James Cameron discusses his career ; part 1
BROADCAST: Jun. 4, 1973 | DURATION: 01:00:03
James Cameron reflects on his life in journalism and his near death experience in India which led to his heart operation in London. Cameron turned that near death experience into a BBC play called "The Pump". Cameron discusses that with Terkel as well as his autobiography, "Points of Departure". Cameron also discusses the June War or Six Day War with Terkel. Cameron reflects on the role youth play in society whether in Israel or Northern Ireland and how they should understand they possess a greater potential. The interview breaks at 27:18 and continues.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel In Portland, Oregon on the campus of Lewis & Clark where James Cameron is a journalist in residence and where I was here one night lecturing, talk about a marvelous and wondrous coincidence. I've seen James Cameron, my friend, several times since that traumatic moment in American history--Chicago, August 1968, Chicago convention. It's five years since then, and I know listeners have heard me mention the name of Cameron quite often. To me he's perhaps the world's most exciting and distinguished journalist working today. Now I was thinking, Jim, it's five years since that night we took a walk in Lincoln Park, August of 1968. Five years.
James Cameron In some ways, in some ways it really just seems like five minutes, doesn't it? It really does. But what has happened in those five years, it's of an interesting period for me because those five years were really four years, because one of them vanished from my life completely. It was a totally new experience for me to be very seriously ill. So much so that I was taken completely out of circulation for, really, a year. And last year, the past might as well never have existed, and it's a very, very curious feeling. I now feel that I'm in fact one year younger than I really am.
Studs Terkel I think, perhaps, what you should do, Jim, is recount and just explain the disappearance of that year in your life and how it began.
James Cameron Well, it began in the most foolish of ways. It began on the Indian side of the border of what was almost at once to become Bangladesh. Already some ten million refugees had--
Studs Terkel This was when, Jim?
Studs Terkel Just when it was the headlines in the news, just about.
James Cameron That's right. When all of a sudden the whole world became aware that once again this poor, sad, stricken subcontinent was once again in a desperate dilemma and an awful mess. And I was in India at the time, South India, on what was, really, technically my honeymoon because my wife is Indian. And during this period, just as we were going to go home, this news about Bangladesh happened. And I said to myself, "Well, I'm not working for anybody, nobody particularly wants me to go up there, and yet, somehow or other, I can't not go and see this thing." I suppose it's masochism in a way, and refugees seem to have been the background to so much of my life one way and another.
Studs Terkel I'll ask you later on about your adventures in the Middle East during the Six-Day War and your, certain conversation you had with General Dayan that you had, thay may have some implications today. But, back to this--
James Cameron Well, listen. I was simply up there, this tragic situation where an endless river of humanity was crawling through this terrible, terrible rain of the monsoon. The great irony of the monsoon in Bengal because when it fails, they die of starvation. And when it comes, they die of drowning, but they always die. I had to get back to a place called [Krishnaga?] where I had transportation waiting. I got a lift in an Indian army Jeep. And within 10 minutes of setting off on this journey, we had a really tremendously serious collision with a big truck and everybody in my jeep was killed, but I was not. I was, however, pretty smashed up. I broke a lot of bones and backs and legs and vertebrae, things like that. And anyhow, to cut the tale short, I didn't want to stay in India. And impose myself on even more on their very, very hard-pressed medical facilities at that time. So I got myself sent back to London where I went into hospital and got myself, you know, cello-taped together and plastered up, and in the middle of that proceedings I then very foolishly, and probably not for a time, had a pretty massive heart failure and then had to go into the surgical ward of the National Heart Hospital and have my chest opened up and a new aortic process artificial implanted and electric pacemaker and one thing and anyhow, it's a fairly big operation. You're on the table for eight and a half hours, during seven of which you are technically dead, because they stopped your heart beating, they stopped your lungs and they put you on a machine that does your heart beating for you, your lungs breathing for you, your bladder excreting for you, everything's taken over by a machine. Meanwhile you yourself are lying there like a hunk of meat. And that has lingered very much in my mind ever since then. Not because I was aware of anything unusual happening to me, because, of course, I was aware of nothing at all. But afterwards I was very much aware that I had really come face-to-face with death. And it thereafter presented no fears or terrors for me at all. I have never really been, I've never been particularly frightened of death, because that is the great consolation of the unbelievers, that oblivion can't frighten you. It can depress you, but it can't frighten you, but the actual processes of dying had always disturbed because it's a humiliating thing to do and degrading, and I've seen so much of it, it's happened to so many people before my eyes and I didn't want to go through it, but having done it, I realized it was really nothing to it at tall. So it's absolutely and completely changed my attitude towards life--
Studs Terkel I was thinking just that very point, we'll return to Bangladesh, too, and also another reflection on the possible death of mankind when you were one of the first witnesses to the Bikini blast, but the individual, you, James Cameron, you--later on you did a very moving, wrote a very moving program for BBC called "The Pump" and it dealt with this moment in
James Cameron It dealt with this moment in my life. It was called "The Pump" because that is exactly what the heart is. Doctors and surgeons are very funny about the way the human race romanticizes the heart. The heart has its reasons, we have a tender heart, nothing of the kind, the heart is made of an enormously powerful pump, a muscle that pumps tens of thousands of gallons of stuff through every day. And that is what I've tried to make clear is that how dependent on the most strong and powerful muscle we have that we can in no sense control, absolutely, and I can't control mine now at all. If I hadn't put up my little battery inside me it would stop, and it's a very, very interesting thing. It's carrying technological life to its ultimate conclusion, and one is totally dependent upon a machine.
Studs Terkel Upon a machine and yet there's James Cameron. I'm thinking of that program that I heard, that moved me so profoundly. And that is, were you recalling at that moment when you were technically dead, when the machine was doing all your work--I was about to say human work. Your work of existence, your thoughts--you see, in "The Pump", in the play that you wrote in which Michael Redgrave played James Cameron, you had recollections. Now, was this after or did you feel at that moment you had these visions, these recollections?
James Cameron Absolutely impossible to say. I don't know what was fantasy, what was real. This is the strange part of that period of life of which you just asked me. Was it's not just a seven-hour period, but almost the entire six months period, I can't distinguish, really, one day from another day, they passed in a kind of, very curious sort of dream, a very unproductive dream, professionally disastrous, of course, to have a year taken out of one's life, but at the same time philosophically it was very important to me that I should have had it, I suppose.
Studs Terkel One concern. Memories or thoughts of your father, who had a style of writing, by the way, in a previous book of Mr. Cameron, is a beautiful autobiography, "Point of Departure", which he modestly calls an attempt at autobiography, you spoke of your father in early days and his writing, so salubrious in style sometimes you could not distinguish between in the early days in your father's writing and your own.
James Cameron Yes, he was an immensely important influence on my life because I loved him very, very dearly. He was a very weak man. Finished up as an alcoholic, died when he was fully five years younger than I am now, which is a curious thought because I had a long, long conversation with him on that table. Or so it seemed to me. And I loved him very dearly, but largely it was because after the death of my mother and as a small boy we were the closest of companions, and our roles were almost reversed, and I was a father to my father more than he was to me which endeared him to me terribly. And I don't--it's terribly sentimental, I suppose, but 25 years after his death he's as real to me now as he ever was.
Studs Terkel There was someone else, another voice in this BBC program of this time you were out, and it was an Indian voice, it was the voice of an attending physician I think, or a surgeon and it was Indian. That's not accidental, is it?
James Cameron Oh, no, because that was the first--the first people who found us after this accident were, of course, Indian medicos. And the whole thing happened in India but not the operation, of course, but the initial accident, which nobody has yet been able to determine whether the accident in the Jeep was responsible for the collapse of my heart or whether in fact I had been, I had been due for this thing for all my life and had not either not known about it or not allowed myself to think about it. So that was why the Indian voice came, and what was so important was that, although it was terribly important to me to be sitting with broken legs and a broken back in the middle of a pool of blood, or somebody else's blood, at the same time passing by were 70,000, 80,000, a million homeless, destitute refugees who were far more symbolic of the human condition than I was. I was meaninglessness in this thing. But it was important to have an Indian voice there, because I was just one more statistic to him.
Studs Terkel They were now, you recall, you do remember the refugees passing by as you lay in the ditch, the one survivor, the others dead, the Indian soldiers and officers and as they passed by, did they see this bloody scene?
James Cameron They saw it, but they didn't absorb it. They'd been walking for five days and five nights, they were hungry, they'd eaten nothing, they had lost their homes, their money, their possessions. Many, many of them were far iller than I was. They saw me all right, and they gave me this curious blank incurious Indian stare which reveals nothing, and they walked by. And there again, that was what they should do, because they were--their lives were much more important to them than mine was to them.
Studs Terkel It almost, you know, that moment as you lay there in the ditch and as the scores of thousands of refugees pass by, without going to the ditch because their energy and survival, almost a metaphorical moment, too, isn't it? Aside from a personal one.
James Cameron Very much. It couldn't have been a more apt piece of symbolism of the human condition there at the moment and particularly as I had brought this on myself, from entirely my own fault.
Studs Terkel Well, we have to come to that now. I thought, and I have a hunch knowing you as I do, respecting you and as fond of you as I am, I think that the Indian voice appeared in your vision, too, because of the role India has played in your life, in fact the role you have played in some events connected with Indian life.
James Cameron It's played an enormous role in my life. I've known the country since the days before it was an independent country. When I was in the small way that I was able to, working for that independence, and that's 27 years ago now, 30 years now, and I've been back, I suppose, every 30-odd years, culminating in as you know, marrying Moni, who is a South Indian to whom I've been married only two years, of which one of them was this non-year, of which you know, so, really, we are even more newlywed than does seem, and this was, of course, an interesting thing to happen on what was in fact my 60th birthday, so I reckoned I had got these threescore years taped up, so there was still 10 according to the prophet left for me, so I'm still okay.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking also not accidental, you see, you spoke of the masochism wanting to be there. This is your impulses, not Jim as a journalist, you are whatever you feel as seems to be without my soun--I sounded pretentious. A turning point. In the affairs of men one way or another, this has been your case. Bangladesh, you found yourself there not by accident. I know "The New York Times" wanted you to go there early, or "The London Times" did, but you wanted to go on your own.
James Cameron That was it. In a sense, it was an, almost a reflex action because I had no special reason for wanting to go there other than the fact that it was just one more manifestation of human suffering, I suppose. By virtue of the fact that I've lived when I have lived in the period which your lifetime and mine encompasses has been productive of one thing which is human suffering in an enormously wholesale way. And in spite of the fact that I've always considered myself to be pretty sanguine, hopeful, optimistic, and, indeed, cheerful chappie, though it's sometimes been very difficult to keep in that mood in the circumstances in which one has found oneself because this has been the generation of the most I would think be called by historians if there are such things in the future, the foolish generation. All these things are so totally unnecessary, so completely foolish. There was not even, there is not even any dignity about it. A refugee, the first thing you strip from a refugee is his dignity.
Studs Terkel Well, of course, which leads to thoughts about you and your experience in the Middle East. We'll come to that. Refugees. And, so, the Six-Day War and you were there. Suppose you recount a particularly a conversation that you had with General Moshe Dayan at a certain moment that may well have been a turning point in the affairs of man.
James Cameron Well, just as I'd been pretty seriously mixed up with India for years, I had been similarly mixed up with Israel. I was there the day it began and gradually the enormously high hopes and sanguine feelings of redemption that one felt at the time, they began to evaporate as I thought they--the well intentions of the state began to dissipate, too. But that is beside the point. The point was that they did come. The June War in 1967 and it was quite manifest that it was going to happen so I was there in plenty of time for it. And, of course, it was no sooner on than it was over, and it was finished and I came back from the Sinai desert, which was covered, littered with 100,000 defeated Egyptians trying to get home through 120 degrees of heat and no water. And it was quite clear that the ceasefire would be declared the next day. And I went to see General Dayan, with whom I'd had an acquaintance over the years, no more than that, and I said, "This is a real, this is the moment of truth for the entire Middle East and particularly for your armies. Could you please find it in your heart to get the prime minister or yourself or the United Nations or somebody to make an address to the world roughly to this effect: "We have just won a transcendental victory unprecedented in the history of military arms. Our enemies are in flight. There isn't a chance they are regrouping and we have unquestionably won. And now we see before us tens of thousands of defeated and beaten and dying men strewn all over the desert where thousands of years ago our forefathers were led across by Moses into the Promised Land. They are now dying before our eyes. Well, if there is one country in the world, one race of people that knows what it is to be a refugee and to be dispossessed and to be stripped of all hope, it is us the Jewish people. We do not intend to impose that suffering on our defeated enemies for a day longer than we have to do so. We will succor them and drop water on them." Well, I said to Dayan almost on my knees, I said, "It happens once in a thousand years that what is right and what is ethically and morally proper happens to coincide with what is politically expedient, because if you say that, the whole world will applaud you for this, because it will not expect it from you." And Dayan said he would consider it and the next day he made the announcement that "We hadn't asked them to come, let them find their own way home." And I thought, "Well, from then on, that is a turning point." But not the turning point that I had hoped for.
Studs Terkel I was thinking, Jim, as you recount that moment in our reflections, had that act that you suggested to a powerful man who could suggest to equally powerful colleagues that it was an unprecedented victory. Had that suggestion been followed, what do you think would have been the case today? Just conjecture on your part, as far as the Middle East and the world.
James Cameron I think it would have achieved the one thing that the Israeli government has claimed to want to achieve for the last 25 years, and that is a negotiated peace, complete negotiated agreement between all the Middle Eastern powers. It would have, it would have presented the Egyptians and to some degree the Syrians and the Jordanians with a set of conditions that they could not in dignity refuse. If the Israelis had said, "You have been beaten. Now we welcome you to our conference." Instead of saying, "Well, we have beaten you. And now we'll take all the land that we've got and we will never return it until you come crawling on your knees to get it back," which is the situation as of this moment, I think this gesture, which may have been a romantic gesture too, I think this gesture would have actually worked, because it is so rare in history that anybody makes a political or a diplomatic and above all a military gesture that is generous and compassionate.
Studs Terkel You know what else I was thinking? Just a fantasy, a thought, as I've asked you to tell this story, it's particularly considering [the person? because?] you, and refugees and what you've seen and your reflections and your life as a journalist in the very beginning, and your acquaintance with Nehru and your early meeting, the first Western journalist who met with Ho Chi Minh when it was unfashionable long, long ago, we'll talk about that. That you and I last night spoke before some young people at Lewis & Clark and what would have been the effect on young people of the world, remember we sensed despair of course, and drop the word "apathy," that's a kind of desperate kind of despair, quiet. What would have been the effect on the young had the Cameron suggestion been taken in the Middle East?
James Cameron Well, I don't know what the effect would have been upon the young of America, of the young of Western Europe, but I know what the effect would have been upon the young of Israel and the young of Egypt because I did a very curious thing shortly after that. I spent some time in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem talking entirely to students and children and sometime later I tried to exactly the same thing in the University of Cairo. And while the governments of these two countries were obdurately and uncompromisingly hostile to each other, the children were not. They were all saying, but by no means all, but a significant proportion of them were saying, "How long are we going to be maneuvered into this preposterous situation where we are always going to be at war?" Because if they were under 25 years of age, they'd never known any other situation, you see. They had grown up in a situation where tension and liability to imminent destruction was part of life. And it was, in a sense, miraculous to me that they had retained this sort of decency and sense of approach that they had and absolutely this can be done. I think the Middle East situation, which appears to be so intractable, so hopeless, can be solved when the present generation on both sides gives place to the new generation. It's being run by very old people at the moment, you know. You've got a septuagenarian Prime Minister in India and a meaningless president in Egypt.
Studs Terkel A septuagenarian in India? Indira Gandhi?
James Cameron I'm sorry. In Israel. It is, of course. No, a septuagenarian in Israel and he's not an old man, but an old-thinking military regime in all the Arab states all around and they've got to replace, they've got to go away, they simply have got to go away because they are rooted in the past, and this is the curse of the Middle East situation, just as it is the curse of our Irish situation. Everything is being approached not from the historical necessities of today, but from the historical tragedies of hundreds of years ago and the old people dwell on those.
Studs Terkel And it's interesting you speak of the Irish, you speak of the agony of Northern Ireland, and that ache or that barrier that was established so long ago, and that seems to be the impulse that determines rather than the needs, the necessities--
James Cameron There is no necessity! Just as with the Middle East, there is every necessity and every inclination of sense and reason is to stop this preposterous attitude. But whenever anybody suggests that, somebody says, "What about Oliver Cromwell?" or "What about the Pharaohs who drove us out of"--everybody is thinking of what used to happen to our ancestors. Who cares about our ancestors? What I want to know is, what's going to happen to my grandchildren?
Studs Terkel My guest this morning and for the next three days, four hours, four days a--is James Cameron, journalist non pareil. And we'll return in a moment with his reflections, his experiences, his thoughts. Resuming the conversation with journalist James Cameron, for those who may have tuned in late, is a magnificent writer/journalist who is back in action again after a year off. His biography, perhaps, is the best of the decade as far as I'm concerned, it's called "Point of Departure", McGraw-Hill the publishers, and it may be difficult getting it in bookstores, it's been out of print, but perhaps there can be requests for them and reissue. We resume the conversation about the Middle East, his thoughts, experiences, India, and about today. We pick up the conversation. Well, two things come to mind, Jim. What's going to happen to your grandchildren? We'll go back--on this matter of young people, a sad aspect is that in Northern Ireland, we know the young on both sides, Protestant and Catholic, are taught military manners rather than others you know, [right this? write this?] and the hate is in the young, and in Israel I noticed that David Schönbrunn and his daughters-in-law, book of new Israelis and the young seem very much like their elders in attitudes towards the Arabs. In fact, they were pro-Nixon and pro the American attitude in the Vietnam War. too.
James Cameron I can't--I couldn't be so sure that they represent the totality of youth. It would be foolish to deny that there isn't in Israel a tremendous chauvinistic core of young people. I mean, a miracle if it had been otherwise considering the upbringing and considering the tensions into which they've been obliged to be forced that the shoe has been pinching all their lives, and it would be stupid to deny that the kind of people they assume one must talk about do not exist. Of course they do, but I think that once the tension is removed from them that they will revert to being sanguine as you should be sanguine. It's disastrous when you see the attitudes of entrenched despair and hatred growing up as these children grow up. That's what depresses me, because I still think of the gain that this silly romantic view, but I still think that every generation that comes along has got this greater potential than we've got. And they will in 20 years' time be saying it, too, they'll be saying, "Why did we let our children in for this absurdity?" Because it's the preposterous character of international affairs at the moment, and [unintelligible] not a tragedy. I'm getting sick of tragedy, and there's enough, you could absorb just that much tragedy and too, eventually irony it seems to be more important than tragedy.
Studs Terkel So irony and the absurdity of it, the fact that it is not necessary is the point you're talking about now. I'm thinking you, Jim, and your thoughts, you spoke of, it's not what happened years ago. We can recount that, and the aches and pains can be nursed and recreated and, again, devastation. Yeah, but what happens now to people? You were on that ship and when your son, wasn't it during the week your son Fergus was born, when you saw the Bikini blast?
James Cameron That's right, yes. That was--it's strange how these banal things somehow take precedence in one's mind over the more important things. That atomic pillar of fire was the most impressive visual thing I ever saw in my life and it was--it had a very profound effect on my thinking ever since. But when I saw it, it was a curious thing. The first thing that flashed into my mind was not "How do I get this story back in the communications room or what do I, how do I describe this or what do I?" Poor old Fergus, he's just been born. And he is now about one week older than the atomic age. And that's all, and he'll never remember that one single week of feats.
Studs Terkel So he and his contemporaries were born under that cloud.
James Cameron Absolutely. And mercifully, I suppose, I think the greater part of them were unaware of it, at least unless subconsciously. I'm sure my family are aware of it because I never gave them very much chance to forget it, dragging them on CND marches and demonstrations and all this sort of thing. But if they were to, it's been their productive and early part of their life and they have a right to happiness and they have a right to peace of mind and a right to tranquility and a right to hope above all things. If they were to be absolutely obsessed by this thing, then, indeed, the world would not be worth preserving.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about yourself, and we'll come to the Aldermaston March in a moment. And what followed that in Chicago in Lincoln Park the year, several years later. You, when you saw that--you were among the few journalists who saw that atomic blast, and you saw the sky. In your autobiography, "Point of Departure", you recount, in quite a remarkable way, [your? you're?] going to the typewriter or the others to put it down to send to your paper.
James Cameron That's true. And I just wondered what a sort of meaningless task it was going to be. And later on when we read the papers and read how well we had fulfilled our [mandate? method?] From our public and how badly we'd done it I realized that it's possible even to trivialize the crack of doom.
Studs Terkel You, James Cameron, and I'm thinking of the young journalists today there's been a new kind of impulse in journalism. Perhaps it's not new as far as Cameron is concerned. They're called "advocate journalists," and there's a great deal of discussion about this one way or the other, "New Journalism," old journalism, advocate and objective journalism. You have never, you have always been, and the word "committed" is used a great deal, you have always found yourself not only covering and chronicling these events, but in the middle of them as well, participating at times.
James Cameron Yes, and quite frequently getting very badly blamed for taking up attitudes about the thing, and people will say, "But this is not objective journalism." And I would say, "Well, it is not in fact an objective situation." One of the few memorable things Winston Churchill ever said to my mind is he said, "It is very difficult to remain neutral between the fire and the fire brigade." No, I've always argued that once you get into a position in journalism where you are empowered to see these important things and you're not just reporting police court cases, then not only if it is a question of ethical rights and wrongs and not only is it extremely difficult to be objective, but I don't know whether it's desirable, either, so long as you don't pretend to be objective. Now, this is what this seems to me so very important, you must make your attitude abundantly clear from the very start and say, "This is how I regard the situation, and now these are the facts of the matter." And you will provide the facts to justify your point of view. You must also in honesty provide the facts that would in fact serve to denounce your point of view. You must provide them with the ammunition that can in fact destroy your own argument. And thus, you see, will, I think, one [will?] have done one's very small part to immunize people against the propaganda and special pleading to which they are constantly and eternally being subjected, and they say you mustn't turn the public into a race of cynics. I said, "God alone knows I would be the last person to do that, but a race of skeptics, yes, let them by all means question everything they see." But at the moment you admit to cynicism, you admit to indifference.
Studs Terkel Last night one of the young students, a girl came over and she was quite beautiful and she said about you, says "It's marvelous to hear someone so quick and intelligent and not cynical." And although she made, I'm sure she didn't make the reference to our age, but she was thinking of our ages, and the young are looking. And that's what I sensed last night, perhaps I'm reading too much into this Lewis and Clark gathering when you and I spoke there last night, as though they were looking for non-cynicism, or looking for something other than a despair.
James Cameron Oh, yeah. Cynicism is so easy for them to find all around them, whether it be intentional cynicism or whether it just be the cynicism of indifference, where it is of no great importance to--whether it be or to a publicist of any sort or whether it be simply the means to him are more important than the end. To me they've always been more or less equal because you simply cannot distinguish them and the means and ends, I mean, and I don't know whether any really proper and salutary end has been achieved by evil means. It is a great philosophical dispute, of course, about that.
Studs Terkel So, yet, we come to the journalist and his participating and a certain time. We spoke of five years ago, you and me and Lincoln Park. But before that, there was the Aldermaston March. Perhaps you can recount it as you were one of the principal participants or one of the organizers along with Bertrand Russell and Kenan Collins. Suppose you go back. When was that?
James Cameron Well, this was in the late '50s. The Aldermaston March was only the annual demonstration, the annual manifestation or piece of theatre that the campaign for nuclear disarmament, which went on the whole year 'round, of course, the whole time and became a very, very curiously almost unique movement in the British scene because it did in fact cut across all ideals, across all parts, across all age groups, everybody walked with us on this march from the staunchest of middle-class Tory women with hats to the maddest of shaggy dogs with guitars, everybody was there. And, of course, nowadays we look back on it. And we say, "Well, it rose and it had its impact. And its little symbol now is carried on the banners of youths who carry the flag all around the world without even knowing what the flag means, except in some curious way the symbol denotes anti-establishment peace and so on.
Studs Terkel By the way, did you, this is a personal point, did you think of that particular symbol of semaphore?
James Cameron No, I didn't think of it. But when the design was put up by a designer who was a member of that, I was very hostile to it. I have since, of course, long since come to terms with it, I'm very [affectionate?] to it, but at the time it disturbed me because it looked very Nazi, it was black and white and stark and full of angles, and I thought of the SS flags that people wore, and I said, "To me, it doesn't convey anything except menace," and, so, but I was completely outvoted and, so, the thing was in fact adopted and now, of course, it's a very good job it was.
Studs Terkel Well, that was the Aldermaston March, a certain moment, a certain high moment to everybody participating. And that faded, didn't it?
James Cameron It went away and it lost its impulse because I'm obliged to say because of the thing that destroys so much good in the world, which is internal dissensions. The leadership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament were good men. And they were honest men, they were true men, but they were men, and they were human beings and they fell into dispute with each other, and Bertrand Russell broke away as you remember and formed a thing called "Committee of a Hundred" and, I think, started his second childhood a bit late in the day since he was 90 when he started the thing, and anyhow CND, although still technically in existence is a spent force. This has to be accepted, but it was not a waste of time. It was not a waste of time. It drove a new element of politics into our party system in Britain that had not been there before which was that of the unified outrage of people in general against the stupidity and folly of us trying to move into this atomic nuclear field, because although we were, of course, deeply opposed to nuclear warfare of any kind, don't forget that our prime principle of it was to keep us, Britain, out of it and this was a limited objective. And but it was the only one we had any chance of succeeding in. We didn't succeed. On the other hand, there is, for what it's worth, a test ban treaty. Now, there might not have been.
Studs Terkel Now we come to something key before we ask you about your memory in Chicago five years after come this August, then people say, "Ah, despair. All our energy wasted." You don't feel it was wasted.
James Cameron Oh, no, I don't think any experience is wasted, good or bad, even this horrible last year of mine. I don't think that it was wasted either. But, of course, it can be said that one feels a deep sense of disappointment that the CND is no longer the motivating force that it was in those days, but perhaps there is a historical time upon these sort of public attitudes, maybe it is asking too much of people to maintain, in a sense, a negative attitude, which is don't do something, don't do something. And as I say, I consider the CND was a triumph. In its eight years of active life, it was a triumph!
Studs Terkel You know, there's something in your life, in your work, as well as in your life and your work and life are interrelated one. And I thought of the young last night and this last few days or so on this campus here in northwest Portland, Lewis & Clark. That the very act, that what you have done all your life in itself, in a sense, has provided a meaning, in a sense that it's provided--its delight with all the horrors which you've observed and experienced.
James Cameron I would like to think that if I had ever had the slightest impact on anybody at all, it was on people like this. But I am still always, I'm always a bit amazed when people like you and I get an audience as big and as enthusiastic as that which we did yesterday. That they still remember. You know, I really am amazed because actively I haven't been doing very much for some time, and but they do remember, and it's an immortal thing, the spirit of youthful hope, I think, I don't think there's ever a point where it stops.
Studs Terkel You're talking now about the matter of continuity, the matter of con-- you're talking now about a spirit of youth that has nothing whatsoever to do with chronology. Who--[it has to do?] With the calendar.
James Cameron Because you and I have got it, haven't we?
Studs Terkel Hope so. You have, certainly. We come to--well, there it is. So you were dead, technically for some time and you were out of it for almost a year. And here you are now, that in itself and technology is there, you know, but that in itself there's something beyond technology. Long ago I was thinking of you as somewhat indestructible because you've been in so many places and very tight ones, indeed, you know, spots and, so, that's part of it, too, you, Cameron, aside from the pacemaker and everything else, there's Cameron, isn't there? There's the intangible.
James Cameron Oh, yes, which the machinery that drives it around and starts to erode a bit and stiffen up and need a bit of lubrication, I think maybe used to do, but I think the passenger inside the machine is much the same as he always was.
Studs Terkel You know, as you're smiling now and laughing, you look back, 1968, the garden spot of Chicago, Lincoln Park. August. Now that was an experience, too, wasn't it?
James Cameron Oh, very much so. That was another piece of theater. You tend, of course, to filter out from these big memories the squalor and the nastiness of it, and to think of some of these more attractive aspects of it, I can't help but think of the sort of mise-en-scene of this beautiful park with these really terrifying cohorts of the, what we called Mayor Daley's [heavy? rude?] Brigade. But it was--in a sense it was a confrontation that had to happen, I suppose, and it was a confrontation that brought you and me, at least into immediate communication with these young people who, the moment they recognized us as being slightly out of our depth age-wise, or rather in too deep, they became protective and looked after us, do you remember, and indeed.
Studs Terkel Would you like, would you read, though we've talked about it before, it was five years ago on the radio, do you mind recounting that we--it was the night that curfew was set for 11 o'clock and it was to be defied by the group young ministers and others and the curfew had never before been enforced, and this is during the convention. And you and I wandered toward the park and there was a gathering and there was a heavy wooden cross set up by the young ministers and their colleagues and a few speeches and songs. And you said, that nothing too much I said, "Well, nothing's going to happen because the world is watching was the slogan and they're not going to do it again. The night before heads were clubbed. They won't do it again." And you said it reminded you of Aldermaston, you had a feeling of déjà vu you were
James Cameron Pretty much, which was that, it may have been something to do with a crucifix or which has no emotive meaning for me in that sense, but is nevertheless, it is a better thing to carry than a club. And as I said, there was a déjà vu sense about it and that we were going into something that we weren't quite sure what the end of it would be. But as you say, we both of us said, "Well, they won't dare do it again." But they did.
Studs Terkel Well, then came--we were about to leave. Nothing much, you know, it seems peacefully. When one of the ministers at the microphone said, "There they are," and about 200 yards or so away we saw in the, I think the moon, was the moonlight, was these faceless blue figures. You couldn't see it was blue, either, at the time. And the new masks that are now pervasive on the American scene worn by police during riot situations. The mask with that glass or plastic-covered face. We saw them and then we heard a voice saying, "Out by 11 or we'll come toward you [unintelligible]." What was your feeling at that time?.
James Cameron I felt, I felt a sense of danger because, well, I think I thought they meant what they said, and while I knew that we were in no danger of our lives, I knew we were in danger of being seriously humiliated and routed and I didn't want to see this gathering of young people and hopeful people and ministers and I didn't want to see them scurrying about in disarray which I knew was going to happen when the tear gas came because that is an undignified thing to do and you mustn't take people's dignity
Studs Terkel I know this aspect, aside from the physical peril that might have been, was in some cases, is humiliation. Throughout as you're talking, you notice the word "humiliation," is the humiliation of people whether they be refugees [fighting?] the physical suffering aside from the starvation and the squalor, you're talking about the humiliation.
James Cameron It's a humiliation. The humiliation of the refugees is the great thing of this past generation, whether they be the Bangladeshi refugees, whether they be the Palestine refugees, whether they'd be Jewish refugees, whatever they may be, whether they even be the Egyptian refugees who died on the way back in defeat in the Sinai desert, whoever it may be, the moment you've got the word "refugee" stuck on you, you are defeated. You are defeated.
Studs Terkel You know, Woody Guthrie used the word "Dust Bowl refugee" for the Okies who were going to California, naturally in Chicago the refugees, the poor whites and the Blacks in the projects. And then you find certain blue-collars are refugees, too, as the bulldozer comes along.
Studs Terkel So the word "refugee" is more than just a rural word, international word, it's an inter-city word, an intra-city word.
James Cameron Indeed. And it's also, like so many words, the English language has taken it, put it through the wringer and turned its meaning inside out. A refugee should be one who has refuge. A refugee is one who has not got refuge.
Studs Terkel Again we come to phrases, words being turned about. We know that the military of all societies turn phrases around and about, you know, pacification meaning one thing to those who quote unquote pacify those who are pacified, Operation Sunflower, whatever. We come to this matter of role-playing, now you spoke of need. At the time, we go back to Chicago, Lincoln Park that night, we were being protected at the beginning by the younger people there. They told us what to do when the tear gas came, to keep your mouth open, hold your nose, take a handkerchief out, later our little girl came along and she put Vaseline around our eyelids to protect us and we liked that, they were protecting us and as the tear gas came, we stumbled, all of us stumbled, scurried and retching and coughing and hawking, and you and I looked like a couple of Samuel Beckett figures, and then we headed across the street toward Lincoln Park and a number of us, you and I and about 10 or 15, 20 long-haired young were caught, were on the island, the safety island, and then something you remember, never quite forgotten.
James Cameron Yes. Something really, really frightening happened, and that was that the drivers of the automobiles who were obviously infected by this hysteria of the entire city at the time started to drive at us, drive into us, or rather drove irrespective of whether they hit people or whether they didn't. And this is, must have been quite foreign to their real character, but they did it. They wanted to get the hell out of this place, and they didn't care who they trampled on the way.
Studs Terkel Well, the aspect of terror, of fear, hysteria, at that moment they could have killed us, and we knew that.
James Cameron Oh, could have done it. And nobody has any defenses against tear gas. It's another way, I suppose, of dispossessing an army without necessarily killing it, but once again it's not right, but the guardians of law and order who were being paid by these people should turn and rent them in this fashion.
Studs Terkel I want to stick to this matter of the role-playing, who was protecting whom at the moment. Now we were found ourselves,, we crossed safely into the Lincoln Hotel and now the streets are full of tear gas and there are a number of people in the lobby of the Lincoln Hotel that night.
James Cameron Yes, it was the oddest cast of characters I've ever seen outside the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square. Terry Southern and Jean Genet and who else?
Studs Terkel William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.
James Cameron That's right. That's
Studs Terkel Who had lost his voice that night because he had been "Om-ing" all day, "Om," and he had laryngitis.
James Cameron That's right. He had been, he "Om"ed himself into silence, but he nearly.
Studs Terkel And there was Genet, and I remember your report to this thing, you were covering for the "London Standard" at the time, and your report was "Genet was observing the scene with the seasoned eye of a connoisseur," because it wasn't Genet's scene.
James Cameron Perhaps it did have to do with the balcony, it was--he could have written the script to this whole thing, and there he stood impassively coughing a little, but it really wasn't anything to do with him. I mean, it was nothing to do with him. He is the [I believe?] "professional stander-aside."
Studs Terkel The professional stander-aside, you just described Genet, detached really, and, yet, there he was in the lobby.
James Cameron There he was in the lobby to my great surprise, since he had a criminal record longer than anybody's arm, but there he was an honored guest, and I don't recall him saying a single word, but one day I'm perfectly sure a most superb play will come out of this same thing.
Studs Terkel I was thinking about something that followed our stay in the lobby and here's the reversal of roles. Remember when you said we were protected by the young in Lincoln Park? Now a young guy, a young bearded kid and two girls who were dressed in Levis came up to me and you, "Could we drop you? My car is across the street," the boy said. And across the street were no civilians, simply some young policeman standing there. Before that, a young cop entered the lobby. Didn't quite know what--his club was raised, he didn't know who to hit or what, and he left in frustration. He was also scared.
James Cameron Oh, yes. Oh, of course. But for the first time, you see, he'd been detached as it were from his body of man, and he was an individual for the first time that whole evening, and his face was visible, you see, you could see his face, you could see the expression on his eyes, the whole strength of these policemen in Lincoln Park was that you never saw their eyes, you never saw their faces. They were automata coming out, and that is the strength of the police.
Studs Terkel And, so, now we crossed the street, and as we crossed the street one girl said to me, and you were right nearby, and said, "I'm glad you two are with us. We feel safer with you two." It was exactly the opposite of what happened in Lincoln Park.
James Cameron Precisely. It was very consoling in the way that they should have got any benefit from our presence since we got so much from theirs that they wanted the existence of two middle-aged gents in collars and ties. As a fig leaf for them, and why not?
Studs Terkel And, so, now we're crossing the street and the young guy's about to open the car, when one of the young--three cops are there, young and one says to the young, "Where do you think you're going?" He opened the car and [look in?] says, "Get in." And then one recognized me because as a small boy it came out he saw a program I was involved with called "Studs' Place" and this was interesting, wasn't it? His reaction?
James Cameron Because he said, "Hiya, Studs," or this--he said something or other, and he wasn't complimenting you, what he was trying to do was to say to you, "Listen, Studs Terkel, I may look like a cop but I am a person who's seen you on a show. I'm a real thing. I have got flesh and blood here. Don't think too awfully of
Studs Terkel And he's also telling his two colleagues, "Listen. I know this guy. He's been on TV. I know this guy." And then came the comment he was being ironic, trying to be funny when he said, it was the night before the kids were clubbed. This is the night the tear gas canisters were pitched out. Last--"We're better than we were last night, weren't you," he says to the boy, last night, because the kid who was with us was clubbed the night before. "Last night we were the hitters. Tonight we were the pitchers." But the interesting thing was the matter of his wanting to be recognized, too, even making a cute crack, I know this guy, that now there was, the helmet was not on.
James Cameron And he was a real person and probably a very nice fellow, probably going home to his wife and children, the best of husbands and fathers. But he had to establish that fact.
Studs Terkel You know, Jim, as the first hour ends as we're talking, we're really talking now about faceless authority as against the humans in the uniform that, perhaps, could be the beginning of our second hour. The nature of uniform and police and the various societies you visited and observed. And where you've participated. And just that matter of role-playing the end. We needed those kids earlier, and they found themselves needing us, and suddenly the policeman needed us, too, from a standpoint--the need. I suppose there's a chain of need here, too, isn't there?
James Cameron And you, does it occur to you that there's also a chain of three varieties of uniforms involved? The police, the Yippies, and you were wearing a kind of a uniform, too, but it distinguished us from both of them, didn't it?