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April 30, 2011

American History: Blood & Backrooms @ LAT FOB

Jim Newton: editor at large, LAT and wrote book Justice for All: Earl Warren and the History He Made. He won three elections to be California governor. He is the only governor who won the nomination for both parties and I daresay that will be a record that stands. I was drawn to the sense of paradox about him. In 1942, he was an enthusiastic and unapologetic proponent of Japanese internment and 12 years later was the author of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The first case he won a conviction in was a leftist who was prosecuted under a syndicalist law and one of his last cases was a Supreme Court case that invalidated the syndicalist laws. The Eisenhower book that I just finished came about out of my Warren book. Unlike Warren, whom I felt like I knew from the beginning of my research, Eisenhower I was left sure about. Eisenhower appointed Warren to the court, and very quickly tensions grew. I came to Eisenhower thinking I would be a critic of him. I learned things - I had only seen him through the lens of civil rights and domestic affairs and the work I had done shown almost no light on his foreign affairs. I end the book with the understanding that he was a truly tremendous American president. He was the first American president to have an atomic bomb and didn't use it. ... I venture to say there are very few political figures of his time who could have held off the pressure to use the atomic bomb.

Moderator: You used the term "Warrenism," and I'm wondering if you could discuss his progression from progressive Republican to the right...

Jim Newton: Ike misunderstood Warren's politics. They were both internationalist Republicans. I think he saw him as a like-minded figure. He didn't see that Warren grew up in the California progressive tradition. When Eisenhower appointed him, he misapprehended his politics at the outset. Scott Powe is probably the best scholar of the Warren court. He pointed out that Warren became better at every job he did, and I think that's true.

Six boxes of documents on the writing the farewell address where Ike famously named the military industrial boxes recently came to light. His speechwriter took them with him and they were stored in a house boat in Minnesota. What this shows conclusively is that Eisenhower was intimately involved in writing the speech from the get go. Almost everything about the speech changes from the first draft except the passages on the military industrial complex.

Moderator introduces Thomas Powers, writer of The Killing of Crazy Horse. What brought you to this story after your long history of studying the CIA?

Thomas Powers: One of the reasons I was attracted to Crazy Horse was that it didn't have any nuclear weapons in it. I stumbled across it while at the Custard battlefield at Little Big Horn field in 1994. If any of you have been there and stood on Custard Hill, you look out to the South and see a string of crosses heading out in your direction. The drama of it is very vivid and you can feel the impetuous flight of these soldiers who fell. You see roughly what Custard would have seen or what the Indians who were attacking him would have seen. The only difference is a train in the middle distance that leaves once a day with coal. ... The tribe that came with Custard inherited the battlefield, in effect. Writing a book about Crazy Horse required a lot of literary decisions that I had never had to deal with before in my life, the biggest was what kind of book was I trying to write? Telling a story, or describing, explaining and judging of large and complicating things. But the thing that drew me to history originally was the compelling nature of stories that wouldn't let you go. I decided that's what I wanted to do. It was an incredible cast of characters...the killing of Crazy Horse which took place in 1877 was in some ways a minor event, but had a devastating effect on Souix Indians. They resent it and there are still factions that were happy with it and whose ancestors did what they could to make sure Crazy Horse didn't survive that day. ...I had to make a decision that went deeply against my own nature: I love to explain complicated things; I love to judge things...I had to develop the discipline to just not do that, to just allow the narrative to tell the story. For those of you who are interested in writing history or writing narrative about the real world, I encourage you to read the ancient authors...particularly Thucydides on the Peloponnesian Wars and Josephus on the Jewish Wars and Plutarch on the ancient life of Caesar. The Jewish War involved among other things the siege of the city of Mosada.

Custard was a hero of the Civil War and at a certain moment he divided his forces and started down the river to attack the Sioux villages. His scouts told him that the Sioux village was the biggest Indian village around and tried to tell him not to attack the village until reinforcements arrived. Exactly what happened after he attacked is difficult to discern. None of Custards troops survived, though several thousand Indians survived and lived to recount the story. You're in a position to understand what did happen. The battle that ensued was decided at a certain point by Crazy Horse. When the military determined that, they decided that Crazy Horse was a dangerous man who had to be killed...

James Jesus Angleton taught me how to hold multiple accounts in my head at the same time. He was the head of the CIA. ...explained how to create a deep chrono, a deep chronology. Put all accounts into chronological order and makes it difficult to hide a secret event. Basically, what I did was take all sources, with all contradictions and without judgment in chronological order...

A series of moments in the last hours of Crazy Horse's life from his fatal wounding to the hours later when he died...as soon as he realized the army had broken every single promise to him, he made an effort to break free which was impossible to do since he was surrounded by 1,000 soldiers...a soldier pierced him with a bayonet through his back, which seems to have pierced his kidney and his lung....rather than make an attempt to make a decision between different accounts of the moment of his wounding, I put them all in, but briefly and only the things where the detail was not as important as the dramatic moment. ...I wanted to capture some of the intensity and rapidity with which events unfold.

The accounts are in English now. The accounts were given in Lakota and transcribed at the scene by people who grew up with Lakota as their first language. ...I never considered writing a traditional biography, because I wanted to understand the answer to the question, why'd they kill him? Over time, the question in my mind became why did Crazy Horse let them do it?

Question: Obama is compared to Eisenhower, do you have an opinion?
Jim Newton: Haven't heard the comparison much, but it is a reasonable comparison. Eisenhower confronted the Suez Crisis in 1956 and to the amazement of the Third World sided with Egypt over Britain and France. Eisenhower is a great example of governing from the middle.

Question: Mr. Newton, I've heard for a number of years that the phrase "military industrial complex" included "Congressional," is that true?
Newton: The phrase "military industrial Congressional complex," is given and said to have been considered, but doesn't exist in any of the drafts of the text. It is a friendly farewell to the Congress. I think it would have upset the tone he was trying to set.

Question: In regards to Earl Warren, in his decision in Brown v. Board of Education was as much an apology for what he had done to the Japanese in internment and why he wanted to get a unanimous decision.
Newton: I don't think that's right. I agree that many people frame it that way. I think he thought he did the best he could in a pressing national security environment with Japanese internment. His memoir published posthumously is the only place he mentioned regret. He wrote "I have come to regret," and his publisher added "I have come to deeply regret." ...It is to Warren's lasting credit that he created a unanimous decision.

Question: How do you decide when to use your opinion or suspend judgment when writing history?
Powers: When you're working in a field of this kind, you have to start with a suspension of judgment. Just hold back and listen to what makes you feel uncomfortable. I was forming judgments all the time, but I wanted the text to be a text of narrative, rather than a text of judgment.

Powers: Crazy Horse elected to trust what he was told until the moment when he couldn't trust it anymore.

Newton: Eisenhower felt it was important to build an arsenal and never use it. I don't think he saw it as bolstering the military industrial complex. What he was concerned about, as time had gone on, we no longer had the ability to convert civilian industries into arms industries and it was the permanent nature of the arms industry that he was concerned about. One of the things that motivated him around all this was the ads that the military industry took out in aerospace magazines. ....One of the very first speeches of his presidency was The Chance for Peace speech...the military industrial complex was not a late development in his presidency.

Newton: Eisenhower chose to see the decision in Brown v Board of Education as an order from the court that he had to obey.

Posted by cj at April 30, 2011 2:00 PM


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