Return to Transcripts main page
PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
Interview with Tom Brokaw
Aired December 14, 2011 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST, CNN'S "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Tonight, the man with a front row seat to history who wrote the book about it. Tom Brokaw, anchor man's anchorman, author of the greatest generation. Tonight I'll ask him about the end of this generation's war.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are ending a war not with a final battle but with a final march toward home. This is an extraordinary achievement.
MORGAN: The race for the White House.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As I've gotten to be more of a frontrunner, the campaign has begun to degenerate.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is after all politics. There's no whining in politics.
MORGAN: The year of the protests here at home. And around the world. And his new book, "The Time of Our Lives," what he thinks America needs now.
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, AUTHOR, "THE TIME OF OUR LIVES": This is what we can learn from another time.
MORGAN: Tom Brokaw for the hour. This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.
Tom Brokaw is one of my journalistic heroes. I suspect a lot of people in this business would say exactly the same. He anchored the NBC "Nightly News" for 22 years. (INAUDIBLE) his retirement in the wake of 9/11. Since then he's also become a celebrated author. His latest book is "The Time of Our Lives" and I'm thrilled to say that Tom Brokaw joins me now.
BROKAW: Piers, it's very good to be here and that business about being -- me being your hero, you're going to get over that by the end of the hour, I promise.
MORGAN: I doubt that very much. I mean you're actually the perfect guy to ask this question. Because I read your book with great fascination. And also with an eye to how this year, 2011, is going to rate in the news pantheon. Because to me who's a new boy to this news anchoring game, it seems like it's been the most incredible year for news that I can remember.
But what do you think?
BROKAW: Well, it's been a chaotic year. And I think part of the reason that we see it in the way that we do is that it never stops coming at us because of the new instrumentation. It's not just on cable television or broadcast television or talk radio. It's now all of the Internet at all time all over the social media at all times. So there is really no escaping it.
And the old days, when there would big events, you had a little more of a pace, I suppose you'd describe it. You'd hear something in the morning, you'd spend the day at work, and come home in the evening. And then you take it in again and maybe read the morning paper the next day. Now it goes on all day long. You can't escape it even at work. If you go online, you're likely to get some kind of a news site that will pop-up as well. People would be talking about it.
Having said all that, however, this is one of the most fractious political years that I can remember. But I have been reading about the campaign of 1948. That was the first campaign in which Harry Truman was trying to be re-elected on his own terms running against Tom Dewey. He had third party candidates, people in the south who weren't happy about him. Some of the rhetoric was very similar to what we're hearing today.
MORGAN: "TIME" magazine today announced its Person of the Year which is always a pretty prestigious and controversial choice. They went for a generic, "The Protester." What did you think of that choice?
BROKAW: I thought it was a good call, frankly. I think that there is a lot of unhappiness and a lot of anxiety out there. And by the way, I think a kind of one of the important developments in the protest movement sometimes gets overlooked, and that's the Tea Party. The Tea Party began as a protest movement.
And as I've said on several occasions and I'm determined to repeat here again tonight, the Tea Party played by the rules. They got angry. They got organized. They got to Washington. They stayed on message. And they may not be what you think of as the best interest of the country, but they're driving the debate on the Republican side now more than any other component of the Republican Party.
And that's because they are determined to remain disciplined and faithful to what they believe in. I think it's an abject lesson for other groups who want to get organized or other groups who are not happy with the current conditions of the political debate in this country.
Take a page from the Tea Party. Go out and get organized. And rally around whatever you believe in.
MORGAN: Do you see -- do you see, Tom -- do you see any kind of synergy between "Occupy Wall Street," the Arab spring uprisings? I mean is there -- is there a common thread there or are they very different, distinct protests?
BROKAW: Well, I think it's a very different -- first of all, "Occupy Wall Street" is not calling for the overthrow of their government. And however many flaws that we have here, we still have a representative government.
I think part of the problem with "Occupy Wall Street" at the moment is that they don't seem to have a well-defined core. I've been at the rallies downtown in New York and on Wall Street. In Chicago there are only 20 protesters outside the Fed. It was a very small presence. And Los Angeles, slightly larger.
But, again, it didn't have the kind of electricity that you would expect from that kind of a movement. Certainly, they've landed on something that I think resonates with a lot of people. And that's the 1 percent versus 99 percent. Most people -- the overwhelming majority obviously are on the 99 percent. And there is that great concern about income inequality in this country.
In the course of the last three weeks, I've been all over America, 19 cities altogether. And I've had a lot of high income people come to me and say, we really do have to do something about income inequality because that could trigger a class war in this country. And the consequences are not very pretty to contemplate.
MORGAN: Very interesting premise to the book, obviously, is about the nature, I guess, of the American dream. Certainly when you grew up and born in 1940, you were a war child in that sense. Coming out of the Great Depression, post-war America, I think in some ways capitalized perhaps on all that happened there and became a stronger country and had a great sense of national unity and purpose to it, and became this great manufacturing force.
It's a very different crisis America faces now because it's almost a crisis of what is the American dream now? What is the identity? What kind of future young Americans going to be facing?
BROKAW: Well, first of all, I was a member of the luckiest generation as my contemporaries and we've all agreed that we were the ones who really caught the best wave. Because after the war, our parents who had gone through all the trials of the depression and World War II, then came home to unprecedented working class and middle class prosperity. The middle class was built.
And the United States was a Colossus in the world. Europe had been destroyed, Japan had been destroyed. China was one of those blank spots on the map that might as well have said beyond here serpents lie. We didn't know what was going on there. So we were able to have the great industrial economy that enriched the middle class and gave it the foundation that we would like to recapture today.
I think what has happened since then is that we're playing too much by the old rules and not enough by the new rules. We did lose our manufacturing base in this country. And we've not yet caught up to the reality of that when it comes to job creation. Forty percent of the GDP now is made up of financial services. They don't make anything. They trade money.
I mean it's not a dishonorable profession, but it is not in the best interest of a broad sweep of America to have so much concentration in financial services without having high-tech manufacturing, without having job opportunities that used to exist in the agriculture sector. When you had smaller farms you had more people working on them. Now it's big agri business and more mechanized harvesting procedures.
And so we have reduced our job foundation in this country to a perilous point. And we need to think carefully about how we get out of that.
MORGAN: I want to play a clip from a speech by President Obama in Kansas which actually touches on that very point. Let's watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: My grandparents served during World War II. He was a soldier in Patton's army. She was a worker on a bomber assembly line. They believed in an America where hard work paid off and responsibility was rewarded. And anyone could make it if they tried. No matter who you were, no matter where you came from, no matter how you started out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Is there a problem, Tom, with what the president was saying that there that that basic tenet of what the American dream stood for that anybody could make it, does that really exist anymore? I mean a lot of people, I guess, are gifted and talented, whatever, but are simply not able to realize their dream, their talent under this current financial climate.
BROKAW: Well, I think with all due respect to the president, I think it was even true then. I mean everyone could get a job. But what he managed to overlook at that point was that -- by the way, his grandparents that he was talking about were white people from Kansas. In the American south they weren't getting very good jobs during that time in the post-war years.
A lot of them gravitated to Detroit in the northern industrial areas so they could find work. Those who were left in the south lived below the poverty line for a long time and not just African-American people, a lot of poor white people did as well. So we have had a rising tide in this country. And what has gotten us used to is a big appetite for consumption.
And I think one of the lessons of this recent downturn is that we have to build proportion back into our lives as well and build expectations back into our lives. That does not mean that we ought not to have a job that pays a living wage. There are too few of them now. But as I go across America, I find a lot of very entrepreneurial people who are starting their new businesses, a lot of high-tech manufacturers complain to me that they can't find workers with the skill sets that they need.
We need to work harder on education. The community colleges now are a growth industry because they're teaching young people how to weld, how to use computers in the workplace, how to reason, not just put a widget on a passing assembly line of some kind. So these are big tasks. And we ought not to underestimate how hard the job ahead of us is and it's going to require all of us -- we've always been at our best, Piers, in this country.
This is an immigrant nation and we've always been at our best when we're more than the sum of our parts. We need to get back to that again.
MORGAN: Tell me, do you think that the average American -- I base this purely on the kind of frenetic spending we saw over the Thanksgiving holiday, for example, which I found really quite alarming because I couldn't imagine your generation post-war facing that kind of financial restraint at the time ever doing that. Just sort of ignoring the reality and just going on with this crazy spending spree.
BROKAW: Well, we were kind of a transition generation in that regard. Our parents in some ways had a very large, what I call, thrift gene. That was based on their experiences in the depression and then later in the war. My generation got a little giddy about how much money we were able to earn and how well we could live and how we could spend it.
Now at this stage in our lives, we're looking back. We're losing our parents. And we're realizing the soundness of those values. And then you have succeeding generations who got credit cards and debt was not something that you're worried about. It was just a reality of life.
We got to a point in this country in which we had a negative savings rate. I found that very hard to imagine. Now having said that, like you, I won the lottery. You know, I'm paid very well for what I do. And I have enough money to keep myself comfortable and also my kids who are hard-working and have that thrift gene passed down from their grandparents.
But at the same time, their needs, if they really get critical, they've got dad around to help out. They like to stand on their own and they think about it. But in much of the country, there was this determination to have as many toys as you possibly could. One of my friends who's a very successful businessman says, we have to change in this country. We have to wake up in the morning and determine what we need not just what we want.
MORGAN: Very good point. Let's take a little break, Tom. When we come back, I want to talk about the Republicans nomination battle. It's getting rather bruising, rather ugly and rather personal as it always seems to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BROKAW: Health policies, energy policies, and entitlement reform. What are going to be your priorities and what order? Which of those will be your highest priority your first year in office and which would follow in sequence? Senator McCain?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: That's Tom Brokaw moderating the NBC presidential debate just a month before the 2008 election. And Tom is back with me now.
Tom, you've been in that moderating position a few times. What do you make of the way the Republican race is going, the debates in particular?
BROKAW: Well, I frankly I'm a big advocate of as many debates as we can have along primary seasons because you find out about candidates during that time. I'd like to remind people that four years ago for all the excitement now generated by the shifting polls that four years ago Rudy Giuliani was leading and Fred Thompson was a very strong number two. Rudy Giuliani is now giving speeches more money and Fred Thompson is doing reverse mortgages on television.
So fates can change very swiftly. You have to keep that in mind.
I don't know what's going to happen in the next month or so. It's important for all of us, journalists especially, to remember not a vote has been cast so far. And very often these polls that we talk about -- NBC and "Wall Street Journal" just had a new one out this week and it was pretty dramatic. These are snapshots of a given time.
Now as we move closer, when people have to go into that booth, try to determine who they want as their candidate, who they can envision in the oval office, the DNA changes when people make decisions.
MORGAN: I mean it's interesting that you look at the poll numbers for somebody like John Huntsman, for example, which remains very, very low. If you talk to most intelligent people in Washington or in the media, they're all surprised by this. And is it unfeasible that someone like him could actually come from a very low base and still win the nomination?
BROKAW: Well, I think he has some hopes that he can do that. He is a man with a very impressive resume. He was a strong and successful governor of a conservative state, Utah. He has a strong conservative record. But in the Republican primaries, he seems not to fit the groups that are really defining that selection process at this time.
You know, he hopes that he'll do well in New Hampshire and stay alive. And then down stream he'll have some success. And my own guess is that he probably is beginning to hope that if it becomes a brokered convention he can have a voice in that. But it's tough now just looking at the playing field how -- to see how Jon Huntsman, as impressive as his credentials are, can kind of catapult to the top. He takes positions not in line with many of the people who are driving Republican debate on climate change, for example. He believes it's real. And he believes it's true. And there are a lot of people who are going to be picking the Republican candidate who have contrary points of view.
MORGAN: I mean what is clear is that although Newt Gingrich who is the current frontrunner who'd prefer this to be a very civilized affair, Mitt Romney took the gloves off today, gave an interview to the "New York Times" calling Gingrich zany and suggesting he's ill- suited temperamentally to be a president. I mean where I come from, being zany is seen as bit of a vote winner.
BROKAW: Well, you know, Newt Gingrich has been a lot of things to a lot of people over the years. But whatever you think of him, he is a tenacious and very nimble politician. There are very, very few people who follow this carefully, present company included, who thought that he could survive what happened last summer when all of these key campaign workers walked out on him and the next thing we knew we were talking about a half million dollars in Tiffany bills that had been run up.
But he was impressive to the people who pay attention on the Republican side during the debates. He knows how to speak directly to that base because he helped invent it, in fact. But, again, it's worth remembering now the vote has been cast. And what you're seeing now from Romney is that a lot of members of what you would call the traditional Republican establishment have gone to him and said you've got to get a lot tougher against this guy because he's in danger of just rolling over the top of you.
And that's how politics is played in this country. And we're about to see it play out after the first of the year, first in Iowa, then in New Hampshire and then in -- South Carolina and then Florida. The calendar works pretty well for Newt Gingrich. If he can do well in Iowa and then at least be in the hunt in New Hampshire, then goes out to South Carolina, and then go to Florida, who knows?
MORGAN: I mean what you could have, judging by the polls at the moment, you could have Ron Paul winning in Iowa. You could have Romney winning in New Hampshire. And you could have Gingrich winning in South Carolina or Florida.
BROKAW: Yes, you could. And then there is a certain amount of momentum that takes hold. It depends on organization, how much money he's able to attract. Whether the rest of the Republican Party, the Republican Party represented by his opponents, will rally behind him or whether they'll go to someone else and try to encourage them to get into the race.
Where Newt Gingrich has a problem, and this showed up in our poll this week, is down stream. Say he gets the nomination. Then all the indications are that he would have a hard time winning in the general election. You can see it right there. Mitt Romney does much better against Barack Obama than Newt Gingrich does. Gingrich loses to Obama right now by 11 points, it's a margin of error between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
And a lot of Republicans are looking at those numbers and saying, look, I admire how well he's doing. But it's not in the best interest of the party for the long run.
MORGAN: You've been quite scathing about Donald Trump and his planned debate which is obviously now been scrapped. What did you have against that?
BROKAW: I didn't have any -- listen, I didn't have anything -- I have known Donald Trump for a long time. Donald Trump is a part and parcel to the city of New York and he's always been one of those larger-than-life figures. And I said he's a shameless self-promoter. I don't think anybody can object with that.
In fact I had a note from him today with that underlined saying thanks for the nice words. My problem with it was --
BROKAW: My problem with it was -- and I'm sorry, Piers, but I thought he got way too much attention for saying that he was going to moderate a debate in Iowa. It should have been one line. But he was here. He was all over the cable networks because he is Donald Trump.
I think that's a little too easy. We ought to be working harder at covering the tough issues that are out there. What are we going to do about housing in this country with 20 million homes that are in peril or in foreclosure or under some kind of a stressful condition and the families that are stuck in those homes?
What are we going to do about joblessness in this country? It's not going to be just a matter of cutting the federal budget. That's not going to open up factories across the country. We've got some systemic issues that we need to be dealing with more than whether Donald Trump is going to run a debate or not.
And by the way, you know, it turned out to be a mute point. Most of the candidates didn't want to show up. So I -- Donald Trump --
MORGAN: Speaking of rates --
BROKAW: Donald Trump will continue in this fashion. He's been doing this for a long, long time. God bless him. You know, he's protected by the first amendment just like the rest of us.
MORGAN: Well, he can come on this show and debate with me any time. I'm always available. So I made that clear to him.
Let's take another break, Tom. When we come back, I want to talk you to about Barack Obama, whether he's been in your expert opinion more of a success than a failure as president so far.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BROKAW: Including the important pivotal state of Florida now we have awarded that to Vice President Al Gore. NBC News is now taking Florida out of Vice President Gore's column. And from the network's point of view for the wrong reasons at the beginning when we moved it over into the Al Gore column and then at the end whether it was moved back to George W. Bush's column, and it proved to be the state that took him up over the top.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: That was Tom Brokaw in a moment he probably wants to forget from NBC's election night coverage in the year 2000.
I mean, Tom, that was a terrible moment. For disciples like me, it was like finding Santa Claus didn't exist. You actually made a mistake.
BROKAW: It was the longest political night of my career. I like to think that I wasn't alone in making a mistake. There were a lot of bad calls that night. What I do remember when we first called Florida for Al Gore, I got a call instantly from the Bush White House down in Texas and from Karl Rove who went on the air and said that's not what we're hearing down there.
And I have a high regard for Karl Rove's ability to count votes and know the lay of the ground on Election Day going in and that night. And I turned to Tim Russert, my (INAUDIBLE) and beloved colleague, I said we've got a problem here, I think. And then they begin to do the double check. And then we were into dimpled chads and a long, difficult process that winds up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
I had never been through anything like that before and I hope never go through it again. And by the way, to be just perfectly wonkish for a moment, I think it cries out for election reform in this country. We got to get uniformity on how we cast these ballots. There are just uneven rules from state to state to state. And if nothing else, we should have faith in the integrity of our election system.
MORGAN: I completely agree. Let's turn to Barack Obama. How good a president do you think he has been so far? Could he get better, do you think? Has he been on balance more of a success than a failure?
BROKAW: Well, first of all, I think it's very -- very hard to judge the greatness of a president midterm and that's kind of where we are. It really requires the longer reach of history, for example, Harry Truman, I referred to that earlier. During his time in office a lot of people thought he was a failure as a president. Now he's regarded as one of the great presidents of the 20th century and one of the strongest presidents in American history.
President Obama, I think, has disappointed a lot of his followers and enthusiastic supporters. He's also disappointed especially a lot of the independents and more moderate Republicans who voted for him and because he -- they didn't think that he showed enough leadership skills on the really difficult issues of the day. And he didn't have his priorities work out in advance.
They really did believe that there would be a recovery and the joblessness in this country that it was going to be a U or a V and it turned out to be an L, that is, we went down and we went that way. We didn't go down and then begin to crawl back up. So they -- he made a big investment in health care which was very controversial and very complex. The first stimulus bill was really written by the Congress and Nancy Pelosi. It didn't have the impact that a lot of people had hoped it would in this economy.
So it was a steep learning curve as it is for almost every president. And now we'll see how he does in the -- in the next year. He has had successes. I think it's fair to say that his bold move to try to rescue the automobile industry in this country, in Detroit worked out for the most part. And a lot of the TARP programs that he inherited from the Bush administration under the direction of Henry Paulson who probably saved this country from going into a Great Depression. A lot of those programs that he continued are now being paid back at a profit.
Most of all what I hear from people is that he doesn't have a passion for leadership and a kind of bold idea about where he wants to take the country and how he wants to take the country to that place. I think that's been a big issue for a lot of his admirers. And then he gave openings, obviously, to those on the other side.
So, you know, this is going to be a tough patch for him. But the conditions are tough. And he knows that. Next year is going to be a referendum probably on the economy and probably on President Barack Obama. But we'll see who he's running against and what the conditions are come the fall of 2012.
MORGAN: You've interviewed many presidents over the years. Who has been the most impressive of all of them?
BROKAW: You're not going to -- you're not going to trap me into that. I think that they all had considerable strengths. I was at a February panel this past year about Ronald Reagan, for example. It was a very spirited discussion. I started covering Ronald Reagan in 1966 when he was running for the Republican nomination for governor in California. And in his infinite wisdom, the Democratic Party in that state thought he would be the easier one to beat.
They were more worried about George Christopher, the now forgotten mayor of San Francisco. Ronald Reagan became one of the defining political figures of my lifetime and of the 20th century. The debate that night was, was he a great president or was he just great at being president? There was greatness in how he stood down the Soviet Union, no question about that.
Some of the other issues that are still in play is the deregulation of the federal government. There are a lot of kind of cutting taxes and borrowing money and deficits at the end. So we'll have to work that all out.
I never thought I could see someone who would survive as many challenges to his personal department as Bill Clinton did when he was in office. But he was about as nimble as anybody that I had ever seen, quite honestly.
There was a moment in American life when I think we owed so much to Gerald Ford. I covered Watergate. Richard Nixon took this country through the deep, dark recesses of a constitutional crisis. And it was a real test for America to come out of that. And this plain spoken man from Grand Rapids helped us get through it by saying, first of all, our long national nightmare is over and working to pull the country back to an even keel again. And I think he was quite successful at it in the short time that he had.
MORGAN: Let's take another break, Tom. Let's come back and talk more, I want to know what you think of Iraq, Afghanistan, and how Barack Obama dealt with Moammar Gadhafi and see whether the new way of doing war suits America better.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It's harder to end a war than begin one. Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq, all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding, and the building and the training and the partnering, all of it has led to this moment of success.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: That's President Obama marking the end of the Iraq war with a tribute to the troops who fought and died in the conflict he opposed from the start.
Back with me now is Tom Brokaw.
I mean, Tom, I think you've been pretty vociferous in your opposition to that decision to go to war in Iraq. When you saw President Obama today really trying to make out that it had been a victory and it'd all been worth it, did you agree with him?
BROKAW: Well, what I think is and I think it's a complex question, by the way. What I think is however we feel about the decision to go in a -- to war in Iraq and put the biggest emphasis on that as opposed to Afghanistan, and how we conducted that war and how unprepared we were for the realities on the ground with IEDs and with the kind of tribal uprising that occurred, the decision, for example, to disarm the Baath Party that have been loyal to Saddam Hussein.
However we feel about all that, I think you have to give great credit to the American military because these are all volunteers. And they represent less than 1 percent of the population. And they went willingly and they did in many instances a brilliant job of adapting to the new warfare on the ground.
It was never more true that great military line about all battle plans come apart when the first shot is fired. The fog of combat took over very early in Iraq and it's been a terribly difficult trial because of the political complexity of that part of the world.
Iraq was much more broken than anybody realized. So they not only had to fight the bad guys, they had to try to repair the country simultaneously. That was very difficult. I thought the president's apt line today, it was a lot harder to end a war than it is to start one. That was true in Vietnam, it's been true here. It was true in Korea. And these are the kinds of things that we ought to be talking a lot more about in this campaign.
You know, when we go to war, there is always someone on the floor or Senate or the House talking about the decision that involves blood and treasure. Well, we ought to have a discussion during a presidential campaign about the consequences of going to war and spending blood and treasure, and what the new policies are, what the limitations are of going to war, and where we ought to be thinking about maybe winning hearts and minds in a different way than militarily.
MORGAN: I mean certainly Libya was a very, very interesting exercise in the way that America could do these kind of wars, for want of a better phrase, going forward in a sense that they had a bad guy who had run a bad regime as Saddam Hussein had done for decades.
But rather than go all guns blazing leading the international coalition forces, the Americans took a backseat and no American soldiers lost their lives. Gadhafi was taken out. What do you think about the changing manner in which American military is now deploying itself?
BROKAW: That was an easier call for the involvement of the American military as part of NATO force and primarily it was air power and some strategic and tactical advice on the ground because there have been an uprising against Gadhafi that was indigenous that had started in that country.
We didn't have that in Iraq. Saddam Hussein really had the iron fist over that entire country, had an enormous military that was there. I was in Iraq several times before the war began. And the sheer terror of people in the streets of Iraq afraid to talk to you in any way because they didn't know whether they would be eliminated. And the kind of terror techniques that he unleashed on people -- the most innocent people in Iraq for the smallest, slight however he perceived it.
So those are two different circumstances. A lot of people believe that he did have weapons of mass destruction. President Clinton did, in fact. I was over there with the U.N. weapons inspector and it was not clear. I would fly over later acres and acres and miles and miles of what they call igloos, these were ammunition storage depots. And General Petraeus said to me one day, we don't know what's in there.
Well, it turns out not much because he was trying to kind of broke (INAUDIBLE) Iran to -- try and persuade Iran that he had weapons of mass destruction. And my own belief is that some of his colonels generated a lot of paper that indicated they had weapons, they were getting money from him and some of that money may be stored away somewhere.
MORGAN: When you look at Afghanistan, Tom, this comes back, I guess, to this whole declaration of a war on terror. I mean, can a war on terror actually exist? I mean isn't it just an ongoing, un- endable kind of conflict? And wouldn't it been better to say we are going to tackle terrorism head on and actually treat Afghanistan rather than a war as an anti-terrorism operation?
BROKAW: Well, war should not be reduced to a semantic exercise of some kind. In fact, General McChrystal, who lost his job because of a press flap and was a great loss for this country, I think, a man by the name of Henry "Hank" Crumb who had seen the war coming in Afghanistan, saw the threat of al Qaeda and the Taliban early on, and led the successful effort to drive the Taliban and al Qaeda out of Afghanistan in the early stages.
Unfortunately, they didn't have the kind of prominence that we probably should have allowed them to continue on the way through. No one ever believed that Afghanistan could be brought to heel. I mean we have 2,000 years of history to look at. I've been all over that country. I had a, I guess, merchant is almost too strong a word but a man who's a little shopkeeper, a very remote part of Afghanistan.
I was there with the special forces, embedded with them for a week. And we went into that village and when the Americans turned away, I got my interpreter to go back to the merchant and I said to him, what do you think about their presence and they were determined to have him believe in the Afghan security force that would be good for his village, and he looked at me and looked at them and said, we don't need more people with guns telling us what to do.
So you really have this kind of shifting sands constantly depending on who's in town and who has the firepower. I think that we're probably pretty close to the endgame in Afghanistan in doing the best that we can. Now it's up to the Afghans.
MORGAN: Yes. I think you're right. Let's take another break, Tom. A little change of pace. Let me come back and ask you if the love of at least five good women has been the secret to your success.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW: Tonight, East Germany simply threw open the gates of that country, the gates which have been closed now for almost 30 years. And to help the process, East Germany actually attacked the wall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: That was Tom Brokaw in front of the Berlin wall in 1989 for the NBC "Nightly News."
Any regrets over the green jacket, Tom, looking back on that? BROKAW: Well, actually, I had a trade jackets later with one of my colleagues, Mike Fletcher, because I got to thinking this probably is going to be on videotape for a long time, I ought to get dressed up a little more. I'm one of those guys who likes -- you know, I spend a lot of time in the outdoors, the wilderness.
So I tend to travel with those kinds of jackets wherever I go and suddenly I find myself in this historic moment wearing that fairly battered jacket. But it's a proud relic of a very important night for me. And by the way --
MORGAN: Of all the incredible -- sorry.
BROKAW: I was going to say something, Piers. In the book, I talk about that night because it really is symptomatic of how quickly things can change. The wall came down. Germany was united. Berlin is the most cosmopolitan city in central Europe. Germany in so many ways is the heart now of European economy and the most sensible piece of the euro zone at the time.
When I was there just 1990, there was still communist rule on the other half. They did all of that by having a big bold idea of unification. First Helmet Kohl and then the successive -- chancellors and prime ministers in that country.
So I think that's a lesson to this country. We're at a crossroads as well. And in the book I talk about how we can take on the challenges before us. But we have to do that by finding a way to work together.
MORGAN: When you look at all the incredible things that you've witnessed, Tom, over the last few decades, which to you is the standout moment, the one that if you had the chance to relive it and to be there again, you would take?
BROKAW: Well, unfortunately, I don't want to relive some of them because the single, hardest week I had, and the single, hardest day by far was 9/11, in part because we didn't know what to happen next. You know, when you go to war, you kind of have an indication that war is likely to happen. Even with hurricanes you can kind of see them coming.
But in this case, it was just out of the sky on a clear, bright September morning, this utter terror was visited upon this country, launched us into a war, changed the nation profoundly. We had Islamic rage in a way that we had underestimated. So that was a very difficult time for me.
In a more -- in a wider sense, I suppose, the biggest story of my lifetime internationally was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the Chinese economy, and they were linked to one another. When the Soviet Union came down because Mikhail Gorbachev could no longer control what was going on. He was much more progressive and enlightened. There were millions of people liberated in the Eastern Europe, I know the stands, as they call them, the south of the Soviet Union. Same time in 1989 Tiananmen Square happened and the Chinese leadership knew that they had to do something to give more freedom and they chose economic freedom for the generations that were coming along.
Those were seismic events that will play out over the long reach of history. So those are two of the events that I think had a profound effect on me. And then in this country, Vietnam, the division over it, and the success of the Civil Rights movement, those were two events that really changed who we are and how we see ourselves.
MORGAN: Are you still a complete news junkie?
BROKAW: Of course, yes. Of course. I get up every morning and read lots of publications. I am interested in how things work. Sometimes my interests are two small C's, Catholic -- I range across too many parts of the spectrum. I really ought to be spending more time on one or the other.
I'm fascinated by scientific developments these days especially in the medical field. I am utterly fascinated by what's going on in this global economy. Greece can get a headache and we're in danger of getting pneumonia. Those are the kind of things I think we have to be very keen and aware of.
And then I'm, you know, keeping my eye on China. Can they pull this off? This is an enormous task. And there are some small, troubled signs on the horizon over there. So there's a lot -- a lot to pay attention to. But most of all, I'm always interested in what grows up out of main street America, how this country defines itself much more from the ground up than from the top down.
MORGAN: Now I've managed to let you off the hook there about the five great women, loves of your life. But I want to definitely get into that after this final break. Let you sweat a bit more.
MORGAN: Back now with special guest, Tom Brokaw, author of "The Time of Our Lives."
So come on, Tom, it's time to get stuck into the great loves of your life. I am, of course, before you get too nervous, referring to your wife of many years, to your three beautiful daughters, and also to your remarkable mother who died very recently at a grand age, I think, 93 or 4, a remarkable life and career.
Tell me about these women. They say behind every great man is an even greater woman. You've had more than your fair share, Tom.
BROKAW: Well, I'm a failed member of the males -- if not failed, I'm a flawed member of the male species but I am surrounded by all of these awesome women and they have had a profound effect on my life. We just did lose my mother, and we're all at peace with it. She was just five days short of being 94. She went from living in a little house on the prairie, quite literally. No electricity, no indoor plumbing, one-room school, and then went through all those the transitions of the last almost 100 years with great grace and wisdom, and always the best advice for our three daughters who were raised in an entirely different kind of environment.
They were raised in the urban areas. They traveled the world easily but they looked to Grandma Jean for wisdom. And she gave it to them. She's very perceptive about the news. And then of course, in our household, Meredith, who's been such a tower of strength to not only our daughters but to everyone who knows her as well.
We've known each other since we were 15. It took me a while to persuade her that maybe we could have this life together, and she was a little bit skeptical, I think, of me during our high school years. And she once as a cheerleader gave me a sailor cap. I was a basketball player and for a Christmas present she gave me a sailor cap in the school assembly, because I had a girl in every port, as she described it.
So -- and anyway, we worked it out and will have been 50 years next summer. And I am -- I am so grateful that I've had the chance to live with these women. But most of all to learn from them. You know I grew up in a testosterone household of all men, with the exception of my mother, and I've learned that women go through much tougher physiological changes, they go through more difficult emotional changes. They give birth. They become mothers and they become career people, as well. You know most guys couldn't handle all of those roles.
MORGAN: Tom, it's been a fabulous interview. Thank you so much for your candor and for your, I think, really I would say wide-ranging overview of where things are. It's never quite as bad as people think it is, is my -- is my taking away from this interview.
BROKAW: Thank you very much, Piers. I think that it's absolutely the case. We still have so much strength in this country. Great character of America, the rule of law, the economy. People still want to come here and realize the American dream. And we have to -- all of us have an obligation to make sure that it remains true for the next generation and the generation after that as it was for all of us.
MORGAN: Tom Brokaw, it's been a pleasure, thank you very much.
BROKAW: My pleasure, Piers.
MORGAN: And that's all for us tonight. "AC 360" starts now.