The Score: Recycling History
This week on The Score: Summer vacations bring summer reading, so we talk to various authors about books they have written about history. Our topics include early America, Prohibition, World War II, and what goes on behind the scenes at the White House.
Like many people this time of year, the team at The Score is taking it easy. Last week we had a number of interviews with authors of biographies of famous people. This week we dig into the archives to hear some conversations I have had with historians and authors of books about history. Some of these interviews have never been heard before on the radio (or, for that matter, in a podcast).
Jews in Virginia
First, however, with the second anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Charlottesville in August 2017 just a couple of days away, we remember how one of the targets of the white nationalists was the local Jewish community. The threat to the city’s lone synagogue was palpably felt and in their torchlit march on the University of Virginia grounds, they ominously chanted “Jews will not replace us!”
University of Virginia historian Phyllis Leffler gave a lecture on the history of Jews in Virginia and Charlottesville late last fall (see these YouTube videos). This interview with her originally ran on The Score on November 24, 2018.
Phyllis K. Leffler is author of Black Leaders on Leadership: Conversations with Julian Bond (2014), Public History Readings (1990, with Joseph Brent), and Public and Academic History: A Philosophy and Paradigm (1991, also with Joseph Brent). You can follow her on Twitter at @PhyllisLeffler.
Drinks in D.C.
Historian Garrett Peck is a prolific author whose most recent book, The Great War in America: World War I and Its Aftermath, was published last December. Our interview with him on that subject appeared October 27, 2018.
In this conversation, drawn from the archives, I talk to Garrett about his book, Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren’t, which was published in March 2011. It should come as no surprise that the Members of Congress who imposed alcohol Prohibition on ordinary citizens were unlikely to obey the law themselves.
Three things struck Peck as surprising as he conducted his research.
One was the “size of the brewing industry before Prohibition,” in Washington, he said, “which was huge, and then seeing it just collapse with Prohibition. That was really surprising.”
He also wrote a chapter on African-Americans in Washington during Prohibition.
Nobody, he pointed out, had previously written about that community, “because the press was segregated at the time.”
That lack of coverage had the result, Peck said, that the chapter on Washington’s African-American neighborhoods absorbed “about half of my research time, just trying to come up with an answer to, ‘What did black people think about Prohibition?’”
The difficulty of researching that topic “really surprised me,” he said.
The third surprise he found were the “back-to-back stories of Rufus Lusk and George Cassiday,” which came out in the press “within about a month of each other” in the fall of 1930. Lusk, who founded a real estate records firm that still bears his name, had published a map of Washington showing all the speakeasies in the city, meant to demonstrate how ineffective Prohibition enforcement was.
Cassiday “spilled the beans about bootlegging in Congress” in a series of articles for the Washington Post. That, together with Lusk’s map, Peck explained, “just had a huge impact for the wet cause and helped shift the country towards repeal” of Prohibition, which finally came in December 1933.
I spoke to Garrett Peck at the Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, D.C., which is now a museum. Peck is also the author of Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C. (2014) and The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet (2009), among several others. You can find him on Twitter as @garrettpeck.
1979 and All That
It’s hard to believe that it has been forty years since 1979, a year of great upheaval with revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua, the visit of Pope John Paul to Poland and the rise of the Solidarity movement, and the beginning of economic liberalism in China.
All this and more is chronicled by Christian Caryl in his book, Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century, which was published in March 2014.
I spoke to Caryl, a veteran journalist and foreign policy analyst, in May 2014, about six weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing. At the end of the interview, he talks about an article he had written about the Tsarnaev brothers who committed that crime.
Caryl, who is a fluent Russian speaker, explained that he had “talked to people who knew the Tsarnaevs extremely well – indeed intimately, I would say.”
He also “examined their websites [and] their use of social media in some detail.”
That led him to conclude that “we’re dealing with perhaps something of an outlier” among terrorist groups and individuals.
“In many respects,” Caryl said, the Tsarnaevs’ “case is so unusual and so different that we may not see exactly this same configuration in the future.”
What he found “quite striking,” he said in the interview, as well as “perhaps very threatening,” is the existence of “lone-wolf terrorists who form their convictions almost in isolation from people around them.”
Christian Caryl is also the author of Building the Dragon City: History of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Hong Kong. He is on Twitter as @ccaryl, as is @StrangeRebels.
As I noted, this week we are recycling interviews with interesting people who have written about history.
After a panel discussion at the 2015 Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, I spoke to Burstein about his then-new book about Thomas Jefferson. It has the unwieldy title of Democracy’s Muse: How Thomas Jefferson Became an FDR Liberal, a Reagan Republican, and a Tea Party Fanatic, All the While Being Dead.
Earlier this year, we had the pleasure of hosting Craig Shirley on The Score, when he talked about the most recent volume in his series of books about Ronald Reagan. You can hear that interview in our episode of March 4, 2019.
At the 2014 Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Craig appeared on a panel to discuss his book about World War Two called December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World.
To research the material that ended up in the book, Shirley explained he “cast as wide a net as possible. We went to all the Roosevelt materials and uncovered documents that hadn’t been reported on previously. We went through [Secretary of War] Henry Stimson’s papers at Yale, we went through [Secretary of State] Cordell Hull’s papers.”
Shirley and his research team also explored “Eleanor Roosevelt’s papers and diaries, all the White House documents we could get our hands on, all the War Department” documents that were available.
“On top of all that,” he said, he looked at memos, diaries, and “thousands and thousands of newspaper articles” as well as “shortwave dispatches because at the time, CBS and NBC both had shortwave commercial broadcast stations and so the transcripts of those shortwave broadcasts” are archived.
Newspapers were a particularly rich source of information.
“There were some reporters and columnists who were just terrific and I like to use their material. It’s interesting that there probably wasn’t a newspaper reporter in 1941 who wasn’t an excellent writer. They were all very good writers.”
In 1941, there were about 2,000 daily newspapers across the country, Shirley explained, compared to about 500 today. New York City had nearly 20 daily newspapers, he said, “including ethnic papers, [like] Polish papers. Washington, I think, had seven daily newspapers at the time.”
Craig Shirley is on Twitter as @CraigSbpa.
How Many Divisions?
Francis Rooney is currently a Republican congressman from Florida, but when I spoke to him in March 2014, he had recently finished a term as the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, known formally as the Holy See.
He was appointed by President George W. Bush to that position and later wrote The Global Vatican: An Inside Look at the Catholic Church, World Politics, and the Extraordinary Relationship between the United States and the Holy See.
Rooney also pointed out how the Vatican also is the locus of a worldwide human intelligence network, something that may be unparalleled elsewhere. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, he recalled, said the Catholic Church has “one of the greatest information gathering networks in the world.”
“One of the unique aspects of the Holy See is their global network of priests, nuns, NGOs. We get so much information from them,” he said, adding that there are “millions of vignettes of Holy See information surprising the United States in its, in what they’ve been able to find out.”
He gave the example of when Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, then the Vatican Secretary of State, visited President George H.W. Bush in the Oval Office.
When the meeting took place, Rooney said, Casaroli had just been told by some nuns “about a bridge being blown up in Lebanon.” This was pertinent because the United States and the Holy See had been working together to unify Lebanese Christians. Bush and Casaroli looked at a map together, with the cardinal pointing out where the missing bridge had been located.
The president was unaware of this information, so he called the CIA, which also had not learned about it. “How do they know that?,” the CIA asked.
Congressman Rooney is on Twitter as @RepRooney.
Inside the White House
The next couple of interviews go behind the scenes at the White House.
First comes Melinda Bates, who served longer than any other person as director of the White House Visitors Office. She spent eight years in that post during the Clinton administration.
After so many years on the White House staff, Bates called herself “the ultimate White House insider” and wrote a book called White House Story: A Memoir.
Bates and Bill Clinton were classmates at Georgetown University, and that’s where I interviewed her in June 2011, during alumni weekend. Melinda Bates is on Twitter as @melindabates.
Our second look backstage at the White House comes from veteran journalist Ronald Kessler, author of In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect, which was published in August 2010.
I spoke to Kessler at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2011. He is on Twitter as @RonaldKessler.
Although I’m taking a few days away at the beach midweek, The Score will be back next Saturday with some new interviews, including a chat with returning guest Daniel DiMartino about Venezuela and another on a First Amendment lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice against the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. And there may be some surprises in store.