tv Robert Harris Munich CSPAN February 4, 2018 10:05pm-11:01pm EST
will face enormous profitabili profitability. little changes in privacy regulations to adopt would have a huge impact on the model. it's easy to imagine pressures like that to be brought to bear especially as we get closer to the next presidential election. >> host: thank you so much for being here.
[inaudible conversations] good afternoon and welcome. i am the director of the library at the churchill society. between the university and the society and since our opening in october 2016, we welcomed many students and visitors and shared access to primary documents, books and exhibits about winston churchill which i hope he will take the time to enjoy today.
to learn more about churchill and the work of the society please visit the website, winston churchill.org. we held the first meeting of a seminar taught by professor kennedy at the history department who is here with us today. we have welcomed leaders of the foreign british secretary and a former u.s. ambassador to the uk. the screen actors guild award last night for his role as churchill and distinguished historians including tim snyder to discuss with only the particulars of his life and career but also the application to the present day challenges. today i have the honor to welcome robert harris, one of the foremost novelists is called
an unforgettable life in ancient rome, world war ii and 1960s berlin who won the second world war. [laughter] in his latest work h she takes s into downing street is the premaster nebo chamberlain haunted by the devastation of the first world war attempts to avoid a second. his efforts lead to the conference of 1938 which was vividly portrayed and laced with suspense and intrigue. the best-selling novels include cicero chaudhry divvied petrology, an officer and a spy and conclave. several books have been filmed including a ghost which is directed by roman polanski. his work has been translated into 37 languages and is a fellow of the society of literature. ladies and gentlemen, please
welcome robert harris. [applause] we are experiencing a remarkable moment with films and television shows and upcoming biography sparking a renewed interest if your focus on the novel is on nebo chamberlain and your take is a little more sympathetic than we are accustomed to seeing. can you tell us what motivated you to write about him and the conference? >> thank you for that kind introduction. i suppose in a way it is because of that, but i wanted to write a book 30 years ago i did a documentary about the agreement
and talked to the pastor who accompany the chamberlain on the plane and chamberlain stalker. it was fascinating and i realized i grew up thinking i knew about nebo chamberlain that was wrong in approaching it and even the then although i've nevr written a novel i heard it would be interesting to write from the point of view who might be facing in his private life a crisis in his marriage similar to the crisis but despite having an affair and i toyed with that idetheidea for many years but nr really expand it into a novel
that ten years ago i read a diary from the memoir within the third reich and he kept a small one in the course of working with spear and in 69 they asked about munich and spiro said he was in a foul mood for two weeks after munich and he took it out on his private staff which was unusual for him and finally at a social event in berlin it all came pouring out and he said by chamberlain of people. suddenly i realized this would be the way to write a novel that i had someone who accompany
hitler as well as as these two men had been friends at oxford at about 1930s which is possible and then they meet in munich. i have always wanted to do it and now finally i had. >> host: you can maybe answer this in the context of the latest novel but the historical fiction is difficult and challenging because if you take too many liberties than people are misled and it really doesn't qualify strictly speaking as historical fiction but of course suspense and excitement requires some litary linse. how do you in your own writing perhaps in this book in particular balance those competing concerns? >> it was prett >> it was pretty easy in this book because in the three or four days that covers in-depth
week in 193 1938 to be the most dramatic and history, to actually go inside it comes to be at downing street as you say the house of commons, to be on adolf hitler's train as he traveled south of berlin and there where the meeting took place but finally in his own apartment. you can't get much more dramatic characters. but it was at stake and i felt in the novel a lot of the function was to convey to the reader the drama of those few days when it didn't look like it would go to war and of the mostt moment it was avoided, so i took hour by hour what they were doing and inserted fictional
characters inside behind closed doors and of course the two young men, they were made of and their friendship and coming together was entirely imaginary but the other part of it was a thrill. your portrayal of chamberlain himself is a very intimate one and obviously based on a great deal of research. do you consider him a somewhat unfairly maligned figure and did you think of a way to somewhat rehabilitate him? >> guest: i wanted to tell the truth. it is a difficulty in this and it comes to it with hindsight. we all know they were going to
go on and it seems laughable to sit down and sign any kind of an agreement. but at the beginning of the book if you remember it wouldn't have seemed much worse for by that stage had killed a great many more people and chamberlain wasn't being weak, gullible, elderly or senile. he was a dynamic prime minister and reminds me in many ways of margaret thatcher by sheer
intellectual mastery was going to be a war but the french did. ended ended nevertheless earli earlier. three quarters of a million as word relatively small country chamberlain saw that there was a spiritual breakdown where people didn't see the minister or the leaders doing everything possible to try to avoid another war so one of things you realize is there are characters who are dynamic in a novel and really drive the action and then there are characters who are reacted and with no doubt the driving
dominant force, hitler is curiously passive, endlessly being put on the back foot by chamberlain come he didn't want to go to munich or signed this wretched agreement. he was infuriated about the whole thing and that is something most people don't know that it is almost inescapable from the historical record. >> [inaudible] >> essentially, he decided to embark on a diplomacy that no one had seen before. it is the only means of finding out what it was he wanted and whether the war could be avoided so he flew to see hitler and said in the house of commons after he was taking a huge risk
and nevertheless he felt it was worth a try. he didn't even propose to tell him he was coming until he was in the air as he could be turned back. hitler was given 24 hours and chamberlain said why are you going to the war. we know hitler wanted to check them out at the pretext he basically would be greeted join
in the declaration and the rights of people to determine their own rights of where they should live and he said i will see what i can do it effectively and when he flew back a week later hitler was trying to scramble away from it. the long and short of it is he made a great mistake by setting out what it was he wanted openly and he never made that mistake again. he'd ever made that in 1939 where he never specified his privileges but he did in 1938 and chamberlain and the french essentially met them and i think he still would have liked to have gone to war but when he marched through on the day that he issued to mobilize far from
when everyone stood and cheered, they turned their back on it and people did not want to go to war and he said you can't have a world war on the question of modalities on do you occupy them on the first of october or the tenth of october and so reluctantly he agreed to meet chamberlain who was described as that old asshole excuse my language but he had to meet him and in wh to the end of his life felt that he missed the perfect opportunity to go to war in 1938 and again at the front there is this quotation from hitler 1935
saying we should have gone to war in 1938 it would have been the perfect time and with chamberlain said that could persuade a country like britain to go to a world war. it isn't an issue on which he would be able to sustain. and if they fought and won, they wouldn't be expected to stay sorry that is a very long answer but it's a big question. i think we will shift focus here for a moment because you've also spent a great deal of time metaphorically speaking into your novels have helped
illustrate human nature, the parallels between that world and our own especially in politics and i wonder now as you survey the washington scene [rol [laughter] if there are any classical parallels that come to mind. [inaudible] the reason i wrote the novel is because they'v i've always been fascinated about politics. i was a political journalist and i think there are certain rules that fit certain personality types and basically nothing changes and it contains almost all think as we see today grappling with many of the same problems using many of the same arts of politics and the
parallels are very strong because they are influenced by cato and cicero and others in the institutions in the united states so they gone over to the ancient world. it's fascinating to write about it and see nothing much does change and i think the question is raised but they were always troubling because in the end the experiment in democracy failed and had gone on% pace. onfor some days. in the end the structure of the roman republic couldn't deal with the vastness or the standing army or the amount of money flooding through the system which was paralyzed by corruption to try to push
through the campaign finance reform to learn how much the candidates could spend and the whole system became bogged down until it snapped to pieces. you can probably think of parallels more clever than i can. >> now we come to one of my favorite subjects and one that we debated and discussed on a number of occasions, brexit. i know that you vociferously opposed to brexit. but my question is, we can debate and talk about the merits of the arguments but based on discussions i've had with various people in british politics and elsewhere, what i'm wondering is that i wonder what your thoughts are on this, do
you think that brexit will inevitably happen or do you think that the weakness of the government and the complexity of the process and just the continued opposition of influential people like yourself that it may never come to pass? i think that it's the membership of the union or the common markets. the labor party is now under the control of the left wing who were defeated by tony blair because they see it as bringing in socialism and they think that it will hamper that and make it that much more difficult to do.
this goes back to the 18th century the question about the relationship in europe and they wouldn't be surprised if there isn't a political party campaigning to rejoin and the whole picture will look completely different. now i think we have got ourselves tied up in a knot. we introduced to a representative system a process that has become mandated to do something and that is not what they are supposed to do.
it was by referendum that they joined the early version. ththat decision was confirmed ba referendum but that was a short-term tactical use who wouldn't have called for the referendum. david cameron liked that. >> you mentioned the former premaster tony blair. it's never a good idea to fall out with a famous novelist.
your portrayal of the character was devastating. can you reflect on your relationship with tony blair, his legacy and his recent attempted interventions in the debate? >> well, you know, one of the things i think about politics we often think in terms of strengths and weaknesses in terms of politicians. they have traits of character. that was true of chamberlain and every leader and it's true of tony blair his self-confidence and his sons with destiny in a
kind of instrument for good lead to a kind of unfortunate hubris. he was a brilliant reader of the public mood and balancing what he wanted to do and how far he could take the country. he came across this issue and made it black and white with no shades of gray in it whatsoever. that was a mistake int and the mistake was then compounded by walking out to the house of commons and going off to make money. then the refusal to take any opportunity. on the whole though he tried to act on what he thought was the right thing to do, instead his
response was he would do it again tomorrow. frankly most people will not accept that and that is a tragedy for a man who is a brilliant politician and articulate the case better than anybody else. but all of these other pronouncements they can talk sick when it comes to that argument and i think that is a tragedy. ..
when things went badly for us in 2001 and it seemed so much more capable of articulating why it was important to fight against islamic extremism than many of our leaders work, can you help explain the basis of that? why the iraq war hit such a nerve and infuriated people in britain to the extent that it did. after all the casualties were tiny by historical standards. you mentioned three quarter of a million people killed in the first world war. what is the source of that animus? >> there was a sense that, i think these great powerful
democracies should only go to war when they are pretty certain of the case they are fighting for. one of the things to go back briefly is after munich, there was no doubt, there was no peacemaking to be done with hitler. britain had to go to war. they had to see it through. the blow was struck first i hitler breaking all rules. whenever you get a war that is preventative, as it were, or anticipate an attack, then it seems to me you immediately are likely to divide the country much more. there was a lot of talk, especially in america, as you know that saddam hussein was behind the 911 attacks. it was fun to make it seem that there was some link. we now know there wasn't a link and al qaeda found it
very difficult to operate in iraq. tony blair was part of this spinning and there was a sense that there was a war being fought without him having actually attacked us. there wasn't a real this role sense for the war. there were complexities that simply were not understood by the people who made the decision. we were kicking over a situation of the men's complexity with great ignorance and we did no careful planning. i'm more amazed there hasn't been more prosecution by the people who did this rather than the other way around. i'm not at all surprised by the anger although the allied casualties were light, there were hundreds of thousands and
one looks to the region now, one can hardly say it's in better shape than it was before the attack. i remember watching that night of shock and are, the explosions of the rest of it and thinking we will pay a price for this, you can't just go in and do this without proof after behind the attack and not expect trouble down the pike. that's my view. >> just one more question about politics, your long time labor but it seems like you've had enough that the current later leadership sympathy for terrorism and other things has driven you away. do you feel politically homeless now? >> in terms of a party to vote for, yes, i do.
i think that the political structures in britain haven't kept pace with the shift in, particularly the break over europe and my side of the argument is not really being advanced by the main parties. i feel most close with the scottish nationalists, oddly. i do feel politically homeless. i do dislike the extremism on both sides. one of the reasons i felt so sympathetic to cicero's he is the kind of politician i like, a pragmatist who will try any tool to get the exchanges of either side and that has vanished with tony blair and certainly with david cameron and we now have politics
driven by extremists on either side. they make all the weather. >> you think the s&p is a voice of moderation. >> i was slightly making a joke in a common language as they say. i'm 60, so i am old enough, i know i don't look at. [laughter] i remember what britain was like before we le went to the european union and the idea that there's some glorious moment we can wind the clock back to and everything will be much better is nonsense because the only thing i think we can wind back to his 1970. it won't be that britain will fall off the edge of the cliff, it will just be a little bit grimy or, little bit slower growth in other countries and it will feel a little more out of things like britain did in the 70s
because i don't think where were winding back to you. 1938, one of the reasons they wanted to avoid fighting hitler, in 1938 was perfectly clear that a world war would destroy british global power, and it did even though we want. it destroyed the british empire. we were not able to fight. we can't go back to 38. we go back to 1914 or 1890, what is the point at which we say that's when things were really great because i don't think we can find that spot. >> i think you would be relieved to know what take a break from politics and get back to fiction. this question is for the writers and aspiring riders among us. how do you craft your novels? do you outline them carefully or do you start writing and see where it takes you? and what are your daily
routines? >> when i started writing, i found it very hard to write fiction. it took me four years to write enigma and archangel in five years to write pompeii. then i started to speed up. i became more aware of the techniques of writing. i enjoyed it more and because i had more books under my belt, i didn't feel each time i had a book that i would be judged just on that one. people would say i like that one but maybe not this one. i did find things that interest me and they came out of nowhere. i was interested in the election of the pope and i saw the pope on the balcony and all the cardinals peering out, looking at him and i thought who are these people voting
and how did they vote? it was. curiosity that led me too write that book. i had always just been interested in the moral compromises of munich and had the sense that it wasn't quite as people thought it was. it was written to satisfy that edge. in most my books i think that's what i do. i was a journalist and i naturally look out for the world in present and past and there's always a story to write about. as to how i do it? i speeded up and i normally research a book in six months and rated in six months. i normally start writing mid-january and finish around end of june, beginning of july. i work in the mornings, i don't work in the afternoons, i think you can only really write creatively for four or five hours a day. i've learned to respect what steven king calls the boys in the basement, the subconscious where i think a lot of work is
done, that's when things happen and i pace myself and i like to write, but i like to think maybe 20000 words a month so five or six months will give you a book length novel and it's been a great joy to do it. so i really wanted to do and i've been fortunate that i've been able to do it. spent over 25 years since i published my first novel so what could be a nicer thing than to sit and daydream all the time. my compatriot was asked how could he be a writer and he wanted to turn it back it to the question and say how do you deal with unmediated reality.
i love coming to america, but i have a new novel in my head, i was thinking about it in the hotel this morning. wherever i go i carry my inner world around with me and that's great. it's great solace in these days. >> i was in london with ander roberts recently and i told him, i said i'm reading robert harris' new book called conclave and he immediately said don't tell me. he could not wait to get into it. it was fascinating to go behind the scenes. i just want to ask you about that novel. did you have conversations with indiscreet cardinals? [laughter] >> it would be indiscreet of me too answer. >> i did have a conversation with a cardinal, yes, i wouldn't say that he told me very much that i hadn't already discovered but there
is a certain sense of, it gave confidence to speak to someone who had actually been there and seen it all, and he liked the book, he said cardinal o'malley is a cardinal like all we cardinals would wish to be, not untroubled by doubt, trying to do the right thing, highly intelligent and i enjoyed it very much. as for the ending, i can't tell you myself, it's only a novel. i won't tell you what it is but it's a doozy of a twist. that's all. >> i am obligated to ask, when will we see a robert harris novel about winston churchill. >> well, have always been fascinated by churchill and i
think it's been comprehensively taken over. i was looking up those five flights that churchill made to france in may and june and there was one in particular, the most darkest time where he was met by general spears who is the liaison between the british and the french and they described how he came down a flight after a bumpy flight, he came down the steps of the aircraft with his game kane, he came over to spears and he said i could see he was in good humor and he took his stick and poked me in the stomach. i thought in that one moment you really saw what a character he was. i would love to everyone about it but there's always going to
be a chamberlain library in the center, anytime soon. >> may be a georgetown. [laughter] >> that's sort of an internal djokovic i think i can understand. but i'm pleased to have done chamberlain because i think that they got on, churchill never criticized him behind his back and when he became prime minister he never criticized him other but backed them up and rejected the idea of peace talks. he loved being presented as someone like halifax too. [inaudible] he had had enough of adolf hitler, thank you very much but the two men, each of them were necessary. it was good that we didn't fight in 1938 because we only had 20 spitfire's. they were not magic, they had
been built by chamber who, in 1939 was spending 50% of government expenditure on armaments. so you needed him not only for the rearmament but the vital time but also for the moral sense that churchill was able to play on, but there was no alternative, chamberlain had done what he wanted to do. he had shown the people spiritually there was no alternative to fighting, and that i think was something churchill was able to draw on the strength that he had gotten from chamberlain and were mentioning earlier the wonderful eulogy that he did on chamberlain's death, and i think we'll a lot to both men, in fact, obviously churchill is the great figure but chamberlain played his part too. >> on that note, i think we will turn to the audience for
question. we have a microphone there, if you have a question for robert harris, please, it might be handy to bring the microphone around and will just take a few questions and stop so there is time for you to buy books. >> thank you very much mr. harris. you may have just answer the question that has been in my mind for the past 40 minutes, and that is what is your ultimate verdict on chamberlain at munich? could he have done something more or better or different and therefore was munich really a failure as everyone generally thanks it was, or do you think that because it gave
britain another year to rearm and because he did go the extra mile to try to have peace in our time, whether it succeeded or not, do you think actually chamberlain succeeded that may next. >> yes, well not really, he represented a triumph, if you wanted to call it, almost a victory and a defeat for hitler which is the absolute reverse of what most people think. i cannot recommend to highly the book, the nazi form policy. he makes this point that, just to take a small example, the famous piece of paper that is waived and every time it's shown you kind of cringe, chamberlain, i've always found it rather strange.
actually what he did was take hitler's speech made earlier that week in which he proclaimed his desire for peace and for our two countries never to go to war again. he wrote it out and he went to hitler's apartment to get him to sign his own work in the foreign office people said this is highly risky and chamberlain said, i hope he sticks to it but if he doesn't stick to it people will see it, the americans will see it so i'm going to make a big thing of it when i get back to london, which he did, waving it, holding it at arms length because he was too vain to wear spectacles, reading it out, and he made a big thing of it precisely to try to nail
hitler to the agreement. it went all over the world. now, i use the analogy that was like putting himself on an electric fence. it destroyed him but had a certain value in the end and that it did nail him as a liar and chamberlain sacrificed his reputation to some degree almost knowingly. he couldn't come back and say well he signed it but frankly i don't trust him, i'm going to spend half of our gdp on rearmament because this guy is a maniac. he has to come back and go through the motions of believing that he got a deal and that is a subtle point that's often not appreciated. >> i hope it's worth the wait.
>> how, i'm just curious about how you research. i read an officer in the spy and you have a lot of color in it and i'm wondering how you do that bit of research. >> well i never employ the researcher my life. i do everything myself because plowing through the documents in the diaries, i tried to get back to original sources as much as possible. that is to live life for me. the fact that i might spend two hours or three hours and not only get one tiny detail that's of any use, it's almost like life itself and then suddenly you come across something that's incredibly useful. i just hold tiny details and weave them together. that sort of thing that people
might passover, also i try to know it ten times more than i'll ever put in the book. engine often think that if i was writing about a character in london walking down oxford street, i would say he walked down and turned right. i wouldn't say he walked down and passed the famous department that was started in 1908 by the american businessman. you have to have the confidence to leave your research behind. i love the process, the possibilities. every book is a notion of wonderful possibilities until you set down the first sentence and it becomes like every other damn book that was ever written. there was always a hope when you are researching. >> this gentleman in the back and then in the front next. >> this is a very appropriate follow on. i'm a historian here at george washington university. i've enjoyed your books ever
since reading fatherland in berlin. i'm very much an archive rat. you really enjoy going through the archives and there's so much color. i will ask you the same question i asked alan first to i admire for his novel. do you ever work in archives? >> yes, quite often. i worked in the archives and went through all the u-boats and read them all in sequence for that book and its shattering to actually deal with that sort of thing. i remember one i never put in the book, coming across a document that propose some proposed peace deal and churchill's own writing was on it and he so vigorously disagreed, writing know all over that at one point he tore
the paper. those sort of documents, they really rise up and you can feel the horro the force of history. i much prefer, my favorite reading is not really novels her history books, it's diaries, letters, journals, anything that is unmediated but real. nowhere do you get that better than in an archive. >> will ask you to engage. [inaudible] in a little imaginary history. there's this idea that chamberlain, even after churchill was prime minister, had hoped to get an agreement with hitler. what would've happened if they had gotten an agreement. my impression has always been that hitler really wanted to go east and that the idea was
possibly exaggerated, i don't think british authorities could have put it aside but exaggerated that hitler would in fact come and try to take over britain, at least not for a long time and the russians would've had a much harder time because i doubt we would've gotten involved. >> i tend to agree with you. after munich, we should of god. [inaudible] the only sound recording we have of hitler talking in an ordinary way in the summer of 1942 when hitler left he said he wanted to meet to try to persuade him to come in on the war and again he goes on to manheim and said i wanted to invade in 1939.
he felt again it was a year too late. he felt on the back foot and to listen to that tape in 1942 which is online for anyone who wants to listen to it, it's fascinating because hitler, talking about the russians, they have 35000 tanks. if any of my generals would come to me and say the soviets have 35000 tanks i would've said you're mad, but the russians had time to rearm as well. it would've been very difficult to get across the channel and i think the spitfires obviously had a great advantage over homes while fighting. i think it would've been difficult and i think one of the reasons, paradoxically
that churchill was so anxious not to hear these peace terms which would've come to mussolini is that they might've been very lenient. i don't think he was gonna say you scuffled the lower navy and whatever, i think it would've been far more like a partnershi partnership, leaving hitler free to do what he always wanted to do. thank god i've agreed i'm absolutely grateful for churchill for his resolute determination not to hear what might've been a generous offer. not many leaders would have not heard in secrecy what the peace terms might be. it's an extraordinaril
extraordinary moment in history. >> we have time for one more question. >> thank you so much but i have a question about your writing in general. you write about different regions and historical figures paid when you are writing a book, what is your overall mission or goal. it seems. interesting that they provided different perspective or outlook on the region but the you have, if you had to tell someone what your overall mission or goal would be, i'm really curious because it seems to cover so much that is just fantastic. >> nowadays you have this wonderful archived footage of stills and how, if you apply color to them suddenly become so much more vibrant and
immediate. in the literal sense, in a way, that's what i'd like to do to convey my sense, the fact that humanity went through so much in the past who should bear in mind whatever problems we face in america or in britain, things have been worse, people have been through worse things and they were that different to us. if i can somehow convey that which is what i feel, then that is perhaps the nearest i can come to encompassing what it is i'm trying to do. >> i think that's a very eloquent summing up. another goal for any novelist is to sell and sign books. >> i think if we wrap it up now we will give robert a chance to do just that. thank you very much for being here and thanks especially to robert harris. [applause]
bloomberg technologies emily chain reports on sexism in silicon valley. look for these titles in bookstores this coming week and watch for many of the authors in the near future on booktv on c-span2. >> of morning and welcome to bill of rights day. i'm at the national constitution center and my guest is professor noah feldman, author of the three lives of james madison. he is a professor of law at harvard law school and specializes in constitutional studies with emphasis on law and religion, constitutional design a t