The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
MR. LEHRER: Good evening. Leading the news Tuesday, Soviet Pres. Gorbachev and West German Chancellor Kohl signed a new declaration on nuclear and chemical weapons, the Chinese Government broadcast "wanted" notices for 21 student leaders, and Pres. Bush vetoed a $4.55 an hour minimum wage bill. We'll have the details in our News Summary in a moment. Robin.
MR. MacNeil: After the News Summary, we talk to four Chinese in America about the turmoil in China. Joining us are playwright David Henry Hwang, Time Editor Oscar Chiang, Restaurant Owner Richard Liu and Novelist Amy Tan. Next, an extended report on Mikhail Gorbachev's extended visit to West Germany, finally Jim Lehrer has a conversation with writer John le Carre.NEWS SUMMARY
MR. MacNeil: The Soviet Union and West Germany today called for a 50 percent reduction in nuclear arsenals and a worldwide ban on chemical weapons. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl signed a historic declaration saying they wish to enter a new stage in their relations. The pact says the two countries have a common European heritage that European nations should exist in peaceful competition and reduce military strength. Outside the Bonn Town Hall, the West German crowds cheered Gorbachev and changed, "Gorby, Gorby". Former Pres. Ronald Reagan today said the West should take the risk that Mikhail Gorbachev is serious about arms control. He said we're in a position to do so because we're strong. Mr. Reagan spoke in the historic Guild Hall on his first trip to London since leaving office.
FORMER PRESIDENT REAGAN: I believe Mikhail Gorbachev is the Soviets' best and probably only hope to turn things around. I believe we should take the risk that the Soviets are serious in their efforts to reach genuine arms reductions with the West. I support Pres. Bush's proposals that keep pressure on the Soviets to make good on their calls to reduce arms. And I believe we will soon see what the NATO leaders called for in their recent declaration, a new political order of peace in Europe.
MR. MacNeil: On China, Mr. Reagan said the Beijing Government hasn't learned something very elementary, you can't massacre an idea, you can't run tanks over hope, you cannot riddle a people's yearning with bullets. Jim.
MR. LEHRER: That Beijing Government today asked for help in tracking down the leaders of the pro democracy movement. State run television broadcast wanted bulletins on 21 student leaders and asked the citizens to turn them in. At the same time, the government tried to play down the crisis in Beijing. We have a report from Beijing by Jeremy Thompson of Independent Television News.
JEREMY THOMPSON, ITN: On the surface, Beijing is almost back to normal. That's the way the government wants it to look. Today the authorities opened up the capital's most famoust tourist attraction, the forbidden city. It's been closed since martial law was declared to house the army. Posing as tourists, we went round the 600 year old former home of China's emperors right next to Tiananmen Square. The near deserted courtyards reveal the true picture of China in the wake of the government-inspired violence. Just a handful of Chinese sightseers, barely a foreigner in sight. Even the authorities admit the turmoil has had a devastating effect on tourism. Hundreds of tour groups cancelled, hotels almost empty, the cost to the economy could be crippling. The impact on tourism is just one sign of the world's revulsion at China's official brutality. Outside the front gates of the forbidden city, the real face of this Communist regime, keeping watch over Tiananmen Square, Mao Tse Tung and the muzzles of a thousand guns.
MR. LEHRER: Major U.S. diplomatic offices in China will start issuing temporary visas to Chinese who wish to come to the United States. State Department Spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said the U.S. embassy in Beijing and the U.S. consulate in Shanghai will offer such services beginning Wednesday. They are normally issued only to non-immigrants coming to the United States to attend a scheduled event.
MR. MacNeil: Pres. Bush took his environmental program onthe road today. He began the day in Grand Titon National Park, where he reiterated his clean air program unveiled yesterday. Then he went to Lincoln, Nebraska, to announce his support for an alternative fuel program. The President said ethanol fuel which is made from corn would reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources. He also said alternative fuels would lead to cleaner air.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Ethanol is a home grown energy alternative. And that's good for national security and that's good for our trade deficit. And ethanol produces a fuel that burns cleaner, and that's good for our environment, just plain and simple good for our environment. A source of energy that's clean, abundant and made right here in the United States, three good reasons why ethanol and ETBE are fuels of the future.
MR. MacNeil: Before the speech, Mr. Bush toured a University of Nebraska research center where he drove a car powered by ethanol. He took a spin around the test track with Nebraska Governor Kay Orr.
MR. LEHRER: The President also vetoed the minimum wage bill this afternoon. He said the legislation would stifle the creation of new jobs. The current minimum wage is $3.35 an hour. The bill would raise it to $4.55 by 1991. Mr. Bush had said he would accept only $4.25 by 1992. House Speaker Tom Foley said Democrats would seek to override the veto, but he said it was unlikely they could muster the 2/3 needed to override. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine criticized the President's action.
SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL, Senate Majority Leader: That the President would do this in this manner, demonstrate disdain for the poor working people of this country at the very same time that he is exerting a maximum effort to provide a $30,000 a year tax cut for the wealthiest of Americans, what the President is saying is to those who have much we must give more, to those who have little, we must give nothing. We think that's the wrong set of priorities for America.
MR. LEHRER: The U.S. trade deficit shot up dramatically the first three months of the year. The quarterly report from the Commerce Department today said the deficit was $30.69 billion, an increase of 7 percent over the last quarter of 1988. And another Commerce Department report, retail sales rose only .1 percent in May, slow car sales were blamed for that sluggish result.
MR. MacNeil: There was more on the HUD scandal today. The woman who served as executive assistant to former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Samuel Pierce refused to answer questions about mismanagement in a low income housing program. Deborah Gore Dean was a witness before a House subcommittee looking into whether former high ranking Republican officials used influence to obtain grants under the program. She appeared after another HUD official said Dean had ordered him to approve funding for certain projects. Silvio De Bartolomeas said he believed the decisions were politically motivated, but Ms. Dean said she could not respond to questions at this time.
DEBORAH GORE DEAN, Former HUD Official: In view of my present inability to obtain access to the HUD records which would enable me to prepare adequately for testimony that would be complete and truthful, I have accepted the advice of my counsel to decline respectfully to answer any questions posed by the subcommittee at this time on the basis of the rights guaranteed to me by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
MR. MacNeil: Congressman Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California, and Chairman of the Subcommittee, told Ms Dean the committee would try to help her obtain the records she sought. That's it for the News Summary. Ahead on the Newshour, Chinese- Americans on events in China, Gorbachev in Bonn, and a conversation with John le Carre. FOCUS - CHINA REFLECTIONS
MR. MacNeil: We begin tonight with some reflections about the events in China from four Americans of Chinese decent. Chinese- Americans now number over a million in the population and are becoming an increasingly dynamic and visible element of American society in business, science, the arts, and literature. We have the views of Novelist Amy Tan, who was born in California. She joins us from Salt Lake City, the playwright David Henry Hwang, whose play M Butterfly won both the Pulitzer Prize and Tony last year, we're waiting for him to join us, he was also born in California, Oscar Chiang, a senior reporter and researcher for Time Magazine, now a U.S. citizen, he was born in Hubay Province in China, and emigrated to this country in 1960, and Richard Liu, owner of the China Pavilion Restaurant in New York City, where recently a group of Chinese-American writers gathered to discuss the situation in China. Mr. Liu also teaches Chinese history at the City University of New York. He was born in Manchuria and came to the U.S. in 1957. Ms. Tan, Amy Tan, obviously this has been a traumatic time to be Chinese or Chinese-American. How has it affected you?
AMY TAN, Novelist: [Salt Lake City] I've seen it both from the political viewpoint but very much so the personal side of what's happening and I think that many Chinese-Americans feel the same thing. It's almost a sort of grieving that's happening because while this is happening, we are also cut off from our families. And I do have a number of my family, including my half sister in Beijing, so there's a lot of worry that's happening now.
MR. MacNeil: Were you able to be in contact with them before the military crackdown but not since then, is that the case?
MS. TAN: Yes. I had letters on a regular basis and, in fact, the last letters came about two weeks before the massacre. I had also a letter from a cousin two days before the massacre, and not at the time, the letters referred only to very quiet words of things changing, except for my cousin's letter who's actually a resident of Hong Kong, and that letter was, in fact, talking about the hope that was filling, as he said, every crevice of the country and that it would only take a very small thing to trigger that before something would erupt and it would spread throughout the country.
MR. MacNeil: Go on, sorry.
MS. TAN: So that when I was watching the news of what actually happened last week, there was this terrible horror in my heart because of knowing I had relatives in all sectors of the society there, those who were not residents, but also members who are leaders of the Communist Party, those who are students and professors at the University, and those who are treated and the wounded, so the thought of this civil war happening really struck a terrible feeling in my heart of a divided country but also of a divided family.
MR. MacNeil: Mr. Chiang, how has it affected you, being Chinese during these events?
OSCAR CHIANG, Time Magazine: Well, I have been watching the Chinese events developing for the past several weeks. Since I'm a journalist, I try to look the events more objectively, but still it was a total surprise to me when soldiers opened fire on the students and this tells me that the hard-liners in China have not changed any bit from their old philosophy or their old ideology. They have to cling to power no matter what.
MR. MacNeil: In addition to your professional objectivity, what did you feel?
MR. CHIANG: Well, I certainly feel very strongly for the students, their aspirations represent our American idea, and especially when they put up similar to a replica of the Statue of Liberty that really heartens our hearts among the Americans, but since I have left China before the Communists took over in 1949, so I don't have any close relatives there, but since my contact with the younger students who came here and I also visited China a few years ago, I know quite a number of people who have always assured me China will not go back, China will not go back to the old way, so this one comes to me as a total surprise.
MR. MacNeil: How do you feel about it, Mr. Liu? What have been your emotions as you watched the democracy movement swell and then saw it crushed?
RICHARD LIU, Restaurant Owner: Well, you mentioned the article before in New Yorker. At that dinner, I had a lengthy discussion, people since then have also asked me -- before the shooting -- what's going to happen, looks like really the student power is going to gain ground and hold themselves. I'm sorry to say that I predicted bad was going to happen, was going to come out of it, of course, nothing this bad. I thought they were just going to club them, hose them down, use tear gas, and chase them out, and later on would do away with the leaders. I never thought something like this was going to happen. It shocked me beyond my imagination. As a matter of fact, my friends asked me how could you be so pessimistic, we know your teaching history, and don't you see history progressing and all that? I said, well, I've seen since this regime came into being, every ten years or so they'd do a little weeding. We've got nothing but people in China, we have a whole lot of people, so I mean, two at a time, nobody will feel it, certainly not on the outside world. But this time with the whole world watching and tanks and machine guns, that's just really too much. It tells me two things. We say from every bad thing there must be a good side to it, however minute. One is that you realize those students and the workers, the demonstrators there, they did not denounce -- they said we don't want to overthrow the government, we don't want to overthrow the system, we want to reform, just give me a little room to breathe. It's really voices of despair, we don't want anything, just a little bit. Now that was denied brutally, their hopes crushed brutally. I suppose many of the leaders who have now gone underground, they will know what to do, and perhaps a spark of democracy, a movement for democracy and freedom will take place now. Another thing is that in this country where I've known many people who until now very strongly even to the point of blindly supporting the regime, the government in Beijing, every time there's something good come out of it, ah, gee, look at it, something not so good, they say, there are always human failures. But this time, last time, last Friday, when the big demonstration in front of the UN in China Town, I saw everybody united under one cause, sympathy, support for the student movement for democracy and freedom. This is a great sign that you don't see Chinese so united so often.
MR. MacNeil: David Henry Hwang, what have been your emotions as a Chinese-American watching this?
DAVID HENRY HWANG, Playwright: I think I've been surprised actually by the degree to which I have felt emotionally involved with it, because increasingly I've started to feel that these distinctions we have as Americans, whether we say we're Irish, or Chinese, or Italians, or whatever, are not that really relevant. And yet I did find myself watching the demonstrations when it was going well feeling really sort of proud of it and obviously feeling sort of crushed and angry and bitter when the violence came down. I think you know one of the distinctions I've noticed just in the media, I think as Americans we have a tendency to try and interpret events through our own eyes, and there is a tendency for Americans to try and be paternalistic about this, and I do think the distinction needs to be made that to the best of my knowledge, the students in China are not asking so much for Western style democracy or American style democracy as we know it, even though some have raised -- there's been Lady Liberty and some have quoted American statesmen, but I think they're really looking for a way to make the Chinese system work for them and I'm a little, I get a little worried when I feel like certain right wing elements, like Jesse Helms or something, are manipulating the events and our very real emotions and anger in order to bring back some sort of neo cold war mentality.
MR. MacNeil: Does that disturb you, Amy Tan?
MS. TAN: No. I do agree with David. I think the students are asking for just the chance to speak up and have a voice in the government. It is not the kind of democracy that we imagine here. I think that Chinese are so loyal and they so much love their country that they want the system, the system that takes care of its people, to work. They don't want to switch all of that over and change over to something completely different.
MR. MacNeil: Let me ask you this as a writer. What does it do to you -- obviously benefiting as an American from the opportunities of free expression here -- to see the Chinese leadership just in the last few days rewriting the history of just the week before and saying it didn't happen that day and they mobilize all their organs of propaganda to tell the rest of the country, and the world, it did not happen that way, how do you feel about that?
MS. TAN: I have been thinking about that in terms of the very thing that the students have been asking for, which is freedom of expression and the right to the truth, and it's a little bit strange in that I'm a fiction writer and one thinks that fiction is not telling the truth when, in fact, fiction is very much towards getting at a telling of things that finds the truth in some form. So that those aspects of freedom of expression and truth are so important to me and I've been thinking about it as a writer, but much more on a personal level, not so much professionally.
MR. MacNeil: You've lived in China most recently of everybody here. Are the Chinese people going to buy this official thing, it didn't happen that way, it's all propaganda, these were counterrevolutionaries, the Voice of America is feeding the flames of counterrevolution, counterrevolutionary turmoil, are they going to buy that?
RICHARD LIU, Restaurant Owner: Well, I'll tell you, the Chinese people, we have been around a long time. We have seen good days, bad days, a lot of lean days. We're very practical so therefore, whether they believe it is one thing but whether they admit it on the surface is another thing, totally another thing. So many of them will say first of all you look at this way, Tiananmen Square was so sealed off -- at one point they turned off all the lights and they were hosed down plus the rain, and bodies burned, all right, acts like this, any normal human being would not believe would take place this day and age. So if people go there, some young kids, youngster, teenager or young man, go to provinces in remote regions and they say this is what happened, they'd say, oh come on, they wouldn't do this, not in Beijing, maybe here but not in Beijing, some of them would react that way. Some of them would, most of them would not get involved. Okay, now that the hard- liners, as Oscar said are in total control, what am I asking for trouble for. If that's what the state TV and radio are going to tell us, that's what I'm going to buy, yes, I agree, a very practical approach.
MR. MacNeil: With the authoritarian governments which have been the tradition in China forever, virtually speaking, is the conditioning of the Chinese people -- even with the glimmerings of freedom they have been so heavy that the disposition to believe whatever the leadership says is, you can't go against that.
OSCAR CHIANG, Time Magazine: Well, I think that may be true in some people because they have been trained that way to follow the government line, but on the other hand, I will have to remember in a Chinese historical development, near the end of a dynasty usually such turmoil happens because of the power struggle or secession, and I think this is exactly the real course of this power struggle and then behind the scene who is on top, who is down.
MR. MacNeil: You mean the Communist dynasty is ending?
MR. CHIANG: The Communist dynasty is ending. This is how I look at it. On the other hand, also because of the Communist indoctrination, people do have a certain awareness of the political life in China even though they may not agree with the government, but they can read the newspaper or watch the television, read the newspaper between the lines and watch the live television with a skeptical eye. I read somewhere in a Chinese newspaper today that some of these -- no, actually New York Times -- this lady who just came back from China, she said during the interrogation a police woman who was watching the television with her actually commented who will believe this when they said there was no student killed - - so in this chance that the Chinese audience or readers have certain amount of sophistication which the government may not accept, they think they can indoctrinate through their government- controlled media, but I think in general, if we talk to anybody who came out of China in the past 10 years, we get the same sense that they don't believe in Communism anymore and they don't have the confidence in the Communist Party anymore.
MR. MacNeil: But apart from the belief in Communism, isn't there something ingrained in the Chinese character which perhaps even carries over into this country and families who live in this country, Mr. Hwang, that has a deeper respect for older people and for authority than the rest of Americans have?
MR. HWANG: I think in Chinese tradition there is more a sense of respect for the elderly.
MR. MacNeil: I guess what's behind the question is how we wonder can Deng Xiaoping get away with this, an old man who's dottery and shaky and everything and yet has been absolutely ruthless and brutal in getting his way here?
MR. HWANG: I think there are two things that are going on. I mean, on the one hand, yes, there is this respect for authority. On the other hand, I think there is a certain amount of practicality which is simply that I mean the Communist Government is not monolithic and you have a lot of the really hard- line elements and what we've been witnessing overthe past few weeks is also a struggle within the government. And a lot of the hard-line elements are people in their 80s like Deng Xiaoping, who I think given a certain amount of patience by the Chinese people are just going to pass away from the scene by attrition, and so I think that you have a combination both of respect for the elderly in terms of the exterior but also a practical viewpoint saying the more horrible elements of our leadership are probably going to be erased by time, and maybe it makes a certain amount of sense to be patient rather than lose another generation of young people.
MR. MacNeil: Do you have an observation on that?
MR. LIU: Yeah. Well, from both two angles -- one is that the traditional, as you say, the senior people, politicians, leaders, get more respect mainly because of their experience and they've been around a long time. At the same time, those seniors, politicians, and leaders themselves, they get to be used to be authoritative, dictating stuff, and to the point I was saying this afternoon to someone in Washington, D.C., that, you know, perhaps he's let his own paternalistic feeling go too far. For many reasons, Chinese contemporaries or the old emperors, they always feel that they treat their people as their children. So as a good, if you're lucky, you get a good father, if you're not so lucky, you get a drunken father who comes home and beats you up all the time or sends you out to work. I don't know if this is a proper analogy. Another thing is that, well, you know, the other day --
MR. MacNeil: So the students were disobeying the father's authority you mean?
MR. LIU: So he say well, haven't I given you enough, look where you have gone to until now, I did that for you, and you want more, you're not happy, you are making me lose face in front of Gorbachev, in front of the Asian Development Bank, all these visiting dignitaries and you guys are sitting, there chanting, wanting more as if I denied you all of this. I'm going to teach you a lesson. They did this on purpose. The ruthlessness is not a flare of nervousness or whatever, it's carefully calculated to teach a lesson, to use a very daily language, we say don't anybody make any stupid moves anymore, from now on you know what's going to come.
MR. MacNeil: Let me ask Amy Tan, you have a lot of relatives still in China. What difference does it make that many of the demonstrators are the children of this modern leadership and the children of the elite, do you think?
MS. TAN: I think it's one of the horrors -- the Chinese people respect so much elders, but their love goes to children and to young people with ideas. I think that there are both children of leaders who are participating, but I think also what is happening is there are children of leaders who are ready to step in the roles if, in fact, their fathers or mothers pass on.
MR. MacNeil: You mentioned the love. I think one of the astonishing things in the early days of the demonstrations was the affection, the almost maternal affection of the Chinese officials who went to visit the hunger striking students displayed to them, including the hard-line premier, Li Peng.
MS. TAN: Right. I think there is a type of care there that is very ingrained in Chinese culture and it also comes from a respect that beliefs that are so strong that you would allow for self- sacrifice, because I think that the Chinese culture is one that is really built on a lot of self-sacrifice for a higher goal beyond the individual. At the same time, there's a capacity within among Chinese to sacrifice, not just self-sacrifice, but to sacrifice the rotten branch, the bad apple, for the sake of the rest of the community.
MR. MacNeil: Is it going to make a difference, these students they're rounding up and hunting down and who are going to be punished when they catch them, including those they have already caught, is it going to make a difference that they are the children of the elite? After an initial show of ruthlessness, are they going to be treated more leniently, preserved to run the next generation? What would you say?
MR. CHIANG: I don't think so, because some of these leaders on a black list now publicized are actually, their parents or relatives are in high positions, but I think there is a certain irony in this. I see at least three ironies. The first is that Deng Xiaoping, himself, tried to modernize China and tried to open up to the West and now has to forfeit his own legacy in order to control the state, to keep some stability. Second irony is that these very people whom they want to be future leaders to be trained abroad and now try to bring down this Communist ruthlessness, and the third irony is, as you pointed out, the children of the high - - but these are more or less intellectuals because in China, intellectuals are loosely defined anyone has been educated, so this younger generation had been educated, the trend, they see what, they really love their country and very patriotic and they believe strongly that what they are doing is for the good of the country rather than to destroy.
MR. MacNeil: Mr. Liu, how do you think they're going to be treated given who they are, who the parents are?
MR. LIU: Well, I really don't think they will get very lenient treatment, maybe there will be some exceptional cases but by and large I agree with Oscar that if they get caught, they will sacrifice, because as I said, these are the privileged few and you have been privileged to get to all these and now you turn these against us, the very system that send you out there to learn, which is really offending to them. Another thing is to take up the seniority them from before. Every once in a while some new one comes along and remember in the early 1970s, when Mr. Mao disappear for months at a time, the rumor will say Mr. Mao died already -- all of a sudden he surface, he was swimming some place. Recently people are saying supposedly Deng Xiaoping died or very ill and Li Peng got shot, all kind of rumors go around, so people very simple mindedly will rejoice, oh, good, this bad guy, if we got rid of him we're all set. I hate to sound so pessimistic. I would say the system breeds such tyrants. Every once in a while they'll come around and do a little weeding.
MR. MacNeil: Thank you all very much for joining us. Amy Tan, in Salt Lake City, David Henry Hwang, Mr. Liu, and Mr. Chiang. Jim.
MR. LEHRER: Still to come on the Newshour tonight, Gorbachev in West Germany, and David Cornwell, alias John le Carre. FOCUS - GORBY FEVER
MR. LEHRER: We go next to the travels of Mikhail Gorbachev. The Soviet leader was in West Germany today and he showed he is ready and willing to play a heavy hand in European politics, particularly in a country where he is very popular. We have two reports from Independent Television News Correspondents Nik Gowing and Jon Snow.
NIK GOWING, ITN: The pile of agreements awaiting signature told the story. Having targeted West Germany, Mr. Gorbachev signed with Chancellor Kohl a raft of political and economic agreements never before signed by Moscow with any Western nation. It had taken what one would describe as long and arduous diplomatic efforts over many years. The drinks were to celebrate deals in the investment, management, training, nuclear energy, and cultural fields unparalleled in the West, along with the first hot line to Moscow from any Western European capital. But most significant is this joint declaration. It is an unprecedented and wide ranging political and philosophical document. In it, Moscow effectively renounces its right to intervene in another country under the Brezhnev Doctrine. Moscow and Bonn jointly call for new political thinking in shaping a peaceful future for Europe, and accelerating efforts to overcome the division of Europe, and in achieving what this document calls good neighborliness and constructive cooperation, despite the different political systems. The declaration painstakingly hammered out by advisers to both Chancellor Kohl and Pres. Gorbachev may not have the immediate zing and appeal of an arms control treaty. But it is a major first.
VOLKER RUHE, Christian Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesman: The Bonn Declaration is quite sensational in many points because for the first time the Soviet Union has signed with a Western country a declaration which says in the first paragraph of the dignity of human beings, and their rights should be at the center of politics and it also talks about the need to overcome the division of Europe and talks about the right of self-determination and it is of course, not just the Western government that can point to these words but people all over Eastern Europe I mean can instrumentalize the words of these very important declaration.
JON SNOW, ITN: The scenes Gorbachev provoked here were unprecedented. The flanks of police out riders squeezing his motorcade into Bonn's small market square amid thousands of Germans cheering him to the roof tops. Gorby, Gorby, they chanted. They gave him a welcome unseen in Germany since Kennedy stood at the Berlin Wall in the '60s. As the anthems played, a small boy signaled he had sweet peas to proffer. It wasn't in vain. Whisked upstairs by the KGB, the small boy achieved his summit and the rarest of bear hugs. The German crowd thrilled to it.
MR. MacNeil: Gorbachev will be spending two more days in Germany visiting the industrial Ruhe region and finishing his trip with a news conference on Thursday, but that won't end his European travels. He'll be in Paris next month and possibly Italy in the autumn. CONVERSATION
MR. LEHRER: Now another angle on the changes in the relationship between East and West. It is the spy angle, the view of David Cornwell, alias John le Carre. John le Carre is one of the most famous names in the history of spy fiction. Cornwell was a British spy himself when he took the name le Carre to write about his business. His first big spy novel was The Spy Who Came In From The Cold in 1963. In it, he changed forever the way spies were seen by others and by themselves. [SCENE FROM MOVIE "THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD"]
MR. LEHRER: His latest novel is The Russia House, which has just been published. Recently I talked to David Cornwell, alias John le Carre, about that book in particular and spies in general.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Cornwell, welcome. Is spying an honorable profession?
DAVID CORNWELL: I'm sure it can be. There was an English definition of it as the occupation of a gentleman who's prepared to lie for the good of his country. It must be necessary at times to do that and it must be necessary against an identifiable enemy to have to practice deception with skill.
MR. LEHRER: To do dishonorable --
MR. CORNWELL: To do dishonorable things for honorable purposes, yes, I mean, since man is not perfect, it is necessary, yes.
MR. LEHRER: What kind of person does it take to do -- you've done this yourself, you've written about these people now for years, what kind of person does it take, is there a type?
MR. CORNWELL: Well, there are so many kinds of espionage that it's really not possible to give a generic definition of the church. I mean, there are so many different faiths you can be these days a code breaker, a technologist of some kind, you can be an intelligence office for instance under diplomatic cover in an embassy or you can be the type of person I write about who tends to be a field man, a practitioner of the business of agent running. All of these are different trades within one profession.
MR. LEHRER: But the field man.
MR. CORNWELL: The field man is the figure who interests me because I feel he's a metaphor for other walks of life. He's a person I can explore, some kind of alienated character perhaps who rather like a writer is dependent on the society he's deceiving, or penetrating, and who rather like a writer makes his perceptions secretly and reports them in due course to the consumer.
MR. LEHRER: Does the field man think in terms I'm doing this for my country, this is for the good of the flag, whatever flag it may be?
MR. CORNWELL: I've always been fascinated by that. One of the things I write about and think about is the relationship between the individual and the ideology and the individual and the institutions he has created to contain his ideologies. When I think about a man like Kim Philby, for example, who spied for the Communist, particularly the Soviet cause, for 30 years, and penetrated to the highest echelons of British intelligence in the course of it, I wonder what ideology sustained him in his solitude, did he spy for Stalin, for Berier, for Brezhnev, God help us, what kind of Russia was he spying for, what kind of Britain was he betraying? Both the quarry and the patron changed their identities enormously in his lifetime. Did his ideology change with them or did he really put it aside?
MR. LEHRER: I was thinking more of the straight field man working for British intelligence or for America, working for the CIA, who has to commit a dishonorable act in personal terms, does he think it's okay -- does he go through that thought process -- it's okay because I believe in my country, I believe in Western society, and in order to protect it, I have to do this?
MR. CORNWELL: If it's a field operation, he might, and if he has to lie to people and masquerade in my perception and certainly in my imagining he has a kind of theatrical relationship with what he is doing. He slips into the role, he does his material, and he comes away from it, and things like motivation are put aside, suspended at least during the operation and they play very little part in the impulse to win and to win for your country, but otherwise, it's a theatrical commitment I think.
MR. LEHRER: One of your major characters, not in the new book, not in Russia House, we'll talk about that in a moment, but in your other books it has been George Smiley, and you made a speech recently where you imagined a conversation that Smiley was going to have with his chief in which he goes in, he was upset about what he's been doing and he goes to the chief and he says, "What's the limit? I want to know how long we can go on doing this stuff in defense of Western society without ceasing to be the sort of society that is worth defending." And the chief says, "What stuff? What stuff, George?" And here's what he says, you have him saying, "Meddling with third world countries, that stuff, bullying them, wrecking their economies, rigging their elections, assassinating their leaders, buying their politicians like popcorn, ignoring their starving, their uneducated, kicking their peasants off the land, arming their oppressors to the teeth, turning their children into tomorrow's terrorists, manipulating the media, lying constantly." "But my dear George, think what the other side does. It's far worse. Have some tea."
MR. CORNWELL: Yes.
MR. LEHRER: That says an awful lot.
MR. CORNWELL: Yes.
MR. LEHRER: That's you talking, is it not?
DAVID CORNWELL, "John le Carre": Yes, it is me talking and this was me talking really before the perestroika began and it was me being terribly tired of the stalemate in the cold war which was producing this kind of behavior on both sides. I think that when we say to ourselves our country right or wrong and we go along with the activities of our masters, there must come a point and Smiley is asking when does it come, what's enough, what's too much, as he says, when are we defending something that isn't worth defending anymore. I think the exciting thing at the moment is that the popular perception of causes and the awakening enthusiasm for a relaxation of tension is actually driving the leaders forward to the conference table. I think for the first time since I can remember in life popular knowledge of current events is as perhaps informed as that of statesmen. So there is a curious loosening of government upon the electorate and a curious nervousness in government. I mean, for heaven's sake if we haven't got an enemy anymore, what is America, what his Britain, who is Mrs. Thatcher, if she's got to fight the cold peace after the cold war?
MR. LEHRER: My reading of Russia House, in fact, is that everybody else has changed except the intelligence professions.
MR. CORNWELL: Yes.
MR. LEHRER: Mostly.
MR. CORNWELL: Yes. I think that's more a metaphor. I mean, I try to use the secret world to describe the overt world, if you will. I think what that perception is saying is that it's possible that we have in the course of arming ourselves perpetually during the cold war atmosphere built ourselves a dinosaur that we can't turn around. I think I'm right in saying that 3/5 of the American engineers are engaged in the defense industrial complex. That's a hell of a big economic commitment of manpower. Anybody would be pretty reluctant to say, okay boys, we'll find new work for you. So sometimes the capability produces a situation of its own which is no longer related to the target for which it was created.
MR. LEHRER: Here again you may disagree with this, but my reading of Russia House is that what you're saying they're not going to give the story away but the main character makes an individual decision.
MR. CORNWELL: Yes.
MR. LEHRER: And you think it's the individual decisions that have to be made before there's going to be any institutional decisions, they will come after that, is that correct?
MR. CORNWELL: As I said to you before, I think this is a time when we're going to have to turn around our thinking to a great extent. We've got to move our statesmen forward and I think in the story as it is told, and obviously it has a present relevance as far as I see it, the institutional thinking was so out of step with what was going on that all that was left was individual judgment. There does come a point here too, as Smiley, himself, is saying, the when is the question about when could it happen that institutional guidance, patriotism, if you will, in this case, institutional commitment, actually outlives its purpose and imposes on me and upon my conscience individual strains which I cannot support.
MR. LEHRER: Do you see that happening in a major way in the glasnost, perestroika?
DAVID CORNWELL, "John le Carre": I think in some ways that we're not aware of in the West, we have to undertake our own perestroika. I think that Europe is far ahead of the United States, for example, in its thinking about the perestroika and glasnost. I think it perfectly proper that the United States should remain deeply cautious in a military sense. We're not going to unbuckle our guns immediately, that mustn't happen, but I think we have to be ready for some kind of much greater enthusiastic political commitment to what Gorbachev is trying to do and events of the last few weeks seemed to have said that to us very loud.
MR. LEHRER: Back to you personally in your writing, what does this do to your stories, what you plan to write about from this point on?
MR. CORNWELL: It gives me wonderful breaks, a wonderful new deck of cards. I mean, the spy story was not invented by the cold war, it'll continue after the cold war. Its classical roots are much older and any form of literature to survive and to be any good and to give us pleasure and to give us relevance and to provoke us must surely chronicle the changes in its own time, for as long as there are nation states, for as long as statesmen don't quite tell the truth, for as long as we compete with one another in trade terms, for as long as we're suspicious of our neighbors, there will be spies. This is a great -- I'm afraid a great boon time for espionage -- because if you don't know which way the crumbling Soviet empire is going to jump and which way the pieces are going to go, you'd better spy the hell out of you.
MR. LEHRER: I mentioned Smiley. Is Smiley going to come back?
MR. CORNWELL: I don't think so. I think he's in retirement. Maybe he and I will agree to write, to tell some stories later on, but at the moment, I don't want to be fettered by the things I've done. I want to look forward and enjoy myself.
MR. LEHRER: There of course, the critical word about you has always been you are much much more than a spy novelist. How do you see yourself?
MR. CORNWELL: I think that any genre is as good as the practitioner. I don't think a genre exists for itself. It's not a literary form, it's not something invented by the literary bureaucrats. It's simply something which is the amalgam of those who practice it so I think the spy story can go anywhere and perhaps in terms of the history of small writing, I will be remembered as the person who stretched its possibilities a bit, that's all.
MR. LEHRER: A serious novelist who happened to write about spies.
MR. CORNWELL: Well, those are your judgments, not mine.
MR. LEHRER: They are indeed. David, thank you very much.
MR. CORNWELL: Thank you very much. ESSAY - INFORMATION ANXIETY
MR. MacNeil: We end tonight with an essay by Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune. His subject is keeping up with the rush of daily events.
CLARENCE PAGE: Are you having trouble keeping up? It's not easy. There is so much to keep up on. Blending into our lives every day are newspapers filled with important stories, books filled with important literature, magazines, television specials, business reports, professional journals, investment guides, and more. There are so many more important things to know just to keep up that we can hardly keep up with all that is available to fill our spare time, new movies, theater productions, computer programs, video tape rentals, Geraldo's latest show, anybody's latest record album. Still, we try to keep up. In one year, the average American reads 100 newspapers and 36 magazines, watches more than 2,000 hours of television, listens to more than 700 hours of radio, buys 20 records, talks on the telephone for 61 hours, and reads an average of three books, not counting the ones you buy and never finish. All that information just to keep up. It's an act of faith. We have faith that some day sooner or later like an old umbrella in the closet all that information will come in handy. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, there is so much to keep up on that you can't keep up with it all. So you know in the back of your mind that sooner or later someone is going to ask you about something you know you should have kept up on but didn't. And suddenly the quiet sense of dread within you is confirmed. You are information poor in an information rich society. You have not kept up. Well, if you ever feel this way, relax. You're not alone. Today no one can keep up with everything. There is so much data available in today's world, every day, that there's no way that you could read, see or hear everything, not in a hundred lifetimes. In fact, the average resident of 17th century London would come across less information in his entire life than you can find in one weekday edition of the New York Times. Unable to keep up with everything, we find various ways to cope. New York Magazine recently observed that more of us than ever before are engaging in a new form of intellectual charade. Instead of reading important books, we read the reviews of important books. Then we carry on serious conversations about the books anyway as if we had read them. That's keeping up on the cheap and perhaps it's inevitable with more and more of us finding less and less time to read all that there is to read, someone would write a book about it. In his new book, Information Anxiety, Richard Sal Worman addresses what he calls the black hole between data and knowledge, the ever widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand. It's a good book, or so I'm told. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to read it. But according to its reviews, Mr. Worman has some very important advice. Remember that your mind operates a lot like this computer. You can only process so much information. You'll never process all that there is to process. So don't worry. Be selective. The sand runs down the hour glass of time far more quickly than you can turn the pages of all the world's great books, watch all the world's video tapes, or listen to all the world's news. Plan your information diet like you'd plan a vacation, so don't worry about learning everything. Be happy that you're learning at least something. Oh, oh, get ready. Here comes some more information right now. RECAP
MR. LEHRER: Again, the major stories of this Tuesday, in Bonn, Soviet President Gorbachev and West German Chancellor Kohl signed a joint declaration about arms. They call for a 50 percent reduction in nuclear weapons and a complete ban on chemical weapons. The Chinese Government ran the pictures of 21 student protest leaders on television. They asked for citizens to turn them in. And Pres. Bush kept his promise to veto any minimum wage over $4.25 an hour. He vetoed legislation that would raise it to $4.55. Democratic leaders conceded. They did not have the 2/3 votes needed for an override. Good night, Robin.
MR. MacNeil: Good night, Jim. That's the Newshour tonight and we'll see you tomorrow night. I'm Robert MacNeil. Good night.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
- Producing Organization
- NewsHour Productions
- Contributing Organization
- NewsHour Productions (Washington, District of Columbia)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This episode's headline: China Reflections; Gorby Fever; Information Anxiety; Conversation. The guests include AMY TAN, Novelist; OSCAR CHIANG, Time Magazine; RICHARD LIU, Restaurant Owner; DAVID HENRY HWANG, Playwright; DAVID CORNWELL, ""John le Carre""; CORRESPONDENTS: NIK GOWIN, ITN; JON SNOW, ITN; ESSAYIST: CLARENCE PAGE. Byline: In New York: ROBERT MacNeil; In Washington: JAMES LEHRER
- Episode Description
- This item is part of the Chinese Americans section of the AAPI special collection.
- Segment Description
- To view the segment on turmoil in China, visit https://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-n00zp3wp67?start=637.68&end=2107.34 or jump to 00:10:33.
- Asset type
- Performing Arts
- Global Affairs
- Film and Television
- Military Forces and Armaments
- Politics and Government
- Copyright NewsHour Productions, LLC. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode)
- Media type
- Moving Image
Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: NH-1491 (NH Show Code)
Format: 1 inch videotape
Identifier: NH-19890613 (NH Air Date)
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- Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” 1989-06-13, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 5, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-n00zp3wp67.
- MLA: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.” 1989-06-13. NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 5, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-n00zp3wp67>.
- APA: The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Boston, MA: NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-n00zp3wp67