Harrison Evans Salisbury discusses his book "A Time of Change"
BROADCAST: Mar. 18, 1988 | DURATION: 00:51:06
His experiences as a journalist are what's covered in Harrison Evans Salisbury's book, "A Time of Change: A Reporter's Tale of Our Time". Salisbury believed as a reporter, one truly needed to be at the event, in order to obtain the true story. Once Salisbury questioned if he was living in America because he was asked to switch rooms at a hotel in Birmingham, only to find out later that there were special, bugged rooms for reporters.
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Harrison E. Salisbury "I did not believe and I do not now in the armchair expert, the scholarly dilettante. To analyze you have to have a fresh eye or draw a little blood and possess a seat of the pants look. Now, out of Warsaw, out of Budapest, out of Tirana, I begin to sketch for myself a broader horizon. The whole of the communist world from the Elba, to the Bering Strait. If I could score a hat trick in Eastern Europe, why not in Asia, China, Mongolia, Korea, Indochina, just beginning to emerge from the distant thunder of Dien Bien Phu. And somehow I would have to squirm between the barbed wire and get back inside Russia. This I thought made sense. Side by side, I would continue a healthy diet of grassroots America. You could not, I had become convinced, write from Kabul, Vinh Tien, Pyongyang, or Sofia with understanding unless you knew what was playing on Broadway and the price of wheat in North Dakota. If the cry 'Yankee go home' arose in Berlin, you had to know why they were shouting 'Yankee go home' in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It was, like it or not, and I didn't pretend to like it very much, one world."
Studs Terkel And that is a passage Harrison Salisbury's reading from his new memoir, "A Time of Change: A Reporter's Tale of Our Time", published by Harper and Row. And I was- in that passage. Those are the places he has been to, the passage in which this journalist, this quite singular American journalist really says you've got to be at that place your foot has to touch that ground, and not write about it in some armchair. That's been pretty much your credo and your life, Harrison, hasn't it?
Harrison E. Salisbury It is absolutely Studs. I honestly don't think that I'm so good at sitting back in the armchair and generalizing, but I do think that I'm pretty good at walking down the street and having my eyes open and my ears open and my nose open and giving you a report of what it is like right there.
Studs Terkel We speak of beginnings in Minneapolis and then your travels to Chicago during the Depression and prohibition days. Now as we pick it up in this book I realize, Harrison, that you have come through with more scoops, and the word isn't really scoop, with more revelations about the nature of the world and change, "A Time of Change", that's the key word --
Harrison E. Salisbury Change.
Studs Terkel Than any journalist writing in English. You were the first one to tell the world about the Chinese Soviet schism. We never dreamed of it. You were there, the first Western journalist I believe, certainly the first American journalist to be in Hanoi during the bombing. That with a revelation that stunned the country. You tell us more about Russia than anybody writing in English today. You were the correspondent there. This is Harrison Salisbury's credentials, just a few of them, and you were the first one, it just occurred to me, to write about street gangs in Chicago within our time in "The Shook-up Generation". And you rode a garbage truck to tell about the sanitation in New York. So it's always been there at the, in the heart of things.
Harrison E. Salisbury I think the only way to do it, Studs. When I came back from Russia and I had been trying to report Russia in the way we've been talking about, very difficult with the censorship and all the blinders they put on you and not being able to travel around. I came back and was able to report what accumulated in the Stalin years and wrote that and then I was assigned to the city room and I wasn't very happy about that. I thought, Gee after all this I ought to have maybe, oh, the White House assignment, or the Senate, or maybe Paris or London, but city desk it was. And I was given an assignment, which I learned later that my peers in the city room thought was a great take down. I was given an assignment to go out and cover for the umpteenth time the problem of clean streets in New York, because they were full of garbage and they're full of debris, and this had been done over and over and over again by the Times. And, I didn't realize that was a comedown, Studs. I went out and I was so happy to be able to walk down that street and see with my own eyes. No- no policeman following, no plainclothes men, no censor. I went down and I asked the sanitation department to let me ride a garbage truck right through the streets of New York, and I'm sure no Times reporter had ever been in a garbage truck before, but I rode it and it was a dream. It was a wonderful story and I had more fun with it than I'd had in years and the Times splashed it all over page one. It was the garbage story of all garbage stories, it has never been topped.
Studs Terkel See, what I like about that is not only did you do a story of garbage in New York City, but we found out what it's like to work on a garbage truck and to be the associate of the other guy, you found out about these guys. See there's always this revelation. But also we'll come to the way you open this particular memoir at a certain moment in our history. But before that, before that, then you decide to do other things in New York, you- you heard about a new development of street gangs. Now there have been street gangs throughout the decades but a new development post-war and in a place called Red Hook.
Harrison E. Salisbury Well and that was another one of these glorious assignments which came to me from this remarkable city editor of those days, Frank Adams, who didn't pretend to know how to cover any of these stories he'd give you something and say, See what you can do with that. He didn't know what you do with it. There had been a schoo- school teacher, a principal who had committed suicide when he was being pestered by a grand jury trying to find out why there was all this violence among the kids. Headlines all over and Frank said, See what you can do, what's what's behind this. Well I could have and I did. I went to the morgue first and looked at the stacks and stacks I mean everybody had investigated juvenile delinquency every sociologist in the country. The Times had been filled with everything. I said, The hell with that. I'm going to go over and I'm going to meet those kids on the street and see who they are, what they are, how they live, and what's behind it. Wasn't easy. They hung out in Red Hook, Brooklyn as they did in many other places. I went out to the street corner and met them, and for two nights I didn't say a word, they didn't say a word and then they broke down and they really opened up. It was like the floodgates they couldn't pour enough. I was an ear. There never been one in their whole lives and I wanted to hear. I was interested in them. They told me everything. Every crime they'd committed, it was a fantastic story.
Studs Terkel But more because it's Harrison Salisbury telling it, there's something else. And because you've been to other places in the world you saw in those boys, anti-social at that moment, a seeking for something that could make them worthy.
Harrison E. Salisbury Yes.
Harrison E. Salisbury There was a difference. These kids that were fighting the Viet Cong on the Viet Cong side in the war, or the ones that were in the tunnel war and all that sort of thing, exactly the same kids, they had the same reckless attitude toward life. They were ready to throw their life away, but they had leadership. They had leadership from the leaders of the North Vietnam side, they had a cause which was nationalism. They were fighting for their country. They were doing the same things which were being done with total disregard of any possible social results by the youngsters in Red Hook and many other places around the country.
Studs Terkel It's that aspect that because of that opening passage you read somewhere in the book, whether you like it or not, it's one world. You saw that, by the way no one knows more about Eastern Europe and the communist world than Harrison Salisbury, certainly not in the English language. And you saw that con- you connected every aspect. You saw they were the same kids.
Harrison E. Salisbury Well it was [actually? extraordinary?] for me I'd never been to Florence I knew nothing about the Renaissance, it shows how ignorant and badly brought up I was, I really didn't and I suddenly was plunged into Florence about three years ago and it just blew my mind, and I suddenly understood that Florence in the Renaissance was a revolution which beat all the revolutions of our day and to my extraordinary amazement I discovered that the, that the young men who fought that were the same street kids I had met over in Red Hook, there was no difference at all, they were reckless with their lives, they were fighting for a leader.
Studs Terkel I like this idea of you connecting one thing to another. Of course we also tend to forget that you are among the first of the journalists of the big time papers to cover the Civil Rights revolution in the South. So it's in Nashville for the sit-ins, and in Birmingham and earlier in that passage you read as someone some country graffiti on the walls "Yankee go home" so in the South you saw "Yankee go home".
Harrison E. Salisbury There was the same cry whether I was in Birmingham or Bucharest. It's fascinating that that that happened and this was another part of my discovery of America because I found when I came back having spent all those years discovering the Soviet Union, what made it tick, and I think I did a fairly good job on that. I came back and I'd been away from the United States. I was away all during the war and I hadn't been back very long before I went off to Moscow, and I didn't know my country and I didn't know these new social forces that were rising up, I knew nothing about the South, nothing about the Civil Rights struggle, and I found that not many people did, it just burst on us in 1960, that winter when these remarkably polite, remarkably well-dressed young black men who were in high school or in college quietly began to walk into drugstores and sit down on stools and ask for a cup of coffee. That was their revolutionary act, they asked for a cup of coffee. And of course they weren't served because, it's hard to believe now but, you couldn't have that kind of service sitting down if you were black. You had to stand up.
Harrison E. Salisbury Mmmm.
Harrison E. Salisbury Yeah, yeah. That was, that was incredible, Studs. I went to Birmingham and I thought I was in America and therefore I didn't have all of my tentacles vibrating as they would have been in Moscow, and I didn't take any heed of the fact that when I was shown to a room by, given a- by the bellboy, and then the room clerk called and transferred me to another room, I just was annoyed but I never thought there was anything significant about it. It wasn't until years later I discovered that ho- that hotel was bugged and there were special rooms for newspapermen and Civil Rights activists. That's why I was moved. I should have gotten a hint of that when, having reported that Birmingham was about to blow up, as it was, with the terrible tensions of the, of the oppression and Bull Connor who said, in his classic phrase, that he was not going to permit blacks and whites to segregate together, and then he went on to say that he would defend segregation in the past and now and forever. And he was doing it. And one of the things he was doing was to bug everybody and trail everybody who came into town and tried to find out what was going on there.
Studs Terkel Now we have to connect all your discoveries in the United States because tremendous changes since that moment, with all your discoveries in different parts of the world, the most exotic parts and parts where "A Time of Change" is what we're talking about. And the very fact you describe Birmingham then and now, "A Time of Change: A Reporter's Tale of Our Time" and Harper Row the Publishers, and after this message we got to resume with how you begin this book. A certain moment in American history and certainly in the, in the history of Harrison Salisbury too. After this message. [pause in recording] Resuming with Harrison Salisbury and his memoir which [as you?] point out the number of books and one can't forget your remarkable chronicle of the nine hundred days of the siege of Leningrad. And perhaps you can touch on that as we go along too. It's by way of, maybe just interject now parenthetical. You always had a mission of writers to visit the Soviet Union and they visit us and you were generous, invited me to join one group and at the hotel in Leningrad, we were there. The name of that hotel in Leningrad the one we were at? You were recounting the moment of June 22nd, 1941 along the main street the something Nevsky Prospect, is that it?
Harrison E. Salisbury Well you know Studs, Leningrad burned its way, seared its way into my mind, and my emotions, and my memories, are one of the most vivid things I have in my life. I- I will never forget that first vision of Nevsky Prospect when we arrived, the siege had just been lifted hardly lifted. It took us 24, 48 hours to get there by train going around and around and finally got there. Arriving in this station in which the windows had all- one of the old fashioned European stations with the glass roof, all blasted out and walking out and getting in a bus with the windows all frosted. It was cold as cold as Minnesota. And looking at Nevsky Prospect because I'd wanted to see it or what had happened to it in the bombardment and all that, in the siege, and scraping this frost off to get a little glimpse, and we drove down Nevsky Prospect. I couldn't see any destruction. I didn't know what had happened until I got out at the end at the Astoria Hotel and went back on that walking down the street and I suddenly saw that these buildings weren't all there but these are incredible people in Leningrad, these artists had painted the facade on canvas and put them up in the gaping holes so that they could all feel better that their Leningrad was still intact, even though great hunks of it had been blown away. And that was the street where, where the women had walked down in the siege with their pails to the ice hole where they got their water and then struggled back in the icy streets and many of them fell dead of exhaustion or frozen to death, before they got back to their unheated apartments where there was no light, no heat, no food. And upstairs there were perhaps three corpses frozen dead, frozen stiff in their apartment but they somehow had to maintain life, and they carried that water up and would break off little bits of the furniture and make a fire in the in a in an old gasoline tin or something to heat themselves a little bit and maybe boil a little water to drink.
Studs Terkel Something I'll never forget though. Before we leave that city and subject, you speak of a certain woman whose voice was heard. The importance a voice whether it be a song or words heard on the streets, Olga something. The one whose voice saved, lifted their morale and kept them going.
Studs Terkel Before we drop the shoe. We have to drop the shoe about your beginning of this memoir "A Time of Change". The obvious question to ask you, who knows as much about Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as anybody. With Gorbachev now, obvious changes, quite remarkable are being attempted there. [What's- Yes, sir?]
Harrison E. Salisbury The question about Gorbachev today is really will he survive. He has the right prescription. He took over a Russia which was in a state of destitute, going downhill, going downhill industrially, technologically, spiritually, on the decline headed not for the scrap heap, it's a big powerful country, but headed away from the peak period that it had been brought to, and knowing that the problem was in the system itself. And unless he could change that in some way and bring life and vitality back to it, which meant breaking the power of the bureaucrats, breaking the power of all these powerful office holders who would fight for their position rather than for their country, he couldn't win. So his battle really is first he has a program which is deriving a great deal from from the west from our system of doing things and some from Lenin's early days. And how is he going to browbeat, force these armies of bureaucrats, the party, the army, the civil service, the workers to adopt this methods which he thinks are necessary for their survival. I worry about him because I think it's in our interest that he win this struggle. I think that a frustrated Russia, a declining Russia, one where the men with the guns say to the political leaders, we can show you the way out of this hole, we can show you our guns, our weapons, our nuclear bombs, just as they did in 1969 when they almost went to war with China in order to gain Lebensraum as Hitler did and to get slave labor in China to help Russia. Fortunately, that didn't happen then and fortunately we must hope it won't happen this time because, if it does we and the world are in trouble.
Studs Terkel You mentioned China [unintelligible] we mentioned China. And here again you were on the spot. You were, you uncovered something that was quite stunned the world, that along the borders you saw the Soviet troops on one side Chinese on the other you said, there is a split here.
Harrison E. Salisbury That's right. I did say that and I had- I had irrefutable proof that the great alliance was a sham and was in shreds. I found that in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Outer Mongolia, about as far out of place as I have ever been or anybody's ever been when I went to a national holiday reception one day and found the Russians on one side of the room the Chinese on the other, not speaking to each other. I entered this room and I had to make a quick decision. Which side will I stand on? I couldn't go back and forth. I wouldn't stand on the Chinese side because they wouldn't speak to me. I'd seen them around the country and they demonstratively put their hands behind their backs and turned their face when I approached them. I thought that wouldn't be very comfortable. I went over to the Russian side where they greeted me very jovially, and one great big general, they all seem to be great big generals, insisted on drinking a toast to Soviet-American friendship and then he put his arm around my shoulder and said Mr. Salisbury, now don't you feel more comfortable on our side of the room? I knew the sides had been chosen, the alliance had been broken. Nobody makes a statement like that in Russia unless there's been something underlying it.
Harrison E. Salisbury Oh.
Studs Terkel Yes.
Harrison E. Salisbury Absolutely and I went back and I checked this thing out with other people and I found in no time that the event had happened, the two parties [had?] slipped together had split, and I went back and I reported that in a dispatch to the Times and the State Department laughed, it's impossible, it's a Gibraltar they never will split apart. The next year of course the polemics were out in the open and they begin to shake their heads and well you know Salisbury didn't get it quite right, but it is true.
Studs Terkel That's one that's one of Harrison Salisbury's hallmarks. You challenge established commu- fact, quote unquote, established truth you challenge it and because you touch the ground with your feet, Ulaanbaatar or Tirana, or wherever it might be you come up with something that no one else would have known. So that's the big thing. So now we come to something inter- ask about Gorbachev and the Soviet Union. And it's a change taking place. We hope he can make it. Unless you're a hard liner, I suppose the hard liners there need the hard liners here.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Harrison E. Salisbury Yup.
Harrison E. Salisbury Well that's absolutely true of course. Deng got there first the Chinese got to this point earlier unless you want to say that Khrushchev got there and they threw him out for his pains [cause?] I think Khrushchev had the same vision of what was wrong with Russia but he was a cruder man didn't handle the politics very well. But Deng Xiaoping coming in after the death of Mao, who was probably the most powerful man in the world, and certainly the most powerful man in China had seen for a long time. Deng was a survivor. He'd been cracked down by- by Mao. He'd been sent to prison, he'd been for years in a forced residence in a barracks out in Jiangxi and that some other of his colleagues who were Mao's associates in this enterprise of the revolution had also been there. And many of them had been killed. And when Mao died and these men got the power and they had to fight for it against the Gang of Four they were men of resolution who had been through hell and they were not going to have it again, and they had learned a great deal about revolution and dictators, and they knew that the revolution had succeeded. But the post-revolution had gone off the track. And this is what they were determined not to let happen again. And to make China live and make China advance, they tried what they thought was Communism and now Deng said, I'm going to try whatever it is we need. And first thing you know you'll get headlines in "The People's Daily" which is the "Pravda" of Beijing, saying, You aren't going to find all the answers in Karl Marx after all Marx lived 150 years ago. He didn't know what modern technology was. How could we get the answers from "Das Capital"? We have to find the answers where they exist. He didn't know anything about China and our problems. We look around the world and if we find them in America in the west, well fine. That's what we need. Let's not be rigid. And it's working. They're applying those things.
Studs Terkel Yeah, I was thinking because you're the one who knows you've been- you've been to China a number of times, and of course you and your wife Charlotte in John Stewart's service took so long you recreated, relived the long that remarkable five thou- five thousand?
Harrison E. Salisbury Yeah.
Harrison E. Salisbury I had to see it. I had to feel it. I had to experience or I couldn't write about it. Yes I could get all the data I could interview people and I did. But with- without the flesh and blood the really spirit of that, I couldn't write anything but a textbook and I went out and I experienced it. I didn't walk 6,000 miles like those 16 and 17 year-olds, if I'd tried to do that I would be dead. I wouldn't be here. But I went by Jeep and I experienced many of those things. I saw where they were. I talked to them about their experiences and then we got out and we walked some of these patches just so I could feel the utter exhaustion, the terrible sacrifice that these people went through every day. And I hope I got some of that in the book.
Studs Terkel What we have to also for we take our next break. The book is filled with side chat, we're talking about "A Time of Change", the continuation of the memoirs of Harrison Salisbury. Who I call the roving correspondent of our day. And it's a report subtitled report of now or- a reporter or- "A Reporter's Tale of Our Time". In between the chapters there's remarkable people. You had to meet naturally and so of course there's Madame Sun Yat-sen, Qingling Song she was one of the three daughters of the banker. The sister believe it or not of Madame Chiang Kai-shek .
Harrison E. Salisbury She was something, she was something else. She was one of the most remarkable women I have ever met. One of the most remarkable people I've ever met. The daughter of Charlie Song, Charlie Song. A Chinese who was bought over- came over here- was shipped over at the age of 16-17. Worked for his uncle in Boston who had a grocery store his uncle thought he was the brightest young man he'd ever seen. He wanted him to go to work in a partnership with the store. Instead of that he took a different trail. He loved America and he loved the Methodist Church, which helped him a great deal and he went back to China as a bible salesman of all things. And he sold enough Bibles to become a great entrepreneur, a millionaire, an industrialist, and a great supporter of the Chinese revolutionary movement of that day Sun Yat-sen's movement. And sure enough his daughter Song Qingling married doctor Song,at the age she was only 16 or 17 and he was quite a lot older. It was a great scandal in the Methodist Church Missionary circles, I'll tell you. But anyway she had she really had spirit and wisdom and faith. And when he died she carried on she spent her whole life living in his cause supporting the cause of change in China, whether it was communist change, whatever it was she was for it. And she wound up the Vice President of communist China at the time when her sister Madame Chiang Kai-shek was the wife of the leader of nationalist China. It only could happen I think in China you get these close family interconnections and all that sort of thing, and we had- I had been writing to Madame Song for years before I ever got to know her or got to China and met her and as soon as we got there Shaw and I went to dinner at her house and we- it was opening a whole new world. To me this marvelous, sophisticated, tough, realistic, woman who had very little, no use at all for the Cultural Revolution. Not too much use for Mao. But a great affection and understanding of Zhou Enlai of the greatest men I've ever met.
Harrison E. Salisbury He is one of my great heroes and one of the few things perhaps I share with Hen- Henry Kissinger who also thought of him as an extraordinary man, and a diplomat he most liked to negotiate with because of his enormous skill. He was- he was just one of the the quintessence of- of diplomacy. And I fell under his spell and I don't know a single American, certainly not a correspondent, and there were many of them who knew him far better than I in the days before during World War II. And Chongqing and Yunnan and he delighted all of us and he continued to delight me. But there is a central enigma about that man which I have not been able to resolve and I- I write about this in the book and I wrote about it to some extent in "The Long March". This man who- who was, had a remarkable mind an understanding of people and events and causes and moves was Mao's right hand man from the days of the Long March until shortly before Mao's death and Zhou's death when Mao turned on him. He had to know every single thing that happened in the Cultural Revolution. He had to know what Mao was doing, what Jiang Qing his wife was doing, the horrible atrocities they were perpetuating on people who were very close to Zhou. How did he put up with this and why didn't he seize the moment and there was a moment when he could have seized the power in and come out on top. I've talked to his best friends, I've talked to many of them about it. And I cannot get to the root of that. I don't know whether I ever will. But it is it is an enigma which lies in Chinese and world history and I would like I'd like to puzzle it out.
Studs Terkel As you say that, Harrison Salisbury, we have to shift to another subject. The reason is, you've covered so much of the world of our time. The twenty or so books and everyone to me a definitive book on that very theme, whether it be the Sino-Soviet dispute or Russia following World War II or Vietnam, and we'll would come to that in a moment. The book this one by the it reads like a house afire reads like a novel of course, does it and it's called "A Time of Change". The latest book of Harrison Salisbury, "A Reporter's Tale of Our Time" Harper and Row. Also has a lot of the backstage stuff going on in the battle for power in the office of the "New York Times" too, and that was a book of yours too, "Go Without Fear or Favor". So there's an awful lot in this book as in your life. We will resume after this message. [pause recording] And now resuming with Harrison Salisbury, we come to the beginning of the book a certain moment you decided again to touch the ground, to go to Hanoi the Vietnam what we're talking about '60-?
Harrison E. Salisbury Something funny did happen. Something funny that wasn't funny at all, it was very serious and even dangerous, happened. I went to Hanoi and I reported what really any schoolchild who knows much about war would have understood that the bombs, which Lyndon Johnson said he was dropping only on steel and concrete, actually were falling on people and houses and they were falling right in Hanoi where he said we were not bombing at all. And I reported this and it was not big bombing for heaven's sakes, I'd seen big bombing in World War II in London. It was small bombing that wouldn't have rated a headline out of Germany, out of Poland, out of Russia, any of those places. But since Johnson had said we weren't doing it, and I went in and saw with my own eyes that we were doing it and reported it. It just- it blew the smoke stack and everybody around the world were excited and amazed and outraged by this. And of course Mr. Johnson who was down on his Texas ranch for a pleasant Christmas vacation, and the Pentagon which was moving along in this war very nicely were outraged, and they levied a volley of attacks on me and on the "New York Times" because they couldn't really dispute what I was reporting. They hadn't been there and I had and I saw it. So they called me Hanoi Harry and they called the "Times" the new Viet- North Vietnam Times, and used a lot of rhetoric and things of that kind. And they created a real firestorm and even some of my colleagues on the "Washington Post" joined in this course of attack on me and I got word from my editor Clifton Daniel, who had sent me over in the first place to get back to New York and not to talk to the press on the way. I was then in Hong Kong, and I hopped a plane and my colleague Wally Turner arranged for me to slip through San Francisco without meeting the press. And he did something I never expected to see myself doing in my life. He arranged for me to be lifted up on the food elevator, which was supplying the plane to New York and I came up with a hot lunch and got my seat and the reporters didn't get to me although they were very angry. They knew I must be on that plane. They were terribly angry. One of them even broke into the plane. A young man, his hair kind of wild, his eyes wild, and he said, I know he's got to be here. I was slumped down in my seat so he wouldn't see me. I felt terrible about that because I knew how he felt. I'd been in his place so many times when people tried to keep me from getting to the scene, keep me from getting to that person and I almost shouted out, Here I am, but I restrained myself. And I got into New York and I found that it was just as bad, my colleagues actually, Tom Wicker had told me in San Francisco that Lyndon was out for my blood. It was a lynching party and he said, if- if he could drop one of his precision bombs on 229 West 43rd Street which is the "Times" office, he'd like to do it. But he didn't do it.
Studs Terkel Well, to me, you see, it's some of the press and you. This is the point, at a certain moment of hysteria of sometimes accepting the official report, which you never do. You want to be there. You touch that ground and you came back with something that challenged officialdom. A great many go along, and they looked upon you as- as--
Harrison E. Salisbury I don't think so, I don't think we, I don't think we learned that. There are two things which were very ironic about my return from Vietnam in the first place. I had what amounted to a secret message from Pham Van Dong, the Premier of North Vietnam, only for Lyndon Johnson. And the essence of that was that that if Lyndon would stop bombing, they would deal. Now that's a very very important message. [pages turning] Totally secret and I had to see the President give it to him, and I never did get to see it because he wasn't going to have any truck with me, I finally did deliver the message to Dean Rusk. The other thing which is important that I had really had to sent out from Hanoi was that I had gone to a little textile town called Nam Din.
Harrison E. Salisbury Woman mayor, who told me about the American bombing there and gave me the figures on it, showed me the bombing places and we actually were in an air raid shelter in that town when the American bombers came over and fortunately did not drop any bombs but it gives you a rather queasy feeling. I reported this, in the campaign to discredit me and the Times, they said they found an old Vietnamese pamphlet which used the same figures as I had reported on the casualties Nam Din. They were very small actually. So ah there he is, he's just carrying commie propaganda. Well, of course this was about as ridiculous as you could imagine but it was the old red cry and it some of that smear rubbed off on me. When I was preparing to write this book I made one of those discoveries which just delight the heart of a reporter, I think of almost anybody in that kind of a situation, I found in declassified documents of the CIA a report on Nam Din. They had picked Nam Din in as a case study in the effectiveness or non-effectiveness of American bombing, and they had done it because they found the figures which I reported and which were simply the official Vietnamese figures on casualties, so accurate, so precise, so consistent, with the after-raid debriefings of the American pilots with the photography and everything that they said, Well this is marvelous, we have all this information. In addition to which they had gotten from from a secret agent among the commies. A report from him which also supported this, so this was exactly by chance, I had hit on the on the class case which showed that our bombing was not very good. And they used that in their study. Well I report that in this book and I must say with a certain degree of pleasure but I only wish I'd known it at the time.
Harrison E. Salisbury Yeah.
Harrison E. Salisbury It doesn't work. Strategic bombing, the classic study came after World War II and we, which we, the study showed that in spite of those thousands and tens of thousands of bombs we dropped on Germany, their oil production was up at the end of the war over what it had been. Their transportation system was still running I don't know how. All the critical areas they'd managed to preserve in spite of the bombing.
Harrison E. Salisbury Yes.
Harrison E. Salisbury My colleagues, the editors of the papers, my dispatches were submitted to them and they voted unanimously to give the prize to me. But the publishers of the papers, many of whom comprise the advisory committee, took it away by a six to five vote and it was on clear [troll?] or anti support of the Vietnam war. And then it went up to the trustees of Columbia University and they divided again six to five the same way.
Studs Terkel Which leads to a big question we have to ask this because that's also touched on in the book. But I'd like to ask this question. You said that the publishers did it. We hear this as it's the humorous it's the gag of the century that the media, the press that is left inclined, which I think is the joke of the century isn't it?
Harrison E. Salisbury It really is funny because the press is and has been and they used to cover, I well remember in the elections when the Democrats were in power that always it would be a survey of the newspapers to show how many were supporting the Republican and how many the Democrat. It was overwhelmingly Republican, something like oh in a ratio of 300 to two. And that still prevails, if not even more so. Yet, the shibboleth goes out that the press is liberal eastern elitism. It's the same thing that that fellow. What is his name? Agnew remember him? Agnew he used to be vice president?
Harrison E. Salisbury Mmmm.
Harrison E. Salisbury That I suppose was the wildest chapter really of my life being in Chicago in '68. And I know you were here too Studs. It was incredible the explosion that occurred, and it was it was it took everyone I think more or less by surprise even though we knew the different elements in it. I had not believed Lyndon Johnson when he said that he was bowing out of the presidential race. I thought that there was going to be a demand at the convention that he.
Studs Terkel Mmmm.
Harrison E. Salisbury Reemerge.
Studs Terkel Mhmmm.
Harrison E. Salisbury In and take the leadership banner and I thought that Mayor Daley was going to lead that. And I still think that that was the scenario which they had cooked up because, when I when I inspected the stadium where the convention was held that somebody opened a, a great store room and it was just filled with Johnson for President posters and stickers and everything ready for that great celebration. But events took a different course and that was because of the terrible division in the country. All the opponents of the war flooded into Chicago and the Secret Service would not let Mr. Johnson come to that birthday party. You remember that Daley was going to give him in Soldier Field and he couldn't come and he couldn't come near Chicago and everything went awry. And then first thing you knew the town simply erupted and I had one of the fights in my life to try and persuade my editors in New York that this was really happening, that the police were shoving their way right into the Hilton Hotel, in the bar breaking the plate glass window, chasing people in and clubbing them left and right in the hotel.
Studs Terkel You know also we have to jump around because of your adventures. Khrushchev-Nixon meeting and you were there. There is a passage here. How can you read it? It involves the use of the four letter word excrement. It's an exchange with Nixon and Khrushchev. Do you mind if I read it now?
Harrison E. Salisbury Yeah.
Studs Terkel "Nixon conceded that he didn't like Communism but as for Capitalism, well he had grown up a poor boy working in a small orchard doing all the chores. Khrushchev snorted. He, Khrushchev, had grown up the poorest of the poor. He had walked barefoot, he had had no shoes. He had shoveled S to earn a few kopeks. Nixon shot back that he'd been poor and barefoot too and had shoveled S. What kind of S? Khrushchev demanded. Horse S! Nixon said. That's nothing, Khrushchev replied. He had shoveled cow S loose, runny, stinking cow dung. It got between your toes. I too shoveled cow S, Nixon said tightly. Well, Khrushchev grumbled, maybe Nixon had shoveled cow S once or twice but he, Khrushchev, had shoveled human S. That was the worst. Nixon couldn't top that. He came out of the Kremlin in an angry trance. If this was the way Khrushchev started how would he finish the visit?" Now that to me is that- that's true?
Harrison E. Salisbury That's literally true. This happened as I and a few other reporters were sitting on the marble steps of the Kremlin of the Kremlin Palace where we watched Mr. Nixon go in for what he thought was going to be a five or ten minute political visit in which he would simply say a few polite words, Khrushchev would say a few polite words and he would emerge into that marvelous sunshine that morning. He didn't come and he didn't come and he didn't come and we couldn't understand what had happened and when he emerged he had very tight lips and tight lips and a look on his face. I should have known something had happened but I didn't know Mr. Nixon very well and it was a year before I discovered what really had happened.
Harrison E. Salisbury Yes. [laughter] That's a good thing to remember Studs, that you know behind the screen all kinds of things happen that we don't know about. It is our duty as reporters to find out what happens that we haven't been told.
Studs Terkel That precisely of course where your value lies. Harrison E. Salisbury "A Time of Change" is the book. But have one last lap as we come forth after the message, and the subtitle is "A Reporter's Tale of Our Time" and indeed it is it's a saga and Harper Row published it and after this message we'll resume. [pause in recording] And so we enter we go into the last lap Harrison. I'm thinking about the adventures. You've discovered something in Ulaanbaatar, Outer Mongolia. Tremendous event. You discovered something in Hanoi involving perfidy of sorts and brutishness, you discover something in the south, you discover something out in Eastern Europe, and throughout there are these and again these people you met whether it be Madam Sun Yat-Sen or Zhou Enlai or Anna Louise Strong of whom you obviously know a little. Perhaps a word about her because throughout are these individuals aren't they?
Harrison E. Salisbury Of course there are. Absolutely. History really you know the Marxists and some of our historians have, Marxists say it's based on economics. Some of our modern historians say it's based on statistics. I insist that the role of the individual and the personality is still dominant.
Harrison E. Salisbury The element of chance. And here is a man who was supposed to be a Marxist and he emphasizes the element of chance and I must say history as I have seen it - and God knows I haven't seen a lot but I've seen some - the element of chance again and again comes up. I mean who could guess in the duel between Stalin and Hitler that Stalin would refuse to believe that Hitler was going to attack him?
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Harrison E. Salisbury It almost lost the war for Stalin. Who could believe that Hitler attacking Russia would in defiance of all military law split his army into three parts and send each one of them to different goals and miss all them?
Studs Terkel Yeah. The aspect of chance again. You know, Wilfred Owen, a World War I poet, spoke of chance as strange arithmetic. Why one guy survives when you still lead the group as you do every year of American writers to exchange thoughts with the Soviet writers we met this marvelous man, who you knew of course Grigory Baklanov.
Studs Terkel Who wrote about World War II, was in it. He spoke of one millimeter separated. His grandchild doesn't know he would might not have been there ever were it not for one little millimeter that might come closer. So. So you're saying in the big political battles that change the world, the aspect of chance.
Harrison E. Salisbury I believe very much that we all should see that picture again and again. That's this Japanese film came out some years ago about actually a Japanese fairy tale or legend traditional story. And we see before our own eyes a murder occur and we see the victim and we see the murder, perfectly plain and simple. But then in the next scene we see another version of this and we are convinced by this that the man that we thought had killed the victim was not indeed the murderer. It was another person. And then in the next scene we see another person who clearly was the murderer. And then we finally come to the final scene in which grave doubt is cast, not only on the on the victim, but that a murder ever occurred [pages turning]. Now this is an extreme example but this is actually the way events occur in human life and newspaper reporters should learn this with their very first assignment when they go out to cover a traffic accident and three or four different people each have their own version of what happened. We as readers, we as consumers of news and events, begin to lose sight of this fact that it depends on where you sit what you see.
Studs Terkel You have just come up, it seems to me, with the way perhaps for this hour to wind up. I was wondering how to wind up the hour with Harrison Salisbury. There's so much you've covered. And that's his very point. Each one sees a certain vantage point. So we hear this phrase objectivity is lacking in your dispatch I say, Oh get lost because there ain't no such animal.
Harrison E. Salisbury There isn't. We each bring our own prejudices. I bring my prejudices into everything that I write and if I'm writing something controversial, if I want to be honest, as honest as I can be, I put my prejudices there on the line and say, Look I believe in this and this and this and this is how I saw it. And you take it against your own background.
Studs Terkel See what you've done in explaining this. Of course you come with certain notions and feelings, but you try to be as fair as you possibly can and covering all the facts. But to say you are objective, is to say you are a hollow vessel.
Studs Terkel Well, Harrison Salisbury, as you know it's always a delight to see you again. The book is "A Time of Change". Harrison Salisbury." A Reporter's Tale of Our Time", Harper and Row, and reads like a house afire. Any postscript? Any base we haven't touched?
Harrison E. Salisbury Oh Studs. We could go on, as you know, and sit here all day long and talk about things that stem out of "A Time of Change", or out of our lives because, you are an observer of human life and an interpreter. I'm an observer, let's say, of human events and try to interpret them and there every single thing we do teaches us a lesson or should.