BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Michael Kelly, what's the reason for the title of your book, "Martyrs' Day"?
MICHAEL KELLY (Author, "Martyr's Day: Chronicle of a Small War"): Martyrs' Day is a day every year in which the Iraqi honor their war dead, which is a fairly large population in Iraq since they've been engaged in one war or another ever since the Baath Party took office. And on that day, by decree of the state, there is a ceremony held in Iraq at the Martyrs' Monument, at which war widows and war orphans and various other people go to have the official ceremony honoring the dead. And I went to it on the Martyrs' Day after the end of the Gulf War and attended the ceremony as a reporter. And it struck me at the time as a wonderfully emblematic moment about Iraqi society, about the wretchedness that Iraq was, about the wretchedness of the lives of the people there.
This is this what is supposed to be a great day of national emotion, but it is really something utterly machined by the state, by the Baath Party, so that the people trooping up to pay their respects to the dead, with their banners and their bouquets of flowers, are one after another party hacks or bureaucrats or military off -- they are functionaries of the state, every single one of them. And I had a minder with me, a gentleman from the Ministry of Information and Culture who was assigned to watch over me. And at one point, he saw whispering in my ear what each deputation is; you know, "This is the Iraqi Students Association. This is the Iraqi Doctors Association" -- all of which are party organizations. And at one point he saw a deputation come up and he got excited. He said, "What? They have no banner. Perhaps this is just ordinary citizens." And then the wind shifted and it blew over a banner and he said, "Oh, no, it's just the Ministry of the Interior after all." And I thought, you know, this is, to me, that was a moment, and I wrote the first chapter of the book about that -- a small chapter just to sort of set the tone, and I took the title from that.
LAMB: Before we get into some of the contents of this, give us a time period that you were over in the Middle East.
KELLY: I went to Iraq the first time, to Baghdad, about a week before the war began and stayed through the first night and day of bombing that was the opening of the war in Baghdad, and then left to go to Amman and then from Amman on to Tel Aviv and Saudi Arabia, to Kuwait and Iraq for the ground war, to Kurdistan for the Kurdish rebellion and its -- and the flight of the Kurds and then back to -- finally back to Baghdad the last time about a year after the war ended for my last trip. So most of my traveling was over a period of about a year from just before the war began to about a year after it ended.
LAMB: Who were you working for when you were over there?
KELLY: In those days I was working for myself, which is a nice state for a writer to be in. And I suppose the reason I was able to see all that was because I didn't have any bosses telling me to come home or to leave a place. And I was stringing for the Boston Globe and writing magazine articles for The New Republic and for Gentlemen's Quarterly.
LAMB: Did you come close to either death or being injured in any way?
KELLY: I came close, I suppose, to something along those lines a couple of times. I found the first night and day in Baghdad with the bombing frightening, but I don't suppose that I really was in any danger. I mean, I was underground in a bomb shelter much of the time, and when I was outside during the day, nothing fell near me. And the bombing was remarkably accurate. Most of it was a -- most of the rest of the time, even going through the ground war, traveling with a reporter friend of mine, Dan Festerman at The Baltimore Sun, was not too dangerous. The only thing, I suppose, that was dangerous was going back into Kurdistan at the end. I was traveling alone in the Kurdish-held part in the north of the country, which was illegal, of course, and I got dysentery then. And it proved to be such a fast illness and so debilitating that I got very sick and couldn't move much, couldn't keep on walking and hitchhiking to get out. And for a few days there I was scared.
LAMB: How did you get over dysentery?
KELLY: I found somebody -- some rebel -- Kurdish peshmerga troops took me to a mountaintop headquarters of Jalal Talabani, who was one of the Kurdish -- is still one of the two primary Kurdish leaders, and, being a big shot, he had a doctor. And his doctor had a little bit of antibiotics, not enough to get rid of the sickness but enough to sort of cripple it. And eventually, nine or 10 days later, I was able to get out of -- sort of kept walking and hitchhiking rides to the Turkish border and was able to cross the river there into Turkey, where I could get to a real doc -- no, he was a real doctor, I guess -- a doctor who had supplies.
LAMB: Who's Max?
KELLY: Max is my wife, Madeline, and she was in the war at the same time I was, which made it a kind of a nervous-making experience for both of us, because I was in the Arab world and she was in the Israeli world, which, as you know, there's almost -- it's very hard to communicate between the two. She was in Tel Aviv as a producer for CBS News during all of the Scud attacks when -- at the times when I was in Baghdad or Amman, and we would keep in touch via New York -- telephone calls from Amman to New York to Tel Aviv and so on, which is a sort of routine dodge that everyone does over there.
LAMB: You two got together during the war?
KELLY: We did, for her birthday in Tel Aviv and a night on which, happily enough, there was no Scud attack and, instead, we went to a very good party.
LAMB: You're doing what now?
KELLY: Now I'm a White House correspondent for The New York Times.
LAMB: Did this experience over there lead to this job now?
KELLY: I suppose it did. When I had written a number of -- a bunch of stories for The New Republic, and those were pretty well received. And when I got back to the States at the end of the war and was busy writing the book, Howell Raines, who was then the Washington bureau chief, asked me to come in for a talk, and he and I talked and that led to a job.
LAMB: When you set out to either go to the Middle East and cover the war or write this book or a combination of both, what was your mission?
KELLY: I wanted -- I didn't know at the beginning that I had any mission. I'm not a very organized person, and I started it out almost by accident. I wanted to go to Baghdad and see the beginning of the war and write something about it. I had no larger thought in mind. But once I started it, I got more and more, I suppose, impressed by what seemed to me a great difference between the texture of what you could see on the ground, the way that war -- this war or any war -- the remarkable things that happen in a war, the things that happen to people and the astonishing displays of emotion: cowardice and bravery and terror that you see all around you all the time.
So I got impressed between the difference between what I was seeing there and what it seemed to me the war was being presented as, not by any conscious design but, I -- I suppose, just by an accident of circumstances, in an almost euphemistic way as a rather bland antiseptic event. That the public face of it was often a reporter standing outside a briefing room or reporters asking questions in a briefing room or something and I thought that much more was happening, that there should be -- that while television had fulfilled this extraordinary role in the war, making it the first war in video time, the first war that video cameras could actually capture and put out on satellites, that there should be a place for a writer to pay attention to the very small details and work it carefully, describing the things that actually happened to individual, unimportant people in a time of war, because I think that's an astonishing time.
You see things that you don't see at other times. One of the things that struck me during it, I was watching one day in Kuwait City this young man standing in front of a television crew in an abandoned theater, in a concert hall, really, in Kuwait City. And the television crew had brought him to that spot because it was the spot where he had been tortured by the Iraqis, and they wanted him to stand in front of the place where the torture rack had been and recount the tale of his own torture, which, astonishingly enough, he was willing to do. And while he was doing it and the video camera was capturing this, he was silently crying and the tears were streaming down his face as he talked of his own torture. And the producer whispered instructions to the cameraman to get the right sort of shot and everything. And I thought this is an astonishing scene to see something like that, and the only way you can capture that is by writing about it later at a remove and trying to get it down just so. You see in normal life almost nothing like that. You might see in the course of a lifetime two or three people cry. In a war, I probably saw 30 or 40 people cry. People cry all the time. It's a routine event. You walk down the street and you see somebody crying. You don't even know why. And I thought a writer might be able to put some of that down on paper.
LAMB: Where did you learn how to write?
KELLY: From my father. My father was a newspaper man and I -- and a lovely writer, and I started studying his style when I was very young, six or seven, I suppose.
LAMB: What's his name?
KELLY: Tom Kelly.
LAMB: Where does he write?
KELLY: He writes now for The Washington Times and he's about two-thirds of the way finished his first novel, a mystery novel, set here in Washington in the Great Depression.
LAMB: Born in Washington?
KELLY: Born in Washington, grew up on 4th and Constitution.
LAMB: I wrote down on the front of the book or actually in the back of the book -- your bio, the places that -- of course, now that I'm starting this, I haven't got the page open -- where you've lived. It'd probably be easier for me just to ask you. Here it is. I've got Washington, New Hampshire, New York, Cincinnati, Washington, Chicago, the Gulf, back to Washington for The New York Times. What's all that about?
KELLY: I have quit a lot of jobs at one time or another to try different things. I started out in television in New York working for "Good Morning America" as a booker, and I quit that to become a newspaper reporter in Cincinnati, and I quit that to become a newspaper reporter in Baltimore and then in Washington, and eventually quit that to become a free-lancer because Max had gotten a job in Chicago and I wanted to follow her. So I went to Chicago to free-lance and that's where I started writing magazine pieces and longer writing.
LAMB: Now that you're back here in Washington at the White House for The New York Times, where is she?
KELLY: She's here. I'm happy to say we're married.
LAMB: And what does she do?
KELLY: She's a producer for CBS News here in Washington.
LAMB: If you were to name one part of this book that left the biggest impression -- or the experience around the part of the book that you wrote, which one would it be?
KELLY: The biggest impression on me?
KELLY: I suppose some of the things I saw in and around Kuwait City I had never seen before, and I don't think many people have seen what happens to a place that is occupied by an army out of control. And much of this got to what I was talking about earlier about the difference between the sort of euphemistic way in which we sometimes talk about things and the way they really are. What happened in Kuwait City was so extraordinary and to walk through it, to see the endless blocks of gutted and looted and savaged buildings and to go through the morgues and see the torture -- you know, I spent one whole afternoon just in the morgue going from torture victim to torture victim; to talk to the people and to see, to hear their terror and so on. That made a great impression on me because I thought then and I think now that there was some misunderstanding perhaps in this country about why, in a moral sense, this war might be considered necessary or just. And I had my own doubts about that before I went to Kuwait City. And after that, I never had any doubts about it again, when you see what actually happens to a people who are taken by a hostile army and by an army that is intent on a campaign of looting and murder and rape and so on, it removes, in a very clarifying way, any confusion you might have had in your mind about whether it was a good or a bad idea to stop this sort of thing.
LAMB: Was it worth all the price that this country paid for?
KELLY: In my mind, yes. I mean, in my mind, it was absolutely worth it. First of all, we paid a very small price. The coin of war is death and we paid almost nothing in that coin. In financial terms, I think the price was quite bearable. In terms of what it netted this country, the obvious things -- the stopping of the threat to the oil supply, the obvious economic reasons are enough, but it also, I think, sent an astonishing message about the United States to the world that was worth a great deal. And that message is in keeping with the message that is now being sent in Somalia: the notion that a great power -- the sole remaining great power might be willing to use massive force to stop something terrible from happening for reasons that are, at least, in part, altruistic; in other words, for reasons, at least, in part, because it is the necessary good thing to do, is a tremendous thing to do, and it won us much more, I think, than we realize in the Middle East.
When I went over for that first trip to Baghdad and Amman, the conventional wisdom in Amman -- the writing in the newspapers, the talk among the intelligentsia -- was all to the effect that the United States. It was obviously working in concert with Israel, was going to use this as an excuse to start a new program of colonization of the Middle East; that once American troops were in, they would never leave, that they would end up taking the riches for themselves. And when the United States did not do this, when it did what it said it was going to restore Kuwait to the Kuwaitis and then to -- to leave -- it went, I found when I went back to Amman a year later, a very long way to changing the perceptions of at least some people in the Arab world about the United States; to seeing the United States as not necessarily and completely evil, which has been the prevailing view for many years.
LAMB: Your first trip ever to the Middle East?
KELLY: My second. I had gone to Israel before, but never to the Arab world.
LAMB: One of the things that you get in the book is a little bit of a travel log. I know it was under rather restricted circumstances, but let me go through the countries you were in and just have you do it quickly, give us some of the feelings you have about those places. Try Israel for a moment. What do you think of that?
KELLY: I was tremendously taken with one great difference between Israel before the war and the second time I went during the Scud attacks. And when I went to Israel the -- the first time, before the war began, it seemed to me a country in something of a funk. The Intifadah had been going on, I think it was in its third year, I believe, and it had recently escalated to knife attacks and gun attacks as opposed to the merely stone throwing. The political debate was utterly polarized, with left and right and very few people left in the center having a voice. There was an awful lot of talk about depression and you know, a neurotic society and so on and so on.
I went back during the Scud attacks and found a country that was living like London in the blitz; a country where merely being there, staying in Tel Aviv during the war, and not running away, was an act of conspicuous bravery, so that a person could become a hero fo -- and that's a rare and difficult thing for a person to become -- simply by getting up in the morning and going to work in Tel Aviv. And that did a wonderful thing for that society. People were bursting with joy at being Israeli again and that to the Israelis, astonishing fact that for the first time in the history of the Jews, another people had proved itself willing to actually fight on behalf of Jews. Then when the Americans came in with the Patriot missiles, to the Israelis, that was astonishing that some -- that a non-Jewish people would come in and say, "Yeah, we're on your side. We'll fight for you and with you on this." It did an awful lot to the national psyche -- or for the national psyche.
LAMB: What did it do for American servicemen stationed there with the Patriots during that time?
KELLY: I think it must have been a wonderful time for them. I mean, I could only see it as an observer, but they were the toast of Tel Aviv, which is a beach town and a -- and, to some degree, a party town so it's a place that would naturally be fun for a young American serviceman to be. But in this case, I think it must have been wonderful. I mean, they couldn't walk down the street without women coming up to kiss them and, you know, men coming up to shake their hands. People would invite them home for dinner. People would -- there were billboards all over the city thanking them, advertisements in the newspapers thanking them every day.
KELLY: Cairo, I found, I suppose in an odd way, the most intimidating place I saw just because it is so overwhelming. There are, I think, 12 million people in Cairo now, and it is approaching society as a black hole. It's so dense that nothing can escape. And I was only in Cairo for a matter of days trying to get from there to Saudi Arabia for the beginning of the ground war, but it was long enough, I thought. I liked Cairo. It was exciting, but it was -- you know, it was like New York, but New York ratcheted up 10 degrees above even where New York is today. I mean, everything is noise. Everything is chaos and confusion.
LAMB: What about the Egyptians, the people?
KELLY: They're wonderful. They were, of all the people I met in my travels, I suppose the people I liked the most immediately. I traveled during the Gulf War -- Dan Festerman, a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, and I traveled with the Egyptian army. The American Army at that time had all these elaborate rules about press participation and coverage it seemed to me to make coverage almost impossible or at least not worth doing really. And one of the rules was that if you weren't part of the pool system, they would actually arrest you and put you in a stockade for the night. The Egyptians didn't care at all. Dan and I just sort of wandered into an Egyptian army column on the morning of the second day of the war and asked a major if we could tag along. And he said, "Well, sure. Why not? I mean, it's a free desert." And that was their whole attitude -- "Sure. Why not?"
LAMB: Get back to that trip during the actual war itself, but when you travel, how do you keep track of all this? Do you keep a diary as you went every day?
KELLY: I take an awful lot of notes. I suppose I filled 40 or 50 notebooks during the actual war, and I write every night or I try to write every night in a hotel room longer things, reflections and so on that doesn't -- fill-in notes at the moment, but a lot of notes.
LAMB: But if we saw you traipsing about in the middle of writing this book, would you be weighted down with all your notebooks and a PC or...
KELLY: Yes, I travel very heavy, which was a problem. I never know how to underpack, and by the end of my last trip when I went to Kurdistan, one of the reasons it was so difficult getting out of Kurdish Iraq was that I had somehow gotten to the point where I was carrying three large pieces of luggage, and as somebody who didn't have a car, it's a sort of insanity. I know other travelers who have this problem, but I never throw anything away. I pack everything. I save local newspapers wherever I go and I get heavier and heavier and heavier, and I end up, you know, with 150 pounds of stuff sort of dragging behind me.
LAMB: How about interpreters, by the way?
KELLY: I hired interpreters as I went along in each country, either for a week or for a day or something, but I went every day with an interpreter. I don't speak Arabic, and you find an awful lot of people who speak English. But you really should have -- you need to have an interpreter with you.
LAMB: As a free-lancer, do you have to pay for that yourself?
KELLY: Yes, I had to pay for everything myself and get reimbursed as I was sort of maxing out credit cards and rolling the debt along and beseeching editors for reimbursements to keep going.
LAMB: And how expensive it is to hire an interpreter for a day?
KELLY: Not too bad. It depends on where you are, but anywhere -- it depends on the market is driven by how many journalists -- foreign journalists are in the country. But it could be anything from a few dollars a day to 150 bucks a day. Again, it's all market driven.
LAMB: How did you travel between these countries?
KELLY: I would either fly in or drive in, and then once I was in the country, would sometimes I would -- I rented a car, a Nissan four-wheel drive kind of thing. Dan and I -- to cover the ground war itself so we could just drive through the desert. Through Iran and Iraq, I sort of half hitchhiked and half took taxis. In Iran, I took taxis. In Iraq -- in Kurdish Iraq, I mean, I mostly just hitchhiked from one rebel group to another. They would pass me along. In Baghdad, it's easy to travel -- there's tons of taxicabs there and you just take a cab, and you usually have a minder with you and a government car sometimes, too.
LAMB: And when did you ever run into a situation where no one spoke English?
KELLY: Yes, a couple times. I guess no more than a couple times. Fairly often you'd run into something but never in such a way that it was a tremendous problem, that in trouble that I couldn't get out of because no one spoke English. Usually, there will be somebody in a position of authority if you get stopped by an army patrol or something, fairly low down on the level of authority, on the level of a lieutenant or something -- you'll find somebody who speaks English because everyone is taught English in schools in every Arab country, I think.
LAMB: You write about the difficulty of going from Israel to an Arab country and the need for a couple of passports and all that. What's the reason for that and how's that work?
KELLY: Israel occupies this odd state in the Arab mind. It's at once a devil state and, simultaneously, it doesn't exist so that there can be no official intercourse between Israel and the Arab world. You can't place a phone call from Amman to Tel Aviv, even though the two cities are only a few miles apart really. But because it's in everybody's interest to keep communication open for commerce and for other reasons, all sorts of elaborate dodges have been built into the system to allow people to actually travel and to communicate.
For instance, if you go to a travel -- I went to a travel agency in Amman to get from Amman to Jerusalem. Now you can't do that directly, but you can fly to Larnaca on Cyprus, which is just a hop of a flight, and then fly from there to Tel Aviv and then drive to Jerusalem. And everybody will work with you to make that possible, even though you're not really supposed to -- officially, you're not supposed to be doing this. But the whole system works on everybody looking the other way, so...
LAMB: Let me ask you just a quick question. You fly -- from Amman to Larnaca is how long?
KELLY: Oh, I suppose it's about less than an hour.
LAMB: From Larnaca to Tel Aviv airport?
KELLY: Fifteen -- 20 minutes or something.
LAMB: From the Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem, how long?
KELLY: It's a half-hour drive, 40-minute drive. If you drove directly from Amman to Jerusalem, you could drive the whole thing in about, I think, two hours or something, crossing the Allenby Bridge. But you keep -- everybody who routinely goes from the Israel to the Arab world or vice versa keeps two passports, one stamped -- good for Israel and Egypt only, since Egypt does allow correspondents since Camp David with Israel; and the other for the rest of the world. So that when you go into -- if you go from Larnaca, for instance, to Tel Aviv, when you enter Israel, you use your Israel only passport, and when you exit Israel on the other end -- let's say to go, as I went, from the border near the Gaza Strip to drive across the Sinai to Cairo -- you use that again, but entering on the other side of the line, the Egyptian immigrations and customs building, you use your rest-of-world passport.
Now the Egyptian customs officer knows that you came from somewhere; that the last entry in your passport is for entering Larnaca. And there's a gap of time. And he knows very well you've just crossed Israel, but everybody is committed to the notion of looking the other way if necessary. And the telephone system works that way, too. The travel agent I worked with in Amman to make that trip, for instance, she asked me if I needed a hotel room in Jerusalem. And I said, "No, I was going to say with Max in Tel Aviv." But she said, "Well, if you did, it's easy for me to arrange it." I said, "Well, how can you arrange that?" And she said, "Oh, I have a cousin in Brooklyn. He has a fax machine. The phone on the fax machine is automatically set up to forward the call to another cousin we have in Jerusalem. So I fax my cousin in Brooklyn, his phone forwards the fax to Jerusalem. The cousin in Jerusalem reads the fax, makes you a hotel reservation. It takes two minutes."
LAMB: When you're in Cairo, you went from there to where? And what time frame are we talking about?
KELLY: I drove from the border across the Sinai to Cairo, and that took only a day. And then from Cairo -- hung around for a few days beseeching the Saudis for a visa. And then went from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain to Dhahran, arriving in Dhahran in about, I suppose, two days before the beginning of the ground war.
LAMB: By the way, this isn't your actual passport here, is it?
KELLY: That is actually a picture of the Iraqi visa from my passport that my editor had to make a picture of that.
LAMB: Did you have much to say about the size of this book, you know, the actual -- not the number of pages, but it's a smaller book to hold...
KELLY: It is.
LAMB: ... And what the cover looked like?
KELLY: I had a wonderful editor, Sharon DeLano at Random House, and the size of the book, the way the cover looks and so on all reflected her ideas of the way she thought it should look. And I thought it was beautiful, actually, by the time it was finished. So I was very happy about it.
LAMB: Have you had any surprise reactions from people who read this?
KELLY: A few. My mother and a few other people in my family were sort of annoyed at me for not mentioning more at the time about how sick I'd been in Kurdistan and finding out about it in the book. I had not really mentioned it an awful lot. A few people have seen things in it that I didn't see when I wrote it. And I think it, to some degree, it is a book that people see in it what they want to see. A couple people have told me that they saw in it what my views were about the Gulf War and so on and -- which are not explicitly stated in the book. And it was interesting to me to find out that everybody sort of saw my views as what they wanted to see; that those who were against the Gulf War thought it was a needless war, that the United States had acted improperly. Some people who hold that view, which is not mine, have told me that they can see that in my writing. And others who thought that the Gulf War was a necessary war and that the United States prosecuted it well have told me that they can see that in the writing.
LAMB: Cairo -- getting into Saudi Arabia -- how did you get there?
KELLY: It's not that hard. You just need to fly to Bahrain and then you can drive over the causeway into Dhahran, which is an oil-pumping city that, if you remember, was the -- sort of a jumping off point for the ground war. In Dhahran, I did not want to take part in the pool system and wanted to go out by myself or with a partner -- Dan. So we had to spend a day or two getting outfitted, renting a four-wheel drive and scrounging around to get some military clothes so we could sort of try to pass ourselves off as belonging there.
LAMB: What about the inverted V?
KELLY: We found that the Allied troops had painted inverted V's on all of their vehicles as a sign to themselves that that vehicle was proper and belonged in the combat zone, and so we went to a Safeway or some sort in Dhahran and bought masking tape and colored it black with magic marker -- I mean, a pathetic exercise that wouldn't fool anybody. But to my surprise, it got us through. I mean, we got to checkpoints and there would be a military policeman there, and they would see the inverted V and salute. And Dan and I looked less like soldiers than anybody else, and we were always amazed that this worked, but it did work fairly well. We we would get turned back at a few places, but by and large we were able to wander around at will.
LAMB: The first day of the Gulf War was?
KELLY: I'm not sure if I remember the date exactly now.
KELLY: Was it the 21st, I think, of February -- something like the first day of the ground war or the bombing...
LAMB: Well, you're in a -- just want to get a time frame from where we're talking right now, because I wanted to ask you this. Here we are about two years later.
LAMB: The day we're taping this, the announcement was made that Pete Williams was going to become -- he was the former spokesman during the wartime...
LAMB: ...going to become a correspondent for NBC. They've re-signed Tom Kelly, the general who did all the briefing here in Washington, to be a consultant at NBC. Norman Schwarzkopf has written his book, made lots of money walking around the United States, making speeches. You're now at the White House for The New York Times. And a man that you write about a lot in here, George Bush, is in town this evening -- this particular evening when we're taping this, to give the only speech that he's given since he was defeated for president.
LAMB: Anything come to mind two years later?
KELLY: I was, I suppose, like everyone else, surprised that the successful prosecution of the Gulf War bore such meager political fruit for George Bush. I would have thought and I think most people would have thought, during that week in which we were watching the victory parades in New York and in Washington, that there'd be tremendous resonance from this. And I don't really know why -- that there wasn't. I don't know if it's because we now live in such an astonishingly fast paced and sort of information overloaded society that nothing has resonance beyond a few weeks anymore.
I mean, that seems to me one possibility. Everything is utterly transient now in politics. You're a hero because of this, and a month later you're a goat because of some economic figures. I think that a different politician -- a better politician, somebody who was actually good at communicating as Bill Clinton is, could have made the resonance stick; could have gotten a good deal more political mileage out of the Gulf War. George Bush always struck me as having an astonishing lack of ability to seize an emotional moment and make it his own. As Ronald Reagan always had this tremendous -- Ronald Reagan could see his emotional moments that had nothing to do with him, that he had no claim on it.
For instance, going to the beaches to -- for the remembrance of the landing at Normandy, that is not anything that Ronald Reagan had anything to do with, but he knew how to use communications, to use people like us and to use television to make that work for him. George Bush had the opposite trait, that something would happen on his watch, something of extraordinary power, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he would show no ability to take it and make that politically his own moment.
Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan, if the Berlin Wall fell while they were president, would have been over at Checkpoint Charlie so fast and -- standing on the wall, you know, right there in a perfect shot. And ush, I think, in a communications age, greatly suffers from not -- from not having that ability.
LAMB: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see you in this book hardly ever talking to officialdom. The people that I just mentioned were people that you don't talk about in here.
KELLY: I didn't cover any -- I didn't spend any time with them. I spent no time in any of the official structure at all. I did spend some time talking to American soldiers and officers but on a fairly low level. People that I found on the battlefield in Kuwait City and places like that and just talked to. But I didn't have any real contact with officialdom.
LAMB: Did they know who you were?
KELLY: I don't think so.
LAMB: Did they care who you were?
KELLY: When I got to Dhahran, they asked me to sign some paper saying that I would be part of the pool system, and I tried to read it. It ran to three or four pages of dense type, and it seemed to prohibit everything I could imagine wanting to do. So I didn't sign it and went and got some coffee instead.
LAMB: If you were there now with The New York Times, would you have to sign...
LAMB: ...would you have to sign it?
KELLY: I'm sure I would have. Yeah. That's one of the great advantages of being a free-lancer, is that you exist outside the rules that the grown-ups make. And the pool system was a compact between the military and the American news organizations so that anybody who worked for a news organization as a staffer -- and I had friends who suffered greatly from this who felt tremendously frustrated in their ability to get out and cover the war. Anybody in their position was part of that compact. A New York Times reporter would be part of that compact or a Washington Post reporter or a Boston Globe reporter, anybody.
LAMB: Now do you feel any different when you sit down to your typewriter or your PC or however you do that? Do you carry your own portable with you?
KELLY: Yeah. I carry a little Radio Shack or something like that.
LAMB: I mean, the difference between running around in the Middle East by yourself and now working for the establishment, New York Times -- what goes on in your head when you sit down to the typewriter?
KELLY: I suppose that I think a lot about the ability you have in writing a book -- something of that length and something -- without the conventions of journalism to bind it -- the ability to tell a story in detail and to use the accrual of detail to paint pictures. I think if I miss anything in newspaper writing, it's that. It's difficult to do that in newspaper writing because of the limitations of time and space and because of the conventions of newspaper writing.
LAMB: On the back of your book you have a note on here from Robert Hughes, author of "The Fatal Shores." Do you know him?
LAMB: How do they get something like this?
KELLY: I think that the publishing company routinely asks authors and other writers, when they have a book coming out, to read advanced copies and give what amounts to a review quote.
LAMB: Back to the book itself. You did join the Egyptians there in the middle of that war. How did you find them?
KELLY: I was sort of -- Dan and I were wandering, somewhat lost, through the desert looking for an army. A little embarrassed -- at least I was because we had been looking, at that point, for an army for many hours. It took us -- we couldn't find the war at first, which is mildly humiliating. I mean, to go out and be prepared and have your fake inverted V on your car and everything and to not be able to find the largest ground battle in history. But we did find it eventually, and, I suppose, by accident. As I remember it, we were just driving along and we ran into, all of a sudden, a very large group of men with guns and tanks, and we knew right away that that was an army.
LAMB: How did they treat you?
KELLY: They were great. They treated us wonderfully.
LAMB: Speak English?
KELLY: Yeah, somewhat. They let us come along with them. They let us watch them do whatever they were doing. We didn't get to see much in the way of fighting because there wasn't much in the way of fighting in the ground war, a testimony, I think, to the extraordinary job in which the Allied forces and the American military did in waging the war. They had so overwhelmed the Iraqis, who are, I think, except for their Republican Guard, at best, a reluctant enemy. The average Iraqi private was not at all interested in dying for Saddam Hussein in the trenches -- that when the ground war began it would be unfair to say that there was no fighting because it would suggest that the soldiers didn't have a job to do, which is wrong; they did. And I think they did it extraordinarily well. But there was an awful lot more surrendering than there was fighting. Most Iraqis gave up as soon as they could and to anyone they could give up to.
LAMB: Tell the story when you came upon -- you're in your Nissan truck, or was it a van...
KELLY: Four-wheel drive, one of those things, yeah.
LAMB: Four-wheel drive. And you came upon the Iraqi soldiers.
KELLY: That would have been the second, I guess, day of the ground war, or the third. And Dan and I were trying to get to Kuwait City because it was clear that the war was, for all practical purposes, over. And we wanted -- if you remember, it only lasted 100 hours, and we wanted to get to Kuwait City for the liberation. We were trying to make our way up a highway that ran inside Iraq, ultimately, to Kuwait City, and picking our way through it slowly because the Iraqis had set dynamite charges in places across the road so to stop you from going forward and because there were mine fields all around, and not all of them were marked and you had to sort of watch your step.
And it was dusk and it was raining and it was miserable, and we came, suddenly, upon a group of wretched-looking men holding -- standing in the middle of the road waving a white flag -- a T-shirt on a piece of bamboo, I think. And they were clearly Iraqis and they were unarmed and they cut a pathetic sight. I mean, they were desperate to surrender because it was getting on to night and it was freezing cold and it was raining and I don't think any of them had eaten in some time. And they were afraid that if they stayed out on the battlefield, somebody might mistake them for people worthy of killing. So they asked to surrender to us, and we didn't want to do it. I mean, we tried to tell them we were not in that line of work, that we were...
LAMB: Just the two of you?
KELLY: Yeah. And...
LAMB: Did you have an interpreter with you at this time?
KELLY: No, and they sort of -- only one of them spoke English, and it was a very little bit, but it was clear. And we fumbled our way, I think, at least for myself, in a state of mild embarrassment through this exchange where we were like people trying to beg off from a dinner-party invitation. We didn't want any part of it. We just wanted to...
LAMB: But you gave them some of your food.
KELLY: ...to leave them alone. We gave them a lot of our food and orange juice and things like that, but we didn't want to take prisoners because it seemed it wasn't our role. I mean, we were not in the prisoner-taking business. So we pushed on and went on a little farther, but were turned back by a mine field that had not been cleared.
LAMB: By the way, I kept asking myself ...
LAMB: ...when I was reading your book, how did you fuel? Where did you get ...
KELLY: We bought in Kuwait City, before we set out, 15 big jerricans at a hardware store, something like that, and filled them up with gasoline and carried -- we carried them with us in the back of the thing at all times. So, you know, anywhere between 10 and 15 jerricans filled up with gas.
LAMB: So anyway, you pushed on. You found the mine field and then you turned around.
KELLY: Turned back because it was getting dark, and if the mine field wasn't cleared, we were not going to try to get across it in the dark by guesswork. And came back and saw the poor guys still trudging along in the rain, and it was just too miserable to leave them there. So we took them not as prisoners, but more as taxi drivers. I mean, we were not -- this was not an act of subjugation on our part. We were merely escorting them. And they climbed on top of the car and in the car and so on, and we took them a little farther on to give them to the 1st Army Unit, which we ran across, which was a Saudi supply brigade that had not seen any action.
And they went bananas over the prospect of capturing the enemy and went around jamming clips into their rifles and yelling and so on and terrifying the Kuwaitis, who thought that they were all going to be shot in the sand. And so the Kuwaiti -- I mean, the Iraqis. So the Iraqis are crying and carrying on and, you know, praying and Saudis are yelling. And Dan and I are standing there be -- bemused at the side and not knowing -- I suppose I didn't know what to do. But it devolved very quickly into something that wasn't -- again, sort of not like what you think of a surrender in a time of war. The Saudis had no real interest in hurting the Iraqis or -- there was always among the Arab troops a sense of kinship with the Iraqis, a sense that they were, after all, Islam and Arabic and that they should not be killed. The Egyptian army, for instance, went to, I think, considerable pains, from what I saw, to avoid killing Iraqis. They would wait and let people come to them and surrender rather than take a building by storm and so on.
LAMB: There's one point, though, you said that you saw one of the Saudi soldiers go over and give the Iraqi a kiss.
KELLY: Yes. At the very end, which I suppose was a signal to all of us that nothing bad was going to happen, the Saudis soldiers calmed down a bit, and as they calmed down, the Iraqis started to calm down. And one of them went up -- and there was one Iraqi who was sort of weeping and clutching at himself and he gave him a kiss, I think, on each cheek. And then everybody sort of relaxed.
LAMB: You went to Kuwait.
KELLY: I went to Kuwait ...
LAMB: How long did it take you, by the way, from that time?
KELLY: Not too long. The next morning we went back to that highway, and the mine field had been cleared in the early morning by, I suppose, American and perhaps Egyptian troops, and there was a path through it. And that was the last mine field between us and Kuwait City. So we were able to get to Kuwait City by about noon of that day and get past a few checkpoints and into the city itself.
LAMB: Time has gone by fast, but some things that's left for people to read in this book. You spent how much time in Kuwait?
KELLY: I spent about two or three weeks, I think, in Kuwait and in the environs around Kuwait up to the Iraqi border and so on and up the highways where the Iraqi army had retreated and had been -- if you remember, the roads, where they had been blown up and so on, in retreat. About two weeks, mostly...
LAMB: How were you feeding copy back at this time?
KELLY: There was, in Kuwait a fairly quickly way of communications so that you could dictate things. Two or three news organizations released -- no, more than that. Probably six or seven brought in satellite phones. All the networks had one. And the Boston Globe, for whom I was stringing, had a half-share in a satellite phone with Time magazine, I think, and I think maybe one other news organization. So you could get a satellite phone out in the evening.
LAMB: What are people at the Boston Globe and at The New Republic and places like that telling you while you're over there? What is it they like? What is it they want more of?
KELLY: You couldn't get -- there wasn't enough time to have long conversations about a lot of stuff, but I think most of the reporting that was done in Kuwait City was, I mean, to some degree, self-evident. You come into a city that has been occupied by an army and is now liberated and you're going to cover two things: one, the story of the liberation; and two, the story of what it had been like under occupation. And so every day you just go out and do a different facet of that story.
LAMB: Is there any one piece that you wrote while you were over there for any of these publications that got the most feedback?
KELLY: I think probably I wrote a piece just before I left Kuwait City about the amir's new palace for The New Republic to the effect that the US Army Corps of Engineers was involved in the business of refurbishing, along extremely swank lines, a palace for the amir, who was coming home to Kuwait after sitting out the war in luxury digs elsewhere. And, you know, the spectacle of the Army Corps of Engineers supervising workers during things like putting fresh silk up on the walls and installing new gold faucets for the bathrooms in a city where people were still without food or water or so on, I think, got a lot of attention.
LAMB: You also write some about sanctions. Did they work?
KELLY: No. I don't think they did. I don't think they ever would have. I think that the smuggling links, which have now been amply proven between Jordan and Iraq, would have always kept enough going that the country could not be forced into compliance with the United Nations' will by sanctions alone, mostly because the people who run Iraq, Saddam Hussein and his fellow Baath Party leaders and military leaders and so on, they run a gangster state which they control absolutely. And the notion that the sanctions might cause tremendous suffering to the people of Iraq, which they did and, indeed, still do, is not, I don't think, a tremendous concern. The people who run Iraq -- the men who run Iraq still eat quite well and drink quite well and have mistresses and very nice Mercedes that they took from Kuwait and so on, and their life is not that painful.
LAMB: White House corresp ondent for The New York Times. Is that the pinnacle?
KELLY: I don't know. I never thought of that. I hope...
LAMB: Is it something you always wanted?
KELLY: Yes. Sure. Why not? Absolutely.
LAMB: What's it mean? What kind of a job is it?
KELLY: It's a fun job right now. This is, I suppose, one of the best of all times to be watching a new administration, since his administration is trying to do so much so quickly. There is a sense every day, I think for most people in our line of work in Washington, that you're here at a time where there is an awful lot of substantive change about to happen or in the midst of happening and that that is thrilling.
LAMB: Got any sense of what the White House thinks of you?
KELLY: No. I don't have any great sense of it. I don't really, I suppose, look for any great sense of it.
LAMB: Any sense of what you think of them?
KELLY: I'm still in a process of learning about them. I don't really -- I mean, they are work in progress. I try not to form any final conclusions about them or anybody else I cover on a day-to-day basis.
LAMB: People treat you differently now that you're in this job?
KELLY: I don't know. My mother doesn't, not at all, or my wife, so I don't think too much, no.
LAMB: Your father's a reporter for The Washington Times?
KELLY: That's right.
LAMB: You say he influenced you to get into this business.
LAMB: What was it like growing up in the family?
KELLY: It was great fun. We grew up in Capitol Hill, and my parents ran a -- I suppose, a kind of typical newspaper family house and there were always people over for dinner. And there was always lots of commotion at the dinner table and lots of people arguing about the events of the day and a lot of excitement in the air. I grew up watching grown-ups argue around the dinner table at great length about things that they were not particularly well-informed on, which is excellent training for a life in Washington.
LAMB: What did your mom do?
KELLY: My mom is also a writer. She writes about child care for The Washington Post and other newspapers. She has a syndicated column and writes books on child care also.
LAMB: What's her column called?
KELLY: The Family Almanac, Marguerite Kelly. And she writes books called the "Mother's Almanac" and "Mother's Almanac II."
LAMB: And after a year or so on this book -- by the way, is there going to be a paperback line?
KELLY: Yes, there is.
LAMB: What's the best thing that people will say about this book, from your standpoint?
KELLY: I would be happy if they said that the writing was good. I wanted to write something that was not a journalistic account as much as it was a piece of writing. I wanted to write something that would use writing to look at the way war affects what happens in times of war -- not the Gulf War, but war in general -- and the way people are and the way they behave. I would be very happy about that.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1993. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.