Interview with James Cameron
BROADCAST: Jan. 1981 | DURATION: 00:56:18
Discussing 1981 with James Cameron.
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Studs Terkel Seated with James Cameron, the year is, what, 1981 toward the end of January. It's twilight, at his home in London, and I was thinking of the first time I met him some 14 years ago 1966. The Vietnam War was still going on. The civil rights battle was continuing. 14 years. It's also about 12 years since publication of his autobiography, 'Point of Departure.' Of course, the reaction, yours right now to the question, James Cameron, so much has happened since then, what's the first thing that comes to your mind? A lapse I've seen you some for-f-
James Cameron Fifteen, 16 years, I can see titanic political changes, not just in the United States, not just here, and not indeed just in Europe, but there's a gradual diminution of political personality, talent, and dedication. For example, your presidency seems to me, roughly since Kennedy's day, to have gotten less and less and less, and presidents and leaders of countries that we rather derided when they were in power, we now look back on and say well they weren't too bad. In our own country, it's just the same. I used to make terrible mockery of Harold Macmillan. Looking back at it now he seems to be a titan, but we are both, I think, being ruled by pygmies, and that more or less goes everywhere, it seems to me, and my theory about that is that people of real quality, people who have real dedication and gifts, and intuitive political grandeur won't go in for these jobs [do they now?] in case they should get them, in case they should win. Who the hell would want to be president of the United States now? Who the hell would want to be prime minister of this country when the office is now so derided? I wouldn't myself.
James Cameron I think they're certainly insoluble by the conventional methods that are being applied at the moment. I think your President Reagan is going to apply methods that will appear drastic in the 1980s but would not have appeared drastic in the 1914s. I think it's going to be a great reversal, exactly the same in this country. We are now going right back to the days of Stanley Baldwin and laissez-faire capitalism, and I don't honestly think that's going to be the answer.
Studs Terkel 'Suppose, in one way or another, you, James Cameron, are drafted, and you're the British prime minister. OK. What what would you do? And perhaps you could think of the various problems. What would you do?
James Cameron Well that is, Studs, totally impossible question. I've had no no training in the craft of of political leadership, none whatever. It's never been the slightest ambition of mine. I'd much prefer to hang around just like you do, well hell- and snipe at them from the sidelines.
Studs Terkel But the problems are- let's say the arms race. OK. What were the escalation of it now the new weaponry that makes the H-bomb or the A-bomb of Hiroshima a firecracker, and you, by the way, we wander we'll- you were present Bikini in the first blast, that historic moment that you describe so movingly and terrifyingly eloquently in "The Point of Departure." So there we have the buildup.
James Cameron Well that was a trauma for me. I think you know, probably. It's no credit to me, but I think I'm probably the only person who's actually seen four of these damn things go off, and as you say the the fuse, the firecracker of what we have today, but the atomic experiment at Bikini and also a little previously at Hiroshima which I also visited a few weeks afterwards, was, if one was being theological about it, it was a transformation of my life. I never thought the same way after that and never will, and you present the hypothesis that I had some control over government. Nuclear disarmament would be the thing I would press if I possibly could. I know it's completely out of the question, because one of the you know one does get bit bewildered about this, but the important power in countries now is held by people who have never seen atomic war, indeed, a lot of them never seen warfare of any kind, and I think you really have to have had a little experience of that to know exactly what it is you're avoiding, but I mean this state, I mean Bikini what was that? It was nothing at all in in contemporary terms compared to a Triton. What the hell is an A-bomb? But nonetheless it was good enough for me, actually, and that that was that was the point where my philosophy, if you can call it that, took off in a totally new direction.
Studs Terkel Well, here we have you speak of nuclear disarmament. You are one of the founders of the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament in Britain in the 60s. You and Bertrand Russell and Canon Collins, and they say to you- I'll ask you about journalism, you how could you be so involved and still be a journalist? That's, we'll come to that. But, what about them? We say, nuclear disarmament, what about them? Them, as far as the United States and to a lesser extent Britain is concerned, is the USSR or other East- or powers, the adversary. So, will you mean unilateral nuclear disarmament?
James Cameron If necessary, but I mean obviously ideally global nuclear disarmament is what one would seek for. But, like everything else, somebody has got to start it, and it seems to me that this little country, because it is a little trifling country nowadays is where we [know?] is in a splendid, magnificent position to make this an issue to I don't think it will ever, ever happen, but I can't think of a of a better place where the initiative for disarmament could happen here since the United States is enormously dependent upon our geographical position for its nuclear strategy. And of course, the Soviet Union would we would be the first place to be eliminated without any question at all. Therefore, it just seems to me simple self-preservation is a very good idea to opt out of the thing. After all, Switzerland never had a war yet.
Studs Terkel Yeah would if we come back to nuclear disarmament, unilateral. If your friend, your your colleague of many years the journalist, Michael Foot, who became head of the Labour Party it would seem pro tem, but nonetheless he's were he were his party to win, he were prime minister, he would opt for nuclear disarmament. He implied that it did he not?
James Cameron He's made a formal commitment that he would disarm this country nuclear whether ever the great pressures upon him would permit him to do so is a very different matter, and he is while he's a good man and a great man and a very fine man, he's a very malleable man and he's a very man susceptible to pressures being a slightly ill man and an elderly man too, if I may say so to a man who's a couple of years older than me, but still. No, I think this it would be a tremendous boost for the for the realms of international sanity if he came in, if only for a short while. I'm not optimistic.
James Cameron Yes it was it was a revival, because the the movement for nuclear disarmament had tended to fade away. Although, I must say it was not a total failure. It did achieve a test ban treaty, you know, and if it did nothing else that was something, but then last year, after a lapse of about eight or nine years, it suddenly blew up again, and to my astonishment there was a huge gathering London, [Sprogis?] square, very nearly as big as the biggest ones we'd ever had, and I couldn't quite understand this because you would have imagined it would have been full of middle-aged people who would remember the other thing, not at all! Young people, people in their teens were every bit as enthusiastic as we had been in our day. I think because they recognize that the threat is far, far worse and than it was in our day.
James Cameron There still could be there is, and an increasing one in this country. I think you will find that the next one which will be in the spring of this year at Easter, it will be far, far bigger than the one last year. I'm certain of that.
Studs Terkel You know, you James Cameron are talking, you still you do a column on the Guardian here just during the week of my visiting you were voted the the journalist of the year. You have been voted by British colleagues as the journalist of the decade. You have been described as having elevated the writing British journalistic writing to new dimensions. Young journalists look upon you as the doyen of British journalism. You've traveled all over the world. "Point of Departure" recounts visits and during moments of history and you, like Kilroy, were there chronicling it. So the question asked and yet you led an anti-nuclear demonstration and the question often would is asked of you and I ask it now, how can you be an objective journalist when there you are committed indeed toward a movement toward something. Isn't this doesn't this violate tenets of journalism?
James Cameron Not to me. You see, I have never claimed, let alone been I never claim to be objective, because I've always argued, ever since I've had a chance of expressing myself in public, that if you have this opportunity to deal with subjects that are of real importance, I don't mean just trivial but matters of real global and personal importance, not only is it almost impossible to be objective if you feel strongly about the but I'm not too sure that you have the right to be. I think that you have the right to talk out, so long as you are given a forum for doing it, and I was awfully lucky in that I was given the forum for doing it. Lots of people haven't, but I don't think that I could possibly find it in my conscience to go and write about atomic warfare and say, "well on the other hand there's a case to be made out for this or that." I just couldn't couldn't bring myself to do it, and I fortunately nobody had ever asked me to do that. So, I think that in the in the traditions of the of the old, older journalists of the Nevinson era, Crimean war, you have a right to express your personal responses to very, very dangerous and important situations, and so long as you've got the opportunity to do it you would be a fool not to make use of them and I have been terribly lucky, possibly because of the elasticity there is in British journalism that does permit to this maverick attitude from time to time. I've been lucky. I've been so fortunate all my life in that.
Studs Terkel You know I'm going to come back to objective journalism in a moment, but since you speak of British journal- American journalism, I'm trying to think of an American journalist who has well, aside from your style no one has, I'm talking about the leeway that you have expressing yourself as you do when you criticize the establishment here or that of the ally, U.S., or you do it clearly, boldly. The other day you had a column on the double standard how the Führer when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and and well should they be, and the silence when the U.S. is rolling El Salvador.
James Cameron Well yes, but it seems to me that if you claim if you claim, rather pompously, rather grandly to be objective you got to be objective. It's not the news least you say the United States going to El Salvador is a wicked crime, but it's not so bad that the [Russian going to?] our cause so I consider that was an even brutal, more brutal crime because it took place earlier. I hold no no brief for international dominance and the power of the fist where ever it comes from.
James Cameron But
James Cameron I'm not an American and I'm not a Russian, thank God. And the one advantage, if there be such a thing gets an advantage in being British, it is that you can take a middle line without being jumped on.
Studs Terkel Now I'm going to come back to this matter of objective journalism once we know but, since you spoken of British Journalism, of an American is there we come to the question of leeway allowed. You're allowed as much leeway as anyone I know, and yet don't journalists have a rough time in Britain more than America when it comes to libel laws or matters of that sort?
James Cameron Yes, but that is a question of personality. You could[n't] libel an individual fellow citizen much more easily here than you can in the United States, but that doesn't particularly worry me because I I don't really deal with individual questions, but the there is of course a very single difference between British and American journalism which is often concealed by the fact that they work in the same language, and my own feeling about that difference is that the general standard in journalism, you know, the basic general standard is perhaps a slightly bit better here than it is in the United States, but the top men, the real good men are to be found in the United States and not here. I mean we never had a Izzy Stone here. We never really had a Walter Lippmann here. For that matter, we've never had a Scotty Reston here, but you know basically-You have a James Cameron here.
Studs Terkel But I see The United States suffers from being such a huge enormous place where it's it's really there's nothing that could be actually defined as a national news paper is there, and the provincial newspapers, the [hiptown? hicktown?] newspapers, they-
James Cameron Yes, they mind you I think there are, in fact, only three that matter, but nonetheless there is there is a wide area of conflict of opinion which is not to be found in New York, but I-I'm not at all sure, you know that it is all to the good, because it does produce a tremendous plethora of trivial newspapers in this
James Cameron I
James Cameron It depends. Of course, you are an objective journalist if you are doing court reports, parliamentary reports, congressional reports. You are saying exactly what happened and you are neither you're either required, nor do you want to make comment about it, of course, but that is not quite the same thing as we're talking about in journalism which must be opinionated journalism, and if it's opinionated by definition it can't be objective or so it seems to me, and I think that I think we're awfully lucky in that respect here. I mean, I've got away with murder in many, many, many cases, but I you do give the impression where I go around trying to be provocative. I don't. I don't want to be provocative. I very much wish that the stuff I wrote wasn't provocative. I wish everybody agreed with it, you see, but I do get away with it. I think British journalism in the case of what we call, unfortunately, our quality papers is of a very high standard indeed. I mean there are pop papers and like your pop papers they just have no meaning, no influence, no importance.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking of at the very beginning saying changes that have happened since you spoke of the diminution of in the levels of leadership. The problem there, and I ask are insoluble, so we ask of the arms race. Another would be the the emergence of a third world or the lack of emergence in some cases. I suppose this too, the haves and the have nots. In many cases, the haves have less than they had before. That is, the great many people living in the have nations.
James Cameron Yes, I think one of [background coughing] the great illusions that we who wanted to see the emergence of a third world, particularly in Asia and Africa. One of the illusions that we cherished was give everybody total independence and this would be Valhalla and everything would of course, it was not the case at all. Africa, for example, is now every bit as repressed administratively as it was in the days when the British were running it, but of course it's from being repressed within their own sphere, and therefore they can justify it, but I mean nobody for example would wish to be a journalist in Gahna or Nigeria or somewhere like that, because the precedent and [that's free?] there ever was.
James Cameron I think yes it's completely understandable, but by overthrowing their old tyrants, which to a large degree was us. Although I don't think the British would toat tyrranical, just be totally bureaucratic, but by so doing inevitably they create their own. It's explicable. One has to concede the facts that we're dealing with places that are largely not susceptible to reason or argument because they are illiterate, you see, and, this of course was largely our fault, but illiteracy was is I think absolute concomitant of freedom. Now, you'd take the case of India, for example, which I know so very well we you know, the British were there for 200 years and they never instituted any school, any schooling, and this is this is great, I think we did many good things in India, but that is a thing that can be held against us we instituted no educational processes at
James Cameron Well it has been said so, I doubt it. I think it was inevitable because of 14 languages and all that sort, very difficultly, but the point I'm trying to make, Studs, is that we left them thirty-odd years ago with virtually no educational system at all. It's now 30-odd years later and they still have no educational system at all other private, other than concessions and little little enclaves of education. There is still no Indian state education system. Something wrong there, you see.
Studs Terkel involving caste and poverty and population and this, but what about in some of the newer governments in in Africa and other parts of third world. Is there, isn't there an attempt at literacy and just, for the moment, let's say Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, who hasn't there been a- it's perhaps too new, or near era in Tanzania?
James Cameron I still think it's a little too near, but Tanzania has made probably the biggest and most dramatic education in the whole of Africa. The Rhodesian situations are far too new. I mean they've had no chance yet. I think he will make something of it, but in all the little West Coast republics, you know, some of these really terrible tyrants were thrown up. Well ok, would they have been thrown up had we devoted our time, our centuries in that place to have done more education?
Studs Terkel You know coming to to the question [match strike] of where to, what next? Is is it insoluble? We talked of the the years of imperialistic rule that is in in the hands of the Western countries, now of an internal kind of oppression. Is there your belief always has been not in the perfectibility of man, but in the improvement of man you have been that has been your implication.
Studs Terkel Do you have less I don't wanna ask you cliché questions less hope or do you see a way? Is there a way? 'Cause the problems we know are here. We haven't talked unemployment. We haven't talked about the country which you live and the country which I live in and the problems they face internally, domestically. But-
James Cameron I see, yes I've if I didn't see the prospect of improvement and hope then I would not be bothered with the whole [parable?] at all, but I think those of us who were naive, the previous generation, who saw countries that had been colonized and dominated by richer countries. I thought, and lots of us thought, that given their own freedom they would immediately emerge into a new dawn and be absolutely wonderful within a generation. Well of course that was impossible, and I think some of us were a bit disillusioned about the regression of some of these places, but we are being a bit arrogant to say that. It took your country and my country centuries to develop Eden, to the low decree of sensibility that we got now. Obviously it's going to take them just as long.
Studs Terkel 1981, that's where we are now. You've been to so many other countries, where things have happened, many areas of the world. You were in suddenly in a ditch in Bangladesh when you were in a jeep that collided and turned over. Flown back to England. You're a bionic man, [Cameron laughs] and you spoke of a word. You know if there's one word represents this epoch because you lay in the ditch, practically dead. You saw people, you sensed people by the scoures of thousands walking, and the word was refugee.
James Cameron Yes, I if I had to specify an adjective for the age in which I have lived in, it has been the age of the refugee, and I mean starting when I was a very little boy at the time of the First World War. We kept Belgian refugees in the house, and to to me when I was only about 4 or 5 and refugee I thought there was a place called refuge, you see, that they came from and then gradually it developed all over the world and, then it's become an absolutely permanent phenomena, or so it would seem, because there are now more than 7 million human beings officially classified by the United Nations [as refugee?] at this moment, people who live in all of Belgium you see, it's it's just extraordinary proposition.
James Cameron The problem is now beyond the potential of any individual country or any individual be to do it. This is the age of cooperation, and when the institution of the United Nations in '45, I really thought in my naivete that we had got something there, and when that was the time San Francisco I was at the very first meeting of the United Nations in the whole world in San Francisco. I think there were 45 members only, and I thought this was a new dawn. I mean, I I'm terribly suggestible and things like that, but I really did think this was new dawn. Since then, I mean, it just diminished, diminished diminished, and now it's got a hundred and forty-something members, and it is just really so unconstructive, isn't it? It's become a parish council in this way, but I don't think we can do without it, and certainly can't do without it, and until some tremendous catastrophe happens or some genius arises from the ashes, I don't see how we are, in fact, going to achieve this global cooperation that is absolutely necessary. You see, we could we could make all sorts of plans and blueprints and everything for a for a comparative distribution of prosperity throughout the world. It only needs the Soviet Union to put its foot in the door, and that can't happen, only needs the United States footing the bill, and it can't happen. This is the thing. As the world becomes more and more unified more and more interdependent, so individual states become more and more powerful and obstructive. It is it is a a very, very curious thing the way the world has become so international, and at the same time has now shrunk to, in fact, a major confrontation between two big people, and that is what it's [unintelligible] what it never was in history [timing or past?].
James Cameron Yes.
Studs Terkel So it's come to this, and your your thoughts in a moment. [pause in recording] And so resuming the conversation with James Cameron, and this is a conversation just following the series we had of reading from his book "Point of Departure," the various events he witnessed in which he took part for the past decade and a half, or the past two decades or so, and so the question there is a madness in the air too. You would think that the human being that involves officials, of course, as well as the great many have advanced to such that you don't want to commit international suicide, you know, a sort of a the international Harry Carey if there's a war obviously.
James Cameron I assure you it's been very vigorously thought of in this part of the world because this is a place that's going to go first. It's very I I would have thought it was, you know, unthinkable-- '45 when we went to Nevada and saw that experimental bomb and then we went to Bikini and then we saw Hiroshima. I thought to myself well this is probably bringing us to our senses because must- we simply must know this is folly and stupidity. It was nothing of the kind. It's got bigger and bigger and bigger, and it is now in the hands of people who have never personally experienced it, like has never experience even ordinary warfare. That's another important thing, and I th- I permanent and professional optimist but I'm beginning to lose my hope nowadays, a bit. Then people are literally say, well the Holocaust will come maybe within two years and then they start arguing well whether it be two years or three years or so. [That's a damned?] but it happened in two years or three years. I've got children. I've got grandchildren. I don't want them go, but the terrible thing is, you see, they have been born and grown up in a world where this threat is an accepted thing, accepted thing. It's no longer a shock to them as it is to me. They say "Okay, well there an atom bomb, we'll all be blown up," and it doesn't seem terribly to worry them.
Studs Terkel You know what, the madnesses we hear, we read now and then this happens in England and in my country and I'm sure in other societies, the too mindless young men, each of whom is flexing his muscles. Or they're in this wild car, and they're going at each other. Who's gonna blink first. It's a game called Chicken. Who's gonna blink first and thus neither blinks or one blinks a little too late, and you have to dead stupid young men, stupidly. Now the crazy thing is here are two superpowers playing at chicken.
James Cameron Well it is it is preposterous. Now you were talking about my my smashup in Bangladesh war. That was exactly as precisely the result of a chicken exposition. A lorry was coming down the road. Room for one.
Studs Terkel Why don't you set the scene. You were a correspondent. You've been there. I knew you were in Bangladesh as soon as I heard of Bangladesh the center of something cataclysmic happening and I said, "James Cameron is there," and you were there. Now you were as a correspondent in a jeep. Were you're not?
Studs Terkel Describe
James Cameron My wife, of course, yes is a South Indian, and we were having our honeymoon in the quiet shores of South India. The Bangladesh thing began, and by God, I was the biggest mug and fool I've ever known, because it's, you know, it's like Pavlov's dog. The bell rings and he salivates, and off I went. I I just thought well I'd better have a look at this because I always have a look at these goddamn wars, and I went out for no reason. Nobody was paying me to go. I had no reason to go and I went, and I got a lift in this Jeep from an Indian army colonel, and he had a chicken driver, and the truck was coming to us had a chicken driver and we just went "wonk" for no other reason but to save this man's pride.
James Cameron Well it's the analogy is absolutely correct. It was simply not a question of any personal advantage for anybody. It was "I'm not going to give in first," well surely that's as East and West dilemma today, isn't it exactly?
James Cameron It deters me. I assure you, but sooner or later the the means of producing this terror is going to fall into the hands of people who have no particular intelligence or responsibility, probably already is for all I know, and somebody is going to do this thing by accident, by playing around.
Studs Terkel So we have several billion people in the world, hundreds of millions in the societies we know, but several billion in the world who are standing by, or sitting by, and here's the big question. There seems to be impotence today, or is there, or less power on the part of the great many that may have been a hundred years ago, or has it always been so, over there individual individual lives?
James Cameron Well I would think so, but I think we have lived with the possibility of atomic warfare now for such a long time, a complete generation, that it is no longer horrifying. It is accepted. It it's not relished, or nobody wants it, but it is just part of life. They accept that the sun comes up in the east and goes down the west. They accept that the atom bomb is there and will one day fall.
Studs Terkel Yeah. That isn't to say, by the way I implied that once a hundred a century ago people had more power over their lives than they do now. I'm not sure that is so, because them too, the great many, may not have had that power but the human race itself can be wholly eliminated.
James Cameron In the old days in the old days of warfare, there were soldiers and mercenary soldiers went out and they fought one another and they did it of their own choice or they were press-ganged or something. They were a tiny, minute percentage of the population. Now warfare is going to befall people who've never wanted it and who don't even know the reasons for it. This is the awful thing about it, this is a mindless suicidal attitude. Though I think I think this is not a question of degree at all. The warfare's worse now than it was. It's a question of absolutes, warfare is now, and I think we better recognize that or [you see] it won't be total. You see, if I thought that the nuclear war was in fact going to turn the world into a little little fireball and vanish from the universe. I don't think I'd mind quite so much but half of it's going to be left, really. Southern Hemisphere is going to be left and then they're going to be governed by Australians. God Blimey.
Studs Terkel We're talking about possible of nuclear holocaust, and we and war thus far. We haven't talked about the haves and have-nots. Not that it isn't related, it is. That here new discoveries in the world, new discoveries of of of sources for food and clothing and shelter, and yet two-thirds of the world or is that three-fourths goes to bed hungry. So we have another mad situation,
James Cameron Well we've got this lunatic situation of the creative invention of man is simultaneously devoted to its destruction and its preservation, but all the real money and all the real effort goes into the destructive half of it. Of course, I suppose it could be argued that the world would basically, half of it or two-thirds of it, would go hungry whether or not there were an atom bomb, but I- that's not my view altogether. We are going about to spend 3000 billion pounds sterling on buying and trying this out. OK. Why don't we say, oh let's let's give it to Africa. Let's give it to Asia. It may not make much of a dent on their circumstances, but at least we can go to our makers with a clear conscious.
Studs Terkel You know what's crazy about this earlier in the beginning in the beginning I was asking about objective journalism, and you speak of a lack of censorship to some extent here. You're able to say things, and yet journalists in quote unquote "free societies" hardly ask the what Jay Bronowski call "the impertinent question." We're talking about a madness, an arms build-up on both these large powers that goes beyond the realm of might be protection. It's to madness. We speak of the great need to feed the hungry of the world, including hungry in the very countries themselves, yet this these, the the question of arms buildup is hardly questioned by establishment journalists of both countries.
James Cameron I wouldn't have thought so. No. I mean, we're being rather smug about the third world and how we could how we could benefit them. There's a hell of a lot of third-world people in our own countries. We've got 3 million unemployed now. Largely, I think, because of this prosperous situation dedicating all our resources to totally destructive ends. That's what I think. I knew that would be by most establishment journalists that would be considered sentimental rubbish. I suppose it probably isn't practical terms. [bell rings]
Studs Terkel I'm thinking of you, James, and the journalism as you practice it have throughout your life, through the years, has there been a basic change? We're talking about journalists covering the world, affairs of the world that affect all our lives. Are they more investigative than they had been before?
James Cameron Oh I think yes, there has been, I I think because the ordinary processes of newspaper journalism have become outflanked and outmoded by the other processes of communication like television and radio. I think that we are within reach of the day when they will be, in our country at least, no national press at all. I I truly I mean that sincerely. There'll continue to be a local press which will provide you with information of your own locality that sort of thing, that I would welcome. I don't think there's any point in a national newspaper any longer, and I think for that reason the journalists themselves are conscious of the fact that they've got their backs against the wall, and tend to be a little franker than they than they used to be when they were so extraordinarily prosperous and well-off. Yeah, I think I think there is a change. I mean there's much more leeway for controversy than there than there used to be. Possibly the subconscious feeling that we are our last lap and why let's go out with a bang. It's an unfortunate phrase.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about a a sort of silence. The little protest groups in various parts of the country, in various parts of the world against nuclear buildup, and protest groups protesting and [unintelligible], but in the main there's a sitting by [unintelligible] opens on the part of the great many, and you said, "go out with a bang." Going out if if it does go out, it's hardly a whimper.
James Cameron Hardly a whimper, but I do honestly think that one of the one of the reasons for that is, as I was saying a little earlier, is because we've lived through this thing for a whole generation now, and after all it's not old bastards like us who are running the show now. It is the young 30 and 40 years old who had never known any other world than the nuclear world, and therefore take it absolutely for granted. Why should they suddenly protest? Why should you and I have protested because it always got cold in the winter and hot in the summer? It's nothing they can do about it, or so they feel. There are few of us who could make a fuss but it's neglected and [unintelligible].
Studs Terkel Well, I don't want this particular conversation that you and I are having cause we this is about the 10th, the 15th we've had in the years, and such a downbeat isn't there? As you and I are living and growing older and trying to do the best we can as individuals with our lives and perhaps try to affect others in a small way. Where do you see the hope? Where are the glimmers
James Cameron Oh-
James Cameron Of course, if one saw no light at the end of the tunnel. If one was had lost hope, as you've put it, then I really think the thing to do would jump into the river, but I don't. I will always believe that there is some resource in the human spirit that is capable of conquering these things. I must confess, I can't define it. I can't indentify it, but I'm certain at the back of my mind that there was something something immortal in humanity that somehow or other survive in spite of everything.
Studs Terkel James Cameron. no, really you should have. The bullet that escaped that hit you that hit your two colleagues, correspondents in in Korea. You in Bangladesh given up clinically dead. In fact, you wrote a a Prix Italia program dealing with the clinical death of yours. It's called "The Pump." You on the verge a number of times, and yet surviving each time. So as though, in your life itself, in your personal life, it seems as though, the human race has that resilience. The human being has that resilience.
James Cameron It has. It has extraordinary resilience physically. As I've shown. I mean, there's not much about me that isn't ersatz, isn't much about me that isn't false, but that is really a detail. The fact is that I'm I'm I'm still alive and I'm still articulate. I'm, like you, I'm still able to go on nattering away as hobbyhorses and such, and that I think is infinitely more important than physical survival. Not that I have any belief in metaphysical survival. I don't believe I don't believe that anybody could trust their message to their immortal soul because I think I have one, but nonetheless so long as what you and I are allowed to to carry on, then I think we should be grateful for this small mercy of just being able to do that.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about, again, you in 1981 and your life, your career, your work a journalist, and what we see forthcoming in your country England that once upon a time was a great power and now a simply a country part of a east the east. We come back to East-West confrontation, don't we? We come back to people themselves who live in these countries and always has been a gap in all these countries between the, quote unquote, intellectual and man who works with his hands.
Studs Terkel Now has that and will you come back your country, the Labour Party, you know we're not gonna avoid the mix-up that is here, but the man of the cloth cap. The guy, the dock hand always was conc- generally considered a Labour person. Today that isn't so,
James Cameron Oh no. Well you struck us at our moment of greatest possible disarray. Who knows what is going to happen to the radical movement in this country in the next few months. I don't know, but up to now I think it's fair to say that the Labour Party has represented the, you know, toiling masses seeking free unfortunately the toiling matche- masses are now much more prosperous than we are, and so it is the non-toiling masses-
James Cameron Oh yes, yes, but how I mean that's I think fundamentally that's just a trifling detail in the whole gamut of world affairs that doesn't matter and this will pass like everything else passes. My own personal emotions are that I still cling on to hopes, and because all my life I've been in the midst of really nasty manifestations of human behavior. Almost all of it has been has been cruelty and savagery and blind folly, but all that time I've still clung to the ridiculous hope that one day it will be alright. I must say that point of view is getting harder to maintain every day, but I will hang onto it till my dying day.
Studs Terkel We haven't talked about race itself, the aspect of race. That always has been the case. Third World colored people's of the world, or within your country and mine, the aspect of race and that working man, the blue-collar guy on the role that's played on his life and the way he works today, that aspect.
James Cameron That has had a very big aspect, because as well you know we've had the most dramatic influx of immigration over the last 20 years of any country in the world. It's never particularly worried me, because see having spent most of my life in what we are pleased to call the third world, I basically been a minority race myself in places like Asia and Africa and so on, and I've always been the one man out. Therefore, I've never been disadvantaged by that, I hasten to say. I mean, I'm not being bitter about that, but I do understand how it feels to be a minority and, as you have pointed out, our household here's totally mixed household, colour wise. My wife is brown. I'm technically white, getting whiter every day, and it's never it's never entered into my calculations at all that, but I can well understand how it would in certain societies where they are actually possibly economically disadvantaged by the [unintelligible] or something like that. I know it's it's a it's a very difficult problem, but you could I can well understand the British working class, for example, feeling a sort of sense of completely ignorant resentment, because they don't know anything about it, you see. They see black people and brown people coming in here and they don't like it particularly, but you see they don't have the advantage that I've had of having lived among both societies and knowing their civilization.
James Cameron Yeah.
James Cameron Well it's a very dire question here, because we are in a hideous economic mess worse I I could ever remember in my life. People point out that Britain has got approaching three million unemployed people who are not destitute. Now when I was very young man in the '30s, there were also three million unemployed with a population of only three quarters what we got now. We never particularly attributed to race, because there wasn't a race element in that time, and but this country in the '30s was in every bit as dire in economic mess as it was as it is now, but of course providentially if one can use that word. The Second
Studs Terkel Strangely enough, it was the Second World War that cured the American depression too. There was the New Deal. There were jobs, but there still were 16 million unemployed when Poland when Poland was invaded by the Nazis, by Germany, and so it was it took a war. So we ask a question, and this is toward the end of our reflective- your reflections. Must it be war to create a semblance of prosperity? Must
James Cameron But it's an insane society that's got to rely on a war every generation to pull it out of its own follies. Of course they can't go on forever. Of course they can't. And more- moreover there's probably this much to say for the nuclear age. Everybody realizes the third world war can't cure it.
James Cameron Yeah.
Studs Terkel There is that moment of of optimism around a certain individuals and communities that give you hope and you think the overall thing, and yet where does that leave you now, James Cameron, approaching 70 very soon. Half a century of your life as a journalist. The most honored of all roving correspondents in in England, at home now not travelling, at home now, and still writing your column. Of you and anything you want to say you haven't said. Thoughts that come to your mind now.
James Cameron Well in the phrase that Evelyn Waugh used in a book, "I'm glad I saw it when the going was good." But I don't want to see any more. I would hate to repeat my life, but such is the sanguine stupidity of people like me. Looking back at it, I say, "Well by God, I had an interesting time. I had a very good time," forgetting the hours and weeks and years of horror and misery and so. Even now I'm, you know, so much elastic, plasticine that I could say, "gosh that was not a bad time," It's a wrong thing to say, but one is only human and one loo- well, I think, you know, that one one's memory filters out the worst and leaves the
Studs Terkel Now that's interesting. One's memory filters out the worst and leaves the best. In working on the depression book "Hard times of the American Depression" which had its parallel here in the British depression. The the inevitably people remember it. They speak of terrible moments, but inevitably they filter out the very worst, and I have to probe even further, because again nostalgia has that effect. It also works a safety valve, but you in your "Point of Departure," that book speak of both. You said you remember it nostalgically and with a certain kind of wistfulness except when you have a nightmare, you see that little [unintelligible].
James Cameron I had them increasingly. I have them increasingly, but I think you know the the instinct of humanity is to look back and say, "it was a horrible time, but I made some very good friends there. Some lasted to this day," and that is that what you remember rather
Studs Terkel You know perhaps this is the way to end it, the meeting, the making of friends, and it comes down to a personal relationship after all does it not? A person in the country, in a society, in a world, and yet when it comes down to the nub of things, its friendship is not
James Cameron That's what we live with, you see. None of us could live either that sphere international chaos, world wars, and so on. We think "well, I'm going to have old Studds coming around this evening next week. That's going to be a good week, you see. To hell with what happens to the Labour Party or what happens in Saudi Arabia or anything. I'm I'm going to enjoy the the personal pleasures that I can get." That's a selfish thing to say, but I one's bound to do that. After you've had so much unhappiness, you do have to cling to good things. However trifling they are.
James Cameron I once said that one lives by the generosity of one's creditors and the friendship of one's friends, and that I think of [use] this book by saying one doesn't know, one can't hope. One fears the worst, but one carries on looking forward to fun.