BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Lance Morrow, author of "Evil," where did you get an idea about writing a book on that subject?
LANCE MORROW, AUTHOR, "EVIL: AN INVESTIGATION": Well, about 10 years ago, I had done a cover for -- a cover story for "Time" magazine on the subject of evil. And I find that over a period of years for "Time," I`ve written dozens of essays that had to do with wrestling with the question of evil of one kind or another. Dunblane, Scotland -- the guy who broke into a grammar school there and shot 13 or 14 little school children -- many different subjects -- you know, big, historical subjects and also individual cases of pathology, and so on. And it`s a subject that`s interested me for a long time. And I did it 12 years ago for "Time," and I`ve just -- I have been meaning to turn it into a book and kind of collect my thoughts about it. So this is the result.
LAMB: Did you really write 150 cover stories for "Time" magazine?
MORROW: Oh, more than that.
LAMB: How many?
MORROW: You know, I stopped counting. I was there a long time. I still contribute to the magazine, but you know, I was there on the staff for a long, long time. And my first one was the Detroit riots of 1967. And I had joined the staff in `65, and so I went through, you know, the `68 campaign and the -- you know, all of the late `60s, the Chicago convention and all of that stuff. So I mean, they just added up. I wasn`t really counting, but I was sort of appalled when I -- when I thought how I`ve been spending my time. But it was great. But...
LAMB: How long have you been teaching? And where?
MORROW: I teach in the university professors program at Boston University, which is sort of a small college inside the -- this very large university. And I also teach in their College of Communications. And I`ve been there for seven years.
LAMB: You open up this -- it`s a small book -- it`s not one of those 800-pagers.
MORROW: Yes. It`s about 90,000 words, something like that.
LAMB: ... with a story about going on Ron Reagan`s -- not Ronald Reagan, but...
MORROW: Yes, Ron Reagan...
LAMB: ... television show. What was that all about?
MORROW: Well, Ron Reagan, the president`s son, who seems very little like his father -- although in some subtle ways, he is like him, but -- had a show, had a talk show at that point. And they wanted to do a thing about evil. So they invited me and a woman from the San Francisco Church of Satan and a theologian to talk about evil. And I start out with it because it struck me, one, as rather funny. And I didn`t want to start a book about evil in too -- it`s heavy enough. It`s heavy going in a lot of -- my purpose in this book was, among other things, to tell a lot of stories. Evil is always a story anyway. But I didn`t want to get too theoretical about evil or too theological or philosophical or political. I`m not a trained theologian. I`m not a trained philosopher, and I wanted to see it a lot through stories. And so I did that. And this particular story, it just struck me as funny and a way of delineating my attitude toward evil from...
LAMB: What was funny about it?
MORROW: Well, I thought it hysterical that, here with Ron Reagan, the young woman from the Church of Satan was wearing a leather mini-skirt, a black leather mini-skirt. And she thought that I was hopeless on the subject of evil because I somehow didn`t appreciate evil in the terms in which it should be appreciated. I was retrograde. I was -- I was much too conventional about evil. And I`m not quite sure what her take was, but she was thinking out of the box. You know, she was trying to -- she was inventing new norms for evil and new, you know, excitements around evil.
And it -- one of the reasons I mentioned it was that it -- there was a tendency for a long -- there has been for quite a long while, but to regard evil as playful, fun, ironic, a kind of Oedipal gesture against authority and kind of sassy. And it comes out of the romantic tradition. It comes out of the `60s and the challenging of authority in the `60s. And I wanted to contrast that with my view of evil, which is possibly more conventional, but simply regards evil as something really bad. And I think the evidence is there to support that.
LAMB: What was your reaction when the president gave his speech on the "axis of evil"?
MORROW: Well, I understand his political reasons for doing it and his, so to speak, diplomatic reasons. I think he wanted -- I thought it was in some ways an interesting thing for him to have done, in the same way that Ronald Reagan`s talking about the "evil empire" was. I think he meant to signal to a lot of people who -- including al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, and so on, and North Korea and Iran that he was willing to be -- that here was an American who was willing to talk in black and white terms, in fundamentalist terms, in categorical terms, and to be as brutal as they were willing to be.
And I think he -- and I think there was a -- there was a good deal of art in that because coming at the end of the Clinton administration, and so on, where there was -- there really was a tendency to think of the United States as big, fat, rich and unwilling to be serious about opposing this kind of stuff, terrorism and so on, and you know, bombing tents in -- or vacated camps in Afghanistan, and so on. And I think that that was -- that was his intent. I think he wanted to bring the -- to signal that he was moving to a different plane and that he was very, very serious.
And there`s no more serious term than "evil." I mean, evil`s possibly the strongest term in the language, the most powerful term in the language, and one of the most difficult to get a handle on. It`s one of the most difficult to define. It is an extremely dangerous term and has been used to great -- to cause great evil. Witness Hitler`s use of the word "evil" when he described Jews as evil. So it`s a very dangerous term. But I think his purpose there was to signal that he was moving to a new plane.
LAMB: You know, I almost want to give one of those warnings to the audience they may want to turn their television sets down, based on what I`m about to read because this is -- you know, as you say, there are a lot of stories in here. I`m just going to read and have you tell the story around it because it does get your attention -- "Rape bonded the men in atrocity. Some Serb men forced Muslim men to use their teeth to castrate their own sons and the sons to castrate their fathers."
LAMB: Is that true?
MORROW: Yes. I mean, this is -- this is...
LAMB: Where did you learn that?
MORROW: These were news accounts coming out of the -- of the -- I was in Bosnia in `92, I guess, in late `92, for a visit, a fairly brief visit. But this was -- this came out of the -- I forget whether it was Srebrenica or it was -- it was one of the -- I can`t -- I can`t cite the exact place that I got that. But it was -- this is a -- this is a -- that particular awfulness is not unfamiliar in -- as a -- you know, as an atrocity. There were awful -- the -- in Bosnia, the behavior was -- was -- it`s a very -- it struck me at that time as an extremely evil place. It struck me as an atmosphere of evil had descended upon this place. And I had a palpable sense that people were doing terrible things. And these were stories that one heard.
LAMB: Now, you went with others. Who`d you go with, and why`d you go to Srebrenica?
MORROW: Well, Eli Wiesel was going over to -- as a sort of observer, to try to look at the situation and to bring his moral presence to bear and to try to -- well, primarily to see what was going on, but I think also to try to influence what was going on. We talked to Karadzic and Milosevic. We went to a prison camp up in the hills. We were in Sarajevo for a bit. And so that was a -- that was a -- that was what that was about. Abe Rosenthal was there from "The New York Times." Some -- a few friends of Eli`s were there, two or three.
LAMB: What was the Milosevic meeting like?
MORROW: Well, he said -- he was -- with both Milosevic and Karadzic, there`s this elaborate air of denial. There was this elaborate air of innocence and denial. And the most -- and an interesting thing to me was the air of victimhood, the Serb air of -- that "We are the victims." They were portraying themselves as victims. And you see, it is "they" who are doing it to "us." We are not -- we are victims of their atrocity. And of course, in that part of the world, there is a terrific -- an awful dynamic of tit for tat down the ages between the Croatians and the Serbs and the Muslims, and so on. There`s a -- there are retaliatory reciprocal atrocities going on -- or -- or you know, periodically, over a long period of time.
When I arrived in my hotel in Belgrade, not 10 minutes passed before a brown envelope was pushed under my room -- the door of my room. And I opened up this large envelope and found a fairly thick stack of 8-by-10 glossy photographs of atrocities, of hideous atrocities. And they were -- they purported to be crimes committed against the Serbs by Muslims. It was difficult to tell because of the -- it was difficult to -- I mean, all you saw were these awful pictures. But this was -- this was the Balkans press kit. I mean, this was -- you know, Welcome to the territory. It was an awful place.
LAMB: How did you approach this? You have 34 chapters. They`re relatively short, and as you say, stories. How do you keep it all together around one word, "evil"?
LAMB: Well, I was looking at -- trying to look at different aspects of evil. And evil has -- is a very illusive term, and you turn it around in your hand and you see it from different angles. So I was trying to tell stories that I thought illuminated different aspects of it. Evil has a quality of sleight of hand about it, sort of "Now you see it, now you don`t." And I wanted to try to capture that. And also, as I say, I think it`s important to tell stories and to discuss the stories because it always enacts itself through a story. Auschwitz was a story. Cambodia was a story. Rwanda was a story. Dunblane was a story.
LAMB: How about the story of your son`s classmate?
MORROW: Yes. Yes. That was a girl.
LAMB: Set up the whole thing. Where is your son? How old was he?
MORROW: Well, my son was, what, 16, 17, and he was in a school up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. And a girl in the school and some other guy were -- they were out in Central Park drinking beer, and they fell in with this other guy and they murdered him and threw his body -- they disemboweled him and threw his body in the Central Park lake. And it was a really sensational case of -- of a few years ago.
And I asked my son about this girl, and he said, Well, we knew she was trouble. We knew there was something, you know, disturbed there, but we didn`t have any idea of -- you know, that it could go to that. But it was one of those cases very difficult to -- it`s so often with cases of that kind where you feel the presence of evil. You feel -- you know, and say, Well, she`s a troubled child and she -- you know. But nevertheless, there is all this evil and -- I mean, it`s -- there`s something inexplainable about that.
I mean, "evil" is a word we use when we -- in situations like that, I think, when it seems, as I say, a motiveless malignity. There`s something deeply disturbing about that -- that kind of act. But we see that all the time. You know, the King brothers, those two teenage kids who beat their father to death with an aluminum baseball bat not too long ago, the two kids up at Dartmouth in New Hampshire who murdered the Dartmouth professors.
LAMB: Boys said they were conducting an environmental survey. They knocked on the door.
LAMB: It was a project for the school. And once inside, they drew hunting knives and murdered the professors, stabbing them repeatedly, even stabbing them in the face. Did they ever find -- did they ever catch them and...
MORROW: Oh, sure. Yes, they got them and they tried them and...
LAMB: Did they say why they did it?
MORROW: I believe that they were trying to -- they had some -- one version was that they had some idea of financing a trip to Australia -- you know, sort of like Huck and Tom lighting out for the territory -- I mean, something as strange as that, or as inexplicable -- very difficult to...
LAMB: Where did you grow up in your life? Where were you born?
MORROW: I grew -- I was born in Philadelphia, but my parents were both journalists and they were in Washington, D.C., so I grew up here in Washington and...
LAMB: Your father`s a big name in the past in politics and journalism.
MORROW: Well, he was at "The Saturday Evening Post" when I was a little kid in Washington, and he...
LAMB: Hugh Morrow.
MORROW: Hugh Morrow, yes. And then he got into politics. He went to work for Senator Irving Ives (ph) of New York and then Senator Kenneth Keating, and then after that, he went to work for Nelson Rockefeller when Rockefeller was running for his first term in the late `50s. And he stayed with Rockefeller until Rockefeller died. And in fact, my father announced Rockefeller`s -- I mean, met the press after Rockefeller`s death and reported it to the press -- the only time I ever knew him to lie, in fact.
LAMB: And for those who haven`t paid attention, what are you talking about?
LAMB: You mean in that particular- -
LAMB: The lie, yes.
LAMB: Oh, well, the lie was that -- Rockefeller died in the company of his mistress and -- in a townhouse on 54th Street. And my father, in the -- in an effort to spare Mrs. Rockefeller embarrassment, because they were all there at Lennox (ph) Hill Hospital late at night, and Mrs. Rockefeller was there, and so was the young woman. And my father, in an effort to spare Mrs. Rockefeller, concocted the truly preposterous story that Nelson had been up in his office in Rockefeller Center, working on his art books, you know, like a medieval monk, illuminating manuscripts in his office.
That, of course, sprang a leak in about a day because the ambulance drivers and the cops said, Wait a minute. This is not what happened.
MORROW: One shouldn`t laugh about it, but in any case, it was -- it was -- my father was deeply upset about it for a long time because, you know, he was very fond of Rockefeller.
LAMB: Didn`t you write a book about him, your dad?
MORROW: I wrote a book called "The Chief," yes, in the mid-`80s, and it was about my father and about -- and I mention this stuff in that book, as well.
LAMB: There`s a little reference in your book on evil to being a pageboy in the United States Senate when you were 13 years old.
MORROW: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: What was that like for you? Do you remember?
MORROW: It was wonderful and fascinating. It was one of the great experiences of my life. I was only -- I was, you know, 13, but I found it absolutely fascinating. And it introduced me to -- it didn`t introduce me, but I was running errands for Joe McCarthy, John Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, Robert Taft and this whole array of characters. And so I watched them very closely for -- I did it two summers, once on the Republican side, once on the Democratic side. And it was wonderful. I found it absolutely fascinating.
LAMB: Any lasting impressions from that experience?
MORROW: Oh, sure. I mean, many, many impressions of the personalities and the characters. There were -- it was -- when Kennedy walked into that Senate chamber in those -- that was at a time of -- he was -- he was, you know, terribly ill with his back, and so on. He was on crutches, and so on. But it was very interesting that -- it was very interesting to me to watch the -- to study the personality, character, the way that people reacted to these characters. And Kennedy, everybody -- all the senators, and so on, and -- - you know, a roomful of narcissists, you know, and prima donnas, and so on -- but when he walked in, in the -- the doors at the top of the center aisle, every pair of eyes turned to Kennedy. And this is the freshman senator from Massachusetts. Saltonstall was the...
LAMB: Talking about Jack Kennedy not...
MORROW: ... senior senator.
MORROW: I`m talking about Jack Kennedy, yes. Yes. Oh, this is -- his brothers were -- you know. But it was a fascinating -- Lyndon Johnson was -- was fascinating to watch. Bobby Baker was my boss, you know, who was Lyndon Johnson`s protege and...
LAMB: Still alive.
MORROW: Yes. Yes. He was very -- he was a very nice guy. I mean, he was good -- he was a good boss, and he told very funny stories. And he was always telling Kennedy stories, but you know, seeing Kennedy with some blonde on F Street that -- you know, over the weekend or something like that. Kennedy wasn`t married, at that point.
But I found it wonderful to look at the senators. I loved the Senate, and I am fascinated by -- particularly by -- I`ve always wanted to write a book about the Senate at that time. Robert Caro got it very well in his latest book on Johnson. He -- I was -- I was -- it was great nostalgia for me because Caro describes every leather couch and sofa in the cloakroom, in the Democratic cloakroom, and the bank of telephones and where -- they all drank, for some reason -- when they weren`t drinking clear alcoholic fluids, they would -- they all drank White Rock soda water. So Bill Nolan of California, for example, would always, you know, snap his hands for me, and I`d run up to him and he`d say, White Rock. And you`d run up to the cloakroom and get him a thing of White Rock.
Lyndon Johnson would send me for vanilla ice cream a lot, to go down to the -- I`d race downstairs to the Senate dining room and bring him a dish of vanilla ice cream on the floor. But it was -- for a kid -- you know, I was just a kid. I was really quite young. I was barely -- I think I was underage the first summer. I was 12, but they kind of let me -- let me in. And so for a kid of that age, it was -- I was just knocked out.
LAMB: Well, you mentioned both when we started and then again when you were referring to the Senate stories -- can you -- do you remember -- I mean, you`ve obviously told a lot of stories in your life -- when that very thing interested you, telling stories, hearing stories?
MORROW: Yes. I`m sorry. I didn`t quite get what you`re...
LAMB: Well, you obviously enjoy writing about telling stories.
MORROW: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: And you say that this book is a series of stories.
LAMB: When did you find yourself...
LAMB: ... getting interested in that kind of work, where you...
MORROW: Well, I don`t know. I`ve always been interested in that. My parents were both writers, and I`ve always -- I`ve never had the slightest doubt that that`s what I wanted to do. And I think I`ve always liked that, liked storytelling.
LAMB: In this book, you mention Hannah Arendt, if that`s the way -- I`ve heard it pronounced several ways. Is that the way you`d pronounce it?
MORROW: I say Hannah Arendt, yes. Yes.
LAMB: "Eichmann (ph) in Jerusalem." Why...
LAMB: But you mention her several times. What is it about her...
MORROW: Well, I was -- I was -- you know, she wrote that famous book called "Eichmann in Jerusalem" in the early `60s about the Eichmann trial. And she -- her subject subtitle was "The Banality of Evil." And I always thought she was somewhat dissatisfied with the term "banality." And I think that the term "banality" doesn`t quite do it because what she -- I think she should have said was the "ordinariness," the flat ordinariness of evil.
But in any case, I was interested in something -- she got into an argument with the great scholar of Jewish mysticism, Gershom (ph) Sholam, who objected to the book on several grounds. But in any case, she wrote a very interesting letter to him sometime after "Eichmann in Jerusalem" was published, and she said, I no longer believe in radical evil. I no longer believe that evil is profound in the sort of traditional sense, but rather, she thought it was shallow and lethal but very, very deadly and capable of tremendous destruction but like a fungus, something like a fungus.
And I -- and so the reason that I talk about her, to some extent, has to do with language in metaphor. How do you conceive of evil? Evil evolves. Evil changes. It`s very adaptable, and it shapes itself to the configuration of the time and the technology, and so on. But there`s always a question of how to talk about it, what language you use, what metaphors you use. The "prince of darkness" is an essentially medieval metaphor. It`s a monarchical metaphor. It arises out of a medieval model of society.
Milton`s Satan, Milton`s Lucifer in "Paradise Lost," is along that same model of sort of a heroic satanic figure in rebellion against God, and not unattractive rebellion, not entirely unattractive rebellion. It`s been said a million times that Milton`s Lucifer is more interesting than his God -- got more character, personality, just more interesting figure. And indeed, a lot of people think evil is a lot more interesting than good. But in any case, there is a monarchical -- these sort of fierce, individualized Mephistopheles, the Dr. Faustus kind of evil.
But Hannah Arendt is going to a different metaphor altogether, and she`s saying fungus, disease, infection, which takes away from it that kind of romantic, heroic defiance, "non serviam (ph)," I will not serve. You know, Lucifer says, Non serviam, I will not serve. I will not -- you know, so that has -- that`s heroic. That`s -- you know, it`s a declaration of sort of doomed independence, or something of that kind.
Well, she`s saying fungus, you know? And look at Sierra Leone, where the -- these rebel soldiers are chopping off the hands and arms of children. This is not heroic. This is not -- Mephistopheles or Lucifer "Non serviam." This is a fungus. This is a -- you know, the filthy kind of evil and -- or Cambodia, where awful, awful things of that -- or the business you mentioned earlier about Bosnia. This is not -- or American slavery, the worst depredations of American slavery. So I think that she located in that language a very important aspect of evil.
MORROW: ... is the baseline, the final solution, the Hitlerism and its attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe is kind of the baseline of evil. I suppose it still is. But in any case, it certainly was the beginning of my moral education.
I mean, I have always been, you know, from the time I was a child, been indelibly aware of the first films that came out of the camps in 1945 of the corpses and the people near -- who were near dead and so on. And so that was kind of the formation of my -- it was the beginning of my trying to think about this. And for so many other people, too.
LAMB: I thought it would be interesting for our audience to hear the words of Heinrich Himmler. I can -- it` s page 177. Do you want to read them, or do you want me to read them? I would be glad to have you do it.
MORROW: Sure, sure.
LAMB: Only because that last -- you obviously felt it was important enough to put it in there. Who was he, Heinrich?
MORROW: Well, Himmler was, you know, running the SS and he was one of great Hitler`s -- this was on October 3 of 1943. Himmler, this was, as I say, Heinrich Himmler in a sort of mission statement to his SS, an amazingly candid document, the most murderous evil, couched in terms curiously ingenious and weirdly self-congratulatory, laid out the case for the -- well, for his position. He says, and this is Himmler speaking. He says, "our basic principle must be absolute for the SS man. We must be honest, decent, loyal and comradely to members of our own blood and to nobody else.
What happens to the Russians, what happens to the Czechs is a matter of total indifference to me. What there is among the nations in the way of good blood of our kind, good blood of our kind, we`ll take for ourselves, if necessary, by kidnapping their children and raising them among us. Whether the other nations live in prosperity or croak from hunger interests me only insofar as we need them for slaves for our culture. Otherwise, it does not interest me.
Whether 10,000 Russian females drop from exhaustion while building an anti-tank ditch interests me only insofar as the anti-tank ditch gets finished for Germany` s sake. We shall never be brutal and heartless where it is not necessary, obviously not. We Germans the only people in the world who have a decent attitude toward animals will also take a decent attitude toward these human animals, but it is a crime against our own blood to worry about them and to give them ideals that will make it still harder for our sons and grandsons to cope with them. Our concern, our duty is to our own people and our blood. Toward everything else we can be indifferent.
I wish the SS to take this attitude in confronting the problem of all alien, non-Germanic peoples, especially the Russians. All else is just soap bubbles." Prose style.
LAMB: How important was he?
MORROW: Well, he was one of the, you know, central figures in the -- in Hitler` s circle, and he certainly was - that -- the reason I quoted that at such length is that that was -- seemed to me the absolute distillation of the attitude from which evil so often proceeds, which is the attitude that only we are of any importance. Everyone else is subhuman, not human, not to be, you know, not to be accorded any of the consideration that one gives to a human being. And once you get that, and we see it all over the world all the time, but this is a particularly bald, chilling statement of it.
LAMB: Have you ever met anybody like that?
MORROW: Sure. You know, I mean, racists of one kind or another I think just regard -- yes. I mean, in the Middle East, you -- I`ve met -- I`ve met Arabs who spoke of Jews that way, and I`m sad to say I`ve met some Jews who spoke -- a couple -- in Hebron one time I met a real fanatical guy who, you know, talked in those terms about Arabs. And down south you -- I mean -- I mean, I think -- don` t you think it` s a pretty universal? I guess one rarely sees it as clearly stated as this.
LAMB: You mention early in your book about Harry Truman sitting next to Joseph Stalin.
LAMB: When you think back on that, do you think he had any idea?
MORROW: I don` t think -- I think Truman was kind of naive about Uncle Joe. And of course there was the -- a lot of people were. But it was -- I mean, this was -- this was late in the game. The Moscow trials and the -- many of his crimes were known. I mean, his crimes were just absolutely monstrous, and many of them were known. The -- to say decimation doesn`t cover it. You know, the mass slaughters of his, of the poets and scientists, and even his generals, soldiers, you know, was -- and that had begun to come out, you know, in the late `30s. The Moscow trials were in, what, `36, `37, and then the -- and then most intelligent American communists said oh my God, you know, if that`s what it`s all about, let me out of here.
LAMB: When Harry Truman dropped the two bombs, was that evil?
LAMB: On Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
MORROW: Yeah, I think that`s one of the most interesting -- that leads one into an absolutely -- leave aside Nagasaki for a minute and just talk about Hiroshima, because I think they`re in some ways they`re slightly different calculations, but if you` re talking about Hiroshima, do you - - you` re talking about what, 110,000, 120,000 deaths I believe in the initial thing, and of course there were a lot of radiation and sickness deaths later.
But there is this grizzly arithmetic, this awful calculation that has been going on ever since, a hypothetical calculation of how many American soldiers would have died in an invasion of the home islands, and the estimates of that would go from, I suppose, half a million to up to a million or something like that. And this doesn`t count the number of Japanese who would be killed in a -- what would surely have been a somewhat fanatical defense or inaugurate defense of the home islands.
So if you -- I mean, are you reduced to this kind of arithmetic, this kind of grizzly business, where you say, well, we would have lost a lot more and the Japanese would have lost a lot more. Therefore, Truman was justified in dropping that bomb. And then there are all sorts of other -- try to think of it and say well, could you have dropped a demonstration bomb? Well, I don` t think we had -- I don`t think we had the bombs available. I think it was a sense of urgency about using it. But it` s an old argument and people know these considerations.
But as to whether it was evil, I myself am really not certain what to say about it. And I try to go into the book about -- talk about necessary evil, permissible evil. What is permissible evil? What is -- people like Paul Fussell, you know, Paul Fussell, the wonderful writer who did "The Great War in Modern Memory" was, I believe, on his way to -- I mean, he would have been among the troops thrown up against the home islands. I believe William Manchester, if I`m not mistaken, there were an awful lot of American troops who were very, very grateful, who were on their way from the European theater to the Pacific to participate in the invasion.
So I myself am -- am puzzled about this. One thing that I try to point out in my book and one of the reasons that I did it as I did it was that very often it`s -- you know, one shouldn`t be too categorical sometimes about, you know, evil is such an absolute word that it invites a certain dogmatism, but very often you have to -- it leads you into a terrible maze, and you -- sometimes you can`t be categorical. I don` t know, different, you know, good people on either side can differ on that.
Abortion is another extremely -- I mean, you know, the taking of -- the taking of, you know, and then you get into the parsing, just as with Hiroshima, you have to parse the casualties, weigh this against this. So you go into abortion and then you say well, when exactly do you say that life begins? When precisely? So up to what point would you say it`s permissible? Or would you say no, no, the instant of conception.
And so you get into these much more difficult. I think anybody who is too dogmatic about evil is headed for trouble. I also think that, you know, I say at one point that I -- in trying to sense evil, it might be useful to think of Justice Potter Stewart`s (ph) famous line about pornography, "I know it when I see it." OK. Most of us think we know evil when we see it, or we feel it. Maybe see it is -- you just sort of sense it and feel it.
But unfortunately, you know, a lot of people have thought they saw evil or sensed evil and they wind up, you know, burning innocent girls as witches, or in the case of Germany and the Third Reich, you know, setting up -- trying to exterminate people who Hitler described as evil. And you know, the method of evil is so often to describe the other as evil.
So if you can persuade people -- and lynch mobs work this way. If you are rounding a lynch mob and people are led to a lynch mob mentality and so on, you say well, he`s a rapist, he`s s evil, we`ve got to string him up. So you have an evil deed committed to punish perhaps the fantasy of an evil deed.
LAMB: As you know, with 34 chapters, each one brings on a new story. I just want to read. I think the best way to treat this is read chapter 25. I want to read the first paragraph. "Evil, subject to boredom, is forever concocting delicacies and refinements. Travelers in China have reported the cultish gourmet`s ritual of dining upon the brains of a live monkey that has been imprisoned, immobile below the center of the dining table. The top of its head exposed through a round hole in the table. The top of the skull is then removed, and the diners use their chopsticks to dine upon morsels of the monkey`s brain. The connoisseur`s pleasure made more exquisite presumably by the exoticism of the cruelty and the onstage fatality at the table."
Is it an evil pleasure, you ask? Where did you find that one?
MORROW: Oh, that particular thing?
LAMB: Yes, monkey. Your chapter is headed "Gourmets and Monkey Brains." Is that a true story? I mean, do they actually do that?
MORROW: Well, that has been -- the travelers have reported that from time to time. I got that from a wonderful book by a wonderful writer named Lila Hadley Luse (ph), who wrote a book in the late `50s called "Give me the World" and she described that. But I believe that that has some -- and she was in -- traveling around Asia and so on, and described this encounter. But I believe that this has been mentioned in, you know, more than a few.
LAMB: What were you getting at?
MORROW: I` m sorry?
LAMB: What were you getting at in the chapter? What was your point?
MORROW: Well, I think partly just the -- there is a sadistic or -- evil very often takes pleasure in the gratuitous infliction of pain, its sadistic impulse. And in -- and it` s the gratuitousness, or it` s the exercise of power. And then a certain exoticism. I think of Roman emperors wracking their brains, you know, at least in Sweytengus` (ph) version of them, for example, and the Tiberius or Caligula and some of the other Romans, and the extremely fancy and decadent pleasures that they devised, and sadistic pleasures that the -- I won` t even go into them, it was so awful. But being able to execute somebody peremptorily on a whim. It`s the whim`s quality of it, it`s the element of whim.
You know, Stalin used to have dinners that went on all night with his circle, and then there would be guests and so on. There would be a tremendous amount of drinking, and these guys would be, you know, they felt they had to keep up with the drinking and they would be drunk and terrified at the same time very often. And sometimes in the morning they -- a KGB -- or I guess then it would be the NKVD -- would simply take a guy out, enigmatically, no evident reason and he would disappear. Obviously shot or sent to Siberia. But there is a -- there is a -- you know, power. It often has to do with the power or the infliction of fear and so on.
This is somewhat different from what you started asking about, but it`s that quality, I was trying to get at that quality of a certain exquisiteness of malice, or, that, you know, that -- it is really disgusting.
LAMB: What was your reaction to your cover story on evil for "Time" magazine?
MORROW: We got a deluge of mail, it got a huge amount of mail.
LAMB: How did it compare with others? I mean, what has been the biggest reaction to all of your hundreds of -what did you say, at least...
MORROW: That was the biggest.
LAMB: That was the biggest reaction ever.
MORROW: I think -- I am not dead sure about this, but I think that was the most letters they had gotten in many years.
LAMB: What were they writing about? What were they excited about?
MORROW: Well, they were a mixed bag. They were -- I am trying to remember, it was a while ago. But various comments, and a lot of fundamentalist Christians wrote in to take issue with this or that. But the cover story sort of looked at it from different angles, so I wasn`t -- I wasn`t trying to lay down a line, as indeed I`m not doing so in this book either. I`m not trying to lay down a -- you know, this is -- because I don`t think you can do that. I think it`s too mysterious a subject. And -- but I`m trying to remember what -- what the focus of those letters was. I was -- they were scattered. They were mixed.
LAMB: When you wrote the cover stories, did you feel power?
MORROW: That`s an interesting question. No. I mean...
LAMB: I mean, you would sit at your desk on a Friday afternoon, pounding out a cover story and then all of a sudden Monday, boom?
MORROW: That`s a very interesting question. Well, part of the fun of working -- it was great to work for "Time." In part because of the satisfaction that you -- you could write something and write a big piece like that and, sure, but when you`re putting that together you don`t feel power. You feel all sorts of other things, like panic and pressure and...
LAMB: I was really thinking after that. I mean, you know, the magazine hits the stands on Monday and you see your work, and it`s -- you do it week after week.
MORROW: Well, it`s a good deal of satisfaction. I mean, you know, it was very satisfying to communicate with "Time`s" audience on -- in such a way and -- yes. But power, I don`t think I thought of it exactly as power.
LAMB: How many years did you write for "Time?"
MORROW: Well, I still write for them, but I was -- I am now in contract with them, rather than on the staff. But I was from -- from 1965 to 1996 when I took early retirement, and went on contract with them.
LAMB: Teaching at Boston University?
MORROW: And then I started teaching at Boston University, in addition to doing these other things.
LAMB: When you write, is there, your own techniques, is there any place special you like to write or time of day?
MORROW: I love to write in the morning. I used to be years ago when I smoked a lot, I could -- the nicotine would keep me up all night and I could do that. But I find the best time for me is 7:00 in the morning through until lunch time. And I find my -- I`m freshest then, and that`s when I like to write.
MORROW: Well, I have a great study where I like to write. But sometimes I like to write someplace -- there was a period in my life when I would ride buses and subways and write on the subway. You know, with a pad and pencil. Because there was something about the anonymity or the jostle. It was something about having all that motion around me, and it kind of -- I don`t know what -- it must have released some sort of nervous energy in me. But I liked to do that.
I can write almost anywhere. I mean, I was trained -- when I worked for "The Washington Star" many years ago as a reporter -- the paper is now defunct, but it was an afternoon paper. So we would have to cover a story and then throw a dime, as it was then, throw a dime into the public telephone and, you know, 10 minutes to deadline, you have a notebook and a telephone and just dictate the story, straight into the phone. It was great training for clarity of composition. It really is.
So I would just -- and it was great, because Carl Bernstein and I were dictationists together on "The Star," on "The Washington Star," so sometimes I`d be dictating to Carl or he`d be dictating to me, and it was an interesting way to learn how to write. So I`ve always been pretty good on deadline, as a result. As a matter of fact, I sometimes think I need deadlines, you know, in a journalistic way and that I don`t get myself quite organized until somebody is threatening my life.
LAMB: Who`s the fellow -- I mean, you dedicate the book to, Stefan Kanfer?
MORROW: Stefan Kanfer, yeah.
LAMB: Who is he?
MORROW: He`s a very dear old friend, from many years at "Time." He`s the author most recently of "Ball of Fire," which is a lovely book about Lucille Ball. He wrote a terrific biography of Groucho Marx a few years ago. He`s written a number of other books. He was for years the books editor of "Time" magazine, and before that he was a movie critic. And he`s a wonderful guy. And he`s an old friend.
LAMB: There`s not much time, but I`d like to have you tell the story of the art history department at an Ivy League university.
MORROW: Yes, that was an amazing...
LAMB: Tell us as much as you can.
MORROW: Well, this was an instance of a sort of office malice or the minor kind of -- it was difficult to tell whether it rose to the level of evil or not. But there was -- in a department at the university, a woman -- a very bright young woman -- who had a doctorate and was supporting a husband who also had a doctorate but was unemployed and had a couple of kids and so on, and the department chairman began having a -- an affair with a different woman, another woman, in the department.
And for some reason, this woman with whom the chairman was having an affair took some sort of malicious dislike to the woman that I`m speaking of. And so it was an art history department, and so one day sent her an e-mail saying, oh by the way, who was so and so, and named a well-known 19th century American, Hudson River School artist. And the woman thought it was a perfectly obvious question, but just went to Google, typed in the artist`s name, got a decent little summary of this artist`s biography.
LAMB: This is Robert Cole (ph)? The artist?
MORROW: Yes. And -- and just sent it right by return e-mail to the woman. And so the first woman made a copy of that, went to Google, found the article from which the other woman had taken, printed them both up and lodged a charge of plagiarism against the woman who had done her the favor of sending this little article. And the result was that this was in her file, it was -- it caused all sorts of trouble, it caused terrible personal difficulties, you know, physical stress. And she survived it, but at considerable cost. And it was -- it had -- they had to hire a lawyer, file a suit to have it removed from her jacket, you know, her personnel file.
So the reason I introduced it was that it was -- you know, it`s an interest -- we are all familiar with some case, similar case, I think, but, again, the gratuitousness of it. A small thing, but causing real anguish and real threat to this family`s livelihood because the husband wasn`t working, the woman needed her job in order to support her children and her family. And it struck me that it -- it had -- it was in the neighborhood of something. It was an evil impulse, and it interested me for that reason.
LAMB: Next book?
MORROW: I`m working on a thing about 1948, and about Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon as young men. So.
LAMB: Thank you. Lance Morrow has been our guest. The cover of his current book is called "Evil: An Investigation," and we thank you for joining us.
MORROW: Thank you.
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