Madeleine Albright made history when she became the first female U.S. secretary of state during the Clinton administration. She also served as Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor and a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Despite often being considered a feminist icon, she made a number of controversial decisions, including the use of military force, throughout her political career.
Now, at age 81, she’s on tour for her fourth book, “Fascism: A Warning.” She came to Santa Cruz on Feb. 5 for an event put on by Bookshop Santa Cruz in partnership with UC Santa Cruz’s Humanities Institute and Temple Beth El.
GETTING PERSONAL WITH MADELEINE ALBRIGHT
Happy to take a break from signing 2,900 books, Albright turned in her swivel chair and set down her pen. Spotting the photographer’s camera, her publicist reached into Albright’s bag and handed her lipstick, which she painted on while making a remark about trying to stay young.
Sitting in a small upstairs room at Bookshop Santa Cruz, surrounded by books stacked from floor to ceiling, Albright’s eloquence prevailed as she began to speak of the meaning of her new book, “Fascism: A Warning,” in a one-on- one interview with City on a Hill Press.
Her latest book, published April 10 of last year, integrates personal experience with a thought-provoking examination of fascism in the twentieth century. Straying from technical language, Albright made the book accessible for anyone to examine the clash between democracy and fascism.
She planned on writing this book no matter the outcome of the 2016 election as a way to explore political division in the U.S.
“The election of 2016, in so many ways, especially from the perspective of Trump, made the divisions worse,” Albright said. “Instead of looking for a common answer, look for an active way of solving the problems. There was an exacerbation of the divisions and pitting one group against another.”
In addition to discussing the world’s political severance, Albright highlighted the progress made in the midterm elections. She explained voter turnout provided encouragement for the future.
“The turnout was very good. From my perspective, the result was good because of all the new members that were elected that are coming to Washington with the desire to do something,” Albright said. “I was troubled by the fact that some people in previous elections had come to Washington to stop things from happening.”
Albright commended the record number of women elected to the House of Representatives in the midterm elections.
“I happen to believe societies are better when women are politically and economically empowered,” Albright said. “We need to really understand we can’t be so judgmental about each other and mentor and encourage women to get involved.”
Albright also emphasized the nation’s need to embody democratic ideals, outlining the experiences that shaped her view. When Albright was two-years-old, Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia forced her family to flee to England. Once the war ended, her family returned to Prague. They were forced to flee again when Prague was taken over by communist leaders in 1948.
Because Albright was so young during these experiences, she relied on her father’s account of feeling welcomed in the U.S.
“My father said that when we were in England, people would say ‘we’re so sorry your country’s been taken over by terrible dictator. You’re welcome here. What can we do to help you and when are you going home?’” Albright said. “When we came to the United States, people said ‘We’re so sorry your country’s been taken over by a terrible system. You’re welcome here. What can we do to help you and when will you become a citizen?”
Albright wondered if U.S. ideals of democracy and immigration changed since she immigrated. She noted her father thought Americans took democracy for granted. Without mentioning President Trump explicitly, Albright alluded to the idea that U.S. immigration policies are reshaping to hold undemocratic values.
“Democracy takes active work,” Albright said. “You can’t just say, ‘Okay, this is a democracy and I’ll just go ahead and do my stuff.’ You really need to become involved. I’ve been saying that democracy is fragile, but it’s also resilient. And so we have to figure out how not to normalize what’s going on now and understand the gifts of democracy, but realize they require active support.”
ALBRIGHT TALKS PAST AND PRESENT WITH JOURNALIST MARTHA MENDOZA
Later that night, Bookshop Santa Cruz presented “An Evening with Madeleine Albright,” where Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and UC Santa Cruz and City on a Hill Press alumna Martha Mendoza conducted an on-stage conversation with Albright at the Kaiser Permanente Arena.
About 2,900 people filled the stadium and each attendee received a signed copy of her book. As soon as Albright stepped on stage, the crowd roared with applause, rising to its feet.
Mendoza dove straight into the interview. She asked why Albright chose to continue with the book after the 2016 election produced a different result than she expected.
“I thought it was worth looking at why countries turn to various kinds of leaders at times of trouble,” Albright said. “I went ahead with it because I saw more issues that made me very nervous in terms of what was happening in our election here.”
The initial questions focused on the book, but later moved toward decisions in Secretary Albright’s career. Mendoza asked about meeting with former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and relations with Rwanda during her time as secretary of state.
Anti-war activists critique Albright for her decisions to use military force at points in her career. One of the past decisions activists bring up is the U.S. and U.N. sanctions on Iraq imposed during the Clinton administration.
In the 1990s, the Clinton administration pressured the U.N. Security Council to impose a sanction regime to punish Saddam Hussein for his 1990 invasion of Kuwait. This was recorded as one of the most brutal sanctions regime on Iraq inhistory.
A 2016 U.N. report found that between 1991 and 1995, as many as 576,000 Iraqi children died due to stringent economic sanctions Albright supported.
Mendoza and Albright explored various topics during the interview. They discussed a range of current issues like the coinciding State of the Union, Venezuela and immigration. Mendoza’s questions were thought provoking and Albright’s answers poised. The topic of media received a positive audience reaction.
“I believe that the media is absolutely essential to democracy,” Albright said. “The media represents the people and the questions that people have.”
Mendoza responded by reminding her the media can often make politicians’ jobs harder, to which Albright reiterated that news and media remain vital to true democracy.
“Tonight was so inspiring,” said attendee Alex Mears. “[Albright] has a way about her that makes me want to go out and make a change in the path our country is headed. She was so honest and despite her warnings, also provided me with some hope.”
Although Trump was on the minds of many with the State of the Union occurring the same day as the event, Albright mentioned him a limited amount of times. She instead focused on changes that she felt need to occur in order to avoid a fascist future.
“Some people think this book is alarmist,” Albright said. “It’s supposed to be.”