Interview with James Cameron ; part 2
BROADCAST: Jun. 4, 1973 | DURATION: 01:01:55
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Studs Terkel Continuing the conversation with James Cameron. The other day we talked about his participation in various events that in one way or another have shaped our condition for better or for worse. And we ended up talking about uniforms, Chicago 1968 convention. James Cameron, you've been about everywhere, and [would you?] by any country, any society, and you've been in contact with men in uniform. When I use the word uniform to you, I suppose there's a certain reaction, isn't there, immediately?
James Cameron Yes, I'm not particularly fond of uniforms, but for one who isn't very fond of uniforms and isn't very fond of armies, I've worn a hell of a lot of uniforms and been in a hell of a lot of armies and navies, for that matter, which has always been a bit of a dilemma in my life in that I've always considered that the stupidest method of settling any kind of differences is by violence and warfare. And, yet, over the last 30 years, nobody ever seems to have tried any other way. And if one is going to describe and report on these matters, one was obliged to wear these uniforms and therefore, by implication, indeed in reality, one is not only--one is in fact condoning the whole thing, because if--the moment you put on somebody's uniform, whether it be American Marines or the British Navy or anybody else, you are saying, "I am availing myself of the protection of this uniform." That's why I've often wondered whether I have any right to call myself now a pacifist. I'm a pacifist in the sense that I have no stomach for the fight, I assure you. But I have in fact made use of armies in my time, they have in the last major war I would be obliged to say that I would fight it again if I had to, I suppose, the one against Hitler. Unprecedented situation. None of the others. I didn't like uniforms, but they do simplify the business of separating one man from another man. But as we've seen in Southeast Asia over this past 10 sad, tragic, wasted years, they have not in fact separated the souls of men at all, because in both, really, you're wearing the black pajamas of the NLF or whether you're wearing the olive drab of the American army, both sides have revealed the fact that there are differences within them. How many American soldiers have been blamed for something that they didn't want any more than we did? Any more than the Japanese did? It is a condition of war that is such a stupid thing.
Studs Terkel This leads to the matter, before I ask you about uniforms domestically, police uniforms and the nature of police and state, you said the soldiers not wanting to do, many of them, what they did do, that leads to the subject now of authority and the questioning. Earlier you said you'd like a race not of cynics but of skeptics, of those questioning, and if there were more skeptics and more questioning, perhaps this tragedy of Indochina might not have been, or certainly would have
James Cameron Yes. If too many people had not been sold a bill of goods that the people who were selling didn't understand. This is the funny--and this I don't think is unique to Vietnam--I think it's unique to almost all conflicts. The people who must persuade themselves that their case is just and right must first of all persuade themselves. Because I find it impossible to believe some of the arguments that were made in favor of the Vietnam War could have been made in total cynicism. They must have been made out of stupidity in some aspect, and probably in some ways well-intentioned stupidity, but too many people didn't question it. They don't question authority enough.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking of the time I first met you. The very first time we met you were passing through Chicago. You had written a book. Here is our enemy. This is our enemy. And you were the first, I believe you were the first, you or Jean Lacouture or you were the first Western correspondent certainly writing in English to visit North Vietnam. You had seen Ho Chi Minh, you had seen then Prime Minister Phan Van Dong. Perhaps you could describe your meeting with Ho Chi Minh and Phan Van Dong, there are some whimsical aspects to it, and then the reactions to you and your report when you came to the United States.
James Cameron It was seven years ago. I've forgotten exactly, but it was the first time anybody who was--I don't know whether I was the first Western journalist, I was the non-committed one who was not working for a Communist outfit.
James Cameron Oh yes, but he was deeply committed already. But, where the moment I got there, of course, to Hanoi, the very first thing I asked of the North Vietnamese was, "Would it be possible to meet this legendary Ho Chi Minh?" And of course they said, "No," which is very unusual. The Asian reply to a question like that is normally, "Well, we'll see," or "Leave it for a week or two and we'll"--the answer was categorically, "No, the president will not find it convenient to see you during the period that you are here," and since I didn't know whether I was going to be there five minutes or five years, it was very, very unusual and categorical denial. And I was inclined to believe what I had been, heard a great deal in the south and in Europe generally that Ho Chi Minh was, if not dead, then senile or incapable of being produced publicly because he had not in fact made a public appearance something like half a year. So I assumed, well, it's possible that he, this is the case and, so, I abandoned any hope of seeing him. And I wrote that in fact, had been there six weeks traveling around the country, and I got an invitation from the Prime Minister Phan Van Dong, to go and spend an evening in what had been the governor's, French governor's palace there, and we had a long talk, a very long talk. It wasn't very productive because we were both just talking in cliches and slogans of course, naturally. But what was so extraordinary was that after we'd been there hours and hours and hours, the door opened and there was a sort of shuffling noise and in came the old boy, himself, in his, you know, sandals made out of automobile tires like everybody wears, and he came in and sat down. Unquestionably Ho Chi Minh, and he saw that I got a microphone and so on. He says, "No, no, no pictures, no microphones, I'm not going to talk politics." He said, "You've had three hours with my prime minister and that would have been enough even for you, he said, "Haven't you had enough communism for a day?" Incidentally, he is the only Communist leader I've ever met who can be funny about Communism. I don't believe--I think his Marxism was very thin. Anyhow, it was quite clear that the only reason he'd come in to the scene at all, was he would consumed with curiosity as to who was this long nose who'd finally penetrated his country. And he just sat down--
Studs Terkel Continuing the conversation with James Cameron. The other day we talked about his participation in various events that in one way or another have shaped our condition for better or for worse. And we ended up talking about uniforms, Chicago 1968 convention. James Cameron, you've been about everywhere, and [would you?] by any country, any society, and you've been in contact with men in uniform. When I use the word uniform to you, I suppose there's a certain reaction, isn't there, immediately? Yes, I'm not particularly fond of uniforms, but for one who isn't very fond of uniforms and isn't very fond of armies, I've worn a hell of a lot of uniforms and been in a hell of a lot of armies and navies, for that matter, which has always been a bit of a dilemma in my life in that I've always considered that the stupidest method of settling any kind of differences is by violence and warfare. And, yet, over the last 30 years, nobody ever seems to have tried any other way. And if one is going to describe and report on these matters, one was obliged to wear these uniforms and therefore, by implication, indeed in reality, one is not only--one is in fact condoning the whole thing, because if--the moment you put on somebody's uniform, whether it be American Marines or the British Navy or anybody else, you are saying, "I am availing myself of the protection of this uniform." That's why I've often wondered whether I have any right to call myself now a pacifist. I'm a pacifist in the sense that I have no stomach for the fight, I assure you. But I have in fact made use of armies in my time, they have in the last major war I would be obliged to say that I would fight it again if I had to, I suppose, the one against Hitler. Unprecedented situation. None of the others. I didn't like uniforms, but they do simplify the business of separating one man from another man. But as we've seen in Southeast Asia over this past 10 sad, tragic, wasted years, they have not in fact separated the souls of men at all, because in both, really, you're wearing the black pajamas of the NLF or whether you're wearing the olive drab of the American army, both sides have revealed the fact that there are differences within them. How many American soldiers have been blamed for something that they didn't want any more than we did? Any more than the Japanese did? It is a condition of war that is such a stupid thing. This leads to the matter, before I ask you about uniforms domestically, police uniforms and the nature of police and state, you said the soldiers not wanting to do, many of them, what they did do, that leads to the subject now of authority and the questioning. Earlier you said you'd like a race not of cynics but of skeptics, of those questioning, and if there were more skeptics and more questioning, perhaps this tragedy of Indochina might not have been, or certainly would have been Yes. If too many people had not been sold a bill of goods that the people who were selling didn't understand. This is the funny--and this I don't think is unique to Vietnam--I think it's unique to almost all conflicts. The people who must persuade themselves that their case is just and right must first of all persuade themselves. Because I find it impossible to believe some of the arguments that were made in favor of the Vietnam War could have been made in total cynicism. They must have been made out of stupidity in some aspect, and probably in some ways well-intentioned stupidity, but too many people didn't question it. They don't question authority enough. I'm thinking of the time I first met you. The very first time we met you were passing through Chicago. You had written a book. Here is our enemy. This is our enemy. And you were the first, I believe you were the first, you or Jean Lacouture or you were the first Western correspondent certainly writing in English to visit North Vietnam. You had seen Ho Chi Minh, you had seen then Prime Minister Phan Van Dong. Perhaps you could describe your meeting with Ho Chi Minh and Phan Van Dong, there are some whimsical aspects to it, and then the reactions to you and your report when you came to the United States. Well, obviously, when I did get into-- This is what year, do you remember? It was seven years ago. I've forgotten exactly, but it was the first time anybody who was--I don't know whether I was the first Western journalist, I was the non-committed one who was not working for a Communist outfit. And [unintelligible] Wilford Burchett had been there, probably. Oh yes, but he was deeply committed already. But, where the moment I got there, of course, to Hanoi, the very first thing I asked of the North Vietnamese was, "Would it be possible to meet this legendary Ho Chi Minh?" And of course they said, "No," which is very unusual. The Asian reply to a question like that is normally, "Well, we'll see," or "Leave it for a week or two and we'll"--the answer was categorically, "No, the president will not find it convenient to see you during the period that you are here," and since I didn't know whether I was going to be there five minutes or five years, it was very, very unusual and categorical denial. And I was inclined to believe what I had been, heard a great deal in the south and in Europe generally that Ho Chi Minh was, if not dead, then senile or incapable of being produced publicly because he had not in fact made a public appearance something like half a year. So I assumed, well, it's possible that he, this is the case and, so, I abandoned any hope of seeing him. And I wrote that in fact, had been there six weeks traveling around the country, and I got an invitation from the Prime Minister Phan Van Dong, to go and spend an evening in what had been the governor's, French governor's palace there, and we had a long talk, a very long talk. It wasn't very productive because we were both just talking in cliches and slogans of course, naturally. But what was so extraordinary was that after we'd been there hours and hours and hours, the door opened and there was a sort of shuffling noise and in came the old boy, himself, in his, you know, sandals made out of automobile tires like everybody wears, and he came in and sat down. Unquestionably Ho Chi Minh, and he saw that I got a microphone and so on. He says, "No, no, no pictures, no microphones, I'm not going to talk politics." He said, "You've had three hours with my prime minister and that would have been enough even for you, he said, "Haven't you had enough communism for a day?" Incidentally, he is the only Communist leader I've ever met who can be funny about Communism. I don't believe--I think his Marxism was very thin. Anyhow, it was quite clear that the only reason he'd come in to the scene at all, was he would consumed with curiosity as to who was this long nose who'd finally penetrated his country. And he just sat down-- By the way, "long nose," that's the attribute of the Western person. That's right. Yes. And
James Cameron To [Jie-Me?] Yes, oh, "gweilo," the Chinese name which means "foreign devil," which is not used offensely, it just happens to be the word for foreigner, "foreign devil." But anyhow he said, "No, I'm not going to talk to politics at all. Tell me," he said, "What does the Haymarket in London look like?" Which, of course, was referring to the fact that for two years of his life 30 years previously, he'd worked as a pastry cook in the old Carlton Hotel.
James Cameron Under Escoffier in the Carlton Hotel which, of course, has long since been demolished, and I said, "Well, I'm sorry, Mr. President, but it's no longer there. You wouldn't recognize the Haymarket." Well, he said, "Everything in the world changes around me. Now," he said, "I would like to ask you one thing. Do you think we could try to have a little conversation in English? Because," he said, "I used to be not bad but my opportunities of practicing it have been much diminished lately." So we had a gutsy in English, but the old boy was very rusty, indeed, and we went
James Cameron Yes, it was, indeed. And beer. Great gallons of beer I was drinking. And anyhow at the end of this procedure, we'd had a few serious words but they're very dated now and they're all over and finished, and let us pray that they'll never have to be said again.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking now about your leaving North Vietnam, certainly one of the first, the first of the non-committed journalists, Western journalists. Now, you describe an experience, we'll come to, you finally come to America and you're meeting with various commentators, but before that, a trip through China, you had to go through Peking (sic) to get back home.
James Cameron Well, very much so because it started on that very evening when we were talking with Phan Van Dong and Ho Chi Minh, and in fact they got so merry on this Vietnamese beer, that in the end they were calling in photographers and we were all being photographed on the steps with our arms around each other. And I thought to myself, "Well, I've had a very rough time in this damned country up to now not being allowed to do anything, but I'm made now, because they can't refuse me anything after this." So I dashed back euphorically to the hotel, there in the lobby was waiting a chap from the Foreign Office for me with a message saying that I must be out of the country by six o'clock the following morning.
James Cameron And, so, I--obviously, this order had been made before I'd made out with--But once the machinery of communist bureaucracy gets underway, nothing can turn it back. So at six o'clock the next morning I was ready to leave, but, of course, there was a bad air raid that day; planes wouldn't take off. So I had to wait for the next day. This is relevant to the story because if I had got the plane I was intending to get, I would have gone through Canton and got on a Pakistan plane back to Karachi and thus back to Europe. As it was, the next plane they put me onto didn't go to Canton at all, it went to [Naning?] Peking (sic), and when I got to Peking (sic), I found that I was in serious trouble because I'd got the wrong sort of visa. I'd got a transit visa through China, but as they pointed out with great indignation, "This visa says that you can transit through Canton. It doesn't say anything about Peking (sic)." So I says, "Well, God, I'm sorry. It's not my fault. I didn't want to come here anyhow." "Well, what are you going to do about it?" And I said, "Well, I don't really know, because"--"Why didn't you read the visa?" And I said, "Well, it is just a very pretty picture to me, all these ideograms, I can't read them." Anyhow, I was then left in for about a week in this state of high tension because Peking (sic) in the middle of winter is very, very cold, and I had no clothes and one doesn't like to be in the middle of Peking (sic) without one's documenti in order. And the day came when I was supposed to leave early the next morning to go back through Siberia and Moscow, and I was summoned to the Chinese airlines and told, "Where was my exit permit?" And I said, "Well, that's what I want to know, and how do I get an exit permit?" And they said, "Well, you haven't got an entry permit, so how can you possibly ask for an exit permit?" So I said, applying stupidly enough, applying Western logic to the situation, I said, "Well, if I'm here illegally, wouldn't it be to everybody's advantage if you got rid of me very quickly?" They said, "Oh, it doesn't work that way. You can't have an exit without an entry permit." So I was in a very serious dilemma. So I said, "Well, what do I do?" The man said, "Well, you could go to the Foreign Office." And, so, I got into a creaking, old taxi cab, went to the Foreign Office, where a tremendously Kafka situation of three very stern-looking middle-aged women on the bench. And I lost my nerve, I didn't dare present my passport to them, because I wasn't able to explain the situation. I knew that they would just probably, I thought I'd just probably vanish without
James Cameron Yes. And the night was, the evening was drawing on fast, and I had a brain wave, I remembered that from years ago when I'd been in Peking (sic) for a long time, there had been this place called a tourist office, laughably enough, miles and miles away at the end of an avenue where they had spoken other languages than Chinese, so I piled into this terrible old cab again and we shunted up the road and we reached this tourist office just as the door was closing for the night, and I said, "I only want five minutes of your time," and they said, "I'm sorry. Time's up." And they shut the door in my face. By this time I was in total despair. Freezing cold, I had on a little Indian suit, and it was about 20 below zero. I was dread--I began to get a sense of such terrible despair that I didn't know what to do and so I said, "When you know, don't know what to do you do nothing." So back to the airlines office I went, and I just sat in a chair, and I said, "Well, I'm not moving. I can do nothing more. Get the manager again." Said, "The manager's gone home." So I said, "Well, get him back again." And an hour later he came back very, very cross, indeed, at being disturbed and he said, "Well, what's it all about now? Did you get your permit?" I said, "No, I didn't get my permit." I said, "Look. I've got to get out tomorrow. Can you help me?" Well, he said, "Yes, with pleasure." He said, "You want an exit permit?" Well, thunk! And he gave me the chop, passport.
James Cameron There and then. So I said, "You bastard." I said, "And you've given me all this turmoil and pain and misery and despair and you've made me so frightened and so deeply unhappy. Why did you do it, when it was so easy for you?" Well, he said, "All you did was come storming into the office saying, 'Where do I go? What do I want?. Why can't I get an exit permit?' You never said, 'Will you help me?'"
James Cameron Exactly.
James Cameron Tells a great, great deal. It tells a lot about the Chinese, and it tells a lot about the foreigner, too, who doesn't occur to him to say, "Will you help me?" And as soon as I asked him for help, he provided help. That was extraordinary, wasn't it?
Studs Terkel I'm thinking, Jim, before you leave China, this was about seven years ago, for the open door, the visit. You said something to me. You had been to China long before, some years before, Shanghai. Speaking about gains and losses. And you said something to me, because I'm thinking about you wrote a marvelous piece, it was a supplement for the "London Times": "Bars of the World, Pubs of the World" by Cameron, [then?] the authority on that among other subjects. And you said you remembered Shanghai, perhaps you tell it. Before the revolution and after.
James Cameron Well, it had been, how can I put it in a nutshell? It's been a great cosmopolitan city of China of the Far East, a the great cosmopolitan place. And it was a place of great, great luxury for the Europeans who had colonized it virtually. They lived in enormous state and great luxury, the cost of which was something like 30,000 babies were picked out of the gutters dead every year because they had not enough to eat. But anyhow, it had one--it had the longest bar in the world. And there are a great many longest bars in the world, but this was the most famous longest bar in the world, and of course, I got in, longing to see it, this great big enormous bar, hundreds of yards long, it wasn't, either, probably the longest bar in the world, there was nobody in it at all!
James Cameron Oh, yes. I think there was one miserable Czech technician I was sitting dismally drinking with. And anyhow, it was the most un--really, the most depressing experience and that, however, I was just in time because the very next day it was closed. And it was the last bar in the whole of China, in the whole of the most, world's most populous country. Had but one bar left, and the day after that it had none, that's because it was turned over to some youth establishment or something like that. That is one of the more trivial disadvantages.
James Cameron This was only three or four years after the revolution, but already people were eating who had starved, and people were living who would otherwise have been dead. Now, whatever the rights and wrongs of the Chinese revolution, and this has had some pretty serious and terrible vicissitudes I think, but that at least must be said to their advantage, that they saved the lives of the children.
Studs Terkel I was thinking of it, the profits and losses. There was a loss to many foreign correspondents, that bar is closed, but there was a gain as far as lives of children are concerned in China. So it's a question of which is the more important, isn't it?
James Cameron Well, it's an even bigger question than the loss of a bar. People were alive who would otherwise be dead. People were being fed. They didn't just lose a bar, of course, they also lost what might be argued as a great, great measure of personal freedom. They lost all manner of things that they had had the freedom to starve for the first 8,000 years of recorded history.
James Cameron They had, yes, and they had, they had freedom to live in misery. I don't know what [the sense? same As?] freedom is. I think I would sooner be--I don't know, you know, better--live on your feet than die on your knees. I don't know. And until you stay alive, you can never change
Studs Terkel So we come to the question of that very matter, doesn't we, of the stomach being at least having some sub, subsistence of a person living. Could we come back to the subject of humiliation, don't we? Humiliation that you spoke of the refugees in all parts of the world, in fact in cities in this country. Refugees, humiliation. To be free to be humiliated is one thing, free to be a person is something else.
James Cameron Completely.
James Cameron Oh, very much so. And once you take away a man's dignity you take away his ability to change his condition very largely, I think. It's impossible equation to make. But there cannot ever be in history a period where there are so many people, so many millions and millions of people had been put into this extraordinary situation by circumstances of being turned into people who had no rights at all, not even the right to put anything in their mouth and digest it. Not even a right to have a roof over your head to keep the rain off it. Everything you got was by grace and favor. By charity. And while charity and compassion are marvelous things, a man wants more than that.
Studs Terkel So, China perhaps, post-revolutionary China indicates something else here. So we come to James Cameron returning, coming now to Europe and the United States. And you had now written a book, your visit, you saw Ho Chi Minh, Phan Van Dong, North Vietnam, and you went into the air raid shelters illegally, described it when the bomb was, you were in the first--white guys, I guess, to have been bombed by American planes.
Studs Terkel This could be--we could have a few detours here and there talking to Cameron because his life was many lives. His life was this particular century. You were in Korea and you were the highest-paid roving correspondent in journalistic history in England, working for Lord Beaverbrook, one of his papers, and while you were there, one of our heroes of the Western world, of the Free World, quote unquote, was that little hero Syngman Rhee, and you were the one who came through with information that he was a little, he was as phony as a three-dollar
James Cameron Well, he really was, because at the time of the great retreat when the United Nations forces which, really, to all intents and purposes meant the United States forces, were down, reduced to a very small enclave in the south of the country around [Busan?], I like everybody else retreated there and I was obliged to see things that I had not seen before, which were the concentration camps of political prisoners that Syngman Rhee had keeping with thousands and thousands of people who are not, I hasten to say, prisoners of war, but were political prisoners who had been there since long before the war ever began, and who were being kept in--who had been kept in places that were not all that far removed from Belsen or Auschwitz, and were indeed being subjected to public executions, and anyhow I was very upset about this-- This sounds
James Cameron Oh, yes. Indeed, he could have beaten. The only difference was that when he committed his outrages and had his public executions, and bulldozed the corpses [into the ground?], the flag that he ran up over their graves was that of the United Nations, which I claimed was also my flag, and therefore I considered that I had a titular right to make up a fuss about this.
James Cameron Well--
James Cameron I didn't really see, a whole sequence of events was then set off. I didn't want to do anything precipitately about this, but I had all the situation photographed these camps, photographed the executions, photographs, and the strange thing was that the Syngman Rhee forces put no impediment in the way, they were actually proud of this. And so, I then said, "Well, I'm going to put a stop to this somehow, but I'm not just going to write a great big magazine story and profit by this situation." I took this dossier to the Para Major at the time, and I said, "You know, this mustn't happen." And he said, "Asians are Asians. They're a cruel people. They're our allies, don't rock the boat." So I said, "Well, I'm not going to get any joy out of this fellow." So I went back to Tokyo, I went to see MacArthur, who was the Commander-in-Chief, and I said, "You know, look at this. It really isn't--did you know this was going on?" He said, "Listen, Asians are cruel people, they're not like us, they're our allies, don't rock the boat."
James Cameron Yes. So I said, "Well, I know I'm not going to get much joy out of him." So I took this dossier right away back to New York, to the United Nations itself, and I gave it to our representative in the United Nations which was then out in Long Island somewhere, I've forgotten where it was, Flushing Meadows or some such place. Anyhow, I said, "What about this going on?" And he said, surprise, surprise, he says, "Nelson, the Asians are very cruel people, but they are our allies, so don't rock the boat." So, I looked at him, I said, "Well, look. This is now 10 or 12 weeks that I've been touting this stuff around the world. Nobody will pay any attention to me. I've got to publish it. So it was in a paper called "Picture Post" then which was an illustrated thing rather like "Life" magazine. And we publish some of the least awful of these pictures and we didn't write a sensational piece at all, we just put an appeal to the United Nations: "If the Communists say that we are continually committing atrocities against their people, surely it would be a better answer to say we're not, than to have to agree that we were." Well, the proprietor of this paper suddenly saw this proof copy of this thing, as it was coming off the presses and suppressed it. He argued that this was giving aid and comfort to the enemies, and he suppressed it and he fired the editor and he fired me, and I am very glad to say that the paper survived both of us for a matter of weeks only after that, and it finally got itself fired. And that was the end of that story. But. It took about three or four years to come about but by and by somebody did tumble to the fact that this Syngman Rhee was a horrible man and they expelled him from the country, if you remember, and he died, I think, in Hawaii or somewhere.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about so many things. [pause in recording] Resuming the conversation with James Cameron. When last we heard from him about a minute ago, he was trying to reveal to the world the phoniness, the brutishness, the fascism of Syngman Rhee. He didn't succeed, but eventually the truth came out. And this has been pretty much a story of his life. We'll continue with his recounting. The people we support. We in the United States, for that matter it's been England, Great Britain for so long, too. These puppets set up who don't represent the people of that country. I'm thinking about you, a certain kind of journalist who was always there at a certain moment and that comes up with things that are unfashionable--
James Cameron One is always--it's always very annoying to be some years ahead of the popular opinion in this matter because by the time by that time everybody knows the story, they've forgotten that it was you who said so in the first place.
Studs Terkel But you came here, I'll cue you in and your career as a newspaper man, too, and the various papers [unintelligible] those you quit, and thinking of your relationship to Beaverbrook. But this matter of you challenging what had hitherto been unchallenged and accepted as a journalist in the best sense of the word, but [finding? finally?] of alone so often, you came to the United States. At the time I met you after visiting North Vietnam and you wrote this book, "This is Our"--"Here is Our Enemy", was that--"This is Our Enemy".
Studs Terkel "Here is Your Enemy". And there were correspondents. You were on TV here and men today recognize our adventure in Vietnam as being less than moral, less than intelligent, less than civilized, but at the time you were attacked by these very correspondents.
James Cameron Oh yes, because one can't altogether blame them, because the accepted attitude, the received word of God as it were, were that one could not possibly have gone into North Vietnam, written about these people as though they were creatures of flesh and blood, without yourself being a Communist, or without yourself wishing for their victory over the American forces. I didn't wish for their victory, I didn't wish the Americans vic--I wanted the thing to stop. That was all. Come to an end, as had been ordained in the 1954 agreement originally, which should've been followed. Anyhow, the point was, I stuck out my neck. And as you know only too well, Studs, that the received word of the media as we are obliged to call it now, is that if you are not for us you're against us. I tried to suggest that that was not necessarily so, that the war in Vietnam was causing just as much suffering to the Americans as it was causing to the Vietnamese and, indeed, that both sides were being corrupted equally and that this was a silly situation, morally wrong, economically wrong, militarily preposterous. And when I said that the United States can never, never win a military victory here, that was a very heretical thing to say, because President Johnson and Mr. McNamara were saying very much the reverse at that time and therefore the various television and newspaper people who took exception to my attitude were after all only repeating what their government had told them was the truth. Now, where, were they to believe their authorities in government or were they to believe the word of one single individual who after all had no reinforcements at all? Well, by and by we got reinforcements as the years went by. We got some very distinguished Americans went, followed my tracking--
James Cameron Yes, because I, just as I wanted my journalism to get into "The New York Times" rather than to get into "The Nation" or something like that, when they said in Hanoi that by and by they would wish an American to come. I mean, I was a sort of trial balloon for them where they ruled out--they really wanted an American, who would be the most distinguished, and I said without any question, Harrison Salisbury, he's not committed, people will accept his word. He's not even [noticed?] for his leftist attitudes or political heresies at [home?], you must get him. And, to be sure, he went.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking of you and the attack on this and humorous overtones, this we'll come to in a moment. The role of a journalist, we came back on the program before, the hour before talking about the advocate journalist or the one who says he's objective and of course, these men were objective, who were attacking you, now they, all those who need not be named, these particular correspondents on CBS, distinguished, liberal some are called, now agree with Cameron. But at the time they were accepting the word from on high, and they were objective in a sense, and you were not objective in the way it was put then.
James Cameron Yes, well, that was the argument that was made, and my argument was that there was no objectivity on either of our sides. I mean, there was, we were both being subjective according to our personal experiences of the matter. I simply argued that my personal experience was possibly a little more immediate than theirs and that, therefore, I was entitled to my two cents' worth of subjectivity, too, that was all.
Studs Terkel Now comes the humorous part of conglomerates and the media. At the time, Henry Luce, who believed so strongly in the American Century, was still alive and publishing Time-Life, and "Time" magazine not unexpectedly attacked you, called you a conduit when you came through with the book about North Vietnam, a conduit of misinformation.
James Cameron Yes, a conduit was the word, which is a very emotive word meaning, ding I suppose, a sewer really. But anyhow they had an article in the press section calling me a "conduit to misinformation," which they had every right to do if they thought so, although I could argue that a conduit is merely a channel and that my function was no more than that of a channel. However, I was a little bit wounded at the implication that I was on the North Vietnamese side and not on the side of people in general. However, the very day that that issue appeared in the street, I got a call from the book publishing department of Time-Life saying would I do them a book about North Vietnam? And I was amazed and stricken. I said, But surely, you can't wish to publish a book from a conduit of misinformation which would be nothing but lies." They said, "What the hell are you talking about?" I said, "Well, why not read your own Goddamned magazine, you see?" They said, "Well, it's a different department."
Studs Terkel "A different department." See, here we come to one of the, remember the first, at first we were talking about Genet being at the Chicago convention in '68 and stuck in the lobby and he was watching the scene with a seasoned eye of a connoisseur, the madness, this is also Genet, isn't it? Or Ionesco. Maybe it's Ionesco.
Studs Terkel You know, similar to your situation, much later date, this. Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Herbert, the most decorated soldier in the Korean War, honored, wrote the book "Soldier" in which he exposed he was sore and was forced to resign because he exposed a lot of the atrocities of the American military in Vietnam and also the covering one for the other in the corruption, and the book was published and given pretty good publicity by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, but he was attacked during that time by CBS. His credibility was attacked. CBS owns Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Studs Terkel It's a different department. So we come to the question of what's a non-fragmented man, and we come to journalism again and we come to man today and uniforms. So I'm talking about uniforms and now we're talking about police, uniforms within a country, within a city, and you have seen the police in different societies, haven't you? You saw Chicago police, of course, but you've seen them everywhere, haven't you?
James Cameron In questions of riotous assembly, but at the same time, Studs, I'm not at all sure that I wouldn't sooner see policemen in uniform than be aware of them out of uniform. I like at least to know who's on the other side.
James Cameron Yes.
James Cameron I think on the whole, yes, there is a rise in the incidence of secret agents, although by definition of course, if they really are secret, one isn't aware of them. If they--secret agents come in various sizes and shapes. It used to be many long years ago, shortly after the end of the First World War, there was a great business in secret agents going on in the Argentines, for example, but they were so sweet about it, because when they tapped your telephone, they always shrieked into it, "Speak more slowly, please," you see. And when they opened your mail they didn't steam it open, they just tore it open and gave it to you, and if they followed you in the street they always sent some hunchbacked red-bearded dwarf or somebody eminently conspicuous, you see, and it was really quite a pleasure to be treated like that. But I've worked all my life and on the assumption nowadays that all telephones are tapped, all rooms are bugged, all
Studs Terkel This is something else here. And I'm going to come back to the change in the fashion of secret agents, particularly in this country. You said you--does it have an effect on people, more and more people feeling this, journalists, let's say, the assumption that the phone is tapped or the room might be bugged. Is that a more, is that feeling more frequent now among people?
James Cameron I would think so. I could only speak for myself, but I would imagine that that is the case, but--you know, this isn't a matter of pride. But I haven't got anything to hide. You know, I really, everybody knows everything there is about
Studs Terkel But you think that might have an effect upon others who are a bit more timid, perhaps, or worry, perhaps, about opinions on high as you obviously do not, that that feeling of being bugged or listened into or being eavesdropped upon may play a tremendous role in the imagination of that person, that is, blunting his imagining.
James Cameron Oh yes, and it greatly works to the advantage of the censorship of the public media, which in my opinion has always been self-censorship much more than imposed censorship. And obviously, this is going to become increasingly so.
James Cameron It's very largely nervousness, fear, economic pressures of people. I--you know, I find it very difficult to blame people because you have got to take pretty considerable chances now and again if you are going to buck this headwind. I mean, you've got to look out for some years of difficulties and unemployment and one thing or another as I have had, but in the end somehow you don't suffer nearly as much as the people feel they are going to suffer. It was always an argument for me when I was a foreign correspondent on a paper, used to meet with one's colleagues and his famous [bastards?] of the world and something would happen and it would be a good story. And I'd say, "Well, what are you going to do with it?" And they'd say, "It's not worth it because they wouldn't use it, you see." So I'd say, "How do you know they wouldn't use it?" "Well, obviously they wouldn't use it, it's against their policy, it's against their"--well, I said, "Well, how do you know until you try? Now, they have invested a lot of money into you being here. They're not going to thank you for avoiding doing your work, are they?" "Oh, yes, they are." So I'd say, "Look. I'll have a bet with you. I'm going to send this manuscript to the most reactionary paper you could think of, 'The Daily Express', shall we say, or something like that." Sure enough, they'd use it. They would probably put a strap line on the top saying, "This is a pack of lies," or "This is by no means true," but on the other hand their cupidity took charge of them, they wanted their money's worth out of you, you see.
Studs Terkel We'll return on a forthcoming program, a third one, talk to Cameron about personal adventures in life and anecdotes that are revealing, too. And now but the matter of, you spoke of the secret agents in caricature form, those you remembered or encountered in Latin American countries or in other countries. Today I'm told by a guy who's been a secret agent, as in a book I'm working on, is an industrial spy, says, "Now, invariably the best are bearded kids, hippies, Blacks, Puerto Ricans, bell-bottomed kids, and so those who wear the attire, those who seemingly are the resisters who look much like them, I imagine police here have young hippie-looking cops who are provocateurs in various cities and societies. That's the new development.
Studs Terkel Oh, that's not so much a quisling, as someone who is, actually someone who is, that's his job, he's paid. He looks like the young protesters or whoever were the protesters may be, of what, protesting what they think is immoral or evil, and there is the provocateur among--provocateurism I suppose, something else, we think of various events and in various societies, too.
James Cameron I think that's pretty despicable, frankly. To provoke. I'm not at all sure that, mind you, we the media--how I hate that word, is there no singular for media? I don't think so, it's no secret. But we of course, are endlessly and perpetually provocateurs, could be argued reverting to our famous Chicago '68 again. Was it not quite obvious that when the television cameras went on a section of the crowd, the crowd was activated into activity much more than it would be otherwise? This is an inevitable concomitant of the television medium I think. But we're not provoking incidents in order to penalize people for breaking the rules. That's a different thing.
Studs Terkel Coming back to, in this kind of involuntary provocateurism, or making provocateurs through technology now we come to something else, don't we? I could have a question to ask. Go ahead, you were going to say something.
James Cameron No. I was only going to repeat what I say, that without intending to be so, a television team is a provocative thing and it's doing its job by so being, but at this time where are the limitations to that rest, I'm not at all sure, I really am not at all sure. In fact, as I grow older in this business, my areas of uncertainty become much greater. When I was very much younger, I used to be so sure of almost everything. I get less certain about things.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking of a way I want to save your, the adventures of Cameron, more personal ones, specific ones, too, for the third program and various people you've met and incidents along with it that are very funny, at the same time telling. Something you just said, though, the second time I saw you was in a little hotel where I stayed in London behind the British Museum in a district known as Bloomsbury, that the flowering of Edwardianism was there at the time, a moment of innocence that wasn't innocent, and perhaps this is the part we could end this program with, your thoughts as you feel less certain today than when you were younger, and for years you were a member of the Free India Committee with Christian Menon and other colleagues and the Colonel Blimps said to you, "You watch and see. What you do has no meaning. They'll be free, they'll be at each other's throats." They are. Do you recall that, your thoughts now, seven years after that conversation, six years after it?
James Cameron 'Cause they were, in a sense you see they were correct. They said, "Give all these undeveloped countries their freedom, and you'll give them freedom to starve, you'll give them freedom to run into economic ruin, and you'll give them freedom for civil wars." And in almost every case, I'm obliged to say that they have been right for totally the wrong reasons, because once again you come down to this whole anti-colonial freedom businesses, that good government is possibly less important than self-government, and that every country possibly has to go through these teething troubles of desperation and unhappiness before it settles down. You can't, for example, ask countries to surrender their authority to international organizations before they've had it, before they've got some independence to surrender, and independence naturally it means inexperience and you get Biafras, you get Bangladeshis, you get the tribulations of India. But I wouldn't have it otherwise.
Studs Terkel It comes to that. Now we come to sort of, there are these moments that are agonizing when a country finds its autonomy and there is an indigenous kind of tyrant. He comes up a phony, but that's for the people themselves to deal with, and not for the guy--
James Cameron And it does, after all, come--it comes a little wrong from the United States, for example, to protest at the immediate result of independence being civil war. That was the experience of the United States itself, was it not? The very first colony that decided on freedom decided on liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And they had to pursue it through a bloody war before they found it.
Studs Terkel But the whole matter--you said that you still insist, you see, to the Colonel Blimps, a look at them. And the point is, you were telling me you would still insist you were right, even though there is internecine warfare, even though there is internal corruption, where there are countries that have found their autonomy. But the fact is this must be, you know, [admit it? admitted?], that colonialism itself, colonialism, you know--
James Cameron Is an insult. Once again, you see, it's this question of human dignity. It removes that. And the Colonel Blimp has a pretty fair impertinence when he himself, working on his inheritance of centuries of freedom and democracy, complains because a country with 20 years or less of experience is groping in a medium called democracy of which it has no experience and no one had been allowed to try it for years.
Studs Terkel You know, some seven or six years after this conversation I'm recounting now when you said this, the last thing you said that day in that hotel room, I remember it so vividly and how applicable this moment, you said, "Why must these colonial powers go stupidly, go for the same routine again and again and again, of putting a certain man in prison, that man [lay?] and putting him in prison because he's leading these, this group of guerrillas or rebels or independents? He's called names and eventually the same man goes to Windsor Castle for tea as representative of that government. I think now of the United States visiting China and visiting Moscow and here it is another [skin?] that we come back to this thing,
James Cameron Why have we always got to go groping through as you say this familiar routine of stupidity? It comes down to the old thing that the one thing history teaches is that history teaches nothing.
James Cameron Well, I mean, one only has to give a catalogue of them, starting from Jawaharlal Nehru in prison, their leader, Archbishop Makarios in prison, their leader, Jomo Kenyatta in prison, a leader, Kwame Nkrumah in prison a leader, they just go through the same old performance and
James Cameron Indeed, Ho, for that matter. Dear me, yes, it only offends my sense of symmetry, a sense of sense, of rationality. That's all. I'm no longer a moralist about things, you see, Studs, I'm just getting so impatient with bloody fools, that's all.
Studs Terkel A postscript to this hour with James Cameron. We left--we had to drop another shoe we left in hand, and that you spoke of the nature of police in different societies. You said the French police could be among the most cruel. Would you mind expanding on that?
James Cameron Not so much the French police, but the French riot police, which is called the CRS, which is Compagnies Republicaines de Securite, which is a bunch of specially-trained people who are kept outside the cities and sent in only on occasions of civil disorder and who are trained purely and simply in the business of breaking up crowds. They would seem to me, individually, to take a greater pleasure in their work even than the Chicago police did, who as a corporate mass well, irresistible, of course. But a French CRS officer in full cry after a party of students [going to? gate of?] a metro is a terrifying sight, because it doesn't matter to him whether he kills you or not. This is the point. I don't think the Chicago police wanted to kill us. They wanted to humiliate us or disperse us or--
James Cameron It is no importance to them whether they kill you or not because as a rule they are set on to crowds of--who all die to be--students or would be, as was the case not many years ago, Algerians. And when the Algerian OAS riots were in Paris, the CRS were permanently on duty. And, I suppose, the casualty list was anything up to 50 to 70 people dead a day, thrown into the river.
Studs Terkel You spoke of a technique. We think of the French gendarme and whom we romanticize, you know, there he is, twirling his mustache in all these comic films, ___ the cartoon, and there's a cape that he wears, and this cape is somewhat different in nature.
James Cameron Yes, well, when the CRS use their cape, they flick it in the faces of the crowd rather like a matador does to a bull in the bullring. Then you think when you see it on the pictures that it looks pretty harmless. But, of course, his cape has got a hemline that is a strip of sharpened steel, like a long razor blade. And a gentle flick across the face can open you up to your jawbone. So it isn't as easy as all that. But it isn't, there does tend to be a little confusion in the minds of, when we talk about gendarmerie and some. There are three police forces in France. One of them is police forces you see in the city, Paris, who is called "agents de police." Then there's the gendarmerie, who work in the countryside, and they are men-at-arms, they are a form of militia, although their uniforms are identical. And then there are these famous CRS, who come in only at times of civil disturbance and do nothing else.
Studs Terkel Why? This is the question, why would it be French police that much more sophisticated in manner so perverse? Is it because we think of France and the nature of "liberté, égalité, fraternite," we think of that, perhaps maybe the story of France and rebellion, France and revolution, the [dream?], is that possible to counteract that? There is--
James Cameron I think the French Revolution must have been one of the most savage things in the world. One doesn't really know about that. I lived in France for very, very many years and I spent my childhood there, really, until I was quite a grown-up boy. I was there and I have a very great affection for the country, although I have considerable reservations about the French. I think they are, individually, possibly the most grasping and self-centered people in the world. Égalité is not quite enough. They want to be on top of egalite and liberte, yes, by all means, that's liberty to make your pile. Fraternite, that's been put into the cooler for some time.
Studs Terkel You think, perhaps, the very fact, I'm just thinking, I'm thinking of, maybe I'm romanticizing France and I think France, oh, cradle of liberty [unintelligible] the United States for that once, too. That to counteract that there is this sort of authority. But why, do you think they unique--think the French police, the riot police, aren't riot police the world over, basically
James Cameron Oh, yes. I'm sure they are. It's only that I have possibly been chased up and down alleys a little more often by the French ones than I have by the Chicago ones, that's all. I think possibly right. I think there is a certain kind of person who does become a policeman. I am obliged to say that you must want a certain sort of life to become a policeman at all, eh?
Studs Terkel You mean to carry a gun, carry a billy. There's one other thing, I want to ask you in a moment, perhaps for the next program, a change in the British police. Perhaps [we'll save? to say?] that. But the thing that occurs to me now to end this second hour is something a young guy told me in Copenhagen several years ago in a little nightclub. He was going to pro--he and a couple of, some students were going to protest the soccer match between Denmark and Greece because of the military junta of Greece. He says, they know they're going to be clobbered by the Danish police but, said he, and this is--I seek your comment--for the first time, they are more scared of us than we are of them said this young student who was representing so many students throughout the world. This was several years ago. Does that make sense to
James Cameron Very much so. I think the Chicago police were frightened. They took refuge behind their masks. I think if we'd taken away their masks, we would have taken away a great deal of their invulnerability.
James Cameron And I think quite properly. They may be asked to club their own children tomorrow. These are not criminals they're dispersing, these are not people who have broken the law of the land unless there be some minor statute or something like that. These are people who rightly or wrongly are demonstrating for something that they believe to be right not just for them but for society as a whole. That is the difference. They're not breaking the law because they are infringing the tenets of society, they are trying to improve the tenets of society.
Studs Terkel So strangely enough, though at the moment of our conversation it seems apathy in the air among young not just here but the world over, it would seem, there's something else in the wind and perhaps we can talk about that wind, the nature of it during our next session. Go back to beginnings for James Cameron.