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‘Earning the Rockies’ author Robert Kaplan answers your questions

Robert Kaplan, author of our September pick for the NewsHour-New York Times book club Now Read This, joins Jeffrey Brown to answer questions from readers, plus Jeff announces October’s book.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Finally, tonight, Jeffrey Brown has the latest installment in our monthly book group, Now Read This.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    It's a road trip into the past about settling a continent and creating a nation and of the future of America's role in the world.

    "Earning the Rockies" has been our September book. and it stirred quite a bit of discussion and debate among readers.

    Author Robert Kaplan is here to answer some of the questions you sent in.

    And welcome. And thanks for participating.

  • Robert Kaplan:

    It's a great pleasure for me to be here, Jeff.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Good.

    Let's go. I want to go right to the first question, because it helps set up what you are after.

  • Robert Kaplan:

    OK. Very good.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK.

  • Bill Kaghan:

    Why did you choose frame your argument in terms — in the form of a memoir and a road trip?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So, this is memoir, road trip, policy.

  • Robert Kaplan:

    It's — I have never done a book like this.

    It's an odd way to organize it. The first part is a memoir about my father, who inspired me to travel, because he spent the 1930s traveling in 43 of the lower 48 states.

    The second chapter is about a great forgotten American writer, Bernard DeVoto, who traveled all over the country, wrote all about the settling of the West. But though he was a continentalist, he believed in America's international destiny in World War II. And putting DeVoto together with my father…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes.

  • Robert Kaplan:

    … made me want to take my own road trip.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So you did.

  • Robert Kaplan:

    Right, so I did.

    And then the next two chapters were about traveling, literally, from New England to San Diego. And what I do there is reflect on everything I have seen along the way and try to understand what it means for America's role in the world.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Through geography.

  • Robert Kaplan:

    Through geography.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Because that — to let in those who…

  • Robert Kaplan:

    In other words, it's a geographical landscape meditation, followed by a geopolitical analysis, which you never see anywhere else, because it's like two separate subcultures,two separate audiences.

    So I think it was jarring to people, but it was the only way that I could do it, because I believe foreign policy emanates from a country's domestic condition.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And the country's destiny in some way.

  • Robert Kaplan:

    Right.

    And that could only be shown through a road trip which emphasizes geography.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK, so I said it stirred up a lot of discussion and debate.

    I want to go to the next question.

  • Chris Carey:

    I struggled with your support of the principle of manifest destiny.

    My question is, aren't there other ways to achieve greatness? Or is greatness really the goal we should be trying to achieve?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So there were a number of questions along those lines.

    I want to read one other one that came in from Gary Getson, "Would the U.S. have made a much better impact on the world if it had not decimated Native Americans and their culture?"

    There's this constant tension that you refer to.

  • Robert Kaplan:

    Yes, right, because manifest — because, as I say at the beginning of the book, American history is morally unresolvable.

    And it's unresolvable because the conquest of the West and the decimation of the Native Americans led to a middle-class, machine society across the whole temperate zone of North America, with all of its resources, more navigable inland waterways than the rest of the world combined, masses of petroleum, of other things.

    And with that capacity, America was able to save the world in two World Wars and the Cold War that followed. Did one thing make the other — justify the other thing? No. That's why it's morally unresolvable.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And that's what a lot of people are…

  • Robert Kaplan:

    And I struggled with it myself.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And I see readers struggling with it, yes.

  • Robert Kaplan:

    Right. Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK.

    Another — I want to go to our next question, because it represents another strain of the discussion here. Let's take a look.

  • Caroline Walker:

    You write about the growing divide between city states and rural areas and cities that have not adjusted to the global economy.

    Do you have any thoughts about how to bridge this growing divide?

  • Robert Kaplan:

    It was stunning, what I saw.

    Outside of the two coasts, outside of the university towns and college towns, and outside of a few, a smattering of state capitals, which are doing very well, much of America are towns of 20,000, 30,000 people with shelled-out storefronts, nobody on the Main Street, people having lost all hope.

    This book was written and researched before the last election, before the campaign even began for the last election. And I saw a heartland which was economically and socially devastated.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And how does that play into what then followed in the election?

  • Robert Kaplan:

    And then all I could think about is, how to bridge the divide is, we can't go backward, we can only go forward, because the only future is global.

    You have to get more of these places hooked into the global economy. Like, I'm traveling along the Ohio River, and I see one devastated town after another. But then I get to Marietta, Ohio, which is a tiny college, but it has students from dozens of countries. It's very highly rated. And it's part of the global world.

    Suddenly, I'm there, and then I leave it again.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK, let's go to one more question.

  • Brandon Irwin:

    Mr. Kaplan, you say in the book, "Americans, I find more and more each day as I travel, do not want to know the details about foreign policy."

    Is this disconnect with foreign policy replicated around the world?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    You do — we should say you travel all over. You have written about many other parts of the world.

  • Robert Kaplan:

    Yes, I do. Yes, I have got reported from 100 countries.

    And in most, but it's — you only see it replicated in large, massive countries, continental-size, like the United States, where there's so much going on internally, that the outside world seems almost to disappear in a way.

    But in many — Europe is mainly small countries, and even the biggest countries is small by our standards. But, in Europe, in Africa and the Middle East, people are much more connected to world events, I find, than in the United States.

    It's almost as if you know intellectually that every place in the U.S. — the Oklahoma Panhandle has agricultural ties with cities in China and everywhere. You know all this intellectually, but when you actually see it, and drive across it, the continent is so big and variegated, that the rest of the world seems abstract almost.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, we will leave it there.

    I want to thank everybody who wrote in questions.

    We will continue with more of those questions online, which you can find on our Facebook page and "NewsHour" Web site.

    For now, Robert Kaplan, thank you very much.

  • Robert Kaplan:

    My pleasure.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And let me announce our book club pick for October.

    It's a very different look at American lands, especially in the West.

    "American Wolf" by Nate Blakeslee tells the story of what came to be known as the most famous wolf in the world in Yellowstone National Park and the people and politics around it.

    We hope you will read along in Now Read This, our book club collaboration with The New York Times.

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