CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview with Tom Brokaw
Aired May 9, 2002 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, NBC's Tom Brokaw with TV news in turmoil, is he holding steady in the anchor seat? And for how long? Tom Brokaw for the hour with your phone calls next on LARRY KING LIVE.
It's always a great pleasure to welcome Tom Brokaw to LARRY KING LIVE, the anchor and managing editor of NBC nightly news. His newest book is in trade paperback, he keeps on keeping on, doesn't he? An album of memories.
These are letters from "The Greatest Generation's" families.
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: It's the second set of letters, the first book I wrote about individuals who, men and women from all over America and representing all the different ethnic groups who participated in World War II in one way or another. It triggered an avalanche of letters. I wrote a book called "The Greatest Generation Speaks," they continued to come in. These are really remarkable letters because a lot of them are shared letters by children and their parents and other accounts. We divided them up by the theater of the war, the European theater and the Pacific theater.
KING: With a history of the war at the beginning.
BROKAW: It is a complete history of the war at the beginning so people will have an overview and have a sense of what went on.
KING: These were unsolicited letters?
BROKAW: Totally unsolicited. The letters continued to come in until unfortunately we had the anthrax attack in my office and we had to get rid of a lot of stuff. But the other archives that we were able to collect and privileged to do so, a lot of it we sent to Florida State. They've got a wonderful World War II archives down there, young students working on it.
I really did think it was important that these be published in a form that people forevermore could have a sense of what was going on. One of the nice things is that that was the generation that knew how to write letters. They were taught English composition in school.
KING: No e-mail.
BROKAW: They wrote beautiful long hand, and those skills stayed with them. KING: How long are you going to keep this bit going?
BROKAW: Well, I'm not going to do any more World War II books. No I am going to go on to other subjects I enjoy writing and I do think it's time to go on to other areas.
KING: Of course you'll admit, as we discussed last time, you've become as well-known in this field, the generation books, as you are as an anchor.
BROKAW: For some people more well-known, I think. I have said it's the single most gratifying experience I've ever had in my professional life, including all those great years in television. They're right up there side by side. But it did make me aware of the need to have the kind of connective tissue from generation to generation. The renewed interest after 9/11 and the experiences of the greatest generation has been very high indeed.
KING: Speaking of that, we've got so much discuss tonight and we'll read some of those letters for you later. An album of memories now out in paperback available everywhere.
That morning, 9/11, where were you?
BROKAW: I was at home, I just finished a workout and was getting ready to get showered and go to the office. And we have a young woman who used to work for me at the office, now does our personal secretarial stuff at home, and she yelled from downstairs, a plane has hit the World Trade Center.
Her husband is a cop, and I was immediately concerned about where he and on duty, and she told me and I took off thinking it was a small plane. I remember thinking it was such a beautiful day, it was clear and crisp and it was election day in New York. So in the way running through the lobby I said to one of my neighbors, I said, did you hear what happened? He said the election's not over already, is it?
I said no, no, a plane hit the World Trade Center. By the time I got a cab and headed downtown, the second plane, I heard the account of that happening, and it was a reporter I knew on radio, and he was describing it as an airliner. And other people at Washington Square park were describing the low flyover and I knew we had then been attacked. That there had been a terrorist attack.
KING: Did you also know the world had changed?
BROKAW: I knew the world had changed. By the time I got to the "Today Show" studios, they had been doing a remarkable job there, Katie and Matt, we had not been on the air, the three of us very long before, Jim McLeshefski (ph) came on from the Pentagon and said I don't want to alarm anyone, but we've just heard an explosion, here and the building has been rocked a little bit.
Of course it was the other airliner that had gone in there. At one point early in the proceedings I thought, you know, my role here is to try to put it in some context. I said this is the most serious attack on America in its history. Pearl Harbor was an attack on a military installation, Hawaii was not yet a state. It was the most serious attack within the continental United States. There is a terrible loss of life. We don't think it's over yet, and this will change us, and it has.
KING: After the anthrax situation we spoke on the phone, I called you with some concern, and you told me you were all right and everything. What was that like?
BROKAW: It was very unsettling, and it continues to be, because what is clear is that there's so much that we still don't know about anthrax. How it can be carried to other locations, how long it lasts, the spores have a long life span. What's the best treatment for it? The form in which they come. Some of them are vegetative as they described.
Now there's a belief that the postal workers were especially vulnerable because the anthrax in the letter for Leahy and Tom Daschle went through a sorting machine, it acted like a mill, it crushed the spores into a finer form and spilled out of those letters. So we're just not much prepared in this country for biological and of biological terrorism and biological warfare.
KING: Were you scared?
BROKAW: I guess I wasn't scared. I was concerned, there was so much confusion. My assistant was given so much misleading information and waved off and told over the phone -- she kept saying, you're not looking at it, to people, we couldn't find a doctor who had ever seen a case of it, until we got her to the remarkable Kevin Cahill, who is this great new York doctor that you probably know, who has done a lot of work in tropical diseases and he was the first one who had ever seen anthrax, because he had worked a lot in Africa.
But even then the FBI and others waved us off the possibility. They kept saying it could be a brown spider of some kind. My assistant was remarkable during it all.
KING: Brokaw has traveled quite a bit since 9/11, he always does, right on top of the scene, and you were recently in Iraq.
BROKAW: I was.
BROKAW: I went to see what was going on there. The president and his advisers have obviously put Iraq, in a major way on the radar screen. They have said openly that they want to change the regime. The sanctions have been in place for about 10 years now. Nobody had been in there for a time.
I asked the Iraqi government for a visa, and after dealing with a lot of red tape we worked it out. I could only take in one camera crew and one producer and it is a long drive from Aman, Jordan across that desert, but it is the best way to get your camera crew and other technical needs that you have to get in there. It took about 11 hours to drive through the night to get there.
KING: What is the mood of the people there?
BROKAW: It was remarkable. It was quite calm, the people in the streets and I had quite a bit of freedom of travel. I didn't go outside of Baghdad, but I went into the markets, the mosques, I went to university, I went into cafes and other places to talk to people on the street.
Many of them were I think, those who had a political awareness, were feeling pretty confident because of what was going on in Israel. They thought the United States would now have to turn away from Iraq for a while and concentrate on that part of the world. I had nobody coming up expressing great anti-American resentment to me as an American.
But I had a lot of young people saying they were prepared to go to war against America tomorrow, they didn't like President Bush telling them how to lead their lives. These were people who grew up all of their lives with Saddam Hussein, so he, for them, was their leader. They said he's a good man, he's led us well. He's very canny about taking care of the middle class and others.
KING: He's popular.
BROKAW: I don't -- my line about Iraq is that you have to be careful. It's not what you see, it's what you don't see. Obviously he rules with an iron fist, it's a cruel regime. He executes those that don't do what he wants them to do. But most of the people that we were able to see in the streets seem to be getting along very well. They weren't coming up and cheering Saddam's name to me, but they were kind of getting on with their lives.
KING: What effect are the sanctions having on them?
BROKAW: Well, the sanctions have now all but collapsed in my judgment. There's some critical material they can't get for military purposes, but there's plenty of food in all the markets. I guess it's tougher in the rural areas, I was told that by some U.N. people that I ran into. He diverts a lot of stuff, everybody acknowledges that. But on the road between Amman, Jordan and Baghdad I counted, counted, a thousand large trucks coming and going loaded with all manner of material.
KING: Tom Brokaw the book "An Album Of Memories" published in trade paperback. As we go to break here's Tom with students in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW: What do you think about the suicide bombers? Would do you that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, why not?
BROKAW: You would put it on and go do that? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, for the sake of our religion and for the sake of our country we will do it. You will find many young people who ready to do it.
BROKAW: Do you talk among yourselves about the suicide bombers? Do you discuss that?
BROKAW: Yes. Yes, it's very courageous. We praise them. This is the only way to make them feel and to make them living in horror.
BROKAW: To make Israel live in horror.
BROKAW: So you approve of that?
BROKAW: Yes. It's the only courageous way to turn them out of the Palestinian country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Tom Brokaw. Now out in trade paperback is "An Album Of Memories." We're going to read some of those extraordinary letters for you later. You wanted to say something about that young man.
BROKAW: That young man who was so articulate, I went out to a university, they didn't know that I was coming, it was graduation day. I was able to just walk onto the campus and start engaging them in conversation.
That particular young man was very articulate. He used the language of President George Bush, he said the axis of evil is Israel and the United States. The president had not finished the phrase back here that Sharon was a man of peace before I heard it coming back to me because of Al Jazeera and all the other satellite programs that are out there. And they also said to me, we listen to Voice of America every night and practice out English to it.
So he said we want to go to war against the United States. He said I am going to join the army as soon as I can. I will fight the United States government. I said about but the government, it's the people. But I'm going to fight the policies and President Bush, I like the people. When the conversation broke up, he said to me, I love John Denver. Did you know John Denver. I said -- by chance, I did -- yes, I knew him.
He said what happened? I said, well, his plane had a fuel problem and he crashed and he died. He said I loved "Annie's Song" did you know them? I said in fact, when they were married, I did know the two of them. He said, would you do me a favor when you go back to America? Would you call Annie and tell her how much I love John Denver? And here is somebody two minutes before, ready to go across the horizon and go to war against the American troops.
KING: You were also in the Middle East. BROKAW: I was in I went out, I had a memorable couple of weeks. I went out was on the John C. Stennis (ph) the carrier that was on duty in the North Arabian Sea. Then I went to Beirut for the opening of the Arab League Summit meeting, then tragically the Passover bombing occurred in Netanya, and I went to Israel the next day and spent the next three days there.
KING: Is it important for the anchor to go out?
BROKAW: Well, it's important for me. I think the one thing that Dan, Peter and I always say about each other, which is true, you know, we came up as reporters and we've retained those credentials. I think it's -- when I went to Baghdad it was a difficult trip, and about halfway there I thought, is this worth while, I wonder? But I'm so glad I went because I was able to see firsthand and have I much keener appreciation of what's going on there, I like to think that means I can do my job better on a daily basis.
KING: Do you feel that when you are doing that?
BROKAW: Yes, I do.
KING: The old kid coming back?
BROKAW: Of course. Going to the studio every night at 6:30 is important obviously, but in many ways between 6:30 and 7:00 is the least exciting part of the day for me, because it's the part that you're just doing the performance part and getting it on the air. But it's putting it together, deciding what's going on, what form, getting out there, seeing people, kicking the tires.
KING: Events are happening every day, as we're on the air now there's expected to be some release of the militants in Bethlehem. As an overview do you see any light at the end of this tunnel?
BROKAW: I'm pretty anxious, Larry. I think this is a very difficult time. I think there are a lot of big plates moving around out there and I don't see where they are going to settle down any time soon.
If you just take objectively the conditions that exist in the world, you heard those young people that I've talked to in Iraq. We found similar groups in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Tom Friedman and the "New York Times" has been reporting the same kind of dialogue from Indonesia and other places he has gone.
That means there's an enormous undercurrent of anti-Americanism across the Muslim world, which is the largest faith in the world today and growing faster than any population group. Add to that the catalyst of what's going on between the Palestinians and the Israelis and our role in all of that and how that ignites other passions, I think we're in for a tough, long time.
People keep saying to me when are we going to get back to normal? I say this is it, this is the new normal. We know that airline security will change for a long time, the cost of security to corporations and other matters will effect our economy in one form or another, so I think we have to be prepared for a different world.
KING: Are those people in Iraq correct that this conflict is enough of a diversion to take focus away from them?
BROKAW: Momentarily. I think the president and Donald Rumsfeld and other advisers feel strongly and all the evidence indicates that they're absolutely right, that Saddam Hussein is a very dangerous man, that he's assembled in the past and would again if he were given the chance, dangerous weapons, chemical and biological and if he could probably a nuclear weapon.
There's some considerable evidence that he's been developing a longer-range scud missile called the Tamuj, that will go 400 miles. Guess where that reaches if he can drive the missile down the highway to the border with Jordan, it will get all the way to Israel. The inspectors who left and were kicked out of there say there are at least 10 warheads that had anthrax in them that are still missing.
KING: But the Arab nations are against us going there, right?
BROKAW: The ones that I talked to, certainly, and I've been talking to a lot of people behind the scenes about this obviously, and there's -- look, I think that it's fair to say that they -- they are not crazy about Saddam Hussein either. He's the one who invaded Kuwait and he causes a lot of grief for them when he's out there.
But the consequences of trying to remove him from power is what worries the Arab nations. Does it break up Iraq in a way that you've got 25 million people who are there spilling out across the borders going to other Arab nations and having Iraq divided in some fashion, with the Kurds, who are still in the north now, and we don't know who would replace him at this point. So it is as complex after I problem as we've had before the country in a long time.
KING: What was the aircraft carrier like?
BROKAW: It was fantastic. One of the great things about being a journalist is living this vicarious life and to go out and spend 48 hours on a nuclear-powered carrier, have access to all 11 levels and most of all to see these remarkable men and women who make it go, and there are many of them are so young, and they're the ones who get the planes ready and do the maintenance and they're working on all the electronic boards and they're working on the intel unit.
It's tough, it's noisy, it's crowded, it's going on 24/7. They've been at sea since November 15th at that point, not a whimper from any of them, a couple gripes about having to work a little overtime and then the best and brightest up on the bridge who came out of the Naval Academy.
KING: It's a city, isn't it, an aircraft carrier?
BROKAW: Well, it has 5,200 people on board a ship. The carrier deck is four and a half football fields, but I got to launch off the deck and go on a mission up over Afghanistan in the back seat of an F- 14 and refuel, come back and land. KING: You got chutzpah.
BROKAW: It was a lot of fun. And I had a great pilot. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was the best and we had a guy by the name of Smiling Jack Belsetous (ph) in an F-18 Hornet as well. When you land, it's like a controlled crash landing.
KING: As we go to break, we'll show what you it's like. Here's Brokaw on the USS Stenis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW: After the briefing, we suit up. Since we're flying over open ocean in hostile territory, I'm briefed in radio frequencies and ejection procedures. There are emergency rags, shark repellent, even a fishing hook, just in case.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we got a match.
BROKAW (on camera): Great.
(voice-over): As we load on to the F-14 and go through our pre- flight checks, I am focused on two goals, not screwing up and not throwing up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW: Right after 9/11 in this office, you got understandably very emotional, as we all did when we tried to talk about it.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the American people understand that, that I just reflected their mood. I'm just a normal guy trying to, you know, got a job to do and my emotions were all over the lot. What never was in doubt was my absolute determination to get them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: How did you react to those who said you were too kind?
BROKAW: Oh, I actually talked to Aaron Sorkin who said...
KING: He wrote that article.
BROKAW: He wrote the article, right. This is the third one of these that I have done, and I said beforehand, I had talked to the "New York Times" before and said that this is an exposition, not an investigation. It is about how the White House works and what its up to.
KING: It's a profile. BROKAW: It is a profile of them. We did raise all the critical issues of the day. We talked a lot about Enron during the course of that day, we talked about the other issues before the White House, including campaign finance reform and other matters, but it was mostly to show the country how the White House works and how this president now is engaged for better or for worse, in conducting this war on terrorism.
It was a very popular program with our audience. I heard from a lot of people who are not necessarily fans of his that -- it was instructive to them that they learned something about the White House. So I thought that was a little overbaked. Part of the fact is that NBC News just like CNN is covering this guy all the time. So it's not just that broadcast that is the record for seeing how we cover him.
KING: Did you talk to Aaron?
BROKAW: I talked to him, he called me at home and apologized.
KING: He did?
KING: That's good. Maybe tonight, we make a lot of news on this show, as you know Tom, and we know that your contract is coming up at the end of August. There's been stories that Brokaw might be saying goodbye. So tell us.
BROKAW: Tell you goodbye?
KING: No, are you going to say or are you going to go?
BROKAW: What I've been saying and what I will say to you as well is that I've obviously been reengaged by this story. I think this is one of the most important stories of my lifetime. I think it's got days to go and months to go and years to go probably, and I want to stay involved in it for the foreseeable future.
My contract is not up until August. I've got a great young team at NBC in Brian Williams, David Bloom and Claire Shipman -- not -- Claire Shipman has now gone to ABC. We have now got David Gregory and we've got Campell Brown at the White House. Jim McLeshefski at the Pentagon. It's a great, great team.
KING: When you say you want to stay involved, does that mean you might want to stay involved without being anchor?
BROKAW: Larry, you can try this nine different ways, but I love you a lot, but I'm not going to announce my future on LARRY KING on CNN, as much as Ted might like me to.
KING: And Ted would like to you to announce that you're switching.
What did you make of that whole Letterman-Koppel thing watching it from your standpoint? BROKAW: It's interesting. One of the fallouts from that thing is that it did divert a lot of attention to the news anchors, the three of us. Dan, Peter and I suddenly found ourselves being described, are they next? Are they the dinosaurs in the eyes of the networks? Will these evening news broadcasts survive the retirements of Dan, Peter or Tom? I kept saying I thought this was about Ted not about us.
I think in the end it was probably -- it could not have been handled in a more awkward fashion. Everybody at ABC acknowledges that. But I think in the end I think that it was good for Ted, good for the ABC news division, I hope it was good for ABC in terms of what they learned from all of that.
Ted wrote that op-ed piece in which he was pretty honest saying look, I know there are market forces there. He's got a wonderful contract, he works three days a week and he acknowledges that. I also think that ABC Nightline has been a little stronger broadcast since all of that happened. I think it brought it back the focus a little bit. It's a great half hour, and Ted has done a remarkable job. We go all the way back to our Washington days. I think it's an invaluable piece of real estate for television news to have that half hour.
KING: Are you worried, stories of Jennings may be getting a pay cut. Are you worried that the news will not be what it's been, that you are the last, that it's going to change?
BROKAW: No, I think it's going to go the other way.
BROKAW: I do, sure. Look, CNN, NBC, Fox, all the additional news programming that we're doing now that we weren't doing just ten years ago in part because the networks know that there's an enormous appetite for real information these days. It is from the accountant's point of view cost efficient for the most part to get that on the air...
KING: Makes money.
BROKAW: We do it better than anybody else in broadcasting at the network and at the CNN level of getting this on the air.
I was watching tonight Wolf and Walt Rogers there, it was quite dramatic, that's going to happen at the Church of the Nativity, and I know that on MSNBC the same stuff is going out on the air.
KING: So you don't think it going to mean that less structure on the 6:30 News nightly?
BROKAW: One of the things I think about the 6:30 broadcast is across the board for all three networks is that -- and this sounds more immodest than I mean it to, but I think there's an attachment to these broadcasts in part because the three of us have taken the country through so much in the last 20 years, that we've become such familiar figures to people, and we have gone to those places and reported -- Nelson Mandela was in town today and he was asking me about what it was like how I arrived in South Africa to report on his release?
And being in Czechoslovakia at the Berlin Wall the night it came down, all -- the shuttle, all the things that happened, Dan, Peter and I were there reporting on them, and probably people have personal attachment to us just as you could ask about this hour, does it survive without Larry King in the chair? Because Tom Schneider used to say people watch people.
There's something to that, I think. So as we leave and a new generation comes along, the Brian Williams of the world, then I'm confident that the broadcasts will stay in place on the schedule. One of my guesses is that it may have to evolve in a slightly different way to adapt to a whole new generation of both anchors and viewers. That always happens.
KING: And not -- that can't be too predictable.
BROKAW: No, you don't know. I'm doing a different broadcast now than the one I inherited from John Chancellor.
KING: The late John Chancellor. What a man.
KING: Tom Brokaw, the book by the way, "An Album Of Memories" now out in trade paperback. Naturally a best seller. We'll read you some of those letters and take some of your phone calls for Tom Brokaw right after this.
KING: We're back with Tom Brokaw. In a little while, we'll read some of the letters he's received and contained in the book "An Album of Memories," now out in trade paperback.
Blake and Skakel, if I can combine those two, are they big stories?
BROKAW: No, not for the networks I don't that think they are. You know, every story fits in the context of what else is going on in the world. We go on the air every night 6:30 to 7:00 and we have to fill that 30 minutes. Last summer, I was gratefully away during what I call the summer of Gary Condit. There was far too much of it, in my judgment.
KING: You took the summer off.
BROKAW: I was traveling around and I would e-mail back or get on the phone and say, what are you thinking of? I'm out here in the American West. People are not talking about this. They may be consumed by it in Washington and a couple of other places, but it's gone far too far when there are new developments put on. But it became irresistible to people. It became a kind of a narcotic. KING: So do you cover Skakel and Blake?
BROKAW: Well, I think the cable channels do.
KING: Boy, do they.
BROKAW: And they cover them a lot. But it's a different proposition, Larry. You've got a lot of time to fill during the course of a day. And the first time I ever walked in a courtroom when I was 12 years old, I thought, man, there's nothing uninteresting going on in here. This is all interesting. And it's always been the staple of news. And it certainly can be when you have live capability to go into a courtroom, high-profile cases, Robert Blake, Skakel, the Kennedy connection, the whole thing. So, that's fine. There ought to be an outlet for that kind of thing.
KING: And there is. Everybody is well served.
BROKAW: And there is. Now everybody's got a choice.
KING: Before we take some calls and do some of this book, is this Catholic church story a difficult one repertoirely?
BROKAW: No, I don't think it is. I think it's a terribly important story. I think a hundred years from now, we'll look back and say the Catholic church changed for finally in the first two years of the 21st century. I really believe that this is going to have a lasting and radical effect on the church and its management and the kinds of people who are priests, including gender. I think it could open up the priesthood to a lot of different people.
I think that the church has got a real crisis on its hands at the moment and how it's being handled. And there's a bishop's conference coming up in June in Dallas, and the faithful out there. As Tim Russert likes to remind me, Tim is a faithful communicant, and he's been on this story in the most -- I think in a brilliant fashion on "Meet The Press," he says one in four Americans are baptized in the Catholic church. So the huge story in America just from a demographic point of view to say nothing about what it is from a faith and cultural point.
KING: Is it going to have to be the next pope that changes?
BROKAW: Yes, it won't be this pope. I mean, that's what I'm told. I'm not an authority on the pope, but everybody that I talk to or scholars and theologians and others all say that it will have to change before -- the pope will have to change.
KING: Let's take some calls for Tom Brokaw. Rancho Santa Margarita, California, hello.
BROKAW: I know exactly where that is.
CALLER: Yes, hello. How are you? This is David Stewart (ph). First of all, I'm really honored to speak to you Mr. Brokaw.
BROKAW: Well, thank you Mr. Stewart.
KING: What's the question, David?
CALLER: My question is what really made you decide to get into journalism?
BROKAW: Well, I had a lot of curiosity. I grew up in a succession of small towns in the Midwest. And I always wanted to know what was going on. My mother tells a story about when I was like four years old and she wanted to go into the post office on her own. I insisted I go with her. And when I couldn't come up with another reason, I said I've never seen the floor in there. And I have been going around looking at different floors all over the world the rest of my life.
I think it's important. I think the last nine months have demonstrated the place of journalism in free societies. That day, 9/11, was the single toughest day I've ever had as a professional. It took everything that I have ever learned professionally and personally to get through the day. At the end of the week, a lot of people would say to me, as they said to my colleagues in other networks, I'm so grateful you were there. And I said, well, you were grateful because I was giving you information. And I was giving you the most reliable information that I could find. And that's what we do. That's part of the sinew of society.
KING: Is objectivity difficult in pain?
BROKAW: Well, objectivity is always elusive, I think. On that day, you would kind of go in and out. There was some subjective moments for me, in which I felt strongly that I wanted to convey to the rest of the country the fabric of New York. We had done a wonderful profile of the trauma team down at St. Vincent's Hospital. And you saw all the faces of New York there. You saw Asian faces and Hispanic faces and black faces and white faces, and they were all pulling together. And I said that's New York. It is a team effort. It's a real village.
KING: Atlanta, Georgia, hello.
CALLER: Hello. I just have to say, Mr. Brokaw, I'm just a big fan of yours and I'm just so excited to finally get to talk to you. My question for you today is what is the biggest issue facing our world today? And what may be the next one?
BROKAW: Well, let's just try to deal with one at a time if we can. Well, I think it's what we were talking about a little bit ago. I think it's about how these well-formed cultures learn to live together on this precious planet that we all inhabit, so that we're not constantly in a state of war over a matter of faith. And that's what we have now.
There are people out there who are followers of the Islamic faith who are radicals and zealots, in my judgment, who I believe based on what other scholars have told me are misreading the Koran, who have decided that we're unworthy and that we're infidels. The Western ideal, the Western ethos, is now in the crosshairs. The American ideal is what they attacked, the idea of pluralism, the role of women in America and the society that wants to make judgments about what it is on its own terms.
Now, there are others who will say we attacked you because you're a bully, because you decide how you want to run the world and we don't have a role in all of that. I think that's overbaked, but I do think it's the consideration. I think that future diplomacy will not just be nation-state to nation-state. I think it will be more cultural in a lot of ways.
I said earlier today at a presentation that I was making that one of the most telling moments for the United States in the early days of 9/11 is when the FBI director came on and said if anybody speaks Arabic, we'd like to talk to you about getting a job with the FBI. Now you go to the Arabic world and they speak English and they understand who we are. And we've done not a very good job of understanding who they are.
KING: More with Tom Brokaw, including those letters and more on the book and more of your phone calls. Don't go away.
KING: There have been a series of extraordinary books, and this is the latest. Tom Brokaw's "An Album of Memories: Personal Histories From the Greatest Generations." It's published in trade paperback, which means it's not only easy to read and carry, it's a little cheaper. And Random House is the publisher.
And we're going to have Tom read one letter in this segment and then another. And we're going to show you the picture of the writer of the letter. The picture is taken of the writer as a young child. All right, what's this one?
BROKAW: This is from Robert Chromer (ph), who became a doctor. I think it's really emblematic of what happened to so many young men.
"Dear Mr. Brokaw, I went to war as a replacement in the 309th infantry regimen of the 78th division. My youth was snatched away from me when, at age 18, I went into combat and was forced to grow up overnight. I spent my 19th birthday in a small hospital in Holland convalescing from my first wound."
"Combat was terrible and I lost many friends in battle and yet I think that ours was one of the most fortunate of all generations. We were privileged to grow up in a time when honor, truth, loyalty, duty and patriotism were real and meant something. The war changed us all. Somewhere in the deep recesses of the mind, there is a little voice that reminds us from time to time, you survived. You are alive. Don't waste your life. Do something with it." That's when he decided to become a doctor.
"I don't know about the greatest generation stuff. In my mind, we were the most fortunate generation especially in the things that really count. Who could ask for anything more?" Signed, Robert Chromer (ph). Now, when he says the most fortunate generation, they came age in the Great Depression. They had to go off and fight the war in the Pacific and in Europe. As the military historian John Keegan has said, it was the greatest event in the history of mankind fought on six of the seven continents, 50 million people died.
KING: Did you need permission to print the letters?
BROKAW: We asked permission, got releases from all of them.
KING: That's how you got the pictures?
BROKAW: And we had some remarkable letters that we couldn't print because they just didn't want to have them shared.
KING: Why do you think they wrote?
BROKAW: I'm not sure. I asked a number of them, and they were hard-pressed to give me a specific answer. My conclusion is that they're in the twilight of their lives. They're in what I call the mortality zone. Some of them -- they say don't remind me of that. I say, I'm trying not to. But, you know, they're now in their late 70s and early 80s.
KING: Dying every day.
BROKAW: And they're dying every day. And they wanted to tell their story before they were gone. Also, and it was not just "The Greatest Generation," my book, but it was also "Saving Private Ryan" and the other accounts of World War II that did trigger this interest in younger generations.
Finally, I believe that the baby boomers, their children, who just dismiss them and that World War II experience most of their lives, now are in their 50s and they're looking back on their own lives and they're saying, my God, I didn't have to go through anything like my parents did.
KING: Yes, I agree with you. That's right. San Diego, for Tom Brokaw. Hello.
CALLER: Hi, Mr. Brokaw.
CALLER: With your extensive travel, what have you learned about the Middle-Eastern people that perhaps the American people don't know?
KING: Good question.
BROKAW: I think it is a good question. I think that we do have to work harder at understanding that culture and understanding -- it's very complex. It's very rich. You know, the Byzantine world ruled for a long, long time. Islam was not only a great faith, but it was a great cultural force in the world 1,000 years ago. And then it began to lose its way in terms of becoming a progressive or modern faith. It didn't keep pace with what was going on in western Europe and other places.
I think it's a fascinating place to travel. Not right now probably, but when you go there, there's a special lure about the desert, I believe, and about the various tribes and the traditions that they have there.
And they are remarkably sophisticated people, many of them. You know, they've lived out there obviously for a long time. They've been traders and they have -- in Iraq, there's a big middle class. They're well educated. So I think that we have to work harder at knowing who they are. Look how much we learned about the Chinese once Richard Nixon went to China. You know, it was a closed place...
KING: Why is anti-Semitism still so prevailing?
BROKAW: Boy, that's a good question, Larry. It's a very good question and it's...
KING: Because they're intelligent people.
BROKAW: You know, and it's in Europe, the burning of the synagogues, and the resentment of what Israel is doing. I wish I could say if we hit this switch, it will go away. I think a lot of it has to do with envy and resentment. I really believe that.
KING: Let me get a break and back with our remaining moments with Tom Brokaw. We're going to do another letter as well from this extraordinary book. Don't go away.
KING: We promised you another letter from the new book. And this one comes from someone who was not in the war.
BROKAW: No. It's Donald Brodie (ph) who grew up in kind of in your part of the world. He grew up in the Bronx. You were a Brooklyn guy.
KING: There's him as a kid.
BROKAW: Right. And he remembers vividly being on a picnic on December 7, 1941 and going to his grandparents' home at the end of that Sunday and hearing his grandparents say, be quiet. Something big is going on.
Here's what he writes: "I followed every battle in every theater of the war. My room was lined with maps in which I would record the very latest available movements by division or fleet. Every command was noted. In my still childish hand, I even had the audacity to write to various generals and admirals when I thought that I had a worthy suggestion for them. Amazingly, a number of them wrote a thoughtful letter back."
"Our fighting relations spread across the Pacific and Europe, Peleliu, Guadal Canal, Kineon (ph), Sicily, Anzione, Normandy and other now familiar places. Everything was always OK, which we much later found out to be untrue as the wounds mounted. Finally, it was over. The boys came home and we kids greeted them with awe and sometimes bewilderment. We had no real understanding of what have they had gone through. World War II taught us kid passion, zeal and total dedication to the cause that taught us in some small way to be men of the house, to be mature, to be more appreciative of our free country. It was a terrible period of history, but what incredible lessons we learned, the children of the war years."
He's kind of a member of the niche generation of which I'm a member. He was born a few years -- my first memories of the world are on an army base in southwestern South Dakota. And as I later said, I thought everything was painted olive green forevermore, and I thought the world would always be at war because people were going to war or coming home from war. Everybody around me was in uniform.
And then there were these people on the edge of town who lived behind a stockade and had to wear orange uniforms and spoke a strange language. They were Italian prisoners of war out in southwestern South Dakota.
BROKAW: Yes. A big stockade filled with them, and a number of them stayed behind.
KING: Do you think the grandchildren of these veterans who missed Vietnam, what they think about World War II?
BROKAW: Well, I think they have a renewed interest in it, based on everything I'm hearing. A lot of schools have adopted it as a project. They've said go interview your grandparents and find out about it. They watch the History Channel now with a keener interest. And their grandparents are willing to talk to them about what's going on in part because there are books out there now or it's on television or the movies that have come out.
KING: You know, when you think about it, that was an amazing war.
KING: Two fronts.
BROKAW: Oh, it was all over the world. I mean, I think that John Keegan has got it dead right when he says it was the largest single event in the history of mankind. Because as he points out, it was six of the seven continents. It was in all the seas, in the air, and it was brutal warfare, hand to hand. There were the worst kinds of inhumanities in the Holocaust, in the concentration camps in Europe. The Japanese treatment of prisoners of war was unspeakable.
And then the other amazing part of it is that when we were the victors at the end, when the Allies won, two things happened. One is that it really made Russia as well as the Soviet system. They became our arch-enemy almost overnight. And the United States came back and in its infinite wisdom rebuilt Europe and rebuilt Japan, didn't occupy them. We were not conquerors. We knew that there had to be stability and it had to be economic and political stability as well because the conditions that led up to World War II that it happened in Versailles obviously could not be repeated.
KING: Also extraordinary was the amount of really fascinating people alive at one time.
BROKAW: Yes. It was...
KING: ... Churchills, kings, I mean, the admiral king, Pattons.
BROKAW: The test came -- difficult conditions are a test for great people about whether they can measure up to it or not. And a lot of these veterans that I have written about said it made a man out of me, or a young woman would say I went from being a giddy teenager to being a mature woman overnight. It accelerated their lives because when they got back here, they had military discipline. They had faced sacrifice. They knew what life was all about.
Briefly, I'll just tell you one quick story. I've been talking about the renewed need for public service and having a sense of that you do owe your country something. In one hospital ward in Michigan, there was a young man from Kansas who had had his arm shattered in combat in Italy. And in the next bed was a young man from Honolulu who was a Japanese-American who had lost his arm in the 442nd. And in the third bed was a young man from a prominent family in Michigan who was also wounded. And he was able to get out of the hospital and get theater tickets and other things.
Bob Dole was one. Danny Inaway (ph) was the other one. And Phil Hart for whom the largest Senate office building is now named was the third one. And they talked about their future lives and they all decided that it would be public service. They had just given up their youth in combat, but they came back and said they wanted to get involved in running for public office.
KING: And all end up in the Senate.
BROKAW: And they all end up in the Senate.
KING: Who could write that? That's fiction.
BROKAW: I know. It's amazing.
KING: So are you. Always good seeing you, Tom.
BROKAW: Great seeing you. Thanks, Larry.
KING: Tom Brokaw. The book is "An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation," because we all know that book, one of the historic books of this era. This one is published in trade paperback by Random House.
We'll take a break, come back, and I'll tell you what's coming up tomorrow night. Don't go away.
KING: Tomorrow night, Joan Rivers will be our special guest. Among the guests next week, by the way: Mike Wallace, Regis Philbin, and the former governor of Texas, Ann Richards, among others.
It's always good to be in New York for many reasons. One of them, a chance to be right in his presence. Aaron Brown, the host of "NEWSNIGHT." He's right over there. I'm not kidding. He's right here.
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