David Maraniss: 2019 National Book Festival

>>Ryan Ramsey: Welcome to the
history and biography stage of the Library of Congress’
National Book Festival. As Michael said, my
name is Ryan Ramsey. I’m the Chief of Staff at
the Library of Congress and I’m really thrilled this
morning to be opening one of the most popular stages
at this festival and to see so many fellow history
fans in the audience. We have a stellar line up of
authors today and the history and biography stage
is brought to you by our charter sponsor
Wells Fargo. The subjects of these
authors books sit very neatly into the theme that we’ve been
celebrating at the Library of Congress for the past
year, “Changemakers”. The people who fought
for ratification of the 19th Amendment and
our current exhibition, “Shall not be denied:
Women Fight for the Vote”, as well as our December
exhibition which will take an
in-depth look at the life of civil rights pioneer
Rosa Parks. And I invite you to
visit us in person to view these extraordinary
exhibits. Many of you who love this book
festival have asked for it to be more than a
day-long event, and as Michael just mentioned,
and I’ll be happy to reiterate, we’ve answered that request with a new series starting next
month called The National Book Festival Presents. Beginning with a discussion
about the actor, author, and you may not know, magician,
Neil Patrick Harris who, depending on your generation
is either Doogie Howser or Barney Stinson, the National
Book Festival Presents will bring you some of the
nation’s most popular and interesting authors
and events at our historic Thomas Jefferson
Building on Capitol Hill. There will be authors
to suit anyone’s tastes. In addition to Harris,
Malcolm Gladwell, writer of the best selling
“Tipping Point” is part of the series as is
children’s author and one of my daughter’s
favorites Dav Pilkey, author of “Captain
Underpants” and “Dog Man”. Also the poet laureate
and just a wonderful poet, Joy Harjo is going to
be part of the series. For more information,
as Mike said, please do visit the
website loc.gov and please take advantage of the extraordinary resources
we offer free of charge in person on Capitol Hill
and through our website. As you may know, the
nation’s library is home to unique treasures
such as the papers of the first 23 presidents
of the United States, the collections of Frederick
Douglass, the Wright Brothers, Margaret Mead, Thurgood
Marshall, Martha Graham, among many other
agents of change. But we’re more than
just a collection of library books,
manuscripts, and map. We also have an incomparable
collection of films, sound recordings, prints,
and photographs and much of this is available online. So moving from the
library now to the subject of today’s conversation,
I’m really excited to introduce our first author. To readers of “The
Washington Post”, David Maraniss needs
no introduction. He’s a Pulitzer Prize
winning writer for “The Post”, has been affiliated with the
newspaper for more than 40 years as an editor and a writer. He won the Pulitzer Prize twice,
first for his 1993 coverage of Bill Clinton and later
for the 2000 coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. When I was asked
to introduce David, I was honored and
excited to do so. His book about the
1960 Olympics, “Rome 1960” is truly
one of my favorites. In addition to introducing
readers to a young– or reintroducing readers
to a young Cassius Clay, I love the story
of Wilma Rudolph, the young African American
girl from Tennessee who overcame childhood polio to become the fastest
woman in the world. I’ve shared this story with my
daughter who I mentioned earlier and she now adores
this long ago sprinter. David tells the story
of America’s struggle for civil rights through
the lens of sports and on an international stage. He has also written
the biography of a man he calls baseball’s
last hero, Roberto Clemente. I recommend it to you and
thank David for writing it. In addition to his
sports biographies which you can tell I
cherish, David is the author of numerous presidential
biographies and stories of our shared hometown
of Detroit, Michigan and of the Vietnam War. His latest book, however,
is a far more personal story of his father who was swept
up by the paranoia and fear of the red scare in the 1950’s. From his blacklisting
to his vindication. And for any son who has sort of
wondered about the deeper story of their father, this
is truly an inspiration. The book is called “A
Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father”. David will be joined
by Adam Kushner, “The Washington Post”
Outlook Editor. Adam was previously editor
of “The National Journal”, a Senior Foreign Affairs
Editor at “Newsweek” and a managing editor
at “The New Republic”. Please join me in welcoming
David Maraniss and Adam Kushner. [ Applause ]>>Adam Kushner: Hi,
I’m Adam Kushner. I’m the Editor of the
Sunday Outlook section at “The Washington Post” which
is our home for ideas and essays and arguments and,
most importantly for today, book criticism. I want to thank the
Library of Congress for putting this amazing
festival together. We’re so lucky to have with us
David Maraniss who’s the author of “A Good American Family”. You’ve gotten a little
bit of a biography of him. His books have often
focused on history which brings us here this
morning and he’s going to be signing downstairs at
11:30 on the lower level. After our discussion
we’re also going to take some questions
after we chat. I want to jump right into it. Thanks for joining us, David.>>David Maraniss: Thank you.>>Adam Kushner: The
dramatic confrontation of your book takes
place in Room 740 of the Detroit Federal Building where the House Un-American
Affairs Committee brings this traveling road show in 1952. They come to hold these hearings on supposed communist
infiltration of America’s auto industry
and the United Auto Workers and they subpoenaed your dad who
was then a rewrite man of the “Detroit Times” who’d served with distinction during the
second World War for questioning which cost him his job
and got him blacklisted and turned your family’s
lives upside down for years. Maybe you could start by
telling us a little bit about your father
and the evolution of his political beliefs
up until that point.>>David Maraniss:
Yes I’d be happy to. First of all I want to
thank everybody for coming, including all those
who couldn’t get in to Ruth Bader
Ginsburg’s [laughter] event. And I’ll be not signing
books at 11:30 because she’ll be talking
and no one will come. But in any case [laughter]
my father, Elliot Maraniss, was called before the House
Un-American Activities Committee in 1952 while we were
living in Detroit. I was only two years old so,
you know, I don’t remember that event but everything that happened thereafter was
part of my consciousness. My father was a native
New Yorker. He grew up on Coney Island
in Brooklyn, New York. He went to Abraham Lincoln
High School during the depths of the depression. When that school was sort of
a font of progressive thought. The principle, Gabriel Mason,
walked around the halls of the high school with a copy of Emerson’s essays
in his back pocket. The teachers inculcated in the
students– this is 1933, 34, 35– that they couldn’t
be another lost generation like the 1920’s because
the world was in too much of a crisis. Not only was there the
depression but com- but Nazism and Fascism were on
the rise in Europe. And so from there my father
followed the footsteps of many other Lincoln students, including the great
playwright Arthur Miller, who went to Lincoln a few years
before my father and then went out to the University
of Michigan. Many Jewish students from the
east coast went to Michigan and Wisconsin, the land
grant schools in the Midwest because there were quotas
at the Ivy League schools. And also Michigan had a
fabulous English department. The Hopwood Prize was probably
the most valued writing prize in the country for
students in that era. So my father followed
Miller out to the University of Michigan, got there in 1936. Again, when the labor unions
in Michigan were starting to organize in interesting ways. When Europe was starting
to be aflame. And he was radicalized
there I would say in many of the same ways that students
of my generation of the mid and 1960’s were radicalized
by world and national events. He became the editorial editor
of “The Michigan Daily”, the college newspaper and met a
17 year old townie whose older brother had fought in
the Spanish Civil War and that’s why I exist
because of those two. But we’ll get to that. [laughter]>>Adam Kushner: So when
HUAC called your dad in, what did they think
they were looking for and what had alarmed them?>>David Maraniss: Well, they
were looking for publicity. They had already had several
hearings in Hollywood starting in 1947 with the Hollywood 10. They sort of picked out certain
pockets of American society that they thought were,
quote unquote, un-American. And so they came to
Detroit essentially to go after the United Auto Workers. Michigan was the heart
of the labor movement. Detroit or the Rouge Plant in Dearborn had the
largest local labor in the country, Local 600. It was dominated by socialists
and communists and they went out there to go after them. And my father who
as working at the “Detroit Times” then was
essentially collateral damage in that effort.>>Adam Kushner: You–
when you HUAC came, you say you weren’t yet three. Your brother was a little older. And you’ve talked to
him a lot for the book. Tell us a little bit about
what happened to your family after this pretty
traumatic event.>>David Maraniss: Well
first of all, what happened with my dad was that he
was named by an informant. The FBI had been
following members of the Michigan Communist
Party for years and the FBI had recruited
a woman who became known as the Grandmother Spy to join
the party in 1944 in Michigan. And she stayed under cover
until 1952, for eight years, and then came in from the
cold when they came to– when HUAC came to Michigan. So that’s– she named
hundreds of names. She’d kept files because
she rose to be the secretary of the party in Michigan. And among those names
was my father. So he was immediately
fired the moment that she named his name among
all of those many hundreds. And as you say I was only two. My older brother Jim was six. My sister Jeannie [assumed
spelling] was five. So they have stronger
memories of that. As soon as my dad was
fired, we were adrift. We moved back to Coney Island
to live with my father’s parents in a cramped little apartment
near Seagate on the other side on Mermaid Avenue, and he worked for a newspaper there very
briefly until it folded, like a month and a half
after he got there. We moved back to Ann Arbor,
Michigan where my mother was from and lived with her
parents for a while. And then he– my
father got a job at the Cleveland “Plain Dealer”. Worked there for a bit until
the FBI came to Cleveland and said you just hired
a former communist.>>Adam Kushner: They essentially followed
him around the country–>>David Maraniss: Oh yeah.>>Adam Kushner: telling
all of his employers, look what you’ve done.>>David Maraniss: Exactly. I mean the FBI– of course for this book among the many
archives I got were the FBI files of my father. And there were 37
agents and informants who have been following
him around. So after Cleveland fired,
we went back to Detroit for another period there. Unbelievably for
anybody who knew my dad, he worked as a salesman selling
party favors for some picnics. And that was– you know he was
a ink stained newspaper guy. Finally there was a strike paper
in Bettendorf, Iowa in what– the quint quad cities
or quint cities. He worked for that strike
paper briefly and every couple of weeks that paper would
publish a column called “Hello Wisconsin” published by
the great progressive founder and publisher of the
Madison “Capitol Times”, a paper that had been
fighting the Red Scare and Joseph McCarthy– Wisconsin’s own Joe
McCarthy– for years. And my dad was a
great newspaper guy. He laid out a beautiful
strike paper. The way it looked, everything
in it was first class. And Evjue saw this strike paper
that was publishing this column and said who’s putting this out? It’s better than our paper. And at that time in 1957,
Joe McCarthy had just died. We moved to Madison, Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Braves
were on their way to winning the World Series. And the “Capital Times” hired my
father and our lives were saved. I was eight years old.>>Adam Kushner: The fever
broke and it became okay–>>David Maraniss: It
started to break– exactly. Yeah. And there’s, you
know the central theme of my book is what does
it mean to be an American? And who decides? And how narrow is
that definition? And, you know, so that’s why in
this book I bring together a lot of the people who
were in that Room 740.>>Adam Kushner: The structure
is really interesting. So the book is built
around Room 740 and all of the players that were there. The chairman of the HUAC
committee, the chief counsel who interrogated
Elliot, your father. The informant Bereniece
Baldwin who reported on him. Your dad’s lawyer, your
mother Mary Cummins. And you break out
little chapters, sort of potted biographies
on each of these people that take us very neatly
to different corners of the United States
during the red scare. It’s clear you researched
very widely about life in America during that
moment of intense paranoia. What do you think it
was about that time that freaked people out so much?>>David Maraniss:
There were many factors. Some valid. Many not. On the political
side I think that a lot of the red scare was
motivated by a desire by the republican party to
undo the red– the New Deal. I think that there were also,
you know, after World War II when the Soviet Union was a
partner with the United States and really was instrumental
in winning World War II, all of the sudden the iron
curtain went up, China went red, the Korean war was going on. All of those factors
led to some concern which politicians manipulated
into an overwrought fear that disrupted and
destroyed thousands of lives.>>Adam Kushner: And the title
of your book comes from sort of a corner of that fear. “A Good American
Family”, will you tell us about the origin of that phrase?>>David Maraniss: It came late. You know the first title of, the
working title that I was using for the book was
“Judgment in Room 740”. And then as I was researching
the book I came across a speech that one member of the
committee, Charles Potter of Michigan, gave in 1951 in
which he said he was shocked that anyone from a, quote
uquote, good American family, could be enticed into
socialism or communism. And I thought I came from
a good American family. My parents were good people. You know they were naive
about the Soviet Union but their idealism
was to be honored. And they broke any laws. They worked hard. They inculcated in their
kids the golden rule. And my father, by the time
I knew him, taught me all of the lessons that I’ve used in
my own career as a journalist. Never fall for any
rigid ideology. Search for the truth
wherever it takes you. Be open to the world
and to people. And so “A Good American
Family”, how do you define that? Do you define it by the
chairman of the committee?>>Adam Kushner: And so, I
mean, those values you know, don’t affix yourself to a rigid
ideology seem almost learned. You know you write very
honestly about your parents and what they believed and
when and what they thought about the Soviet Union. Maybe you want to
talk about that.>>David Maraniss:
Well there were times when I was researching this–
first of all, writing about, you know I’d written biographies
of, as Ryan said, of Clemente and Lombardi and
Obama and Clinton– and in each of those instances
I was essentially starting with someone who was
a stranger to me. And after four years of research and writing they
became very familiar. And let’s take the
Obama example. There were times
in his own memoir, which is brilliantly written,
when I discovered that, you know, it was essentially not
the way things really happened. And so people would
come up to me and say well why did
Obama write those things? You know like that his
Indonesian step grandfather was killed fighting the Dutch in the
War of Independence when I found out that in fact he died falling
off an ottoman changing the drapes in his living room. Well, why did Obama write that? Because that’s the
story that his parents and grandparents
passed along to him. All of us have those
mythological stories we hear from our family and very few of
us have a biographer going back to find out what
really happened. And as I said that I thought,
well you know, I haven’t done that with my own family. And so I realized that
it was time to do that. My parents were gone. It was a story that
was instrumental to the understanding
of my family and of myself and of the nation. And so there were times when
I used the same methodology, I got all of the letters
my father had written, all of the hundreds of
stories he wrote for “The Michigan Daily” during
that crucible of his formation of his political ideology. And there were times
when I’d shake my head and say what were
you thinking Dad? You know, I mean he wrote this
really well argued defense of the Soviet invasion
of Finland in 1939. How do you defend that? Or the Nazi Soviet pact. I mean he had rationalizations
but nonetheless, you know, that was, in retrospect
it was easy for me to see the mistakes
that my father made. But yet he got through that
period with his idealism intact, learned the lessons of
what he’d been through, and maintained an
optimism that carried our– and along with my mother’s
incredible strength– carried our family
through that period.>>Adam Kushner:
Well this is one of the most remarkable
parts of the book. You know your dad goes through
this incredible trauma of, you know, public shaming and
humiliation and unemployment. The country that he had
served in a war decided that his beliefs or at least
what a congressional committee in the FBI believed his beliefs to be should cost him
all of these things. And yet, you know, his views
of America didn’t take a turn for resentment and bitterness. Sort of, kind of tell us
where he landed ideologically.>>David Maraniss: You
know, many former communists in the United States
became neoconservatives.>>Adam Kushner:
[Inaudible] yeah.>>David Maraniss: Yeah. You know went all the
way to the other side and staunch anti-communist. Or often, you know, I mean
I consider our family lucky. Our family wasn’t destroyed.>>Adam Kushner: Right.>>David Maraniss: It was
disrupted but not destroyed. But families that were
destroyed, you know, a whole different
level of bitterness and confusion about that. But my dad– my family
came through it with my father’s
optimism intact. He maintained all of the ideals
that led him to where he started without the fog of the
ideology of communism. So, you know, on racial
justice, on progressive thought, on peace, you know he maintained
his progressive beliefs. And inculcated those
in the family. And a large part of that–
I’d say that most of my books in one way or another deal
with the issue of race which I consider the central
dilemma of American history. And where did that come from? You know I’ve written about
it in my book on “Rome 1960”, on the book on Lombardi, you
know the football coach who was, you know, had many flaws but on
race he was ahead of his time. Race and actually sexuality. All of my books in various
ways deal with that. Bill Clinton’s idealistic
side had to do with race for the most part. Where did I develop
the interest? My son has written books about
race and justice in America. It all came from my
father who in 19– who, during World War II, was the commander of
an all black unit. He was given that
post after going through officer candidate school because he was considered
a radical. And, you know, the army
was segregated, racist. The races were separated
in the military. All black units tended
to have white officers. And they were either
southern racists who the military thought dealt
with black people all the time, or northern radicals
who wanted those jobs when other white officers
thought it was a dead end. So in the course of writing this
book I got hundreds of letters that my father wrote to my
mother during that period. That crucial period
when he was organizing and leading a black company
that would go to Okinawa. And in those letters you see
his understanding of the dilemma of American race
where these young, black men were being asked
to fight and die in the name of liberty and democracy for a
country that was treating them as second class citizens. And how do you do that? And that’s what he would ponder. How do you make these men feel that they’re getting
a fair shake? And he was able to do that
in a very powerful way through that experience. And I think that in ways
that I didn’t understand until I wrote this book
and fused everything that my family has stood
for and done since then.>>Adam Kushner: And what
comes through in the book is that he came at those questions from an intensely
patriotic point of view. Not from somebody, you know,
crestfallen at America’s legacy but somebody who wanted to
fix it because he loved it. And you know the photo on the cover is a really
interesting document that speaks to that, I want you
to talk about.>>David Maraniss:
Yeah the cover is right after my father was fired
from the job in Detroit and we moved back to
Coney Island Brooklyn to live with his parents. And my parents took us,
you know, my brother, my older sister, and me to the
Statue of Liberty and we posed for the picture right, you know,
on the ferry right in front of the Statue of Liberty.>>Adam Kushner: After his
country had betrayed him in a way, yeah.>>David Maraniss: Well, yeah. And, you know, what you see
in the letters that he wrote from the war and from
his, all of the hundreds of columns he wrote for
“The Michigan Daily” was that his desire was not to violently overthrow
the government of America which is what the HUAC
people said anyone who had those beliefs wanted,
but to make America better. And he had a, you know, that’s
an issue again that I’ve written about a lot whether it was
the Iraq War, the Vietnam War, or that period, you
know what is the role of dissent in American life? And what is the meaning
of patriotism? And I consider my
father a patriot and that dissent
is a central part of the American democratic
process.>>Adam Kushner: And you said
that when you begin a lot of these biographies
you take somebody who is fundamentally
alien, a stranger, and you eventually
come to a place where you’re extremely
well acquainted with them. Obviously this is a very
different sort of project and most of us will never
have the opportunity to really go deep on
somebody we know that well. What was it like turning,
you know, your father, a person whom you already knew and had a pretty sophisticated
understanding of, into a subject and taking a dispassionate
removed approach?>>David Maraniss: This is
unlike any book I’d written before because of that
personal aspect to it. But I tried to use the same
methodology that I’d used for all of my previous
biographies. You know first part is go there,
wherever there is in the story, to understand the
cultural geography of the places that
shaped someone. Get all the archival
documents you can. So in this case I got– I went to 14 archives around the
country including the Library of Congress and the National
Archives here in Washington. The Tamiment Library at NYU
which had the great files on the Spanish Civil War which
is another part of the book that we can talk about. And the Bentley Historical
Library in Michigan had all of the– they had just digitized
right when I was recording it, all of the back copies of “The Michigan Daily”,
the campus newspaper. It would’ve taken me months to
go through all of those to try to find all of the
stories about my father, about Arthur Miller who’s
another figure in the book. About my uncle, Bob Cummins,
my mother’s older brother in the Spanish Civil War. And they– the archivist
there knew me and gave me a six months head
start on the digitization so I was able to get all that. In any case, I tried to
use the same methodology. But of course there were points
when I was doing the research when I was overwhelmed. For mostly out of a sense
of love for my father, and sometimes out of confusion. But the most striking moment of
my research came very early on. And it– the hearings
in Detroit, like all government hearings,
there was a transcript. And so I knew, my brother
and sister all knew, for years we’d read the
transcript of the interrogation of my father on March
12th, 1952. It was published. And in that transcript
there’s a point where my father says I would
like to read a statement about what I think it
means to be American. And the chairman of the
committee, John Stephens Wood of Georgia who was a
southern racist who had voted for every Jim Crow piece
of legislation for decades and voted against every
civil rights measure, who as a young person had been
a member of the Ku Klux Klan, who stunningly in 1915 had
been involved in the lynching of Leo Frank, the famous Jewish
industrialist from Atlanta who ran a pencil factory
and was falsely accused of murdering a 13 year old
girl in his pencil factory. And when the governor of Georgia
commuted his death sentence because it was obvious after
a year of investigation that he was innocent, the
powers that be in Marietta, Georgia sprung– seized
him from his prison, drove him down to a field
near Marietta and lynched him. And John Stephens Wood,
the future chairman of the House Un-American
Activities Committee who called my father, the
commander of an all-black unit in World War II,
un-American, drove the car that carried the lynched
body of Leo Frank. And that’s the essence
of my question of what does it mean
to be an American.>>Adam Kushner: And to
that point you mention, and we’ll come back
to that also, but you know you have a
lot of compassion for a lot of the figures in the book. And one of the most amazing
parts for me is the empathetic and very generous way you write about Bereniece Baldwin who’s
this very unlikely confidential informant for the FBI,
the grandmother spy, five feet tall who’d spent
years posing as a member of the communist party and
getting to know hundreds of their members in the
Michigan region and reporting on them for J. Edgar Hoover. You know seen from 2019
she looks like, you know, what we might call a
collaborator or something. But, you know, you
obviously bear her no malice and you strike up a
friendship with her descendants. But talk about how you made
your peace with her role in your story and the
role of people like her who did cooperate in the
ugliest parts of McCarthyism.>>David Maraniss: Well Bereniece Baldwin was a
working-class woman from Detroit who was recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the
communist party in Michigan. And she was 49 years
old when she came in from the cold in 1952. They called her the
grandmother spy because she’d just
had a grandchild. She was long gone by the time I
started researching this book. Her testimony is also in
the transcripts and I’d read that many, many times
where she names my father, she talks about my mother, and I never felt a deep
hostility towards her. And I guess I can explain
it by the fact that starting with another book I wrote
about the Vietnam War where I dealt a lot with
the soldiers in Vietnam, I came to this sort
of sensibility that it’s the policymakers
who are responsible. You know it was the policymakers
in Vietnam, not the soldiers, except for those who
committed atrocities, you know a very small number. But it’s the policymakers
who were responsible. And so, you know, it was
the committee chairman. It was Joe McCarthy. It was the republicans in
congress who wouldn’t stand up to McCarthy and to
HUAC and the democrats who were responsible
for what happened. And this woman was just
caught in the maelstrom of events at that point. So it took me a couple of years
to find any of her relatives because she’d been
married three times and all of her children were dead. And we finally found a
couple of the grandchildren. And when I interviewed them, one
of the granddaughters who’s now about my age actually, said you
know, I didn’t know any of this until my mother, the
informant’s daughter, died. And we went into her closet
and on the shelf on the top of the closet there
were all these clippings of the grandmother spy. I knew my grandmother
really well and she never talked about it. And so then we’re, and during
this interview she’s saying did your dad ever talk about him
and what happened with you? And I said no really. It was kind of the
shadow of our existence. And so I felt this odd sort of
connection about the strangeness of history and time which
is something I felt once– one other time earlier in my
writing, book writing career when I went to Vietnam with one of the soldiers who’d
survived this horrendous battle that I write about and I
found the Viet Cong officer who was fighting
on the other side, and together they
walked the battlefield. You know and it was sort of the
compression of time and how, you know, the commonality
of the human experience.>>Adam Kushner: And another–>>David Maraniss: So there
are people who make deci- the decision makers, the
policy makers are the ones that I hold responsible and not
the individuals caught in them.>>Adam Kushner: Another
interesting parallel from your chat with
Baldwin’s granddaughter is that both Baldwin and your
father sort of didn’t have much to say, as you mentioned,
about that period. It’s– I mean it’s
interesting that both– the participants on both
sides from that very scary, hideous moment thought ah it may
be best not to dwell on this. They had a sense of shame,
I don’t know, or, you know?>>David Maraniss: I
don’t think it was shame on my father’s part at all. I think that he was a survivor. When we got to Madison in
1957 we started a new– life anew and he rose
through the ranks of reporting to become the editor of
the “Madison Capital Times” by the time he retired in 1982. My mother went back to
school, you know Phi Beta Kappa and became a book editor. And, you know, our life in
Madison was rich with books and music and baseball. And everything was better. And my father didn’t want
to be defined by the past. It was only when I was writing
this book that I started to really– and when I saw
that statement that he wrote in 1952– that it really washed over me what it must
have been like for him. Not only in the crucible
of that moment but also for all those years in Madison. You know would the past
come back in an unfair way to define him or haunt him? And I never, you know, I was
living a life almost ignorant– not of, I mean, not
of politics– but of the internal
dynami- anxiety that my dad might
have been feeling.>>Adam Kushner: You wrote for
“The Post” a few months ago when the book came out that our
country still hasn’t shaken the demons of McCarthyism. You know where do you see the
echoes of the red scare today?>>David Maraniss: They’re
everywhere unfortunately. The manipulation of fear
as a political weapon. The denunciation of anybody
who’s considered other. Than it was socialists
and communists. Now it’s Latinos and Muslims. The whole definition of what
it means to be American. I mean that’s been common
throughout American history. It started with the genocide
of the for real Americans, you know, the Native Americans. And then black people
weren’t American enough so they were enslaved,
enslaved peoples. Women weren’t American enough
to vote until 100 years ago. So, you know, it’s a
threat throughout history but it’s emerged in a somewhat
different way right now. And, you know, history
doesn’t exactly repeat itself but the same threads come through history in
different ways. And in the McCarthy era, the–
or the red scare of the 1950’s, Joseph McCarthy was a senator. The House Un-American Activities
Committee was comprised of congress people. Now we have a president
who’s doing that and that’s unlike
anything we’ve had before. And we have, you know, in the McCarthy era
it was republicans– Margaret Chase Smith of Maine,
the senator for Vermont, eventually Eisenhower– who stood up to the
hysteria of the moment. And where is the Margaret
Chase Smith of today?>>Adam Kushner: I know
people are always interested in process. I’ve been a journalist for
20 years and edited thousands of people and I’m always
astonished at the variety of ways they work– standing
up, sitting down, nocturnally, aided by liquid or
chemical inducements. You know Norman Mailer said
[laughter] it always took him one to get started. I’ve edited people
who, you know, make themselves write 1000
words a day like Philip Roth and people who wait
for inspiration or who do all their research
and build these elaborate models like Robert Caro or people who let their writing guide
them like Julia Ioffe. You know now that you’re
emancipated from a newsroom and pesky overlord editors
like me [laughs] what do you, you know how do you make
yourself do what you do?>>David Maraniss: I don’t know
because I’m basically lazy. [laughter] But I–>>Adam Kushner: You wrote 12
books, it can’t be that bad.>>David Maraniss: Yeah well,
there’s cer- I mean I’m lucky in that I love what I do. And so I tend to
only write books about something I’m
obsessed with. And once I become obsessed, you
know, it’s a different world and you know we’ll be
driving down the street and I’ll make a wrong turn and my wife Linda will say now
what chapter are you writing right now? [laughter] Once I turned into a fire station
instead of a street. [laughter] You know for the
research I have what I call the four legs of the table. Go there. So for this book
my wife and I went to Spain because my Uncle Bob fought
in the Spanish Civil War and that’s a central
ideological component of what, of that era that led my parents
to the politics they had. And that was a fabulous
experience of tracing his roots all
along the Ebro River. Of course went to
Brooklyn and to Ann Arbor and all the other
places of our lives. Get all the documents you can. Interview everyone you can. In this case there was a
little bit less than that because mostly everyone was
dead except for descendants. And finally, look
for what’s not there. That’s the fourth leg of
my table, to try to break through the mythology
to find the reality. In terms of the writing,
I don’t set a daily quota. I sort of set a weekly quota
because every day is different and I have a few you
might call tricks. One of them is I’ll often end
my writing day in the middle of a sentence which
I’m really excited about because then I
know where I’m going to pick up in the morning. If I don’t do that, I tend not
to sleep very well but I’ll– but I do have successful
subconscious in that I tend to work out a lot of my
writing problems in my sleep. And I set out sort of a
weekly quota of maybe, which would average
to 1000 words a day. But sometimes when I’m
obsessed I’ll write– like the, there’s a chapter in
my book on Vince Lombardi called “Ice” which is about
the football climax of the book, the
Ice Bowl in 1967. I started that at 6 in the
morning and finished it at midnight one day,
10,000 words because I was ready for it. You know I’d– everything
had built up to that moment. And I can do that. You know I wrote a 8000 piece
for “The Washington Post” on 9/11 in one day the same way. But that’s rare and I tend– every day is a little
bit different. And so I–>>Adam Kushner:
Knocking off in the middle of the sentence sounds
to me like, [singing] shave and a haircut. [laughter]>>David Maraniss: Two bits.>>Adam Kushner: I want to get
some time for a couple questions but before we do, you know,
one of the most moving passages in the book– don’t take
this the wrong way David– was not written by you–>>David Maraniss: I agree.>>Adam Kushner: it was–
it’s your dad’s epilogue, his attempt to face down
the HUAC’s absurd line of questioning and he
wrote this statement. He didn’t get to read it. I wonder if you have it here.>>David Maraniss: This
is an abridged version. My father wrote this on the
night before he testified. “I was taught as a
child and in school that the highest
responsibility of citizenship is to defend the principles
of the U.S. Constitution and to do my part in securing for the American people
the blessings of peace, economic well-being,
and freedom. I have tried to do that to
the very best of my ability. And for doing just
that, and nothing more, I have been summarily
discharged from my job. I have been blacklisted
in the newspaper business after 12 years in
which my competence and objectivity have never
once been questioned. I must sell my home,
uproot my family, and upset the tranquility
and security of my three small children in the happy formative
years of their childhood. But I’d rather have my
children miss a meal or two now than have them grow up in the
gruesome, fear-ridden future for America projected by
members of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. I don’t like to talk
about these things but my Americanism
has been questioned. And to properly measure
a man’s Americanism, you must know the whole
pattern of a life. The U.S. Constitution
and it’s Bill of Rights are not simply
musty documents in a library. They have meaning
only if they are used. To betray and subvert the Bill of Rights it the most
un-American act any man or committee can do. For that document was
brought into being and maintained throughout
our history by men and women who gave their lives and blood. Every newspaper man knows that
history is not a printed page, it is the passion and
striving, the struggling and endurance of men and women. These qualities that
went into the making of our nation can be
discarded only at great peril to ourselves and our children. From the time of Peter
Zenger, the colonial printer who defied the British crown’s
effort to impose censorship in the American colonies
right down to the present, newspaper men have zealously
defended freedom of the press. For the First Amendment is not
only a guarantee of free speech and a free press, it is
also an indispensible part of self government. That’s what makes this
committee so dangerous. Ostensibly designed to protect
the government against overthrow by force and violence, it
proceeds by force, terror, and threats to overthrow the
rights of the American people. This committee reflects
no credit on American institutions
or ideas. Its attempt to enforce
conformity of political or economic thought is a
long step toward dictatorship that holds the greatest
danger to the American people. In this country we have never
acquiesced in the proposition that people could be
punished for their beliefs”. Statement of Elliot
Maraniss read by his son. [ Applause ]>>Adam Kushner: We’d love
to take a couple questions so we have a few minutes left. [ Inaudible audience comment ]>>Adam Kushner: It’s– I think
there’s a microphone right here next to you in the aisle. Yeah. If anybody else
wants to queue up. Yeah I see. Yeah.>>Audience member 1:
So in studying all this, do you think what in the climate
causes these waves of this type of behavior that we’re
occurring right now and that happened in the 50’s? Do you have some sense
after having looked at this what’s happening
in the environment that causes this to
really bubble up?>>David Maraniss: Well in
every era it’s some different and some common themes. Demagoguery. An effective demagogue. I think that most people can
swayed to their better instincts or worst instincts depending on the politician
who’s leading them. And I think that’s part of it. In both cases I think that
there are underlying factors that allow a demagogue to
push a fear theme through. You know, in the case of
communism in the 1950’s, the Soviet Union was
evident and there. The U.S. communist party
was, had absolutely no power. And it’s not unlike saying
that every Muslim is– in America, you know,
should be kicked out versus, you know, a few terrorists. When in fact most terrorists
are American-born white men. So, I’m sorry I don’t have
a better answer than that, but I think it’s a
combination of demagoguery and underlying factors
that can lead to, allow somebody to exploit it.>>Audience member 2: Thank you for your very powerful
discussion. My parents went through a very
similar political trajectory so it was very personal to
hear what you had to say. But my parents also came face to
face with the evil of communism through people they knew who were imprisoned
in Stalin’s gulag–>>David Maraniss: Yup.>>Audience member
2: for five years, and that shook their foundation, their beliefs in
the Soviet Union. I’m curious what
happened to your parents and whether they had
basically left the party or were disillusioned with Soviet Russia before
the HUAC investigation.>>David Maraniss: Yeah,
thank you for asking that. And I must say that this
book, unlike any other, I’ve gotten hundreds of
letters and emails from the sons and daughters of people who endured something
similar to this. My parents were moving away
from the communist party in 1952 when my father was fired. My dad was never really
much of an ideologue. He liked baseball
more than politics. [laughter] But I think the,
you know there was a series of factors in the early
50’s leading all the way through the Hungarian– the quashing of the
Hungarian Revolution in ’56 where my brother recalls my
mother at the ironing board with tears streaming
down her face, sort of the final
disillusionment of, or realization of the
horrors of the Soviet Union. But it had begun
much before that.>>Adam Kushner: We
have time, I’m sorry, for just the last question here. Yeah.>>Audience member 3:
Oh, I think you mentioned that your father was
Jewish and I was wondering to what extent you thought that
what happened in the 1950’s and HUAC and all that
stemmed from anti-Semitism?>>David Maraniss:
Well I think the phrase “A Good American Family”
reflects some of that. Because my mother’s family was
not Jew– I’m, as Obama said, you know he said “a mutt
like me”, I’m half Jewish. But I think that anti-Semitism
was indeed a factor in all of what was going
on in that period. And throughout, you know, American history
you can see sort of Jews being considered other. And I think that that was part of what was going
on, absolutely. But my dad was not– he was,
you know my mother knew more about actual Judaism
than my dad. He knew how to eat chopped
liver but he didn’t know– [laughter] you know,
that was about it.>>Adam Kushner: That’s a
classic American story too. [laughter]>>David Maraniss: [Laughs] Yes.>>Adam Kushner: Thanks
for David Maraniss–>>David Maraniss: Thanks a lot.>>Adam Kushner: and
the Library of Congress. [ Applause ]>>Thank you, Adam.

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