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tv   Robert Harris Munich  CSPAN  April 6, 2018 12:22am-1:18am EDT

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cable television companies. today, we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court and public policy expense in washington d.c. and around the country. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. >> now, in interview with robert harris about his historical novel munich, a thriller set against the 1938 munich conference that preceded world war ii. this talk took place at the national churchill library at george washington university in washington d.c. this is just under one hour. [inaudible conversations]
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>> good afternoon. welcome to the national churchill library and center. my name is michael bishop and i am the director of the library and executive director of the international churchillir society. this is the philanthropic partnership between the university and society and since our opening in october 2016, we welcome many students and visitors and share access to primary a documents, bu books and exhibits about winston churchill which i hope you will take the time to enjoy today. to learn more about churchill and the work of ouray society please visit the website at davida vw.winston churchill.org. today we held the first meeting of an undergraduate
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research seminar taughtse by dane kennedy of the history department who is here with us today. here we have welcomed leaders such as general david petraeus , former british foreign secretary and former u.s. ambassador to the uk matthew. [inaudible] actor gary oldman who collected this green actors guild award last night for his role as churchill and distinguished historians including tim schneider to discuss not only particulars of his life and career butl' also their application to our present-day challenges. today i'm the honor to welcome robert harris, one of the worlds for thriller writers and a novelist who has brought to life in ancient rome, london and world war 1 ii and in 1960s berlin hunted by an aging hitler who won the second world war. in his latest work he takes us
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to downing street as the prime minister was haunted by the devastation of the first world war attempts to avoid a second. his efforts lead to the infamous munich conference of 1938. it is vividly portrayed and laced with suspense and intrigue. roberts many best-selling novels include the cicero trilogy, fatherland, enigma and also a spy, and conclave. several of his book have been filmed including the ghost which is directed by roman polanski. his work has been translated into 37 languages and he is the fellow of the royal society of literature. ladies and gentlemen, please welcome robert harris. [applause] >> robert, we are experiencing aar remarkable moment with films and television shows and andrew robinson's upcoming
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churchill biography, but your focus in this novel is on neville chamberlain. 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 about the munich conference? >> thank you for that very kind introduction. it is rather typically perverse that i should be doing a book on neville chamberlain and his dominating culture. i suppose it was because of that i wanted to write the books 30 years ago. i did a documentary for the bbc network marking the 50th anniversary of the munich agreement. he accompanied chamberlain on the plane and met hitler at his apartment and chamberlain
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daughter and it was fascinating, and i realized that a lot of what i had grown up and what i thought i knew about him was wrong or at least there is another way of approaching it. even then, although i had never written a novel, i thought it would be interesting to write a novel from the pointho of view of one of chamberlain secretaries who flew on the plane to meetin hitler and who might be facing, in his private life, a crisis in his marriage similar to the national crisis of his wife having an affair and would he appease or make a stand. i toyed with that idea for many years and could never really expanded into a novel. then, a couple years ago, i read a diary kept by the german historian and journalist. [inaudible] he wrote about hitler and he was the ghost writer to
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alberts beer. he wrote his memoir inside the third right. he kept a small diary during the course of workingoi with him and in 1969 he asked him about munich and he said hitler was in a foul mood for two weeks after munich. he took it out on his private staff which was unusual for him and finally, at event in berlin, it all came pouring out. he said the german people have been duped and by chamberlain, of all people. suddenly i realized, this had been the way to write the novel if i had someone a complaining hitler as well as someone accompanied chamberlain inf these two young then had been friends at oxford in about 1930 which is possible and then they meet in munich when their two chiefs meet and then i could write novel.
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i did and it's taken me 30 years but i've always wanted to do it and now finally i have. >> so you can maybe answer this in the context of munich, your latest novel, but the craft of historical fiction is a difficult and challenging one because if you take too many liberties and people are misled and it really doesn't qualify strictly speaking a sister oracle fiction, but of course suspense and excitement require some literary license. how do you, in your own writing, perhaps in thiswnan bok in particular, how do you balance those two competing concerns? >> it was easy in this book because in that week in 1938 was the most are manic in history. too actually goo inside it, to be in downing street or the house of commons, to be on
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adolf hitler's train as he traveled south to berlin and where the meeting took place and finally in his own apartment is a thriller ride. you can't get much more dramaticer characters. : : : the future of the western civilization at stake. and really, i felt in the novel a lot of my function was simply to convey to the reader the sheer, pulsating drama of those two days when it didn't look like the world would go to war and at the last moment, it was avoided. so, i took it almost hour by hour what chamberlain and hitler were doing to take the reader inside to closed doors. so, o >> behind closed doors. so one of the men who worked
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for the germanrm foreign ministry made up and their friendship and coming together in 1938 i can only imagine the other part. >> your portrait of chamberlin himself is intimate and is a great deal of research but do you consider him a misaligned figure? but there was some difficulty especially hindsight. so it seems laughable or even wicked you could sit down and even sign an agreement to go
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with that but now just to remember chamberlain didn't see much a of first like the kaiser and a great many more people. he was not the elderly almost senile looking figure but was dominant government in the way like margaret thatcher with his sheer mastery of the detail. he totally ran the government and decided if there was going to be a war than the french
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would go to war that it would be just like the first world war but three quarters of the million british dad so chamberlain thought it would be a spiritual breakdown to see their prime minister wasn't doing everything possible. so one of the things that you realize the characters are dynamic that they drive the action but then some that are reaction no doubt chamberlin is the dominant driving force that passes he did not want to go to munich or sign the
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agreement and that is something that most people don't know that it is in fact inescapable fromes the recor record. >> essentially chamberlain tried to embark on something never seen before. he decided to go and confront hitler directly to see it for invited -- avoided so he flew to see hitler he was aware it was taking a huge risk for the british prime minister but he thought it was worth a try to avoid for when he even planned to try to take
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off from london and even in theas unpressurized aircraft he didn't even tell hitler he was coming until he was in the air so he could not be turned back. i think he was flattered that the leader of britain would come to see him so he saw him and said why you going to war? but the pretext was the three and a half million so went to join germany under the declaration of the people and said it is a surprise and i will see what i could do
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effectively. and chamberlain put pressure on the checks so then he was trying to get away from it so then he made a great mistake and said what he wanted openly. he never made that mistake again especially in poland but he did in 1938. chamberlain and the french essentially met them. i think he still would have gone to war but not on the day he issued to mobilize lake in 1914 but then the germans turn their back on it with the beginning of the realization that they did not want to go
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to war. and they say we cannot have a question on trivial matters and so reluctantly he agreed with the man he became to detest and that is how he referred to chamberlin but and through the end of his life he had that opportunity and he said we should have gonene to war september 1938 would have been the perfect time but what chamberlain feared is that if
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you persuade a country like britain into a world war it isn't an issue to sustain the war the british and the french may be cleared but they would not be expected to stay. sorry it is a very long answer but it is a big question. >> i think we will shift focus here for a moment. you spend a great deal of time and your novel helps to illustrate the constancy of nature in the parallel between that world and your own silica at the washington scene left
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backth are there any parallels that come to mind? [laughter] >> the reason i wrote the novel is because fascinated by politics think there are certain rules of politics and certain personality types it has almost all the same characters we see today many of the same problems the same parts of politics. and the parallels are very strong in the way they are influenced and by the institution of the united states and the origins so it
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is fascinating to write about it so i think the questions raised by the ancient world because democracy failed and then could have gone on for centuries but in the end with the roman republic could not deal with the fastness with the standing armies flooding through the system paralyzed by corruption. they spent years trying to go through campaign finance reform. then we became w bogged down in lawsuits.
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and we can probably think of parallels. >> out of the frying can into the fire one of my favorite subjects one of my favorite topics brexit i know you were so firstly oppose it and i'm wondering on your thoughts but inevitably did this happen? the weakness of government or for people like yourself?
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>> i think it probably will come to pass in to be opposed to britishti membership in the labour party and tony blair who do p not want to bring in socialism and they thought that would hamper that making that much more difficult to do. butat now britain and europe this goes backk centuries.
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so the question of the relationship and the political party campaigning and people in europe there is no reason why, in 25 years the whole picture would look completely different so now we have ourselves tied up in a not thatnt we introduced into a representative system
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blair-like character in "the ghost" it was devastating. can you reflect on your relationship with tony blair. his legacy and recent interventions or attempted
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interventions in the brexit debate? >> well, you know, one of the things i think about politics, probably a truism to say it, we often think of strength and weaknesses of politicians and actually they have traits of character and in those strong traits of character lie both the weakness and the strength. and that was true of chamberlin and that's true of every leader and it's true of tony blair that his -- his self-confidence, his sense of destiny, his profound sense, i think, of being-- of christianity and of being some sense, a kind of instrument for good, led in the end to a kind of unfortunate hubris. he sort of parted company with the reality of -- he was really
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politically very brilliant reader of the public mood and balancing what he wanted to do with how far he could take the country and he came across this issue with saddam hussein and he made it clearly black and white with no shades of gray in it whatsoever. and that was a mistake. and the mistake was compounded then by leaving, walking out of the house of commons and going off, very blatantly, to make money and then refusal, really, to take any opportunity, and plenty came along, to say on on the whole, although he thought what was the right thing to do, events hadn't turned out as he would have liked. instead, his response to the official inquiry into the iraq war was he would do it again tomorrow and he still thinks the world is a better place and frankly most people will simply not accept that. now, that's a tragedy for a man
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who is a brilliant politician and i think, for instance, on brexit articulates the case for britain remaining a member of the european union better than almost anyone else. but, unfortunately, all of these other pronouncements and general unpopularity make him toxic when it comes to make that argument and i think that is a tragedy. >> host: there's an old joke about the british and the american people being separated by a common language and i think that one of the things that separate them is this view of tony blair. i spent a great deal of time in the u.k. and in ireland and i know that the intensity of t the-- or worse directed at him and a the lot of americans are mystified because he was a hyper articulate man who was on our side when things went badly
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in 2001 is and who seemed so much more of articulating why it was important to fight against islamic extremism than many of our own leaders were. can you help explain to people the real 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 quarters of a million people killed in the first world war. what is the force of that animus, would you say? >> well, i think the powerful democracies should only go to war when they're pretty certain that the case they're fighting for. one of the things, to go back briefly to munich, is that after munich, there was no doubt that there was-- there was no peacemaking to be done with hitler.
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that britain had to go to war on that issue and had to see it through. and the blow was struck first by hitler, breaking all rules. whenever you get a war that is preventative as it were, or anticipated attack, and attacks first, then, it seems to me you're immediately 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 9/11 attacks. it was spun to make it seem that there was-- that there was some linkment we now know there wasn't a link and indeed, al al qaeda found it difficult to operate in iraq. and there was a sense that a war was fought without saddam hussein having actually attacked us. so, there was--
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there wasn't a viceral sense for the war. there were complexities about sunni and s shia and islam that were simply not understood by people who made the decision. we were kicking over the situation of immense complexity with great ignorance and we did no proper planning. i'm more amazed there wasn't more prosecution of the people that did this rather than the other way around. i'm not at all surprised about i'm not at all surprised about i am not at all surprised of the anger of the allied casualties with hundreds of thousands and it was in better shape than it was before the attack on baghda baghdad. i remember watching that night shock and all exclusions and thinking we will pay a price
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for this you cannot just go in and do this without proof they are behind the attack. that is my view but probably not one generally shared. >> just one more question but it seems lately you have had enough for the sympathy of terrorism politically now how do you feel? >> yes. i think the political structure in britain with the shift in particular with the break and on my side of the
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aisle it isn't advanced by the main parties. so i do feel homeless i don't like the extremism on both sides and to be sympathetic cicero which is a politician that i like a pragmatist tuple try any tool in the book to avoid thee extremes. but that has finished with tony blair and david cameron and now we have the politician -- the politics driven. >> is the s&p a voice of moderation? >> so i will be making a joke.
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[laughter] yes. i am 60 i know i don't look at. [laughter] but i am old enough to remember what it was like and the idea that there is the idea we can wind back the clock and everything will be much better is nonsense if anything it would be 1970 we won't fall off the edge of a cliff or just feel a little more out of things. i don't see where else we go? 1938 that is the reason why churchill wanted to avoid fighting hitler it was made perfectlyer clear a world war would destroy british global
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power and it did. it destroyed the british empire. we were not able to fight so we can't say go back to 1914 or 1890s so at which point do we say that was really great? >> so we'll take a quick break from politics going back to fiction so this is for the aspiring riderson among us, how do you craft your novels? to outline them or start writing and see where it takes you? and what is your routine? >> when i start it took me four years to write the fatherland in three years to write enigma and then three
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years and then five years and then a learn to speed up i became more aware of the techniques of writing and i enjoyed it m more. each time i brought out a book i would be judged just on that one now there are more but i find things that interest me and it comes out of nowhere like the election of the pope to be there on the balcony and looking at him and i thought you were these people voting and how? it was. curiosity and with munich i just was always interested in the compromise i had the sense it wasn't quite as people thought it was and to satisfy
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that itch so now i go where i'm curious i was a journalist so naturally i look out at the world with a passion there is always a story too write about so normally i research a book in six months or write it six months i start writing mid-january finish the beginning of july and i work in the mornings i can only write creatively for five hours per day subconsciously a lot of writing is done in your sleep and i don't get upset by the boys in the basement as stephen king calls it so five or six months and it has been
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a great joy to do it. even before i really wanted to. it has been 25 years since i published my first book. what could be nicer than to sit and daydream over time? so how could he be a writer? he wanted to say how do you deal with the unmediated reality? [laughter] but now i have a new novel in mymy head i was sitting in my hotel roomom this morning wherever i go i travel that around with me and that is a
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great solace. >> i was in london with andrew roberts recently and i told him i reading roberts new book and he said don't tell me. don't tell me. co cannot wait to get into it.cannot wait to get into so i just want to ask you about that. dd to have conversations? [laughter] >> indiscreet. i did have a conversation. very much but he had discovered that it was an' certain sense to give confidence to speak confidently to be there to see it all and he said that
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cardinal only allie all of the cardinals would not be untroubled by doubt trying to do the right thing highly intelligent i enjoyed it so much at the ending i kept telling myself it is only a novel. [laughter] >> if you haven't read it that is a doozy. >> im of course obligated to ask you when we will see a robert harris novel about churchilloh? >> i have always been fascinated by churchill 1914 and now comprehensively taking over. i was looking at one in particular and met by general
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spears who was a liaison to the british and french and there was a s bumpy flight and he came down and he came over to spears and said it was in good humor but you poke me in the stomach and i thought for that one moment what a character and i would have loved to have written about it obviously there will not be a chamberlin library set up anytime soon. [laughter] but i am pleased to have done
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chamberlin because that churchill liked chamberlin but churchill never criticized chamberlin behind his back and he never criticized him either. particularly with the idea ofti peace talks he presented somebody like halifax but he had had enough of that actually but it seems each was necessary we didn't fight in 1938 because winning the battlear of britain but that was built in 193950% of government expenditure was armaments. so youin needed him not only for the rearmament but also for
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the moral sense that there was no alternative chamberlin had done what he wanted to do to show people spiritually there was no alternative too fighting and i think he could draw on his strength from chamberlin and we mentioned the wonderful eulogy churchill said upon his death and we zero a lot to both men but chamberlin did play his par part. >> on that note we will turn to the audience for questions. we have a microphone if you have a question and we will
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have just a few questions so there is time for you to buy books. [laughter] >> thank you very much mr. harris. you may have just answer the question that was in my h mind what is your ultimate verdict on chamberlin at munich? could he have done something more or better or different? and therefore was munich a failure as everybody generally thinks it was or do you d think that because it gave britain another year to rearm and because he did go the m extra mile to have peace in our time
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that chamberlin succeeded? >> but at the times if you calll that that or victory for chamberlain or defeat for hitler i cannot recommend to highly the book on this with those two huge volumes that he wrote he makes t this point so as a small example that every time it is shown that you cringe but in what i found rather strange but actually what chamberlain did was take speech earlier that week to proclaim his two countries never to go to war again he
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had that written out and the people said this is highly risky. you can imagine and chamberlain said i will stick to it he said that if he doesn't the americans will see it so i'm going to make a big thing of it when i get back to london and he did and holding it at arms length and reading it out and he made a big thing of that for cicely trying to nail hitler to the agreement. so it destroyed that election by the french but in the and
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it did nail hitler as a liar because he had to make a big thing of it he could not come back from munich to say he signed it but i don't trust him we will spend half of our gdp and armaments because he is a maniac so he has to go through the emotions of believing and that is a subtle point often not appreciated. >> i am curious how you research i read fatherland so
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i am wondering how you do that of research? >> i've never employed a researcher i always do it myself because plowing through the documents i try to go back to the original sources as much as possible. not gives the life to the novel that i write so maybe spending two or three hours maybe only getting one tiny detail but now suddenly you find something so i find those details and weave them together t but that sort of thing people might passover i try to know ten times more than i ever put in the book i in london and then i say go down and turn right i wouldn't say he walked pastst the famous
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department store founded by the american businessman. you have to leave your research be -- behind and do as much as i can and with the possibilities and then you sent down the first sentence but it is all the hope when you areyo researching. >> this is an appropriate follow-up i am a historian here at george washington universityan ever since reading fatherland i have been reading books so i am very much in archive rat i enjoy departing through the archives i also
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asked alan do you ever work in the archives? >> yes. quitein often like for an enigma going through all of the u-boats and it was shattering. i remember once actually researching coming across the intelligence advisory and so vigorously did he disagree so those sort of documents really rise up you can feel the force of history through them my
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favorite reading his diaries and letters and journals but it is real you have a sense of a real person which is even better than the archive. >> in little imaginary history there is this idea that chamberlin even after churchill came to an agreement with hitler so what would have happened if theyey did get an agreement? if hitler really wanted to go east with t the idea that it was possibly exaggerated? not as put aside but the fact that hitler would try to come over and take over britain? the russians would've had a much harder time.
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>> yes. i tend to agree with you to be honest. after nick, that we should had gone to war there is a very sound recording in an ordinary way in anaheim in the summer of 1942 when hitler left his headquarters and again saying 1939. and the invasion of 1941 into russia again he felt was one year too late. and this is online if anyone want to listen to it is fascinating because hitler
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says talking about russians they have 35000 tanks if any might generals said the soviets have 35000 tanks i would say you are mad. but the russians have to rearm as well. so i agree maybe it was the most powerful navy in the world it would be difficult to get across the channel so i think it would have been difficult andha paradoxically it was so anxious not to hear the peacee terms they may have been very lenient actually. i don't think he was worried i
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think it was more like a partnership with the german empire leaving him to do what he always wanted to do to go into russia. so i agree. i am grateful to churchill for his resoluteot determination because what might have been a generous offer but he was trapped in france and not many leaders would have released in secrecy what the terms may been i am surprised actually when you go back to itt. >> we have time for one more question.
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>> so you write about different reasons and personalities and historical figures when you write the book what is your goal because ito seems to have the perspective of these people or an outlook so so what is your goal? i am just curious because you cover so much. it is fantastic. >> thank you. to get this wonderful colorized archive still on how you apply color then it is so vibrant and that's is what i think meissen that humanity that the human beings are much in the past should bear out
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whatever problems we face in america that things have been worse and they weren't that different to us then if i can convey that and that is the nearest that i income to what it is i'm trying to do. >> that is very eloquent to sum up and a goal for any novelist so now i think we will give robert a chance to do that. thank you for being here especially robert harris. [applause] [inaudible conversations]
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