E-mail Exchange with Alan Cranston: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Alan Cranston's E-Mail Exchange with High School Students

Life History | Politics | Nuclear Weapons | Lessons Learned


Life History

"I always knew I could help make a difference."

Do you have a guiding principle/philosophy that you live by? What is it?

I do, and it is inspired by a poem that I have always carried in my wallet by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, 2000 years ago. It goes as follows:

A leader is best
When people barely know
That he exists.

Less good when
They obey and acclaim him.

Worse when
They fear and despise him.

Fail to honor people,
And they fail to honor you.

But of a good leader,
When his work is done,
His aim fulfilled,
They will all say:
"We did this ourselves."

How did you feel, knowing how destructive Hitler was, but not knowing if you could make the rest of the world understand?

I always knew I could help make a difference. I was a reporter covering Hitler and Mussolini before World War II began. I had read Mein Kampf in the original German, and I became determined to get involved in one way or another in the effort to put a stop to the dangerous wave of Fascism that threatened the world. When I returned to the United States, I found that there was no accurate version of Mein Kampf available in English -- there was one that was abridged, and it was missing important parts that indicated what Hitler was really up to. So, with the help of a few friends, I wrote and published my own version of Mein Kampf -- a more accurate version. It was a red and black tabloid with cartoons and drawings. And I wasn't afraid to interrupt Hitler in mid passage with my own comments to point out the terrible plans he was making.

Hitler's agents learned of my version, which was selling for ten cents a copy, and set out to end its circulation. His lawyers took us to court, suing us under U.S. copyright laws -- and won. And they were right: We had violated Hitler's copyright. Publication of my version of Mein Kampf was put to an end, but not before more than half a million copies were sold.

Was there ever a time when you just felt like giving up or questioned what it was exactly you were doing? In times of national hardship, such as the Vietnam War, how did you remain optimistic?

No, I've always had a sense of direction, and a sense of what's right and what's wrong, and I'm just naturally an optimist.

If you had a chance to go back and fix a mistake you made while in office, what would it be?

I've sometimes misjudged people's character, perhaps because of my optimism. I'd try to be more careful about that.

Life History | Politics | Nuclear Weapons | Lessons Learned

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