TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. One of Donald Trump's many famous tweets dates back to 2012, when he wrote, the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive. That tweet came up in the confirmation hearings for President Trump's nominees for secretary of state, secretary of the interior and secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency. Climate scientists and environmentalists are concerned about the Trump administration's impact on climate-related research and action.
My guest, Andrew Revkin, is senior reporter for climate and related issues at ProPublica. He wrote for The New York Times for 21 years, mostly about climate and environmental issues, and created the Times blog "Dot Earth." He's also written about the stroke he had in 2011 and how being a science reporter affected how he processed it. We'll talk about that a little later. Let's start with Scott Pruitt, President Trump's nominee to head the EPA. Pruitt is the attorney general of Oklahoma and, in that capacity, has led or taken part in 14 lawsuits against the EPA.
Andrew Revkin, welcome to FRESH AIR. So how would you describe Pruitt's position on climate change?
ANDREW REVKIN: In the hearing, he was very technical and precise, even in his imposition. You know, he said climate's warming. He diverted from some of the statements that President Trump had made when he was campaigning, you know, that make it seem silly or the conspiracy and all that. He didn't go along with any of that. It was a very concrete and legalistic affirmation of what the Supreme Court has said that the EPA, the agency he would be running, needs to do, which is to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the statutes as they exist.
And in his previous, you know, discussions of this out in the field or in Oklahoma, he has had this approach to it that's much more like a lot of conservatives, which is that it's kind of a cult out there, those who are pushing for action. Or it's almost like a religious belief. Or...
GROSS: He used the word religious belief.
REVKIN: Yeah. There is - has been a tendency to say that this proclamation of - that it's a crisis and that we need to respond to with dramatic changes in how we live, which is what would happen if we move away from fossil fuels, you know, rapidly. They really do underpin everything. It is driven by belief more than by the science.
GROSS: President Trump has said he wanted to get rid of the EPA in almost every form with only little tidbits left. What has President Trump done so far that affects the climate and environment?
REVKIN: Well, the first piece I did on this at ProPublica stepped back and kind of said Trump can do a lot more to undo President Obama's climate policies than he can actually affect things that will change climate outcomes. The trends that are underway in the economy and in how we use energy are there. And they're actually mostly not malleable to any president's moves. President Obama benefited from the emergence of shale-produced gas, natural gas, which supplanted a lot of coal and is the dominant reason that emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, dropped during his term. It wasn't because he waved a magic wand.
And in the same way, Trump can't wave a magic wand and order miners back into mines that are increasingly automated or where the coal is coming from giant automated excavations in the West or where, for many reasons, we're moving away from coal as a fuel.
GROSS: I've been reading about how the Trump administration has deleted nearly all references to climate change programs from the White House and State Department websites, how there have been gag orders on people who work at the EPA. What can you tell us about that?
REVKIN: I've been doing some reporting on both the web-scrubbing and the prospect of data going away. It seems to me that the bigger issue will be budgets and programs. It's programs that generate data. And things like satellite programs and technologies - if the budgets are cut for those things - there's one center for NASA in New York City that does most of the NASA climate modeling. And, you know, I imagine there's more than one conservative congress person who thinks now is the moment, with Trump in office, to - hey, can we sort of trim that off, that lab? To me, it's programs to watch more than websites.
GROSS: My understanding is that the backups were on government sites. And they were afraid the information on government sites would be taken down, so they were backing it up on private sites so that individual scientists would have safe copies outside of government control. Am I misunderstanding that?
REVKIN: Oh, no. No, you're not misunderstanding it. I've talked to a lot of scientists at agencies. And I'm not discounting that there's value in trying to do that if that is a worry for some particular person or some particular data trove. What I've heard from people I talk to is that there are other issues that you don't want to miss in the meantime.
GROSS: So what else are you hearing from sources at the EPA about their concerns - and NASA about their concerns?
REVKIN: You know, it does circle back to budgets so often. There are these huge tussles over the NASA budget, which is a big budget, you know. It's way over - I think it's like $18 billion a year. And there was someone who was part of the Trump campaign who was pushing for, you know, moving all this climate science out of NASA - that doesn't need to happen there - and making sure NASA's focused on its missions to other planets and back to the moon or that kind of
thing. And of course, he is a lobbyist for companies that build rockets and stuff then. So it's the budget that would shift. That would really - that's what kills programs and kills initiatives and can be a problem. There is a concern that if someone says NASA shouldn't be doing climate science - but if they say - well, we're just going to shift that over to, let's say, NOAA, the oceanic and atmospheric administration, that doesn't really work well because NOAA doesn't necessarily have the skill sets to do some of the work that would be easier done at NASA.
GROSS: So what is NASA's role on climate science? And why is NASA especially well-equipped to do climate science research?
REVKIN: Well, because it's the one chunk of the government that really, from the get-go, was looking at phenomena on the scale of planets. And the thing that distinguishes climate change, global warming, from most conventional pollution problems or environmental problems, it is truly global.
A molecule of carbon dioxide emitted from a chimney in a smokestack in Beijing or from a Boston taxicab doesn't know where it came from and that it gets - it's a well-mixed gas, as they say. It permeates the whole atmosphere. So it's building slowly around the planet from all these sources. And if you're not studying the whole planet, you're not going to get that picture. And that's what NASA was - its science side was designed to do. And that's kind of why it's completely normal for it to be the place that's looking, at that scale, at these changes.
GROSS: So you just met with someone who might be very important in the Trump administration. This is Will Happer, a Princeton physicist who's one of the two scientists who've met with Donald Trump and are presumed to be candidates for the position of his science adviser. So what is Will Happer's position on climate change?
REVKIN: Well, he thinks it's fantasy, fiction, a tendency toward apocalyptic thinking on the part of environmentalists. And he thinks some scientists have bought into that. Now, when I interviewed him, it's so clear that his own beliefs about climate science are just such an outlier. Just to cast him in context, he's convinced that the warming from a build-up - doubled CO2 amount in the atmosphere, he doesn't see any chance it'll be higher than 1 degree, which is - you know, that would be completely manageable for humanity, say, by 2100. The range that the IPCC, this Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has come up with, that's been pretty robust for decades, is from, like, 1 to 4 or so degrees, is the possible warming from a doubled amount of this gas, CO2, in the air. And that doubling could come - well, is almost sure to come late in this century without dramatic changes in our energy patterns. So when he says 1 degree is the worst it could be, that's a complete outlier. And he's also talked about...
GROSS: 'Cause other people are saying that's the best it's going to be.
REVKIN: Yeah. And that...
GROSS: That's the best-case scenario not the worst-case scenario.
REVKIN: Yeah. And there are other people who you would term skeptics - or what - the term of art these days is lukewarmers, people who...
GROSS: (Laughter) Really?
REVKIN: ...Have attachments to fossil fuel industry or just, you know, are libertarians and work for organizations that have a limited-government approach. They say no, global warming is happening. Humans are involved, but it's not as bad as we think. And, you know, we should do some things. Bjorn Lomborg is sort of the poster child for this kind of moderate approach. But he and the others in that realm are so much further toward the core of the thinking from what Dr. Happer outlined that it's really kind of remarkable to see it.
He also, of course, talks about the greening effect of CO2.
GROSS: What is that?
REVKIN: Well, carbon dioxide is plant food, you know, with other things - water and nutrients. And the world is greening. Satellite studies have shown that there is a fertilization effect of carbon dioxide on the world's forests and other places. The tundra up north is getting greener. So that's all right, you know, yes. But the science also shows that there are limits on the benefits that can come for agriculture, for example, from warming. If you have a really hot, record-hot summer - peaks, spikes - that can kill off a corn crop if it's at the wrong time. So it gets tougher and tougher later in the century to see those benefits even remotely outweighing the harms.
And keep in mind, there are other things going on. When we were talking, Happer said, you know, earth has had these times back in its long history before man when CO2 levels were way higher and it was lush and abundant. And I said yeah, but there's another thing going on, sea-level rise. And there weren't coastal cities back in the Carboniferous Period, you know, these eras of - when dinosaurs were prowling around. And we now have huge investments in places that will be relentlessly more vulnerable to rising seas.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Andrew Revkin. He's a senior reporter for climate and related issues at ProPublica. He joined in 2016 after 21 years of writing for The New York Times, where he had his blog "Dot Earth."
We're going to take a short break and then talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF YO LA TENGO'S "HOW SOME JELLYFISH ARE BORN")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Andrew Revkin. He's a senior reporter for climate and related issues at ProPublica. He joined in 2016 after 21 years of writing for The New York Times, largely about climate and environmental issues.
So President Trump has said that he wants to pull out of the Paris Agreement, which regulates greenhouse gases. So say the U.S. does pull out of that agreement, what would the effects of that be?
REVKIN: Well, the agreement is an interesting thing. And it's been a really long learning curve for the governments of the world. They started back in Rio in 1992 thinking - it was very aspirational back then 'cause it was the first, you know, and George H.W. Bush signed an agreement. But it pledged to avoid dangerous climate change without actually saying what is - how much is too much. And then there was this push to make it more rigorous. We need targets and timetables. And that kind of crested and then fell apart in Copenhagen in 2009.
And finally, the road from Copenhagen to Paris, from 2009 to 2015, was largely President Obama and his counterparts in China kind of laid the groundwork for a new way to get at this, which is - countries all come to the table. There's no binding targets and timetables. It's a reporting mechanism. And you come, you say this is what we're doing in our national interests to cut our emissions, and here's how much money we plan on pledging to poorer countries to help them withstand climate impacts and change their energy systems.
And it's the first time in all the time I've been covering this process that the process actually reflects the huge scope of this issue, which is, you know, it took a hundred years for the world to get carbonized - to get, you know, really built and industrialized and dependent on carbon fuels, coal and oil and gas. And it's going to take time to get off of that and especially as the world is still growing. You know, we're heading toward 9 billion people. A couple billion people are still living in utter poverty.
So here comes Trump. And one thing I've learned about him from people who are around on the environmental side - they say, don't look for the tea leaves here in this noisy transition. You know - who's coming in? What are they doing? Which websites? Look for what he said - he pledged to do in the campaign and you will see what he will be dead set on doing going forward.
And one of the things he pledged - it was an energy speech out in the Dakotas early last year - he said we're going to get out of Paris, and we're not going to pay money to the U.N. That could end up being a more significant impact than anything he'll do at the EPA because the trends that are underway in the American energy sector are kind of, like, there already.
But pulling out of Paris, even though it's non-binding and all that, sends a signal to poorer countries, especially, you know, when it's coupled with Trump's kind of fossil fuel-friendly rhetoric, that, you know - why should they work harder to get off their fossil fuels when they really need energy so badly, so much more than we do because we're so suffused with it already? And that impact could be there. But I've talked to a bunch of people who track this closely, and they say - here's the way they put it. Four years of Trump - no impact really in terms of overall the climate journey. Eight years - then it starts to - there could be some lasting reverberations.
And the process is very delicate because one of the things people forget about Paris is not just about greenhouse gases. It is about money. A hundred billion a year, theoretically, flowing, starting in 2020, from rich countries to poor countries. And, you know, if Trump pulls the plug on the U.S. contribution there, that is the thing that might really erode confidence quickest of all. And already, the poorest developing countries have been expressing a lot of - basically, they're saying we need as much verifiability on the money as you guys say you want on our emissions of these gases. And that could really be the thing that breaks it down.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Andrew Revkin. He's a senior reporter for climate and related issues at ProPublica.
So I want to talk about something that happened to you. You had a stroke in 2011. You were jogging at the time. You knew something had gone wrong. And I'm going to ask you about this because you're a person who experienced it, and you're a science writer so you were kind of looking at this (laughter), I think, from a distance as well as from within your body. So what were your first symptoms? You were jogging. You knew something had gone wrong.
REVKIN: Yeah. Well, it was pretty straightforward. My older son, who had come back from military service - it was total, you know, macho guy - running in the woods on a hot day and up a hill and really rugged. And I'm totally overheated and overloaded. And my left eye started saying the world paisley. It was like - you know, literally, it looked like I was looking through a paisley curtain. My right eye said the world is just normal. And I - it didn't shake off. You know, I thought - well, maybe it's just the light in the woods. And then we realized - I said Daniel, we got to go back to the house.
And I wasn't quite thinking stroke yet, but I took a shower and I called my doctor. And they said, well, you should go to emergency room. And before I left the house, I took - I'm one of those - well, now I'm 60. But I was one of those mid-50s people who take a - doctor said take a baby aspirin a day, so I had some baby aspirin around. And by then, my brain was kind of telling me, yeah, this could be a stroke. And so I took some baby aspirin, like four or five - I can't remember how many. It turned out that was a really lucky thing because it probably saved me from a much worse outcome.
GROSS: So you went to the hospital. And they were going to send you home.
REVKIN: Yeah, that was frustrating (laughter).
GROSS: Why were they going to send you home? And why did you insist, you can't do that, I have to stay?
REVKIN: (Laughter) Well, I was kind of like, because I didn't have the stroke yet, basically. You know, they saw the visual symptoms, but they weren't thinking is this the prelude to something else? And it was - in my head, it was, you know, I've written about medical stuff too. And in my head, I had this line from my doctor from months ago, who had said, totally unrelated to stroke risk, he said, you know, this is around the time of life where you should get your ultrasound of your carotid arteries.
GROSS: And that's the big artery in your neck, right?
REVKIN: Yeah, you know, 'cause some people get constrictions there from plaque buildup and stuff.
GROSS: Is that in your neck? Do I have that right?
REVKIN: Yeah, oh yeah. So I said, hey, why don't you do a carotid ultrasound, just because it was in my head to say that. And then they called my eye doctor just to see if they thought that was a good idea. Like, so they still were kind of resisting. And then they did it. And then the technician had this wand, and she's kind of looking at my neck. And she had to call someone else over and she said, you know, I can't find your carotid artery. And the reason she couldn't find it was there was no blood flow in it.
It was blocked by this - it's called a carotid dissection. Dissection we think of as, like, you know, something being cut. But it was the lining of the artery, kind of like the lining of a hose, got sort of - if it came free, it could block the flow of water in a hose. And that's what was happening in my neck. And they said, OK, we're going to send you down to another hospital. And it was overnight that night that I woke up the next morning having had a minor stroke.
And again, luckily, the aspirin might have prevented a worse kind of clotting and outcome.
GROSS: So tell me, when you got in touch with your mortality 'cause of the stroke and you realized, I am going to die one day and I can be, you know, cognitively diminished or physically diminished by physical happenings in my body - so, you know, as a journalist, you're looking at the long-term future. You're looking at, like, climate change, global warming, what does that mean in the next hundred years and in the next thousand years?
So do you find yourself being any more worried now than you were, say, four years ago about the future of our climate and our planet?
REVKIN: I think, in a way, I'm not worried. It's a long conversation to have on that. But I think if we sustain the basic capacity to observe and understand change - and even Will Happer, despite his rejection of climate science, says he's convinced that's a priority. If we can keep that and keep the capacity to share and shape ideas globally, then I think we have a good chance of navigating this century and onward, you know, with a reasonable outcome.
It's possible. I wouldn't say probable but possible.
GROSS: Andrew Revkin, thank you so much for talking with us.
REVKIN: Thank you for having me.
GROSS: Andrew Revkin is a senior reporter for ProPublica covering climate issues. After we take a short break, we'll listen back to an interview with Lieutenant General Harold Moore, who died last week. He led the first and bloodiest land battle between American and North Vietnamese troops. John Powers will review a new documentary about street cats in Istanbul. And Ken Tucker will review a new album by singer Tift Merritt. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MARIA SCHNEIDER'S "WALKING BY FLASHLIGHT")
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of a new album by Tift Merritt. She's been praised as a skilled subtle singer since the release of her debut album in 2002. She said that her new album, "Stitch Of The World," came out of a period of transition, referring to a divorce, turning 40 and being six months pregnant during the recording.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DUSTY OLD MAN")
TIFT MERRITT: (Singing) Loved my mouth and he loved my hips. He said my mind make no difference, he won't back down and he won't (unintelligible). Oh, he's mean as a snake. He's my dusty old man. He's mean as a snake. He's my dust old man.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Tift Merritt's soft, chalky voice rubs across the bluesy rock 'n' roll guitar of Marc Ribot in that song, "Dusty Old Man." It's one of the few up-tempo songs on an album that is more often about the quiet contemplations of conflicting feelings, wanting to be alone versus seeking connections with people - friends, lovers, strangers.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EASTERN LIGHT")
MERRITT: (Singing) Light on the water makes it look easy to be free. My dream waves back to you. You wave back to me out in eastern light on the open wind. Those days come rushing back when the tide changes. And still my shadow's waiting for you like it always used to. Hang around and look in behind me so that you can find me in eastern light.
TUCKER: There's a lot of folk music in the sound of this album. Acoustic guitar and the occasional faint cry of a pedal steel guitar frame Merritt's vocals. Her own piano playing also works well giving her phrasing a stark showcase.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEARTACHE IS AN UPHILL CLIMB")
MERRITT: (Singing) How does the (unintelligible) give the knife and the pride forget the fight? The one that laid it down so low, the one still throwing tall shadows. Come on, tell me. I heard that it was step by step. Oh, it takes time, time, time. The going that is slow, slow, slow. Heartache is an uphill climb.
TUCKER: After listening to it a few times, what struck me most forcefully about the new album are the metaphors she uses for the complications of love. Her comparisons are quirky, sometimes odd and surprising ones. On the song I just played, "Heartache Is An Uphill Climb," she makes love one long, tough slog up a hill of resistance, or perhaps indifference. The bones in the song "Proclamation Bones" prove to be the stems of lilies, and thus flowers that have been calcified, hardened to match the hard heart that's being sung about.
And in love soldiers on, she makes the comparison of romance to a battered warrior who persists, despite daunting obstacles.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE SOLDIERS ON")
MERRITT: (Singing) Bruised up and skinny as a stick, no one I know so underpaid. Been around the block about a hundred times today. Won't leave you alone no matter what you say. Love soldiers on. Love soldiers on. There's nothing you can do. Love will soldier on.
TUCKER: Merritt interested in other people's metaphors as well. She set another writer's poem to music here, "My Boat," written by the late Raymond Carver, whose short stories and poems were characterized by an unadorned directness. Merritt reads Carver's "My Boat" as a vision of both escape and inclusion. The narrator is having a boat built that will take him and his friends away from the troubles of the world.
Merritt quotes some of the lines whole but more often cracks the spine of the poem to make it easier to paraphrase it and to force the poetry to align with a simple melody.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY BOAT")
MERRITT: (Singing) My boat's being made to order. Right now it's at the builder. My boat, my friends, room onboard for my friends. I'm serious about this. My boat. George, Gary, Chuck and Jim, room enough for all of them and my baby on my boat. No one will be denied on my boat, on my boat. Getting (unintelligible) out on my boat, on my boat. Just having a real good time on my boat, on my boat, on my boat, my boat.
TUCKER: The image Tift Merritt uses as the title of the album "Stitch Of The World" is one that knits together rivers and mountains, shadows and sunshine, to form a blanket over the world. As such, it's also a dream of comfort and security, the kind of comfort and security Merritt would like to think is always present, even if its warmth is often too elusive, too fleeting.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. After we take a short break, we'll listen back to an interview with Lieutenant General Harold Moore, who died last Friday. The battle he led in Vietnam is the subject of the book "We Were Soldiers Once...And Young." In the film adaptation, Moore was portrayed by Mel Gibson. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAN AUERBACH SONG, "HEARTBROKEN, IN DISREPAIR")
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're going to remember Lieutenant General Harold Moore, who died Friday at the age of 94. He was a hero in the first major land battle in Vietnam between American and North Vietnamese troops. It was also the bloodiest. Both sides claimed victory. Both sides suffered tremendous losses. That was in 1965. Moore, who was then a lieutenant colonel, led 450 men of the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry into the Ia Drang Valley.
They never expected to be surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. Reinforcements came from both sides. The battle ended with 230 Americans dead, 240 wounded and as many as 3,000 North Vietnamese dead. The story of that battle and Moore's role in it was told in the book "We Were Soldiers Once...And Young," written by Moore and Joseph Galloway, who was a 23-year-old reporter at the time of the battle and covered it for UPI.
The book became a bestseller and was adapted into a 2002 film starring Mel Gibson as General Moore. In Moore's New York Times obituary, Sam Roberts wrote that the battle shaped Moore's heroic reputation and his view that America's combat role in Vietnam was futile. I spoke with Moore and Galloway in 1992 when the book was published. General Moore had retired. Joseph Galloway was then a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report.
General Moore said the worst-case scenario happened early on in the battle when one of his platoons was cut off from the rest of the battalion.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: What's your responsibility when that happens?
HAROLD MOORE: Quite simple. My responsibility was to try to get them back and get to them and keep them from being overrun. As it turned out, the platoon leader was killed within minutes. The next in command, the platoon sergeant, was - was killed. And command came down to a buck sergeant, three stripes, who took command of the platoon. And he formed them into a perimeter, brought in fire support, artillery and air. And we held them off - we held this enemy off as we tried to attack to get to them. It took us over 24 hours to get to them. But when we got to them and rescued them, they still had ammunition with which to fight.
GROSS: General, you weren't prepared for the size of the Vietnamese force that you faced. What were you prepared to find, and how many men were actually there against you?
MOORE: OK. About 10 minutes before we took off for the Ia Drang Valley in the initial assault, I received information that there were three battalions of enemy - and a battalion of North Vietnamese is around 500 men - that there were three battalions of the enemy within two miles of our landing zone. And so I sifted this through my head and immediately realized that we could be into a fight almost immediately upon landing and which, indeed, we were. Within 45 minutes, we were in the first major battle of the war between a large American force and North Vietnamese forces. I say large because eventually I got, three or four hours later, the rest of my battalion on the ground. But at first, we only had 80 to a hundred. And it was a very, very sporty occasion, let me assure you.
GROSS: Joe Galloway, I'm going to ask you to describe what it was like to be on the ground in the middle of a battle in which there was rocket fire, bombs, cannons, ground artillery.
JOSEPH GALLOWAY: This - this was shocking. This was overwhelming noise. You couldn't hear yourself think. The second morning, the enemy launched a major attack on the southeast side of this little football-sized clearing. And all of a sudden, this thunderous attack erupts. And we're right behind the company that's being hit. And the machine gun fire and the rifle fire and the rocket grenades of the enemy that pass through that company are landing on us.
Men next to me fell over with a bullet in the head. I was lying down as close to the ground as I could get - seemed like the right thing to do - when I felt the toe of a combat boot in my ribs. And I sort of turned my head and tilted it up and looked. And it was the battalion sergeant major, a man 6 foot 3 inches tall, a big bear of a guy. And he bent over at the waist and sort of yelled down at me so I could just hear him.
And what he said shocked me. He said, sonny, you can't take no pictures laying down there on the ground. And I thought about that for a minute. And I realized he's right. I can't do my job down here. And the other thing that crossed my mind is - I think we're probably all going to be killed. And if that's the case, I'd just as soon take mine standing up anyway. So I got up and went about my business.
GROSS: What did you shoot?
GALLOWAY: I was carrying a Nikon camera and an M-16 rifle.
GALLOWAY: And on occasion, I used them both.
GROSS: Did your pictures turn out from the battle?
GALLOWAY: The pictures were - for somebody who was as scared as I was, they weren't too bad.
GROSS: Now this battle lasted four days and four nights. Did you get any sleep at all, either of you, during the length of the battle?
MOORE: I didn't get any sleep. Along about the, oh, early morning of the third day, my mind was still functioning clearly and cleanly and quickly, due that on adrenaline or just on training and stamina. But the curious thing that happened was that I had to think every word before I would say it into the radio or to people around me. It was like translating English into English, if you can understand what I'm trying to say.
GROSS: Mm-hm, mm-hm.
General, let me ask you if you ever made any bargains with God when you were thinking that this might be the end.
MOORE: No. You got to remember now that I was a West Point graduate, professional army officer trained in all the army schools. I'd been through battle in the Korean War as an infantry company commander of two infantry companies. And I'd seen battle before. And in that war and in the Vietnam War, I never did any bargaining with God. Candidly, I never thought about my wife and five kids back in America.
The thing I thought about was my troopers on the ground and accomplishing my mission. And I never gave a thought, in any fight I've ever been in, in two wars, whether or not I'd get hit. If I got hit, I got hit. That's it. My job was to lead troops. And to lead them, you got to be on the battlefield, and you cannot be fearful. You got to keep your cool. And I never knelt down.
And never in my head - it never crossed my mind that we would go down in that fight against great odds. I knew in my heart that we would prevail. We had massive fire support. We had disciplined troops. And we were tough. And we were good. It never entered my mind to make a personal bargain with God for me or for my men. I knew we'd win.
GROSS: General, when bombs are falling and there's artillery fire all around and you're under attack, this is a - you know, the question of somebody who's never served or been in battle, but how do you think clearly? I mean, this is the time when you are most required to think clearly but when it must be most difficult to do so.
MOORE: I really have never had any problem thinking clearly in a tough time, critical situation. I think I kind of go into a sort of a (unintelligible) zone (ph) and blank out all the horrible brutality which is going on around me, being aware of it nevertheless but realizing that I was a commander - I am a commander - and I am responsible for preserving as many American lives as I can and killing as many enemy as I can.
Now, in the smoke and the dust, which limits visibility and the terrible heat - that compounds the situation. The men screaming and yelling, giving orders in three languages - English, Spanish, Vietnamese; wounded men screaming for medics and for their mother, about to die - I've never found it difficult to keep my head in situations like that. I'm a paratrooper. I've had a couple malfunctions. Once, I was eight seconds from hitting the ground, but I knew I'd make it in on my reserve if I could get it open. So I've never really been concerned when I've been tough situations. Just do the job.
GROSS: I guess you can't allow yourself to get too emotional about your men dying in the middle of a fight.
MOORE: No, you cannot. And furthermore, you cannot impart, by your very manner and your voice on the radio, any possible sign or word or tone of voice that would indicate to any listener or any of your men looking at you that you were rattled. You had to look cool and be cool. And it's something you can't put on.
GROSS: What about when the battle's over and you don't have to be cool and you don't have to be unemotional, does it get you in a different way then?
MOORE: Yep. That's when it's always hit me. In this battle, I looked around on the ground and saw some of my - many of my precious men in their ponchos, lying dead, men whom I have trained for 18 months - knew their wives, children, many of them - knew them very closely. And I knew a terrible truth that, 24 hours later, would shatter the hearts of their families back home in America. And that got to me. Darn right, it did.
And I - never a day goes by, in the 27 years since that battle, that I don't refight it in my mind and think about those great Americans who never backed off, many of them who had only 7 to 10 days left in the service. And they went home in coffins. And I'm forever grateful for their service, and I grieve for them forever. And for years, I felt guilty that I was not killed. I guess that's a normal reaction from a commander who loves his men.
GROSS: You don't feel that way anymore?
MOORE: I've kind of gotten over it a little bit. A few years back, several of my troopers told me at one of these reunions, they said Colonel - and they still call me Colonel, which is fine - Colonel, you got to stop feeling that way because if you died in that place, none of us would have got out of there.
Well, I don't know if that's true or false, but that made me feel better.
GROSS: My interview with Lieutenant General Harold Moore and journalist Joseph Galloway was recorded in 1992 after the publication of their book "We Were Soldiers Once... And Young." General Moore died Friday at the age of 94. After we take a short break, John Powers will review a new documentary about street cats. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BUDOS BAND'S "INTO THE FOG")
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. If you like cats, there's a new documentary you might be interested in that's starting to open around the country. It's a film from Turkey called "Kedi" directed by Ceyda Torun. It offers a new look at the city of Istanbul by focusing on its vast number of street cats. Our cat-owning critic-at-large John Powers has seen it and says it made him purr.
JOHN POWERS, BYLINE: The online world has had three big winners - pornographers, conspiracy theorists and cats, especially cats. After decades of dogs ruling popular culture, there are three canine stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. There's been a revolution. Thanks to a tsunami of cute viral videos, our feline comrades are now in the catbird seat, from those ubiquitous Hello Kitty stores to surprise best sellers like Takashi Hiraide's exquisite, sneakily profound novel "The Guest Cat."
The latest to ride this wave is the charming new documentary "Kedi" by the first-time Turkish filmmaker Ceyda Torun. "Kedi," which means cat in Turkish, is a loving, gorgeously shot ode to the hundreds of thousands of cats living on the streets of Istanbul and even if you're a dog person or cat chastising Jonathan Franzen, I suspect you'll find delightful. "Kedi's" stars, of course, are cats. And the film glides around Istanbul's back alleys, boho enclaves and rat-infested piers to show us the range of these characters.
These include Sari, a yellow-and-white tabby who's all about food - stealing it from shops, begging for it at restaurants, carrying it back to her kittens. There's Gamsiz, a carefree black-and-white short hair who climbs trees and awnings so that he can demand admission into second-story apartment windows. And there's the mask-faced little demon fondly known as the neighborhood psychopath, who controls her turf with the prickly explosiveness of a feline Tony Soprano. Torun also shows us the people who love and indulge them, from the mechanic who gets blissed out brushing a longhair's fat belly, to the boatman, who became a cat fan when one of them led him to a wallet full of money.
As I do with my own cats, imperious Nico and altruistic Chubbs, the Istanbulites can't resist projecting human qualities onto these creatures. One couple dubs their local cat a gentleman because he doesn't dash into their cafe for free food when he's hungry. Instead, he puts his paws on their window, politely. Now, Torun is far from a gritty filmmaker. You won't see these cats killing birds or hear talk about neutering. And she gives everything an idealized icing. Her affection for Istanbul rescues this Muslim metropolis from today's dire headlines, reminding us that this is an ancient and beautiful city, not some hellhole of terrorist bombings.
And then showing how Istanbulites love cats just the way we do here, which means becoming their servants, of course, she makes their culture feel warmer, more hospitable and less alien. That said, "Kedi's" true pleasure lies in getting to watch Istanbul's cats in action. Where the whole mythos of dogs is that they are man's best friend, bound to human beings, cats are notoriously self-contained, even aloof. That's one reason it's so fun to watch those videos in which a cat does a silly dance or leap sky high when it thinks a cucumber on the floor is a snake.
It's like seeing a fussy French waiter spill a plate of snails down his front or a gruff Robert De Niro start giggling on a blooper reel. "Kedi" aims higher than these videos. As Torun's nimble camera follows the cats doing their rounds, filching food, catching rats, scaring off interlopers, the film offers a glimpse of something richer and more poetic. We see that these cats aren't merely wondrous creatures in themselves but that they enrich the whole city. They give the people around them a vision of another freer, wilder, more spontaneous form of life, one that can be easily lost in a huge, stressful, rapidly modernizing place like Istanbul.
At one point, we follow a businessman who walks around dispensing food to the eagerly waiting street cats. He tells us quite touchingly that he'd had a nervous breakdown a while back, but that he'd found his way back to health by making it his mission to ensure that the neighborhood cats got fed. The cats saved him by taking him out of himself and out of his all too human worries. "Kedi" does much the same thing.
It's not exactly what you'd call a challenging film, but it offers a pleasurable refuge from our daily cares and from today's wrought-up cultural climate in which even the Super Bowl could become a political allegory.
GROSS: John Powers is film and TV critic for Vogue and vogue.com. He reviewed the new documentary "Kedi."
(SOUNDBITE OF ROY HARGROVE'S "EV'RYBODY WANTS TO BE A CAT")
GROSS: Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Mahershala Ali, who's nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Moonlight." He plays a drug dealer who becomes the father figure to a young boy. "Moonlight" is nominated for Best Picture and so is another film Ali co-stars in, "Hidden Figures." He gave a very moving speech when accepting a Golden Globe last month for his performance in "Moonlight." I hope you'll join us.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today is Roberta Shorrock. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie and Thea Chaloner. John Sheehan directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.
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