BRIAN LAMB, HOST: David Aikman, where did you get the idea for your book, "Great Souls"?
Publisher: Word Publishing
MR. DAVID AIKMAN, AUTHOR, "GREAT SOULS: SIX WHO CHANGED THE Century" Somebody came to me with the idea of a television project on the lives of some of the remarkable people I'd met as a foreign correspondent. And I toyed with that idea for quite a while; couldn't really find anybody willing to go ahead with production. And then another friend said, `Well, why don't you produce it as a book?' So I thought, `Well, that's a great way to get started. And if television comes on sooner or later, we'll do it on television.'
LAMB: Got it on the back--it's a little easier to seen than the cover—the names: Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Billy Graham, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Pope John II and Elie Wiesel. How did you choose them?
MR. AIKMAN: I wanted people who were alive in the second half of the 20th century, people whom I had either met already and interviewed or would have a reasonable chance of doing so in their lifetime; people who were well enough known to be internationally famous figures; people whose attainment had been recognized in a measurable way. For example, four of the six have Nobel Prizes; the other two, Billy Graham and Pope John Paul, don't really need them in terms of recognition. And I wanted the people to have qualities that were identifiable for most of their lives that had really impacted the world around them in a way that we could almost measure.
LAMB: This is published by Word, which is a religious public--I mean, publisher.
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
LAMB: Why this particular publisher?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, they had published a novel of mine that I wrote and published back in 1993, which was not a religious novel at all. It was a perfectly ordinary sort of secular-type thriller. But I'd had some contact with them. I had met some of their publications' officials, and I sensed that they were interested in spreading beyond the merely sort of religious readership that they often focus on. And they were very interested in the project, and I thought, `Well, that's a good sign. I'll go with them.'
LAMB: Let me go through the six and just do a b--a brief synopsis of why you picked 'em.
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
LAMB: We'll come back and go into some detail.
MR. AIKMAN: Sure.
LAMB: The first one would be right here in the--in the front--is Billy Graham.
MR. AIKMAN: I started with him not for any particular reason in terms of importance. They're all equally important, in my view. But I thought the people reading the book would--would probably want to begin with somebody they were fairly familiar with. And the reason I selected him was throughout his life he has focused on the concept of salvation. Of course, he does it from a Christian pro--point of view. But the issue with him was not so much the actual message that he preached, although I feel it's very important, but the way he had lived his life in doing so; that he had somehow, to an amazing degree, avoided the usual traps of success in our century, what the old preachers used to call gold, gals and glory. He had remained and has remained throughout his life remarkably humble, somebody with very firm financial accountability and a morally pure life.
The second one, Nelson Mandela--he was a man I did not originally choose, but somebody suggested me to--suggested him to me. And the more I read about him, the more I got into his autobiography, I realized this was an extraordinary individual whose life has really been characterized, in his most famous period, by the quality of forgiveness: 27 years in a South African white regime prison, comes out and has such a moral authority and dignity and quality of forgiveness that even his white jailers are converted.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Prize winner of literature, 1974, the man whom I quote at the beginning of the chapter, `One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.' Here was a person whose writing, whose resistance to the tyranny of the regime he was brought up in contributed significantly to the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and I think has made him a world-famous figure ever since.
Mother Teresa, beloved lady of--of Albanian background, born in Macedonia, who has epitomized, for the 20th century, the quality of compassion, one human being's extraordinary outreach of love to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, as she chose.
LAMB: Pope John II--John Paul II.
MR. AIKMAN: John Paul II, a man who, I think, will be considered probably one of the greatest popes of all time, not largely because of his identifiable Catholic qualities, but because he has focused throughout his life on human dignity and has done incredible f--things to bring about reconciliation with some of the people the Catholic Church did not originally embrace.
Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize winner for peace in 1986, survivor of Buchenwald and Auschwitz concentration camps and a man whose writing and speaking has focused upon the remembrance of the evil in the human past, hopefully, as a way to guard against repetition in the future.
LAMB: How many of these people have you met?
MR. AIKMAN: I met four of them and interviewed extensively three of them. The ones I have not met are Pope John Paul and Nelson Mandela.
LAMB: Who have you spent the most time with?
MR. AIKMAN: Probably the most time with Billy Graham, although the most actual interviews with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I had three interviews with Solzhenitsyn over a--well, really, the course of five years.
LAMB: How old is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn?
MR. AIKMAN: He was born in 1918, so he's coming up to his 80th year. He's 79 right now, as is Mandela, as is Billy Graham.
LAMB: Where does Solzhenitsyn live?
MR. AIKMAN: He lives in Moscow. He has an apartment and he also has a country house just outside the city, where he does most of his writing.
LAMB: And how many books did he sell in his life?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, that's a good question, Brian. I--I don't know what the sales figures are, but it's safe to say that his "Gulag Archipelago," the most famous of his writings about the Soviet labor camp system, has been translated into dozens of languages. It must have sold several million copies. And then there are his novels "First Circle," "Cancer Ward" and his original book, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," which also, collectively, have sold millions.
LAMB: When'd you first meet him?
MR. AIKMAN: I first met him in 1989, when he was coming up with his re-edition of "August Nineteen Fourteen," the novel about the origins of World War I. And--well, not just the origins but the--the beginnings of World War I. And Farrar Straus, the publishers, said to him, `We think it's a good idea if you have an interview with a major publication. Would you prefer to go to The New York Times or Time magazine?' And he said, `Time magazine.' And I happened to be in the bureau of Time in Washington, spoke fluent enough Russian to do the interview in Russian and was asked by the bureau chief to go and do it.
LAMB: Where'd you find him?
MR. AIKMAN: He was up in his house--his estate in Cavendish, Vermont, which is a--an idyllic environment for a writer--about 100 acres with an absolutely uninterrupted view of Vermont hills and birch trees. And the citizens of Cavendish had that marvelous Vermont attitude that they protect their own and they keep--they keep outsiders out. There was a sign even when I went in 1989 on the--the poster board of the general store which said, `No bare feet, no rest rooms and no directions to the Solzhenitsyns.' So they looked after him, and he was--he expressed his gratitude to the townsfolk when he left in 1994.
LAMB: What did he do, besides writing these books--or with writing these books--that was so special, that makes him great?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, I think the most remarkable aspect of Solzhenitsyn's life is the way he confronted one individual--of course, he did have a number of helpers, but one individual writer: the full power of the Soviet regime, more or less at the height of its global strength between, I suppose, 1965-'66, when he really began to fall out of favor and the time he was forcibly exiled 10 years later. He absolutely refused to be silenced. He kept on writing. He kept on publishing, usually--well, actually, entirely overseas. He kept on refusing to compromise on the principles he felt the regime had violated since its inception. And in that way, he showed how one person can resist terra--tyranny and not only prevail but actually cause the tyranny to change.
LAMB: What was he like to see up close?
MR. AIKMAN: You know, I was surprised, Brian. I had an image in my mind, as I think most people do when they think of Solzhenitsyn, as a rather stern, sort of Old Testament, biblical prophet-type. And, of course, he had the beard to contribute to that sense. But he bounded out of his house, when I arrived with my photographer in the spring of 1989, with a radiant smile on his face, full of energy, great humor, very gracious, a very witty and interesting conversationalist and a man who, one on one, could not have been more delightful to talk to. So the opposite, perhaps, of some of the pictures of him that have kind of grown up over the years.
LAMB: He lived in Vermont for how long?
MR. AIKMAN: He lived from 1976 until 1994 in Vermont. He came to Vermont after a couple of years initially in exile in Zurich, Switzerland. As you remember, he was forcibly thrown out of the Soviet Union in 1974.
LAMB: How long did he spend in prison?
MR. AIKMAN: He was eight years total in the gulag, but it wasn't all in the sort of Siberian salt mine kind of version, which is famous in his novel "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." What saved his life was he had put in one of the application forms you fill out in jail--hundreds of them, I suppose--nuclear physicist because he'd read a Russian translation of the American nuclear project of 1945, and that aroused enough interest that they sidelined him away from the standard hard-labor prisoners into something the Russians called a (foreign word spoken), which was sort of a gilded cage where they siphoned off from the prison population top-qualified scientists and had them work on important national science projects under conditions of—of relative comfort.
So he was closeted in a relatively comfortable place with enough food to eat with the most brilliant intellectual minds and total freedom to discuss anything 'cause they were already in prison. And that really began the process of education that I think turned him from being a convinced Marxist-Leninist to a--a profound anti-Communist at the end of his life.
LAMB: What about--how does morals fit into all your greats?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, the--the definition of--of great soul, as I've described it, is someone of pre-eminent attainment who has one or more character qualities of--of outstanding greatness. And moral because these are people who chose certain courses of action when they were faced with multiple things they could have done. Solzhenitsyn could have become embittered, angry and just given up, but he struggled on, wrote his books, resisted the regime and won out. Mandela could have become a fierce, embittered, anti-white black nationalist. He was 27 years in prison. But he learned the capacity to forgive, which is to say to the jailer, `You know, you're really no different from me, and I'm going to show in the way I live my life in my attitudes that the things I live by are superior to the things you live by.' And that's what he did, and that's why the white regime eventually said, `If we're gonna change without total mayhem, we have to turn to this man.'
LAMB: One of your subthemes in your chapter on Solzhenitsyn is his personal life.
MR. AIKMAN: That's right. He was a man who--his view of marriage--he got married very young in--in--when, I think, he was 20, in 1938 or maybe it was a--a year later. And his idea of a wife was somebody with whom he could have stimulating intellectual conversation and, obviously, the affection that is normal in married life, but who would not interfere with his career as a great Russian writer. She wanted, you know, things that a lot of women want, which was a--a cozy relationship, an ever-present daddy who plays soccer with the kids and takes her out to the theater and--and t--to restaurants and was basically around.
Well, what happened in the marriage--of course, he was imprisoned; she was under tremendous pressure while he was in prison not to reveal who her husband was or where he was. It would have caused her the loss of her job. And they grew apart when they were in prison. She began to live with another man, and the marriage broke up. And for a period of time, I think, Solzhenitsyn was--was sort of very lonely after he came out of prison and started writing.
But then he met this extraordinary woman, his present wife, Natalia Dmitrievna, who a--when he met her, was a 28-year-old, glamorous but brilliant mathematician. And she became his life partner in every conceivable sense that he'd ever hoped for from the beginning, and it turned into a very happy marriage.
LAMB: Now both of them had the same name.
MR. AIKMAN: Well, not the same last name.
LAMB: No, the same first name.
MR. AIKMAN: That's right, the same first name, Natalia. That's correct.
LAMB: But you'd paint a picture where he was having two children by the new Natalia before he'd been divorced from the...
MR. AIKMAN: That's right. That's right. They were--he was separated from his first wife. They were living in completely different places. And he was so immersed in the--the--what you might call the writing of--of the books that caused his eventual expulsion from the Soviet Union that he had this army of helpers. And Natalia Dmitrievna, who became his wife, really became a close confidante and worker and, eventually, they were living together before the marriage to his previous wife was formally terminated.
LAMB: He gave some speeches, and one of 'em particularly controversial in the United States. When did that happen?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, the most controversial speech he gave was the famous Harvard commencement address in 1978 called A World Split Apart. And it annoyed an awful lot of people because he attacked a lot of things in the American media that people today attack. He--he attacked the superficiality, the sort of conventional wisdom that he felt pervaded so many topics under discussion, the obsession with novelty for novelty's sake, sensationalism.
And he made the point that one of the reasons this happens is that in a free society, some peop--sometimes people interpret freedom as license and they go overboard in terms of what they do. By contrast, he said, people who live in highly regimented societies are really more interesting. They're more disciplined. They're more wholesome. And most of the American mainstream journalists in this country were very unhappy with that speech, and it seemed to confirm to them their impression that this was a cranky old exile who really didn't understand America. And we would tolerate him, but he wasn't the sort of guy we'd really like to identify with.
LAMB: Why did he go back to Russia to live?
MR. AIKMAN: You know, it's a fascinating thing, Brian. He said to people, after coming out of Russia in 1974, `I am convinced that one day I will go back with my books and my reputation,' which meant, in effect, for that to happen, communism would have to go. And he told others, `Communism is going to collapse.' And everybody said, `This is crazy. I mean, this is the s—the great Soviet Union, a global empire of tremendous military power. No sign of any cracks in the facade.'
But he was right. And he always wanted to go back because he felt his Russianness, his identity with the soil, the culture of Mother Russia an integral part of his life and identity as a writer. And although he wrote very successfully out of Russia, he longed to be part of the milieu from which he had grown. And so he had to go back.
LAMB: But when he went back, the television show he did--well, how often did he do that, by the way?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, he did it every two weeks, and it didn't last very long. I think it's fair to say that--that he tended to use the show as a forum for enunciating his own ideas rather than, as--as you are graciously doing, sitting here and talking about other people's ideas. And added to which, I think, there were strong political pressures. Some of the f--people he had on the show were criticizing the regime. I don't think the Yeltsin government was very comfortable with that and they yanked it.
LAMB: So if you sat down and read all the stuff that he's written over the years...
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
LAMB: ...or the books...
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
LAMB: ...would it be of any value to you?
MR. AIKMAN: Oh, yes, tremendously. I mean, to read the "Gulag Archipelago" today--I mean, it's still a powerful living book because it's the encounter of a brilliant mind with a great, sardonic sense of humor, insatiable curiosity into one of the most mysterious and, in a way, wicked phenomena of our era that the Soviet labor camp system and the system of--the persecution of dissidents and so forth. And it's one man's encounter with this system, his incredible memory of details that people told him--bringing it to life with a--with a vivid writing style. So I would--you know, I would say that's a great book, as is "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"--very brief summary of a typical day in the life--it's a novel--of a peasant in a labor camp and how he survives and the little details of life that he manages to--to be victorious in, in order to make that day just a little bit more livable in--than other days.
LAMB: On the back--and you have the--the different words that you put by each one. Under his, you have `truth.'
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
LAMB: And then if you move to Billy Graham...
MR. AIKMAN: Yeah.
LAMB: I can't see where I am here.
MR. AIKMAN: Salvation.
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
LAMB: The reason I want to bring that up next is that you said he had a device, after he became a preacher, to protect himself from women...
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
LAMB: ...drink and all this--and--explain all that. How d--and has it worked?
MR. AIKMAN: Well--yeah. It's a very interesting concept. Graham was a young, vibrant evangelist beginning, really, in the--just at the end of World War II with Youth for Christ. He was a dynamic speaker. And the team of young men who were co-evangelists with him got together one day in Modesto, California in 1949 and they said, `Look, we're having some success. People are coming to the crusades, and as far as we can tell, they're responding to our message. But what is it that has been the downfall of previous evangelists, really, for the last century?' And, of course, the--the topics would always come up. Many of them had got into improper relationships with women. Many of them had been less than honest about finances. And many of them had grossly exaggerated the effect of their preaching.
So they decided, i--in Modesto, California, to come up with something that became known as the Modesto manifesto, if you like. Each of them covenanted with the others that during his lifetime, as far as finances go, they would never take money from any of the local committees in the cities that they went as visiting preachers; that the local committee would be responsible for all the collection and all the bill paying and they would only take salaries from their central organization, subject to approval by a board.
They would always take police estimates of crowds, even if they were far smaller than the number of people they thought they had, rather than estimate, `We had 80,000 people.' And finally--and I think most dramatically—each pledged that during his lifetime he would never be alone in a room with a woman who was not his wife, unless the door were open or somebody else were in the room with him. And that way--even traveling in the car, would--would have to travel with a third person. That way, Graham, to an amazing degree, has never been spotted with the sort of suspicion of hypocrisy or wrongdoing that, unfortunately, has--has attached itself to other preachers.
LAMB: You did say, though, he s--he was in a room once with another woman beside his wife.
MR. AIKMAN: That's right. That's--that's true. There is--there was one exception, except it was at--a room filled with people. It was a restaurant, and it was Arkansas and the lady was Hillary Clinton. And they sat at a table in the middle of the room--this was in 1983, when Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas. And, of course, Graham, to his great credit, has never confided personal conversations with people--while they're alive, at any rate--and he has not revealed what took place at this conversation. But that's the one exception.
LAMB: You quote Harry Truman as saying, `He's one of those counterfeits.'
MR. AIKMAN: That's right. Graham made a big mistake, as he's the first to admit, in seeing Truman. It was early on in his career--I think it was 1948--and he and two teammates went into the White House dressed in jazzy white suits, pastel ties. And they met with Truman, who was gracious to them, and I think Graham or somebody said, while they were in the meeting, `Can we pray?' And they probably prayed a generic prayer for the president's safety and wisdom and so forth.
Then they came out onto the White House lawn and the media was there, and they said, `Well, how did it go, and what--what happened?' `Well,' said Graham, `we prayed.' `Well,' the photographer said, `show us how you prayed.' So they all got down on one knee, and the picture appeared in the papers, infuriating Truman, because he thought they had basically used him to advance their own agenda, which they hadn't intended to, but that's the way it looked.
LAMB: When did you first meet him?
MR. AIKMAN: I first met Billy Graham in person in 1975. That was the first interview I did. I was a--a--quite a young correspondent in Hong Kong, and he was conducting a Hong Kong crusade. And I thought, `Well, this is a well-known figure. He's in an interesting part of the world,' and I interviewed him in connection with the crusade. He clearly didn't say anything that the editors of my magazine thought particularly noteworthy. I only got a tiny little box in the People section.
LAMB: How many other times have you talked to him?
MR. AIKMAN: I interviewed him at full length again in 1990, when President Bush was the president, and that was down in--in North Carolina at his home. I had been to his home in 1987 and '88--I think it was actually just once in 1987--and had met him and talked with him and his wife in '87 and 1988 in different places, discussing some aspects of his forthcoming to--visit to China, which he finally conducted in 1988. So I--I did get to know the family a little bit in--in a personal way.
LAMB: You have a quote in here where he says he bites his nails.
MR. AIKMAN: Yes. I have not seen evidence of that in public appearances of him recently, but he is a worrier. And the people who've worked with him and who know him well describe him as someone who--who tends to get agitated at how things are going to work out, who's gonna be there, who's not gonna be there and so forth, and biting nails is--is a--a f--a manifestation of worrying.
LAMB: You've got his salary and his expenses in here--$101,000-plus and $33,000 in expenses. Do you believe that figure?
MR. AIKMAN: Oh, yes, because those--those figures are available for public scrutiny--the tax returns and so forth of--of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. And the board of people who have presided over that association have never once been taken to task for the slightest suspicion of concealment of funding and so forth.
LAMB: How do you explain all the presidents listening to him, counseling with him? And how do you explain his attitude toward every president? No matter when they get in trouble, there's a way that he gets a public position that's not that critical of them.
MR. AIKMAN: Graham is one of these extraordinary people, and when—everybody I've met who's ever met him has come away with the same impression--who makes you feel, when you sit down with him, that--that he's delighted to meet you, that--that you're one of the most interesting people. And he's not playing games. It's a genuine curiosity about people, whether it's some local newspaper reporter or whether it's, you know, the emperor of Japan.
And the quality of both being a sort of--you know, a grown-up version of a naive North Carolina country boy, and yet somebody who clearly has moved with perfect comfort amongst the most famous people of our century—Winston Churchill a--and onward--has made him a combination of a warm, homely person to be around and yet somebody who is not awed by power.
And Graham never went in, as far as I know, to any of these presidents and said, you know, `This isn't right. You've got to change this or do that.' To my knowledge--although, of course, I don't know at all the conversations he had with the different presidents--the only time when he fairly strongly agreed--disagreed in private was with President Clinton over the issue of—of partial-birth abortion.
But even with President Clinton, he showed a degree of graciousness and, well, forgiveness, if you'd like, that has raised eyebrows amongst some of his own colleagues who are men of the cloth. But he was deeply personable with—with Lyndon Johnson. He used to kneel on the floor of the bedroom in the White House, and Johnson poured out his heart to God. And Graham listened and—and encouraged him. And he's done that with all the presidents, regardless of which political party they've come from.
LAMB: You mention early in the interview that this was a television series. Has it aired yet?
MR. AIKMAN: No. We're in a peculiar pos--position, Brian. We--we did the interview with Solzhenitsyn a couple of years ago with a full camera crew, but the producer who had backed it at that time later decided he was uncomfortable with the finances going ahead, so it's in limbo at this point, although we are--I'm making plans to kind of get it off dead center now that the book is out.
LAMB: Where would it be seen?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, I don't know. It depends who--which distribution company or which agency decides that they want to back it. I mean, I think, if you can still get to these people, the ones who are alive and still are alert enough for--for really good interviews, it would be a--a fascinating project to—to see interviews with them and, at the same time, spice--splice in file footage of what they have done and where they've been and different parts of their life.
LAMB: Once in a great while in your book, you can get a parenthelic—thetical expression that will acknowledge that you did something, like show up in Israel to be in the "Romeo & Juliet" play?
MR. AIKMAN: Right. Well...
LAMB: And--and, you know, that you are a Christian believer.
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
LAMB: Is that right?
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
LAMB: And that you went to Oxford at one point and all that.
MR. AIKMAN: Right. Right.
LAMB: Why were you in Israel? What was that all about?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, when I was an undergraduate at--at Oxford, as a complete amateur, I enjoyed acting, and the college I was at, Worcester College, had quite a strong drama program--well, not a program, because it wasn't--wasn't a course, but amateurs who, in their spare time, would act. And I acted in a few of the college plays. And the organizers of my local college dramatic society were well plugged in to the main Oxford group called OUDS, Oxford University Dramatic Society, one of whose leading lights at that time was Michael York. Subsequently, he--he was called Michael Johnson at that time. And w—a director did a very nice production of "Romeo & Juliet" in which I had a p--fairly small part as Tybalt, and Michael York was Romeo. And we--we started off acting in a wonderful, open-air theater in Cornwell, England, like a sort of Roman amphitheater. And then one of our group had arranged a--a tour of Israel. And this was back in 1963. So it was--it was quite an exciting excursion.
LAMB: Did you meet Elie Wiesel in Israel?
MR. AIKMAN: No, I didn't. I--I only met Elie Wiesel--and I, in fact, did not formally interview him--in the late 1980s, when I was wor--1988, in fact, when I was a full-time journalist in Washington and working to try and help get Terry Anderson out of captivity in Lebanon, where he was held. And there were a number of events sponsored by the--co-sponsored by the Journalists' Committee to Free Terry Anderson, in which I was involved. And Elie Wiesel, to his tremendous credit, showed up and sort of lent his own moral force to freeing the hostages.
LAMB: How many years did you spend with Time magazine?
MR. AIKMAN: Twenty-three all together. I left in 1994.
LAMB: What was your reason for leaving?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, I had been around a long time, and I'd been back in Washington 10 years. And there w--there wasn't really the sort of things that I--I enjoyed doing sitting on our doorstep. I mean, covering the State Department was--was interesting up to a point, but I found myself, I don't think, as engaged as one should be in this town. If you're not engaged very long, they'll find somebody who's more engaged. And I--I had already started writing books, and I thought, `Well, now is the time to make, I hope, a gracious exit and do something different.'
LAMB: How many books does this make for you?
MR. AIKMAN: Four by--by myself, and I've been co-author of--of three others.
LAMB: You now do some writing for The American Spectator.
MR. AIKMAN: That's right.
LAMB: Has a high profile for the conservative point of view. Was that unusual for you, to pick a side?
MR. AIKMAN: You know, I didn't go to The American Spectator because I said, `Gee, I want to find a--you know, a really conservative outfit to write for.' I wanted to write for somebody who would basically let me write about foreign policy in a way that I had been doing at Time magazine without a whole lot of interference; from a relatively conservative point of view, but--but not from a partisan point of view. And with few exceptions, everything I write about in The American Spectator has been foreign affairs or foreign policy. And I did one story comparing Blair and Clinton in terms of their Christian faith acknowledgement. But I don't get involved very much in this sort of--some of the main projects they're involved with.
LAMB: Where were you born?
MR. AIKMAN: I was born in--in England, just south of London, actually on D-Day, which I guess gives away when I was born, and in a part of England that became known as Doodlebug Alley. The German V-1 ramjet bombs were flying overhead, and it was becoming a fairly risky place to be, so my family moved us all out to the north of England.
LAMB: When did you leave--after Oxford, when did you leave Great Britain?
MR. AIKMAN: I joined a British overseas bank and they sent me to New York. And I thought, `Well, if banking's going to be interesting anywhere, at least for me, it should be interesting in New York.' And the work I was doing in the bank was, to--to my mind, extraordinarily boring and unchallenging, and somebody suggested going to graduate school. And I leapt at the opportunity and was five years at the University of Washington in Seattle.
LAMB: What is your citizenship now?
MR. AIKMAN: US. I'm an Am--naturalized American citizen.
MR. AIKMAN: Yes.
MR. AIKMAN: Two--two girls, yeah.
LAMB: Where'd you meet your wife?
MR. AIKMAN: She's a Filipino. I met her when I was based in Hong Kong, covering the Philippines. On my first trip over, I was introduced to her by the girlfriend of--of somebody who eventually became a White House press photographer. So it was--it was an interesting connection.
LAMB: In one of our earlier interviews, when you used to come on our shows here a number of years ago, you--if I remember correctly, you were the first reporter into Albania.
MR. AIKMAN: Yeah. I think that's probably true. I--I went into Albania in 1990. I still had a British passport then. I hadn't been naturalized. And I didn't lie on my--on my application. I said I was a--a teacher, which I do—I do some teaching in spare time. And I went in with a British tourist group. And Albania was still this sort of weird kind of utopian paradise with--with a sort of worship of the leader and total isolation from the rest of the world. It was a European version of North Korea.
LAMB: Another one of your great souls, there's six of them, is Elie Wiesel. Why Mr. Wiesel? He's the youngest, I guess.
MR. AIKMAN: Yes. I thought there was something about his life, something about his writing that indicated a sense of commitment to a moral vision that was rare in any human being. And the more I looked into the things he had done, since he became prominent in the late '50s with his incredible book "Night," the more I realized what an admirable person he was and is.
LAMB: What--what is "Night" about?
MR. AIKMAN: "Night" is, again, rather like "One Day in the Life of Ivan—Ivan Denisovich," a very short novel but deeply biographical, describing his first encounter with Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. And he lost his fa--father when the Nazis evacuated Auschwitz inmates and told them to march to Buchenwald. And it's--it's the incredible view of what this--I mean, to use the word `nightmare,' it's almost a cliche--what--what this phantasmagoria of human evil was like through the eyes of a 15-year-old and the sort of pathos of somebody who was not entirely a child only, and yet not--not yet an adult. And it's an incredibly powerful book.
LAMB: Where's he live now?
MR. AIKMAN: He lives in New York City and--well, he commutes. He also teaches up at Boston University. And he travels a very great deal. As you know, he was very critical of the policy of the administration and, indeed, of Western governments in general when Bosnia was being pummeled to bits by the Serb Nationalists in 1992 and 1993. So he's all over the place trying to address issues where you have the threat of genocide taking place.
LAMB: You--you--you talk about an accident that he had where he was hit by a taxi in New York City...
MR. AIKMAN: Right. Right.
LAMB: ...that had some impact on his life.
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
LAMB: What was it?
MR. AIKMAN: It's a good--it's a--it's a good question, Brian, because one of the points I make about the characters in these--in this book is--maybe we can talk about this a little later--is the notion that each of them seems to come to, at some point--that it's almost as though they have a calling. Well, in the case of Billy Graham, of course, and--and the pope and Mother Teresa, they identify this very much in the Christian sense of a divine calling.
But in Elie Wiesel's case, he was a very talented journalist--actually, a foreign correspondent. He was the correspondent for Yediot Aharonot in New York, traveled frequently to Israel. But he was coming to a point where his traditional Jewish religious faith was becoming somewhat frayed. He went to synagogue rather infrequently. He really didn't identify with the kind of search for God that he had experienced as a young man, as a youth, a very devout Jew from a family of Hasidic background.
LAMB: What country?
MR. AIKMAN: He was born in Romania, although later it was transferred by the Nazis to--to Hungary and now it's back in Romania, Transylvania--in a small Jewish town, Schtetl as it became known.
Well, what happened when the--when the accident took place--of course, he was completely incapacitated. He was in hospital and amazing things were going on in the world. The--the Suez crisis was taking place in the Middle East. The Russians were invading Budapest in Hungary. And he was forced, I think, to re-examine what he was doing with his life, what his priorities were, what he wanted to focus on. And it was shortly after that that he had this amazing--well, the--the encounter with Francois Mauriac, the French Nobel Prize winner, led to the publication of "Night" in France in 1958. And that really set him on this pathway of global recognition as a voice of calling the human race and calling the Jewish people to remembrance of evil in the past as a protection against repeating it in the future.
LAMB: Have you still not interviewed him?
MR. AIKMAN: No, not formally. It's a--it's an odd situation. I called him up a few times and we had it all set up. And then he was traveling and then I was traveling and the book needed to get done. So I decided I would simply go ahead with what I had and write the book anyway without a formal invitation--formal interview.
LAMB: What--what did you rely on then for your background?
MR. AIKMAN: For--on Wiesel?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, there was a--a lot of very good biographical and journalistic material on him. There were videos, there were interviews, taped interviews. I read a great deal of his writings on various topics. And I talked to a number of people who--who knew him quite well. So it wasn't difficult, any more than it was with the pope, to get a fairly good flavor of him. And I had actually met him, so I had a certain feel for--for the personality of the man.
LAMB: Mother Teresa. And--did you have a chance to meet her?
MR. AIKMAN: Yes, I did. I...
MR. AIKMAN: I've in--met her and interviewed her for the first time in 1975, actually, the same year I met Billy Graham. And I was in Delhi, covering Indian politics. And, of course, she was very well-known, even then. And I thought, `I can't be in Delhi if this lady's here without trying, at least, to get to meet her.' And she happened to be free and I went along with a colleague from the Time bureau in Delhi. And the interview with her was--was quite as striking as you would imagine an interview like that to be. I--I had no agenda. I--I wasn't, in fact, commissioned by the magazine to do anything on her. And she was every bit as intense and yet non-judgmental on one--in a one-on-one encounter, as you would imagine somebody like that to be.
LAMB: You mentioned the--a number of things like Baby Doc Duvalier's wife...
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
MR. AIKMAN: Yes.
LAMB: And you mentioned Christopher Hitchens' book...
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
LAMB: ..."Missionary Position."
MR. AIKMAN: Right. Right.
LAMB: Why did you bring both of those up?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, I think Hitchens, in his book, "The Missionary Position," he is a--a--a very talented writer, writes for--for Vanity Fair. And he wrote an absolutely vitriolic attack upon her which, I think, in many ways, was more an attack upon the Christian faith. He acknowledges himself as a very--very--well, I don't know what word he'd use, but I would say an ardent atheist.
And one of the ways, I think, he sought to express his non-belief was to find or to seek--search for points of weakness in her career, as though to say, `Look, here's the--the emblem of Christian love and look how flawed she is.' And what he discovered, indeed, were areas, I think, where she didn't exhibit very good judgment. I mean, she--she would take money from people, whoever they were, if they wanted to help the work, without sort of spending much time thinking about their background or how they came to the money. So here she was taking money from the Duvaliers.
LAMB: Charles Keating.
MR. AIKMAN: That's right, Charles Keating. And no doubt other people we—we might not think very highly of. But I think part of it was absolute naivete. I mean, she just--she was, in political terms, I would say, almost completely tone-deaf. She went to South Africa and apparently she did not know of apartheid. I mean, it's--it's hard to beli...
LAMB: Never heard of it?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, apparently, had never heard of it.
LAMB: What year?
MR. AIKMAN: This was, I think, relatively recently, the early 1990s or maybe the late 1980s. When Indira Gandhi proclaimed emergency rule in 1975 and jailed a lot of journalists and instituted a policy of forced sterilization on many Indian mothers, she thought, `Well, you know, crime is down and maybe this is doing something good for the country.' Again, I don't think that was a very perceptive awareness of the realities of Indian life. And yet look who she was. Look what she did.
So my point in this book is none of these people, even Mother Teresa, is flawless. All of them have made mistakes, but all of them, as I say in the introduction--even when they've crossed the line that separates querulousness from skepticism or pride from self-confidence, have come back and have corrected themselves and, in most cases, publy--publicly ac--acknowledged their errors.
LAMB: Pope John Paul II.
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
LAMB: You didn't get to him.
MR. AIKMAN: I didn't get to him, no.
LAMB: What will his legacy be?
MR. AIKMAN: That's a good question. I think he will emerge as one of the greatest Christian leaders of all time--and I'm not a Roman Catholic when I say that--in that he has focused his attention on the most important issues facing the whole of the human race, regardless of religious background; issues like poverty, like capitalism, like war, like peace, like justice, like human life questions--euthanasia and abortion.
And he has addressed those issues in a very dramatic, very immediate way, founded and based upon his own Christian faith, but in a way that ordinary people of many backgrounds have somehow been able to identify with and sometimes even agree with. And he's done it in a manner that also constantly points to reconciliation with people of different backgrounds. And no other pope has gone so far to apologize for what the Roman Catholic Church historically did to the Jewish people. And no other pope, in personal terms, has gone so far in the process of reconciliation with Jewish people, from a Christian perspective.
LAMB: But a lot of the Jewish spokesmen were not happy.
MR. AIKMAN: That's true. They felt that the--the Vatican was still, in its recent, very long prepared document on the Vatican and the Holocaust, had still somehow protected Pope Pius XII from charges that many Jewish people have leveled at him: that he was silent when he could have spoken out; he could have done more. But in terms of acknowledging the historical legacy of anti-Semitism, I think this pope has been more open and been more honest than any Catholic figure in history.
LAMB: You say that by the end of 1996, he had named no fewer than 100 of the 120-member College of Cardinals--I think there have been some new cardinals since then.
MR. AIKMAN: That's right. I think he's now numbered basically the whole college.
LAMB: And you also say that he's named half or more than half of the 4,200--4,200 bishops in the world.
MR. AIKMAN: Right. Right.
LAMB: What's that legacy?
MR. AIKMAN: The legacy there is he has changed the direction of the Roman Catholic Church. When he came into office in 1978 there was a real crisis of confidence, both on the part of the laypeople towards the leadership and on the part of many senior clerics, as to what the church represented. And he, fairly and squarely, squelched the sort of liberation doctrine theology which said, `Well, what we really need is--is a Marxism that's dressed up in Christian terminology.' And he said, `That's not Christian. We're--we're not going to accept that.'
And at the same time he did not revert to a sort of archaic spirituality, but he said, `These are the issues facing the world--war and peace.' He tried to stop the Gulf War from taking place. And I think his legacy will be to impart to the Catholic Church hierarchy for a long time to come a much more vigorous sense of--of doctrinal, if you like, orthodoxy and a--a much more vigorous sense of involvement, indeed, in political affairs around the world. If you look at the number of Roman Catholic figures who've assumed, in many cases, heroic roles in the democratization of their societies, it's quite impressive.
LAMB: What's your own religious affiliation?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, I would describe myself as a Christian. I happen to be of--of Protestant background. I--I used to be an atheist, so my Christianity came through a--a personal experience of conversion many years ago. And I find myself comfortable with Christians of many different confessions, even if I disagree with them theologically.
LAMB: Any particular reason why you--I mean, was there a moment when you went from being an atheist to being a Christian?
MR. AIKMAN: There was, yes. I--I was a militant atheist as an undergraduate, and I used to argue with a--a very gentle Anglican clergyman, trying to persuade him to be an atheist. And he wasn't very impressed with that. But he was very gracious and he would never argue back. He would always agree with me. And I was kind of frustrated.
And one day, after I graduated from college, he was in his study, just saying, `May I read some passages from Scripture?' And I said, `Well, I'm safe here. He's not going to preach at me.' And he read some of the passages from the Gospels, where Jesus is talking very intimately to his disciples, like, you know, `I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.' And I'd heard this stuff before, but somehow at that point it seemed as though Jesus was alive and he was real to me, in a way that I could no more deny than I could deny the existence of my parents. And I knew something had changed within me and I never looked back.
LAMB: How often do you find people like you in the media?
MR. AIKMAN: More than you think, Brian. I have bumped into a number of Christian believers, both Catholic and Protestant, in many different parts of the world. In fact, one of the things I've been doing recently is to try and set up a global network of these people. And these are top-flight journalists, many of them, who--I won't name names because, you know, they may not want to be publicly known--but people with first-rate jobs in serious mainstream organizations. And they don't preach at anybody, they don't proselytize. They just do their job in a wonderfully professional way. And their lives reflect the quality of the faith they have.
LAMB: The final member of your "Great Souls" book here is Nelson Mandela. Have you met him?
MR. AIKMAN: No, I haven't. I had a long tussle with the South African Embassy in Washington, trying to get to him fairly early on in the book. And I had all kinds of good connections in South Africa, but he--he's very closely protected from the media by a sort of phalange of--phalanx, I should say, of--of press assistants, and so I didn't get to him in time to do the book. But I did get down to South Africa. I--I looked at Robben Island from a boat, bobbing offshore.
LAMB: What year?
MR. AIKMAN: That was 1997, I was in South Africa.
LAMB: And now it's open.
MR. AIKMAN: Yes. Now you can get there. You couldn't then. You couldn't land on it.
LAMB: How many years did he spend in prison?
MR. AIKMAN: Twenty-seven.
LAMB: How would you describe him, from what you could read?
MR. AIKMAN: A man of immense personal dignity. More and more of the accounts you read and you hear from people who have met him reflect a sort of gentlean--a gentlemanliness, almost an old-fashioned Victorian courtliness about him, which I think derives not only from the fact that he came from a chieftain's family but that he profoundly respects the human quality in every human being and he rises to--to meet you when you walk into a room.
A man of great humility and a man who has translated his experience of suffering into a profound wisdom, not infallible, of course. There are certain things I would certainly disagree with in his conduct of the government since he became president. But as far as reconciliation goes, I know of no political figure in the 20th century who has displayed the kind of graciousness towards a--a formally fiercely adversarial foe than he has done since being in office.
LAMB: After spending--how--how long did it take to do this book?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, I think I really started writing and researching in 1995 and I did my really serious solid writing during 1996 and 1997.
LAMB: And after doing all this, you mentioned "Night," "Gulag Archipelago." Are there other books that you recommend to people that are--that y--you know—I know you cite a lot of books, Malcolm Muggeridge is one...
MR. AIKMAN: Right. Right. Right. Right.
LAMB: ...that you cite often in the back. He's mentioned in more than one chapter.
MR. AIKMAN: That's right. He is. I--Muggeridge is--is, of course, he's been dead a few years now, but he was--had a wonderfully incisive insight into why certain things were important and other things were not. And in no better way did he demonstrate this than describing Solzhenitsyn as one of the great—you know, one of the greatest men alive in that time. But as far as books go, there are many excellent biographies of--of all of the people.
I think one of the most impressive books is Mandela's autobiography, "The Long Walk to Freedom," which is a very powerful book describing his experience of--of the hostility and rage of his jailers and how he dealt with that. There are some good biographies of the pope. And, in fact, the definitive biography will be out in probably a couple of years by George Weigel, who has had access to the pope to an unprecedented degree, plus to all of the people he knew in childhood.
LAMB: You write in the introduction, `I know that I was influenced in my own life, in the course of writing this book, a point that even my most astute critic of all, my dear wife, noticed. It seems that being as close as I was to these admirable people through my writing, I could not help but unconsciously seek to emulate them.'
MR. AIKMAN: Right. I think, more than anything else, that came out in the sense of focus these people have had; the preoccupation with not wasting time, with not being trivial, with really zeroing in on what they were called to do. And as I saw the intensity of that focus, I thought, `Well, I think I ought at least to try to be a little bit more serious about my own work and be a bit more conscious of--of some of the things I've taken for granted previously.'
LAMB: You mention that Vaclav Havel...
MR. AIKMAN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama didn't quite make it in this cut.
MR. AIKMAN: Right.
LAMB: Why only six and why didn't those--why did you mention those three and are there others?
MR. AIKMAN: Well, there's nothing mystical to me about the words--the number six. It could have been seven, it could have been five. But the six were characters who, I would say, would turn up on almost anybody's list. And I—I mentioned in the introduction that some conservatives would not agree to the inclusion of Mandela or perhaps even Wiesel and some liberals would not be comfortable with Pope John Paul or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. So there--there's something for everyone. But Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, Dalai Lama, wonderful people though they are, I'm sure, have not had the global impact fro--in the course of their lives that these other people have had.
LAMB: Our guest has been David Aikman, former correspondent for Time magazine. And the book is called "Great Souls"--Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Billy Graham, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Pope John Paul II and Elie Wiesel. We thank you very much.
MR. AIKMAN: Thank you, Brian.
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