The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
MR. MacNeil: Good evening. Leading the news this Monday, at the Pan Am crash in Scotland a suitcase is being studied for clues to a possible explosion. Moslem kidnappers released two little French girls held hostage for a year. Israel said it would welcome a visit by the President of Egypt. We'll have details in our News Summary in a moment. After the News Summary, four Armenian Americans discuss the impact of the Soviet earthquake on the image of Armenians to themselves and the outside world. Joining us are Vartan Gregorian, President of the New York Public Library, History Professor Richard Hovannisian, Art Historian Lucy Der Manuelian, and Author Michael Arlen. Next a documentary report from Silicon Valley on the struggle with Japan for high-tech toys, finally Correspondent Joanna Simon profiles an opera singer who lost her voice and found a new career. NEWS SUMMARY
MR. MacNeil: In the Pan Am crash in Scotland, a suitcase and pieces of wreckage are being examined for evidence of a possible explosion. We have a report by Ann Lucas of Independent Television News.
ANN LUCAS: It's taken investigators five days to reach a preliminary conclusion because wreckage is scattered over such a wide area, but so far they've found no proof of structural failure. But important evidence has been found, including a suitcase and significant pieces of wreckage. They will be analyzed at the royal armament establishment in Kent. Amid the search for evidence, private grief continues. Flowers for Dora and Morris Henry in the crater where their house should be in Sherwood Crescent. As the street is gradually cleared, the remains of more victims have been found by sniffer dogs. Police have again widened the search area in an effort to find the more scattered remains before the looters do. One man has been arrested and police are investigating reports of sight seers going through the personal belongings of victims. The alleged looting has added to the trauma. Each house received a leaflet on dealing with the stress as special counselors took relatives from America and Japan to the crash scene. Relatives will attend a requiem mass for the dead tonight.
MR. MacNeil: Back in the U.S. an Eastern Airlines jet made an emergency landing today after a crack was discovered in the fuselage. The Boeing 727 with 110 on board was on board from Rochester, New York, to Atlanta. It was cruising at 31,000 feet when an 18 inch by 6 inch hole opened up near the back rows of the plane, causing a loss of compression. Passengers were forced to put on their oxygen masks before the plan landed safely in Charleston, West Virginia. There were no injuries. It is not yet clear what caused the hole. In Lebanon, a Palestinian guerrilla group says it released two little French girls it has held captive with their mother for more than a year. We have a report by David Simmons of Worldwide Television News.
DAVID SIMMONS: The father, grandmother and uncle of the two girls were unaware of their release until they had arrived back at Orlie Airport. They left Beirut sure that their trip to secure the girls' release had been in vain. Brigid Valont, grandmother of Marie Le Berti, age 7, and Virgini, who's 6, had taken Christmas gifts to Lebanon to give to the children. The girls' captors, the radical Fata Revolutionary Council, headed by Abu Nidal, did not specify where they would be released or when or where they would arrive in France.
MR. MacNeil: The girls and their mother were seized along with five Belgians from a yacht off the Israeli occupied Gaza Strip. Their captors claimed they were spying for Israel. President-elect George Bush said today he hoped that a visit to Israel by Egyptian President Hosne Mubarak would improve Middle East peace prospects, but he did not plan any early initiative, himself. Over the weekend, Mubarak was reported to be considering making the first visit by an Egyptian President since the late Anwar Sadat last went in 1979. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said he would welcome a visit by Mubarak. A Shamir spokesman said the Prime Minister might ask the United States and the Soviet Union both to sponsor Middle East peace talks. That was said to be part of a new peace initiative Shamir is reportedly considering. That's our News Summary. Next, Armenians thinkers on the psychic impact of the earthquake, the business of high tech toys, and an opera singer who lost her voice. FOCUS - AFTERSHOCK
MR. MacNeil: President-elect George Bush said today he would like to visit Soviet Armenia in the future when they'd begun to rebuild from the earthquake on December 7th. Bush spoke to reporters after hearing from his son, Jeb, who toured the disaster area yesterday and visited survivors in hospital with his own son, George. The Bushes were the latest in a stream of Americans who've gone to Armenia to offer help or sympathy. In spirit, they've been joined by thousands of others who responded with donations of food, clothing, or money. Clearly, the earthquake which killed an estimate 55,000 people has brought the Armenian people into clearer focus for Americans and the rest of the world than ever before in Armenia's long history. Tonight with thoughtful American Armenians we explore the psychic impact of the disaster on the Armenian people, themselves, and the outside world. Until the earthquake, most Americans were unfamiliar with this country, with its history and its people. Bordered by Turkey, Iran and the Soviet regions of Georgia and Azerbaijan, Soviet Armenia covers some 12,000 square miles of largely mountainous terrain. Today Armenia is the smallest of the Soviet republics, but it was not always so small. At its height in the First Century B.C., Armenia was the strongest state in the Near East, extending to the shores of the Black, Caspian and Mediterranean Seas. Armenia's location made it a buffer between warring empires of the East and West, and it was constantly in the middle of rivalries. It has been fought over by the Asyrians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Ottoman Turks and the Soviets. In modern times, there is perhaps one event that has overwhelmed all others in shaping the Armenian consciousness, a series of genocidal massacres by the Turks. Thousands of Armenians were killed from 1894 to 1896, but the largest massacres came in 1915, when more than a million Armenians were either forced into exile or killed by troops or starvation. Despite this turbulent history, Armenians have displayed a rich, cultural, artistic and religious heritage. At the beginning of the fourth century, Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion. Armenians also invented their own alphabet and made finely crafted illuminated manuscripts. In the Middle Ages, they constructed beautiful and technically sophisticated churches.
MR. MacNeil: Joining us now are Vartan Gregorian, President of the New York Public Library and President Designate of Brown University, Richard Hovannisian, Professor of Armenian and near Eastern History and Associate Director of the Near Eastern Center at the University of California at Los Angeles, Lucy Der Manuelian, Professor of Art History at Tufts University, who holds the only teaching post in Armenian art history in the United States, and Michael Arlen, Staff Writer of the New Yorker and Author of the book Passage to Ararat. Vartan Gregorian, Armenians have suffered from a feeling of national anonymity for so long. Has the earthquake ended that to a degree?
VARTAN GREGORIAN, New York Public Library: Armenians have never suffered anonymity. They have suffered neglect in many ways because for over a century, Armenians have tried to reassert themselves historically, politically and culturally, and each time unfortunately on the verge of success of being accepted and being successful, a calamity has come. In 1914, Armenians were promised reform. As the reform movement was almost ready to be accomplished came World War I and dashed the hopes of Armenians In 1918, came Armenian republic, in 1920, as Woodrow Wilson promised, a new Armenia through a treaty -- again the hopes of Armenians were dashed with Sovietization. So Armenians have not been anonymous but rather neglected in many ways. And their cause and their case has been minimized or trivialized because numerically they have not been that important but historically, in my opinion, they are very important indeed.
MR. MacNeil: Well, what effect do the earthquake and the response to it do you see having on that?
MR. GREGORIAN: The greatest thing that has happened, what the Pope today said, a chain of solidarity and it has brought a greater focus again in Armenian history, a greater focus on the nerves of Armenians, their verve of survival, their zest for life, their continuity, and determination to survive as they have done over 3,000 years. In a sense, this whole earthquake has brought once again a reassessment of Armenian history and at the same time acknowledgment of Armenian contributions and Armenian dilemma and Armenian tragedy, a kind of unfulfilled sense of nationhood which has always plagued Armenians in the last century or so when they've been trying to regroup, reform and be one and transcend their divisions. The earthquake also has brought another thing. It has united Armenians in a way that no cause has united them since World War I.
MR. MacNeil: Professor, Hovannisian, do you agree with that? Has the earthquake achieved the kind of sympathetic attention that Armenians have craved for so long?
RICHARD HOVANNISIAN, Historian: It has, and as one listens to Armenians and reads their newspapers, there's a sense of some degree of solace, that the world takes note of this people. For the Armenians, as I listen to them and as I read them, this is not an isolated incident. This is the last in a chain of tragedies, the last in a chain of calamities. And it's interesting that earthquake, the natural disaster, is very pyschologically linked up with genocide with these people, and they talk about 1915 continuously, the destruction of the nation. We know that, as you mentioned, that 12,000 square miles make Soviet Armenia. But at one time, Armenia was more than 100,000 square miles, and in 1915, the Armenians lost 90 percent of the land and all the population on the land today known as Eastern Turkey. The psychological scars and open wounds of that continue to fester among the Armenians so for them the world should know about them and their history is very very important. They consider this an enormously high price to pay for the world to take notice of them, however.
MR. MacNeil: Professor Der Manuelian, is this a healthy, if you can speak of it that way, a healthy by product of the tragedy of the earthquake?
LUCY DER MANUELIAN, Art Historian: Well, let me make a comment about the segment of Armenian history that the press doesn't have the time or space to cover. I mean, I think whenever the Armenians are mentioned it's in terms of the tragedy, the genocide and the earthquake, but nobody goes a little further back. You see, as Vartan Gregorian said, it's a history of over 3,000 years, and during that history, it's been an international tale and the Armenians have played an international role in history, and when you talk about Armenia, you're speaking about the history of the Greeks and the Romans, and the Byzantines and the crusaders and many important contributions to Western civilization. I could talk about the highly advanced building techniques. You saw some of the churches earlier, the brilliantly colored manuscripts. But in terms of learning scholarship, of translating in ancient text, the text of early Christians, the fathers of the church, into Armenian and thereby preserving them for posterity, the fact that they played a very important role during the crusader period, for example, the Pope in the 14th century said at the council that no nation or people helped the crusaders more than the Armenians. All of this is a very fascinating history and very important in terms of the history of the West. And it's hardly mentioned, barely mentioned in the press at all. And I think that in order to have a fuller perspective on this people, you have to go a little bit further back beyond the 19th century back to the 6th century B.C. and forward.
MR. MacNeil: I don't dispute that for a moment. But, Michael Arlen, isn't a case that the Armenians, both Armenians in the diaspera so to speak and in Soviet Armenia are themselves fixated on the genocidal acts of the turn of the century and by a deep sense of lack of understanding of that in the world? Prof. Hovannisian mentioned a psychological link between that and the earthquake. Do you make that link?
MICHAEL ARLEN, The New Yorker: I think in the first place when you have a population, a worldwide population, no more than roughly 5 million, let's say 3 million or so in Soviet Armenia, and 2 million roughly worldwide, I mean, let's say between 5 and 6 million, anything that happens to for heaven's sakes 50,000 Armenians or 100,000 Armenians, it's an enormous matter. And you tend to feel akin to Armenians who, you know, one has never seen as, you know -- but having said that, I find, my experience is that my American friends tend to sentimentalize the earthquake more than my, as it were, fellow Armenians in the sense that my American friends call up and say, isn't it so, so awful, which of course it is -- you know, once more, aren't you such an ill fated people -- and I agree with what Lucy and Vartan are saying. I mean, we live happily in a country today that can barely remember 20 years ago. We're talking of a -- when you talk about Armenians -- a people that goes back close to 3,000 years as a coherent people, and that's a long journey. And you sort of expect there will be, you know, mountains and valleys and you know, rough and smooth and bad and good. And it's to be taken as part of the journey. The nobility is in the extent of the journey.
MR. MacNeil: Part of the journey, but part, as I've read some Armenians saying, a part of a particular fate which hovers especially over Armenians, that even, even natural forces --
MR. ARLEN: I think, I mean, that's all magic. I mean, the Armenians have been part of various ironies. I mean, the irony, for example, as it were choosing in that particular part of the world, which is a central part of the world, to have become the first Christian nation, you might say buying a growth stock, Christianity must have looked awfully good back then. Buy it at the -- it turned out however, that Armenia became this sort of island of Christianity, what is an increasing sea, an ocean of Islam.
MR. HOVANNISIAN: I think that 1915 is a very significant date, that is all Armenians at various stages of acculturation. Whether they're quarter Armenians or first generation Armenian Americans or third generation, the one thing that links them more than anything else is a negative perhaps image of death and destruction of their people in 1915, and this magnified by the fact that death and destruction has not been adequately recognized either by the perpetrator government or its successors or the world at large, even though in 1915 and 1920, the New York Times and every other major newspaper headlined, headlined the destruction of these people.
MR. MacNeil: What has that done to the Armenian psyche, to have their holocaust ignored, denied, forgotten, buried, whatever?
MR. HOVANNISIAN: It enormously traumatized them. It's prevented them, it's created an enormous barrier for them to get over, to do more creative types of things. There's so much energy and effort that goes into trying to prove what needs not need be proved, that a whole people was destroyed, because they don't exist on that land any more.
MR. ARLEN: It's crazy.
MR. MacNeil: It makes them crazy?
MR. ARLEN: Well, I mean, the fact that after the genocide of 1915, '16, there were not only no war crime trials, there was, indeed, has been, even as we speak, I mean, no admission of guilt, no admission on the part of the perpetrators that anything took place.
MS. DER MANUELIAN: And on the contrary --
MR. ARLEN: And this makes them crazy. I mean, in private life, it makes people crazy when something awful happens to them, they get attacked or whatever it is, nobody will admit it, and in the life of nations, it makes it crazy.
MR. GREGORIAN: I'd like to add a point there. Armenians are told they've hallucinated, that this thing did not happen. Greater insult you can hurl against any nation is that what has happened to them is subject to hallucination or fabrication.
MR. MacNeil: Or individual --
MR. GREGORIAN: Or individual -- caused it. Imagine if Jews were told now that the whole holocaust was a hoax, and there are people doing that. Imagine if they're told that this not only did not happen but Jews perpetrated holocaust on peoples and empires far stronger than they live without explaining how they could have armed themselves and so forth and so on. But there's a more important point that I think Richard alluded to. But let me mention there are three tragedies that have happened to Armenians. One, they are massacred historically, Tartars, Mongols -- .all kinds of empires, forces have come. One was the population of Armenia, the Armenians being forced out of Armenia, partially at least. That's from the eleventh century on, creation of diaspera. The second one is not the genocide alone but losing historical habitat of Armenians has a result of World War I. The third one, which nobody alludes to or writes about, Armenians lost almost everything they had built in the Russian empire for almost 60, 70 years as a result of Bolshevik Revolution. Then fourth, Armenian Republic, the last hope, a small republic, promised us a major reward at the end of World War I, because Armenia was little ally of great allies, relying the words of ally powers, England, France, Italy, United States, and suddenly a sense of betrayal. So it's not only tragedy but a sense of betrayal and what you were asking initially, Armenians being recognized now, its recognition of not that Armenians have contributed a lot to civilization, not just Western civilization, that civilization in general, Ottoman Empire, Persian Empire, and all the others, but also that no historical justice has been meted to death. That's the sense of frustration in a sense.
MR. MacNeil: So now how does this tragedy coming on top of all this psychic life that you've been describing, how does this add play on top of that?
MS. DER MANUELIAN: Well, the other thing is that as Vartan mentioned, this sense of history, I would like to say that another aspect of the frustration of the Armenians in this country is that nobody knows, as I said, this longer stretch of history and I feel that it's incorrect for the American nation to think of the Armenians as just being slaughtered through the centuries. I think they should also concentrate on the fact that they have survived and ask themselves why they survived and the important thing is they had the ingenuity and creativity. They, Richard says that they need this acknowledgment in order to get beyond this block and to be more creative. I would say that it's an inspiring lesson for us as Americans to look at that history and realize they have survived because they've always worked and created despite what happened to them.
MR. MacNeil: Let me ask you something. Go back to the Soviet Union. We started talking about the earthquake. You've all been talking about the genocide to a degree. Mr. Gorbachev went to Armenia from the United States to look at the destruction and was shocked personally and angered visibly because so many Armenians wanted to talk about the dispute with Azerbaijan, which was at least as strong in their minds as the fact that 55,000 of their countrymen were lying dead under the rubble around them and he was shocked or astonished or politically annoyed. Now --
MR. HOVANNISIAN: That's entirely logical.
MR. MacNeil: Why --
MR. HOVANNISIAN: Entirely logical, because for them it's all one and the same thing. The fact that they have this enormous earthquake and tragedy, the fact that for the last 11 months, Armenia has been going through a revolution without guns, it has been trying to open up the Soviet system. It's been trying to bring democracy. It's protesting against corruption. It's protesting against pollution of the land. All of these are the improvement of the individual and improvement of the nation. They are looking for the advancement of the Armenian people. The earthquake struck them back. The fact that the Soviet leaders in their view have a way to at least bring home a little bit of territory that was artificially separated from them in 1923 in the Soviet area of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has, you know, some 80 percent of the population is Armenian and which is virtually contiguous with Soviet Armenia and yet it was separated. For them genocide, earthquake, an the union of this land to them, the democratization process is all very important. I think that the Western press is missing the point when they emphasize Moslem Christian conflict, when they emphasize Azerbaijani, Armenian conflict as if it were a peripheral nationality issue for the Soviet Union, when there are much larger issues involved regarding the whole question of what is glasnost and what is perestroika. And I think that First Secretary Gorbachev was suddenly taken aback because he had come back from the United States with his enormous popular image and press and he thought he was going back to be the leader in tragedy. And I think what I should also say is that most people were very much appreciative of the fact that he was there. But they did not like the fact that he or the Soviet leadership at that time also arrested a number of Armenians in Yerevan, the Soviet capital, who have been leading the demonstrations, the movement for openness, the movement for democracy, the movement for reconstruction, the movement for bringing back a little bit of the historic territory back to Armenia.
MR. MacNeil: Well, let me play devil's advocate for a moment and put it to you. The mass demonstrations, peaceful demonstrations that were mounted in Armenia last spring, hundreds and hundreds of thousands people, amazing --
MR. GREGORIAN: Almost a million people.
MR. MacNeil: They had their effect in Moscow, the Armenian Soviet voted for the return of the enclave to Armenian rule. In Moscow, they listened, it went through their system, there was a vote on it, and the plea was rejected. Now why is that, why is that --
MR. GREGORIAN: Let me mention several things. No. 1, I think there is great deal of misunderstanding on the part of Gorbachev and everybody else. Glasnost everybody knows, it's openness. But perestroika means administrative economic restructuring. Armenians, Tartars from Volga region, all kinds of other nationalities, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and I can go on, all of them have seen in Gorbachev and perestroika a historical restitution of historical rights, not just merely to rehabilitate individuals, but to also rehabilitate historical injustices done. That's not No. 1. I think Gorbachev was thinking that if he gave Armenia and other places, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, economical autonomy, that was sufficient for all the injustices that Stalin and his successors have perpetrated against nationalities. Second, there is no independent system of judicially to resolve disputes among republics. The Republic of Armenia under Soviet Constitution has a clause that they can secede from Soviet Union if they want, but the moment you want to exercise that right, you forfeit the exercise of that right ironically. Second, in 1920, Rosa Lickensburg, 1918, advised Lenin not to create Soviet Union along nationality lines but rather along economic zones. Nevertheless, Soviet Union created it along nationality lines. But then they established some 20, 22 zones, autonomous zones postponing all kinds of subject or objects of conflict between republics for a future solution. Now we are from 1920 on some 70 years almost have passed and none of those temporary solutions have proven to be adequate and the issue Richard is mentioning is correct. They have not seen that Armenia is running out of population, space, it's very small. They're finding also that if under democracy and perestroika should be mutually inclusive rather than mutually exclusive. So I think Gorbachev is talking about economic restructuring. Armenians and other people are seeing in Gorbachev as great white hope. Hence, the sense of betrayal and sense of frustration that Armenians demonstrated, 1 million of them, carrying only Gorbachev's picture. There was not a single anti-Moslem, anti-Azeria, anti-Russian, anti-communist slogan. They all hope and they still hope that Gorbachev and Soviet Union, that the time has come for them to mete out historical justice which has been denied Armenians for such a long time.
MR. HOVANNISIAN: There's still a great deal of respect and hope in Gorbachev. I don't think that we should think that the Armenians have been entirely alienated from him. The intellectuals that I've talked to in the last few times that I've been there are all just very hopeful and they're writing things and they're saying things. They're re-evaluating Armenian history in a way that could never have been spoken about before. They're bringing in pre- Soviet heroes, whether they're military, intellectual giants being brought back in, rehabilitated, and it's all happened in the last few years and to Gorbachev, so that there is a great deal of hope linked with him and the fact that the Armenians have come out in the streets to demonstrate is an evidence of that hope and that belief that the man meant what he said, and they're simply doing what they believe that Gorbachev, himself, was asking his people to do.
MR. MacNeil: Let me ask you each briefly, what do you think the important, the future of the Armenian people is in the Soviet Union?
MR. ARLEN: Well, what I hope it'll be is to take note of this long journey that they've been on and that they've gotten this far and to leave sort of a -- you know, Ramboism to Rambo -- I mean, in other words, I think that especially as the Soviet Union seems to be trying to reinvigorate itself or become more amenable, you know, to the current economic trends that there's always a faction of Armenians who look at Mount Ararat and wish to recapture it and -- can hardly deny the appeal of that. But I think if I wished my fellow countrymen well, I would wish them to just keep, you know, keep one day at a time, as it were. It's been a long journey. There have been lots of difficulties, but they have an awful lot of energy and intellect and so forth. And I think the response is, you know -- Armenians are so, you know, are perversely stubborn. You try to condescend to them, as many people do, and they bite your hand. And everyone says -- oh, I did just want to add one thing about the link between the earthquake and the genocide, which is media. I mean, that communications, that the Armenians thought their friends who were in Europe and America, the fellow Christians, were going to help them, and they didn't. And they kept looking in that direction and nobody kind of --
MR. MacNeil: You're talking about long ago, 2 generations ago - -
MR. ARLEN: Yes. Gorbachev, who I think is the great anchorman of our era, I mean, who when he was standing on the tarmac at Kennedy took a couple of sentences that if you read them in print are quite, I mean, ordinary, and made them, I mean, mediated the entire tragedy of the earthquake, so that people all over the world, certainly in America, suddenly said, aah, that must be something, this fellow thinks it's something. And that moment, the eyes swung, and that hasn't happened.
MR. HOVANNISIAN: I think also for the outside of Soviet Armenia, which is very small, there are in the Soviet Union well over a million Armenians living outside of Soviet Armenia, perhaps a million and a half to two million Armenians, many of them in rapid stages of assimilation because their churches and schools have been closed in the Stalin era. These Armenians are now going through a revival in Moscow. They've created a society for the first time and they're teaching Armenian on Saturday school levels. They have an organization known as Hussa Sa Pi, which has a very historic significance to it, so that there is a ferment now in the Armenian world. Whether that ferment will rise and the yeast will rise and will be good bread or whether it's going to go down, will depend on events that are to be coming --
MS. DER MANUELIAN: Before the earthquake, and I was in Armenia in May and thenlast year, it was great excitement because of Perestroika because of the possibility of joint ventures with the West, and already in the last 10 or so years, there's always been Armenians all over the world trying to help Armenia feeling close to it. But there was this after Gorbachev, this great excitement that they could now help in a very tangible, concrete way.
MR. MacNeil: And, in fact, in the earthquake, the Soviet Union has admitted material American help for the first time since the Second World War.
MS. DER MANUELIAN: Yes, but there are Armenian manufacturers, Armenian American manufacturers in this country ready to work with -- this was before the earthquake. I'm planning a film on those monuments which I don't have the heart to talk about which now, but which are a part of the legacy of mankind. And Armenia was very happy that they could make an agreement with me directly instead of going through Moscow, and I think that that spirit is certainly going to continue and even more so. Unfortunately, the funds will have to go for rebuilding.
MR. MacNeil: The future.
MR. GREGORIAN: The future, Armenians are determined to rebuild their country because we cannot allow, we cannot afford the source to dry. The source is historical Armenia, and we have to replenish, maintain that source, and for over 2,700, 3,000 years, we have maintained the source. That's No. 1. No. 2, Armenians believe the Soviet Union will be stronger if Gorbachev solves also nationality problem, because economic problem is not enough justice for nationalities is also a must in order to bring true brotherhood and true union at base when everyone is equal and everyone can contribute equally to that union. And Armenians are not there to shy way from efforts to rebuild a country either abroad or in Soviet Union.
MR. MacNeil: Vartan, I must leave it there I'm afraid. Vartan Gregorian, Michael Arlen, and Dr. Hovannisian, and Professor Lucy Der Manuelian, thank you all very much indeed for joining us. FOCUS - GAMESMANSHIP
MR. MacNeil: Next we have a holiday business story. It may be the season to be jolly, but American toy makers are not laughing. Like other U.S. industries, they're being threatened by the latest Japanese imports, ingenious high-tech toys that showed up under an awful lot of American Christmas trees yesterday. Spencer Michels at public station KQED San Francisco reports. [MEETING]
SPENCER MICHELS: It's not all fun and games in the $12 billion a year toy business. In fact, it's more like war, with American manufacturers trying to make a comeback after a $700 million industrywide loss last year.
SPOKESMAN: It pops, it's exciting.
SPOKESMAN: Also, when you start opening up and things, the colors look much better. Can you imagine an orange and purple and blue - -
SPOKESMAN: That's very helpful.
MR. MICHELS: Grown men and women are using all their skill and intuition to appeal to America's children, notoriously fickle and unfaithful consumers. [TOY COMMERCIAL]
MR. MICHELS: So far this year, the only block buster belongs to the Japanese. It's the $100 interactive video game called Nintendo, an action packed device with imaginative software that is capturing nearly 20 percent of U.S. toy sales. As recently as three years ago, American toy manufacturers were successfully hawking high tech products and boasting that Silicon Valley, home of the micro chip, was where Santa's workshop truly was located.
NOLAN BUSHNELL, Axlon:  If you're going to be in the electronic toy business, you've got to be in Silicon Valley. If you're somewhere else, you're going to screw it up.
MR. MICHELS: Times have changed dramatically for the worst since an optimistic Nolan Bushnell made that boast three years ago. Then he was riding high with a Silicon Valley produced high tech toy called AG Bear, a cuddly animal that talked back in its own language. [BUSHNELL DEMONSTRATING AG BEAR]
MR. MICHELS: Bushnell's company, Axlon, sold $15 million worth of bears in '85, another success for Bushnell, who had invented Pong and had founded Atari which began the video game craze. Today he is poorer and humbler since AG Bear went bust.
NOLAN BUSHNELL, Axlon: It's a crap shoot. The toy business is very very difficult to predict and you have to make your commitments financially so far in advance. As an example, we are working on toys right now that will not see the market place until 1990 Christmas.
MR. MICHELS: Hard times also befell Bushnell's chief rival in the high tech bear wars of 1985. Worlds of Wonder, which manufactured Teddy Ruxpin, a bear who told stories to children, went into bankruptcy proceedings this year, following sales of more than $90 million the first year with Teddy. The problems that World of Wonder had were typical for high tech toy makers according to industry analyst Jim Hill.
JIM HILL, Kalan, Sutton, McGraw: It was a fad type of item, quick up, quick down, which is very typical in the industry of toys coming in, having a hot period of time, and then dying out. I think that's what happened to that.
MR. MICHELS: Toy designer Tom Zito followed those trends when he worked for Bushnell and the much larger Hasbro.
TOM ZITO, Toy Designer: The toy business is very funny because you're selling stuff for the most part to kids who are sort of between the ages of 4 and 11, and they don't have any brand loyalty. They're the most fickle consumers in the world. You don't sell them something because it's Mattel, you don't sell them something because it's Hasbro. You sell them something because it's GI Joe or it's Hot Wheels.
MR. MICHELS: Right now, it's Nintendo. There is no brand loyalty to the firms like Atari that began the high tech revolution in toys. Japanese toy makers emulated the earlier American successes in design and marketing and have improved upon them. And because of Japan's overall lead in consumer electronics, some analysts now believe U.S. toy firms should not even bother to compete with the high riding invaders.
ANALYST: Certainly this stage isn't the stage when the American toy companies -- and I'm talking specifically about American toy companies -- ought to be getting into the electronics business. I think they've first of all got to solidify the base which is the general toy business.
MR. MICHELS: To walk through the aisles of a big toy store at this time of year you would never expect that the analysts would be saying that the toy industry is in big trouble. But what may be trouble for some toy companies is viewed as opportunity for others. [MICRO MACHINE COMMERCIAL]
MR. MICHELS: Lewis Galoob toys of South San Francisco is one of those firms. They agree that low tech or no tech toys like these miniature cars are safer bets than the risky, high cost, high tech items. Galoob is having its best year ever with simple toys like bouncin' babies, dolls that move and come packaged with scenery much like the old train sets, and army gear, a variety of war items that are popular with boys. [TOY COMMERCIAL]
MR. MICHELS: Galoob designers are about to market a new airplane that is whipped into the air with a plastic stick. The key to selling these products, as we well as high tech toys, is quality according to company president David Galoob.
DAVID GALOOB, Lewis Galoob Toys: Children especially cannot be fooled. I know adults think the children are just ploys in the hands of big manufacturers. That's not true. A good toy will be recognized by our young consumers very quickly, but a bad toy will equally be recognized and it will die. [
MR. GAME SHOW DEMONSTRATION]
MR. MICHELS: Some high tech products from Galoob have died but those failures were not fatal to the company because executives abandoned them immediately.
DAVID GALOOB: Mr. Game Show last year was an item that we had high hopes for, was a $100 retail electronic game. We introduced early, felt that the consumer wasn't buying it in the quantities we wanted him to do, stopped our production in the Orient, got rid of our inventories, and basically while it was a financial loss, it wasn't a financial disaster. [
MR. GAME SHOW DEMONSTRATION]
MR. MICHELS: High tech toys are especially risky because if they are manufactured and don't sell, the losses are huge. Nevertheless, Galoob believes that high tech is where much of the toy industry's future lies. And so his firm has not abandoned micro chip toys altogether. In fact, his Baby Talk doll is one of the few successful American high-tech toys this year, a doll that talks when activated by voice. [FOCUS GROUP TAPE WITH BABY TALK]
MR. MICHELS: Galoob is advancing cautiously with its complicated talking doll. Baby Talk was tested with focus groups like this and even then the price had to be reduced to keep the toy alive. [TOY RAP SESSION]
MR. MICHELS: Since high tech toys remain potentially the most profitable part of the toy industry, Galoob has no intention of going completely back to basics.
DAVID GALOOB: You're always going back to basics. What it's going to force American manufacturers to do is get more creative and to spend more money on R&D to come out with good product. I don't think it's necessarily basic product. I don't think the American consumer wants basic product. They want new, exciting, innovative product.
MR. MICHELS: For his part, Nolan Bushnell still has faith in the high risk, high tech business he helped invent.
NOLAN BUSHNELL, Axlon: I know that the biggest toy has yet to be invented, the best piece of software is yet to be written, the most profitable company in my life is in front of me; it's not behind me. And that's just the way the world is.
MR. MICHELS: Whether Americans recapture the high tech toy market will depend on more than just the ingenuity of its electronic wizards. It will depend on how U.S. firms manage an inherently risky business and on millions of children whose taste in expensive toys is almost impossible to predict. PROFILE
MR. MacNeil: Finally tonight we have a happy ending. It's about a musician who has triumphed over catastrophe. Arts Correspondent Joanna Simon has our story about the life and careers of Susan Davenny Wyner. [OPERA SINGING]
JOANNA SIMON: When Susan Davenny Wyner sang the Messiah with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1977, she was well on her way to a major career. From as far back as she can remember, she was surrounded by music. Her father, Warren Davenny, was a concert pianist and director of the Cleveland Institute of Music. Her mother was an amateur pianist and a singer. At 7, Susan was already playing the violin and singing in a children's chorus.
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER: I didn't think of singing alone until I was in college, and was singing in the chorus, which was a wonderful experience, and was overheard by the voice teacher who offered to teach me, and I remember the first time I got on stage as a singer, and the experience of being the instrument, of being able to imagine colors, of being able to get inside the text, and to use all of that nervous sparkle and nervous energy to go further into the music was an extraordinary experience.
MS. SIMON: After graduating sum cum laude from Cornell University, she went on to further musical studies at Yale, where she fell in love with and soon married one of her professors, the composer, Yehudi Wyner. She became his musical inspiration.
YEHUDI WYNER: Oh, yes, the image of that voice really led my compositional imagination. She was enchanting because the voice was beautiful, the languages were vivid, and because she could sing at any style or period of music. [
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER SINGING]
MS. SIMON: Soon she was singing with all the major orchestras, from New York to Los Angeles, from London to Tel Aviv. [
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER SINGING]
MS. SIMON: In 1981, she realized the ultimate singer's dream, a contract with the Metropolitan opera.
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER: I remember the first time I walked out on the Carnegie Hall stage or in any of those great halls with any of those great orchestras. I confess that the thought was what an extraordinary experience this is, if it's the last time I ever do it, I'm going to hug it to myself and keep it.
MS. SIMON: It was a strangely foreboding thought. In 1983, while riding her bicycle in New York City, she was struck by a hit and run driver.
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER: The blow was really sufficient so that the teeth were knocked straight back into my head and all the skin was scraped off my face. I mean, it's just miraculous. I simply remember trying to announce with these teeth sticking straight back in my head that I had to get up and perform in two weeks so they had to get them out of my way. I coming out of consciousness looked at a face bending down over me and his saying very kindly to me, I can tell by your eyes that you must have been a nice looking person, and it was quite, it was quite startling. And I remember the first time they would not let me look in the mirror as I would come in and out obviously, and I remember catching a reflection on the paper towel dispenser, just catching a glance, and I fainted.
MS. SIMON: Her face healed, but as time went on, other injuries became apparent. Her memory and sense of pitch had been damaged by the blows to her head. Back injuries, including broken vertebrae, made breath support excruciatingly painful. Worst of all were the neck injuries.
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER: Evidently, the force of the blow damaged all of the tissue down in here which had not been something I had thought of.
MS. SIMON: While her speaking voice was not affected, she had serious problems when she tried to sing.
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER: I mean, the first croaks out of my mouth were just unbelievable and one had to go through a kind of denial, if you will, that one was really making sounds that were quite that atrocious or out of control.
YEHUDI WYNER: The anguish, the surprise, the rage of a person with her standards for whom this beautiful, pure sound was the creed of her life, hearing it defective and laboriously produced and painfully deficient was like looking at the ruins of a soul.
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER: I did get back on stage two times after the accident, but the hell that I went through before, the hours that I spent trying to bypass the things that weren't working properly, it was not "the" voice that was my soul. And I guess that's the most personal expression of loss for me. Sorry. [Crying]
MS. SIMON: Unable to bear being around the music world, Susan became a recluse. She and Yehudi moved to Italy, where she struggled to find a new direction for her life. Things were so bleak at times she considered suicide.
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER: There were many many days when I simply thought I couldn't stand it. I realize only now, what is it, four or five years later, can I have that unalloyed joy at hearing a great singer and hearing a great artist, not out of an envious way or anything but just without going into a weeping that I could not control.
MS. SIMON: After three years, Susan was able to face the world of music again and she found solace in teaching. She started working with a few students in her New York apartment.
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER: I love the individual teaching. I love that deep personal, that patient exploration one does with somebody as one works on the skill and the craft of the voice. Also, I realize that it has allowed me to live the living experience of music again.
MS. SIMON: Teaching brought her satisfaction and it was healing, but soon it was not enough.
YEHUDI WYNER: She hoped somehow by some miracle, there would be a breakthrough, there would be a moment when she would connect, and at a miraculous moment, Cornell and its faculty, her alma mater, came to the rescue. [CORNELL CHORUS SINGING]
MS. SIMON: Susan finally accepted the fact that she would never sing again. She threw herself into her new position as Associate Professor and Head of Cornell's Voice Department. In addition to her teaching duties, she took on the responsibility of conducting this women's chorus, clearly her pride and joy. Although most of these girls didn't even read music, Susan taught them to sing complicated harmonies in record time. When an arrangement for a favorite song didn't exist, she wrote it herself. [CORNELL CHORUS SINGING]
MS. SIMON: By returning to the safe haven of her past, Susan unexpectedly found her future. Her conducting experience had been limited to the Cornell chorus, but when the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra, a local professional group, invited her to conduct their annual Christmas performance of the Messiah, she accepted the challenge.
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER: I really never imagined in a million years I would ever be standing up in front of an orchestra and in front of a chorus and conducting. the idea that something has happened in my life to open up something which must somewhere have been a dream so that in actuality I am standing in front of the group, having this sound just pouring and these colors pouring at me is absolutely thrilling.
MS. SIMON: Given only two full rehearsals, Susan had limited time to prepare. She spent every spare minute studying the score.
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER: A performance is something alive and filled with love and communication and I would rather have 50,000 things go wrong in a performance that is communicating than to have a kind of performance in which everything is perfectly in place and in which nothing of the vision or what we're trying to do gets communicated.
MS. SIMON: On the day of the performance something did go wrong. Susan accidentally locked herself in the furnace room of her house. By the time her husband showed up to rescue her, she lost three hours of study time. She was frantic and felt unprepared, but she had a lot of support from those around her, particularly from Thomas Paul, an old friend with whom she'd sung many concerts. [
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER CONDUCTING WITH THOMAS PAUL SINGING]
THOMAS PAUL: I've always thought of Susan as one of the most intense musicians I've ever known and when we collaborated as singers, I always was struck by the depth of her perception and the intensity of her way in getting ideas across. So I guess it comes down to the idea that we really are musicians first. We may sing, we may compose, or conduct, play the violin, but we are musicians. That is our first identity. [
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER SINGING BEFORE ACCIDENT] [
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER CONDUCTING]
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER: The experience of singing with an orchestra and having that voice soar out is a physical sensation sometimes I just can't stand being deprived of. This is very different and in some way it's even more deeply exciting because one is absolutely connected to some vital breathing center in there, and there's a way that mental energy just goes directly without even having to go through an instrument.
[SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER CONDUCTING]
SUSAN DAVENNY WYNER: I think one takes advantage or doesn't take certain kinds of things for granted once one knows that in a moment -- in the twinkling of an eye -- we can simply not exist, I do think it allows to pull the richest possible experience out of who I am and of the beauty and agonies that one sees in life. RECAP
MR. MacNeil: Again, the main stories this Monday, in Britain, Pan Am crash investigators are studying a suitcase and wreckage for evidence of a possible explosion. The search for remaining victims spread over a widening area. Two little French girls taken hostage in Lebanon with their mother a year ago were freed today. Prime Minister Shamir said he would welcome a visit by Egyptian President Hosne Mubarak to Israel, and President-elect Bush said he hoped such a visit would improve Middle East peace prospects. That's the Newshour tonight. We'll be back tomorrow night. I'm Robert MacNeil. Good night.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
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- This episode's headline: Aftershock; Gamesmanship; Profile. The guests include VARTAN GREGORIAN, New York Public Library; RICHARD HOVANNISIAN, Historian; LUCY DER MANUELIAN, Art Historian; MICHAEL ARLEN, The New Yorker; CORRESPONDENTS: SPENCER MICHELS; JOANNA SIMON. Byline: In New York: ROBERT MacNeil
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