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Congressman Richard Gephardt.

Congressman Richard Gephardt. He's the Democratic leader of the U.S. House of Representatives and has written a new book, "An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century" (Public Affairs). In it he writes about the "cycle of destruction" in politics, the personal attacks on the character and integrity of politicians by other politicians and how it effects the country at large and our sense of democracy.

30:11

Other segments from the episode on May 26, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 26, 1999: Interview with Richard Gephardt; Interview with Barbara London and Dora Strother; Review of Robbie Williams' album "The Ego Has Landed."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MAY 26, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 052601np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: The Politics of Personal Destruction and How It's Changed Congress
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

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

My guest Dick Gephardt has been the Democratic leader of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1994. He's hoping to become the House Speaker after the next election. The Democrats would have to gain six more seats for that to happen.

Gephardt had been considering a run in the presidential primary, but he decided to stay in Congress after the Democrats picked up House seats in the '98 election; making it conceivable that they could be the majority party after the next election. Gephardt ran in the 1988 presidential primary and withdrew.

Gephardt represents his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. He's written a new book called "An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century." I asked him if he thinks we're heading towards sending ground troops to Kosovo.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER; AUTHOR, "AN EVEN BETTER PLACE: AMERICA IN THE 21ST CENTURY": Well, I think it's impossible to know the answer to that question now. I do think that the air campaign is showing results. I believe that the president's policy, and NATO's policy, has been the right policy. I don't think it would have been proper for us to just standby and see this ethnic cleansing and virtual genocide go on.

Having said that, at some point here in the next weeks, how many weeks I don't know, a decision will have to be made on whether or not we can get a settlement with Mr. Milosevic and the Serbs. That more or less reaches NATO's goals without putting more people on the ground.

As you know, the winter is coming, and there is a time window here for even being able to get people on the ground in this year. So, a tough decision has to be made, and it can't be made until A, NATO decides it together; and then B, the feasibility of that plan, the logistics of that plan are presented to NATO and to Congress.

GROSS: In your new book you write a little bit about the Gulf War, and you say that you think it was very important that Congress debated the war before it began. You say, "I hate to think of the second guessing that would have resulted had the president launched an invasion without the consent of the Congress, particularly if the war that followed had proven to be lengthy or unsuccessful."

Do you think Congress should have debated before the bombing of Serbia?

GEPHARDT: Well, in effect we did. There was a resolution in the House supporting the troops and what was happening. I believe it was before or right at the time the bombing started. So, I think we had that debate, and we certainly had it after it started when we had a full debate of a whole series of questions and votes.

So I think the right thing was done, and before a ground war starts I hope we have a debate in the Congress and think we will and think we should. It should be noted that George Bush put 500,000 -- roughly 500,000 American troops on the ground before we had a vote. We voted just before the ground war started but not before the troops were on the ground.

GROSS: Is this a particularly eventful period for congressmen such as yourself to go right from impeachment to war?

GEPHARDT: Well, it is. You know, I've said many times the most important votes we make in the Congress are probably, first, war and then impeachment. And we've seen both here in a matter of months together. So, it has been a very active time in the Congress.

And it's -- it's a shame that these kinds of events, although they're obviously happening in front of us, take us away from dealing with a whole range of other issues that I try to talk about in my book, "An Even Better Place," that I think are our most important challenges. But that's the nature of life today and something we've got to go through.

But I do hope that sooner rather than later we can get back to the really important challenges that face us as a people, such as education and childcare and child raising and how we run institutions.

GROSS: Your new book opens with the impeachment, and you describe how you were preparing to give a speech to the House when the new speaker, Bob Livingston, resigned. And you had to tear up your old speech and write a new one immediately.

Tell us what went through your mind then when you realized you had to come up -- you had to address this matter immediately, and had to come up with something that would be appropriate to say that you could live with and that -- that would be meaningful.

GEPHARDT: Well, it was a troubling day, to be sure. First of all, the president was being impeached and we were denied a vote on what we thought was the proper alternative, which was censure. So, our side and a lot of our members were deeply offended at the procedure and the lack of an alternative on the floor.

And it was really that question that I was preparing to address for the second day in a row. I had prepared that speech the night before, and was working on it that day when my press secretary came in the room and said there's a rumor in the press office that -- of the House -- that the then to be speaker Bob Livingston was going to resign because of revelations in "Hustler" magazine.

I was stunned. I was absolutely knocked out by it and couldn't believe it. I said to her, "oh, that can't be true. That's just a silly rumor." And the next minute, watching him on television, I saw him resign. And so I was really moved by it.

And really troubled because I really believe that we are in what I called in my speech, "the politics of destruction." And I think that when you see a president being impeached, a speaker who hasn't even been elected being driven from office by revelations in a magazine that doesn't have a lot of repute in the country; you really begin to wonder what's happening in your country.

Bob Livingston's a good person. He's performed valuable public service. I don't agree with him on a lot of issues, but I have tremendous respect for him and the service he's brought to the country. And I just -- it was a moving day.

And so I sat down and rewrote the speech and tried to say something that conveyed my emotional concern about what was happening in our country. My hope, first, that Livingston would stay on and wouldn't resign in the face of these charges. And secondly, that all of us could do better in impeachment and thereafter to bring a new sense of idealism and respect and trust to our political life which I really think we have to do.

GROSS: Let me quote some of your speech. You said, "our founding fathers created a system of government of men, not of angels. No one standing in this House today can pass a puritanical test of purity that some are demanding that our elected leaders take. We need to stop destroying imperfect people at the altar of an unattainable morality."

I thought you were implying there that many of the congressmen wouldn't measure up to the standards they were holding others to, and I'm wondering if that's what you meant to say. And if so, was that a guess on your part or was it pretty common knowledge about a lot of people not upholding the standards they were measuring others by?

GEPHARDT: No, I don't know that. And obviously I don't think we ought to spend all of our time trying to investigate one another to find out everything there is to know. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have ethics. I'm not saying we shouldn't have ethics investigations if they're warranted.

But when the members themselves are launching the ethics investigations, and we're pawing through everybody's background to see if there just might be something that would not be so proud, then we've really lost our focus, lost our common sense. And we've turned this into what I call the "politics of destruction," which I think will ruin the whole system of self-governance.

GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. He's written a new book called "An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century."

You say that the politics of personal destruction is discouraging citizens from running for office or accepting government appointments. Were you thinking about the politics of personal destruction when you decided not to run for the presidency?

GEPHARDT: No. That decision was really made on the ground that I felt an obligation and a priority in trying to win the House back. I feel -- the analogy I've been using is that I kind of feel like a quarterback of a football team, or a coach, who is with the team's great effort been able to get down to the one-yard line. And when you're at the one-yard line you don't leave the stadium to go to the next stadium and play a different game. And so, that's what I thought leaving to run for president would be.

And so, the election in '98 when we again picked up seats after the historic loss of the Congress in 1994 really convinced me that my job at this time should be to stay in the House and try to win the majority back.

GROSS: The Democrats are six seats away from gaining control of the House. What's your strategy to try to win the House?

GEPHARDT: Well, it's not anything that everyone wouldn't understand. First, you have to get good candidates who are competitive and make a good impression in the public. That's the most important thing. Second, you have to help them fund their campaigns, which I work at a fair amount. And then thirdly, you have to help them run competent, effective campaigns.

Money alone does not mean election. You've got to husband and use the resources effectively, and you have to run an effective message and mechanical campaign.

GROSS: How, if at all, would you like to see the impeachment process enter into the issues in the upcoming election? I mean, you know, during the impeachment everybody was saying, well, is this going to backfire against the Republicans and will they end up losing votes as a result of the way they handled the impeachment? Or will it hurt the Democrats because it was a Democratic president that went through the impeachment process?

So, do you think this is going to effect the next election?

GEPHARDT: Oh, I think in perhaps a marginal way. I think people...

GROSS: ... are you going to try to play it up in any way?

GEPHARDT: No, I don't think it's an issue anymore. I think people will not be wanting to hear about impeachment, that's yesterday's news. I think what will be looked at is how the Republican leadership performed during impeachment; did they do a good job? Did they carry out commonsensical, reasonable leadership?

And on that I think some people will conclude and believe they didn't do a good job, and they didn't - they carried it out too long. They drug it out, and they did not allow proper alternatives on the floor. I think some voters will look at that. It's kind of -- part of a larger picture of whether people think the Republicans have had good stewardship in the way they've run the House, the kind of agenda they brought and how they've chosen to spend their time on the House floor.

GROSS: My guest is Dick Gephardt, the House Democratic leader. He's written a new book called "An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: My guest is House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. He's written a new book called "An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century."

In your book you write a little bit about how the climate in Congress compares to when you arrived in 1976. You say, "now Democrats and Republicans don't even make eye contact when they pass one another in the halls of Congress unless it's to exchange furious glares."

Tell me more how you think the climate in Congress compares now to when you first arrived.

GEPHARDT: Well, it was a very different time. First of all, we didn't have television in the House on the floor, so the debates that went on were really internal debates and not really seen by the public on television. The reporters were present, but that's a very different medium as obviously than television. So, there was less bombastic and tough debate on the floor.

I think secondly members got along better, and even though we disagreed on issues there were better personal relationships. People spent more time on the floor. They got to know one another better. They learned about each other's families. They had a better personal relationship. As time has gone on the floor has gotten more frantic.

Members don't spend much time there, they're running to other meetings on the Hill or meetings with constituents. And then you have the entry of what I call the "politics of destruction," which is actual members filing ethics charges against one another, making personal attacks against one another. To the point where there's real hard feelings between members and a lack of cooperation, a lack of collaboration between the two sides; which was present when I first became a member of the House.

GROSS: Well, let me pick up on the ethics issue that you just raised. And you mentioned this in the book, what you describe as a kind of tit for tat process of filing ethics complaints, something very close to blackmail. You say that in 1995 Newt Gingrich, who was then the speaker, told you that if you didn't get the Democrats to stop the attacks against him that he'd retaliate by filing an ethics complaint against you about undeclared income from a vacation property.

Tell us more about that threat.

GEPHARDT: Well, it was delivered primarily through staff, but it was very clearly delivered and then it happened. And so, it was what I call the "cycle of destruction" that goes on, and went on. And hopefully, we've now brought to a close.

It is, to me, something that's very hard to stop because once it starts we're all human and people like to get revenge and retribution, and that's what I think was going on there. And when that breaks out it's very hard to bring it to a close. It's also very hard to contain it, because it very quickly gets to the point where everybody has ethics charges filed against them and we do nothing but ethics charges.

GROSS: How did you handle it when Newt Gingrich's people threatened that they would retaliate against you with an ethics charge?

GEPHARDT: Well, I dealt with the ethics charge in the process in the ethics committee, which took a good deal of time. And I tried to get our members to not retaliate. There were actually ethics charges filed against other members of our leadership. And they dealt with it in their own time, and I tried to not have retaliation and not to keep this going.

And when it was all finished, when Newt's ethics charges were finished and mine were finished, and others were finished I tried consciously to stop retaliation and to stop any further activity. We've had a fair -- fairly good experience with that since then.

GROSS: Now, the charges against you, I believe, were dismissed although the committee said that you should pay more attention to filing the appropriate papers for profits earned on this property.

GEPHARDT: Right. And it was a lack of filing, as I remember it, one fact which had no relevance to anything. And it was inadvertence by my attorneys and myself, but there was not an ethics problem. And the whole thing was dismissed, as it was with the other Democratic members who had charges filed against them.

GROSS: How have you seen different House Speaker's during your years in Congress set the tone for better or worse in terms of the treatment of fellow congressmen?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think each one of them probably tries to do it in different ways. One of the things that I think Newt Gingrich believed, that I don't believe, that I'm sure he believed it strongly, was that Congress is almost like a parliamentary system. By that I mean I think he felt that he should get all the votes on every issue on the Republican side alone -- his side alone.

And that collaboration with Democrats was really not going to bear any fruit or not going to happen because of the very hot competition that we are in politically to control the House. That meant there was kind of a signal sent from the speaker that you don't collaborate with Republicans, you don't work with them, you don't reach agreements on tough issues because there may be some political impact on their side.

And, again, once you start that then the other side adopts that position as well and it's very hard to get back to a more consensual situation. Part of this is caused by the hot competition; the country is very closely competed for. When you ask voters are they Republicans are Democrats, it's very even today. So that's part of it.

When I came to the Congress people like Tip O'Neill enjoyed very large majorities, so maybe it wasn't a comparable situation. But there was a lot of collaboration on the committees, Republicans and Democrats worked together, it was not a parliamentary situation. There were bipartisan majorities for most bills. There was little solid party voting on anything. That's really changed.

Again, part of it is the close political competition for the House. But part of it is this idea that we're a parliament and that the majority party should have everybody vote together all the time.

GROSS: My guest is House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. He's written a new book called "An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century."

You said that you would like to see the House vote on a gun control bill before Memorial Day. What do you think the odds of that are?

GEPHARDT: I don't think good. As you know, the majority sets the schedule, and I don't think they want to vote on it now. I think they want to vote on it in June, and that's their prerogative. I think that given that we have a bipartisan agreement in the House on a juvenile justice bill, which is the underlying bill and a very important bill.

And in that the Senate has already spoken on these, frankly, moderate and modest gun safety measures that we ought to go ahead and do it. I think the nation is wanting us to act. I think these parents of the children everywhere who are worried about their children want action out of the Congress and state legislatures.

And I think we ought to go ahead and act before we leave, and that's what we're going to try to get the majority to do.

GROSS: Dick Gephardt. He's written a new book called "An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century." He'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

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

Back with more of our interview with Dick Gephardt, the Democratic leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's written a new book called, "An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century."

You know, we're talking about how the politics of destruction is discouraging people from entering politics, and I think for some people there's something else also. Something far more trivial that discourages them from entering into politics, and I'm thinking of the haircuts.

LAUGHTER

And I want to read you this quote. This is from University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabado (ph). This is a quote from "The Washington Post." And this was right after your speech about Livingston when he was going to resign, and Sabado really liked your speech very much.

And he said about you, "he looks, sounds and acts so much like the prototypical modern politician, a combination of news anchor and game show host, that he really caught me by surprise. He had his heart in his speech and it showed."

But that -- there's something true in there about a lot of politicians having that look of the news anchor and game show host, and a certain kind of regulation, you know, political haircut. And I'm wondering if you feel that there are pressures to look a certain way in order to win and then perform in office.

GEPHARDT: Well, I can't help the way I look.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Well, you can change haircuts.

GEPHARDT: Well, yeah, I guess.

GROSS: I'm not saying you need to change haircuts, but, I mean, there is that kind of look of the certain haircuts and kind of suit, et cetera, that is pretty common now in Congress.

GEPHARDT: Well, I guess there's a uniform in all kinds of jobs.

GROSS: That is true.

GEPHARDT: That you're kind of expected to wear. I remember when one of our members tried to come on the floor without a tie and Tip O'Neill -- this was back in the '80s -- threw him off the floor and said we have very strict rules here that we have to wear ties. I'm not sure whether we ought to keep that rule or not in today's more casual world.

But, you know, you need rules in any organization for how people should conduct themselves. I guess I'm not so interested in the way people look or the way they dress. What I am interested in is the way we act and the way we treat one another. That's what I think is important.

And, frankly, the way we look is pretty much the way God made it, and you know, the fact I don't have any eyebrows is my problem.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: No, but, you know, I asked this only because image seems so important in the era of television politics and C-SPAN.

GEPHARDT: It is, but I really believe that television has really helped us. There are a lot of things about television that are probably negative and, you know, negative ads and the predominance of the 30 second spot in politics may be one of the things that's not so great.

The one good thing it's done is that it really opens up human beings to other human beings to be understood through the brutal eye of the camera. And even though you may look a certain way, people can size you up pretty quickly about who they like, who they trust, who they respect, who they think over time is a worthy person that they want to support.

And with C-SPAN they see a lot of us, probably unfortunately for some viewers, and they really can make up their mind. I often remember -- and I talk about this in the book -- in the 1980 campaign I was watching the debate between Reagan and Carter with a bunch of Democratic politicians in St. Louis. And after the debate I thought Carter really won the debate, he was much more cogent and he had better arguments.

Of course, I was for him -- I was prejudiced. But at the end of the debate I asked them who they thought won and they all said Reagan. And I said, "why do you say that? How can you say that? You disagree with him on everything, you're going to vote for Carter." They said, "no, but we really like him. We like him better than Carter."

And I realized at that moment that television opens all of us up to one another in a very human way. It's a personal conversation. It's like meeting someone in person that we never could do before, which really allows voters to make a human judgment about human beings.

GROSS: Don't you think though sometimes when people look through the looks what they're seeing instead is the charisma level? It's like in the Mark Stamity (ph) cartoon Bob Forehead (ph) had -- I mean, "Washingtoon," in which he had a character, Bob Forehead, who always had "charismaticians" working on him.

LAUGHTER

GEPHARDT: See, I don't think you can overcome what the camera shows by the way you look.

GROSS: Right.

GEPHARDT: I don't think you can, you know, have your physical appearance overcome other -- let me just be more specific. I didn't agree with Reagan on anything -- much of anything. And I really didn't respect him that much because I didn't think he was that good of a president.

But I must tell you that when I met him in the White House, I too liked him. He was hard not to like. He was a likable person who had many good characteristics about him. He was humorous, he was -- he seemed genuine, even though sometimes I don't think he turned out to be on some issues. But he seemed to be. He was certainly likable and respectable.

And so, I think -- I guess what I'm trying to say is I think television give you a whole lot more than some kind of preconceived notion of what people should look like. And begins to open up a human being as a human being, what they care about, what they think, what kind of person they are. Are they likable, are they nice and so on and so forth.

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

GEPHARDT: Thank you.

GROSS: Dick Gephardt has written a new book, it's called "An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century."

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 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Richard Gephardt
High: Congressman Richard Gephardt. He's the Democratic leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, and has written a new book called, "An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century." In it he writes about the "cycle of destruction" in politics, the personal attacks on the character and integrity of politicians by other politicians and how it effects the country at large and our sense of democracy.
Spec: Politics; Government; Lifestyle; Culture; Richard Gephardt

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 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: The Politics of Personal Destruction and How It's Changed Congress

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MAY 26, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 052602NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Women Pilots in World War II
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: During World War II, while "Rosy the Riveter" kept American factories turning out munitions, ships and planes for the war effort, the call went out for women to serve the country in another way: to fly military airplanes. From 1942 until '44 the Women Air Force Service Pilots, or WASPs, were trained to ferry aircraft, test planes, instruct male pilots and tow targets for anti-aircraft artillery practice.

Over 1,000 women served, women who had been students, housewives, actresses, widows, horse trainers, secretaries and teachers. Despite their service and enthusiasm, the WASPs did not have military status or benefits.

After the WASPs were disbanded it took 30 years before women were allowed to fly for the military again. Several women talk about their careers as WASPs in a new "American Experience" program called "Fly Girls," which aired this week on many PBS stations.

FRESH AIR's Barbara Bogaev spoke with two of the women pilots, Dora Struther and Barbara London. Barbara Bogaev asked Dora Struther why she volunteered to be a WASP.

DORA STRUTHER, FORMER WASP: I think that all my life the idea of being a pilot, being near airplanes, being around aviation was probably the most exciting thing that was happening. As you may recall, they had no television in those days. Radio was brand new. We had no movie heroes to speak of like we do today. There were no rock stars and things.

The pilots and the aviators who were setting records and going around the world, they were our heroes. And so most all of the children that I knew looked up to them, wanted to emulate them.

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: Is that something you would do on a Sunday, go to an airport and watch people fly airplanes?

STRUTHER: Absolutely. Look at the new airplanes, watch the pilots, dream of perhaps the day that you might walk out on the ramp. On a Sunday afternoon there would be a parachute jump, and all the spectators were allowed to guess the height from which the parachutist jumped. And the one who got the closest got a free airplane ride.

And so my brothers and I guessed and guessed and guessed. I don't know how many years we guessed. Never did guess it. And finally my father said, well, he would pay for a passenger ride. And that was my very first experience. I guess I was in my early teens at that time.

BOGAEV: Barbara, how about you? What made you think this is what I want to do with my life, join the WASPs?

BARBARA LONDON, FORMER WASP: Well, mine isn't anywhere near that romantic because when I started to fly I'd never thought about an airplane. I'd never been near an airport. I'd never been on an airplane. I didn't know anybody that flew. I'd read about people that had flown and it sounded exciting, but it certainly wasn't commanding purpose in my life.

But I was a sophomore at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1939 when the government started their training program to get pilots for the war that we knew we were going to eventually get into. And I saw the advertisement for this program in which there were going to the 40 students, and after a lot of conversation, they finally decided they would allow one girl for every 10 boys.

And it sounded exciting. I was adventurous. I was very athletic, and I liked to do things. I went down and applied for it, and became one of those four girls out of the class of 40. And from then on I've never left the airport.

BOGAEV: Dora, you trained in Texas, in Sweetwater, Texas. What did the training consist of? Was it the same as the training that men received?

STRUTHER: It was the training -- yes, it was the same with the exception that when we all went in we had to be pilots. When I went in you had to have 200 hours. When Barbara was accepted without previous training, she had a great deal more.

And then the training was adapted, I think, to us because they thought that we would be ferrying aircraft. And so we had a lot more cross-country, perhaps, than the men. We did not have as many acrobatics because we would not be in dogfights in combat. We did not have formation. And we did not have gunnery.

Other than that, the training programs, I think, were identical.

BOGAEV: One of the responsibilities of the WASPs was to ferry planes from the factories where they were built to deployment bases all over the country. What was it like to ferry the planes, Barbara?

LONDON: Well, it was kind of exciting because once you were checked out on a lot of airplanes you could get any kind of an airplane. What you do is pick it up at operations in the morning and we flew, with fighters particularly, we flew VFR, which means Visual Flight Rules -- daytime only and no bad weather.

And we would go to the first destination, which out of Long Beach probably would be Phoenix or Tucson on to El Paso until we delivered our airplane to its destination which could take one day, two days, or if weather was bad, it could take a week. Sometimes going to Newark we could get there in two days, other times it would take us five days.

BOGAEV: What kind of preconceptions did the men that you had to deal with in and out of the Air Corp have about women and their ability to pilot airplanes? Let me put that to you, Dora.

STRUTHER: I think that the preconception was, oh, probably unanimous. They weren't very sure. For example, in the ranks of government whether women could stand up to military flying. Whether they could meet their schedules. Whether they were too emotional.

And so when we started flying for the government they were obviously looking at these qualities. I think we all felt that we you were carrying a burden for all future women pilots. And when the program was over they publicly declared that we were meeting as many of the schedules as the men.

That we were flying as well. We had no more accidents than the man. And General Arnold, the commanding General of the Army Air Forces said at the graduation of the last class that it's been proven that women can fly as well as men.

Obviously, the airplane doesn't know the difference.

BOGAEV: Dora, you were one of the first pilots, man or woman, to fly the B-29. And that's the largest bomber ever built at that time. It's a four-engine plane. Did you have any fears about your sheer physical ability to handle that powerful an aircraft? I mean, does size matter when you fly that large a plane?

STRUTHER: Well, I didn't know. I had never flown a four engine aircraft before. And I didn't know how much strength it would take. And of course, one of the critical tests as to whether you have the strength -- because whether you're able to control the aircraft with two engines out on one side so that you have a tremendous amount of drag created on that side when two engines are out and the propellers are feathered.

So, I really didn't know. I didn't know if I had a hand that was big enough for four throttles. But I found out that I indeed did. The B-29 was the nicest airplane I think I have never flown. It was predictable. Some aircraft are very quick to respond to stalls or near stalls, but the B-29 was not. And I was fully strong enough to control it, and absolutely fell in love with it.

BOGAEV: When the WASPs were disbanded in 1944 did you find that you encountered expectations from people, either friends or family, that you -- both of you should just get on with your lives now. This crazy flying thing is over and you should go marry nice men and settle down?

LONDON: I think that's what everybody thought we ought to do. That's probably why they sent us home.

LAUGHTER

BOGAEV: Is that how you felt, Barbara?

LONDON: It's back to the kitchen, you know. We'd done our duty, and we had -- we came to our country's service when they needed us, and now they didn't need us. And so back where we were supposed to go.

BOGAEV: And how did you feel about that though, Barbara?

LONDON: I was upset. I was terribly crushed. And we volunteered to do the job for free. The problem was that the war was not over, and we -- there was another six to eight months of the war left over, and our airplanes that we were ferrying were badly, badly needed.

And the Army Air Corps tried very hard to at least keep the girls who were qualified in pursuit so they could keep delivering these airplanes. But of course they couldn't keep part of them and send the other part home. And the political decision was that we go home. Unfortunately, it was very, very said.

BOGAEV: Why did the Air Force disband the WASPs while the war was still on?

LONDON: The basic reason was that they had tried for two and a half years to get us military status, to make us militarized and part of the military. And they weren't able to accomplish that. There's lots of reasons, both political and just the fact that we were kind of a separate group and we didn't have anybody to attach us to.

We did not fit into the WACs because a lot of us were married, we had children, we were older. And it wasn't the same criteria as the WACs, and yet the Army Air Corp was the only place we could be attached. So, it was a -- and the fact that we didn't get our militarization the decision was made that our time was up.

If we couldn't be militarized then we would go home.

BOGAEV: When you left the program, where you sure, Barbara, that you were going to go on to make a career in aviation?

LONDON: Well, I was hoping so. I applied for the airlines, and they very politely sent me applications for a stewardess; which I said wasn't exactly what I had in mind. But they weren't quite ready for women yet anyway. The timing was not particularly right.

And after the war, there were very few flying jobs for women. So, getting into aviation was going to be difficult for those of us that wanted to stay in. Most of -- 90 percent of the girls went back to what they were doing before the war. And just as if that two and a half years was a part of their life that they did, it was over with, and then they went back to their other life -- their original life.

The ultimate long-term effect of being a pilot, you know, was just -- was minuscule. It was those two and a half years and that was it.

BOGAEV: Dora, is that how you felt was the -- what was the impact of those few years as a WASP on your life?

STRUTHER: Well, I think that the greatest impact was that I had had a introduction to probably the most exciting thing that was happening in the world, and that was the advent of technology. And in my own personal life I was in school and then the fortunes of my family turned, and I had to go to work.

And the only thing that I knew how to do was to fly. I had my flight instructor's rating so I became a flight instructor. And instructing is a -- teaching is a field that -- in which women are accepted. Teaching and nursing and secretary. So, I was a flight instructor for many years.

And as I went on in my academic career the fields of technology were then aerospace and aerospace engineering were opening up, and they were fascinating to me. So it turned out eventually that I stayed in aviation related fields all my life.

BOGAEV: And Barbara, you also broke into aviation. You own an airplane sales company. I was interested to see that your daughter also is a pilot, a commercial pilot.

LONDON: Well, both of my daughters actually turned out to be pilots. My daughter -- my oldest daughter is a captain for Delta. She started out with Western Airlines in 1974. And my younger daughter is director of community relations for our new airline out in Long Beach called Win Air, which is a new start-up airline that started out there in November.

And both of their husbands fly. So it's the whole family.

LAUGHTER

BOGAEV: Did they grow up with bedtime stories of your days as a "fly girl?"

LONDON: Well, my kids went to grandma's in an airplane. We didn't drive to grandma's on the holidays, we just got in an airplane and they went and sat in the back with their bottle of water and their cookies and a blanket, and off we went. So they learned very early that that was the main mode of transportation in our family.

GROSS: Barbara Bogaev spoke with Dora Struther and Barbara London. Their stories, and the stories of other WASPs, are told in the "American Experience" program, "Fly Girls," which aired on many PBS stations earlier this week. The program is also available on video.

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 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Barbara London and Dora Struther
High: During World War II more than 1,000 women signed up and flew airplanes in the U.S. military effort. Their careers were cut short by politics. It would be 30 years before women soldiers would take to the skies again. The women featured in this interview are Barbara London and Dora Struther.
Spec: Aviation; War; Women; Lifestyle; Culture; Barbara London; Dora Struther

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 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: Women Pilots in World War II

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MAY 26, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 052603NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: "The Ego Has Landed," by Robbie Williams
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: In the mid '90's, Robbie Williams was part of a British teen pop act called Take That, whose overseas stardom never took root in America. With the release of his first solo CD in this country, however, rock critic Ken Tucker says he understands why Williams is justified in calling his collection "The Ego Has Landed."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER ROBBIE WILLIAMS PERFORMING)

We didn't think you'll last me all summer
I met her father she met my mother
We didn't have anywhere else to go
She said to me

When we grow older
Will we still need young love on our shoulders
Does it just fade away
Will we ever know

KEN TUCKER, ROCK CRITIC: Take That was one of those British-only success stories that go all the way back to the Beatles era. Anyone in this country remember an act called Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Titch (ph)? Take That never broke through beyond a cult following in America, and teen stardom is all about mass followings, and thus by definition, a flop.

Now a ripe 25 years old, Robbie Williams has acquired a sense of irony as well as a sense of the zeitgeist. On his bona fide American hit single called "Millenium" he sounds as if he knows what audiences on this side of the pond like to hear: big positive-thinking ballads.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER ROBBIE WILLIAMS PERFORMING "MILLENIUM")

We show stars and (unintelligible)
And we're playing in (unintelligible)
Millenium
Some say that we are players

Some say that we are porns
But we've been making money
Since the day that we were born
Got some slow downs

Cause we're low down
Runaround in circles
Live a life of solitude
Till we find ourselves a partner

Someone to relate to
Then we'll slow down
Before we fall down
We got stars

TUCKER: "The Ego Has Landed" is actually a compilation of Williams' two British solo albums, so in theory there shouldn't be a dud cut on it. And in practice, it comes pretty close. Williams sings in a sure steady tenor that careens around drumbeats and keyboard riffs.

At their best, his songs have the surging energy of anthems laced with just the right amount of self-consciousness.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER ROBBIE WILLIAMS PERFORMING)

My breath smells of a thousand fags
So when I'm drunk I dance like me dad
I started to dress a bit like him
In early morning when I wake up

I look like KISS but without the makeup
And that's a good line to take it to the bridge
And you know when you know
Because my life's a mess

And I'm trying to grow
So the (unintelligible) I confess
You think that I'm strong
You're wrong

You're wrong
I'll sing my song
My song
My song

TUCKER: I hope you noticed the last lines of the first verse there, "I look like KISS but without the makeup, and that's a good line to take it to the bridge." It's cheap, clever self-consciousness, but it sounds smart in this context. And more important, it's really catchy.

If Williams chose an image as that of the cocky kid, his secret weapons are his studious adulation of both American soul music and Elton John.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SINGER ROBBIE WILLIAMS PERFORMING)

I sit and wait
A dozen angels
Contemplate my fate
And do they know

The places where we go
When we're gray and old
Cause I have been told that
Salvation let's their wings unfold

So when I'm lying in my bed
Thoughts running through my head
And I feel that love is dead
I'm loving angels instead

TUCKER: Watching Robbie Williams strut his stuff on David Letterman recently, I thought this kid can't miss. But then I remembered one big obstacle to Williams' bid to become this summer's top-selling boy toy; a brick wall named Ricky Martin, the Latin crooner who has all of Williams' cool quotient and a better gimmick: Latin pop for the masses.

Ricky Martin needs neither my help nor my criticism, he's going to be this season's one man Backstreet Boys. So I'm throwing my support behind Robbie Williams. If you're looking for escapist pop, give this egomaniac a chance.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for "Entertainment Weekly."

I'm Terry Gross.

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 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Ken Tucker
High: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews "The Ego Has Landed," the new solo CD by Robbie Williams.
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; Lifestyle; Culture; Robbie Williams; Ken Tucker

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 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: "The Ego Has Landed," by Robbie Williams
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.

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