BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Midge Decter, in this
book about your life, a memoir, "An Old
Wife's Tale," had you written this after
the World Trade Center tragedy, would
you have changed anything?
Ms. MIDGE DECTER, AUTHOR, "AN OLD WIFE'S TALE: MY SEVEN DECADES IN LOVE AND WAR:" Well, I would certainly have
included it, because it is certainly
bringing about a change in the spirit of--at least of New York
City and, I think, of the whole country.
LAMB: You--and you talk about your life in here, all the
different instances or things that happened in your life.
Wh--where would you place that as--in the importance of
what's happened in this country?
Ms. DECTER: Well, I would place it with World War II, when
suddenly the whole nation was inspirited. Everybody was
worried and everybody had someone to worry about, because
it was an enormous army and every family had someone in it.
But there was a feeling, a very American feeling, of `By God,
we're on our way and we'll take care of things.' It was very,
ver--I was a kid, but it was very, very inspiriting.
And this, curiously, in New York, at least, has had the same
effect, though we haven't done anything yet, but everybody
was--everybody cared about everybody else. And it's
interesting, because in a curious way, New York was very
cheerful in that way of feeling that everybody was together in
this. But I've spoken to friends in Washington and they all
sounded plain depressed. It's a very different feeling in these
two cities, or at least so it seemed to me.
LAMB: Y--you're obviously a--have--have strong views about
politics in--in your life. What happened to those strong views
among people in New York City, where you lived during this
Ms. DECTER: Well, they were all gung-ho about getting those
terrorists and about `This is the United States and, by God,
we're good and they're bad.' It was that kind of feeling. That's
why I likened it to World War II, because that was the feeling
everybody had. It was very simple. You knew who the bad
guys were and you knew who the good guys were, and
that--that simplicity of feeling never came again, not in any
of the subsequent wars or anything.
LAMB: Why do you think that is the case?
Ms. DECTER: Well, I think a big, rich, powerful country that
was getting richer and more powerful, people find it easy to
take everything for granted and to feel that they have lots of
leeway to do whatever they please and to think whatever
they want. And--and, I mean, you know what we lived
through with Vietnam. And I myself was an opponent of the
war in Vietnam, but I was really horrified by the way my fellow
opponents were conducting themselves. And, you know,
they're back again. The same people on the college campuses
are now yammering about peace and about this imperialist
society and so on.
LAMB: What is it that leads some people to feel that way, in
Ms. DECTER: A lack of seriousness. I used to call them the
spoiled children of liberty, and--and they're back. There are
not so many of them, I think. I haven't taken a census, but
they're all on the campuses--Yale, City College--just the ones
I really know something about recently. They're all there,
demonstrating and yammering, the professors and the--their
innocent and ill-informed students.
LAMB: If I remember correctly, don't you live on the Upper
West Side of New York?
Ms. DECTER: Not anymore. We used to live on the--we lived
there for years and years. We raised our children there. But
then when they all flew the coop, we moved to a smaller
place on the East Side.
LAMB: That's a highly--or well-known liberal area of the world,
Upper West Side.
Ms. DECTER: The Upper West Side, so is the Upper East
LAMB: So what--whatever will...
Ms. DECTER: ...I can tell you.
LAMB: And--and--and you don't call yourself a liberal in the
Ms. DECTER: No, I don't call myself a liberal anymore. There's
no point in it. For a long time we used to say, `We're the real
liberals. You're not the real liberals,' but that was nonsense.
LAMB: The reason I bring that up is, what do you find the
liberals of New York saying about this particular incident?
Ms. DECTER: Well, most of them--as I say, except for the
really stupid kids and their even more stupid professors, most
of them are shocked and coming around. The symptom of this
is that there's a great move on to keep Rudy Giuliani mayor for
another term, which is against the law. But everybody who
voted for term limits is now very, very, very regretful
and--and--because in a crisis it's Rudy we want.
LAMB: Why--and--and you s--you point out in your book that
you were a hard-bitten anti-Communist.
Ms. DECTER: Yes, always.
LAMB: What would that mean, and why didn't a lot of your
liberal friends feel the same way?
Ms. DECTER: Well, some of them were ignorant and some of
them had a luxury that I didn't feel I had, partly be--I think,
because I'm a Jew, and--and also I went through--I--as I
describe in here, at certain point in my life when I had very,
very small children, I went through an orgy of--excuse
me--reading concentration camp literature. And there
were--there were the Nazi camps about which we knew, but
the Soviet camps were just as bad, and there were more of
them and there were more prisoners and they were--they
were at it longer. Excuse me. They were at this game longer,
the Communists, and so they had a lot more slaughter to their
credit. And to know about what was going on in the Soviet
Union was to hate it.
LAMB: You--by being here on BOOKNOTES, it's the first time
in the 13-year history of this program we've ever had father,
mother and son. And so that people can see what I'm talking
about, I want to run a video clip of one person in your life
that I want you to talk about.
(Excerpt from March 28, 1999, BOOKNOTES)
Mr. NORMAN PODHORETZ (Author, "Ex-Friends"): Kerouac's
girlfriend called me up and said, `Come down and have tea
with us,' which was a euphemism in Greenwich Village. And I
got all dressed up in a suit and tie because I didn't want to
seem to be going down to enemy territory in their uniform, as
you might say, down in Greenwich Village. And I got there and
we spent--the first day they wanted me to smoke marijuana
with them--that's what they meant by tea--and--and I--I
had no moral compunctions, but I--I refused, and I was not
gonna play the game by their rules.
And we had this long and very intense argument, both about
literature, you know, they accusing me of being philistine
about their--their work and also about the--the--the--the
doctrines that they were preaching through their literary
works. And we got nowhere. I didn't convince them, they
didn't convince me. And at a certain point in the evening I left
with Kerouac to go see somebody else. And as I left, Ginsberg
yelled at me, `We'll get you through your children.' I already
had children, by the way. And he was an early
out-of-the-closet homosexual and a--and a--and a preacher
of the superiority of homosexuality to heterosexuality, so
there was a double meaning in that.
(End of excerpt)
LAMB: There's a dedication in your book `To the one but for
whom'--should we assume that...
Ms. DECTER: I think you have to assume that, yes.
LAMB: Where--where did you meet Mr. Podhoretz?
Ms. DECTER: Oh, when we met, he was a kid, he was about
16 and I was his older friend. He used to cry on my shoulder.
And then life took us apart. I got married and I had two
children, and he went off to Cambridge and then he was in
the Army. And then I got divorced and then we ended up
working together in the same office, and...
Ms. DECTER: At Commentary magazine. And that was that.
LAMB: What year did you marry?
Ms. DECTER: We married in 1956.
LAMB: When he was here, he said to me, `Please stop me
because I tend to ramble.' The only reason I mentioned that,
he--you know, he--he has long answers to questions. You
don't seem to be that way. You seem to have short answers
Ms. DECTER: Yes. Well, he--he's a wonderful talker and he's a
much more wonderful talker than I am, and I have spent more
than 40 years listening to him with great pleasure.
LAMB: How often do you disagree, and on what kind of thing?
Ms. DECTER: Well, we disagreed for a while now and then
about disciplining the children. That's a kind of classic
disagreement between a mother and a father, but it was more
serious then because it was a bad time. But kids--it was
getting to be a very bad time for kids, and he was right and I
was wrong, and when I realized this, that was it. But
otherwise, we haven't really had any serious disagreements.
LAMB: Not on politics.
Ms. DECTER: Not on politics.
LAMB: What were your disagreements about raising kids?
Ms. DECTER: Well, I was far more liberal, I was a classic
1950s mama, and that my children be happy and give
evidence of being happy was the most important thing to me,
which I think was true of all of us of my generation, and our
children did not benefit from this one bit.
Ms. DECTER: Well, because we were supposed to represent
the world to them and it was our job to teach them how to
live in the world, not to change the world to conform to their
very young and inexperienced and ignorant ideas. And he was
terrific, because he didn't care what opinion--what the
common opinion was. He knew what he thought, and of
course he was right.
LAMB: And you had two children by your first marriage and
two by your second?
Ms. DECTER: Yes, right.
LAMB: Let--let's--let's look at one of those children, because
he's the other person that's appeared on here.
Ms. DECTER: My baby.
(Excerpt from December 19, 1993, BOOKNOTES)
LAMB: Your dedication is `For my mother, I manned the
lifeboat. For my father, to whom this not in any way a letter.
And for Tod Lindberg, a paragon of friendship, wisdom and
good cheer.' What's a--that all about?
Mr. JOHN PODHORETZ (Author, "Hell of a Ride"): OK. Well, my
mother and father are both--are both writers, and my mother
wrote a book in 1976.
LAMB: Your mom's name?
Mr. J. PODHORETZ: Midge Decter--called "Liberal Parents,
Radical Children," the dedication to which was `To my
children: Man the lifeboats.' So, my father, who was a writer
named Norman Podhoretz, who has published many books and
is the editor of Commentary magazine, wrote a book in 1967
called "Making It," which is dedicated to me and my sisters.
The dedication says `To whom this is in many ways a letter.'
So my dedi--my--my dedication says `This book is in no way
a letter--a letter to you.'
(End of excerpt)
LEONARD: Where does the writing come from?
Ms. DECTER: I don't know. Where does writing come from? It
comes from very, very far back. Most writers are--start
scribbling when they're little kids, especially that one. God, he
scribbled from the time--practically from the time he could
form letters. And you usually start out wanting to be a poet
because that's the easiest. You can write poems without
knowing anything. And Norman wrote poems longer than I did.
I got over that very quickly. And I don't know where it comes
LAMB: Three daughters. Do they write?
Ms. DECTER: Yes, they do.
LEONARD: What kind of things do they write?
Ms. DECTER: Well, one has been the editor of the Weekend
magazine of the Jerusalem Post--she lives in Jerusalem--and
one used to write editorials for the Washington Times, and
she now does public relations.
LAMB: And the third?
Ms. DECTER: The third writes seldom, though she writes very,
very well, and she has become an artist, actually. She makes
these wonderful ceramic tiles with pictures on them. They're
LAMB: What has the--the written word done for you in your
life and your husband and your son? And if you hadn't had it,
how would your life have been different?
Ms. DECTER: It's hard to imagine what it would have been. I
mean, this was what we did. It was also the way we made
our livelihood, being a writer, being an editor. I didn't make
much of a livelihood being a writer. I was a freelancer, and
writing for highbrow magazines doesn't actually bring you
much in the way of income. But we were all in that game and
John, too, is an editor.
LAMB: What was the first thing you ever wrote?
Ms. DECTER: The first thing I ever wrote. Hmm. The first thing
I ever wrote seriously for--and wa--that was published was
for Commentary, and it was a review of a play on--not on
Broadway, off Broadway.
LAMB: How did you get to Commentary in the first place?
Start at the beginning. Where were you born?
Ms. DECTER: I was born in Minnesota.
LAMB: What town?
Ms. DECTER: In St. Paul, Minnesota. I was the youngest of
three girls and I was--I remember wanting--dreaming of
coming to New York from ab--the time I was about six or
seven years old. The first time I was brought to New York and
I saw all these--all these people and the smells and the sights
and the sounds, and I--I never got over it, and I haven't
gotten over it to this day. I'm still capable of, at dusk
particularly, riding through Central Park in a taxi and saying to
myself, `Look where you are.'
LAMB: What was so different about New York from St. Paul?
Ms. DECTER: Well, St. Paul was a very close-knit community.
We were Jews and the Jews tended to live in a close-knit
community, and everybody behaved in a certain way and
everybody thought a certain way and--I don't know. I just--I
was just--I just longed for the big city. And I had no skills. I
knew how to do--I couldn't do anything. And when I had to
go to work, the only thing I knew how to do was type, and
not very well, and through a series of circumstances, I got a
job on Commentary as a secretary to the managing editor.
And then I left to have two children, and then when I
divorced, I went back there, this time to work as the
secretary to the editor in chief. And it's very--there's a funny
story, because the managing editor for whom I worked was a
friend of Norman Podhoretz. They had had a friendship, and
Norman was in Germany in the Army, and they were
corresponding. And one day this man, Robert Warshow, wrote
a letter to Norman and said, `There's someone here who says
she knows you. Her name is Midge Decter, and if her typing
ever improves she may be here when you get back.' My typing
never improved, but I was there anyway.
LAMB: How did you get to New York?
Ms. DECTER: I--well, I blackmade--mailed my parents,
actually, is what I did. I told them I wanted to study Hebrew
and I wanted to study at the Jewish Theological Seminary of
America, where they had a college of Hebrew studies, and
there was no way they could say no to that.
LAMB: You say in your book that your mother and father met
through Zion, their--their mutual...
Ms. DECTER: That's right. They were Zionists and I was
brought up a Zionist.
LAMB: What does that mean?
Ms. DECTER: That means that we cared about what was then
Palestine and the Jewish community there and were hoping
that that would be a national home for the Jews. And then
came the Holocaust and then that hope turned into something
else. It turned into a--a necessity and a demand and a
LAMB: You say that you also went to Dachau in your...
Ms. DECTER: Yes. That was in the late '60s, we went to
Germany on a...
LAMB: Why--you and your husband?
Ms. DECTER: Yeah--on a junket, a group of us went, on some
kind of junket. And they asked us where we wanted to go,
and I sa--I wrote down `a concentration camp.' And I t--I
heard later that the--our German hosts were very flustered by
this request. They were not happy with it and--but they took
us to Dachau, which was basically the most--the most
attractive, if you want to put it that way, that was all
cleaned up and--and so on. But it was just as revealing as
if--in its own way as if we had gone to Auschwitz, which was
much bigger and much worse.
LAMB: Revealing in what way?
Ms. DECTER: Well, it was those ovens that got me. They
weren't much used in Dachau. They were used only a little bit.
But I had--I had this vision of--of a kind of great holocaust,
some great fiery thing that the Jews were thrown into. These
were ovens like the size of a baker's oven, with a kind of shelf
on which two people took a body, opened the door and
pushed one body in. So it was very personal. It wasn't some
big mass anything. Each one of those bodies was thrown into
that oven by two people. That made it a very different image
in my mind.
LAMB: Did it change the nature of your trip then, once that
visit was over?
Ms. DECTER: Well, no, it didn't, really. It confirmed all my
feelings and my passions, but it didn't really, because the
Germans were just as nice as they could be. And there's a
very funny story. We were being entertained in some very
grand home in Dusseldorf, and the--our host had an
enormous, wonderful art collection, and the hostess said, `We
were not hit at all during the war. None of these pictures was
injured.' And I said, `Oh, isn't that wonderful?' I heard myself
saying, `Oh, that's wonderful.' And then I said, `Girl, you're in
some kind of confusion here.'
LAMB: What about World War II and--and its overall impact
on you and the country, and what's--what was the last...
Ms. DECTER: Well, World War II was the last really emotionally
simple thing. We were in it. It was very big. Everybody was in
it, everybody. People worked--they either worked for it or
they were in the Army. You know, Tom Brokaw has written
these books calling them `the greatest generation.' They
were not great. They were just ordinary people whom the
government called on and who answered that call. And they
hated the Army and they groused and there were jokes about
it. It wasn't that they were all saying, `Hooray. Let's go get
them,' at all. It's a miserable thing to be a s--an infantrymen
in an army, especially in a bloody war like that. But they felt
that they were being depended on by their country, and they
were. And so they answered the call, grousing all the way,
but it didn't matter. And, of course, everybody was working
and everybody was involved and...
Ms. DECTER: The Holocaust--did you know about it during
World War II, or how much did you know?
Ms. DECTER: Yes, yes, not--I didn't know all of it, but I knew
about it. There were books and there were--there were books
about what had gone on in Germany, even at the beginning of
the war, to the Jews. And then little by little, one--there
were people who now say, `We didn't know,' but that's
nonsense. Everybody knew, including the US government, by
LAMB: So in 1943, you would have been a member of what
political party and what would your politics have been?
Ms. DECTER: Well, I was a kid in high school, honestly.
LAMB: Go beyond that, you know, another couple years.
Ms. DECTER: Well, I was a Democrat. Everybody I knew was a
Democrat. Every Jew in this country was a Democrat and
Roosevelt was our god. He was gonna save us all and he
was--it's very hard to--it's hard to describe what--to others
who don't--who weren't there to experience it what this
meant. And, of course, there were a lot of people in this
country who really loathed Roosevelt, but I didn't know any
and I didn't meet any until I was very well grown and already
had began to have a more complex idea about society than I
had had then. But he was...
LAMB: Are you still a registered Democrat?
Ms. DECTER: I am.
LAMB: And you--you at one point in the book talk about why.
Ms. DECTER: Well, being a registered Democrat made me--I
mean, I--I--I no longer believe in the Democratic Party at all,
but two things. First of all, if you--if you live in New York and
there are primary campaigns, you're practically
disenfranchised if you're not a Democrat. You don't get
to--your vote doesn't carry any weight. So that's one thing.
That's a m--a less important thing than the fact that all my
conservative friends had need of Democrats. I served on a
board and two commissions where, of course, you know, in
Washington there has to be an array of everybody. And so I
was very popular then with my conservative friends as a
Democrat. I was useful. So they--they told me, `Don't, don't,
don't change your registration,' and I never have.
LAMB: Is that possibly one of those things that makes people
cynical about politics, where you're really not a Democrat, but
you stay a Democrat and they use you to--in the
Ms. DECTER: Well, I don't know. I suppose you could say it's
a--I don't know. `Cynical' is too strong a word, I think.
Ms. DECTER: It's kind of...
LAMB: Wha--what boards and what commissions did you
Ms. DECTER: Well, I served on the board of radio broadcasting
to Cuba. That...
LAMB: Radio Marti?
Ms. DECTER: Yeah, Radio Marti. That was--that was the most
important one. And then there was a presidential commission
on hunger which was...
LAMB: Which president?
Ms. DECTER: That was Reagan. It was quite early in his
administration, but it was really--it was a kind of boondoggle
in the sense that there were all sorts of claims that there
were starving people all over the United States, the poor were
being--you know, their faces were being ground. And so it
was decided that there should be--the president should
appoint a commission to go around and examine this question.
And it was--it was very pleasant and it was nonsense,
LAMB: But in the middle of all this, you not only worked for
Commentary, which by the way, for someone who's never
read it is--what--what is it about, the magazine?
Ms. DECTER: Commentary is a monthly published--formerly
published by the American Jewish Committee and now only
partly sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, which is
a monthly of general, political, cultural and social interests
with some emphasis on those things that are of special
interest to Jews.
LAMB: Like what? What's of special interest to Jews?
Ms. DECTER: Well, right now the state of Israel is a very
special interest to Jews.
LAMB: You think that will ever work over there?
Ms. DECTER: Well, ever is a very big word, and I have to pray
that it will because there are--there's a whole community of
people there, and they are America's only reliable allies in that
part of the world, although the United States is not--at this
point is not behaving as if they are. They are, and they're
under terrible pressure to make peace with people who don't
want to make peace with them. And my daughter--I have four
grandchildren there and I worry about them plenty.
LAMB: What is the draw for a Jew to Israel?
Ms. DECTER: Well, it's--I guess it's different for different
Jews, but it is--it's their historic place. It's where Judaism
started. It's where they were. They had a kingdom there.
Then they got scattered. But every single Saturday morning in
synagogue they pray to see the place and to return to the
place, and they remember it and--you know, so it never really
left Jewish consciousness. The only Jews for whom it didn't
matter were those who didn't like being Jews very much.
LAMB: What was the draw for your daughter to live there
instead of, say, living in the United States? And you've had
more than one daughter live there?
Ms. DECTER: Well, they--no. There were--all three of them
went there. One went for a year and another went for two
years, but they--they weren't going stay. They came back.
But this one went to go to school there.
LAMB: Her name?
Ms. DECTER: Her name is Ruth--or Ruthie, actually. That's
what everybody calls her. And what happened: She went to
the university and she met a boy.
LAMB: What university?
Ms. DECTER: The Hebrew University at Jerusalem, and she
met a boy and she married him and that was that.
LAMB: To this day.
Ms. DECTER: And she is a real citizen of that country.
LAMB: What does it mean to be Jewish?
Ms. DECTER: That is a question in answer to which volumes,
libraries, oceans of words have been written.
LAMB: What does it mean to you?
Ms. DECTER: What does it mean to me? It means a
connection with this long history. And I do have some religious
feelings. I mean, by religious Jews, they wouldn't consider me
one, but I do have some feeling about this. And it's a long
thing. And then there's this other thing. The--it's an issue of
pride after the Holocaust to remain a Jew. They tried to wipe
us out. Well, by God, the hell with them. That--that's a
very--that's a very big part of this impulse, I think, now. I
don't know what will happen to Jews in the future. That won't
be part of their--I think--I don't think that will be part of their
feeling about this, perhaps. But it's--it's thousands of years.
It's not so easy to escape that.
LAMB: You said earlier that you're not so sure about the
United States' commitment to Israel.
Ms. DECTER: Well, I mean, of course, the United States has
been committed to Israel and has been very important, but at
this point, the United States is out to--to make a coalition
with the very people whose terrorist forces have been
battering Israel since it became a state. There've been five
wars and how many Intifadahs? And I went--you know, and I
heard that they were going to talk to Syria, which is a great
sponsor of terrorism, in order to include Syria in this great
coalition. And, of course, now the line is on the part of people
who are unfriendly to Israel that it's because of America's
commitment to Israel that we're now being terrorized by the
terrorists, which is nonsense.
LAMB: What if, for some reason or other, it was proved that
that was the reason? And it--and it became that
that--whether you liked it or not, that was the issue? How
would you solve it then if these folks that live in Syria and
Ms. DECTER: Well, I wouldn't s--the only way I could solve it
is so say, this is crazy. You do not temporize with beastly
people, because if--if they're not coming after you now,
they'll come after you later. That's what I'd say. And there's
one corner of Western civilization in that area, and that's
Israel, and it is--it's a Western country, and it's a democracy,
and we're supposed to be for that.
LAMB: How--but--but again, how would you solve this
problem if you--if somebody turned this over to you and said,
`Midge Decter, we've got to solve this problem one way or
the other or it's gonna be--this never--this stuff is never
gonna stop.' What would do you do?
Ms. DECTER: Well, the first thing would I do is take out
Saddam Hussein. That's unfinished business that should have
happened during the Gulf War.
LAMB: Take him personally out?
Ms. DECTER: Take him and his government personally out.
LAMB: Kill them?
Ms. DECTER: Yes, or imprison--get them out of power. Which
would, by now, mean killing them. And their s--their guard and
their supporters and so on, get them out of there. It wasn't
for Israel that we went to fight that war.
LAMB: What did we do it for?
Ms. DECTER: Well, the ostensible reason was to get them out
of Kuwait, but it--that was--that country was a source of
terrible anti-Western agitation and--and plotting and building
weapons and all that. It was the enemy. We do have
enemies, you know, and we went to war against this one
LAMB: How far would you go? If you're gonna kill innocent
civilians in the process, what do you do about that?
Ms. DECTER: We killed a lot of innocent civilians. That's what
war does. That's what war does. We killed a lot of innocent
Germans and a lot of innocent Japanese, after all. And would
have had it come to that, killed a lot of other innocent people,
if that war had gone on.
LAMB: What's the second...
Ms. DECTER: It's--war is not--the war ain't beanbag, if I
could borrow the phrase--phrase from Mr. Dooley.
LAMB: What is the second thing you would do? Take out
Ms. DECTER: Yes, and I would do what--I would do what Paul
Wolfowitz said we have to do. We have to get rid of all those
governments that give house room to terrorists.
Ms. DECTER: Syria--absolutely Syria, and Iran.
LAMB: But if you go into Syria, who do you take out?
Ms. DECTER: You take out the ruling party.
LAMB: The king?
Ms. DECTER: Absolutely.
LAMB: Not the king. I didn't mean the king. You know
Ms. DECTER: Well, there's no king there. I mean--yes. You
take out--you take out the ruling party. I mean, you know,
it's not pleasant. This stuff is not dancing around the
maypole. This is serious business, and you have to do very
nasty things. And I say this knowing that as a woman, I would
not be on the front lines of this.
LAMB: Who should be on the front lines of it?
Ms. DECTER: Well, the American soldiers.
LAMB: No women?
Ms. DECTER: Oh, no, never. I'm against that.
Ms. DECTER: Well, I'm sure, first of all, that they interfere
with the warfare. Second of all, there has to be some
difference. Women have the thing they have to do, which is
to look after other things. They have to look after children.
The worst--the most obscene thi--picture I ever saw on this
subject was on the front page of The Yew York Post
when--the day there was a big shipment of people to Saudi
Arabia during Desert Shield and there was a picture of a
woman in full field dress with a helmet and all kissing the head
of a baby--must have been--looked about three months old,
being held in the arms of its father. Now there's something
wrong with a society where the father is holding the baby and
the mother is going off to war. I don't--it seems to me
self-evident. I don't know why we have to...
LAMB: You know, though, in Israel it could happen.
Ms. DECTER: No. They started--they tried. Girls are drafted in
Israel, but they're not--they--to begin with, they were going
to be in combat and the men all said, `No, get them out of
here because it interferes with our capacity to fight because
we're worried about them all the time. And if we hear them
screaming or something, we can't go on.' So the girls in the
Israeli army do other things. They run the radios and the
communications and things like that, which are not combat
LAMB: So go back to the Israel situation. What would you do
about the Arafat-Palestinian situation? What would you do
Ms. DECTER: Well, I mean, they've been--they set him up.
The Israelis foolishly set him up as the leader with whom
they're going to deal, and he can't--he can't give them peace
and he can't make a deal with them and he doesn't want to
make deal with them. So what--what--what I would do about
him is ignore him and keep my powder dry and wait until
maybe someday somebody who really means to make peace
would come along.
LAMB: But what is peace, do you think, to a Palestinian?
Ms. DECTER: Well, they by and large depend on Israel for their
livelihood at this point. The Palestinians come into Israel and
make a living. Peace would be their decision to stop--to--to
make a--to reach a real settlement, which they haven't
shown the least bit of interest in doing.
LAMB: Do they get their own state?
Ms. DECTER: I guess they'd have to get their own state, but
they--they can't have their own state now. This man, Arafat,
and his Palestinian Authority are--they're--they're being paid
for by America and also by Israel, and the guns that those
so-called policemen who are really Arafat's army have, were
put in their hands by Israel at a point when they really
thought they had a deal, and they don't. So what they have
to do is keep their powder dry and combat Palestinian
terrorism as best they can. They're not bad at it. For every
bombing you hear about, there are probably three or four
you--that have been put off.
LAMB: As you know, a number of the terrorists--I don't know
what the number was--were Egyptians, and--you know, and
this whole Camp David agreement and everything, we give the
Egyptians something like $2 billion...
Ms. DECTER: Yes, that's right.
LAMB: ...a year to keep peace with Israel. What do you think
of all that?
Ms. DECTER: Well, the Egyptians are--they play a very dirty
game. They are the center of anti-Semitic propaganda maybe
in the whole world now. And they made a peace agreement
and so far they haven't gone to war, though they're now
making funny mo--motions in the Sinai. And they did very well
making peace with Israel. They got the whole Sinai back and
the oil wells and all that. And the government of Egypt is
quite weak and being pushed around by these terrorists, and
it's a very bad situation. But I think if you--if you started
bringing them down in other places, then they would be
weakened in Egypt.
LAMB: Go back to the--the--your--your earlier premise. You
say that the terrorism that's going on has nothing--does it
have nothing to do with Israel?
Ms. DECTER: Well, they practice it against Israel if they could,
but they--they hate us. You know, that's something that
Americans are very poor at understanding. They really hate
LAMB: Hate Jews or hate Americans?
Ms. DECTER: Hate Americans. Hate Westerners.
LAMB: How many? What do you think the percentage of the
Arabs in this world hate Americans?
Ms. DECTER: I don't know. Probably fairly high. Devout,
devout Muslims. Because look at us. Our women walk around
half naked. They work side by side with men. All these things,
which are an--an insult to Islamic practice. They don't like our
LAMB: Are they--are some of our practices an insult to you?
Ms. DECTER: To me?
LAMB: Yeah. Well, you write about your friend Betty Friedan in
here and "The Feminine Mystique" and those changes...
Ms. DECTER: Oh, well, that. That's different. Those are
different. Those are different. Yes, they are--they are--I just
think that that's--Betty Friedan and the women's movement
have done very bad things to American women and American
men as a consequence.
LAMB: Tell us some of those things.
Ms. DECTER: That's a different issue.
LAMB: Different entirely?
Ms. DECTER: Yes, different entirely. Well, you see, this is a
difficult--this modern period is a difficult time for women. It's
also a time full of opportunity. And the opportunity was not
given them by the women's movement that stormed around.
The opportunity was created for women by medical
technology, among other things. They are in better health and
they stay alive longer and they stay young and strong and
they don't--they're not sapped by having a dozen children,
and so on. Now--and this has given them new freedom, and
freedom brings difficulties and fears, especially if it's entirely
unprecedented. And so what you want to do to these women
is give them courage, not say to them, `You are oppressed.
You've been oppressed for 12,000 years. Men are your
oppressors,' whether they're your husbands or your bosses or
your teachers or all that. It's all nonsense. That wasn't what
it was. And they've--they've made women very unhappy,
actually, by doing this.
LAMB: How do you know they're unhappy?
Ms. DECTER: Well, the--there's the evidence of the women in
their late 30s and 40s who are now desperately looking for
husbands, or unable to find husbands, have
discovered--Guess what?--they want to have children. They
never knew this before because their heads were so rattled
with this stupid propaganda. And it gets very hard to have
children when you're that age. And by then, there've
been--there's been so much warfare against men that the
men are quite skittish. And the relations between the sexes
are dreadful, for no reason. And I also felt that, you know,
you look around the world, there's so much suffering all over
the place, and women suffer and maybe they suffer more than
men in Africa and in Muslim countries. And then you look at
American women. They're healthy, they're vital, they're
employed, they are educated, and for them to claim that
they've been oppressed is just--it's immoral.
LAMB: You don't think men have oppressed women in any
Ms. DECTER: No. Nature oppressed them insofar as they were
oppressed, though I wouldn't use that word. I mean, that's
crazy. It was the nature of things that prevented them from
doing a lot of things that they now do.
LAMB: When you look back at your own career, you had
Commentary, you had Harper's. For how long--how long were
you are Harper's?
Ms. DECTER: About five years.
LAMB: What else did you do in the professional world?
Ms. DECTER: Well, very brief time I was at the Saturday
Review. That was--that was--that was not...
LAMB: Norman Cousins.
Ms. DECTER: Yes. And I like him. He's a very nice man and we
got along, but we couldn't work together. We're just too far
apart on everything. And I was supposed to be his managing
editor, you know. So it didn't work.
LAMB: He is very liberal and the news team.
Ms. DECTER: Yes, yes, he is. And he was--was a big
environmentalist and I thought it was a lot of nonsense, and
so we just didn't see eye to eye. It was a silly thing for me to
do to take that job and it was silly for him to hire me and we
both understood that quickly, so we parted amicably. And
then I went to work as a book publisher.
Ms. DECTER: At Basic Books.
LAMB: How'd you get along there?
Ms. DECTER: Oh, I got along fine. I mean--except that I--you
know, I made myself an apprentice in--in middle age. I was
suddenly an apprentice again. So I had to start all over again
like a big dumb beginner, which I found kind of uncomfortable.
But then after a while, I caught on and it was OK, except by
then, as I write in this book, I was such a passionate
ideologue that I was no good for book publishing after a while
either because book publishers are supposed to be entirely
neutral politically. They're supposed to publish whatever they
think will sell. It's a business, and so I got myself out of that.
LAMB: How--this is your fourth book, fifth book?
Ms. DECTER: This is my fourth book.
LAMB: Fourth book. ReganBooks, HarperCollins.
Ms. DECTER: Yes.
LAMB: How did you--how is it that Judith Regan published this
book? What led to this?
Ms. DECTER: You'd have to ask her. I wrote it. I gave it to my
agent. My agent showed it around.
LAMB: What did you--what did you want to say in this--I
Ms. DECTER: Judith Regan bought it.
LAMB: ...what was the purpose of the book? What was your
Ms. DECTER: Well, the purpose of the book was to say that I
think having lived through all these various periods, I learned
something about being a woman and about being a mother,
although it took me a long time, and about being an American.
And so I thought, well, you know, I'm--I'm getting old and I've
gone through all these various stages. The one that's the
most distorted in people's memories is the '50s. And I thought
I would do--try to do a little justice to the '50s, which was a
much-insulted decade, even by the people who lived through
the '50s themselves. And everybody--the--the--the betting
line on the '50s is that it was a big materialistic--when I think
about--when I think about us post-war. We were the
post-war grownups and we berated ourselves for being
materialistic. And when I think about the people who are in
their 30s now, I have to laugh. I mean, so we were buying
washing machines with our big materialism and houses and
sort of making a life. But--so it was--it was much denigrated
era. And I thought I'd say, you know, we were people and we
were doing this and we were doing that, but we were leading
our lives and we weren't oppressed and--nor were we
conformists. We were just trying to get along after a big war.
LAMB: Back around to today and what we've been talking
about throughout the program. Again, the current state of the
United States and the Israeli situation. How you gonna solve
this problem? I don't mean you personally, but how are we as
a country gonna solve the Israeli problem. Or can we? What
impact should we--what--what should we do to make it
Ms. DECTER: Well, I think when--when George Bush--George
W. Bush became president and announced that seeing what
Clin--seeing what Clinton's activism--he was not going to be a
activist with Is--he was just going to let the situation go in
Israel. We all said, `Hooray,' because American interference,
political interference and foreign policy interference has not
been helpful. Not a bit. And, look, the peacemaking that
Clinton was involved in resulted in Israelis offering the
Palestinians everything, everything; more than they can
possibly afford to do from--from the point of view of their
security, and he turned it down. That should have been
message enough to leave it alone. But instead now Bush is
getting interested in Israel, too. And that's very--that's very
LAMB: Do you think they think that that's part of what's going
on in the world with the terrorists and all?
Ms. DECTER: I think that Colin Powell, who believes in making
this coalition, very important to have this coalition, which
thwarted us in the Gulf War and will thwart us again, but he
believes in it and he's convinced Bush of it, I guess. And they
think that Israel is an impediment to the coalition, but
the--the coalition is crazy in the first place.
LAMB: Can we do it by ourself?
Ms. DECTER: We can certainly do it with NATO, and NATO is
on board. I don't know what we need those guys for.
LAMB: What if you bomb and take out whatever you have to
take out in the situation and you've made all the Arab
Ms. DECTER: The Saudis weren't mad when we went to war
against Saddam Hussein. It's--it's--it's childish to think that.
They're not--they have business among themselves and
they're not all friends. They're not--there isn't some big
political unity called Islam. And Arabs are not even the
majority of Muslims in the world, you know. And we're big and
they depend on us. And we can say, `Cut it out,' but we
never do. Excuse me.
LAMB: At the end of your book on the last page on a
postscript you say, `I am certain that part of our deep
discomfort in this comfortable of all possible worlds has to do
with our having fallen into a potentially very dangerous
combination of arrogance and deep bewilderment.' What do
Ms. DECTER: Well, I think we're living as people have never
lived before. Never. Excuse me. And we don't know our way.
We don't know how to do this. We don't know how to live into
our 90s. We don't know how to live without physical suffering.
We don't know how to accept hardship, and when it comes it
feels like an injustice. The things that people lived with always
throughout history, we--we find ourselves cut off from the
sources of human wisdom and experience because this life is
so new and we are bewildered. I think we are.
LAMB: You've been married to Norman Podhoretz now for...
Ms. DECTER: Forty-six years.
LAMB: Has it gotten better with age?
Ms. DECTER: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
LAMB: What about motherhood? Better with age?
Ms. DECTER: Well, my--my daughters have honored me
greatly. They really have. They're all mothers and they're
wonderful mothers, and I feel honored by that.
LAMB: You say in the book you think you're gonna live to have
Ms. DECTER: Well, I think about it, but that's greed.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book, "An Old Wife's Tale: My
Seven Decades in Love and War." Our guest has been Midge
Decter. Thank you very much.
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