Skip to main content

Columbo is Back in Top Form

TV critic David Bianculli previews the ABC telemovie "Columbo: Ashes to Ashes" starring Peter Falk. It airs tonight at 9:00.

04:07

Other segments from the episode on October 8, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 8, 1998: Interview with Bruce Hoffman; Review of Joni Mitchell's album "Taming the Tiger"; Interview with Sebastian Barry; Review of the television show "Columbo."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: OCTOBER 08, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 100801np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Bruce Hoffman, Terrorism Expert
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

Terrorists have been adapting new tactics, and the American government is trying to figure out how to react. The Clinton Administration is restructuring its plan for responding to terrorist attacks involving chemical or biological weapons.

My guest, Bruce Hoffman, has written a new book about past and present trends in terrorism, and what those trends say about why terrorists do what they do.

His new book is called, "Inside Terrorism." He directs the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He's about to take on his new position as director of the RAND Corporation's Washington office where he will focus on terrorism research.

Hoffman says that the Irgun, the Jewish group that revolted against British rule in Palestine established a revolutionary model which was emulated by terrorist groups around the world. The Irgun was commanded by Menachem Begin who later became the Prime Minister of Israel. I asked Hoffman about the new and effective tactics the group used.

BRUCE HOFFMAN, DIRECTOR, THE CENTRE FOR THE STUDY OF TERRORISM AND POLITICAL VIOLENCE; AUTHOR, "INSIDE TERRORISM": Begin was very savvy in an era long before CNN and long before global media as we know it now, in it's almost immediate daily form. He realized that the most effective way to get the British out of Palestine wasn't necessarily to beat them on the battlefield, but to beat them, let's say, in the war of propaganda.

And to appeal not to an audience its previous acts of violence. Revolutionary violence had been done to an audience within your own country to rise up, so his strategy was to appeal to world opinion, and particularly to take the struggle, at least psychologically, out of Palestine, back into London, back to the British voter.

But I think pivotally also to New York and to the United Nations organization, to bring international pressure to bear on Britain, by, in Begin's words, turning Palestine into a "glass house" that no one could ignore looking at, but at the same time everybody was looking into, and thus, putting pressure on the British to leave.

GROSS: And you think that became a model for other terrorist groups?

HOFFMAN: Yes, I think certainly the most successful terrorist groups of the 1950s, let's say the first generation of postwar anti-colonialist groups, those organizations that certainly saw to appeal to international opinion were more effective, and by this I'm thinking of the FLN in Algeria, who in their revolt against French rule choreographed or orchestrated their biggest acts of violence to coincide with the opening of the United Nations General Assembly for example.

Just like the Ergundson (ph) sending this direct message to diplomats. And we see that in the 1960s, really, the archetypal exponents of the successful approach, the Palestinians, now not just using violence in their own country, focusing attention on that, but taking the struggle outside even the region of conflict, deliberately involving other citizens from other nations, and therefore creating this environment that no one could ignore their cause.

GROSS: Let's get to the PLO. Now you say that the PLO invented modern international terrorism on July 22, 1968 with the hijacking of the Israeli El Al commercial flight from Rome to Tel Aviv. Describe the act again and what happened.

HOFFMAN: Certainly, there was nothing new about airline hijackings. In fact, the first one was perpetrated, I believe, in the 1930s. And certainly during the 1960s your any number, for instance, homesick Cuban nationals hijacked American planes going to return to Cuba essentially.

What separated the PLO action, actually it was the PFLP, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one of the constituent members commanded by George Hubasch (ph). What set this apart from those terrorist acts is that the motive was undeniably political. They were specifically targeting a symbol of sovereignty of nationality; El Al is the Israeli national carrier.

Also, too, I think they were using that airliner and its passengers as a form of traveling theater. In other words, they were creating a media event that was impossible to ignore, and that they could turn it on and off like a faucet of water, you know, increase the pressure by landing it dramatically in a foreign capital, issuing demands, then taking off again, landing again in another capital, issuing more demands. So it was a way to constantly apply pressure on governments.

And I think this sent a powerful message to many similarly aggrieved minorities, ethnic and nationalist groups throughout the world, who saw that through terrorism they to could thrust hitherto ignored, disparaged causes, and thrust those causes onto the world's agenda through a series a very well timed, well orchestrated acts of violence.

GROSS: Another turning point that you mentioned in the history of modern terrorism is the attack at the Munich Olympics. Describe what happened then.

HOFFMAN: Well, there really...

GROSS: This was 1972.

HOFFMAN: Right, it was September 1972. What the terrorists did was, in essence, hijacked the worldwide media that, of course, had descended on Munich to cover the Olympic Games; and to hijack that and to focus their attention to arrest the world's attention from the sporting event to, on the one hand, the plight of these Israeli athletes, the 11 Israeli athletes that had been seized; but also, just as effectively, to focus worldwide attention on the Palestinians' plight.

And I think one could quite persuasively argue that whoever was ignorant of the Palestinian, of their cause, of their travails, of their, you know, refugee status were far less ignorant in the days after the Munich Olympics, because now everyone knew about the Palestinians and knew about their plight.

GROSS: OK, so you just mentioned two major PLO terrorist acts that helped to bring their plight, you know, to the attention of the world. So then the world it's really familiar with the PLO, but the actions continue at that point. What meaning do the actions have?

HOFFMAN: Well, the actions continue in the sense that the PLO, I think, spawned a lot of imitators because no matter what governments say, they always say terrorism doesn't work, but many groups, not just PLO, the Irgun, the Arioca (ph), the FLN showed that terrorism does work, and it can be actually very effective because why would anyone pay attention to these peoples and their causes if they weren't using violence.

So I think the PLO spawned a whole raft of imitators, or successors, but then you had a problem of increasing number of terrorist groups competing for what one might describe as a diminishing audience share. In other words, terrorism wasn't quite the big news that it once was when the PLO burst on the scene with airline hijackings.

A very small dissident group, South Malucans (ph), in the Netherlands, for example, seizing a train again following on this, they couldn't get on a plane so they seized a train instead. But following on this idea of seizing civilians and turning them into this traveling theater analogy I use.

So the trouble is you have more groups competing for attention that's become more used to terrorism. So I think tragically and unfortunately in a pattern we still see today that the answer for many of these groups is just to kill more and destroy more in order to get the same amount of attention that a far more discreet terrorist act might have gotten 10 or 15 years ago.

GROSS: The major thing that you see happening now is the coming together of religious extremists and terrorism. What are the most recent examples of that that you would offer?

HOFFMAN: Well, I think the most clearest, most recent example would be the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, where the motive, of course, is political because terrorism itself, I think, has to be political. That's what separates it from other forms of violence that don't have this political motive.

What's new is that there's now a religious justification or legitimatization for the violence. That it's done not only as a way to influence people and to gain power to change mankind or to change international politics in a certain way, but it's been justified not on the basis of abstract ideologies as was the case during the Cold War, or even by nationalist justifications, but now in essence that they feel a divine mandate that God has commanded them to carry out this violence to fulfill some sacred objective.

GROSS: What problems does that pose for a government that is being asked to respond to the terrorists?

HOFFMAN: Well, we see in Northern Ireland how there's the potential to solve a long standing violent situation like that through negotiations through political concession, through autonomy, power sharing. I think very standard political remedies.

To a holy terrorist who has a fundamentally different worldview, who feels, I think, very aggrieved and very cast on the defensive, and that's the other point too, we tend to look at terrorists particularly religious terrorists as mindless fanatics. I think far from that, they actually have an inner logic and there also, to a certain extent, they see themselves as reluctant warriors.

But how do you approach that person? What concession do you give to someone who believes they're committing violence to better serve God or to fill some Divine mandate. It's hard to see how amnesties, economic incentives for example, or some devolved form of autonomy or power sharing is going to satisfy those types of aims.

GROSS: Well, let's take the bombings of embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. What would do you think we ought to understand about the terrorists and their motivations?

HOFFMAN: Well.

GROSS: Not that they have taken credit for it. That's part of the problem. How can you responded at all if you don't know who is responsible?

HOFFMAN: Well, I think that's hitting the nail on the head. I think terrorism has always been a very difficult if not intractable problem, but the bad news is it has become even more difficult because now you have a situation where terrorists don't claim credit.

In the past, for example, the groups such as the traditional stereotypical terrorist organizations like the various Palestinian groups, like the IRA, like the Basque separatist group. Etta (ph), for example, the Red Army faction in Germany, would claim credit for what they did. Not only would they claim credit, but they would offer in very turgid and overwrought prose, but explain to us exactly why they did it.

So that also made our response somewhat easier because we knew how to address their problems. So I think the fundamental challenge would be in these African bombings, is first, try to divine what the terrorists. I mean, it's a very different phenomenon now in that there hasn't been a credible claim issued and the only sort of information one has are very vague and hazy demands that the United States withdraw all crusader infidel forces from what they see as the Holy Land. In other words, Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia, that is.

You get to a position where do you want a terrorist group or even if this Osama bin Laden is obviously the person behind it, do you want one man dictating to a country what its foreign policy should be. But I think, nonetheless, though one has to understand that there is tremendous enmity now directed against the United States from certain parts of the world that obviously, part of, at least, making progress against the problem is addressing the reasons and understanding the reasons why there is this enmity in working to ways to counter it.

GROSS: My guest is Bruce Hoffman author of the new book "Inside Terrorism." We'll talk more after our break.

BREAK

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bruce Hoffman. He is the author of the new book "Inside Terrorism." He is also the new director of the Washington office of the RAND Corporation where he will be focusing on terrorism research.

One of the things we are seeing now which has everybody worried, is the coming together of religiously motivated terrorism with weapons of mass destruction. I mean, a good example would be the Amishinrikio (ph) use serum gas in Japan.

You say in your book that it used to be assumed that terrorists weren't going to use weapons of mass distraction. Why did anyone assume that?

HOFFMAN: Well, there was an adage that Brian Jenkins, who is really one of the founders of terrorism studies, had coined in the 1970s that at the time was quite accurate: the terrorist wanted a lot of people watching and a lot of people listening and not a lot of people dead.

In other words, there was this assumption of part of terrorists that they could kill small numbers, but do so dramatically, and get a lot of attention, whereas they risk if they killed a lot of people alienating precisely the same people who, of whom they wanted attention from.

They weren't going to influence the world, let's say, to take their plight seriously if they killed a lot of people and therefore alienated any sympathy.

That I think began to change with the advent of religious terrorism because the mechanisms of the means of justification and legitimatization were very different. You didn't have people necessarily seeking to influence or to mold opinion as much as to serve their particular deity or their particular God, and therefore wrap their violence in this justification, that, I mean that if God knows I did it, that's fine. I don't have to publicize it. I don't have to claim credit.

And this, in turn, has led to a built-in escalatory spiral at least the potential for an escalatory spiral because many of these religious groups because of the profound alienation see the world in terms of us against them, and therefore if you're not a member of their particular group, and this is why the nomenclature the religious terrorists use, all religious terrorism is so fascinating, their enemies are never spoken of in human terms they're always dehumanize and called infidels, mud people, dogs, curs, things like that.

That they feel are unworthy of life. They God has annointed them as God's messenger, that is the terrorists, that all these other people are nothing. So that to kill them--there's just very little restraint--to kill them is justified with religious literature sanctioned by clerics. I mean, this is why in many of these groups, not just Islamic ones, they don't operate unless a religious figure blesses their active violence.

So this, then, for them almost justifies widespread open-ended violence against anyone who is not a member of their religious sect.

GROSS: Do think of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the bombing of the World Trade Center have been both an example of religious groups using weapons of mass distraction.

HOFFMAN: No. No. I think perhaps somewhat controversially that both were religiously motivated. I think the World Trade Center, many people would agree with me, that there was certainly a group of people brought together who were Muslims who opposed the United States' support of Israel and various other Middle Eastern governments, who were motivated, at least to come together certainly, through a common place of worship and a common belief system.

Oklahoma City -- I think that McVeigh very much traveled in White supremacist circles that not only were sadicious and antifederalist and also opposed to gun-control, but also very much believed in the Christian identity credo, which is really the thread that connects White supremacists in America together now. And it is very much for religious movement.

McVeigh himself admitted that he was a Christian Patriot. I think the import of that was not quite understood when it was reported, that he's Christian patriotic, but rather that refers to a specific belief system that incorporates the identity church and the identity doctrine. So, yes, I think it's religion.

Weapons of mass destruction? No, because I think when we talk about weapons of mass destruction we're really talking about nuclear, biological, chemical weapons that have the potential to kill in the thousands. It's tragic that 168 perished in Oklahoma City, and certainly several hundred were injured, that 12 people died at the World Trade Center, and 5,000 were injured. But we're still talking about conventional weapons. I mean, they were big bombs, and the bombs were designed to have a very profound effect to bring down two buildings, but it's still not, I think, technically what we should really call weapons of mass distraction.

GROSS: Do you think we should be preparing for a terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction that will kill large numbers of people? Nuclear, chemical, biological weapons?

HOFFMAN: Well, I think it's a genuine threat. The question is it's a threat, too, probably has low likelihood, but potentially astronomical consequences, both immediate and physical and psychological. I think the challenge for any government is to steer that middle course between reacting prudently to a threat that's not that likely but that will have enormous consequences.

GROSS: My guest is Bruce Hoffman. He is the author of the new book "Inside Terrorism," and he is the new director of the Washington office of the RAND Corporation, where he will be focusing on terrorism research.

There is a peace agreement in effect in Northern Ireland now. Looking back over the IRA's many years of terrorist actions what would you say the IRA's legacy is now in the history of terrorism and its effectiveness?

HOFFMAN: I think quite simply that terrorism works. I think the IRA has shown through its persistent certainly, that Irish nationalism was a force that had to be reckoned with, that couldn't be pushed aside, that had to be addressed. Then I think very much in recent years particularly since the breakdown of the cease-fire, the initial cease-fire in 1996, that demonstrated quite clearly again this analogy of turning on the tap of violence, how pressure can be brought to bear against the government by disrupting all traffic going into London, for example. By plotting to blow up the electrical power supply that feeds into London, by threatening to blow up bridges.

That violence can be a very effective lever in animating governments to come back to the negotiating table even though they may have pledged not to negotiate with those men of violence. So I think it's shown once again that terrorism works.

GROSS: This was a really long time for that peace agreement to be in place.

HOFFMAN: It has, and I shouldn't be completely cynical or pessimistic. I think that what's happened in Northern Ireland, I think defies even the most pessimistic observers. But I think it's worked that way because it has less, in some respects to do with what they IRA has done and the Irish people, and having been there several times myself, I think there is such a groundswell of feeling of the Irish people that they have had enough of this that it has become powerful enough to the man of violence in both the nationalist and unionist communities couldn't ignore it, that they had to respond to it.

So I don't think we should give all that much credit to the, sort of, new found peacefulness of either the Irish Republicans or loyalists in Northern Ireland. I think a lot of credit really goes the people of Northern Ireland.

GROSS: When you say that terrorism works to mean that terrorism works when the terrorist group has a real legitimate political point that it is trying to make, or do you mean just any prolonged amount of violence against a power is eventually going to be effective?

HOFFMAN: Well, that's a very good question. I think one has to make a differentiation. On one level terrorism works when it attracts attention to a particular group into its cause that might not have been attracted had they not resorted to violence. Whether they can parlay, whether they can turn that attention into political leverage, I think, involve the skills of people who have proven themselves to being either visionaries or statesman.

Menachem Begin would have to be one of those people, but certainly Yassar Arafat, Gerry Adams today, so I think you have to be careful. It works. It certainly does provide attention on, as I said, hitherto ignored or rejected causes. It works less well and less consistently in actually bringing power or the fruition of a particular group's aims but I think if used properly and applied strategically it can bring to many aggrieved peoples the benefits together that government is saying terrorism doesn't bring to them.

GROSS: I'm wondering from what you've seen of times when the terrorist group actually wins in the long run, what they do with the victory?

HOFFMAN: What I think they find that it is easier to be a terrorist organization than it is actually to be a governing body. I think terrorist organizations are enormously innovative, enormously organizationally resilient in the sense that they are small, they're not large bureaucracies. You have people who, revolution is their vocation, that's what they're all about so that they are susceptible to change and they're willing to adjust and adapt. They often have to make do with very limited means and resources.

I think they find that once they're in power that it is entirely different. That, firstly, they have constituents now that they have to directly answer to, not only the past they have purported to represent. They find that the issues of day-to-day government are not nearly as romantic or that this idea of changing the world, now you just have to achieve something like open up the sewage lines, for example, or send children to school.

I think they find often in power it's different than being in the terrorist organization when they come to power, and I think also, too, that they are very intolerant of dissent. Often they suppressed any attempt to not to just roll back the revolution but to redefine the revolution in ways that their particular organization no longer thinks are appropriate.

So you find this problem as we see the Palestine Authority accusing themselves of being repressive towards the Palestinian people. So I think it is enormously difficult when they do come to power.

GROSS: Well, Bruce Hoffman, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

HOFFMAN: Thank you for having me.

GROSS: Bruce Hoffman is the author of "Inside Terrorism." He is the new director of the RAND Corporation's Washington office.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Bruce Hoffman
High: Director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, Bruce Hoffman. He's been studying terrorism for 20 years, and advises governments and businesses around the world about it. He has a new book about the history of terrorism, "Inside Terrorism."
Spec: Bruce Hoffman; Author; Terrorism; Violence

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Bruce Hoffman, Terrorism Expert

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: OCTOBER 08, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 100802NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Sebastian Barry
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:35

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Sebastian Barry is a writer from Dublin whose plays and stories cover key moments in his country's, and his family's history.

Theater critic Robert Brucestein (ph) described him as one of three writers who justify the statement: that at the end of the century Ireland again seems to be a spawning ground for some of the strongest dramatic writing in the world.

Barry's best known work is the play "The Steward of Christendom." His new novel, "The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty," is about a young Irishmen who joins the British army in World War I. Finding no job opportunities back home after the war, he joins the British led police force, the Royal Irish Constabulatory. But his friends have joined the IRA in revolt against British rule. And those friends black list him and send him into exile.

I asked Sebastian Barry to describe what the Royal Irish Constabulatory meant after World War I.

SEBASTIAN BARRY, AUTHOR, POET, PLAYWRIGHT: It was the police force of the country essentially. Indeed, it was the refuge of many a young man, and many an Irish Catholic family was reared on the wages of a policeman. But, of course, as after 1916 after the revolution as the war of independence got going these imperial institutions began to mean something quite different. A job that might have been quite all right, quite admirable, quite normal suddenly becomes the job of the traitor.

GROSS: I'd like you to read a short excerpt of your new novel "The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty." This passage describes a little of what the IRC is like when Eneas joins it.

BARRY: "Out at six they are in their gray coats. The peaks in their caps as black as blackbirds feathers. And rain or shine the boots, making the crippled cobbles ring. And they wheel and stamp and take the orders as the one animal.

"A hundred boys in similar coats, and the fresh reds of the dawn cluttering up the lower gaps between the buildings. At end of training, each man gets his gun and bullets. All about the barracks the countryside is boiling with sedition and treachery and hatred, according to Sargeant William Doyle of Letram (ph), of Letram in these latter years, but an aft lone boy in times gone by, so he will tell you.

"As such, a useful man to herd his men about the dangers districts. And, indeed, ferocious events are afoot in the sacred web of fields and rainy towns. It isn't just murders and such or killings, you couldn't call them that. Wherever, and all I've seen man uses a gun and wounds or kills in a skirmish. Some man in his uniform is taken, and God help him, in the dark hedges and isolated farms.

"Such a man, might be gutted with a big knife and his entrails fed to the homely pagan front of him, and the last leaks of life drained out of him, then slowly and silently with terrible swipes.

"Next thing, the RIC is augmented, as the official word goes with an auxiliary force and now the merry dance gets wilder back and forth. For these are men as strange and driven as the Irish heroes themselves."

GROSS: That's Sebastian Barry reading from his novel, "The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty."

Many of the members of the Royal Irish Constabulatory at the time your novel is set have just come back from World War I. How do you think that effected their behavior and their view of their work?

BARRY: The most notorious group of the period was the -- was the Black and Tans. The Black and Tans were really a ferocious group of people, and they were attached to the IRC as an auxiliary group. It's sad, really, that they were composed sometimes of heroes of the First War and in our terms maybe there was a great understanding, of say, post-Vietnam of those tormented heroes that were without help, who were on reconstituted.

I think some of the Irishmen who came back from the war, conversely, went to the other side of things and the trauma of the war informed their actions within the early revolutionary movement.

GROSS: You mean the Irish soldiers who fought for the British during World War are now fighting against them?

BARRY: For the British, we say now, but all of our grandparents were born British. There wasn't that distinction, the distinction was created by the movement towards independence. So you know, even--in 1916, the very day of the uprising groups of soldiers were been sent to the north wall to be shipped out to France, and when news of the rising came they were sent back into the city to deal with the revolutionaries. But they themselves were composed of Irish people.

You can see how impossibly complicated that made not only at that present time but in the future and memories people had that time, there were so much to hide and so much covering over, its part of the engine of this book is that such a man as this not only had two erase his own life, but had his life erased because it is inconvenient history for a family to function in Ireland.

GROSS: Who is the character of Eneas based on?

BARRY: I almost hesitate to say he's "based on," but the little feather I had to begin the bird of the book let's say was a great uncle of mine. Again, I say great uncle of mine with great confidence and yet he's so shadowy sometimes I wonder did even exist.

This man did something or other at that time in Ireland in the '20s, got himself into some sort of trouble, I mean it's very vague with whatever the revolutionary movement was and did have to leave Ireland. Was not heard of again. My mother remembers him very vaguely trying to come back to Ireland like a pigeon homing. They weren't even allowed to go near him in the house when he was back. They weren't even allowed to tell anyone that he was home, so that when this man was home his real name was Charlie. When Charlie was home, Charlie was not home.

For me as a child that was an anecdote, and, indeed, it became a rather exciting anecdote when my grandfather and his brother told me the story of tracking down this man through the war office because he hadn't seen him for decades, and it was his own brother. They had both been in the army and he was able to get his address at the war office in London. He went to a little hotel on the Isle of Docks (ph) which is just at the edges of London city, and asked for this man. He was told, yes, he did lived there but wasn't there that evening he would have to come back in the morning.

Now my grandfather neglected to give his name, he said he was from Sligo and when he came back the next morning he found the hotel burned to the ground. And he assumed that, or you told me that he assumed, which might be a different thing, that he had been followed from Sligo by these -- the man in dark coats intent on their vendetta. They had dealt with Charlie, given him the concrete boots and put him in the Thames or Charlie, hearing that somebody from Sligo was looking for him, had panicked and burned the hotel.

GROSS: So did your uncle die in this hotel fire?

BARRY: This was the curious thing. Everyone assumed he had. Everyone assumed he was long dead, but in the very week that I was -- not so much finishing the book but looking around for a new name for him, you know at that stage of the novel an aunt of mine got in touch with my family and said she had just received a small bequest, and it was from him. And he had just died, at a great age in an old people's home in London.

It really did confuse me in a good way, at the time. It seemed to me that just as he was becoming completely fictional just as I realized that it was pointless to keep his real name because I had invented him entirely -- the real man sent a sort of curious signal of ending himself, and allow the book to just step forward and completely into the realms of fiction. A sort of a double dance of things. It was quite intriguing.

GROSS: You had a great-grandfather who was a superintendent in the Dublin metropolitan police, this was the Dublin police force right before independence. You describe him as the man with the responsibility for Dublin Castle, the very heart of British rule in Ireland. Tell me more about your great-grandfather's role within the Dublin metropolitan police.

BARRY: Well you see how I assert that fact. It's probably on the book cover, is it? I can't remember now. But I do remember writing that phrase -- that is a phrase, you know, even 10 years ago I wouldn't have dared to write.

GROSS: Why not?

BARRY: Because when I first -- when I was a child I did have an idea of this man, he was chief superintendent of B Division, and he was responsible therefore for Dublin Castle and the area around Dublin Castle. So when James Larkin, the great labor leader, had his illegal rally in O'Connell Street -- the main street of Dublin -- my great-grandfather led the charge against the striking workers.

And I as a little boy had this idea of him being on a big white horse, charging forward in a kind of heroic manner, but, by God, later on I started to think about it was dreadful, it was like suddenly discovering that you know you had sort of a little Hitler in your background, and that's what it felt like so I wouldn't have dared to write that phrase.

I think it is the mercy of modern Ireland one of the great turning of the soil of Ireland that peace makes possible. That all these stories can disinterestingly released into the air. Brought back for their significance or for their lack of significance.

GROSS: Do you feel that many families in Ireland have stories like yours where there is somebody in the family who there has been great shame about and great secrecy about?

BARRY: Yes. Very much so. That's one of the great heartening things, that somehow by writing a book like this or writing a play like that, I've said it, so you have said the darkest possible thing, so that allows other people simply to say: oh, I had a great uncle in there -- it releases, it brings access to other memories and people have quite passionately, I mean deeply passionately come up and talked about their uncle or their grandfather or whatever. Who were in these forces or had these jobs.

And of course, for the time since it had been British for 600 years in Ireland it was the status quo. It's like a world erased by the necessity of the new nationalist history, a perfectly legitimate thing, but now Ireland, which is, whatever it is, 70 years old as it were, is fit and ready to accommodate all these other things.And a great retrieval of memory and imagination is the harvest of the courage to do that.

GROSS: As you know, President Clinton now is dealing with the Starr Report and the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal. When people try to talk about the strengths of his administration, the good that he has done, one of the first things that is mentioned is the peace agreement in Northern Ireland. I'm wondering what the president's profile is like in Ireland, and how his profile is been effected by the Starr Report?

BARRY: He is, simply speaking, a hero in Ireland. He came in 1995, he changed the climate of things in the way that he was asked to do by people like John Hume. He promised to come back, from our point of view he hurried back after the enormous tragedy of Omagh. He came back as quick as he could, that's how it seemed to us, and he was welcomed, I mean as a bringer of peace in Ireland.

I think it would be insanely unfair to regard that as a political move, it certainly wasn't felt, it didn't look like, and I don't think was a simple political move. He came because he seems to believe in this crucial cause.

GROSS: You're Catholic and your wife is Protestant. Is that considered anything worth remarking on in Dublin?

BARRY: No. Not at all. That's one of the greatest hopeful things, after 70 years it doesn't matter what religion you are.

GROSS: It would still matter in Northern Ireland.

BARRY: In certain districts it would be the death of you. And indeed, when the little Quinn boys were burned to death it struck me very forcibly that...

GROSS: These were the three sons of a Catholic-Protestant marriage.

BARRY: Yes. We were living in an housing estate in the south of Ireland and they were up there. The idea somebody marching up to our house and throwing petrol bonds would be so impossible, it would be absurd. It would be beyond the bounds of possibility. And yet it was very much a possibility, and not only a possibility, but an event it did happen up there.

We are no longer content to say: let there be two Irelands and say that that's happening up there. The great change I think in the English that is spoken in Ireland is that we now talk about "we" instead of "they" up in the north, you know. This new word, "we" we on the island of Ireland has been sort of a mantra of politicians were trying to, perhaps, you know not have a united Ireland, but to have a united island. A thing for everyone to wish for.

GROSS: Sebastian Barry, his new novel is called "The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty."

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Sebastian Barry, Author, Playwright. and Poet
High: Irish author, poet and playwright Sebastian Barry. He's best known for his play "The Steward of Christendom," as well as for his commentaries on the troubles in Ireland for "The New York Times." He's written a new novel, "The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty." It's about a naive Irishman who joins the British Merchant Navy during World War I, and then is blacklisted from his beloved hometown by the Royal Irish Constabulatory. A review from Kirkus Reviews says the book is "one of the best novels out of Ireland in many a year."
Spec: Sebastian Barry; Media; War

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Sebastian Barry

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: OCTOBER 08, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 100803NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: David Bianculli, Television Preview
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Tonight on ABC, Peter Falk is back as Lieutenant Columbo, the role he first took on 30 years ago. TV critic David Bianculli has a review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": If even though Peter Falk has been playing Lieutenant Columbo off and on since the Johnson Administration, it's been a lot more off then on. The original series was part of a rotating wheel of mystery telemovies so there were only a handful of new Columbo's each season. Forty-five overall from 1968 to 1978.

Falk took 10 years off, then started playing the character again in one shot telemovies. Tonight's installment subtitled "Ashes to Ashes" is the 22nd of those, and the 67th Columbo mystery overall. It's also one of the best.

Before this, the last few Columbo movies have been relative disappointments. Instead of using original stories and scripts, Falk tried to use and adapt existing stories by Ed McBain. It was about as good a fit as Columbo's rumpled raincoat.

But tonight's story, written by Jeffrey Hatcher, is a Columbo original in the classic mode and with a classic villain. The villain this time is played by Patrick McGoohan, who also directs the telemovie, and along with Falk is credited as co-executive producer. This is the fourth time McGoohan has played a bad guy on Columbo, which sets an all-time record.

On two of his previous guest shots, McGoohan won Emmy awards, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he was another one for tonight's performance. In "Ashes to Ashes" he plays a mortician who commits an unpremeditated murder. Because of his particular occupation he has quite an advantage when it comes to disposing of the body.

Columbo finally figures out what may have happened to the missing female victim, but in this case figuring it out may not be enough. In this scene Falk Columbo presents his theory of the crime, but McGoohan's character just teases him. So much so, that Columbo, usually the most persistent of conversationalists actually exits the room while his prime suspect is still talking.

The way these two actors play this scene demonstrates how Falk and McGoohan, these two TV perfectionists, work so perfectly together.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- "ASHES TO ASHES")

PETER FALK, ACTOR: Now this is a pager. She had this model, sir. She carried this with her everywhere, probably in her pocket and this would tell her when she received e-mail messages from the computer. And you know the day she disappeared she received messages, oh, let's see, 11:13 and 11:57. But then at 12:32 the pager cut off. No more signals, Kaput!

PATRICK MCGOOHAN, ACTOR: Sir, what do you think caused that?

FALK: Ho. Ho. That is a very good question, sir. I think she was dead.

MCGOOHAN: Really.

FALK: Yeah, I think she was killed right here at the Houston service.

MCGOOHAN: But what did the killer do with the body?

FALK: He would get rid of it. He would cremate it.

MCGOOHAN: But there was only one cremation it that day, and that was Chuck Houston's and I did it.

FALK: Yeah, so the killer would have had to have switched the bodies. Switched Chuck Houston with Ms. Chandler.

MCGOOHAN: I see, so if he had switch the bodies that would explain how the pager went kaput.

FALK: Yes sir, it worked.

MCGOOHAN: Yes, I see. Well, since there is only one cremation that they, and I performed it, that would make me the murderer. Do tell me, do you have any bodies?

FALK: No sir, I don't.

MCGOOHAN: So if you don't have any bodies you can't prove there was a switch.

FALK: No sir, I can't.

MCGOOHAN: No bodies, no case.

FALK: I suppose so.

MCGOOHAN: Well, that's the tricky thing about burning questions, once they're burned they're just ashes, ashes. Have you gone?

BIANCULLI: I know ABC is putting Columbo up against NBC's "Frasier" and "ER," where it doesn't stand a chance, except among older viewers where it's good counter-programming. But far from being an old show passed its prime, Columbo is back to top form and deserves as much attention, as much respect and as many viewers as it can get.

GROSS: David Bianculli, is TV critic for the "New York Daily News."

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: David Bianculli, TV Critic
High: TV Critic David Bianculli previews the ABC telemovie "Columbo: Ashes to Ashes," starring Falk. It airs tonight at 9:00.
Spec: Television And Radio; Entertainment; Peter Falk; Columbo

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: David Bianculli, Television Preview
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

42:29

Lee Isaac Chung Jotted Down Some Family Memories – They Became 'Minari'

Director Lee Isaac Chung's inspiration for Minari, his semi-autobiographical film about a Korean American father who moves his family to a farm in rural Arkansas, began with a list.

41:51

How Bellingcat's Online Sleuths Solve Global Crimes Using Open Source Info

Eliot Higgins is the founder of an online collective that picks apart conspiracy theories and investigates war crimes and hate crimes using clues from the Internet. His new book is We Are Bellingcat.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue