Author Kempe Discusses Book on the Berlin Crisis of 1961

Stephanie Jenks


On Thursday, November 3, Colgate welcomed author and former Wall Street Journal edi­tor Frederick Kempe, who came to host a discussion in the Pers­son Auditorium regarding his latest book Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Krushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth. Currently, Kempe is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank. In his recently published book, Kempe focuses on how the Berlin crisis of 1961 proved to be a pivotal time in history. Kempe explores wheth­er the construction of the Berlin Wall could have been avoided.

With a large crowd in atten­dance, Colgate alumnus Scott C. Williams ’80, who helped make Kempe’s visit possible, introduced his long-time friend.

Once Kempe took the stage, he humored the audience with a few jokes before he got into the discussion of his book.

Kempe began by explaining the reasons behind writing his historical narrative. He noted that he wanted to preserve the importance of Cold War history. As a child, student and chronicler of the Cold War, Kempe wants others to understand the im­portance of this crucial event in his­tory, a time that he personally refers to as World War III.

“The war caused the end of the Soviet Union – the end of an entire country, the end of Com­munism, and it set the stage for everything we’re going through now,” Kempe said.

The Cold War remains a highly personal matter for Kempe, con­sidering both of his parents were born in East Germany and parts of his family continued to live there during the war. Kempe visited his family in Germany during his col­lege years and he recounted how the trip was a powerful experience at such a young age.

The discussion then focused on Kempe’s life as a journalist, which he explained is the source of his love for a great story. Kempe argued that the Berlin Crisis tells one of the greatest stories in history, with Kennedy and Kruschev playing the roles of unique characters that help create a great narrative.

“Hollywood scriptwriters could not have given [us] more interesting characters,” Kempe said.

Kempe later turned his attention to his idea of the most important and most controversial issue of the Berlin Crisis: the inauguration and Presidency of John F. Kennedy. In Kempe’s perspective, the Berlin Wall could have been avoidable, yet Ken­nedy failed and let the construction occur. Kempe even titled a chapter of his book “Kennedy’s First Mistake.”

“There’s nothing more danger­ous than a young, inexperienced president holding the most impor­tant job in the world,” Kempe said.

The large audience comprised of students and faculty in Pers­son Auditorium enjoyed the book discussion overall.

“I thought that he did a really good job as a speaker, and his ideas were compelling. He of­fered a fresh perspective on Ken­nedy’s first year in office and what it meant for America dur­ing the Cold War,” sophomore Sus Ivory said.

Along with the discussion, Kempe presented a number of pic­tures from an archive of historical photos that he collected.

“The images he used of the Ber­lin Wall really helped me visualize the difference between East and West Berlin. The speaker also had an interesting perspective on the Berlin crisis. He really made me wonder about history in general,” sophomore Lizzie Granata said.

Kempe is also the author of a number of other books, which in­clude Father/Land: A Personal Search for the New Germany, Divorcing the Dictator: America’s Bungled Affair with Noriega and Siberian Odyssey: A Voyage into the Russian Soul.

Kempe was brought to cam­pus with the help of the Ger­man, History and Political Sci­ence departments as well as the Lester D. Stickles ’18 Endow­ment, which encourages his­torical projects, teaching and research in military diplomacy.

Contact Stephanie Jenks at [email protected]