Andrew Nagorski

Stories by Andrew Nagorski

  • An Eerily Timely Tale

    A foreign agent slips into the United States with deadly intent and finds the country incredibly easy to penetrate. A troubled young American defects to the enemy and undergoes military training so he can fight his own countrymen. Sound familiar? No, this isn't a 9-11 tale. It's a story of World War II--Nov. 29, 1944, to be exact--when German secret agent Erich Gimpel was deposited by a U-boat on the Maine coast. He was accompanied by William Colepaugh, an American defector who would soon prove to be the weakest link in a desperate plan to discover the secrets of the Manhattan Project and blow up its installations.Captured in New York because of Colepaugh's bumbling and betrayal, Gimpel tells his dramatic story in "Agent 146" (St. Martin's). Originally published in Germany and Britain in 1957, the book is being released for the first time in the United States. Both men had been sentenced to hang, but they were unbelievably lucky. Before their sentences could be carried out,...
  • The View From The Cold War

    It's funny what sometimes comes to mind when you see a movie. As I watched "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," based on what bills itself as the autobiography of schlock-TV producer Chuck Barris (who, aside from his credits as the creator of "The Dating Game," "The Newlywed Game" and "The Gong Show," claims he was a hit man for the CIA), I found myself remembering an incident from one of my many postings in Russia.In early 1992, another American correspondent and I were driving on the outskirts of Moscow and gave a lift to a Russian hitchhiker. Our passenger turned out to be an aide to ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky. When he realized that he was sitting in a car with two American reporters, there was a moment of stunned silence. Then, he congratulated us on "the brilliant way" the CIA had orchestrated the recent collapse of the Soviet Union. My colleague volunteered that he'd like to believe the CIA was capable of such a feat but had his doubts. Our passenger had...
  • An Eerily Timely Tale Of Fanaticism

    A foreign agent slips into the United States with deadly intent, and finds the country scarily easy to penetrate. A troubled young American defects to the enemy. No, this isn't a 9-11 tale. It's about World War II--Nov. 29, 1944, to be exact--when German agent Erich Gimpel and defector William Colepaugh were deposited by a U-boat on the Maine coast in a desperate plan to discover the secrets of the Manhattan Project and blow up its installations.Captured in New York because of Colepaugh's bumbling and betrayal, Gimpel tells his story in "Agent 146" (St. Martin's). Originally published in Germany and Britain in 1957, it's now released for the first time in the United States. Both men had been sentenced to hang in 1945, but were given last-minute pardons. After a decade in American prisons, Gimpel returned to Germany and wrote up his exploits with an Ian Fleming flair.Gimpel portrays himself as a master spy who knows "nothing of politics." But here was a clever agent willing to...
  • New Europe Versus Old

    In the early 1980s, when West Germans took to the streets to protest the deployment of U.S. medium-range Pershing missiles in their country, Poles looking from the other side of the Iron Curtain had a dismissive saying: "Better a Pershing than a Soviet soldier in your backyard."The east-west divide no longer exists, but it's hardly surprising that Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller was one of the original eight European heads of government who signed this week's call for unity with Washington on Iraq. Those leaders were clearly distancing themselves from Germany's outright opposition and France's ambiguous rejection of the Bush administration's war plans. But the tensions within Europe transcend the Iraq debate. The war is only the latest litmus test of broader attitudes toward the United States. What really separates the continent into the new and old Europe, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld brashly put it recently, are the visceral emotions aroused by the superpower across...
  • Spying On The Bismarck

    In May 1941, Germany sent its mammoth new battleship Bismarck into the North Atlantic. In its first action, it sank the Hood, the flagship of the British fleet, killing all but three of its 1,418-man crew. But three days later, in one of the decisive naval battles of World War II, the British launched an all-out assault on the Bismarck, and it went down to its three-mile-deep grave. Only 115 of its 2,221-man crew survived. Director James Cameron, best known for his megahit "Titanic," led an expedition to the Bismarck in May. Descending in Russian Mir minisubs, his team used remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to explore the wreck. Cameron's two-hour special about what they learned will air Sunday, Dec. 8, on the Discovery Channel. He discussed the expedition with NEWSWEEK's Andrew Nagorski.NAGORSKI: First, the Titanic, now the ?Bismarck. Why your fascination with "indestructible" ships that went down? ...
  • Secrets Of The Bismarck

    In May 1941, Germany sent its mammoth new battleship Bismarck into the North Atlantic. In its first action, it sank the Hood, the flagship of the British fleet, killing all but three of its 1,418-man crew. But in one of the decisive naval battles of World War II, the British launched an all-out assault on the Bismarck, and it went down to its three-mile-deep grave. Only 115 of its 2,221-man crew survived. Director James Cameron, best known for his megahit "Titanic," led an expedition to the Bismarck last May. Descending in Russian Mir minisubs, his team used remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to explore the wreck. Cameron's two-hour special about what they learned will air Sunday, Dec. 8, on the Discovery Channel. He discussed the expedition with NEWSWEEK's Andrew Nagorski. Excerpts:NAGORSKI: First, the Titanic, now the Bismarck. Why your fascination with "indestructible" ships that went down? ...
  • Who's Hot--And Who's Not

    A decade ago, when Czechoslovakia split in two, the Slovak capital of Bratislava didn't seem to have much to offer. Its dilapidated old town marked it as a provincial backwater. The ugly jumble of socialist "concrete modern" offices in the city center looked run-down from the day they were built. The country's leaders, ex-communists turned nationalists, quickly became pariahs of the region.What a difference a decade makes. Today the old town sparkles with rejuvenated architectural jewels. Austrian, German and American businessmen hammer out deals in trendy new cafes and bars, where young people party late into the night. As NATO gathers in Prague this week, Slovakia will be invited to enter the alliance. No less startling, the Slovaks are set to join the EU at the same time as the rival Czechs, long presumed to be more modern and "Europeanized." "There's a real buzz in the air right now," says Jake Slegers, the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Slovakia, who...
  • You Can Go Home Again, But Everything Has Changed

    Emigre life contains certain constants. The nightmare that your plane is diverted and lands at an airport in the home country where uniformed men are waiting with guns drawn. The nostalgic daydreams about a scenic landscape or a lovely path in the woods from your previous life. The preoccupation with memory, made all the more intense by the knowledge that the country where you spent your youth is closed to you forever. But what happens when this turns out to have been a wrong assumption, when, as in 1989, totalitarian regimes crumble and suddenly emigres are free to go home? That's the starting point of Milan Kundera's latest novel, "Ignorance," which proves that, after getting deservedly lukewarm responses to previous offerings like "Immortality" and "Slowness," the Paris-based Czech writer is back at the top of his game.Irena, who has lived in France since Soviet forces crushed the Prague Spring of 1968, and Josef, who briefly met her before he emigrated to Denmark, experience...
  • Reagan Had It Right

    In early 1982, German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt traveled to Washington to discuss the crisis in Poland, where communist authorities had imposed martial law and outlawed the Solidarity movement. At a breakfast with Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Schmidt declared that it was ridiculous for President Ronald Reagan to think that he could "overthrow the post-World War II division of Europe" by prying countries like Poland loose from Soviet control. Five years later, when Reagan gave his famous "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" speech at the Berlin wall, many Germans--and Americans--similarly scoffed at what they took to be the president's naivete. They continued to do so right until the moment when Solidarity swept to power, the Berlin wall collapsed and communist rulers were routed all across the old Soviet empire.In "Reagan's War" (339 pages. Doubleday), Peter Schweizer, a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, argues that Reagan understood the Soviet Union far...
  • A Lesson With Punch

    The most frequent criticism of any film that is based on a powerful personal memoir is that the screen version takes too many liberties with what was written, resorting to troubling distortions or outright inventions. Not so in the case of Roman Polanski's "The Pianist," which portrays the wartime story of Polish Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman. As his son Andrzej Szpilman puts it, "This is an honest rendition of my father's memoirs. The film shows the whole truth." But when Polanski's film held its world premiere in Warsaw recently, the enthusiastic applause for a native son's return was tempered by the distinctly chilly response of several critics. In effect, they're charging that Polanski tells the story too faithfully. That too much history makes for too little artistry. That the movie is too didactic. The reviewer for NEWSWEEK's Polish-language edition complained that the result is no more than "a film lesson about the war and the Holocaust for high school students."Part of...
  • Women In The Line Of Fire

    We have become accustomed to female bylines from war zones--Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, the gulf war. But during Vietnam, editors still balked at sending a woman into the line of fire. "I don't believe women should cover wars," UPI foreign editor Bill Landry told Tracy Wood, who got her chance anyway. In "War Torn: Stories of War From the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam," Wood and eight others describe their efforts to prove such skeptics wrong. AP's Edith Lederer recalls heading to Southeast Asia "nervous, exhilarated, a little frightened, but above all determined to prove that I was as good as AP's male war correspondents."They did so by covering the same stories and taking the same risks. Several experienced fierce fighting, one was wounded and one was captured. These young women--almost all were in their 20s--sought the same kind of release from the horrors of what they saw as did their male colleagues. "My own opiates were good Scotch whisky purchased cheaply from the PX,...
  • Expatriate Games

    It's not often that a well-established, respected novelist vaults to a new level, demonstrating a mastery of craft that startles even his fans. It's especially rare when the novelist in all likelihood has more books behind him than ahead of him. But, at 66, that's exactly what Ward Just has done in his 13th novel, "The Weather in Berlin." Best known for his books on Washington politics and the Vietnam War, a conflict he covered for The Washington Post, Just has set his latest book in the Berlin that he explored on a fellowship at the American Academy in 1999. "Berlin is such a striking presence," he says by phone from Martha's Vineyard, the popular Massachusetts getaway island that he and his wife, Sarah Catchpole, now call home. "It's not a beautiful city, but it's quite beguiling. You get a certain sensibility there that is quite attractive to writers."The story is about a Hollywood movie director in his 60s who has lost his audience. Dixon Greenwood made one highly acclaimed film...
  • Testing Old Taboos

    It was as if I had never left. When I recently returned to Germany, where I had lived during the mid-1980s and the late 1990s, all anybody could talk about, it seemed, was anti-Semitism and the breaking of taboos. Terrorism, the Middle East, Kashmir, even the World Cup couldn't compete. Germany was once again agonizing over what a friend in Berlin calls "the dragon of German guilt"--a dragon that reared its head repeatedly during my earlier stints in that country. And in case anyone had any doubt about its identity, the weekly Der Spiegel pictured Hitler's face emerging from the clouds. playing with fire, its cover line proclaimed, followed by the question: "How much of the past can the present endure?"In Germany, the answer is: a lot. But more than half a century after the end of World War II, there's an inevitable testing of the limits of what's permissible and what's not. It's a messy, emotional process, but the very different outcomes of two cases that dominated headlines during...
  • Playing Expatriate Games

    Every so often, a well-established, respected novelist vaults to a new level, demonstrating a mastery of craft that startles even his fans. That's what Ward Just has done in his 13th novel, "The Weather in Berlin." Best known for his books on Washington and Vietnam, Just has set his latest book in the Berlin that he explored on a fellowship at the American Academy in 1999.The story is about Hollywood director Dixon Greenwood, who has made one highly acclaimed film, "Summer, 1921," set in Germany. His career has sputtered out in the 30 years since then. "L.A. is a bad town when you're not working," he tells his wife. "It's like being a stowaway on shipboard, but everyone knows you're there, hiding in the lifeboat." At 64, he decides to spend a few months in Berlin at a think tank that, like the real American Academy, is located on the Wannsee, the lake where Hitler's lieutenants planned the Final Solution. Dixon hopes a return to the scene of his earlier success, and escape from an...
  • Books: Life In The Spy Business

    So you think cold-war spy novels are passe and that you couldn't possibly be lured into reading another one? Especially one that's 894 pages long? Think again. Robert Littell's "The Company" (Overlook Press) reads like a breeze and is guaranteed to suck you right back into the Alice-in-Wonderland world of spy vs. spy. It's a ripping good yarn--entertaining, chilling and insightful.Littell, a former NEWSWEEK writer who has been churning out spy novels for the past three decades, has hatched his most ambitious work yet, spanning the entire history of the cold war. As one of his characters explains, the split between the "two mentalities" of the CIA--the company of the title--dominates that history. "There are those who think we've been put on earth to steal the other side's secrets and then analyze the secrets we steal," he says. "Then there are others who want this organization to impact events, as opposed to predict them--rig elections, sap morale, promote rebellions, bribe...
  • Backlash In The East

    Make no mistake, Roman Giertych can be a real fire-breather. The leader of the right-wing League of Polish Families delivers his message with passionate conviction--and it's exactly what his audience in the depressed city of Olsztyn wants to hear. "When Poland joins the European Union, Poles will only be left with jobs in supermarkets," he tells 300 or so rapt listeners, most of them pensioners. "Signs will appear around the Masurian Lakes saying, for Germans only, and the country will lose its money and its media." Before the war, the local newspaper Gazeta Olsztynska was a bastion of Polish values. His own grandfather wrote for it, he adds. And now, "a hundred years have gone by--and the paper is owned by foreign capital!"While Jean-Marie Le Pen rails against the European Union in the West, Giertych and others are attacking from the East, trying to stop their countries' push to join the Union by 2004. Most Westerners assume that everyone to the East is panting to join their club....
  • Taking On Catholic Guilt

    He's back. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, the author of the 1996 best seller "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust," which ignited a furious debate among Holocaust scholars, is now tackling an even larger theme: the entire question of Roman Catholic guilt. In a 27,000-word essay published recently in The New Republic called "What Would Jesus Have Done?"--ostensibly a review of several books about Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust--he unleashes an avalanche of highly emotional, fully loaded rhetorical questions that point to two conclusions: that Pius XII was "a Nazi collaborator" comparable to Petain and Laval in Vichy; and that the church's claim to moral authority, from its earliest days to the present, is discredited by its virulent anti-Semitism.They're back. The anti- and pro-Goldhagen polemicists are already taking up their positions and firing away at each other. The anti camp is split on Pius XII. American Catholic scholar Michael Novak defends the...
  • A Tale Of Lost Love

    That opening line of Duong Thu Huong's "Beyond Illusions" (247 pages. Hyperion East) and the passage that follows offer the kind of brutal, incisive honesty that leaves absolutely no doubt why Huong has emerged as Vietnam's most acclaimed literary export. Linh, her young protagonist, sizes up her husband: "She stared at him in the green glow of dawn. Still sleeping soundly, he was both strange and familiar to her, like a waxen effigy. That face. The curve of the nose, those earlobes. He was the same man, the same flesh, that had once been a beacon inside her. Now, he no longer radiated life, love."While this is a story of personal disillusionment and lost love, it's also a powerful political statement, the lament of a former true believer in the communist ideals proclaimed by her country's leaders. Hu-ong writes from bitter experience. During the Vietnam War, she was part of a theatrical Youth Brigade that entertained the troops on makeshift stages in the jungle and tunnels. It was...
  • 'THE GERMAN TITANIC'

    It was the worst tragedy in maritime history, six times more deadly than the Titanic. When the German cruise ship Wilhelm Gustloff was hit by torpedoes fired from a Soviet submarine in the final winter of World War II, more than 10,000 people--mostly women, children and old people fleeing the final Red Army push into Nazi Germany--were packed aboard. An ice storm had turned the decks into frozen sheets that sent hundreds of families skidding into the frigid Baltic Sea as the ship listed and began to go down. Others desperately tried to dislodge lifeboats that were frozen tight to their davits. Some who succeeded fought off those in the water who had the strength to try to claw their way aboard. Most people froze immediately. "I'll never forget the screams," says Christa Nutzmann, 87, one of the 1,200 survivors. She recalls watching the ship, brightly lit, slipping into its dark grave--and into seeming oblivion, rarely mentioned for more than half a century.Now Germany's Nobel Prize...
  • Hold That Rush To Judgment

    Reactions from abroad to George W. Bush's "axis of evil" speech--right? Not exactly. The first quote is from the Manchester Guardian, commenting on John F. Kennedy's speech during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which included the announcement of a naval quarantine of the island nation and the declaration that any missile launched from it would be seen as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States. The second quote is one of the many complaints German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt lodged against Jimmy Carter. And the third is an Izvestia attack on Ronald Reagan, not at the beginning of his first term but in 1988, during his final year in office.The fact that so many of those judgments could easily pass for today's backlash to Bush's speech doesn't automatically discredit them. Nor does the fact that many of those judgments about previous U.S. presidents were radically revised, or completely reversed, later. After all, some--like Schmidt's carping about Carter--proved pretty...
  • Nearly Six Months Later

    When two airliners smashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, employees of the law firm Holland & Knight could see the tragedy unfolding from their 24th-floor windows in a neighboring building--that is, until they were hastily evacuated. Glenn Winuk, one of the firm's partners and a volunteer fireman, rushed over to help and never returned. But the rest of the firm's approximately 300 employees showed up in their old offices as soon as the building was reopened two months later. "Life goes on and we're back here. We never had any doubt that we would come back," says lawyer Lennard Rambusch. ...
  • The New Place To Be Seen

    Davos in New York had all the hype, glitter, celebrity-watching and posturing that the World Economic Forum, now into its fourth decade, is justifiably famous for--times two. The decision to move the intimate annual gathering of 2,700 of the world's top businessmen, politicians, assorted intellectual gurus and media moguls from the Swiss ski resort of Davos to New York was to show support for the city after September 11. And in true New York style, the move made the meeting more of a hassle--and more of a spectacle--than ever. ...
  • Lessons Of The Pagans

    Precisely because we are militarily superior to any group or nation, we should expect to be attacked at our weakest points, beyond the boundaries of international law." So writes Robert Kaplan in "Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos" (198 pages. Random House). He completed his newest book before September 11, but that's not a bad description of what happened on that fateful day. And it's more evidence that in his writings for The Atlantic Monthly and earlier books like "Balkan Ghosts" he demonstrates an impressive ability to blend travel writing and foreign-policy analysis, offering insights into past, present and probable future. His latest offering is a distillation of his conclusions about the links between history and the challenges ahead, which could have easily been written as a post-September 11 summation. His main thesis: "The closer we look at antiquity, the more we learn about this new world." ...
  • The Colors Of Despair

    Meet Kristyna. Right from the start of Ivan Klima's latest novel, "No Saints or Angels," the middle-aged, divorced dentist in Prague is flirting with despair. She is--in her own words, since Klima writes in the first person--"shivering with loneliness," losing whatever sense of self-worth she once had. "For a moment I look at myself in the hostile mirror," she thinks. "No, the mirror's not hostile, it's dispassionately objective; it's time that's hostile." Jana, her teenage daughter, is sinking into a world of drugs and joyless sex, and the mother feels powerless to save her. Little wonder that Kristyna describes herself as "tired, worn-out and empty; a vase without flowers."This is the emotionally bleak terrain familiar to readers of Klima, the Czech novelist who first earned acclaim in the late communist era. But Klima's growing literary stature is a product of far more than his ability to paint despondency. In his new novel, he once again introduces characters who illustrate the...
  • Trickle-Down Politics

    Crawford welcomed Vladimir Putin like a long-lost comrade, er, cowboy. "We're just as pleased as pie that you've trekked the globe from Russia and ended up in little old Crawford," declared the editors of the Waco Tribune-Herald, the local newspaper. A first-grade class put up the sign texas says HOWDY RUSSIAN PRES. PUTIN. The 610 residents of the Texas town put their hospitality on full display last week, but it wasn't what Russians call pokazukha--something just for show. It was a clear signal that it's not only Bush and Putin who are forging a new relationship; something is stirring at the grass-roots level as well.There's no doubt who started that something. After September 11, both Putin and Bush proclaimed a new era in U.S.-Russian relations, ignoring or overriding the skeptics at home. And they continued to do so last week. Although they failed to hammer out a deal on missile defense, the two leaders couldn't praise each other enough. "On our way here, we didn't expect at all...
  • America's New Friend?

    Four days before Vladimir Putin was to meet George W. Bush in Shanghai, he assembled his "power ministers," the top Kremlin and military brass. The good news, he told them, was that he'd come up with $135 million the military needed to pay its bills through the end of the year. The bad news, he added, was that it's time to "economize." He then swiftly confirmed that the Cam Ranh Bay naval base in Vietnam would be closed--along with Russia's electronic-eavesdropping facility in Cuba, used to monitor phone calls in much of the United States over the past four decades."It was a well-prepared surprise," says Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the federal Foreign Relations Committee and an ally of Putin's. "These bases were symbols of the cold war. We wanted to remove those symbols."That Oct. 17 meeting at the Defense Ministry did more than set the stage for another soulful Bush-Putin photo op. It was an indication of the Russian president's growing confidence and latitude as a leader--and a...
  • A World In Shades Of Gray

    Outwardly, Bernhard Schlink's life hasn't changed much in recent years. Now 57, he still teaches constitutional law and the philosophy of law at Humboldt University in Berlin. He still commutes once or twice a month to Munster, where he is a judge on North Rhine-Westphalia's constitutional court. He still lives in a modest two-bedroom Berlin apartment, and often rides to his classes on his bicycle. And he still happily accepts invitations to do stints as a visiting professor at Yeshiva University's Benjamin Cardoza Law School in New York. But lately he has come to a couple of decisions. Next year he will cut his teaching load in half, and he's looking to buy a house, either near Berlin or near New York, where he can withdraw and write. "Sometimes I think I'm too old to change," he says. "But gradually I realized that the money I've made can buy time and freedom."That money is the product of the phenomenal success of "The Reader," his slender novel that won glowing accolades when it...