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Another "Progressive" War Film.

Film critic John Powers reviews "Three Kings," starring George Clooney, Ice Cube and Mark Wahlberg. It's written and directed by David O. Russell, whose last hit film was "Flirting With Disaster."

05:42

Other segments from the episode on October 1, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 1, 1999: Interview with Jimmy Carter; Interviews with Jimmy Carter; Review of the film "Three Kings."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: OCTOBER 01, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 100101np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Interviews with Jimmy Carter
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, this is FRESH AIR.

I'm Barbara Bogaev, filling in for Terry Gross.

Jimmy Carter turns 75 today. On this edition of FRESH AIR, we'll call him to see how he's celebrating the big day. He's been on the show many times, so we'll play excerpts of interviews about his early political career, his poetry and religion.

Also, film critic John Powers reviews "Three Kings," a satiric look at the Gulf war starring George Clooney, Ice Cube and Mark Wahlberg.

That's all coming up on today's FRESH AIR.

First the news.

(NEWS BREAK)

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

In honor of Jimmy Carter's 75 birthday today, we're featuring excerpts from some of the many conversations he's had with Terry over the years. Before we go to our archives, let's make a birthday phone call to President Carter at the Carter Center.

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Well, today is your 75th birthday, and I wonder if the age of 75 looks different to you now than it did when you were a young man thinking about age 75.

JIMMY CARTER: It looks entirely different. I never, you know, dreamed that a 75-year-old could walk upright or do anything like that. And yesterday, my wife and I had two serious sets of tennis. We -- on Saturday we ran in a five-kilometer road race in Plains. We have recently climbed, you know, Mount Fuji up and down in one day. We've climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. We are avid, you know, fisher -- fly-fishers. We have a very active physical life.

And of course, the things that we do at the Carter Center are as stimulating and challenging and adventurous and unpredictable as anything I've ever done in my life. So I would say the fullness of our life at 75 is -- is totally different from what I anticipated as a young person, if I ever did reach that ancient age.

GROSS: Does Rosalynn usually give you a gift for your birthday?

CARTER: Yeah, we try to give each other something kind of personal and not paid-for. You know, we don't just go to a store and buy each other a wrapped-up gift. We try to think of some commitment or some act that is beneficial, maybe in erasing a problem between us, between the two of us, and give that.

GROSS: Could you give an example of such a gift?

CARTER: Yeah. Well, one birthday, for instance, I forgot -- it was Rosalynn's -- until I came in and turned my computer on to write a book, and I saw the date was August the 18th. So I'm a fanatic on punctuality, and one of the things that had always been a problem between the two of us was that if Rosalynn was two minutes late, or I thought she was going to be late in going to an event, I would kind of get uptight. And I wrote Rosalynn a sworn statement, which I have honored now for 10 years, that never again would I make a negative comment about punctuality. And I've kept that promise.

And in another -- another birthday -- we had been having some pretty tough times in our marriage, and we found that if we got arguing about something, which may or may not be profoundly significant, that the argument lasted quite a while.

So I went out to my wood shop. I make furniture. And I planed down a very thin, beautiful little piece of walnut, quite thin and shaped like a check. And I wrote on it with a little burning pen to Rosalynn, "This is good for the rest of our lives either for forgiveness or an apology." And I signed it.

And Rosalynn has used it quite frequently since then. This was about four years ago. So when we do have an argument, Rosalynn sometimes will go into her office and get my wooden check and bring it in and say, "Jimmy, OK, I want an apology." And I apologize. She hasn't yet asked me for forgiveness!

(LAUGHTER)

CARTER: So those are the kind of things that we do just to make our life together better. We've been together 53 years now.

GROSS: Well, it sounds like you're in store for something interesting for your birthday.

CARTER: I think so.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Some people dread their birthdays when they get older because it adds another year to their age. So how do you feel about turning 75? How does it sound to you?

CARTER: Well, first of all, I'm just glad to reach it. And I've always had a strange habit, which I didn't do it deliberately, that when I pass a birthday, I always start thinking about myself as a year older. So I've been thinking about myself as being 75 all this year.

GROSS: You know something? I do the same thing!

CARTER: DO you really?

GROSS: Yeah.

CARTER: Well, that's interesting. I think psychologically, it helps you.

GROSS: It's like a defense mechanism. (laughs)

CARTER: On your birthday...

GROSS: That's right.

CARTER: ... it may be, yeah. So I'm going to be kind of surprised -- I've already been surprised today, I guess, and not just tonight, to realize that I'm just reaching 75. I haven't been 75 for a whole year. So that's -- that's kind of a psychological benefit.

GROSS: Well, I want to wish you a very happy birthday, and I want to thank you for talking with us.

CARTER: I've enjoyed talking to you. You have a great program, and you have good commentary on life.

GROSS: Well, thank you. A pleasure to talk with you again.

CARTER: It's my pleasure.

GROSS: Happy birthday.

CARTER: Bye-bye.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

BOGAEV: President Jimmy Carter speaking with Terry Gross.

In 1993, Terry interviewed Jimmy Carter on the publication his memoir, "Turning Point." They discussed his first political campaign, when he ran for the Georgia state senate. Carter decided to enter politics shortly after the Supreme Court issued its "one man, one vote" ruling in the case Baker versus Carr (ph). This was in 1962.

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

CARTER: Well, I had come home from the Navy, having been 11 years a full-time Naval officer, a submarine officer, started a small business and had never run for elective office. I was the chairman of the Sumter County school board in the heat of the integration years. I was concerned about the closing down or the subversion of our public school system. And when -- and I was disgusted, in a way, with the slow pace of the Civil Rights changes in the South.

And then along came the bright, halcyon days of the "one man, one vote" ruling, where the Democratic white rural primary was going to be stricken down. I thought it was a new day in Georgia and the United States, where democracy would prevail and honesty would be there, and equality would be ensured. And so I decided I would run for the state senate. And the only request I would make -- and did finally make -- was to be on the education committee.

And I entered this little community over in the western part of Georgia, Georgetown, Georgia, and I found shocking fraud, corruption, stuffing ballot boxes, abuse of citizens that was incredible to me.

GROSS: Well, you say you found blatant voting abuse. What's the worst example of voting abuse that you faced during that first campaign of yours?

CARTER: Well, I was a hit in the election going into this little tiny county on the Chattahoochie River, just across the river from Alabama. There was a political boss in the county named Joe Hurst (ph). He was chairman of the only political organization, the Democratic Committee. He was a state legislator. He was the only state legislator that was authorized by a special law to be a full-time state employee.

His wife was the Welfare director. Georgetown was the only Post Office in the United States, for instance, where all the Welfare checks came to the same Post Office box. And he and his wife would personally deliver the Welfare checks to families that they had decided should be on Welfare.

One of the prerequisites for getting Welfare payment was to vote the way Joe Hurst told them. There's no way to ensure that someone votes the way you tell them unless you know how they vote, so a secret ballot was totally out of the question. Everyone who voted in my election in that little town voted on an open table in front of Joe Hurst and one of his henchmen, whose name was Doc Hammond (ph).

Joe Hurst watched them vote. They put their ballots in a large whiskey box, a pasteboard box with a five-inch hole in the top. And quite often, I watched Joe Hurst reach in, pull out the ballots, examine them, even change them when he wanted to, and put in ballots of his own. It was literally incredible.

And he was so powerful that he was impervious to criticism. He didn't even care if I saw him cheating. He had control of the district attorney. He had control of the trial judge. He had been indicted eight times on felony charges, convicted four times, but never served a day in jail or paid one dollar in fines.

He was so powerful, it was -- it was unbelievable to me. And so I had that to challenge. And many of the people in that little county were intimidated by Hurst. The crucial base of his operation was the county unit system. One vote in Georgetown was equal to 99 votes in Atlanta. And this was all legal. It was perfectly legal until the "one man, one vote" ruling came down.

GROSS: Well, you say that he was so impervious to criticism, he was so arrogant, that even when you caught him in the act of fraud, he -- what he said to you was, "Well, this is such a simple election that we've decided voting booths aren't necessary."

CARTER: No, he said, you know, "People don't mind if I know how they vote." You know, "Why would we have voting booths?" There were some folding voting booths in the courthouse chamber, which he didn't bother to use. He had squeezed people in a little tiny room, so that they only place they could vote was on a counter in the ordinary's office, probate judge's office, so he and his assistant could watch each vote counted -- cast.

GROSS: Well, how do you challenge electoral fraud when the people who you have to take the challenge to are aligned with the same people responsible for the fraud?

CARTER: Well, even with his oppression or inducement of people to vote against me, I would still have won had he not stuffed the ballot box. There were only 333 people who went to the polls that day. There were 421 ballots in the box when they were counted. A hundred and eighteen of them voted alphabetically, down to the last letters in their name, a number of whom were dead or in prison or living in states in -- way off, and they hadn't voted at all.

He was the ultimate appeal in the country in the entire process in that role that he played. This was in accordance with Georgia law. The final decision in any election held in Quitman County, which was Georgetown was the county seat, was made by the Democratic primary committee that was controlled by Joe Hurst. I finally did win that election, but even then, I had to go to the Georgia senate and under the Georgia law, the Georgia senate has the final determination about who will be seated in that body.

GROSS: How did you win? How did you get your fair count?

CARTER: Well, I think a lot of publicity had accrued. I couldn't get any publicity at all at first. The local newspapers, even in Columbus, Georgia, which is a fairly good-sized town, were kind of in bed with Joe Hurst, or they had seen him do this so long that they thought it was maybe acceptable or shouldn't -- wasn't really a newsworthy item until there was one very heroic reporter from the "Atlanta Journal" named John Pennington (ph), who came down quite skeptical at first about my allegations.

And he on his own initiative went into Quitman County, got some old records and interviewed Joe Hurst and all the other people and found out that my accusations were true. And in a few days, this story about my election was a top headline news on the front page of the Atlanta newspapers. And so I didn't have to operate in a vacuum anymore. And there was no doubt in anybody's mind who read the newspaper or who listened to the news that this was a crime of the first degree in the case of elections.

GROSS: You know what I found really interesting, your opponent in that very first election of yours back in 1962 -- your opponent, Homer Moore (ph), ended up supporting you in your presidential campaign. What happened in those intervening years that he became an ally?

CARTER: Well, he was a good guy. I don't think he had any knowledge about the ballot box stuffing. This was done by -- in one of the seven counties, by this man, Joe Hurst. Homer Moore was a warehouseman, like I was. He was in the peanut business, the fertilizer business, and I had known him for a good while. And so he and I stayed at fairly good -- on fairly good terms, even during all the court tests and -- both of us wanted to win, of course.

Later, after I had been governor and when I ran for president, Homer Moore and his campaign chairman, whose name was Sam Singer (ph), both went to foreign states, including New Hampshire, and campaigned for me. So you know, we wound up to be and continued to be friends.

And so -- Joe Hurst eventually went to prison for vote fraud and also for dealing in illegal liquor. And when I finally got to the Georgia senate, one of the things that I wanted to do, although I'm not a lawyer, was to revise the Georgia election code to correct some of the patent mistakes that had been deliberately maintained over decades or generations in Georgia to permit this kind of thing.

And as we were debating the new election code, one of the interesting amendments that was put forward by a state senator from the town of Enigma, Georgia -- interesting name -- was that no one in Georgia could vote in a primary election or a general election who had been dead more than three years.

GROSS: (laughs)

CARTER: And there was...

GROSS: An interesting cut-off point!

CARTER: Yeah, but there was a very interesting debate about it, too. People maintained that even though, say, a husband died, there was a certain period of time after his death when the wife and children could accurately cast his vote the way he would have voted if he had lived. And so how long after somebody's death do circumstances change so much that you can't really predict how he would have voted?

(END AUDIOTAPE)

BOGAEV: President Jimmy Carter from a 1993 interview. We'll hear more after the break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

BOGAEV: If you're just joining us, we're featuring a 1993 interview with Jimmy Carter.

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

GROSS: What was the most disorienting part of your first day and night in the White House?

CARTER: I had pretty well gotten my cabinet firmed up quite early after the election. And what do you do the next day to deal with the multitude of issues? I had a very fine agenda. I couldn't get much support originally from the Congress, although finally my batting average was about the same as Lyndon Johnson's or John Kennedy.

You know, what do you do when you get in the Oval Office? I hardly knew where it was, although I had visited it once before. President Ford had invited me in to see the Oval Office after I had won the election. I was -- I was -- I have to say, though, as a bottom line, that I was quite confident in my -- of myself. (laughs) I wasn't plagued with trepidation that I was inadequate for the job. That may be presumptuous, but anybody who decides "I want to be president of this great country" has to be somewhat presumptuous. So I wasn't plagued with an inferiority complex. I felt that no matter what came up that I could handle it as well as anyone.

GROSS: What about during the hostage crisis? Was there ever a point where you wished that you weren't president...

CARTER: (laughs)

GROSS: ... where you wished that you didn't have this terrible burden on your shoulders?

CARTER: Well, you know, about 2:00 o'clock in the morning in April, when we tried the rescue operation and it -- and we couldn't succeed, that was the -- perhaps the high point of despair in my presidency. And I knew that I had to get up early the next morning, about 6:00 o'clock, and prepare to go on all the morning talk shows and explain to the American people that the rescue operation had failed. That was a very dismal point.

Also, we knew that an accident had occurred and that one of the helicopters had flown into an airplane and that eight people had died. And I had to notify those families during the night that their loved ones had perished in a secret operation. There's no way that anything else that happened during the four years could equal that as a time of discouragement and despair.

GROSS: Yeah. You told us a little bit about what your inauguration day was like. Let's skip ahead to the inauguration of your successor, Ronald Reagan. What were you feeling that day, as you realized that the hostages were going to be released on his watch, not on yours?

CARTER: Well, I didn't realize that. I had not been to bed for three days and had negotiated in the most meticulous detail the release of the hostages. Everything was all agreed, and the hostages were in the airplane ready to take off at 10:00 o'clock that morning, Washington time. So we were just waiting to get word that they had cleared Iranian air space. And when I went to the reviewing stand, when I relinquished the presidency to Reagan, and he made his inaugural speech, before I left the reviewing stand, I was informed that the plane had indeed taken off and the hostages were all safe and free.

I have to say that I didn't even think about the fact that it happened a few minutes after midnight -- I mean, after noontime. I just knew that they were free, and that was one of the most glorious and happy moments of my entire life.

GROSS: Even though it wasn't on your watch.

CARTER: Well, to me, I didn't even think about it. But obviously, that became the major story among the news media that it happened about 20 minutes after I was no longer president. To me that was insignificant. But it has still prevailed. Even your question indicates that it was a historically important fact that it happened a few minutes after I left the White House as the president, rather than while I was still in office.

GROSS: My guest is former president Jimmy Carter.

Jimmy Carter, before we go any further, I'm going to ask you for a little lesson in etiquette. Do I call you President Carter, Mr. President, our former president Jimmy Carter? What is the appropriate etiquette when you're talking to a former president of the United States?

CARTER: One of the nice things about our country is you can call me anything you want to.

GROSS: (laughs)

CARTER: "Jimmy" seems to me OK. There is a custom in our nation that if you are or have been a governor or ambassador or a judge or a president, then you can still retain the title, so if you want to call me president, you can. If you want to call me Jimmy, that's fine.

You know, when I go through Georgia, small towns, and somebody is an old friend of mine, I know it immediately when they say, "Hi, Governor." They call me -- they still...

GROSS: (laughs)

CARTER: That's -- whatever the most intimate relationship is. And when -- and the little kids around Plains, when I ride a bicycle or jog by, they -- if they are very devout or if their families go to church every Sunday, they call me Brother Jimmy. "Hello, Brother Jimmy." And a lot of them just call me, "Hello, Jimmy Carter." But it doesn't matter to me. I never was much dependent on the pomp and ceremony of the White House, even when I was there. And so "Jimmy" suits me fine.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

BOGAEV: Jimmy Carter from a 1993 interview with Terry.

We'll continue our celebration of Jimmy Carter's 75th birthday today in the second half of our program.

I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Jimmy Carter turns 75 today. Over the years, we've had the privilege of having the former president as a guest a number of times on FRESH AIR. In 1995, Terry spoke with him on the publication of his book of poetry, "Always a Reckoning."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GROSS: What do you think the assumptions are that people make when they hear a former president is also a poet?

CARTER: Well, I think it's been a rare thing in history to have a president who was a published poet. I think -- I imagine a lot of folks that have been in the White House have written a poem or two.

GROSS: And hid them! (laughs)

CARTER: And hid them, yes, or shared them with maybe a wife on a -- you know, on Mother's Day or something of that kind. But I think the general reaction would be, "Well, they'll be extremely amateurish or they'll just be frivolous or"...

GROSS: Or inspirational or calls to patriotism.

CARTER: I think so. I think -- in this particular book, I put together about 45 poems and tried to make them as diverse as I could in their character.

GROSS: Well, let's have you read a poem, if you don't mind. And I'd like you to read a poem called "Of My Father's Cancer and His Dreams." And you're welcome to introduce this, if you'd like, or to just being the poem. But I think it would be nice for you to tell us first when you wrote it.

CARTER: I've written most of these poems in the last five years, and what I've done ordinarily is revise each poem maybe a dozen or 20 times, trying to simplify them, make sure we had the right word and that the words were juxtaposed properly and that the lines either rhymed or didn't rhyme. In this particular poem, there are kind of slant (ph) rhymes. They're not direct rhymes, but I think the listener can probably detect them.

This one is a poem about my father's last days. I was a submarine officer working under Admiral Rickover developing the second nuclear submarine in history. And my father, I discovered -- I found -- I learned was dying, and I went home to be with him. And I've tried to put myself in the position of someone who is in his or her last days on a deathbed and how they might react to the world around them.

The name of this poem is "Of My Father's Cancer and His Dreams."

"With those who love him near his bed, seldom speaking anymore, he lies too weak to raise his head, but dreams from time to time. In one he says he sees his wife, so proud in her white uniform, with other nurses trooping by, their girlish voices aimed to charm the young men lounging there. Then her eyes met his and hold. A country courtship has begun.

"They've been together 30 years. Now she watches over him as she tries to hide her tears. All his children are at home, but wonder what they ought to say or do, either when he is awake or when he seems to fade away. They can't always be on guard, and sometimes if his mind is clear, he can grasp a whispered phrase never meant for him to hear. `He just seems weaker all the time.' `I don't know what else to cook. He can't keep down anything.'

"He hears a knocking on the door, voices of his friends who bring a special cake or fresh-killed quail. They mumble out some words of love, try to learn how he might feel, and then go back to spread the word. `They say he may have faded some.' He'll soon give in to the rising pain and crave the needle that will numb his knowledge of a passing world and bring the consummating sleep he knows will come."

GROSS: Have you read that poem -- did you read that poem to your family before publishing it?

CARTER: All my family are dead. I read it to Rosalynn.

GROSS: Yeah, I was thinking of Rosalynn. Yeah.

CARTER: But my father and my mother and both my sisters and my brother have all died with cancer. And so I don't have anyone to read it to except my wife, who's a very good editor and who -- and who is familiar with all these poems.

GROSS: You know, when you're president of the United States, you're the most, you know, important person in the country, and you have the most power and so on. And then when, you know, fairly late in life you start writing poetry more seriously than you ever wrote it before...

CARTER: Yes.

GROSS: I mean, you're getting started, you know, pretty late with that and everything. There might be this feeling, "Well, how could I possibly be any good? And as former president, I'm only allowed to do things that I can really excel in."

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Did you ever go through a crisis about that and think, like, if you wrote poems, they'd better be the best poems, otherwise -- you wouldn't be able to measure up to your own standards.

CARTER: Well, I did. I mean, I have to say that I approached it fairly tentatively. I didn't just all of a sudden decide I'm going to write a book of poems. I wrote a few poems, and then I submitted them to magazines and to quarterlies around the country.

GROSS: Anonymously? (laughs)

CARTER: Well, I would put "J. Carter" on them, and they would -- I would ask the publishers not to reveal the fact that they came from a former president, not to mention that at all. And then there were, you know, very helpful critical reviews, most of them, by the way, favorable, I have to say. And so I increased in my confidence with the experience. And finally, I decided to take about 45 of my poems and to put them together in this book.

GROSS: Well, did you get rejection slips from anybody?

CARTER: Yes, a few.

GROSS: Now, did that hurt a lot?

CARTER: Not really because I didn't expect very much at the beginning. I expected to be rejected, and when I did get an acceptance, it was a very pleasant surprise~! (laughs) I submitted a few poems to some of the more prominent magazines, and the first time I sent a few poems to my present publisher, he said that he didn't think that a poetry book was appropriate for me.

And I took one of the poems out of "The New Yorker" magazine that I could not comprehend at all, and I sent it to him, Peter Osnos (ph). He says he has it on his wall in his office. But it's a totally incomprehensible, ugly collection of words that has no meaning to me, no rhythm, no rhyme. The words are not even good. But it was published in "The New Yorker" magazine, and I don't understand that kind of poetry.

So you know, I went through a laborious process of finally saying, "OK, I'm going to publish the poems that I like. I'm going to let them be truly expressive of my inner feelings, and if people like them, fine. If they don't, OK." So far, the reviews have been -- have been quite favorable.

GROSS: There's another poem I'm going to ask you to read called "Difficult Times."

CARTER: OK. It's a very brief poem. That's the title of it, "Difficult Times."

"I tried to understand. I've seen you draw away and show the pain. It's hard to know what I can say to turn things right again, to have the coolness melt, so share once more the warmth we've felt."

GROSS: Was that a poem to Rosalynn?

CARTER: Yes. When we were having some difficult times. And that first version of the poem is not this one. I rewrote it several times to simplify it and to abbreviate it. But I think we all go through those things, and there's a reaching out to someone else that can be expressed in poetry that couldn't be expressed, at least by me, in prose or verbally.

GROSS: So did you give her the poem after you wrote it?

CARTER: Yes.

GROSS: Did that help...

CARTER: Well, we get along all right.

GROSS: ... warm things up?

CARTER: Well, we're still...

GROSS: You're still together! (laughs)

CARTER: We're now approaching our 49th wedding anniversary, so yes, it did.

GROSS: Now, this is an example of a poem that I would expect you might have reservations publishing, if you were in the White House because then I could see all the press coming and saying, "Well, what was the dispute about? And how long did it" -- do you know what I mean? And it just kind of being kind of measured and interpreted in a way that was both very literal and very...

CARTER: Well, I don't think...

GROSS: ... very much like the character issue, as opposed to as a poem.

CARTER: I don't think I could have possibly published these poems, you know, while I was still in the White House or even tried to.

GROSS: And tell me why.

CARTER: Well, they're too self-revealing, and they open up questions that I don't think ought to be explored in a White House press conference. I don't mind exploring them with you because I can kind of be evasive if I want to!

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: And that's no comment on my skills as an interviewer, right?

CARTER: That's right. You're a very good interviewer. But I -- obviously, this is something that couldn't be done if -- I couldn't have had time to write them when I was in the White House. These poems took a lot of work -- you know, five years off and on of hours and hours and hours of struggling with a line or with a word or with a concept. And they're the product of -- of a great deal of self-examination.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOGAEV: Jimmy Carter. Terry spoke with him in 1995.

Coming up, Jimmy Carter reflects on his spiritual life.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

BOGAEV: Jimmy Carter is a born-again Christian, and his religious beliefs have always been an important part of his life. In 1996, Terry spoke with him on the publication of his book, "Living Faith," in which he wrote about his faith and how it sustained him while he was president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GROSS: How did you approach your prayer life in the White House? You say in your book that other presidents have brought in Billy Graham to organize, you know, worship for them. But you didn't want to do that in the White House. You thought it was -- it violated your sense of separation of church and state. So what did you do?

CARTER: Well, I worshiped as I would if I had not been in public life at all. I went to Sunday services at the First Baptist Church in Washington, which was the nearest Baptist church to the White House. Most of the weekends, we'd try to go to Camp David. We had a chaplain from a nearby Army base come and preach a sermon. We sang hymns together.

And as far as my personal prayer life was concerned, I would say it was much more frequent, maybe on the average more heartfelt than any other time in my life because I felt that the decisions I made were affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

I never prayed for popularity. I never prayed to be reelected, things of that kind. I prayed that I could keep my nation at peace. I prayed that I could extend the advantages of peace to other people, say between Egypt and Israel at Camp David. When the hostage crisis came along, the prayer that I made was that all the hostages would come back home safe and free, that I would not betray the principles of my nation or do anything to embarrass it.

And I think in all those cases, my prayers were answered. I think God always answers our prayers. Quite often God's answer is no. We don't get what we ask for. And then the obligation, if we have faith, is to find out within ourselves why.

Are we asking for selfish things? Are we asking for things that are unjustified? Are we asking for things that ought to be granted in the future? Should we change the priorities in our lives? Are our prayers in accordance with God's will? Those are the kind of things that I've learned over a long lifetime, as you know. And those are the things I try to describe in "Living Faith."

GROSS: What was your sense of prayer when you were a child, and how has your sense of prayer changed as an adult?

CARTER: Well, when I was a child, say when I reached the age of 10 or teenage life, I had some very serious doubts about what I heard in church, what I heard in Sunday school, what I heard my own father teaching. But I wouldn't express my doubts to anybody, and I thought I was very sinful not to have absolute and total faith.

Now my faith is stronger. I can see the various aspects of a deep Christian faith. I realize that as I was in -- at the age of 15, I'm still searching. I'm still trying to learn. I'm still trying to stretch my heart, stretch my mind.

I learned two or three times in my life that my faith could sustain total doubt in God. I rejected God a few times. I felt that God had betrayed me, that I could not depend on my faith at all. And I had to go through a very difficult and unpleasant healing process.

I've learned over a period of a long lifetime, 50 years of marriage with Rosalynn, how sadly mistaken I was in dealing with her. When we first got married, I was an arrogant young Naval Academy graduate. Rosalynn was a very shy, timid younger person from Plains, Georgia. I totally dominated her. I didn't show any sensitivity when she was distressed. I was just impatient. When decisions were to be made about our family's life, I didn't consult with her. I just made a decision and informed her of what we were going to do.

And that was in my formative stage as a mature human being. I've learned to correct some of those mistakes. So prayer life for me has paralleled in awareness and growth and in significant (ph) my evolution as a human being. And I hope that I'll continue to -- to improve in the remaining years that I have.

GROSS: Tell me if this is too personal, OK? What were the times in your life that you thought God betrayed you?

CARTER: Well, one of the most distressing times was in 1966. I had been a state senator two terms. I thought after prayer that I should run for governor of Georgia. I mounted a massive campaign all over the state -- frantically -- shaking hands, asking people to support me. My opponent was a racist named Lester Maddox, whose symbol was a pick handle that he used to beat African-Americans over the head if they tried to come into his restaurant and buy some fried chicken.

When the results came in, Lester Maddox had won, and I had lost. And I couldn't believe that the Georgia people preferred him. I couldn't believe that God would let this happen.

So I had a complete renunciation of -- of my faith. And my sister, who lived in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Ruth Carter Stapleton, was a very famous evangelist. My mother called her and told her that I was -- had this attitude. So Ruth came down to Plains, and we went out in the woods. And Ruth tried to console me, which was impossible. And Ruth quoted a couple of verses from the second chapter of James, which was the foundation of Ruth's ministry, which was a very happy ministry.

Anyway, James says, according to God, that no matter how horrible a mistake we've made or how total our failure might be or how abject our despair or how great our loss, that if we have, first of all, courage, and then if we have patience, and then if we are wise enough to seek wisdom from God, any catastrophe can be changed into a blessing.

I told Ruth that this was complete baloney -- that wasn't the word I used -- that it was ridiculous. And Ruth say, "Jimmy, you have to have faith that this is true. She said, "Why don't you just forget about politics for a while and just respond to any opportunities you have."

So just a few weeks later, I was asked to go as a lay witness to Lock Haven (ph), Pennsylvania. A group of volunteer Baptists from State College, which is where Penn State University is, had called every family in the phone book, and they had identified 100 families none of whom had any religious faith. And I was asked to go and visit those families.

So I knocked on the door. Some received us with open arms, some wouldn't open the door. And at the end of a week, I had experienced for the first time in my life the genuine presence of God, a sense that the Holy Spirit was with us. We had 48 people who accepted the Christian faith. We rented an old church building and left Lock Haven with a new church going.

And that was a turning point in my life. I then began to see that no matter if I was elected to any future office or not, that there were other things in life. As the history books would say, I ran for governor again. I was elected. I went on and became president of the United States.

But that's not the real point. The point is that when we do have a setback in politics or in business or whatever, we need to have faith that we can find an alternative that would give us much more significant priorities in life.

GROSS: Jimmy Carter, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

CARTER: Well, I've enjoyed it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOGAEV: Jimmy Carter from a 1996 interview with Terry Gross. Tonight he celebrates his 75th birthday with a gala fund-raiser for the Rylander (ph) Theater in Americus, Georgia.

Coming up, a review of the new movie, "Three Kings."

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
Guest: Jimmy Carter
High: Former President Jimmy Carter turns 75 today, and we celebrate by rebroadcasting excerpts of several of his interviews in which he discusses his faith, his life in politics, and his love of poetry. (Interviews rebroadcast from 1/12/93, 1/17/95, and 12/25/96.)
Spec: Jimmy Carter; World Affairs; Politics; Literature; Religion

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: Interviews with Jimmy Carter
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: OCTOBER 01, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 100102NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: "Three Kings": A Review
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:56

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: "Three Kings" is a new action comedy about the Persian Gulf war starring George Clooney. Film critic John Powers has this review.

JOHN POWERS, FILM CRITIC: Back when Americans fought wars they believed in, it was possible to make gung-ho war movies. But these days every new war movie has to go out of its way to prove that it's really progressive and humane. That's just what happens in "Three Kings," a jaunty jumble of a yarn about Operation Desert Storm.

The story's set in Iraq right after the ceasefire and centers on four American soldiers: a disillusioned Special Forces officer played by George Clooney, a good family man played by Mark Wahlberg, a devout Christian from Detroit -- that's the rapper Ice Cube -- and a dopey Southern racist played by video director Spike Jones.

When the four find a map showing where Saddam Hussein has stored millions in stolen Kuwaiti bullion, they set off the steal it for themselves. But along the way they see Iraqi soldiers slaughtering Iraqi civilians who've risen up against Saddam, and soon Clooney and company are caught up trying to protect innocent Iraqis, even as they also try to grab the gold.

This leads them into some absurd situations, as when, desperate for transportation, they try to convince the Iraqi rebels to lend them some cars.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE CLOONEY: Listen, we use these cars to fight Saddam's soldiers.

ACTOR: What's so funny?

ACTOR: Cannot take.

ACTOR: What you mean, "cannot take"? We kicked Saddam's ass. We definitely take.

CLOONEY: We are the United States Army.

ACTOR: You are three guys with a bunch of civilians and no Humvee.

ACTOR: Money! Have no money to eat, to live.

ACTOR: American Army is huge. It has planes and tanks, and we have nothing.

CLOONEY: Listen to me. We will rise up together. Tell him. Rise up. Look at us. Many races. Many nations. Many nations working together. Tell him, chief.

ACTOR: Yes, we're united.

CLOONEY: United! George Bush. George Bush wants you.

ACTOR: Stand up for yourself.

ACTOR: George Bush wants you!

(CROSSTALK)

CLOONEY: He wants everybody!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POWERS: "Three Kings" is the third movie by David O. Russell, who's best known for his small comedy "Flirting With Disaster." Here he's broadened his canvas hugely and filled it with broad, energetic strokes. The pace is headlong, the dialogue relentlessly snappy, and the style edgy in a post-"Saving Private Ryan" way.

Russell adopts a bleached-out, hand-held look that cleverly, if sometimes tiresomely, captures the artificial look of that media war on TV. He even throws in nifty little bits, like animated recreations of what a bullet does to a man's guts, that show his desire to make something more than an ordinary war picture. In a way, he's made something less, for Russell's sense of his heroes is so shallow that despite solid performances by Clooney and Ice Cube and Wahlberg, we never care about the American soldiers or believe in the desire for the gold that launches their improbable adventure. They're less human beings than emblems.

Then again, three soldiers is less about individual character than our national character. Its heroes are four distinctively American guys whose rollicking, rather thoughtless American-ness is underscored by their playing of the Beach Boys and by the Bart Simpson figurine that graces their Jeep. At its best, the movie shows how these ordinary guys learn to see the Iraqis as more than simply "the other," how they themselves are humanized by seeing the so-called "enemy" as human. And Russell shows the soldiers bumping up against the hypocrisies of the Gulf war, how it was about oil, not democracy, how our army fought Iraqi soldiers once trained by the U.S. as a bulwark against Iran, and how President Bush publicly called on the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam and then, when they heeded his call, did nothing as Saddam crushed all rebellion.

There's the stuff of nobility and tragedy in such a tale, and if Russell had faithfully followed the inner logic of his story, "Three Kings" might have been a brilliant, lacerating, heartbreaking tale about greed and naivete, about decent men confronting the indecency of geopolitics.

But rather than pursue his best ideas, Russell sells them out in the name of entertainment. When the movie's not busy proving that Iraqis are actually human, Clooney is busy gunning them down, or else Russell's turning their deaths into show-off-y bits, as when an Iraqi woman's shot in the head and falls in an arty slow motion that loses the human meaning of her death in the sheer coolness of the film-making.

Even worse, the great human disaster of the war is betrayed by still another feel-good ending. Everybody's redeemed, even a self-centered war correspondent played by Nora Dunn, who the movie's been mocking all along. Predictably, the thieving American soldiers are turned into old-fashioned Hollywood heroes. Why, they're even thanked by grateful Iraqis.

And so what started out as a scathing view of the Gulf war becomes another celebratory picture where the Americans turn out to be the good guys and the Iraqis are merely extras in their own country. In the end, "Three Kings" is far more dishonest than those jingoistic old war pictures that didn't pretend to humanize the enemy or assail American foreign policy. And to think David Russell calls George Bush cynical.

BOGAEV: John Powers is film critic for "Vogue."

For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

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, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: John Powers
High: Film critic John Powers reviews "Three Kings," starring George Clooney, Ice Cube and Mark Wahlberg.
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; "Three Kings"

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: "Three Kings": A Review
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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