In today’s echo-chambered world, many important and meaningful conversations are being had behind closed doors. Ever wish you could be a fly on the wall on some of these? Have you ever thought about conversations that aren’t on the record and that you’d have loved to listen to? Maybe these were real conversations that truly happened, but nothing remains as to what actually was said. Then there are those moments where a specific conversation sparked the beginning of something big. This could be the meeting that sparked a revolution, the creation of a religion or the origin of a major discovery or innovation. Another area of fascination is the preceding conversations with historical figures who are about to deliver immense words. For example, the conversations and thoughts in the run-up to some of biggest speeches ever made, such as the most memorable ones by Churchill, FDR, de Gaulle, MLK, or Elizabeth I (at Tilbury in 1588)… At its heart, what interests me is the creative nature of conversation, the force of the collective, mulling big thoughts, and how conversation moves the needle.
What secret or secretive conversations come to mind for you?
I have five such conversations where I’d have loved to have been present. I’m sharing these with my dear paying subscribers today. THANK YOU again for your support! If you’re a free subscriber, don’t fret though. I’ll release the paywall in a few weeks.
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Here are five unrecorded meetings or moments that most intrigue me.
1/ In Philadelphia, in mid-June 1776, a five-man committee set about drafting a formal statement to the British of the colonies’ intentions to break away. That ‘statement’ eventually became the Declaration of Independence (i.e. the one signed on July 4th). The five men were: John Adams (of Massachusetts), Roger Sherman (of Connecticut), Benjamin Franklin (of Pennsylvania), Robert R. Livingston (of New York) and and the one southerner, Thomas Jefferson (of Virginia). They certainly didn’t all see eye to eye. I wonder to what extent were they aware of the history they were making? The amount and breadth of debate over the opening lines?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
2/ Do you know what JFK’s last words were? So ironic: "No, you certainly can't." Do you know to what he was referring? You can’t say that Dallas doesn’t love you. Double negatives will get you every time, I say. The truth behind Kennedy’s murder remains shrouded in mystery and conspiracy theories. With the 1500 documents that were declassified and released last year, there have been many new ideas and names. Yet, there are still some 15,000 more documents that the CIA and FBI don’t wish to leave in the public’s hands. Why the reluctance? Oswald is a curious character, for sure, but I’m more interested in knowing with the secrets with which Jack Ruby went to his death. What, if anything, did he say to his lawyer? Because of attorney-client privilege, many confidential conversations are by definition destined for obscurity. But, as unsavory a character as he was, I wonder what Ruby might have said to his attorney? He surely knew so much. He alone probably could have untwisted the tale.
3/ Winston Churchill is an icon. While many of his statues have faced disfigurement and his reputation and actions are being reviewed under today’s mores, I remain deeply attached to his person, warts and all. The pillow conversations he had with his wife, Clementine, were surely fascinating. But, from a historical standpoint, I wonder more about the looks and unofficial chats he might have shared with Roosevelt. They seemed to have developed a complex — somewhat belabored — relationship. But, how much of what happened at the various conferences happened through non-verbal cues or casual encounters (for example on a hotel landing, at the loo…). And then there are the conversations between Clementine and Eleanor? So different from one another, yet each had a vital role to play in helping their husbands, and by speaking and dealing with the public in ways that their spouses could not. The intricate four-way relationship shared by Clementine, Eleanor, Winston and Franklin, must have been filled with plenty of untold secrets.
4/ I once had the immense pleasure to spend a weekend with the journalist Tom Brokaw at his home. It was in the early 1990s, well before he had published his fabulous book, The Greatest Generation. I recall having so many questions for him, about the conversations he had had and the interviews he had conducted with world leaders. I remember asking him about his meeting Gorbachev and other Russian leaders. Unfortunately, I didn’t record it and, sadly, can’t remember what he said. What I do recall was feeling in total admiration, if not adulation, being in conversation with someone who had had so many incredible conversations and meetings in his life. For having done a good number of interviews myself (e.g. 600+ on my podcast), I know how keen and important are the preambles before hitting the record button. What was exchanged off-mike in Brokaw’s interviews with Reagan and Putin?
5/ At university, I wrote my thesis on literature in revolution. I became intrigued by how and why revolutions succeed. I specifically looked at how the heroic protagonists in the books I studied (Los de Abajo, For Whom the Bell Tolls and La Condition Humaine) looked at time, religion and love during the last hours before they died (as they did in each novel). At that time, I also started to get interested in the forces that ignite a revolution (or civil war). When and what was the spark? What was the nature of the conversation that happened between the conspirators, at the end of which, they clasp hands and embrace in a sure sign that the revolution has begun?
Do any of these spark a reaction?
Please do write back and/or comment as to the conversations that you’d have liked to attend!
I also find it interesting as to what is documented in the file of the murder of RFK. For current times, with all the hype and wonder of a possible stolen US 2020 Presidential election, I would like to have been on both of the parties sides/ conversations surrounding the legitimacy of the mail in ballots and the truth behind the court cases that denied and accepted further review of the doubt raised by different states and leaders and not from media to form my own opinion.