How do you contribute?

Ken Adelman: Well there was . . . I don’t know if I really contributed that much in government. I think I did because Ronald Reagan came up with the real breakthroughs on that. But when I was, for seven years, the Arms Control Director, he needed somebody and a team to take his concepts, to take his vision, and to make it into a treaty. And that was not exactly Ron Reagan’s strong point. And I had a team in the Arms Control Agency that worked very hard, and were very competent, and dealt a lot with the Russians as we were going through to, you know, make sure that the verification was very good; make sure that we understood what kind of weapons were included and what were not included; make sure that we could have procedures for implementing this; make sure that we check up on it. So in that way, I could help him. I gave advice along the way, some of which he took and some of which he did not take. But all of it he would listen to, and he was very, very open in that way. And he was very good about really asking people for their opinion. And my experience in government – and I was in government for 12 years – is that when people worked for the President of the United States, they were very reluctant to speak the truth. And it was a real problem in the White House. Ronald Reagan was such a laid back, nice person that he didn’t mind if people told him frankly what they thought. He didn’t even mind if they corrected him. He would, you know, sometimes say things because he didn’t know about the weapons systems. He didn’t know about the details of this, or above the details and the big points. And if you’d say, “Well, Mr. President, there’s another way of looking at it.” That’s how I usually started the sentence, which means, “You’re dead wrong” in a nice way. But there’s another way of looking at it. He would take that in and say, “Thank you very much. That’s good to know, Ken.” And so he wasn’t going out and saying these things that were wrong. There. So I contributed something on that.

I think in the teaching of the Shakespeare, there are real lessons in Shakespeare. This is not just a device to get ______ leadership lessons of which, you know, ________ on how to do everything like that. But Shakespeare really had it all. And what we can do, and what we do do is that we uncork Shakespeare. We break it down into bite-sized pieces. We make it easy for people who are scared of the word “Shakespeare” and think, “Oh my gosh. I can’t understand a thing he ever said.” And so we can really open up. We don’t add to the insights of Shakespeare because no one can do that. They’re so fantastic. But we can add to the access of Shakespeare.

And number three is that the new program here at the Aspen Institute . . . what I contribute to that is to do something that’s kind of a bridge. And that’s what was wonderful about the Aspen Institute that Walter Paepcke, when he started this place 57 years ago, said. There should be a cross-fertilization of fields and minds. And that sometimes happened, but recently it hasn’t. And what this program does is look at the arts not in and of themselves . . . Because there’s wonderful lectures of the music festival. There’s wonderful lectures on art. You know, the artists did this and ________ did that. That’s not what I’m doing. But what I’m doing is building on that and saying, “Okay, how does that art form help us understand some issues or ideas?” And it’s a larger consideration of the arts. And that’s basically what we do at “Movers & Shakespeares”. It’s an art form. Drama, okay? How does that help us lead our life better? And there’s lots of . . . I mean Shakespeare had thousands of examples, but you just need someone to help you with that bridge. So we’re trying to do that not just with Shakespeare – through “Movers & Shakespeares” – but in the “Arts & Ideas” program. To take music, for example. _______, his personality. What does it tell us about creativity? What does it tell us about the way the mind works? Then it’s a nice leap to Freud, because Freud psychoanalyzed him. What is left of Freud today? What do we know about how we think, how we feel, how our instincts were? And through _______ and his relationship with Freud, we can understand ourselves better.

Recorded on: 7/2/07


Adelman talks about working with President Ronald Reagan on disarmament and about the illuminating the lessons of Shakespeare.

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