Interview with Bertrand Russell and Phyllis Evans Part 1
BROADCAST: 1962 | DURATION: 00:49:13
Interviewing Bertrand Russell and Phyllis Evans while Studs was in England.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel I'm seated in a very delightful room facing the mountains and the scene is so peaceful. I hope my pronunciation of the Welsh city is right. Penrhyndeudraeth. Oh, no, even the clock sounds good to me, it sounds so natural. The clock, I hope it's not the clock of doom but merely announces noon on this very lovely and peaceful Tuesday morning. I'm seated opposite the distinguished, the eminent British philosopher, Lord Bertrand Russell. And Lord Russell, you're seated here in front of the fireplace, the scene seems so peaceful and yet the world outside seems so rife with tension, East, West, one accusing the other of being the villain of the peace and acclaiming himself the hero. And in recent months, nay, in recent years, sir, you've been speaking out against what you call this insane drive toward universal destruction. And as a result of this, Lord Russell, people have said you're one thing and another. What are you, sir? What do you believe in? Let me ask you a leading question, Lord Russell: On which side are you in this nuclear contest?
Bertrand Russell I'm not on either side. I think the contest is folly, and what I want is to get the contest to die down. It's like waves at sea after a great storm--gradually the waves get less, and that's what I should like to see. But I'm not on either side. I think the whole context--the whole contest, is just a mistake.
Studs Terkel You were speaking, Lord Russell, in one of your lectures on this very theme, of the tensions facing the world today. You were saying East, West, and namely the two large powers, Soviet Union on one side, United States on the other, have so much in common. You were saying that nine- tenths of their interests are identical. It is only in the matter of ideology that they differ, and it seems so ridiculous to you that both --
Bertrand Russell I don't think ideology really plays any important part whatever. It's simply a thing dragged in to reinforce armaments. The differences between East and West are differences as to power, not differences as to ideology. There is very little difference between Russia and the United States. Each side thinks there's a great difference, but that's a mistake. There isn't much. It's not that, it's simply the question who is to have power.
Studs Terkel Now, the question that arises, some will say, I'm sure some always say, but how can these differences be resolved and really, war itself. People say "Cassandras will cry out and they will put you in that category, Lord Russell, that the world will be destroyed but not really, this has been said of other weapons before in other wars and man has survived." What is your answer to that, sir?
Bertrand Russell There's never been any weapon of the same sort, never! If there had been, it would have arisen earlier. But these new weapons have a destructive power that no weapons have had at any former time, and the existence of such weapons makes former strategies and former policies out of date, because in old days you could have a war and one side might win, and the side that won could, didn't mind having wiped out the other side. But nowadays, both sides get wiped out and neither side will win in a war and show that the war has become silly. People are apt to say "immoral," and I won't say it isn't immoral, but what I want to emphasize is that it's silly, because nobody is going to get out of it what he wants, nobody!
Studs Terkel I remember you were saying if there is a victor in this war, one side may end with more H-bombs, but neither side will end with living human beings. Remember that comment you'd made? Well, Lord Russell, why do people, the great majority of people the world over, feel as helpless as they do, they feel as impotent as they do, and this seems to be in the air. I'm sure all over the world, a feeling that the individual, I, John Smith, John Doe, says I can't do anything about it.
Bertrand Russell That's just a mistake. They can. I mean, an individual, if he has the pluck and the independence of mind, can do a very great deal. After all, here we sit, no organization, none whatever, and simply by expressing an opinion which is known to be unbiased, an individual can express, can affect a very great deal. And this powerlessness of the individual is a form of cowardice, it's a pretense, an alibi for doing nothing.
Studs Terkel This is interesting, this powerlessness you think is an alibi for doing nothing. Now you're saying, perhaps, that inaction, not doing anything, is action in itself toward one's own death, I suppose.
Bertrand Russell Certainly, yes. I mean, if you saw some brutal man ill-treating a child, well, if you had enough physical power, you would certainly intervene. And if you don't intervene, you share some of his guilt.
Studs Terkel The nonintervention, this of course, I suppose was the case of the little man, the so-called little man in Germany, who says what could I do, this be a parallel, perhaps? During the Nazi regime, he said, "What could I do?"
Bertrand Russell Well, it very difficult under the Nazi regime because that really was thorough-going, and it had its extermination chambers and so forth. I think if the government is sufficiently fierce and was as fierce as the Nazis were, it is really difficult. But the existing governments are not quite at that level of wickedness.
Studs Terkel Well, this being the case, existing governance not at that, not at that level of wickedness, what specifically, I mean the man who seems so alone and so helpless, and he certainly is not in danger of being arrested or being having his door knocked down at two in the morning by some secret policeman. What then, what then can he do specifically to make his feelings felt, as I'm sure most of the world feels war at this stage is insane?
Bertrand Russell Well, you see there's not only one or two people who think this, there are a great many, and he ought to seek out the people who think as he does, join organizations and make his feelings and the feelings of those who agree with him known. It's difficult because the press is against you, the, broadly speaking, the press of the world is determined to act in ways that will involve the extermination of mankind. And that's because they're stupid, just stupid, because they don't seem to realize that dividends are not paid to corpses.
Studs Terkel The fact is that the world is different than it was generations ago. That a new form of destruction has been invented and you're inferring then there is no winner, there will be no victor. Were there a battle between the powers, you're inferring there will be no victor.
Bertrand Russell No, there will be no victory at all. If we had a big nuclear war now, with Russia and America the main combatants, well probably a very large percentage of the populations of Russia and America would be wiped out, the whole population of Western Europe and Britain without exception, survivors would be ill, hungry, miserable, and savage and it would take ages and ages for the descendants of these survivors, of whom a very large percentage will be idiots or monsters, for the descendants of these people to build up anything again at all. And during all that time there would be horror, ghastliness, misery, and all of that is simply because the people of our time couldn't see that agreement is better.
Studs Terkel Well, this leads us to a subject of another group of men, Lord Russell men who are brilliant, who in a sense have revol-- Whether this is the age of the scientific revolution, I refer to the scientists themselves. Now the whole history of science has been a history of enlightenment, has the men of science have always been enlightened men on the side of human values, haven't they, by and large, Lord Russell? The men of science.
Bertrand Russell Well, I suppose by and large they have, but there have been very important exceptions and there are very important exceptions in the present day. A great many men of science have played a very honorable role in trying to prevent the harm that threatens through nuclear weapons. But there have been, I regret to say, a fair number of men of science who have been willing to sell their services to governments and tell the lies that brought in an income.
Studs Terkel Well, suppose a scientist says, "It is my job to offer you knowledge. This new discovery I've made, how this knowledge is used by mankind is none of my concern." How do you answer that scientist?
Bertrand Russell I tell the man he's just making a silly mistake. How can he say it's none of his concern. If you see a homicidal maniac and you give him a revolver, are you not responsible for the people he kills with it? Course you are! And so similarly these men of science who've given the world something very much bigger than a revolver, share the responsibility of what is done with it. They can't wash their hands of politics and say, "Oh, no, that's not my concern." That's just a form of lazy cowardice.
Studs Terkel You point out a notable case of a scientist who would not allow his work to be used for destruction during the Crimean War, I believe, in one of your lectures you mentioned Faraday, who refused to work on poison gas. He said it's feasible, but he refused to do it.
Bertrand Russell Well, that was very creditable of Faraday. But of course, the Crimean War was not very important, and anyway we won it without the help of poison gas, and [sure?], though it's thoroughly creditable to Faraday, there wasn't a government that was inclined to put pressure upon him, and it wasn't as difficult for him as it is now. But I don't think scientists ought to shrink from a thing because it's difficult.
Studs Terkel Lord Russell, of course I'm always asking the case, there are young scientists, I'm sure, in all countries who love their wives and children, listen to good music, love their Mozart and Beethoven, read good books, perhaps even read early writings of Bertrand Russell, who work for their governments on, and they may not know exactly this -- They know the precise work they are doing, but the overall result of it is something that might destroy the human race or a large portion of it. Now, this is a dilemma in which this young man finds himself. How would you answer him?
Bertrand Russell I should say, in the world in which we are living now, any scientist who works for any government shares responsibility for mass murder and is a man who cannot be tolerated by decent folk.
Studs Terkel Lord Russell, there are a great many young people who admire you very much. They march, they sit down, and I think of some early BBC talk that you gave that was heard over our station in Chicago, why you liked Turgenev, and you said because he dealt with eager young people, a society of eager young people whom one could easily grow to love if one knew them. Would you say it's their equivalents who are with you during these days?
Bertrand Russell Well, there are a great many young people who were with me. You see, I think it's natural enough. People on the threshold of life are more anxious to live than old people. Look at me, I'm 90. Well, I haven't much expectation anyhow, to me personally, it doesn't much matter whether there's a nuclear war or not. In the course of nature I should die about the time that it happens, so that it doesn't really much matter to me personally, and the young people don't feel like that. They have their life ahead of them, they want to be allowed to live it, and they don't want these elderly ruffians to come and say, "No, we will wipe you out, just to please us so that we may win the next election." They don't want that, and I think that's very natural in the young and very praiseworthy.
Studs Terkel Were you who described these, were you the one who described these elderly ones as over-age destroyers? I think I've heard that phrase used. Lord Russell, assume that a madman does not push a button. A madman on either side does not push a button -- Which leads to another subject. You spoke of the dangers with the arsenals being built up. Sometimes it might be a local figure. A captain or an admiral or it could be a lieutenant, since I guess the military men on both sides have been trained to carry these weapons. It's possible that could be a mistake on some equipment, couldn't there, and then without any preconceived idea the battle, the end may begin. This, too, is a possibility, isn't it?
Bertrand Russell Oh, yes, there are a great many possibilities of war beginning by accident. A great many. It might -- Well, of course as you know, the radar observers for the United States mistook the moon for a flight of Soviet missiles. And nevertheless, they said, "Oh, yes, radar is quite reliable, oh, yes, and oh, [never again they'll?] mistaking a flight of geese for a flight of Soviet weapons." There are all those things. There's also the possibility that you were mentioning of some local fanatic, [captain in Polarius?], he might very easily brood and brood until he went mad. It's not at all unlikely, that's one thing, but of course there is also the deliberate thing. The Cuba crisis was just an example of that, the deliberate action of the two main powers was bringing the world to the very verge of war. And I think that we ought to give Khrushchev the credit that we are still alive. It is due to Khrushchev personally that you and I are here talking and still alive. But for his rather wise action in withdrawing at the last moment, which would have been wiser if it had been earlier, but still it's very wise to have done it at any stage. But for his personal determination to withdraw, you and I would be dead and everybody else would, too. And I think for that reason we ought to give him credit, which has nothing to do with the merits of communism, nothing whatever. It's a personal thing, that.
Studs Terkel Oh, perhaps some might. I should point this out. When I tried to reach you over the phone from London the other day, and the operator heard, you know, the part of the message, she is saying to me, "Oh, you're one of them 'Ban the Bomb' boys, 'ey?" I said, "That wasn't my interest at the moment, though I'm very sympathetic with Lord Russell. I should like to reach him because he's a celebrated figure in our world. This is part of my job." But her comment, by the way, was not a hostile one or unkind one, merely a quizzical one. And so people, a great many people, are merely wondering. They would use the phrase "fanatic," you know, "Oh, them little fanatics who walk along the road," see. How would you answer them when they say, "Well, Lord Russell is with fanatical young people. Or at this moment he's fanatical on the subject." This phrase is used now and then, you hear. How do you reply to that?
Bertrand Russell Just you wait for time to persuade them. Everybody who's ever stood for anything that was any good whatever has been accused of being a fanatic. And that's just, well, I mean, it's an occupational hazard, you might say. You just have to live it down. And I think that a very great many, certainly among the young, do not regard me as a fanatic, because oddly enough, they think they'd rather be alive than dead.
Studs Terkel I wonder why. Lord Russell, this leads us to the subject of the man, the thoughtful man at a certain time when tensions are high and headlines are wild. You said somewhere, and I know you as a young boy later on you became disenchanted with Ibsen, but "An Enemy of the People," one man can be right and a whole group can be wrong and you have said it on occasion, the minority at one time and so many times is right and eventually what he says turns out to be true.
Bertrand Russell Well, that is so, you will find that all advances that have been of any importance have been initially made by a very small minority, perhaps one, only, and have gradually spread, and the man who makes any advance that is really beneficial to humanity, he's always persecuted by humanity. It's law of history.
Studs Terkel A law of history that would be applicable to today, I suppose. Since, on the subject of -- This is not unrelated, Lord Russell, the situation today and the lectures you gave on books influenced your youth because what you read and what you are certainly determines the very things you do at this moment. You were speaking of Gibbon once, and why he impressed you. In Gibbon you saw a stately historical procession and even Gibbon you recognize that cultural values at one time or another survive even the inroads of barbarism, but this you assume could not happen today if the bomb were ever to fall. All would go then, would it not?
Bertrand Russell Well, I'm afraid so. You see, if you tried to think of the conditions of life for the few survivors after nuclear war, you would see that they are really very, very desperate indeed. The food that they would naturally eat will be poisoned. It would be all, you mustn't eat it, you could only eat very, very special food. The lines of communication will be all destroyed, so that you'd depend on local food, you wouldn't be able to import it. The people will be all in a state of hysteria because of the dreadful experience they've gone through. The children will be very largely idiots or monsters and no good at all, and the future of such a collection of, well, they'd all be small bands of roving brigands who would have to steal the food from each other because there wouldn't be enough. And I don't see much that's good coming out of that.
Studs Terkel Assume then, Lord Russell, governments find or recover their sanity. Assume this, their ideas you have, you wrote somewhere of the world in which you would like to live and you spoke of three requisites for a stable world. So I remember.
Bertrand Russell Yes.
Bertrand Russell Yes. Well, the first requisite, I think, for a really stable world, the first requisite is a world government with a monopoly of all the major weapons of war so that nobody could hope to fight against it. That's the first requisite. The next requisite is a great diminution of fanaticism. That people should cease to hold the view that was held by the Inquisition and is still held by the great majority of mankind, that a person who doesn't agree with me ought to be exterminated. That is a general view nowadays and that would have to change, and that's rather difficult. I think there would have to be a certain economic equality throughout the world, because if one part of the world is rich and another poor, the poor part will envy the rich part, the rich will be frightened of that envy, and you will get the sort of tension that builds up to war. So that I think there would have to be a raising of the level of the underdeveloped countries. Ultimately, everybody should be at least just as well-off as people out in United States. Those are the main requisites for a stable world.
Bertrand Russell Of course that's quite necessary because with the improvement of medicine, infants don't die in sufficient numbers. In old days, the world was kept going by the deaths of infants. If you had a family of ten, you were very lucky if three survived. Well, that's no longer the case. And if we were, have to see that there are too many infants, that is certainly an important condition of stability, but that I confidently expect to see happen if there isn't a nuclear war.
Bertrand Russell See, look what people are like! You go to people in the United States and you say to them, or go to people in this country and you say to them, "Two-thirds of the world are undernourished. Now, if we didn't spend our time on nuclear weapons, we could nourish these people." "Oh, yes," they say, "what of them? They're only Black men or something. Doesn't matter about them." And consequently, they [don't know?] be very surprised to find that these undernourished people don't love them.
Studs Terkel I remember you pointed out some hypothetical case, if this lust for power could in some way or other be eliminated, you were saying, assume mad dogs ran about in Berlin today, an epidemic of rabies broke out, how both sides would be working together to eliminate this epidemic.
Bertrand Russell Well, they certainly would. They wouldn't [stalk?] about politics. I, work it out rather, because whites say, "Oh, well, I hope the mad dogs will bite more people on the other side than on our side." But I think that is what would happen. No, only it does happen with the politicians, the politicians do bite more people on one side than on the other. And they're really, politicians are just like mad dogs. GRRR!
Bertrand Russell Well, they reach them through the general public. First, you have to convert the general public, and then the politicians will of course follow suit, because all they want is to get re-elected.
Studs Terkel First you have to convert the general public, and this leads us to this dilemma again, don't we? Mass communications being what they are, and most of the press the world over, each side representing more or less the establishment position. How can the mass of the population be reached then?
Bertrand Russell Well, after we reach a decision, I think the answer is that you have to behave in some manner which interests people and they want to know about it. And however the mass media are against you, if you knew how to behave in a manner that excites people's interest, you can overcome that barrier. It's a difficult problem. That was why we took to civil disobedience. We thought this was a means of overcoming this barrier. And on the whole, we do get more or less known. I mean, there are a great many people who know that there is such a movement and there are even some who know why, and I think in the course of time, if we're given time, we should be able to do it because it's a race against destruction because at any moment the whole world may be wiped out. But if it isn't wiped out, we shall in time manage it.
Studs Terkel Well, Lord Russell, suppose some people say to you, "I don't want to violate the law or some ordinance," see, when you civilly disobey and they'll say, "You are a violator of the law," how would you answer that, sir?
Bertrand Russell Well, I should say, "Now, look here, my dear fellow. Have you ever read any history? Have you ever heard of the early Christians? Did they obey the law? They were told to worship the emperor and they said they wouldn't, and so they suffered. Have you ever heard anything of value in the world that has been done without somebody violating the law? Galileo violated the law. He said the earth moved, and the law said it didn't. And so he was duly punished. And you will find that everybody who's made any advance has had to violate the law at some time. The law represents what people [thought?] right some time ago because it takes time to enact a law and when circumstances change, what was right ceases to be.
Bertrand Russell Well, I should like to live in, would be a very nice world, perhaps I don't know how to make it. I should like to live in a world where children were brought up as far as possible freely, so that they shouldn't be filled with rebellious impulses, but should be happy and friendly. I should like to live in a world where those of men's impulses which are not possessive would have free scope and all sorts of encouragement. You know I divide impulses into possessive and creative. If you write a poem, you don't prevent another man from writing a poem. If you eat food, you do prevent him from eating that food. And so if there's a shortage of food, you get conflicts between people, so you must have the material comforts sufficiently supplied. But what happens always in all societies that have ever existed, is that the creative impulses are cramped by politicians or by churches or by something like that. That the man who has an important new idea or a man who has an important new way of feeling is punished for it although that would be a solution of a great many of our troubles. Now I should like creative impulses free and encouraged, and I should like the -- We spoke of power a moment ago, I should like the power impulses to go into creation, that if you could write poetry, you write poetry, if you could compose music, you compose music, that or in lesser ways everybody like he can make a beautiful garden. There's always something creative a person can do and I should like their energies directed in those ways and not to thwarting the rest of mankind.
Bertrand Russell I think hardly in our time, no. I think we can move towards it, you see, it's a matter of degree. I mean, on the whole, in some ways things are better than they used to be. People used to be burnt alive, and now they're only slowly starved. Fresh food is slightly better, but I don't know. And you can take steps, you can get pretty far in our world because there's such a lot to do.
Studs Terkel Lord Russell, I remember I was about to ask you a question at the very beginning, it dealt with your speaking of books that influenced your youth, and there was a -- You spoke at one of the BBC broadcasts that we heard of Shelley, and you liked Shelley for several reasons at the time when you were young. I think you were somewhere between the ages of 15 and 21 when you'd read these books that you talked about, and you spoke of this being a formative period in your life, the --
Bertrand Russell Well, yes, because I was getting to know the great literatures of the world, and it is rather an exciting new vistas perpetually opening before you. And certainly I liked Shelley because he had a vision of what the world might be. And I still like him for that, though of course it's a much more difficult matter getting there than he thought it was. He thought the kings in holy alliance were the obstacles and if they were got out of the way, the world would be happy. Well, they're all dead now, but we're not happy.
Studs Terkel I remember this. I read, sir, Lord Russell, from this stanza of yours, "The world's great age begins anew, the golden years return, the earth doth like a snake renew her winter weeds outworn; Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam like wrecks of a dissolving dream." And you speak of this apocalyptic hope of Shelley. Do you still feel this today?
Bertrand Russell Well, yes, it's a hope. It's grown rather distant. I mean, I think we're a long way from it. But it remains a hope, it's what human life could be, and I think in gloomy moments it's a good thing to reflect what a glorious and splendid and happy and wonderful thing human life could be if only human beings would let it.
Studs Terkel If only human beings would let it. And again I think of one radio broadcast of yours, if only human beings could forget all else but their humanity. I think you said that. For to forget all the trivia that separates them.
Studs Terkel Lord Russell, anything else that you would care to say, I know we merely during this hour or less scratched the surface of your thoughts on today, yesterday, and man, man and his dilemma today. Anything you'd care to say that we haven't discussed thus far or talked about?
Bertrand Russell Well, I would just like to say this in general. I admire in the present world those men that I think are doing their best to lead the world away from war. And those are sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other. This fixed conviction on both sides is that only their side wants to avoid war. This is a delusion. But I would admire a communist who does what Khrushchev did in the Cuba crisis. I will admire a man on our side who does any similar thing. I don't think that people should be judged by their ideology. They should be judged by their attitude to the imminent peril of disaster which faces us all because we are bigoted, because we are filled with hatred of other ideologies, because we cannot remember that after all, the humanity which we share controls most of our interests and the immense majority of the interests of East and West are exactly identical. And if we could remember that, we might perhaps be a little less unwise, a little less destructive in our public policies.
Studs Terkel Lord Russell. Bertrand Russell. Thank you very much. [pause in recording] Lord Russell, you were saying, as you're poking the fire now, I'll let you poke that fire. That cool. It's warm inside here. Lord Russell, you were speaking of Penrhyndeudraeth. You better get that big chunk of coal first. I think I will describe Lord Russell poking, stoking the fire. There's a huge chunk of coal that you're putting in, this is sort of like a sports commentary. That you're putting into the fireplace. I noticed a certain design in your doing it, almost architectural in fashion and it's, there's one tough piece of coal that's making it. The phrase itself, this city of Penrhyndeudraeth. Lord Russell, Penrhyndeudraeth. It's a tough phrase, and for me to say, what does that mean, roughly, basically?
Bertrand Russell Oh, I like North Wales, I've known North Wales since I was a boy, and I like the scenery here, and I have some friends who live in the immediate neighborhood, and on the whole it seemed nice, and I found this house rather pleasant, so I settled here.
Studs Terkel Beautiful. It's a lovely view. That's what that is, an estuary. Now I know. Thank you very much. [pause in recording] It's now a couple of hours after the Russell interview. We feel pretty good about things at the moment. Feel good that we met Lord Russell and have him on tape, but I doubt very much whether this could have been swung without the help of Phyllis Evans, Mrs. Meredydd Evans, who drove us through just about the most beautiful countryside I've seen in a long time and it's as Bertrand Russell said, yes green almost all the year 'round, yet there were some brick-colored foliage around, too, and saw the slate in where the quarrymen work, that's rough. But the verdure of nature still intact. Well, Phyllis, many things to ask you about, you an American, living in Wales with Meredydd and your daughter. Your feelings. You pretty much are Welsh in feeling now?
Phyllis Evans Oh, no, I'm that curious combination. I really have a foot in both camps. I realize Wales' problems and I love Wales and I'd do anything that I can to help the cause of the language and to help the country as a country. But I don't think any American woman, particularly, can ever be anything but an American.
Studs Terkel Well, while you're here right now, before we catch that train that takes us back to London, a couple of questions about living in Wales or in this United Kingdom. And one of the big points that, I told you about Mary [Papperus?], the waitress from London who I interviewed at her house with the four kids and she was marvelous. But she had this one bone to pick with a particular doctor who seemed to be a martinet. And the impression she might have given is that National Health is not working. It wasn't that she was merely saying she had trouble with this doctor and he was just a louse, you know. But you have lived in America and now you live in Wales. In one case, there is a doctor, there is no National Health as we know it here. Now, in Wales there's National Health. What have you found out to be the difference?
Phyllis Evans Well, I think that the basic difference is that the National Health in this country is rightly termed "national insurance," and that's exactly what it is. It is an insurance for people who live here, that their life savings won't be wiped out by a serious illness of any member of the family, and as far as actual medical care is concerned, the doctor we had when we lived in Massachusetts, I doubt if there is a better doctor in the whole of the world. I don't think he could be approached anywhere. It was marvelous. But you come to Bangor, and a city like Bangor anywhere whether it's --
Phyllis Evans You should say Bangor, Wales, rather than Maine. Bangor, Wales, yeah. A city like Bangor, Wales anywhere, whether it's in the United States or in Britain, you're going to have a limited choice of doctors and you must pick the best out of this limited choice, and you are allowed to pick your own doctor. There's no question of your being assigned to some guy. You can pick which one you want, and that's exactly what we did. We took about two months after we came here, we polled our friends and said, "Who's your doctor, what do you think of him?" And we found the one that we thought would suit us best, and he is, he's marvelous. Anything that needs to be done, he comes out in the middle of the night if that's necessary. He comes to the house if we're not well enough to come to the surgery, and all prescriptions, we pay for prescriptions, but we pay a standard price, two shillings, which would be a little tiny bit more than about 25 cents. And that includes whether we want aspirin on prescription or whether we want the most expensive antibiotics, or whether he chooses to prescribe them for us. Likewise, when Eluned a few months ago --
Phyllis Evans Yeah, our 13-year-old daughter, a few months ago we thought she had appendicitis and they had her in and out of hospital examining her and took X-rays and found out it wasn't appendicitis, it was a spastic colon, which could be assumed to be appendicitis by the symptoms. Well, whisking her in and out of the hospital and all these exploratory doohickeys and all the X-rays would have cost us a small fortune in America, because they didn't operate. If they'd operated, we could have got it on Blue Shield, but since they didn't operate, you know, we would have paid through the nose, but we didn't pay a penny. Likewise, when I had to get my glasses changed, you pay a fixed fee for your glasses and that's that. I think it's something like half of what they actually cost, so that when I say insurance this to me is a very real thing. I don't have to worry at all if Meredydd should fall sick tomorrow and be out of work for six months. Well, this would be a dreadful thing personally, but it wouldn't take every penny we've got in the bank.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about National Health and its effect upon people. Does it does it take away your choice of a doctor? You know, we're told in America that if ever we're to, if the medical plan that was proposed by the administration was defeated, were it to go into effect, initiative would be destroyed. That is, do you have a right to choose your own doctor?
Phyllis Evans Absolutely. The only limitation on choice would be the same limitation you have in the United States, geographical, physical limitation. Obviously, you aren't going to choose if you live in Wales, you aren't going to choose a doctor who's in London, because he won't be able to come out on night calls. But if you lived in New York, you wouldn't choose a doctor in Chicago, either. You would choose a doctor in your area who'd be able to get to you within, say, 20-30 minutes. And I have a friend living in Menai Bridge, now she doesn't like any of the --
Phyllis Evans That's right. Little tiny village. There are two doctors there, she doesn't happen to care for either of them, so she is booked with a doctor in Beaumaris, which is four miles away. My doctor is in Bangor, which is two miles --
Phyllis Evans Absolutely.
Phyllis Evans Actually, I talked to them in 1948 when the plan first went in, then when I was back in 1955, and then when I came back this time, 1960, and it's quite fascinating because in '48 I would say that probably the majority of the medical association did not want to go in, it was sort of a fait accompli by the government. By 1955 when I came back, the tide had changed completely. Doctors that I had talked to before, who said this would never work, it will be abused and so on, had found that the abuses were in the early months and they were largely people who had neglected to have things done for years because they couldn't afford it. For example, the butcher in our village in [Hadleigh?], when I first went to [Hadleigh?], did not have one sound tooth in his head. He was the most revolting sight I've ever seen. All rotten stumps. Medical health came in two years later. He had a beautiful set of false teeth but he was actually too poor to pay for them himself. It was a small village and it just had subsistence and that was all.
Phyllis Evans this free? And he got this free. Now, Meredydd's mother, back in the old days when, you know, they had nothing per week and 11 kids to bring up on nothing per week, she couldn't afford to go and have spectacles prescribed. You know what she did? And everybody of her class did. They went to Woolworth's. And you know they have a counter of glasses on Woolworth's? And she just picked up one after another until she found a pair that she thought made her see better and she wore those. It's a wonder she isn't blind, but she couldn't possibly, she couldn't have afforded the doctor's bill for examination and she couldn't have afforded the spectacles. When Meredydd went off to college, this is how little money there was. When he went off to college, he went with his mother's life savings in his pocket, which was six pounds which is about 18 bucks. And she was a very frugal woman.
Phyllis Evans Ah, well, yes. We kept a budget in America. And of course what happens now is this: We pay per week, you know, National Health isn't free, as people say it is, we have little insurance cards, they're called, which are stamped every week by your employer and that is taken, a percentage of it is taken out of your salary, a small percentage. I think it amounts to what, about less than $3 a week, but that's taken out and your employer pays a similar amount, and the government pays more as well. It's subsidized, but this means that we are paying per week. Now what would happen in America was that, being young and full of beans, we thought, you know, we were immortal and would never get ill. And then all of a sudden, Bing! Like that, I had to have a major operation when we were in Boston, and I had Blue Cross and Blue Shield at the time, but although it covered all my hospital bills, it did not cover the surgeon completely. I had the, I had to pay $250 on top of what Blue Cross and Blue Shield covered, plus after I got home I was on a medication for a year, and that medication was very expensive. And that, of course, was not covered by the medical plan, so that when we got hit, we got hit hard.