INT: Why do you think the Hungarian section of Radio Free Europe was so careless?
FL: Well, if there had been fighting in Poland, I'm not sure that the Polish section would have behaved differently. The circumstances were quite different. Also, Hungary is on the border with Austria and people began pouring across, because... not that the border was opened officially, but it just stopped being enforced; the army and the police just stopped trying to... stopped shooting people for going across the border, so they went out. So Austria was filling up with Hungarians who had the latest stories and told what was happening, not only in the capital but in this town and that town and that village, so there was a pile of reports and ... coming in. Poland had no border with a non-communist country, except on the Baltic, to Sweden, which is of course much more diff... you don't swim across.
INT: Do you think... well, let's put it a different way. What was the attitude of the US Government at the time to the manifestation of a revisionist communist regime like Gomulka's, or for that matter Tito's?
FL: Well, for the most part they didn't believe it. There was... John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State, Allen Dulles was head of the CIA, and their sense was that, "Well, a communist is a communist is a communist," and that it was quite pointless to find any subtle nuances or to notice trans... They didn't even believe that there was any... any strains developing with China. Remember, it was in 1960, so four years later, in Bucharest, where John Foster Dulles said... or he wasn't in Bucharest, but I was in Bucharest, and it was because of events in Romania... John Foster Dulles said, "Ah, we are seeing the first breach between Moscow and Peking." Well, we had seen many before, but that was the first time that he believed it at all.
INT: Was Dulles's influence on American policy a negative one, do you think, in this period?
FL: Well, I certainly disagreed with much of... of what he did. I mean, that takes a whole historical judgment; you would have to pick at it with tongs here and there. But on this matter of attitude, I remember a British diplomat telling me in Hungary, in Budapest, in the summer of that year; it must have been July or August - I didn't hear this exact same statement from American diplomats or from the Secretary of State or the State Department, but I assume there was not a tremendous difference - and I was talking about the reforms that were being put into effect; they were, from the Western point of view not very big, but they were still making a difference and making life somewhat easier for the people - and he said, "Well, that's a very bad thing, because if they make the regime more tolerable, then people won't overthrow it." So there was a kind of attitude that the worse it gets, the better it is for us, which I thought was heartless and cynical and, furthermore, wrong, because it didn't create more resistance, it created more fear; whereas the more things opened up, the more people began to look for additional openings and additional ways to... to lead their lives.
INT: In November 1956, there was also the Suez episode. Did thave very much impact inside Poland?
FL: I am absolutely convinced that if the two things, the Hungarian Revolution and the Suez campaign, had not been simultaneous, the collapse of the Soviet empire would hahappened that year. It really was coming that near to it. And as I told you, there was some consideration of maybe the So... the Polish army would get involved; there were stirrings in Czechoslovakia, although not from the regime. But remember, this is 11 years after World War II; there was reports of a Soviet intervention in the Middle East. People suddenly got terrified: this is the beginning of world war III. I remember a Polish friend of mine, a woman doctor, who had been originally from Lvov, which is now Ukraine, and she had told me that during the war - because she had had to spend the war in Poland - she had a cyanide capsule that she kept with her in case she was caught by the Gestapo and so on, that she was afraid she'd talk, so she always carried this cyanide capsule with me [sic]. And at that time, in '56, when the Suez campaign broke and there was this period of wondering were the United States and the Soviet Union going into open conflict, she said with great concern, "I wonder if my cyanide capsule is still effective. I'd better see if I should get it renewed." That was the mood... a real fear that this was going to be world war III, only 11 years... that's to say, everybody over the age of 10 could remember what it had been like in wartime. Otherwise, I think the Soviet empire... not the Soviet Union perhaps, but the empire as such, would have blown up then.
INT: Austria, which stands as a neutral island, or stood as a neutral island, along with Switzerland, between the Warsaw Pact countries and NATO, which after '55, (Overlap) including West Germany...
FL: (Overlap) Not till '55...
INT: Not till '55. How important was Austrian neutrality?
FL: Well, I think it was certainly important to the Austrians, because it got the Russians out, it got the end of occupation and the restoration of st... of sovereignty. The... Moscow certainly was determined to maintain it. But in terms of... The Austrians used to... and particularly when Bruno Kreisky was chancellor, liked to present their country as the bridge between East and West, and the promotion of... that was a bit later, that was certainly well after Stalin; well, Austrian sovereignty was after Stalin. I don't think it was terribly important in that sense. Vienna was a place where people met and spies abounded, and so on. I don't think it really affected the international politics and the international strategy to such an extent. But as I say, it was of tremendous importance to the Austrians.
INT: Moving on to 1961, you were in Berlin in August 1961. Was there any anticipation that the East Germans were going to throw up the wall?
FL: Oh, yes, something was going to happen, for sure. I consider that the start of the wall was the Khrushchev-Kennedy Vienna meeting. Kennedy had... he had only been in power about six months, and the Bay of Pigs had just happened before. And this meeting went very, very badly. And so, when they left, from Moscow... Khrushchev from Moscow and Kennedy from Washington, began exchanging public threats. And I remember at one point, Kennedy very ostentatiously ordered up, as government purchase, a million yards of khaki. What did it mean? And so back and forth. This public exchange started provoking a real torrent of refugees from East Germany, because Berlin was still open and they could get from East Germany into Berlin, and then you could cross Berlin - all you had to do was take the subway, there was nothing to stop it. At first there were a few hundred a day; then more. Finally, it got to the point where there... and that's why I was in Berlin, because by that time I was living in Bonn... but there were more than 2,000 a day coming out. So I went up to Berlin with the idea of... I had to get an East German visa to do this, and that was quite difficult... but I wanted to go into East Germany and ride a train back out with the refugees, to see why were they leaving, what did they think; and I saw some of them in West Berlin, but I wanted to do that. And more and more, they were saying, "Well, this is the last minute, this is the last chance, so we... we've been thinking about going for several years, and now we realise we'd better not put it off any longer." So it became clear that something was going to happen - exactly what, wasn't clear - but this was really an intoler...tolerable haemorrhage. So it was... the wall itself, that they chose that particular way of doing it, was a surprise, but that something would happen was not.
INT: What was your first reaction to seeing the troops building the wall?
FL: Well, you didn't see troops building the wall. It started out, they closed the subways, and they rolled barbed wire; and even where they didn't have barbed wire, there were some tanks, and they had these powerful water-cannon. And they couldn't shut off absolutely everything, but they shut off what they could, and bit by bit added to it. And it didn't actually become a wall for a few months. But little by little, then they would seal off an area, then they would empty the buildings that overlooked the... what became a no-man's land. So it was very gradual. And at first, it was very crude: just concrete blocks; and then they began reinforcing and making it try to look a little less ugly, and make it higher and... but the actual building went on for months.
INT: What was the reaction of the West Berliners?
FL: Oh, that was a very critical moment. They were very upset at the American reaction, and press reports from the United States clearly... obviously, everybody understood it was Kennedy, the President, speaking, but just not open attribution, not in public... that this was a great victory for the West, the establishment of the wall. And the Berliners were furious, and there were a lot of arguments. And even I got into an argument with my editor. I was working for the Washington Post, and the Washington argument was there's nothing you could do; and the Berlin argument was... I listed 20 things short of any kind of use of force that could certainly be done. So there was this complete conflict. And at one point - I believe it was on the Thursday; the wall went up on Sunday - Willy Brandt was Mayor, and people gathered, hundreds of thousands, I think a couple of hundred thousand, in the huge big square in front of the Town Hall - the Schoenberg (.?.) Haus, it's called, , the West Berlin town hall - and they were determined to march to the Brandenburg Gate, and they were going to force their way through. As I say, it was not really a wall yet; there was armoured cars and water-cannon and barbed wire, but... and troops, but there was not a real wall. They were just going to march through. And Brandt talked them out of it - it was really an extraordinary performance - and saved what would surely have been a most terrible massacre, but I don't think there was any doubt that the Red Army was going to shoot. Heavens knows what would have happened. The Western garrisons in Berlin were always relatively weak; they... they were cut off; they could have been overrun without any great difficulty. So history could have been very different if Brandt had failed. And then, just at that time, quite by accident, Edwin...Edward Murrell, the... who was a great broadcaster during the war from London - at that time he was head of the United States Information Agency, and he had just happened to come through Berlin, and saw and heard the mood and the attitudes in Berlin, and went back to Washington. Washington - the great line was that everybody in Berlin, including the Ambassador, including the newspaper people, everybody, had what they called "localitis" and that they had got carried away and they mustn't be listened to. And Murrell went back to Washington and convinced Kennedy, no, it was Washington that had localitis, and that they had better pay attention or Berlin would be lost, the whole ofBerlin; West Berlin would have just shrivelled up and died. And that was then when Kennedy changed and decided to send General Clay back to Berlin with a... it wasn't a big... a brigade or... anyway, a reinforcement sent down the ato... the autobahn, and that was what changed atmosphere then: it was a re-commitment to maintain West Berlin, that had just about disappeared in the course of that week. So Berlin would have... there wouldn't have been any more West Berlin. May...maybe it wouldn't have blown in in a week; maybe it would have taken a year or two, that people just gave up and moved out and decided "the hell with it". But it was a very critical moment for West Berlin.