tv History Bookshelf Jeffrey Engel When the World Seemed New CSPAN January 24, 2021 8:01am-9:26am EST
contain human nature. we will put more links in the comment section for people to learn about that, more about this history and the holocaust museum. >> you're watching american history tv. >> next, jeffrey angle talks about his book, "when the world seemed new," in which he examines president george h w bush's foreign policy initiatives after the cold war. the center for presidential history at southern methodist university and the george h w bush presidential library cohosted this event in november 2017. thomas: good evening, i am a member of the department of history, i served a couple of semesters ago as the interim director for the center of presidential history and i cannot tell you what a delight
it is to welcome you tonight on this special occasion. before we get underway, i want to express appreciation to our friends at the george w. bush presidential library who are cosponsoring this event with us as well as c-span which is taping tonight's lecture. we are also happy to have with us tonight, the director of the bush library. i i want to direct your attention also to a major event we have on december 7, when peter baker of the new york times will be the guest of cph to talk about his book. we are also glad to tell you that the d-day trip for june, 2018 is fully subscribed, but we are taking names for 2019. you may also note that we have established the dedicated scholarship fund for this program so that no student should miss a chance to take this journey because of
financial need. if you would like to make a contra, the fund would be thrilled. it's hard to believe it's five years since he joined us in 2012 . i must say it was almost as if he had been waiting for our call. we really lucked out, jeff is not just an outstanding scholar and an outstanding teacher, he is an outstanding citizen of this university. the center for presidential history is the chief, though not the sole reason this is so. the center is really entirely his idea and among many other things, along with his enormously popular speaker series which features the very best authors, in cooperation
with the george w. bush library, he has organized extremely important oral history projects dealing with the 43rd president's administration. he set in motion a highly competitive postdoctoral fellowship here that draws applicants from all over the united states and has now become a highly coveted nationally recognized award. just a couple other things you may not know about him, as an aspiring scholar, jeff got his start as an undergraduate at cornell where he worked with walter lefevre, walter lefevre is one of the four or five greatest diplomatic historians in the 21st century. then it was off to the university of wisconsin for his phd working with tom mccormick concentrating on the cold war and that was followed by a
two-year post doctorate at yale. his first book was the cold war at 30,000 feet. it won the prize from the american historical association. jeff's first foray into bush 41 studies occurred when he investigated the president's private day-to-day account as his service as american representative to beijing in 1974-1975. the china diary of george h w bush, the making of a global president opens a unique window onto this crucial period in u.s.-china relations. jeff one plaudits for his annotation and writing a splendid introduction to the volume. meanwhile, at the george h w library, he also directed a research team that reviewed and made available some 150,000 documents from that archive.
and with another team at the miller center, he conducted oral history interviews with the top members of the administration. all of which has brought his endeavors thus far to a kind of grand culmination, that is the publication of the first comprehensive diplomatic history of this highly significant presidency. a brilliantly researched, wonderfully well-written volume that is sure to become the definitive work on the subject and a major landmark in the history of the cold war not to mention a bestseller. "when the world seemed new," please welcome our beloved colleague, jeffrey engle. [applause] jeffrey: i hope my mom heard all
of that. [laughter] did you? thank you all, thank you all for coming out tonight. it is truly an honor to look out at a crowded room of people who have been so friendly and supportive and enthusiastic about our mission here at the center for presidential history. more than that, it is truly humbling as well. many of you in this room have open your arms to us as we have been here these last five years and we look forward to much more with you. i'm glad that tom said this is a culmination and not the climax, not the end because we have much more work to do, so thank you for coming tonight. what i want to do tonight is obviously tell you about george h w bush and the end of the cold war. it is a period of history that we remember fondly for the most part. it is a period of history that we remember as being the climax of the democratic experience or
the enthusiasm for democracy around the world. think back to the fall of the 1989 and the ensuing years where countries throughout europe, hungary, czechoslovakia, poland, romania, and even the soviet union itself turned toward democracy, turn towards freedom, turn towards free markets and we even saw that movement occur in china as well where a seemingly indigenous movement suddenly sprung up from the use of the country. suggesting they would turn themselves toward the 20 first century. there was such enthusiasm throughout the world for this concept of democracy, of liberty, of free markets, there was such enthusiasm that a man named francis became instantly famous -- let me tell you for a scholar is really hard to do. instantly famous by writing a
study entitled " the end of history." the least understood title in all of history because most people presume that things were so great that nothing was ever going to happen again, not what he was saying. what he was saying in this book was that all of human history had been a struggle, a competition to try to decide how exactly we as human beings should organize ourselves as a society, government, civilization. we tried all different ways, roman emperors, pharaohs, kings, we even by the end of the 20th century had whittled it down to three. think of this as a great ncaa bracket of different government forms and we were down to the final three by the 20th century. democracy, communism, and fascism and then fascism lost out. then you are in the finals, and then we won.
that was the new york times reaction. the most important thing about this book is we won and isn't it wonderful that the entire world was turning in a democratic way. in fact, he suggested that we were at the end of history because having now discovered this democratic way, there was no need for competition going forward. yes, there will still be difficulties, conflicts, as long as human beings have natural emotions and envies, there is going to be conflict. he argued it would always play out in a democratic form and at time all governments -- in time, all governments we choose to be democratic. that's a pretty happy thought. what is interesting to me about this incredibly influential book, it was a bestseller, in fact he actually wrote the book as a discourse on hegel. i think it is the best-selling book on hegel ever written and what is interesting about this argument which came out in late
february of 1989 is that a came out about four weeks after george h w bush said exactly the same thing at his inauguration. he did not have the catchy phrase end of history, but if you look back at what george bush was saying at that inauguration, he said, we know what works. freedom works. he said, we know how to make a more prosperous society through open and free markets. we know how to enliven the human spirit through free discussion of ideas. that freedom, he said, was the global norm and he said the day of the dictator is over. it is only a matter of time until the entire world comes to see it. this is really important for understanding who george bush was because he fully and fundamentally believed in what i just told you he said, that freedom worked, that free markets were the best, and that free societies produced the best human outcomes. he believed it so much he never
questioned it, he never expanded upon it. he never explored it. if you ask george bush what freedom meant, he would look at you and say, it means freedom. if you say why free markets? he would say because they are the best. why a free and open society? and at this point he would probably say why these questions? the reasons that is fundamental to who he was, he was a leader who had grown up airing the great high point if you will, the ascendancy of all america had come to offer. he was a player during world war ii, a decorated naval aviator, that moment when america seized the mantle of global leadership and not let go and tried to promote values throughout the world. the story of his life is the story of success, it is personally successful because he came from a remarkably successful family. he was to the manor born.
he was also a person who went to the best schools, had the best training, and was successful throughout his entire life. he was successful at every stage along his life, he was, for example after being a decorated war hero, he was a successful businessman out here in texas. he then went on to become a party organizer, of course his father had been a senator, so that was logical. he also had been a congressman and then he was the united nations ambassador for the united states and then he was head of the republican national committee and then he was defective -- the fact of u.s. ambassador to china and then he was director of the cia and oh he spent eight years as vice president area -- that is a pretty good resume and a good trajectory. from his perspective, america worked. during those times that bush found america not working let's say during vietnam, when clearly
something was awry in the country, his diagnosis was that there is not something wrong with the idea, there is only things wrong with the implementation. as long as we go back to our central core values, freedom, markets, liberty, none further expanded upon then that notion. as long as we go back to that, everything will turn out wonderfully. bush took over the presidency in 1989 at a moment when it appeared to be the entire world was turning in full agreement to him. this is quite remarkable, because the idea of the entire world turning democratic only a few years before would have largely gotten you left out of any academic or policymaking room. in 1985 -- let's jump back a few steps, in 1983 president ronald reagan had declared the soviets
an evil empire. he talked about launching a crusade of fire too if you will, free and purge the world of those evil idea of communism. i think the best way to understand president ronald reagan's assessment of communism is to know that when he use the word communist, he would almost invariably use the word godless in front of it. that this was something antithetical to the human experience. and reagan had launched a jihad essentially against the communist world when he took office. pumping up military spending, pumping up moral indignation and pumping up american moral condemnation of all things in the soviet union. the result was, frankly, nearly the destruction of the entire world. one of the things we have subsequently found out and i am so glad we did not know it at the time was just how close we all came to dying.
at least twice during 1983, fingers within the soviet union or the united states and at one point, both were poised about that far from the button. largely because, i would argue, that soviet officials had this odd habit of listening to what an american president said and believing it. [laughter] that used to not get a laugh. they believed reagan when he said he was going to cause a crusade of fire to purge the world of common is him, so when --, and is him, so when the soviets detected american military maneuvers or nuclear exercises, sometimes they looked a little too realistic and sometimes their fingers got a little too close to the button. in fact, it appeared as though the soviets were listening. in 1985, they brought to power a man unlike any who had been before, gorbachev, a new
generation of leader, a new person who promised not just to build a better society, but to reform soviet society. and to reform soviet society from the bottom up. it would appear to american eyes as though gorbachev and the russian response was a direct response to what reagan has said. if you believe that, you are fundamentally wrong. most people in this room probably believe that. there are two points i will make the night in which i will get lots of angry stairs, this is the first. i believe the second wind -- one for a surprise. we in this country have a notion that ronald reagan won the cold war. that is usually the word we use, he won, he won the cold war by calling up the soviets, recognizing the flaws and
inherent difficulties of their economic system and straining them by launching an arms race that would show the soviets they could not keep up and because they could not keep up they will surrender, that was reagan's logic. because the soviets recognized in the mid-1980's that they could not keep up and because they decided to reform and surrender ultimately, there has built up a large american narrative that this is all because of reagan. the best analogy to understand this is that reagan in this context was the person who called for the sun to rise and when it rose, took credit or was given credit because reagan said we will build up and they will collapse, we built up and they collapsed. what we now know from the documents from behind the iron curtain, one of the things that has been amazingly fun about this project has been seeing all
the newly revealed documents from all of the major capitals of the world. our project was based on finding american documents, we at one point had more documents under review for this project than all the other presidential libraries combined which is a fact that was told to me by an archivist. i actually just talked to the archivist last week and he verified, that it's actually true and he gave me a look like you have no idea how much work you caused us. that project along with others has given us the opportunity to understand what was going on throughout the world in all those capitals. in east berlin, in budapest, london, moscow to try to understand why the cold war ended the way it did and when it did. one of the most important things we found out is that the sun did rise when reagan commanded it but only because mikael gorbachev was pushing it.
mikael gorbachev who was a unique leader in history, a true intellectual revolutionary who decided to do that really unusual thing for a leader. he decided not just to recognize a problem, but to do something about it. because a series of soviet leaders from the mid-1970's on had come to the conclusion -- the inescapable conclusion that their system was not working. that is to say they knew they were falling behind, falling behind militarily, most important economically, also socially and more importantly, they looked western europe, the region right across the border, the region in which russian leaders had for centuries long to become a part of, europe, and long to be accepted in europe. they saw europe advancing much faster than they.
in fact, they had good numbers on this stuff. they were able to calculate that in the spring of 1989, the total soviet food consumption level for the average citizen was about where was in 1917. after the entire soviet experience if you will, from an individual perspective, a caloric perspective, right back where they started area did this was becoming apparent to policymakers in the early 1970's. you should remind yourself that ronald reagan did not come into power until 1981. during that period, the soviets did not do anything about it. they in fact brought to power a series of geriatric leaders. they had a man named resnick who -- brezhnev who had been an
impressive leader in his day but was far gone. then they had a couple other leaders and a series of individuals who were basically a geriatric leadership and a sclerotic mindset for their country. the best way to understand this sense that the soviets knew something was wrong but refused to do anything about it to review the following joke which you would have heard in moscow in the 80's, but if you heard it you would probably then be in trouble with the kgb. we have it nonetheless. the joke goes, stalin and khrushchev and fresno are -- brezhnev are riding on a train together and the train stops and they look at each other and say how can we possibly get this train moving again? stalin comes up with a first idea, he says we gather all the peasants, we shoot half of them and the other half will be really incentivized to move the train. they discussed the various merits to this and suddenly
khrushchev comes up and says all we have to do is denounce the previous train driver and then everything will be fine. they talk about that and at which point brezhnev looks at them and says i have a much easier solution, all we have to do is pull down the window shades, rock back and forth and pretend we are moving. [laughter] in a sense this tells you everything you needed to know about what they were doing until gorbachev came and said we are going to change the system by bringing in a new form of democracy and also important, a new spirit of openness. we are going to become if you will, more western, but we are not going to lose our soviet and communist identities. we know, everyone in this room that the ultimate end of the story, the ultimate and of the story is that what gorbachev sets in motion leads to the
outright demise of the soviet union. let me assure you, that was not his plan. the plan was to save the soviet union, to revitalize the soviet union and then do something else that was quite critical. he began to talk about a common european home. which is to say, we know we cannot keep up with the west not because of what they are doing, they might be bothering us with these buildups, but that does not change what we knew before we started. we are going to try to save military spending for better things that we can invest in like infrastructure or re-industrialization. we are trying to so we can justify decreasing military spending. we are really after this common european home in which, he said,
we can finally remove the barriers that separate us to east and west. the iron curtain, the berlin wall and find a fusion of soviet socialism and western european democratic socialism in which we will take care of the individual, but frankly be much more successful at it. all we want to do is show how good and positive and positively european we are so that ultimately, we will be asked to join europe. which, by the way, is going through its own interesting and fundamental change at this time because europe is developing the final framework for the european union. this idea that after world war ii, european policymakers looked at their past history, the last two generations and recognized twice they had tried to commit societal suicide and the expectation was they would not survive a third time. the reason for their continuing fascination is seen with killing each other was because of nationalism. it was because they were not
intertwined enough, they saw themselves as too separate. so if we fuse our democracies and industries, they will be able to do something more important which is to fuse our very identities. we will cease to become german and french and british, we will be european and when that glorious day happens, we will end the problem of war. and mikael gorbachev said yes, us too. that is exactly the mission we want. here's where george bush comes back in because the situation i just described to you which we look back on now and know how it turned out, we know it turned out peacefully, we know about the democratic revolutions, we know gorbachev led to the demise of the soviet union and everybody since has said ronald reagan is responsible. we understand all of the stories. but the situation i described to you is remarkably unprecedentedly dangerous.
because the collapse of the soviet union and of european communism is fundamentally and at heart, nothing less than the collapse of an empire. the soviets had a political, ideological, and military system which ruled over other countries and imposed their will upon them. it was a pretty big empire at that, global influence and global reach. throughout history, i challenge you to find another case of a major international empire declining and then collapsing without an ensuing great power war. in fact, i challenge you -- i know this one is true, you cannot find another case where you can run the experiment with 20,000 nuclear weapons running around. as we think about everything that turned out well for the most part in our memories, i want you to think about how fundamentally and dangerous this
moment was. this moment we think of as exaltation, but this moment of soviet transformation, transformation of identity, politics, transformation of the entire empire, a process which had never before in history successfully occurred without an ensuing collapse of the international system. that is what george bush gets to inherit when he takes office. i know everybody in this room is aware of my love for ronald reagan, thank you for laughing, sir. [laughter] here is another reagan idea. you might recall that reagan's fundamental strategy for winning the cold war was, we win, they lose. this, by the way is texas senator ted cruz's strategy and i like to point out to my students, that is called an aspiration, not a strategy. strategy requires some form of
implementation. in reagan's case, this is a really a port in question to ask about ronald reagan, after they lost, what happens next? reagan was very good about confining the soviets to the ash heap of history, but he would -- never asked what the ash heap would look like. george bush gets the ashes, he comes to power at a moment when most american security analysts and policymakers had come to the conclusion that ronald reagan had gone too far. in fact, it is fascinating to go back and look at the republican presidential primaries in 1988 and see just how far every single person on the stage is trying to distance himself from reagan's legacy because they thought reagan had been too trusting. reagan had looked at gorbachev, looked him in the eye and leave he was actually meeting the reforms he wanted.
and reagan, who had become quite frightened at the way the cold war had almost turned hot in 1983, reagan decides he will reach out his hand and gorbachev reaches out too and they both begin this revolutionary and quite important and of opening of the possibility of change. and because he is limited, reagan retired, can't blame him for that one. leaving in january of 1989 george bush to take over. at this moment where you have fundamental enthusiasm for democracy around the world, breaking out all over. and yet, his policymakers are telling him, we are fundamentally scared because we have not seen tectonic changes like this in the international system since the 1930's. we all know what happens next. how do we keep from going down that road again?
in fact, they put in busch's mind something that was there, that the real fear from gorbachev -- there were actually three fears about gorbachev. the first is he might actually succeed, revitalize the soviet union and therefore renew a cold war presuming that soviet and kremlin geopolitical aspirations had not changed. the second great fear is that there might be a coup launched against him because he was so radically revolutionizing the society that we would expect communist troglodytes if you will either in the country or throughout the soviet empire, people who had power and did not want to lose it, we would expect them to rebel against somebody trying to take away their power. george bush gets a memo in his first week in office which says the following, we expect any moment now there will be a counterrevolutionary coup against gorbachev.
bush essentially receives this same memo every week for the next 2.5 years until it ultimately becomes true. which is significant because it helps understand his mindset as he approaches the world knowing that if he does something wrong or does too much, that everything they have been moving forward to might actually come crashing down because they had moved too fast. then there is a third fear and this is the really important one which is that gorbachev is offering and promising a common european home where the soviets will be accepted into the rest of europe, no longer feared, and europe will be forever peaceful. you know with the problem is with that architecture? there is no american wing. if europe is not afraid of the soviets, if europe is living peacefully, they are going to
quite logically say, thank you for your service american army who has been there since 1945, we would like you to go home now. you are not actually that popular in many places in europe because frankly, nobody likes to have an occupying army in your country even when you are an ally and there was a lot of fire and fury politically throughout the 1980's over deployment of american short-range nuclear weapons. think about what i just said in the geography of that, the united states wants to voice short-range nuclear weapons in germany with a range of about 15 kilometers. that phrase that went around at that time, the german parliament was you have to understand, the shorter the missile, the deader the german. they understood the american army's presence was perhaps the reason for the soviets in a weird logic keep their military presence and once you have two
militaries, anything can happen. bush and those around him feared that the americans would be asked to go home essentially. he could think of nothing more troubling and dangerous than that. because that story i just told you about the way europeans thought of creating a new common international society, a european union which put its face because of war the base , because of conflict to have been nationalism and division, that was not the american reading of the 20th century. that was not the american reading of european history. when i say the american reading, please understand this is a reading of history that has direct policy implications that i argue was passed down from american policymaker to american policymaker from generation to generation, more importantly from administration to administration republican or democrat. we see people in the truman administration tell you what i am about to tell you, the eisenhower administration all
the way up to -- frankly every administration until the one we currently have arguing essentially the following line which is that europeans, when left to their own devices, kill each other. that is what they do. and they are pretty darn good at it. try to find the american -- american logic goes, a period in european history that has not been punctuated by a large, violent, tragic war. world war i, the argument went, they tried to really do it right. the idea of societal suicide, but we went over and we saved the day because that is what we do, we are americans. this is an american story. but then we did something that seems somewhat obvious in retrospect which is that we went home and we had to go do it again and that next time was even worse. but that next time, our leaders made a fundamental decision
which was both insightful, brilliant, and necessary, we stayed. and from the american perspective because american , troops arrived and stayed after 1945, there had not been a war in europe since. period. if you're a policymaker charged with keeping the world safe you might say i wonder if that is correlation or causation, but why run the risk of finding out? we presume therefore that it was american power that not only had kept soviets out and as the saying went about nato, cap the germans down, but also kept the europeans from each other's throats. the united states needed to be there as if you will, an arm around the shoulder making sure the europeans walked in the right direction at all times from their big brother. much, much, much bigger. and so bush genuinely feared that if gorbachev was successful and the democratic movement which he thought was inevitable
was successful, that that is actually a recipe for danger and war. that is in the future, at the moment, he finds himself taking office. there is a democratic surge breaking out. the democratic surge is breaking out in europe and also in china. a place that frankly bush thought he knew well, he had been there as ambassador in the early 1970's and a place that from his understanding, having been there, had essentially come out of a period of hibernation or isolation from the rest of the world. adopted in the early 1970's, a sense of new democratic openness, possibilities for people, and also a sense of economic reformation adopting more western ideas. they were becoming more free market if you will. bush looked at the logic and said in 1974 things were not so
great, but they began to adopt types of democratic institutions, free markets, and by the time i reach office in 1989 and my first few weeks in office i begin to see the stirrings of a genuine indigenous, democratic movement within china. a student led movement calling for freedom. calling for peace. calling for democracy. calling for liberty. i am holding my hands up like this for a reason because we know the students were calling for those things because they were holding signs saying, freedom, democracy, markets, in english because they were saying to the global crowd. we are at the dawn of a new age, the cnn age. those students who are savvy
enough to know that if they had signs in english, people around the world would be able to read it and that might help their cause in some way. by the way, this is the second moment where you will get upset. those students who were calling for freedom and democracy, yes, they were calling for freedom, but they were not calling for freedom and democracy the way americans typically understood or understand freedom and democracy, certainly not the way george bush understood freedom and democracy. when bush looked around him, policymakers of legendary status in american policymaking circles, when they saw those signs they presumed they all wanted to become european -- i'm sorry, american. they all wanted to become american, nobody wants to be a european, really. because we are the embodiment, we know what works. everyone that claims to want freedom must want it like us. well, we now know again because
of open documents, research, research you get out of china is different than other places, but the scholars in that area have been quite clear and adamant and consistent with the explanation that when students at tiananmen square and other places around the country asked for democracy, they did not mean it like we understand it or like bush understood it. they meant it in the way that democracy was a word that was repeated throughout the chinese communist party constitution which is to say, a leveling, an equalizer that all people in society should have access to all things equal. in fact, if we are now 15 years into -- 10 years, into the great transformation in china essentially allowing people to become more prosperous, everyone should have the opportunity to be more prosperous which also means everyone needs the opportunity to start becoming more prosperous from the same
place. so when students went into the streets asking for democracy, for freedom, what they were really asking for was the freedom to get away from the old system where people got their jobs and got there places in society based on who their daddy was which is how the commonest party had long run. instead, they wanted people to get their jobs based upon their grades, how they did in class, based upon their abilities. that is what democracy meant, the freedom to choose their job also, what democracy meant. so the party could not put you in places where you did not think was best for you to achieve the aspirations economically and individually that the leader said we are now allowed to do. this was a terrifying idea to the chinese authorities and a terrifying idea to george bush. not that he was against the students being democratic
because he interpreted them as trying to become more american, but george bush was terrified at the prospect of how much he knew deng xiaoping was terrified did he was a leader who did not like to be questioned. the book goes through the story of tiananmen square to make a fundamental point which is we often remember tiananmen square narrowly in a sense. we think of students arriving at the protest and tanks arriving to do them in. turns out as they three months process, the tanks were actually the fifth efferent military attempt to take the city. each time they try to take the city, they up the force and each time, the students who did not like being told that they were wrong or criminals, but rather thought of themselves as the great patriots of the communist world, they were going to say the communist society in china from corruption. they began to recognize they
were in a death spiral in many ways with their regime. the end result as you know, was blood in the streets. which george bush had feared. he feared it so much that he acted as president in a way that he tried to influence -- or more accurately not influence the actions at tiananmen. more specifically by adopting something i call hippocratic diplomacy which is when you are faced with a crisis, an international system that seems to be in flux and a dangerous system at that, first, do no harm. that is to say, he recognized the words of an american president reverberate and echo throughout the world. therefore, people calling for democracy and staring down tanks, you have to be careful about how you choose to encourage them. you want to give encouragement, we are in favor of democracy,
you do not want to go down the 1956 path which bush talks about frequently in his diary. which is a path of budapest in hungary during a period previously of great democratic enthusiasm behind the iron curtain. people say we will have a new revolution and government up until the moment the tanks rolled them over. that was not the important part for bush, the important part was those people rolled over by tanks believed they were about to receive american support because they heard dwight eisenhower say, we will support you. eisenhower is very clear, did not mean anything other than with our shall we say, thoughts and prayers. [laughter] instead, they thought he would send supplies, may be guns, may
be money, maybe even troops. eisenhower by the way never thought this was a plausible idea, he was quite shocked anybody could be that fundamentally mistaken in what a strategic leader would do as to put american troops 400-500 miles behind the line of a nuclear enemy in the midst of a crisis. but bush knew this history, bush actually had grown up playing golf with eisenhower. largely because he was perhaps the only person that would not let eisenhower win or cheat. he understood that when people in the streets, he had a responsibility to make sure he did not do anything to excite violence, to incite violence if you will and yet he saw violence occur at tiananmen giving him a fundamental problem which is he knew his words could reverberate, but also a problem of what to do in response. here he falls back on first principles which is to say, he
still believed in free markets, he still believed in freedom, still believed that the inexhaustible spirits of those students for freedom which had been generated by engagement with the west would continue to move on so long as we continued to allow them to engage the west. when other countries around the world called for bush to isolate china, cut off trade with china, remove trade relations with china, bush even though he was pilloried in the polls for doing so argued instead that we should try to reengage. of course we are going to condemn, but if what really got the chinese on this democratic path was exposure to the democratic virus, we want them to have more exposure, not less. therefore, he makes phone calls, he write letters, all behind the scenes. he sends envoys to the chinese with the message, we condemn everything you did, but we are
going to have to start talking at some point. so let's start talking now. his poll numbers plummet, nobody knew he had done this, this was behind the scenes. he faced the same problem then, months later in your when similar crowds protested throughout east germany, throughout budapest -- excuse me, hungary, throughout the entire eastern block. in fact, those crowd began marching and celebrating and singing the idea of freedom. again, a freedom expressed in english so that the cnn cameras can understand it and they began marching right up to the police. basically taunting them and daring them to do something. during a period where there is a mass, daily exit is of people trying to flee and escape east germany, the crowds in october of 1989 change what they were yelling.
they began to yell, we are the people and we have power, we are the people, and we have power. and then they changed, this was the part that was scary for people in charge, those communist troglodytes, they began to chant, we are the people, and we are staying. which means, you are going, those in charge. we are going to be in charge now. at places like -- where weekly democratic pro-freedom rallies occurred, the by the end of it accumulated more than 100,000 people marching around the ring road of the city for freedom, so terrified east german authorities that we now know that they actually ordered the troops to pull the trigger. they ordered quite literally, tiananmen square. something they had been
threatening, threatening explicitly when they invited chinese authorities and after tiananmen square to visit beijing, put their pictures on the front page of the headlines with the caption, teaching east germans what they know about crowd control. the threat was not subtle and the order was given. the order was given to the troops in the field, the police in the army, that they were to fire. the order was given by telephone. but it was not acted upon. you should probably ask why. because the commander in charge was a very good east german officer and you do not rise to the ranks of the east german military throughout your career by showing initiative. you rise by being able to follow the proper and properly distributed orders. so when he got this order to fire, he did the most logical thing after telling his troops
to prepare to fire he called for confirmation back to east berlin and nobody picked up the phone. at that moment, he was savvy enough to realize -- and i kid you not when the crowd was approximately 100 yards from his troops with orders to fire, fingers on the triggers, he realized that they were not going to pick up the phone, there could only be one explanation. they were hanging him out to dry, they wanted the crowd dispersed with flames and they wanted to blame him for it. the people in east berlin wanted to be able to say we did not get the final order, he did a on his own. this man was savvy enough to hang up the phone and tell his troops to retreat essentially saying, to his subordinates, i guess now they do not have to answer, do the? the phone, not the troops. we now know how dangerous and how close this was and the scene almost repeats in berlin about 2.5 weeks later when the east
german government having scientist create a new open response with the protest decides to do something different with the east german government, they decided to hold press conferences. that is to say may be our problem is messaging, may be if we get a message to the people and they can put it on tv live, everybody will understand and we will have a better communication. they picked a man to do this and his primary qualifications were having this job was that he could read german and he could speak it aloud. those are his qualifications for being the press secretary for east germany. unfortunately, what i am about to tell you calls into question both of those qualifications because on the night of november 9, 1989, he attended a meeting
and was handed from the bureau a list of new travel policies that were going to be embargoed for a few more days, but ultimately released that would allow hopefully to relieve pressure of east german citizens wanting to flee. it said for example citizens could go to various passport-controlled centers and apply for a passport. it said they could apply for a passport with the expectation they would get it and if they went through proper channels, they could even get a 30 day visa to go across the border, this is a big deal. and he is in a rush so he puts the paper in his briefcase and heads off to the press conference where he proceeds to bore the crowd literally to tears for two hours. i encourage you to google this so you can see just how many people had actually fallen asleep. more than this crowd i am happy to say.
until at the very end of an italian journalist gets up and says, are there any more questions? yes, one question, you have anything for us on travel restrictions. something in his mind snaps and he said yes, i do. pulls out his briefcase this thing that was supposed to be embargoed and begins to read it and also read it incorrectly. he essentially says any german citizens that want to travel abroad may do so immediately. and he looks up. if you ever want to see what true terror looks like in a face. again, look at that youtube video and see the look on this man's face when he thought he was announcing nothing and the entire room exploded. it became clear he had said something he shouldn't which led to the only wise response of the evening which was he said press conference over. people came to the berlin wall and said we had been told that
there is new travel restrictions allowing us to leave, let us out. the commanders there as you can imagine, rightly said we have received no such orders. the crowd became larger, the crowd got more agitated, the troops became agitated, they called in reinforcements. these sides began to build and build tempers until finally, the commander in charge, a man named harold yeager does what any good east german officer would do, he calls for advice. he is told by the person at the other end of the phone, you have no orders that are new, you're either blind or a coward. you know what to do. by the way, this was a man who had done we had to do before, he had the spangled enters as a person who had participated in a firing on a person who had left east germany without permission. there is an interesting aspect of howard yeager which is that
he was scheduled to go to the doctor the next day. he was scheduled to go to the doctor to receive the results of cancer tests which his doctors had prepped him to anticipate were going to suggest the worst. he therefore at that moment i think, i like to think said to himself, i am about to meet my maker and you know what, a lot faster than i ever wanted. and i am about to have to answer for whatever i do next. and he did not want that blood on his conscience he said, so he open the gates and the crowds swept through. once the crowds went through the one gate, the guards saw the crowds weaving through and the thing you know the world is dancing on the berlin wall quite literally. interesting thing about yeager, he is still alive. [laughter] it turns out sometimes doctors make mistakes too and he was fine.
which poses a problem for george bush. what do you do when you're in your office watching crowds surged across the berlin wall knowing that you have got these reports from the cia suggesting anything we do to agitate the soviets may cause the very backlash we fear or may cause tiananmen square in europe. bush's response once more is to do nothing. in public, for example he is watching this on television and he is told that his press secretary you must give a statement, he says i have nothing to say, go away. he tries three more times, finally gets bush to admit that yes he has to talk to the press, he cannot say nothing at this historic moment. instead, bush calls everybody into his office, going youtube, you can see this. for the next 30 minutes, he then proceeds to speak fully and completely for 30 minutes without saying a word.
it is complete gibberish, it is perfect, wonderful. at the end of which, one of the reporters says mr. president, just do not seem very excited. at which he responded, i am just not an excitable guy. because he knew something that she did not and nobody else did which is that the phone calls were starting to pour in, phone calls from berlin. from warsaw, from paris, from london asking the same basic question, what the heck is going on? and more importantly, here i want to use a technical historian term, the people on the other end of the phone were freaking out because nobody had planned for this to happen, nobody anticipated this, nobody thought this would happen in their lifetimes and now we have crowds searching through all of europe and one of the most amazing things that bush does, we know this from the records is that he manages to keep all those international leaders
calm. to encourage them to take a step back so that nobody pulls the trigger. as he begins to think about the reconstruction of europe's strategic map with everything going on. i will end on this which is to say, what you does next fundamentally shapes the world we all live in today for good and for ill. which is to say, when germans began to dance on the wall, this leads to an inevitable question that we will see subsequently, germans wanting to unite, the division of europe and germany had been the entire impetus for the cold war and in many ways punishment for germany's role in world war ii, but now course we want to allow the germans one would think, to come together and celebrate as one common people. in fact, that was how germany's leader, his vision at this moment. his vision despite the fact that literally the afternoon before
the berlin wall fell, he said i think it will be another 15-20 years before that happens. he decides to seize the moment and push towards unification, become the father of his own country. but he has a problem, a big one. there is basically nobody outside of germany that thinks this is a good idea. people in europe have memories and they remember the last time the germans had gotten together, it had not ended so well for the rest of us. this is an idea that permeates throughout western europe, eastern europe, soviet union, united states. in fact, the best example of this central idea that when germans get together, they lead to war is embodied in the following statement by none other than the great strategist david letterman who said, i understand the germany will have three phases, the first, economic unification, the second, political unification, the third, france surrenders.
[laughter] this is a common fear emanating policymakers around the world with the exception of george bush to be honest this is ithisr achievement in office at his greatest legacy will essentially cuts a deal. he didn't necessarily believe the idea they were bound to be militaristic. he had bigger fresh -- a fish to fry. he recognized that moment that cole needed help and that he was pliable and so important ways. bush said to him on the most powerful man in the world, i have the levers of power over the other countries that have legal responsibility for germany. i can get each of them to say yes if i need to be you have to do something for me. and that something you can probably already predict is you have to make sure the unified
germany remains in nato. because without germany, and cannot survive. is the biggest manpower supplier. supplier. -- manpower supplier. without nato, why are we in europe? remember, first principles, the europeans can't take care of themselves. so, no matter what happens in the future, bush is determined to ensure that we have an american presence. mikael gorbachev, remember him, he came up with the idea that we would demilitarize normalize our relation and we would be accepted by the west agreed ultimately that he would allow the germans to unify, he had both legal authority to say no from treaties never fully implemented after world war ii,
the peace treaty after world war ii, and secondly, he had 300,000 troops and nuclear weapons on east german soil. he had pretty good leverage to say no. he said, i will say yes, provided that you accept us into the west and as long as nato does not expand to the east. to which american policymakers in february 1990, james baker and robert gates specifically, and because of new documentation we have verifiable proof of this, american policymakers said we will make that deal. shake on it. we will not move, baker said, nato 1 inch to the east. at which point, negotiations continue but there is a basic fundamental agreement on this point. now, here is the kicker. we all know nato has since moved more than 1 inch to the east, in fact, one could argue that it's all the way up to the russian geopolitical border at this point. in fact if you want to see the , source of russian anger and
antagonism and frustration with the post-cold war period, it stems back to the idea, this original sin of america breaking a promise to gorbachev of not accepting us and not lowering the barriers but them to their -- but instead pushing them to their border. you have to be careful with this. this is at the heart of all russian-american antagonism today. this is why they hacked the election. because of this anger over this idea. but here is the problem. remember james baker said shake on it? they never did anything more than shake on it. baker was a lawyer and knew that if you did not write it down, it didn't exist. and the situation began to change, and it became clear that they would have less leverage, the soviets, than they had before. their economy was in decline. there was chaos in their political system.
it became clear that they could get eastern germany into nato and will hold open the door for everybody to expand the future, perhaps to nato, to expand so everyone can come to the common european home. and we don't mind that idea as long as it has nato two. has nato which means we can be there too. the treaty was never written down. it was never codified, which meant the bush administration was never held to it legally but more importantly subsequent administrations were never held to it in any way, shape or form. as we know, subsequent administrations did both push and eagerly accept nato expansion, the one thing the soviets had been told they would not have to suffer through. the one thing they were told would be a symbol of their not being excluded from europe as they had been in the past. in fact, in critical moment in one february of 1990, gorbachev says to baker maybe we would
like to join nato too. baker has an interesting response. he does not really give one but he also does not say no because the idea of a western democratic movement someday consuming the whole world and the russians does not seem unreasonable 50 years from now, 75 years from now may be. so, let's not foreclose the option. let's keep it going. ultimately, george bush, by having a fundamental vision for what he wanted the world to look like in the post-cold war world, i argue, managed to keep those chaotic moments from slipping into actual violence and chaos. he recognized that he did not have the power to keep troops from firing on civilians across the seas, but knew he had power to ensure the leaders did not order it which he exercised and
he also wanted to ensure that the united states maintained its primary position in the world at the end of the cold war. in fact, i think you could argue the entire strategic vision for europe and the entire strategic vision for the entire post-cold war world was bush's. that is to say a place we see laid out in subsequent chapters, next lecture in the gulf war, when bush decides to put his entire effort behind making sure that the post-cold war world does not include sanctions for aggression. that is to say you will respect the sovereignty and respect united nations mandates. ultimately, bush calls this his new world order, which did not give him any plus in the polls at all because it just didn't sound new. i have to tell you, it was not.
this is actually the last point and really the essence of bush, that man who never questioned ideas or fundamentals or the brilliance of american leadership and the values america espoused. his new world order was simply nothing more than franklin roosevelt's, which is to say cooperative security, founded at the united nations, respect for sovereignty, a respect for free trade, a place where markets could expand, democracies could expand, and countries could choose their own way of living and ultimately democratic in the end. that was roosevelt's vision and that was the vision for the war that he fought in. to his mind, that was the vision stolen from the world when the cold war began. we could've implemented it in 1945. the cold war got in the way. we remove that barrier and let's go back to original purposes. bush's vision was the vision of 1945, the new world order was the order of 1945 but finally
with a chance to implement it for one important reason, which is largely about coolheaded diplomacy we all survived an empire collapsing which should not have been the case. thank you all. [applause] thomas: congratulations, that was a brilliant presentation. really fantastic. [applause] we have about 15 minutes or so for questions and answers. we have two microphones set up
here. if you would, come forward and present a question or want to make a remark, jeff will respond to it. and let me remind you that we have a table set up in the lobby area. and when we are finished with this part of the program, jeff will be delighted to sign as many copies as you might be buying for christmas presents of "when the world seemed new.” i will turn it over to you. jeffrey: hi, sandy. >> hello? earlier in your talk, you seemed to give all the credit to mikael gorbachev for moving the soviet union in the direction of a reformed society. but if you read the memoirs of nikita khrushchev and written by his son about his domestic and foreign policies, you get a clear idea that in a way,
khrushchev set the precedent that gorbachev does further braided in one it said it was khrushchev that saw the need to reform the domestic economy. in order to do that, he realized the soviet union could not afford to have a large military force so he moved military strategy in the direction of missile strategy which was a lot cheaper and therefore used the money saved to start reforming the domestic economy. do you think that is a reasonable interpretation? obviously, serge has a reason to rescue his father's legacy, but i think there is a lot to that. jeffrey: there's two elements to what you asked. is there a reasonable interpretation to what khrushchev did? sure. do we give him responsibility for ending the cold war after he died or 20 years after he died? no, i don't think so. this is a really interesting question of how we assign
responsibility and give responsibility to great tectonic forces in history. it would be foolish for anyone, myself included, to say this person ended the cold war. it required tens of thousands of anonymous people in crowd throughout the world acting in concert with leaders and labor leaders and acting in concert with religious leaders. and if you want to make your hall of fame of cold war enders, you would have to include the pope for his work in poland calling out communism. you would have to include gorbachev and reagan and bush. you would have to include a lot of people. my contention is that gorbachev ekes out all the other in the end for doing more than anyone else. but please do not mistake when i say gorbachev ended the cold war, that is not what i am saying.
he began a process, implemented a process which others recognized needed to be done. he pushed the snowball down the hill which became an avalanche. >> we know people like james baker wrote the politics of diplomacy. you talked about all the new papers that have been released and how they changed our knowledge and impression of what really happened. and i'm curious about your thoughts on the memoirs of our leading statesman involved in the foreign policy and whether it's your perception that those memoirs are in fact substantially inaccurate because they did not reflect all of this new information that has come to light.
jeffrey: that is a great question. there's a lot that the memoirs are not able to reveal because it is still classified. i will tell you as a person who spends a lot of time thinking about how broken our national declassification system is and thinking about our national secrecy fetish. most important thing released in the j.f.k. documents is not who did it. we already knew that. the most important thing was confirmation that the cia was holding back documents because they didn't want them revealed because they were embarrassing, and they used the phrase sources and methods to say you cannot have these. and that's a phrase no one is allowed to assail. we now know, because of the j.f.k. documents, that is being used for political reasons and not for national security reasons. so, there's a lot of things they cannot say in the memoirs and it
really bothers me when they begin to quote from documents that are still classified that subsequently we cannot use because they have more access than i do when they initially write. as a first grasp of history, it is great. but what we learn from the new document, their substance, and we also learn people shockingly right memoirs to make themselves look good. [laughter] so, in baker's contention, as one example, one critical example, james baker, were he here tonight, would be very upset because he would say i did not give a promise. i could show him the document that said i do give a promise, and he would say that is not what i meant. i could show him the other document where he said i will give you a promise, and he would
say there really wasn't a promise because it was never written down. so, in his memoirs, there's no discussion of a promise. so, we can leave out in memoirs things and describe them the way we wish things would have been. one other thing about memoirs which is critical and oral history in general, never ever, ever, trust anything anybody tells you first of all, about the past but also more fundamentally anything in a memoir or anything in an oral history that cannot be verified by two other sources. but always trust the interpretation, which is to say the memoir is really great for allowing people the opportunity to say i have been thinking about this for a while and here is what matters. that is really good stuff. if they tell you what they had
for lunch on tuesday, don't believe that. but if they tell you i have been thinking that lunch is great, that when you can take to the bank. >> professor, i was wondering if our presidents missed a number of opportunities to hasten the demise, if not the complete destruction, of the soviet union and soviet empire after the second war. for instance, i am thinking of berlin and the riots of the 1953 where we stood by and did nothing. 1956, budapest and hungary. and i'm thinking how we the disastrously misread the fidel castro phenomenon and of course bay of pigs two years later. i'm thinking perhaps nixon could have influenced nato or the european allies if you want to call them that, to do more with moral support or perhaps
material to help the prague revolutionaries. i cannot think of anymore past 1968. i am wondering if there were a lot of opportunities missed or if the presidents were otherwise occupied were fearful. jeffrey: let me put the question back on you, what would you have liked for them to do that would not have led to an immediate nuclear war? >> no troops. jeffrey: ok. >> but i think we could have had better covert support, which i don't gave any. of course, the bay of pigs we could have stopped. we could have gone right in there and probably won with more air cover and better trained troops. jeffrey: i think your argument works best for cuba.
cuba is well outside the security sphere for the soviets. and it was before they put in nuclear weapons. one of the things we now know about that time that is important to remember is how lucky we were that kennedy decided not to use force despite the advice from all of his advisors. because his advisers were largely telling him, i'm sorry i'm jumping ahead, but his is visors were telling him in the cuban missile crisis that you should use force now before the soviets had time to put tactical nuclear there. we now know not only had they already put tactical weapons in, they had given command and control down to the tactical level in the midst of a conflict which is to say the moment that , american marines start coming on shore, it was not khrushchev or castro to make the decision, but the colonel whose troops are being killed. my point is that in all of those situations, our presidents
followed prudent policies, i think, that tried to make sure that if nothing else we didn't instigate something worse. >> it just seems like 45 years after the second world war, the rotten fruit just fell from the tree. and we didn't really do that much in those 45 years. jeffrey: yes, to which i would think each of the presidents would respond, “and i didn't have to console a whole bunch of widows for those 45 years.” >> you said our system of classification and records is broken. could you expand on that and what would you suggest to maybe change it moving forward if you could wave a magic wand? jeffrey: i would gladly expand
upon that. every other civilized country in the world, including all of our allies, essentially takes the following approach to declassification, which is to say, after a certain period of time, typically 25-30 years, things will be declassified. unless the government can come up with a really good reason to show why it shouldn't be. because listen, i believe there are things that should be secret. i am no wikileaks person. there are things that need to be held tightly and things that should not be revealed for political, strategic, personal, lively reasons. but the government should have to show why. whether to a judge or to a credit or panel of some kind. in our country, we do exactly the opposite, which is to say, after 25 years, if you can identify the document that exists, you may ask permission for them to be given. as i already demonstrated from our j.f.k. experience and the
j.f.k. files, i have zero confidence, and i say this with full love and admiration for my friends in the national archives, i have zero confidence that when the documents leave their hands and go back to the authorities who created the documents, to put that in standard english, if you have a document with a meeting with the defense women in cia and some of -- defense department in cia someone of the commerce department from 1956 and you want it, you have to get 2017 -- the 2017 commerce department, defense department and cia to all agree it should be let out . i have zero confidence that they are applying logical, consistent rules to what they choose to declassify. first because there is no upside to letting something go. nobody ever gets fired for saying you can't have a document. you only get fired for letting
the wrong one go. and secondly, because they have no interest in revealing things that are fundamentally embarrassing. consequently, i would urge with my magic wand that we adopt the system that all other civilized country basically use, which i would also point out is a heck of a lot cheaper, so it's a win-win as far as i'm concerned. but as i said, more fundamentally, our country has a national fetish with secret information and secret documents. and i think in large part that is because of our revulsion at the exposure of our entire life and the information of our lives in this new media age where we can find out everything about you, you, and you just by paying enough money to google. we are so worried about keeping something secret that we just hope the government can keep secrets. even though those are the secrets of the society that our civil society actually needs out.
>> my question is theoretical history. let's say the soviet union became a nato partner, how do you think the chinese would have responded? jeffrey: oh, man. i have got to play out like 17 counterfactuals to get to that point. i'm on 16. if the russians had become a nato partner or at least continued on the partnership for peace project that began as a steppingstone, if you will, to full nato inclusion at the end of the cold war, that is to say let's get these people talking together, the russians and the british and the french, before we join nato, let's get them talking. if we continue down the path and
become allies, i think you can make a fair case that would have essentially put anybody who has any great power outside in the very same situation that we had put the soviets in during the cold war which is to say they would have been contained. that is, there is enough power with russia and western europe and the united states banded together that nobody will mess with it and it could expand if we don't want them to. other countries would have to be non-belligerent or come to heel. it is almost as though you could suggest the way to counter a large growing great power that has belligerent aspirations would be to create economic and social, governmental, and ultimately military system of alliances that would allow you
to leverage the power of numerous allies to your advantage. were i to do that in the pacific today, i might call that the transpacific partnership. [laughter] which of course, as you know, is no more and nobody is happier about that than the chinese. i thank you all for your time. i appreciate it. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] >> follow us at c-span history. national world war ii museum oral historian hannah daly talks about atomic veterans, serviceman assigned to clean up. many of whom