious track of compressed air bubbles. this was the exhaust from the torpedo. the glassy sea on a perfect day, you think you're safe, you think you're close enough now to liverpool, everything is good, and suddenly you see this track heading right toward the- right toward the ship. so that's what that moment was like. there's the impact, and then- and this is what's relevant to theodate pope and others. the explosion, the explosion admitted- opened a, opened a hole in just the right place in the ship. schwieger wasn't even aiming for that hole. that was an accident. opened up just the right spot. flooding was so massive, so
intense that the ship almost immediately took on a 25-degree list. you can imagine this, 25 degrees. so while it had more than enough lifeboats, suddenly half those lifeboats were useless. they're essentially useless. people tried to use them with catastrophic result. they were essentially useless because, if you think about it, your 25-degree list, the boats on the port side are now- they just want to, they want to move in against the deck and against the super structure. starboard side had the boats, ordinarily a hair-raising thing to get onto a boat 60 feet above the sea and go down, now has become doubly so because the boats have swung out 8 to 10 feet from the hull. and people are trying to span this with deck chairs and so forth to get into those, to get into those boats. so suddenly you have half the boats are available. there is a good deal of chaos in terms of the launching of the boats. for example, the fully-loaded lifeboat that fell on another
fully-loaded lifeboat. so this is not encouraging people to climb into the boats. many did try the boats, but most people did what theodate pope chose to do which is to essentially jump. not essentially, she jumped. she jumped into the sea, and then she had this kind of horrendous experience, you know, lapsing into and out of consciousness and, you know, for a time being submerged, and just, just amazing sorts of things. >> cspan: and she lived to 1946? >> guest: she lived a nice long and healthy life, depressed most of it, but she married eventually america's ambassador to, was it china? anyways, she married an american ambassador, and for all intents and purposes lived a very, very healthy life, and achieved her dream of setting up a pioneering boys' school in farmington, connecticut. >> cspan: with all the horrible scenes you've pointed out of the book, the one that got me was the woman that either jumped or got in there and then delivered a baby, right? >> guest: yes, this is a- this is a report by a- the son, who was a child at the time. he talks about a passenger telling him- his mother was very, very deeply pregnant, and he had heard from another passenger that this other
the beginning of all this. >> guest: yes. >> cspan: first of all, captain turner, you point out, testified the day before or the day of on the titanic? >> guest: yes. >> cspan: explain that. >> guest: the day before- i know, i found this remarkable. he was called in as an expert witness for the limitation of liability hearings in the titanic disaster. that was essentially cunard's effort- not cunard, the white star line's effort to limit the amount of money that survivor- that survivors and next of kin could get from white star. >> cspan: and that was 1912 when >> cspan: and that was 1912 when that went down. >> guest: that was 1912. so he was called as an expert witness to testify in particular on this question of, you know, what was the captain of the titanic doing going so fast through waters that- where ice was recorded. so turner goes in and gives his testimony, and it's really remarkable. he's just such a, you know, he's a very blunt, again, he's a very blunt, taciturn guy. he doesn't like being questioned, let alone by eight lawyers, you know, in the room, and he says, he says some remarkable things, but he also is asked a little bit about- it'd be best actually to read his testimony, but he is asked about the lusitania and does he feel that it has enough, you know, floatation ability and so forth in case of a disaster. and he essentially says no. you know, he says no ship really does. you know, if they- if they float, that's fine, if they sink, he gets out. that's essentially it.
but it's so amazing that he did this the day before lusitania set sail. >> cspan: by the way, before i- this is about an ad that was in a paper that morningâ >> guest: yes. >> cspan: â but before we go there, has- have things changed? like when you're on the queen mary 2, have they figured out a better way to do the lifeboats so that theâ >> guest: the lifeboats are much more sophisticated now. they're much, they're- first of all, they're much more seaworthy. they are sort of self-contained pods, if you will. once you're in a lifeboat, it's going to- you'll have potentially a rough ride if you're in heavy seas, but you'll be in a safe place until you get picked up. >> cspan: but how about getting in them? >> guest: getting in, you know, i don't know. i didn't have to do this, but my
sense of just simply, you know, examining the lifeboats from my deck, you know is that it's a much more sophisticated process, and the launching mechanisms is much more sophisticated. it's a lot better. >> cspan: where'd- by the way, where did this ad that i'm about to read run? >> guest: ok, this ad, this ad which is- was- call it an ad, it was a notice, it was a warning from the german embassy, and it appeared the morning of the lusitania's departure in various newspapers in new york, one of which was new york world, where it had appeared right next a cunard ad for the lusitania. and so the ad that you're about to read was widely interpreted as being aimed explicitly or directly at the lusitania, even though in fact it makes no mention. >> cspan: "notice!" imperial german embassy is where this comes from at the bottom. "travelers intending to embark on the atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between germany and her allies and great britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to
the british isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the imperial german government, vessels flying the flag of great britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of great britain or her allies do so at their own risk. " anybody see that? >> guest: so, yes. many, many appeared not to have seen it, actually. theodate pope saw it only after boarding the ship while reading the newspaper in the lounge. if you can imagine that, it's like, "oh, my gosh. " you know, "what did i just do?" but many did see it, but everybody went aboard anyway. only i think a couple of people cancelled, and you ask yourself now from the perspective of what were you- what were you thinking? but you have to put yourself back in the point of view of the era and say, you know, this was a time of supreme confidence in
invention here's the ship, this monument to the progressive era's inventiveness and creative genius, and it was so fast and big. no submarine could possibly catch it, you know. and so, of course they went aboard. of course they went aboard. nobody cancelled, and the ship sets sail with, you know, 2,000 souls aboard. >> cspan: there's some, again, some video of looking at the ship. do you remember how long it is? >> guest: what, the video? >> cspan: yes. no, no, no. the ship. >> guest: the ship? you know, i don't know, 795 feet, something like that. >> cspan: and was that the biggest ship in the commercial world in those days? >> guest: in service. that was the biggest, most glamorous, fastest transatlantic ocean liner in service. there were others that were bigger, but interestingly, the british liners that were larger were- had been commandeered by the admiralty, as the admiralty was allowed to do, to become
troop ships or armed auxiliary cruisers. the german ships, more interestingly, that were bigger and faster were interned or sequestered in neutral ports, 18 of them in new york harbor, because the germans did not want the british navy to get those ships. >> cspan: again, you gave us the 1914, the beginning of the war. this was 1915, may 7th, when this accident occurred. we got in the war two years later. a couple of little things in here that- in the, one of the footnotes in the back. >> guest: yes. >> cspan: i just kind ofâ >> guest: i'm glad you read the footnotes. >> cspan: there are some very interesting footnotes, but this was- this is out of context, but just to get you to explain why you did this. "frost walked to the windows. " that's the point in the book on page 279.
>> guest: yes. >> cspan: "i decided to footnote this because it is precisely the kind of detail that it is likely to cause the reader to pause a moment and ask him or herself, "hmm, how do you know he walked to the windows- to his windows? answer, because he tells us so. " frost, german submarine warfare, page 187. >> guest: right, right. >> cspan: what moved you to point that in there? >> guest: well, it's because, it's because- well, for a couple of reasons. one, with the so called narrative non-fiction, which is what i- this, what people like to call it. i don't particularly like label, but it's as good as any. there- i think some writers have a tendency to take, take liberties and sort of have people doing things that they don't really know that they were doing. and so, and so i don't want to- i don't want to have somebody say, "well, how did you know?" you know, "how did you know that this guy was walking back? were you just- is that just artistic license?" so i just thought, you know, i'm going to short-circuit that and say, "i know this because he told us. " >> cspan: another footnote. this is totally off the subject, and you know knew it at the time when you wrote it, i'm sure. "governor's island, in the interest of filling the reader's mind with yet more useless knowledge, i'd like to note here that the 1960s comedy duo, the smothers brothers, tom and dick, were born on governor's island. >> guest: right, right.
>> cspan: what again moved you to do that? >> guest: well i just, you know, i had- i had spent a fair amount of time researching the path that the lusitania was going to take down the harbor, right, and all the landmarks that it was passing and the terminals and things to try to get a sense of the vibrance of the- of sea-borne trade and so forth at the time. one of the places it was going to go by was governor's island, so i had done a little research on governor's island and learned that the smothers brothers had been born there, and i thought- it intrigued me, so i stuck it in. that's why god made footnotes. >> cspan: well also, for instance, it was fun to learn this: that there is a uboat.net. i went to uboat.net, found out the guy that runs the thing for no money is in reykjavik, icelandâ >> guest: right. >> cspan: â and that people who are involved in this, and they talk about, i don't remember the number, 1,200 or so u-boats over the years. >> guest: yes. >> cspan: they've got the whole
thing there. >> guest: in incredible detail, and it's good detail. it's really one of the most credible websites that i've come across. >> cspan: the other thing you tell us in here is how you can find the video, and how much of that did you look at yourself? >> guest: the video of the departure? >> cspan: of the lusitania andâ >> guest: yes, i just watched the- what's available online. >> cspan: â the documentary isn't online? >> guest: i try not to watch other people's documentaries. i want to- i want to come to this my own, my own view, but i did watch the actual videos of the departure, very, very closely over and over and over and over, because it's very,
it's very interesting what you see, and- like at one point, at one point, as the ship is moving across the camera. and at first, you think the camera is panning, but given film technology of the era, no. the ship is moving. and at one point, this is a little detail but somehow very compelling to me, a steward comes out of a- out of the door very crisply, carries something to a passenger, and then walks back through the door, obviously bringing a telegram or some piece of whatever. and i found that just- i don't why that was really meaningful. it was- it put me briefly into the fact that here it is, it's absolutely routine. these guys are setting to sail, and nobody is terribly concerned about this. and then of course, in this video, there's turner, brief glimpse of turner on the bridge. you know, he doffs his hat one time, he's got that turner smile, very, very nice smile, and off they go. >> cspan: you got quite a send off from the new york times. as you knowâ >> guest: i did. >> cspan: â were you surprised? >> guest: yes. >> cspan: i mean, you got a feature article during the weekâ >> guest: two reviews. >> cspan:. .. two reviews, and in addition to that, the last sunday before recording this, you got a special q&a in theirâ >> guest: right.
>> cspan: â in their review section. >> guest: and a podcast. >> cspan: a podcast. i want to show you a picture of an old writer that you say is your favorite, a guy named ernest hemingway. >> guest: yes. >> cspan: and that picture has some resemblance to somebody i'm looking at right in front of me. >> guest: it's so funny, it's funny you say that, because i've actually- i've actually started hearing that for the, for the first time that there's- somebody actually even posted on twitter pictures side by side of me and of hemingway. and i'll takeit. i'll take it. i'm not going to do the shotgun thing, believe me, but i'll take it, you know. >> cspan: why hemmingway? what got your attention to him? >> guest: you know, hemingway, i know that there- hemingway has lost a certain amount of cache,
you know, and fitzgerald in contrast has risen, and all that stuff, but the thing i love about hemingway is that the clarity and the austerity of his prose. i have been drawn to that from the first time i read hemingway, and i've read everything by hemingway. my favorite works of his are his short stories collected as a collection called "in our time," the nick adams stories. he is the master of the art of not telling. you understand- favorite short story, my favorite short story i think that i have ever read is "hills like white elephants. " and you know exactly what's happening even though he never tells you, and that's, i think, that's genius. >> cspan: this- a lot of this is csmall material, but we've got to get it in before the hour's over. you and your wife worked together on these books how? >> guest: well, worked together in the sense that she is my best, most natural editor and reader. >> cspan: she's a medical doctor. >> guest: she's medical doctor. yes, she's a neonatologist. but she's a fantastic editor, really fantastic editor. i give her the rough draft, well i never call it a rough draft, first draft. i give her the first completed reasonable draft of the book, and that draft is so packed with things. my mo is to pack it with everything i possibly can and
then start pulling things out rather than having to tuck things back in. she is my secret weapon in that category, because- it took some time to get to this, this level, to make it non-confrontational and totally, you know, the way it works is she will- she will give it back to me. she's not allowed to say what she thinks. she's not allowed to say, "oh, l loved this" or "i hated this. " she just has to give it back to me with a deadpan face. and she has margin symbols, and this is crucial, this is my secret weapon: up arrow is good, down arrow is it goes out. sad faces, good, smiley faces, good, but the worst are the, all too often, these long receding series of zzz's, you know, and this is all so valuable to me because then i know what doesn't work. and she's got the fresh eye of a really talented and really good reader. so, that's really helpful.
>> cspan: all right, a couple more characters in the book. >> guest: yes. >> cspan: charles lauriat. we have a photo him. who was he? >> guest: so charles lauriat intrigued me. first of all, again, the reason he's in the book: detail. he left multiple accounts of the voyage and the sinking and the aftermath, and that's what it's all about is detail. anybody who's in that book as a passenger, or any other character except for the obvious ones, is there because the detail that they left behind. charles lauriat was a bookseller. one reason i loved it was because he was a bookseller at a time that was referred to often as- i've seen referred to as the golden age of book collecting, of collecting of books. he was a- he was the owner of a bookstore in boston, and he was, he was famous. he was famous. a bookseller, famous! can you imagine? and famous enough and well off enough that he could take his annual buying trip to england, you know, travelling first class and spending months in england and then coming back with things that he bought there
to sell out of, out of his store. so i really loved his story, but i also loved the fact that, strangely enough, in one filing in the national archives in washington, d.c. , he lost some things aboard this voyage. maybe we don't want to say what those things are, but we might. he lost some things aboard this- in the singing, and he wanted to, he wanted to get the value of back from what was the- it was the u.s. mixed claims commission, and this was a commission that assigned a value to losses that germany would then be required to pay. so, he filed this extraordinary petition; most people just filed maybe a couple of pages, you
know, asking for this kind of money back. his was, the number 180 pages sticks in my mind. i mean just filing after filing after filing, all associated with these things that he had brought aboard, but what was most valuable and what took me totally by surprise was that in these filings, he talked a lot in detail about what he did before departure on the ship, and that was fascinating to me. you know, it's the kind of stuff, if you're doing this kind of narrative non-fiction, you absolutely have to have. i knew exactly what kind of suitcases he had. i knew, you know, where and how he checked them in, where he kept these things that we're talking about. it was just such an amazing thing, and i don't even know why he filed all that detail, except maybe to just sort of heap detail on and be more convincing. >> cspan: as we get down near the end, here is some video of what it looked like inside the ship, the lusitania, that went down on may 7, 1915. when you were on queen mary 2, does it look anything like this? >> guest: not so much.
not so much. the queen mary 2 is a beautiful ship, beautiful ship. but no, this is, this is like luxury, you know. i mean, when you have, you know, when you have walls that are coated in silk and gilt and so forth, and when you have state rooms, in the case of the lusitania, where you could actually have a wood burning fireplace, you know, that's a, that's a different level of glamour. >> cspan: another item- i mean, you talk about woodrow wilson throughout the book and relate what's going on with him. the thing that it seemed like you enjoyed writing was that edith galt, who he married, turned him down at once. >> guest: yes, right. turned him down, it sent him into a tail spin. sent him into a tail spin.
i mean, he's still kept writing letters and telling her he loved her, and he was- he was hell bent on making her eventually come around, and that was really an important part of the story, because context is very important. i mean, obviously i talk a lot about the war and the changing nature of the war and what was happening to try to show the sort of stakes of what was involved, and here's wilson, this poor guy. i mean, he was so deeply- he was so lonely, grieving the loss of his, of his first wife, and suddenly this woman has come into his life. it's left him almost disoriented, and then boom, this lusitania disaster. you know, it had to color, even if only a little bit, his response. i mean, at one point, he gave a speech in philadelphia, and he said, he said to her, he confessed or he said, "i was just in such an emotional turmoil that i wasn't even sure what city was in. " you know, he briefly thought it was new york. so, fascinating. >> cspan: here we have a picture to show you where the lusitania is today, and if i remember from your book, it's about 11.7 miles off the coast of irelandâ >> guest: yes, yes. that's probably a photograph. that's an artistic rendering based ballard's research? orâ >> cspan: i don't know, but it must be- i mean, ballard, you can see- you can find ballard on the web. >> guest: yes.