Henry Grunwald

As Time Goes By, Part I

VTR Date: April 25, 1987

Guest: Grunwald, Henry


VTR: 4/25/87

HEFFNER: I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t at all like the idea of mandatory retirement at age 65. I don’t even like it when the age is extended to 70, as at Rutgers, when and where I’ll eventually have to give up the ghost. Yet, nearly 65, retirement does come now, as I suppose it must – in that wonderful patois times – to all men in huge organizations, even to our guest today, Henry Grunwald, formerly the managing editor of Time (‘Time, the weekly news magazine’, as one was obliged to add when I had a brief encounter with it decades ago), and for some years now, Editor-in-Chief of all Time, Inc. publications: Time, Life, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, People, Money, Discover, and Time Life Books, among others. Of course, it’s a sign of quite how limited our language is – indeed, it’s a contradiction in terms – to refer to ‘the retiring Henry Grunwald.’ Happily, Mr. Grunwald has never been, nor never will be, retiring…in prose or in person. Restrained, yes. Gentle and charming, witty and clever, wonderfully reasoned and persuasive…yes, yes, yes. But never retiring. No, Henry Grunwald, in his whole creative half-life thus far, has never hid his light under a bushel of words. His prose as well as his edits have all been direct, to the point, provocative, skillfully crafted…and important. In his own way, indeed, as time has marched on, Henry Grunwald has emerged as one of this age’s great communicators. And not by way of swan-singing, but just to nab him while I can, I’ve asked him to record two OPEN MIND programs with me, for this week and next, in which I want to talk both about his medium – the media – and also about the land to which he escaped from Europe a half-century ago, about America, about our leaders, and about our leadership in the world. So welcome back, Mr. Grunwald.

GRUNWALD: Thank you very much, and I might add that your introduction made me almost blush under my make-up, but thank you.

HEFFNER: Well, blush you man, and you’ve…I have got every right to say what I’ve said because what I’ve said is shared by so many people. But, this morning I was looking back at the video cassettes of programs we did in the past, some years ago, and I was thinking of what Abraham Lincoln said to another great journalist, Horace Greely, ‘When new views come to be true views, I shall adopt them.’ Because I wondered whether you had adopted any variations on the views that you expressed here some years back. For instance, we dug up a book that you had written about Winston Churchill and I read a quote, ‘Winston Churchill was perhaps the last great man of the West,’ and when I read that you said, ‘I’m not so sure that I would write that today,’ and I wonder if any things have happened since we last met that would change your mind?

GRUNWALD: Well, I’m not sure that I would write that today. I think, as I may have said the last time round in answer to this particular question, I think I was defining the West in a rather specific way, that is, the West embodying certain values that I suspect were left over, to some extent at least, from the 19th century. And also, of course, his greatness was exercised in unnatural times – in war time. It is, in some ways, easier to lead a country, or even an alliance, in war time than it is in peace time. And we haven’t had, really, that kind of opportunity for leadership, fortunately of course, through the lack of a cataclysmic war like World War II. I do think, however, without necessarily making lists or labels…I find it very difficult to find leaders with the self-confidence and the clarity of purpose, and of course the eloquence, that Churchill displayed.

HEFFNER: Then what do you think will happen to us as a people…take the West if you will…but take the universe if you will, too…as we go into the 21st century without that kind of leadership, and with the kinds of trials and tribulations that you refer to so frequently in your editorials?

GRUNWALD: Well, I can’t speak for the universe, modesty forbids, but as far as our country is concerned, and the countries that we are involved with in alliances and other ways, I think we’ll …other countries have. Beyond that, I think we can’t assume, as you suggest, that there will not be such leadership again. There may be somebody in high school now, or possibly getting ready for the primaries, who might indeed emerge as a major leader. But there is an interaction between leadership and, if you will, the people or the public or the voters, and I can only…if we have anybody even remotely resembling Winston Churchill, or some of the other great leaders that we mourn, we will have to be ready for them. It is a little bit like love – you don’t fall in love automatically, you have to be sort of ready for it, I think. And you have to be ready…people have to be ready for leadership. It has to be able to respond, it has to be willing to make a certain effort to subject itself to leadership. Whether we are capable…whether Americans are capable of this or not, I am not sure but I believe so and I hope so.

HEFFNER: You know, it was Henry Luce…and we talked about this last time…who coined the phrase…I said in Time, but you corrected me and said in Life…’The American Century.’ You’ve said in a piece, ‘It’s still the American Century.’ Do you feel that way? Do you feel that…

GRUNWALD: …Yes, I still feel…I do feel that way and I feel it perhaps even more strongly than I did a few years ago when I wrote that piece. I probably mean the phrase…I used the phrase, ‘The American Century’, somewhat differently from the way Henry Luce used it. I cannot claim, obviously that we have the military or the economic power, and the willingness to use both, to the extent that we had it, certainly after World War II, and to some extent even before World War II. I don’t have to list all the reasons why the situation has changed, but when you look at the world, when you look at what other country might assert a claim to world leadership, you don’t get very far. The most important economic power in the world, of course…apart from ourselves, and rivaling us, as we only know too well…are the Japanese. The Japanese, for a variety of psychological and historical reasons, are not about to exert world leadership. If they try to exert leadership through diplomacy, and including military buildup, I think there would be great nervousness in many parts of the world and they are not ready for it. I’m not saying they won’t be in another generation or two, but not in the foreseeable future. Western Europe, which has made a marvelous economic comeback, is not going…is incapable of exerting world leadership because it is not united. The soviets, for all the obvious reasons, and including a very, very severe economic weakness, which is endemic and which Mr. Gorbachov is trying to cure, I think are very far away from world leadership. I think their attempt to lead has been very, very limited to their own backyard in Eastern Europe and a few isolated countries in the Third World. So, even with all our deficiencies, and there are many, perhaps if you will be default, we are still the inheritors of world leadership, and I think will be for quite awhile to come. One sign of this is the flood of foreign investment. Despite our economic problems, foreigners invest heavily in this country for one reason and one reason only, which is the immense political stability of this country which is not matched anywhere else in the world.

HEFFNER: You say, perhaps by default. Is that enough?

GRUNWALD: Well, I don’t know that it’s enough. I certainly would like us to rally and to assert our leadership and our position more positively, but there are still quite a few positives in this country, both economically and intellectually and in other ways.

HEFFNER: Looking back at the beginning of the Reagan administration, you lead all the Time, Inc. publications in a re-assessment of America and a statement of what we needed in this country. And you were hopeful. Six years later, are you as hopeful?

GRUNWALD: Well, I think many things that Reagan set out to do and which…many of which, I think, or at least some of which, I think, were sound…have come to pass. Many others have failed and have not come to pass. One of the problems is that we are terribly impatient as a nation and what he said he would try to do would take more than six years…that is a term and a half…much more than…much longer than that to carry out. That is an addition to his personal deficiencies which we all know about. But you have to look at the Reagan era, if you will, in perspective. It came as a reaction to a long period of social policy and government policy that was going really in only one direction – which was more involvement by government, more social policies, more expensive social policies of all kinds – which originated in the New Deal and which were absolutely necessary, and probably saved this country, but like many good things, they were carried too far. They were carried especially too far under Mr. Johnson. And a reaction was inevitable and necessary, and Reagan was not the leader of that reaction, in my opinion…and I mean, when I say reaction I don’t mean that word in the sense of reactionary, necessarily…he is not the leader of that movement, I think he was the expression of it. He was thrust up and cast up by that inevitable swing of the pendulum – a slightly mixed metaphor there but you see what I mean. He promised to cut back on government expenditures and government involvement. He has obviously done that, but really to a very limited extent. He was unable or unwilling to really tackle the middle class entitlements. He was able to and willing to chip away at some of the things that were discretionary and, therefore, of course, hurt some of the social programs for the poor, which were not entitlement programs. But even there, we have to remember that he didn’t really cut back social programs, as is generally said, but what he really did was to slow down their growth – in other words, they are today slightly lower than they would have been if the growth had continued along the same lines as before. Social programs in this country are still only about half of…I mean, sorry, social programs are twice as much as the military programs…as the military budget, so not a great deal of that cut back has been accomplished. I think he has done rather more in eliminating government regulations – I think, on the whole, to the good, although there have been some eliminations of regulations that are, perhaps…that have been unfortunate and too rash. He certainly has carried out a tremendous military buildup, of which he is widely criticized. I happen to think that it was necessary. It may have been excessive, and probably was excessive in certain details, but I think it was absolutely necessary to have that…to have that resurgence of military strength. And I think it has had results, contrary to what many people say. It has had results, and I think one of the results, frankly, may very well be, as we sit here, an arms control agreement with the Russians.

HEFFNER: Do you join with those who feel that that growth of strength may be dissipated in the President’s eagerness now to meet his critics and to come away as a president who did achieve something in the area of world peace?

GRUNWALD: Well that gets very complicated. I don’t really think so, but I certainly agree that there is such a risk. If I had my druthers, I would rather not begin the arms control process with Europe because I think we are dealing on European missiles and intermediate missiles only because it is the easiest thing to get a deal on, not because it is necessarily the most important or the most urgent thing to get a deal on. However, when all is said and done, when it is all worked out, I think the elimination of intermediate missiles may cause some anxiety. It may even change…will lower the sense of security and the actual security of Europe somewhat, but I don’t think it will be a big loss for us at all, and it may very well be a gain if it leads to other things, as I hope it will.

HEFFNER: You spoke about his successes. You also spoke about his failures. You also commented, as you have many times in the past, about Americans’ impatience – they want what they want when they want it; they seem to be unwilling…we seem to be unwilling to take the long look and to take the long path to what it is we want to achieve as a nation. Is it possible for any president to get this nation, any leader, to get this nation to have something other than that impatience that you described?

GRUNWALD: Probably not. I don’t think it is possible for any single leader to do that. It is possible, however, that we are beginning to learn from history that things cannot happen very quickly and that we have to kind of have much longer range goals and ambitions than we are accustomed to having. I don’t know that that will happen, but it might.

HEFFNER: But of course that’s what I want to ask you about. What indications are there that lead you to say we may be learning from history?

GRUNWALD: Well, I think one indication perhaps is that for better or for worse, and to some extent I think it has been for worse, that Vietnam certainly has left certain lessons and a great mark in our national psyche – that is, a kind of learning. We may have learned that lesson, as a matter of fact, too well. I think there is also…it will be very interesting to see what happens, of course, after Reagan, and whether the…some of the things that Reagan stands for will be carried on as it were under other auspices, or whether there will be a total regression. I think there are some democrats who are…no matter what they say, no matter what lip service they offered to reduce government spending and not being able to solve all these things for money, I think they are just dying to get back in there and start spending again and solving…or trying to solve our problems through spending tax monies. However, there are others on both sides, both democrats and republicans, who are quite serious in saying that we cannot go back to the good old days of the Great Society and that, if you will, Reaganism will have to become a permanent part of our society and our economy. So we’ll see.

HEFFNER: Now, if you had to make a bet, what would you bet we’ll see?

GRUNWALD: I think what we’ll see, as always in America, will be a mixed and muddled picture. I think certain elements of what we call Reaganism will have to remain because they are economical imperatives that will make them remain.

HEFFNER: Or course, we are talking now about economics…economic imperatives. But you have written so eloquently about the American idea being an idea…the American experience has been a series of ideas. What is happening to them? What do you project for them in the near future?

GRUNWALD: Can I comment for a moment on the shape of your question?


GRUNWALD: I think it is a mistake to, sort of, separate the economics over there to one corner, and then say, well, over here there are the ideas. I think it is a mistake, if I may say so, that we have made as a society for decades – economics always kind of was specialty somewhere in the corner of our perception. A great mistake. Economics…a country’s economy is an expression of the national ethos, if I can say that. I know it is not a very fashionable term, just as a national character is not a very fashionable term. But here is such a thing, and if we are an economic…if we have economic problems today, I think some of them at least are caused by a change in the national ethos or in the national morale, if you will…having to do with productivity, with discipline, with education, all sorts of things like that.

HEFFNER: But changing which way?

GRUNWALD: Changing, so far, for the worse. Definitely for the worse. Our competitive situation in the world, our trade deficit, all these things are not things that were caused only by Reagan’s large federal deficit, which of course is a tremendous problem, or by anything else that Reagan did himself. There have been these things…these problems have been coming on for years and years, and even decades – the quality of American industry, the quality of American labor, the educational level of our population. I have a great instinctive belief in this country’s ability to make…to turn around and to rally, and I think if we recognize the problems it is just possible that the country may once again galvanize itself and do something about these problems. It has happened before, it happened again…this was war time, but it certainly happened during World War II, and on a lesser scale, but quite interestingly, it happened in the relatively narrow field of education – after Sputnik – when we certainly realized that we were way behind the Russians in a certain essential regard. And I think it can happen again.

HEFFNER: What would lead it to happen, since you say Sputnik and hot war…

GRUNWALD: …I think what may lead it to happen, and perhaps what has already begun to happen, is our comparative situation in the world, especially in regard to the Japanese. I think that will be…that could be the most important spur. And I think a growing dissatisfaction with some of the flaws of our society at home, which can nag at people. People are not necessarily altruistic. They are not necessarily going to do a great deal that costs them personally a lot of effort and money, to do something about the homeless. But yes, they will…they’re bothered by it, I think. And they are beginning to understand that this is not just a matter of altruism – this is a kind of symptom of an imbalance in our society that ought to be corrected.

HEFFNER: It is interesting that you say that it’s not a matter of altruism, because at the end of our last program…and I said, someday I’ll have to get you back to explain it…you said that Americans have an inadequate sense of evil. Now, are we going to develop a more adequate sense? Have we shown anything like that? What’s changed that leads you to say, we’ve done it before, we can do it again?

GRUNWALD: I don’t know that anything has changed, truly. Certainly a lot of what Reagan has done was cosmetic rather than real, but there are also some real things that have happened, and I think a willingness, or readiness, by the people to respond to him, which I think is perhaps more significant than people are willing to admit – who think of Reagan simply as a kind of show business character. But getting back to this evil, this question of evil – Arthur Schlesinger, in a recent book about the cycles of American history, said something about the permanent sort of alternation between what he called conservatism and the conservative idea and the innovative idea…I probably misquoted him slightly…in other words, he opposed conservatism on the one hand, and innovation on the other. I think it is valid…I think it is a valid distinction, but it is not a distinction that I would make. I think what characterizes conservatism is not lack of innovation – conservatives can be very innovative. But what characterizes conservatism, really, is a certain view of human nature, namely the notion that human nature is flawed…permanently flawed, and that people need to be lead in a certain way to make society function. To the extent that we have become a more conservative country, I think to that extent we have shared this conservative insight.

HEFFNER: Hobbsians? That’s what we’ve become? Rather than Mackians (?)?

GRUNWALD: Well, I don’t think we’ve become Hobbsians yet, but I think we have seen…we’ve had a large dose of Hobbsian insights in the last few years.

HEFFNER: Where does Henry Grunwald put himself on that scale between liberals and conservatives, Hamiltonians, Jeffersonians?

GRUNWALD: Pretty much on the conservative side. I consider myself, in political terms, a Centerist. I like the middle, even though in many ways the middle is an uncomfortable place, for obvious reasons. But if it was for us to choose…then, of course, these choices are never as neat as they sound…but if it were us to choose, I would come in on the conservative side, certainly as it regards my view of human nature.

HEFFNER: Without the burdens that you’ve borne for us these many years as managing editor of Time, and then as editor-in=chief of all of the Time publications, can we expect you to become more political? Less political? More on the one side rather than the other?

GRUNWALD: If you mean more political (chuckle)…will I run for office…and I’m joking because you don’t mean that. No, I will not. I don’t think that I’ll become more political or more conservative than I am. I think my views are pretty much formed. I don’t mean to say that I have a closed mind…I would like to think that in tune with this program, I have an open mind. But I don’t think one doesn’t change one’s beliefs very drastically at sixty-four, or possibly not even at forty. I’m not sure.

HEFFNER: What hope is there then…seriously…

GRUNWALD: …What hope is there?

HEFFNER: …If one doesn’t change one’s beliefs?

GRUNWALD: Well, my…why should hope be tied up with changing one’s beliefs?

HEFFNER: Because, presumably, if we change things, we change them because we get others to change. We don’t manipulate them, we convince them. And it’s a rather grim business, it seems to me, to say, probably even at forty the ideas are set and that’s it. You talked about the necessary changes in our society?

GRUNWALD: But we must make a distinction between changing one’s beliefs, or one’s…let’s say, one’s view of human nature…one’s philosophical beliefs, if you will…and changing practical things in daily life or in the life of a community or country. It is entirely possible to cling to one’s beliefs, one’s fundamental beliefs, and getting involved in all kinds of programs – political, economic, what have you – that are quite compatible with these basic, fundamental beliefs. Do you see the distinction I’ve made?

HEFFNER: I see the distinction. I’m not so sure that I see the difference. You’ll forgive me.

GRUNWALD: I forgive you. I think the difference is really quite clear. I could, for instance, imagine somebody coming along with a radically new policy toward the Soviet Union, a radically new policy toward the Third World, possibly even a radically new vision of economic distribution or economic justice in this country, which is somehow…I can’t imagine what it would be, but let’s assume it could be somewhere in some fashion different from both capitalism…traditional capitalism and socialism…and I think my basic views of human nature might be quite compatible with any of those things.

HEFFNER: Do you see anything…moving away from that in the one minute we have left of this particular program…Do you see any basic changes taking place in America now? Any seed changes in our feelings, in our thinking?

GRUNWALD: I think, on the surface at least, as Time magazine recently expounded in the cover story, there seems to be a turning away from a certain amount of Reagan emphasis on less government, more individual initiative, and one keeps hearing a lot about compassion. I have very little use for the word compassion when it is applied to the government – I think the government is in the business of justice and efficiency – compassion is for individuals. But that may be a seed change that may be one of those pendulum swings. How profound the swing, or how wide a swing, I don’t know yet.

HEFFNER: Then stay tuned. We’ll talk about that in the next…

GRUNWALD: …Indeed, yes.

HEFFNER: Thanks, Henry Grunwald, for joining me today. And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you’ll join us again next time. And if you care to share your thoughts about today’s program, please write to THE OPEN MIND, P.O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, NY 10150. For transcripts send $2.00 in check or money order. Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”.

Continuing production of this series has generously been made possible by grants from: The Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, The M. Weiner Foundation of New Jersey, The Mediators and Richard and Gloria Manney, The Richard Lounsbury Foundation; Mr. Lawrence A. Wien, and The New York Times Company Foundation.