DATE October 25, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Wangari Maathai talks about her environmental movement
in Kenya that led to a political uprising and the thrill of coming
to the US in the early '60s
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest is the first African woman and first environmentalist to win the
Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari Maathai won her 2004 Nobel for her contribution to
sustainable development democracy and peace. She's the founder of Kenya's
green-belt movement which, since 1977, has mobilized more than 100,000 women
to plant millions of trees across Kenya. It started as a response to
deforestation and all of its environmental and economic consequences. But the
movement expanded into a pro-democracy and justice movement. Many of its
participants spend time in prison for their efforts. In 2002, the year the
authoritarian President Daniel arap Moi stepped down, Wangari was elected to
parliament. She's the assistant minister for the environment.
She was born in a small village in British Kenya in 1940, the third of six
children. Her parents were peasant farmers who kept cattle, goats and sheep.
She's written a new memoir called "Unbowed." I asked Wangari about the
beginnings of the green-belt movement in Kenya.
Ms. WANGARI MAATHAI: Around 1970, mid-1970s, women of the world were
organizing to go to Mexico for the very first United Nations conference on
women. And so women of the world were preparing, and so in Kenya, under the
auspices of the National Council of the Women of Kenya, we, the women of
Kenya, started meeting and trying to find out what would be the agendas that
we would take with us to Mexico. And as the women of the countryside
described their problems, which included clean drinking water, they wanted
good food, nutritious food. They wanted energy, which was mainly firewood.
They wanted an income. And as they described
these...(unintelligible)...needs, I realized that these women who were
describing problems that are found in areas where the environment has been
destroyed, and so I suggested to the women we plant trees.
But I was thinking of a short-term initiative that would have lasted maybe
three or four years. But once we started, we realized that this would lead us
to much greater understanding of not only the way the environment is
destroyed, but what destroys the environment. In other words, the root cause
of environmental degradation. And this led me to understand the linkage
between management of the environment and governance, so I entered into the
governance issues, human rights issues, equity issues, women issues, and that
eventually became bigger and bigger, until after about 10 years, in my hands
was a movement and hundreds and thousands of women participating.
GROSS: Right. And so what started as an environmental movement of planting
trees grew into a much larger pro-democracy movement.
Ms. MAATHAI: Precisely. Because once you bring in governance and you bring
in human rights issues, now you're talking politics, you're talking policy,
you're talking government issues. And we needed to educate ourselves on how
we govern ourselves, so we established this self-educating program, which we
called Civic and Environmental Education, and that's how eventually we decided
definitely it would be much better for us, for our rights and for the
environment if our system of governance was more democratic, and that's how
the movement joined other forces to become a pro-democracy movement.
GROSS: And once your movement became a pro-democracy movement, it also meant
that you were being met with a lot of opposition from the government of Kenya.
Ms. MAATHAI: Unfortunately. People in the power quite often do not like to
be exposed, and especially if they are dictators or if they are corrupt, they
are mismanaging the affairs of the state, they don't like to be exposed. And
the minute we started exposing the mismanagement of the resources and the
corruption in the system, we found ourselves in trouble.
GROSS: What is one of the times that you were in the most jeopardy for
leading this movement?
Ms. MAATHAI: There were several instances when we found ourselves face to
face with those who were in power. And I want to use one example of how we
tried to protect one open space in Nairobi. The space is called Uhuru Park,
which in English means "Freedom Park." And this is in memory of the freedom
struggle that the people of Kenya waged in order to get rid of the British
government in the early '50s. And the government of the day wanted to take
over this park and wanted to build a 62-story skyscraper. And we objected.
We felt that this would be a violation of environmental rights to take over
this space and leave the people of Nairobi without such a space. And so we
objected to it. The other reason we objected was that we were going to borrow
much of the money that we were going to use to build this complex, and we were
going to go to the World Bank, probably, go to the IMF probably. Go to
governments and borrow money. And so often, a lot of this money would be
borrowed in the name of the people, the project would either be incomplete or
it would be built, but it would never be used, and yet the people will have
acquired, the country will have acquired a debt.
And these are the debts that even to this day we are still fighting to have
those debts cancelled. These are some of the reasons why we objected but, of
course, in the process, we found ourselves in jail, we found ourselves beaten,
we found ourselves abused and harassed, because of raising our voices.
GROSS: Now I read about one protest that I think you were at, in which the
mothers stripped in front of the soldiers to show their anger. Can you
explain what that was about?
Ms. MAATHAI: There were, at this particular time, about 52 men who were in
detention. But by that time, we had managed to reintroduce multiparty
democracy. And we had managed to reintroduce democratic space that allowed
for diversity of political opinion and beliefs. And so we argued that, since
we had come that far, any people who had been jailed as a result of their
political convictions should be released.
So I was approached by mothers of some of the men who were in detention, and
they asked me if I could join them and help them articulate the fate of their
sons. But as we did that, we discovered that, indeed, so many of the men had
been taken to prison, had been tortured, had been humiliated, and there had
never been a forum where they could actually tell their story. And because
this was so powerful, so many people came to the park to listen to these
witnesses and to these live witnesses of people who had suffered during their
oppressive period, and, of course, the government did not want us to continue
doing this. And they came, and they surrounded us, and they started beating
us with batons and throwing tear gas at us, and they were armed with guns.
And we were thrown into utter confusion, and in the process we were beaten.
And it was in the course of that beating, in the course of that confusion when
the police and the army came and surrounded us, that the women did what the
African women would normally do. If they're beaten by men who are old enough
to be their sons, they expose their breasts, they expose their nakedness, they
shake their breasts, and that is to say, `I curse you, my son, because you
have dared to beat your mother.' Because at that point, any man old enough to
be her son is her son and should be treated as a mother.
And that's what these women did, and that definitely was the beginning of the
end of the Moian regime. So indeed, the regime was cursed by the women, and
within the next 10 years, it was completely out of power.
GROSS: Now just explain to me a little more about how baring your breasts to
men young enough to be your sons is such--like, I still don't get it.
Ms. MAATHAI: Well, let me try to explain that. In the African tradition,
every child--a child did not just belong to the mother that gave birth to that
child. The child belongs to the village. The child belongs to the family, to
the extended family. And every child who is old enough to call you mother
ought to give you respect, even if you are not the biological mother of that
child. So the significance of this is that here are those soldiers, they are
young men. They could be the sons. They are about the same age as the sons
who were languishing in jail. And here were these young men coming and
literally beating what is their mother, who is asking for the freedom of their
And so because, as a woman, you cannot fight a man. He has arms, he has the
strength, then traditionally what you do is expose your breasts and expose
your nakedness. It was supposed to be a curse, of course, that would
discourage young men violating woman.
GROSS: My guest is Wangari Maathai. She won the 2004 Nobel Price Prize. Her
new memoir is called "Unbowed."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Wangari Maathai. And she won
the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She's Kenyan, and she led a protest and
environmental movement there for many years. And in 2002, after Daniel arap
Moi left the presidency and a new government was elected, she entered
parliament and is now the assistant minister for the environment. She's
written a new memoir which is called "Unbowed."
Now you ended up going to school at a time when a lot of girls of your
generation didn't. In fact, you write in your memoir that you were only the
second generation of children in Kenya that went to school. But most girls
were not going to school. So how did you end up going?
Ms. MAATHAI: Well, as I say in the book, it was actually thanks to my mother
and my brother, my oldest brother. My oldest brother and my other brother
were already going to school, and it was my brother who asked my mother, `Why
doesn't she come to school with us?' And thanks to my mother, she said, `There
is absolutely no reason,' and so I was sent to school. It was a wonderful
decision by my mother.
GROSS: And I guessed you loved reading and things like that? You really
liked some of the things that school had to offer?
Ms. MAATHAI: Yeah, I enjoyed school at that time. It was really
fascinating, and I describe in the book my fascination with the ability to
read and write, and the whole concept of reading, of writing, and reading was
a very new concept in our society. We were writing. It was my parents who
were the first to write--read and write. And so it was a revolutionary
experience, so we loved it.
GROSS: When you were growing up, what were you brought up to believe was the
difference between girls and boys?
Ms. MAATHAI: Now, I must say that, again, growing up in that traditional
society, one was not so much taught the difference between you and the boys
as, I guess, the education was more on what was expected of you. I knew that
I was expected to collect firewood for my mother. I never saw my brothers do
that. I knew I was expected to fetch water for my mother. I never saw my
brothers do that. And I was working with my mother all the time. I took care
of my young sisters and brother. And as a matter of fact, as I grew bigger, I
even started taking care of my brothers. I would wash their clothes, for
example. I would even cook for them sometimes. I would literally go after
them so, in a way, you get to--you're almost trained to accept a certain role
in the family vis-a-vis what your brothers do.
GROSS: When did you start thinking about equality for women?
Ms. MAATHAI: Well, I must say that the whole issue of equality for women
didn't hit me until I was in college and especially when I went back home and
I started looking for jobs, and as I write in the books, I thought that the
sky was the limit, and then once I started looking for jobs, I realized that
the sky was not a limit for women, that there were obstacles that were being
put before me simply because I was a woman. That was the first encounter with
discrimination on the basis of gender.
GROSS: You came to the United States in this special program that President
Kennedy had initiated, and the idea was to bring young African students to be
educated at colleges in the United States in the hopes that it would kind of
train them for leadership in a post-colonial world. Is that a decent...
Ms. MAATHAI: That's right. That's right.
GROSS: And also, I suppose, make them sympathetic toward America and its own
interests in the process.
Ms. MAATHAI: Yeah. I'm sure that what President Kennedy and the politicians
around him at that time may have been thinking is that, `Well, now we are
going to have very new independent African states, they're no longer colonies
of European powers, there is no reason why the Americans' influence could not
be felt in Africa directly from America.' And, of course, one, I guess, of the
best ways was to make friends with the new generation. And I'm sure that is
why they decided to send a lot of us to America to go to college.
GROSS: You write that coming to America to go to college was like landing on
the moon. What were the most unusual, unfathomable things to you when you got
to the States?
Ms. MAATHAI: Well, as I say in the book, the journey itself was out of this
world, because I had never flown before in my life. I had never left Kenya
before. And here I was, leaving Kenya for the first time, I was only barely
20 years old. And then I land in New York, and New York was like nothing I
had ever seen. I had never seen the high buildings, the skyscrapers in New
York--that are in New York. And suddenly we were looking up and could hardly
imagine that a building could be standing, and they actually looked like they
were moving all like they were in the clouds. It was fascinating.
And I describe a scene where we go to do some shopping, and I confront for the
first time an escalator, and it reminds me of a dragon, such as I describe in
the book, and I lose my shoe, and this New Yorker brings the shoe to me,
because I'm not aware that there is another escalator going on the other side
going downwards, and so these are some of the most fascinating experiences
that I encountered, was these development aspects that were completely unknown
in my world.
GROSS: You started doing this work about 30 years ago, which means that the
oldest of the trees that you planted are 30 years old, and the movement
continues, so some of those trees are little baby trees. So can you go to
different parts of the country and actually see when the movement started in
that part of the country by looking at the age of the trees?
Ms. MAATHAI: That's right. It is, indeed, very, very satisfying to do that.
And we must remember that many of these trees were planted by the women who
met around the National Council Women of Kenya, to discuss their problems, one
of which was firewood. So a lot of these trees are still being used as a
source of energy by the majority of those women, those who may not as yet have
acquired electricity and other sources of energy.
And so even as these trees are planted, some of them are cut. They're also
used as timber. It is not as if we don't cut trees; trees can be cut. What
is most important is to remember that we need a lot of those trees, and so we
need to plant in order to not only to replace those that we are cutting, but
also to increase the number of trees. And we also needed to protect the trees
that are standing. Sometimes we forget that. The forests needed to be
GROSS: How many trees would you estimate have been planted in Kenya as a
result of the movement that you started?
Ms. MAATHAI: By this time, I would say between 35 and 40 million trees have
GROSS: Thirty-five and 40 million?
Ms. MAATHAI: ...and counting. Yeah, because we are still continuing and in
fact, at the moment, especially since the announcement of the prize, there has
been a lot of new energy that we find everywhere. In fact, the biggest
challenge right now is for us to be able to meet the demand that is coming to
us, not only from Kenya and not only in Africa, but in many parts of the
GROSS: Well, Wangari Maathai, I want to thank you so much for talking with
us. Thank you.
Ms. MAATHAI: Thank you very much.
GROSS: Wangari Maathai won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Her new memoir is
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, the deputy prosecutor of the International Criminal Court,
Fatou Bensouda. She's preparing to prosecute a militia leader from the Congo
accused of enlisting and using child soldiers.
And book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "The Shakespeare Wars" by Ron
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Fatou Bensouda, deputy prosecutor of the International
Criminal Court, talks about the horror of child soldiers, the fine
line a human rights prosecutor must walk and the Court's place
in the world
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Fatou Bensouda, is preparing to prosecute a militia leader from the
Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC, accused of enlisting and using child
soldiers. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo led a militia responsible for ethnic
massacres, torture and rape. Bensouda is the deputy prosecutor of the
International Criminal Court, which was established in a 1998 statute and
began operating in 2002. It's the only independent permanent international
court to try individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against
Bensouda formerly served as the attorney general, secretary of state and
minister of justice for The Gambia and was a senior trial lawyer at the UN's
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Fatou Bensouda, welcome to FRESH AIR. The International Criminal Court is
still very young, and the case of Lubanga is the first case to come to trial
before the court. It seems to me that would say--that indicates that you
think this case is very important. Why did the court choose him as the first
person to prosecute?
Ms. FATOU BENSOUDA: This is the first surrender of a person to the
International Criminal Court ever. And these are the first International
Criminal Court trial proceedings. If the charges are confirmed, this will be
the first trial before the International Criminal Court, and the trial will
determine whether Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is guilty of the war crime of
conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate
actively in hostilities. Well, until that time, he is presumed innocent.
But, however, it will also demonstrate that there will not be impunity for
those that are responsible for these type of crimes committed in the DRC. The
conscription, enlistment and active use of children in armed conflict
represents one of the most brutal and morally troubling legacies of war.
Ms. BENSOUDA: Prosecuting Thomas Lubanga Dyilo for these crimes, therefore,
will send a signal to combatants all over that these practices must stop.
GROSS: You describe the enlistment and use of child soldiers as one of the
most "morally troubling" aspects of war today. At the risk of asking the
obvious, why do you see it as one the most morally troubling aspects?
Ms. BENSOUDA: This is a crime that children as young as nine years enlisted
and conscripted to fight wars, to fight wars that leaves them devastated at
the end of the conflict. At most times, it is very difficult to have these
children rehabilitated and brought back into their societies.
During the time of initiation, for instance, of these children into these
armies, sometimes they are made to kill their own families or other members of
their family as close as their brothers, just to be able to make them loyal to
the perpetrators of these crimes.
GROSS: How does being forced to kill your own family make you loyal to the
Ms. BENSOUDA: Well, if, at the very time of enlisting you or conscripting
you to the armies, and you're made to kill, for instance, your whole family,
sometimes, or sometimes, you're able to kill a member of your family who's
very close to you and you're taken away and annihilated from this family, you
have nothing else to lose, if I may put it that way. You are enlisted and you
are initiated into some sort of a new family that you feel you should owe your
GROSS: I guess also, once you've killed your own family, you're capable of
Ms. BENSOUDA: Exactly. Exactly.
GROSS: So as part--I know you can't talk about the specifics of this case,
because it hasn't yet come to trial--but as part of your research for this
case, have you spoken to a lot of child soldiers who had to endure the kind of
initiation that you're talking about?
Ms. BENSOUDA: Definitely. Definitely, we have. And it was part of our
collection strategy, to be able to get in touch with the children directly
affected by these atrocities and to be able to compile a case around this
crime that is being committed. Yes, we were able to contact them.
GROSS: And why do militias recruit child soldiers? Are there certain things
that children can do or would be willing to do that you can't get men to do in
Ms. BENSOUDA: You know, children have not always fought in battles, of
course. They have not always. But recently, we know, it has become a
phenomenon all over the world, you know. Children are made to fight in many
wars. And there are many reasons for this, you know. One of them or some of
the reasons why this has happened, I think, over the years is because there
has been a shortage, for instance, of adult soldiers. And communities and
militia also try to seek to be able to reinforce their armies by using
Also, children are more easy to manipulate than adults. And over the years,
we've also seen that weapons have become lighter for children to be able to
use them easier than before.
So for all of these reasons, the militia leaders or the perpetrators of this
crime find it more convenient and more easy to use children than to use
GROSS: Are girls enlisted, too?
Ms. BENSOUDA: Girls are enlisted, and it is not only to fight these battles,
you know, which is horrible. One of the things they do with girls, which they
also do with boys, unfortunately, but more with girls, is that they use them
as sex slaves. Girls are used as sex slaves, and they are used to not only
fight in the battles but also to act as wives, within the context of the
You know, in Uganda, for instance, we have collected evidence to show that
there were many, many of the girls who were forcibly used as wives during the
course of the conflict--wives to the combatants, you know, all the people who
were fighting the battles. So not only to fight, but also for other things.
Some are used as porters, you know. Some are used as spies. You know, some
are used to be--to work in administration, for instance. But they used them
in various ways.
GROSS: So that means there's probably a lot of children who have been born to
girls who were forced to become sex slaves for militias?
Ms. BENSOUDA: Yes, this is one of the phenomenon which, for instance, in
most of these areas affected by this atrocity of using children, have to live
with, because some of the girls unfortunately will bear children. And then
that is a whole new dimension to the problem altogether.
GROSS: What's happening to those children?
Ms. BENSOUDA: In some areas, the children, for instance, if the mother is
rehabilitated--that is, the mother, in this case I mean the girl child, is
rehabilitated into the societies that they were originally taken from, they go
with their children. But as I said, this is another dimension to the problem
because it raises the issues of whether the child will be accepted back into
the society together with the mother, you know, how will the child be viewed.
Sometimes, even the mother has difficulty of accepting the child as, you know,
as a child that she wants and she loves. And most of the cases, as you know,
it is a child taking care of a child. So the situations that they find
themselves are different, but certainly very difficult.
GROSS: You mentioned that sometimes the child soldiers are rehabilitated back
into society. I guess part of the reason why they need rehabilitation is that
all emotions like sympathy and empathy have had to be eliminated at a young
age in order for them to carry out the kind of killings that they're called on
Ms. BENSOUDA: Well, you know, we're talking about children who should
normally be in school, who normally should be with their families, who
normally should be leading lives of children. But these are children who are
taken away, you know, in most cases forcibly taken away, made to live in
conditions that children should not live in, made to undergo situations that
are difficult for them, which is for instance, fighting--fighting at the front
line, you know, or serving as wives. So obviously they do not lead a normal
life that a child should live.
And they come back to society having done these acts which are actions of
adults, for instance, but being children, you find that, you know, that
they're living in this circumstance where they've committed these crimes, and
at the same time, they have the mind of children, but they also sometimes want
to be adults. So it's a difficult circumstance for them.
GROSS: My guest is Fatou Bensouda, the deputy prosecutor of the International
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Fatou Bensouda, the deputy prosecutor of the International
Criminal Court. She's preparing to prosecute Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, who led a
militia in the Congo and is accused of using child soldiers.
Now the part of the legal proceedings that you're in now is that the
confirmation hearing is scheduled for November 9th. What's going to happen at
Ms. BENSOUDA: At the hearing, the office of the prosecutor will unveil for
the first time evidence showing that Thomas Lubanga Dyilo's organization and
himself as the leader enlisted and forcibly recruited children into the ranks
of their armed militia, and that he was instrumental in orchestrating these
activities. And Thomas Lubanga Dyilo or his counsel can object to the
charges, and they can even challenge the evidence presented by the prosecutor.
But if the pretrial chamber determines that there is sufficient evidence to
support the charges, the case will proceed to trial.
GROSS: Where is Lubanga now?
Ms. BENSOUDA: Lubanga is in The Hague. He was transported to The Hague, and
he is within the detention facilities of the International Criminal Court.
GROSS: I would assume that one of your ultimate goals with this trial will be
to use it as a deterrent to other militia leaders who would consider using
child soldiers, but the thing is, if you're forcing children to fight in a
war, you don't have much of a conscience, and you're probably not very
concerned with your image in the international human rights community. So do
you think a trial like this could really serve as much of a deterrent to other
Ms. BENSOUDA: I think it will. I think it will. As I said, these are
crimes that have gone largely unrecognized and unpunished for too long, and I
think given that situation, it has come to be commonplace, you know, almost
accepted that people should do it. But bringing these charges sends a message
that it is wrong, it is a crime, it should stop, and it will be punished. I
think this will send the message that has not been sent before.
GROSS: You know, the International Criminal Court, which we've been talking
about, is very controversial in the United States. President Clinton
reluctantly signed the treaty that created the court just before the end of
his term, and then President Bush basically unsigned it and withdrew from the
treaty. And he apparently was afraid, among other things, that the US could
be accused of crimes and those accusations could be politically motivated.
How do you think the absence of the United States is affecting the power that
the court has?
Ms. BENSOUDA: I should start by saying that the court aims at having
universality. The more countries sign onto the court, I think, the better,
that the message is loud and clear, that, you know, impunity for these
atrocities is being denounced by every country. This is the ideal.
But in spite of that, I think the ICC, the International Criminal Court, as it
is, has gone a long way of establishing its credibility, you know, and in
spite of the fact that there are still other countries who, for their own
reasons, political reasons or otherwise, have not yet joined the Court, I
don't think it has made it less effective. You know, in a very short time for
the Court, we have been able to start cases, we have been able to get a person
surrendered to the Court, and in a very short time, we're going to trial.
This is why the Court was established, and I think the International Criminal
Court is doing just that.
GROSS: Why did you choose this line of work? Was there anything in your life
that led you into this kind of human rights law?
Ms. BENSOUDA: I would not say that as such, but I will just briefly tell you
that I come from The Gambia, and after my high school, I was working for the
courts. And this was at a time when there were not many women in the Gambian
judiciary, especially as lawyers, there were quite a few. But having worked
there, or working there as a clerk of court, I realized that there were many,
many issues affecting children and affecting women, which I think, as a woman,
I would be better placed to handle those, if I were to qualify to do that.
And this was one of the reasons that really pushed me into going in to study
law. And I did that. I came back, and I worked for my government. Not
immediately as a prosecutor, but as time went on, I realized that, you know, I
loved to do that. I was very concerned about the violation of rights of
others, and I saw myself being placed in a position where I was able to, at
least officially, in my official capacity, contribute to fighting that.
And one thing about, you know, human rights is, you know, once you start to do
it, you know, you get more and more involved in it. Because every day, these
violations are happening, you know, whether it is at a national level or at an
international level. And I think that, as a person, if you are placed in a
position where you can do something about it, I think you should do that.
GROSS: As a prosecutor now working for the International Criminal Court and
formally working for the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda,
you've had to learn a lot about child soldiers, genocide. You've had to deal
with the people responsible or allegedly responsible for such crimes. What
does it do to you to be exposed to this constantly, as part of your work? Are
you able to go home and just turn all those atrocities off and put them away
Ms. BENSOUDA: I think, if as a prosecutor, if you say that you don't carry
these stories that you have to deal with every day, if you do not carry them
home with you or carry them, you know, with you, I think then you are less of
a human being. You know, of course, they affect you. Of course, you think
about them. Every day, you're thinking of, you know, `What can I do? What
can I do as a prosecutor to make sure that this victim that I spoke to today,
you know, feels that "someone is listening to me, and someone is doing
something about my plight."'
So in a way or in many ways, you know, you walk around with this feeling. You
are concerned about them. But in order for you to be also be in a very good
position to handle your job or to handle your work properly, you know, you
also need to be very professional about it. Because, for instance, there is
the presumption of innocence in which these crimes are committed. You have a
target, you're going after the target, but until the target is guilty, he is
presumed innocent. So for you to be able to do your job properly, you have
both to be, you know, professional, but also, unfortunately--or,
fortunately--you also have to have the feeling, you know, of what these
victims have suffered.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Ms. BENSOUDA: Thank you very much for having me. Thank you for giving me
the opportunity to say this.
GROSS: Fatou Bensouda is the deputy prosecutor of the International Criminal
Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews the new book. "The Shakespeare Wars."
This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: Critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "The Shakespeare Wars" by
Ron Rosenbaum, a collection of the controversies involving the
Bard, his times, his language and his impact on society
TERRY GROSS, host:
In the summer of 1970, writer Ron Rosenbaum was wandering around England and
had an experience that he says has haunted his life ever since. By accident,
he saw a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," directed by Peter Brook,
a now-legendary production.
Rosenbaum's new book, "The Shakespeare Wars," investigates lots of lively
controversies within the world of Shakespeare scholarship and production, but
critic Maureen Corrigan says that with passion and humor, Rosenbaum is also
trying to make sense of the lingering spell that production of "A Midsummer
Night's Dream" cast upon him.
Ms. MAUREEN CORRIGAN: If you want to get a feel for just how dizzying,
idiosyncratic, entertaining, and illuminating Ron Rosenbaum's hefty new book
on Shakespeare is, start backwards at the acknowledgments pages, where you'll
see that the first person thanked is Adolf Hitler. That's because, as
Rosenbaum hastens to explain, he needed an antidote to the years he spent
immersed in Hitler research to produce his previous book, the much-acclaimed
"Explaining Hitler." And the only cure Rosenbaum found was to wander around
Manhattan, listening to Shakespeare tapes on his Walkman.
To Rosenbaum and lots of other people, the Fuhrer and the Bard represent
opposite poles of being. Hitler, the embodiment of a will to destroy so
intense he perhaps stands outside the realm of ordinary human evil.
Shakespeare, the quintessence of a power for imaginative creation so vast he
may be beyond the reach of all other great writers.
That acknowledgment to Hitler serves as a template in miniature for how
Rosenbaum structures his sprawling book. At the start of almost every
chapter, he'll issue or quote other people issuing a startling assertion, such
as "There is excitement to be found in debates over the original spelling over
Shakespeare's words" or "There must be a pause at the end of every pentameter
line of Shakespeare or all is lost." Then in the chapter that follows,
Rosenbaum sets about making converts of us all. Not to the rightness of any
one particular viewpoint but to the bedrock belief that the arguments
themselves matter, and most of all, that Shakespeare matters.
Rosenbaum's new book is called "The Shakespeare Wars," and throughout it, he
dives into the thick of controversies that bedevil the Bard. Chief among them
is the question of whether Shakespeare really was
the...(unintelligible)...whiz kid as he was portrayed in the movie
"Shakespeare in Love," or a painstaking rewriter. And if he did rewrite, then
the differing versions of plays like "Hamlet" and "Lear" that've come down to
us might well be different drafts of those plays made by Shakespeare himself,
not as has long been assumed, players' editions that were altered for the
To investigate these and other Shakespeare mysteries, Rosenbaum becomes a
globe trekker, so to speak, interviewing renowned Shakespeare scholars,
directors, actors, as well as jesters, knaves and fools in locales as diverse
as a quaint English cottage, a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in an Alabama strip
mall and an academic pleasure seminar in Bermuda.
Rosenbaum demonstrates the stomach of a Falstaff in digesting even the most
theory-encrusted scholarly treatises on Shakespeare, but he's not just a
dispassionate reporter. Indeed, part of the exhilaration of reading "The
Shakespeare Wars" derives from watching Rosenbaum himself take up arms,
especially against best-selling Bardolater Harold Bloom and Stephen
Greenblatt, whose conjectures about Shakespeare in his recent biography, "Will
in the World," Rosenbaum claims are as shaky as an elephant dancing on a
shotglass mounted on top of a beachball.
A personal aside here: I reviewed and loved both Bloom's and Greenblatt's
books. Although Rosenbaum lures me over to his camp, I still can't forsake
his foes. I'd like to think my reluctance doesn't solely stem from being a
sucker for any provocative Shakespeare reading, a Shake slut, if you will, but
from the sense that Shakespeare is capacious enough to admit multitudes of
critical approaches that thrill but don't necessarily mesh.
With the exception of some sections, where Rosenbaum goes into extended swoons
over actress Rebecca Hall or scholar Stephen Booth, thrilling readings do
abound here, often in the most unexpected places. Talking, for instance, to a
scholar passionate about restoring the original spelling to Shakespeare's
language, Rosenbaum, who admits he initially viewed these antiquarian spelling
advocates as akin to Civil War re-enactors, learns that in Shakespeare's day,
language was more unanchored. It could mean many more things all at once.
This idea of unanchored language feeds into Rosenbaum's overarching argument
in "The Shakespeare Wars" that there is something exceptional about
Shakespeare, a bottomlessness as he calls it, a sense that no matter how many
times you read Shakespeare, you'll never exhaust the possibilities. Rosenbaum
succeeds in dramatizing that experience of never coming to an endpoint with
And speaking of endings, as I learned from Rosenbaum, in some texts, the dying
words of both Hamlet and Lear are "Oh," `oh groans,' as they're called in the
theater. If so, I was unintentionally aping those tragic figures throughout
my reading of "The Shakespeare Wars," murmuring "oh" every few pages, not in
despair, but in wonder.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "The Shakespeare Wars" by Ron Rosenbaum.
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GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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