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Giandomeinco Picco is a "Man Without a Gun."

Former chief United Nation's hostage negotiator Giandomenico Picco. He has written about his experiences in the new book "Man without a Gun: One diplomat's secret struggle to free the hostages, fight terrorism, and end a war." (Times Books) Picco helped negotiate the release of more than a dozen western hostages being held by Islamic militants in Lebanon. He currently serves as president of GDP Associates, an international consulting firm in New York city, and is founder of the Non-Governmental Peace Strategy Project based in Geneva, Switzerland.

46:00

Other segments from the episode on June 2, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 2, 1999: Interview with Giandomenico Picco; Review of Germaine Greer's book "The Whole Woman."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JUNE 02, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060201np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Giandomenico Picco's Memoir on Negotiating the Release of Hostages
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

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

As the chief hostage negotiator for the UN, my guest Giandomenico Picco was responsible for the 1991 release of nine Western hostages held in Lebanon, including Terry Anderson and Terry Waite. Picco's new memoir, "Man without a Gun," is about his years at the UN from the early '70s to 1992 when he was the Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs.

In the late '80s, Picco helped negotiate an end to the Iran-Iraq war. Through that work he developed a relationship with Hashemi Rafsanjani (ph), who became the president of Iran in 1989 after the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

When Picco took on the job of negotiating for the freedom of the hostages in Lebanon, he approached Rafsanjani for help and got some. Through the help of Iranian contacts, Picco was able to meet with the hostage holders in Lebanon, members of an offshoot group of the Hezbollah, the party of God.

I asked about that first meeting.

GIANDOMENICO PICCO, FORMER CHIEF UNITED NATIONS HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR; AUTHOR, "MAN WITHOUT A GUN: ONE DIPLOMAT'S SECRET STRUGGLE TO FREE THE HOSTAGES, FIGHT TERRORISM AND END A WAR": I asked for a meeting because things had gone very wrong, and instead of freeing the hostages at some point new hostages had been taken. So I thought that trying to solve this matter by remote control would not work.

And so I decided to make an unprecedented request, and that was to go alone unprotected and to meet with them at their own condition, which I knew meant with much security for them and no security for me. And indeed they accepted with some reluctance, but they did.

And the conditions of course were the only ones dictated by them, which meant that I would be taken from the streets of Beirut, in fact of (unintelligible) Beirut to southern quarters of the city. At night, by a car, a couple of people, maybe three, whom I did not know. And they would blindfold me and take me away, hopefully, to meet the very of abductors who would talk to me and discuss the entire problem. And so it happened.

GROSS: So when you were picked up by strangers then blindfolded in the car, what was going through your mind as you were sitting in the car blindfolded?

PICCO: The first thing was really to ask myself if these people were the right ones, because not everybody in Beirut and among the groups who were very militant at that time were in favor of the release of the hostages. So I asked myself if I'd actually been really kidnapped or if simply had been taken to go to a meeting in a very curious way.

As it turned out, I was lucky. So they took me around town perhaps, and I do not know exactly where. We switched a few cars, and eventually they took me to a safe house for them where I was asked to sit down. My blindfold was lifted, and in front of me, in a complete white environment because every single piece of furniture was covered by white sheets, I saw two people in masks -- ski masks, so to speak, and they were the negotiators, so to speak. I decided to begin my activity with.

GROSS: What's it like to negotiate with people who are masked?

PICCO: Well, I try to overcome the difficulty of negotiating with somebody you don't know who it is by looking into their eyes. I often do that whether have a mask or not. And it's important, in my view, even though in some cultures it may be considered to be unpolite. But to me that was the way I could communicate with the person behind a mask.

It was not so much the mask that worried me it was what would happen next. Were they really determined to negotiate the solution of this issue, or was this just like a step in between where perhaps they could have increased their inventory the number of hostages they had by one by keeping me. So that was really the question.

GROSS: So what's the protocol in a situation like this? Here you are representing the UN asking for the release of the hostages. You're talking to two masked members of the Hezbollah, you think, and, I mean, how blunt are you going to be about what you want and what your proposals are; or how much kind of, you know, polite talking around the issue is there -- do know what I mean?

PICCO: There is no diplomacy, and there is no beating around the bush. It was very simple. They did not ask me what I wanted. They knew very well what I wanted. They asked me why was I doing that. It was in a way quite difficult for them to understand why somebody would take such a risk which they (unintelligible) I was taking, because I had gone to see them on their own conditions.

GROSS: So what did you answer?

PICCO: My answer was very simple. I thought it was the right thing to do. That was my job. I was not asked to do that. I volunteered. I devised the whole plan to try to save these people.

I thought that what a UN official should do, and that's what I said, I said it was the right thing to do and yeah, yeah.

GROSS: Now, did they speak to you straightforwardly or elliptically? Elliptically in such a way that you had to figure out what do they really mean?

PICCO: They were very clear. There was no difficulty in understanding what they were saying. There were no hidden messages. It was a straightforward conversation, because the conditions did favor a straightforward conversation. They were controlling every aspect of that negotiation. They were holding me in their own safe houses, and they could have done whatever they wanted in terms of where to go next.

So, there was no diplomatic conversation or even an elliptic one.

GROSS: What did the kidnappers want in return for the release of the hostages?

PICCO: They wanted some kind of justice. They felt they'd been wronged. Now, to me, that was not good enough because if you have been wronged you don't fix it by doing something else wrong. Eventually they obtained from me, and through me, the release of a number of Lebanese who had been detained without due process by Israel.

But the great payoff, if we want to speak of a payoff, was not for them but in a way was for Iran. And that payoff had nothing to do with money, nothing to do with weapons, as true in the Iran-Contra affair. It had to do with, in a way what the Iranians felt was, a sense of justice.

They asked me at the very beginning of this negotiation whether at some point the international community which I represented, so to speak, could state that the war that Iran had fought against Iraq for eight years, from 1980 to 1988, was a war which was initiated by Iraq.

It seemed at that time quite an interesting request, but if you were familiar with the Middle East you would understand that it was an important request. The Iran-Iraq war had been a peculiar war in the world of East-West confrontation. It was the first war where both Washington and Moscow were backing the same side, namely Saddam Hussein.

By asking the international community to admit that Iraq had initiated the war, Iran was trying to claim a sense of justice of which they felt they had been deprived. In my mind I thought the deal was pretty reasonable; on one side I was asked to tell the truth because everybody knows that Iraq did begin the war. And in exchange, I was offered the assistance by Iran for the release of the hostages. I thought it was a pretty good deal.

GROSS: So what were you able to do to deliver this to Iran, to deliver the recognition that it was Iraq that was the aggressor in the war?

PICCO: Perez de Cuellar and I asked three professors in Europe to do a study of the beginning of that war. And they put together a research study which proved that that was indeed the case. When this study was sent to us -- to Perez de Cuellar and myself -- we tried to hold on to it until we got most of the people out.

And at that point we prepared a report, which became an official UN report where the summary of the study is reproduced. That was the payment.

GROSS: So you kind of withheld your report so that you could use that as an important playing card to get what you wanted at the end.

PICCO: Absolutely.

GROSS: So that you didn't use up your capital before the game was over.

PICCO: That was the very essence of the negotiations. Even though -- even though the moment when we decided to use it may have been judged by some to have been premature, or not appropriate. For not exactly everybody went home at that point.

GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is Giandomenico Picco, who was the chief UN hostage negotiator. And he's written an autobiography about his years with the United Nations called "Man without a Gun."

You say you were the insurance when you were negotiating for the release of the hostages, in what sense?

PICCO: Well, the insurance means if something goes wrong the insurance kicks in. And one of the many permutations that we negotiated for the release of the American hostages and others, it appeared evident that to speed up matters it could have been useful if I'd use my own detention as one of the cards to make negotiations work.

So I wrote down on a yellow piece of paper one of the many plans I did write down, and that included my captivity by the hands of the very abductors who were controlling the lives of the hostages. So that they would release the hostages, and by holding me they would feel secure that nobody would go after them to hit them or to try to seize them.

And that was one of the attempts which we made to free those innocent people.

GROSS: So you were offering yourself as collateral, but you didn't have control over some of the other forces that could have really made the hostage takers angry and take a new hostage in response.

PICCO: No, but there is something I learned in my human and political journey from Afghanistan to Lebanon, and that is what is important very much is to give relevance not so much to your own life, but to the life of others. And that -- it's a bit more difficult.

GROSS: What do you mean by that?

PICCO: Well, in one way when I spoke to Abdullah (ph) the name I gave to the kidnapper that spoke to me, we found one meeting point and we clashed on another. I think we both were prepared to sacrifice our respective lives for what we believed in.

But he was prepared to kill others for the same cause. I was not. So on the first part of this -- how can I say? -- common ground, we met. And that's why I believe we actually communicated very well. He knew I was not afraid to die, and he was not afraid to die either.

GROSS: My guest Giandomenico Picco is the UN's former chief hostage negotiator. His new memoir is called "Man without a Gun." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: My guest is Giandomenico Picco, former U.N. hostage negotiator who was behind the 1991 release of nine Western hostages in Lebanon, including Terry Anderson and Terry Waite. Picco has written a new memoir called "Man without a Gun." He says the UN wasn't the only group negotiating for the release of the hostages.

I asked him if the hostage takers ever played the negotiators against each other shopping for the best deal.

PICCO: Yes, they did. It is almost a diplomatic tactic and not just used by kidnappers, but by governments, that if you have different people coming to you to negotiate the same matter you try to use one against the other. And if you don't have enough offers from everybody you try to make up new offers; so that you say to one negotiator that you received a better offer from the other one.

And every time I was given this speech I always suggested to the abductors always to take the best one for them, and if it wasn't mine, the best offer, they should have taken the other guys offer whatever it was. The very fact that they never did take any other offer than my own leads me to believe that they never received a better one. In fact, they never received anyone at all.

GROSS: Who else was out there?

PICCO: I have to take it that -- I only know part of the story, so surely there were other governments who tried to help America in the release of their own captives: perhaps Pakistan, Switzerland, indeed the Red Cross, which had several problems with their own people in Lebanon.

And then individuals; for instance, AP, the agency that had employed Terry Anderson, had used one of their people to help out to find a solution. And then of course the families who tried anything and everything to save their loved ones. And that was very reasonable, and I can understand that.

GROSS: Nevertheless, did you ever feel that the families were interfering with your work or did you feel that their efforts were benefiting your work?

PICCO: You know, I debated that both at that time and subsequently. And I don't think it's fair for anybody who is not a family member to tell a family member what to do, because they are the only one in that predicament. They are the one who is suffering more than others. And I would never be in the business of telling somebody who is suffering in that condition what to do, no matter what.

GROSS: You were with some of the hostages when they were released, including Terry Anderson. Would you describe what it was like to be with Terry Anderson or any of the other hostages when they found out that this was the moment that they were actually getting their freedom?

PICCO: I was not with Terry Anderson when he was actually in the hands of the abductors. I was with him the moment he was outside the hands of the abductors, so to speak. And Terry Anderson saw me and the first thing he did, he embraced me.

He said to me, "I've been praying for you. I've been waiting for you." Because over the last two years, before the liberation, many of the hostages had been given access to a radio and they had been following the BBC broadcasts for the Middle East. And the BBC had been broadcasting a bit of my adventures, sometimes giving correct information, sometimes wrong information. But that did not matter.

Terry said to me, "we have been following your movements, and we were following your movements with hope." So, when he saw me, the first thing he did he embraced me, and he actually, I believe, he said, "I love you." And I don't know if it is possible to really put in words the gratification of that moment. Because helping somebody to regain his life and his freedom cannot be described, it can only be felt.

GROSS: What do you think the Hezbollah finally accomplished with the hostages? Did they get anything that they wanted? I mean, they took the hostages for a reason, they wanted things. Did they accomplish any of their goals?

PICCO: They did, but by accident. The entire abduction of Western hostages in Lebanon was generated, was initiated, by a fact which happened in Kuwait at the end -- in '83, and that was when a group of Lebanese terrorists tried to kill the emir of Kuwait. And indeed, in the process, also the American and the French ambassadors.

Those terrorists failed, and they were captured and imprisoned. Their brothers in Lebanon began to seize Western hostages hoping that this could convince the Western governments to force the release of their companions, so to speak, from Kuwaiti prisons. That was the origin.

Eventually, the 17 Lebanese who were captured in Kuwait in 1983 were released, but not by the UN, not by the Americans, not by anybody except by a man that had nothing to do with the entire Lebanese kidnapping operation; and that was Saddam Hussein.

The Kuwaiti jails were opened, and the prisoners left Kuwait on the 2nd of August 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded that little country of Kuwait and opened the doors and they left. So that -- when I saw that happening, I realized that a window of opportunity to close the case was there for us to enter.

GROSS: Did the Hezbollah not have much more to gain by keeping the hostages after that?

PICCO: I don't think that they had much to gain after that. I think it was a matter of disengaging from a difficult situation. And basically I was there at the right time, and I offered the right window.

GROSS: Giandomenico Picco. His new memoir about his years with the UN is called "Man without a Gun." 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 Giandomenico Picco, who was the chief hostage negotiator for the UN. His new memoir, "Man without a Gun," covers his years at the UN from the early '70s to 1992. The year before he left he won the release of nine Western hostages, including Terry Anderson and Terry Waite, held in Lebanon by Islamic militants.

Before he negotiated the release of the hostages he helped negotiate an end to the Iran-Iraq war. The relationship he established with the Iranian government proved very helpful to his work getting the hostages released.

You say in the book that for years you basically told the Iranian authorities that the American president would reciprocate if Iran used its influence in Lebanon to win the freedom of the hostages. And that, you know, President Bush had even used the words "good will begets goodwill" in his inaugural address in 1989, and that he meant that as a signal to those who might help free the hostages in Beirut.

And yet after the hostages were freed there was no -- no -- nothing coming from the Americans. So, how did you interpret that?

PICCO: Nothing came from the American government, and that is correct. I suppose in the world of politics timing is very, very important. If the release of the Americans had taken place in 1990, or perhaps a bit further away from the presidential elections, I'm convinced that some reciprocation would have come.

But as it happened, Terry Anderson went home in December 1991. The beginning of '92 a number of activities took place in this country which led the government in Washington to believe that Iran was still involved in acts of terrorism. And therefore the president found himself in a difficult corner, perhaps because of the presidential elections of 1992. Perhaps because of these developments which, as I said, occurred in this country.

So I could not politically justify any reciprocation to Iran. I understood that. I understood the political constraints. Yet that was a promise which remained unfulfilled.

GROSS: And you went to the president of Iran, President Rafsanjani, and explained to him that although you promised that there'd be some reciprocation on the part of America, there probably wasn't going to be one and you had to take responsibility for that. So how do you explain it?

PICCO: Well, no president of this country, or for that matter of any other country, should have been concerned with my moral principles and moral requirements. And so I did not take it very personally. I just felt that myself I had to go to see the president of Iran and state for the record that I had been misleading him, in fact, though against my knowledge.

It was very important for me in my activity as a negotiator that my credibility remain untouched, and that was more important than anything else. So I did go and see President Rafsanjani in Tehran when there was no reciprocation from Washington.

And I simply said I want you to know that I in fact lied to you. And then whatever you decide to do is your decision. I had to do what I had to do, and that was to tell you where I stand with regard to keeping my word and not keeping my word. And that's the way it was.

GROSS: Now, had the Americans led you to believe that there would be some reciprocation if the hostages were freed, or were you just saying that?

PICCO: Well, the word of course, "goodwill begets goodwill" was clear enough.

GROSS: Well, it could've been meant to anybody though. It could've meant "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It could have just been an adage or, you know.

PICCO: It could have. I have reason to believe that the entire phrase was really meant for the Iranian government, and that my job during the previous years was to explain to the government of Iran that they should not ask what it meant in specific terms. But that they should take the sentence at face value and accept whatever will come.

I was successful in convincing Tehran of that, but I convinced them of something which clearly was wrong.

GROSS: So, what were the consequences of having perhaps inadvertently deceived them?

PICCO: Well, the consequences in fact were pretty minimal because I was able to leave Tehran and to come out alive from Tehran despite having misled the Islamic Republic government. And at the end of the day nothing happened.

So whoever made the decision, maybe with the hindsight of seven years later, could say they were right.

GROSS: You negotiated for the release of the hostages on behalf of the United Nations. What do you think some of the differences are between being a hostage negotiator representing a government versus representing the UN?

PICCO: Basically two. When you negotiate on behalf of the secretary-general of the United Nations you do not have two things which a government negotiator always has, and that is money and weapons; or otherwise said, military pressure and inference. I did not have that.

So I had to devise other plans and had to use cards which were different from those that normally a government uses. So it was just much more difficult.

GROSS: What are some of the cards you came up with?

PICCO: Well, clearly you mentioned some in our conversation already. One was to remove (unintelligible) ability. Two, is to use my own life. Three was to use the possibility of (unintelligible) with regard to who was the initiator of the war between Iraq and Iran.

So those are three specific cards I used in my negotiations.

GROSS: The United States has often said that it will not negotiate with terrorists. You did negotiate with hostage takers. Do you think it's a wise policy for a government to say it will not negotiate with terrorists?

PICCO: Oh, yes. I think it is a very wise policy. I negotiated with terrorists very carefully, I did not pay the terrorists at all. So there was no technical conversation with them from the point of view of benefit to them, because they did not do anything from me.

As I said, (unintelligible) was number one, the statement that Iraq had begun the war against Iran. Number two, stating the truth, and as such I don't think it's a great ethical problem to say that. And second, the release of Lebanese prisoners without due process by Israel; that is not releasing criminals. They were not even accused of anything. So without due process under any state of law, they are simply detained unjustly.

And I paid with cards, with tools, with instruments which were very ethical. So I can hardly say I used the negotiations to payoff the hostages.

GROSS: My guest Giandomenico Picco is the UN's former chief hostage negotiator. His new memoir is called "Man without a Gun." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: My guest is Giandomenico Picco, he's written a memoir about his career with the UN from the early '70s to 1992.

I want to ask you about the United Nations and the NATO bombing of Serbia. And NATO did not go to the Security Council and put the bombing to a vote before taking action. Do you think that that was appropriate, inappropriate?

PICCO: The request to go to the UN should have been made, in my view. There is no question that if we want to strengthen our organization that step should have been taken. On the other hand, let me just mentioned here that over the last few years many countries have been chipping away at the credibility of the United Nations.

Just for example, last year many African countries decided to violate the sanctions against Libya and began to fly into Tripoli even though that was against UN sanctions. It didn't seem to matter at the time if you think carefully, that is chipping away at the very foundation of a common decision taken for whatever reason years earlier.

Only three months ago, China decided to veto the only preventive military deployment of the UN in its history, and that was in Macedonia. And military deployment, which had prevented possibly over the last six or seven years, any military confrontation in Macedonia and Serbia. And yet China decided to veto it for obvious very nationalistic reasons which had to do with the relations between Macedonia and Taiwan.

And then of course we have the NATO countries deciding not to go to the Council before the bombing. But even more recently, we have the indictment of President Milosevic. And the very country, namely Russia, which has accused NATO of not following UN procedures before the bombing has dismissed the accusation of the tribunal, which is indeed a UN institution.

So it seems to me that countries like to choose and pick when to defend the UN.

GROSS: Is there anything you think the UN could be doing that it's not doing now to create a settlement in Serbia?

PICCO: The only limit to what the UN can do is in the ideas that individuals can produce. Idea's is the beginning of everything. And therefore there are of course -- there are options and there are other possibilities. It all rests with individuals and with their ability to propose things and to decide things. It's all there.

So there are, of course, different options all the time.

GROSS: Such as?

PICCO: Well, we have a situation now where one could argue that perhaps -- let me give you an example which is completely far-fetched. But we have never heard the idea that the secretary-general of the United Nations could physically move his personal office to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

Would that, for instance, help make a difference or break some of the present negotiating impasse? I'm just saying by absurd a situation like this, but...

GROSS: ... do you mean that symbolically it would mean that attacking Pristina was attacking world peace and the United Nations?

PICCO: Exactly. So that is one of the many ideas you can come up with. I'm convinced, for instance, that if in 1992 the then secretary general, at the beginning of the fighting in Bosnia, had moved his entire office to Sarajevo I wonder if Sarajevo had become what it became in 1995 -- a city destroyed.

GROSS: Well, you wonder though when warring parties deliberately attack, you know, murder or hold hostage human rights workers and international health workers. You wonder how much respect there'd be even for the head of the UN.

PICCO: Exactly. But that's what I'm saying. Assuming that the UN secretary-general had moved to Sarajevo in 1993, and assuming that three months later he had been killed, do you think that that would not have had an effect, a consequence? I think so.

So what is the life of one man if it can help saving many others?

GROSS: I wonder if the head of the UN would feel that way.

LAUGHTER

I don't think it's part of the job description.

PICCO: It's part of the job description of all us in the world. The point is that sometimes we give more importance, as I said at the beginning, to our lives than to the lives of others.

GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is Giandomenico Picco, who was the UN's chief hostage negotiator. He's written a memoir about his years with the UN called, "Man without a Gun."

Why did you end up leaving the United Nations?

PICCO: It is not a subject I like to talk much about. Basically, I think that the new secretary-general, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and myself had a different vision of what is the role of a secretary-general of the United Nations. And having spent 20 beautiful and exciting years doing a bit of special things in the organization I thought I would not stay to become what I was not, namely a good bureaucrat or a good diplomat. For I was neither.

And so I left.

GROSS: You're no longer with the United Nations, but you founded an NGO, a non-governmental organization, and it's called the Peace Strategy Project. It's based in Geneva. What does it do, and what hopes do you have that NGOs can actually be major players in creating world peace?

PICCO: They already are. Over the last 10 years at least, the actors of the international scene are not only governments, but also individuals and indeed NGOs. My little organization in Geneva has as its own mission that of devising new vehicles for the private sector to contribute to peace agreements.

And indeed we have done so. I'll give an example without using names, for I can't -- for I've taken a commitment to the people involved not to use names. But there was an Arab bank only a few years ago who wanted to introduce themselves in two Arab countries and to have a profile.

And they asked me if I had a suggestion, and I said indeed I do. If you sponsor us, if you pay for our research, we will prepare for you a solution of a border dispute which exists between the two countries where you want to go in and do business. And we will prepare feared this solution, mind you the dispute had been there since 1935, and you will deliver this particular study, research solution fact to their problem as your own present to the two head of states.

And to do that you'll just pay us to do this study for you, which we did. I'm glad to say that those two countries, on the basis of that study, six months after it was presented, signed an agreement of the dispute, which I said, had lasted since 1935.

GROSS: So in other words you think economic incentives, investment incentives can help prevent or end war?

PICCO: It was not so much economic incentive, we actually devised a solution of the border dispute in political terms. But we could afford to do the study because the corporation paid us -- sponsored us to do the study. And instead of them making investments in advertising, so to speak, in the country they paid for the study of a peace solution.

GROSS: And then did they move in afterwards and set up shop?

PICCO: Yes, they did.

GROSS: And do you think this is a model that can be built on?

PICCO: There's a different way of involving the private sector in a constructive way instead of just using their own money to do advertising and all rest.

GROSS: Well, I regret we're out of time. I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

PICCO: Thank you.

GROSS: Giandomenico Picco has written a memoir about his years with the UN called, "Man without a Gun."

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
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TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Giandomenico Picco
High: Former chief United Nation's hostage negotiator Giandomenico Picco. He has written about his experiences in the new book "Man without a Gun: One Diplomat's Secret Struggle to Free the Hostages, Fight Terrorism, and End a War." Picco helped negotiate the release of more than a dozen Western hostages being held by Islamic militants in Lebanon. He currently serves as president of GDP Associates, an international consulting firm in New York City, and is founder of the Non-Governmental Peace Strategy Project based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Spec: United Nations; Hostages and Kidnappings; Middle East; Lifestyle; Culture; Giandomenico Picco

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: Giandomenico Picco's Memoir on Negotiating the Release of Hostages

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JUNE 02, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060202NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Germaine Greer's "The Whole Woman"
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: In her new book, "The Whole Woman," Germaine Greer says this sequel to the "The Female Eunuch" is "the book I said I would never write." Book critic Maureen Corrigan says Greer should have stuck to her original resolution.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: For days after finishing Germaine Greer's new book "The Whole Woman," I tried to figure out why more than most other foolish books I've read it made me so angry. I think I've got it.

As a professor, I spend semester after semester listening to young women assure me that the women's movement is no longer necessary. That the battles for equal opportunity and the right to reproductive freedom have been won. A lot of these young women tell me they would never ever call themselves feminists, because to them the term conjures up humorless, extremist man haters.

So now here comes Germaine Greer, one of the most publicly recognized and sexy and witty feminists of the second wave, in this folly of a sequel to her 1970 classic "The Female Eunuch." Greer defends the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation because it's something that women do to women; denounces tests for cervical cancer because they're a tool of the male medical establishment concentrated on bringing women under lifelong control. And celebrates nonsensical furious theories of women's moral superiority to men at every turn.

Thanks a lot, Germaine. If Newt Gingrich and Kathie Lee Gifford had collaborated on a book about feminism it couldn't be dopier. The writing style of "The Whole Woman" is in some ways even more of a disappointment than the book's substance. After all, Greer was always applauded more for her roar than her rigor.

Thirty years ago critics knocked "The Female Eunuch" for its intellectually shaky condemnation of psychoanalysis, and its insistence that the tsunami-like force of the unrestrained female libido would propel women toward liberation. But what fun most of Greer's original audience had reading "The Female Eunuch."

Women just coming to feminist consciousness reveled in her outrageous metaphors, her fury, her sly humor, her raunchiness. If the book hasn't aged as well as some other feminist classics it's because Greer's social commentary was off the cuff stuff, packing the shock of the new.

In contrast, "The Whole Woman" exudes a kind of piously offended tone. Greer has all but abandoned the literary references which enlivened and expanded her points in "The Female Eunuch." Here she supports her pronouncements on subjects ranging from plastic surgery to women in the military by citing statistics without clear or even humanly imaginable sources.

For instance, she declares that, "of all the women now alive in California only half will be buried with their wombs." Huh? Who can possibly be counting?

Greer's message has also changed drastically in this sequel. As journalist Christine Wallace recounts in her recent unauthorized biography of Greer called "Untamed Shrew," Greer originally was hailed as well as assailed for her sexual sermonizing; for her core belief that women, to be fully liberated, should indulge in promiscuous heterosexual relations.

In "The Whole Woman," however, Greer has soured on sexual intercourse denouncing what she sees as the symbolic nature of intercourse as an act of domination. From intercourse as often and with as many partners as possible to preferably no intercourse at all, Greer seems to have one of those minds that only thinks in extremes rejecting nuance as a sign of weakness.

The passing decades have also made Greer into more of a difference feminist. You know the rap, even if you're unfamiliar with the term. Women are naturally more cooperative, peace loving and all-around angelic than their ape-like male counterparts.

Greer used to be more alert to crucial issues of class, education and employment opportunity. Now she avows that woman is the overriding category. Towards the end of the book she says, "deciding which behaviors mirror female and which the castrated form of the feminine is not easy. Until menopause burns off the impurities. What remains in the crucible after that proof is the whole woman."

I'm truly sorry to say that the impure opinions and exuberance that have burned off of Greer in the last 30 years were far more interesting than what remains.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University.

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: Maureen Corrigan
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "The Whole Woman" Germaine Greer's follow up to her 1970 classic "The Female Eunuch."
Spec: Entertainment; Women; Lifestyle; Culture; Germaine Greer; Maureen Corrigan

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: Germaine Greer's "The Whole Woman"
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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