Oriana Fallaci

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The Electra and Oedipus of the Apollo space program, Oriana Fallaci and Norman Mailer were two writers with egos massive enough to observe humankind’s mission to the Moon as not only material for New Journalism reportage of an historical quest but also as backdrop to investigations of their own psyches. In 1968, two years after Fallaci published If the Sun Dies… and the year before Mailer stormed through a series of long-form articles for Life magazine that became Of a Fire on the Moon, the pair sat down for an interview with Fallaci serving as the inquisitor. In Mailer’s face–“noble and vulgar,” she called it–Fallaci claimed to be searching for America. It actually wasn’t a bad place to look: Like his country, Mailer could be at turns soaringly brilliant and shockingly brutal–and completely delusional about his behavior in regards to the latter. His remarks about domestic violence, for instance, were beyond horrifying, and they unfortunately weren’t merely macho showboating. The discussion opened Fallaci’s collection of (mostly) non-political interrogations, The Egotists. Three excerpts follow.



Oriana Fallaci:

The problem I want to talk about is a difficult one, but we have to deal with it. The fact is we Europeans used to love you Americans. When you came to liberate us twenty years ago, we used to look up to you as if you were angels. And now many of us don’t love you anymore; indeed some hate you. Today the United States might be the most hated country in the world.

Norman Mailer:

You used to love us because love is hope, and we Americans were your hope. And also, perhaps, because twenty years ago we were a better people, although not as good as you believed then–the seeds of the present ugliness were already there. The soldiers with whom I fought in the Pacific, for example, were a little better than the ones who are fighting now in Vietnam, but not by much. We were quite brutal even then. One could write a novel about Vietnam along the lines of The Naked and the Dead, and the characters would not need to be worse than they are in the book.The fact is that you have lost the hope you have vested in us, and so you have lost your love; therefore you see us in a much worse light than you did before, and you don’t understand that the roots of our ugliness are the old ones. It is true that the evil forces in America have triumphed only after the war–with the enormous growth of corporations and the transformation of man into mass-man, the alienation of men from their own existence–but these forces were already there in Roosevelt’s time. Roosevelt, you see, was a great President, but he wasn’t a great thinker. Indeed, he was a very superficial one. When he took power, America stood at a crossroad; either a proletarian revolution would take place or capitalism would enter a new phase. What happened was that capitalism took a new turn, transforming itself into a subtle elaboration of state capitalism–it is not by chance that the large corporations in effect belong to the government. They belong to the right. And just as the Stalinists have murdered Marxism, so these bastards of the right are now destroying what is good in American life. They are the same people who build the expressways, who cut the trees, who pollute the air and the water, who transform life into a huge commodity.

Oriana Fallaci:

We Europeans are also very good at this. I mean this is not done by only right-wing Americans.

Norman Mailer:

Of course. It is a worldwide process. But its leader is America, and this is why we are hated. We are the leaders of the technological revolution that is taking over the twentieth century, the electronic revolution that is dehumanizing mankind.•



Norman Mailer:

I still have hope you seem to have lost. Because of the youth. Some of them are subhuman, but most of them are intelligent.

Oriana Fallaci:

That is true. But they are also stuffed with drugs, violence, LSD. Does that help your hoping?

Norman Mailer:

Theirs is an extraordinary complex generation to live in. The best thing I can say about them is that I can’t understand them. The previous generation, the one fifteen years ago, was so predictable, without surprises. This one is a continuing surprise. I watch the young people of today, I listen to them, and l realize that I’m not twenty years older than they are but a hundred. Perhaps because in five years they went through changes that usually take half a century to complete, their intelligence has been speeded up so incredibly that there is no contact between them and the generation around thirty. Not to speak of those around forty or fifty. Yes, I know that this does not happen only in America; this too is a global process. But the psychology of American youth is more modern than that of any other group in the world; it belongs not to 1967 but to 2027. If God could see what would happen in the future–as he perhaps does–he would see people everywhere acting and thinking in 2027 as American youth do now. It’s true they take drugs. But they don’t take the old drugs such as heroin and cocaine that produce only physical reactions and sensations and dull you at the same time. They take LSD, a drug that can help you explore your mind. Now let’s get this straight: I can’t justify the use of LSD. I know too well that you don’t get something for nothing, and it may well be that we’ll pay a tragic price for LSD: it seems that it can break the membrane of the chromosomes in the cells and produce who knows what damage in future children. But LSD is part of a search, a desperate search, as if all these young people felt at the same time the need to explore as soon as possible their minds so as to avoid a catastrophe. Technology has stripped our minds until we have become like pygmies driving chariots drawn by dinosaurs. Now, if we want to keep the dinosaurs in harness, our minds will have to develop at a forced pace, which will require a frightening effort. The young have felt the need to harness the dinosaurs, and if they have found the wrong means, it’s still better than nothing. My fear had been that America was slowly freezing and hardening herself in a pygmy’s sleep. But no, she’s awake.•



Norman Mailer:

Damn it, I don’t like violence. But there’s something I like even less, and that’s a need for security. It smells of the grave and forces you to react with blood. 

Oriana Fallaci:

You dislike violence? You who knifed a wife and can’t miss a boxing match?

Norman Mailer:

The knife in my wife’s belly was a crime. It was a grave crime, but it had nothing to do with violence. And as for the fights, well, boxing is not violence. It’s a conversation, an exchange between two men who talk to each other with their hands instead of their voices: hitting at the ear, the nose, the mouth, the belly, instead of hitting at each other’s minds. Boxing is a noble art. When a man fights in a ring, he is not expressing brutality. He expresses a complex, subtle nature like that of a true intellectual, a real aristocrat. A pugilist is less brutal, or not at all brutal after a fight, because with his fists he transforms violence into something beautiful, noble and disciplined. It’s a real triumph of the spirit. No, I’m not violent. To be violent means to pick fights, and I can’t remember ever having started a fight. Nor can I remember ever having hit a woman–a strange woman, I mean. I may have hit a wife, but that’s different. If you are married you have two choices: either you beat your wife, or you don’t. Some people live their whole life without ever beating her, others maybe beat her once and thereon are labeled “violent.” I like to marry women whom I can beat once in a while, and who fight back. All my wives have been very good fighters. Perhaps I need women who are capable of violence, to offset my own. Am I not American, after all? But the act of hitting is hateful because it implies a judgement, and judgement itself is hateful. Not that I think of myself as being a good man in the Christian sense. But at certain times I have a clear consciousness of what is good and what is evil, and then my concept of the good resembles that of the Christian.•

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The head transplant has long been a goal of some on the outer edges of scientific research. (Oriana Fallaci profiled the main such controversial pioneer, Dr. Robert White, for Look in 1967.) Now a divisive surgeon, Dr. Sergio Canavero, believes that within two years he’ll be able to successfully transfer a human head from a shattered or dying body and graft it onto a donor body. Sure, if there was some safe way for Stephen Hawking or anyone similarly afflicted with a degenerative disease to have a new lease on life, that would be great, but it almost definitely won’t happen within Canavero’s timeframe and really shouldn’t happen anytime soon. We’re nowhere near close to being able to deal with such an operation, medically or ethically. From Ian Sample at the Guardian:

The Italian doctor, who recently published a broad outline of how the surgery could be performed, told New Scientist magazine that he wanted to use body transplants to prolong the lives of people affected by terminal diseases.

“If society doesn’t want it, I won’t do it. But if people don’t want it, in the US or Europe, that doesn’t mean it won’t be done somewhere else,” he said. “I’m trying to go about this the right way, but before going to the moon, you want to make sure people will follow you.”

Putting aside the considerable technical issues involved in removing a living person’s head, grafting it to a dead body, reviving the reconstructed person and retraining their brain to use thousands of unfamiliar spinal cord nerves, the ethics are problematic.

The history of transplantation is full of cases where people hated their new appendages and had them removed. The psychological burden of emerging from anaesthetic with an entirely new body is firmly in uncharted territory. Another hitch is that medical ethics boards would almost certainly not approve experiments in primates to test whether the procedure works.

But Canavero wants to provoke a debate around these issues. “The real stumbling block is the ethics,” he told New Scientist. “Should this surgery be done at all? There are obviously going to be many people who disagree with it.”•

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Audio of Oriana Fallaci being interviewed in 1972 by Stephen Banker at the time of the publication of Nothing, and So Be It, her account of the dangerous season she spent as a war correspondent in Vietnam.


Whether squaring off with Muhammad Ali, Henry Kissinger or a head-transplant surgeon, Oriana Fallaci was just crazy enough to survive them all–to thrive, even. Here’s an excerpt from a 1977 People interview by Sally Moore, which begins with a question that would never have been asked of a male journalist:


Have you ever had a sexual relationship with an interview subject?

Oriana Fallaci:

No. That’s a matter of pride. They’ll never catch me at that one. The most humiliating thing a woman can be is a coquette. The world thinks, if a man sleeps with a woman he interviews, he’s a journalist. If a woman does it, she’s a whore.


Do you ask very personal questions of people you interview?

Oriana Fallaci:

No—only of those in power. With them, you must do anything. They have no rights. I asked the Shah of Iran about his women, Golda offered to speak with love about her husband. Arafat? I don’t think he loves women, so there wasn’t any problem. Indira spoke about the problems of being a woman leader; it was tragic for her marriage.


Why do people in power fascinate you?

Oriana Fallaci:

Because, you must remember, we’re not speaking of normal people but of those who rule our lives, command us, decide if we live or die, in freedom or in tyranny.


Do you regret any of your interviews?

Oriana Fallaci:

Only that I’ve sometimes been too kind. When I fall in love with a character, as I did with Indira, I have reasons to regret. But then she wasn’t a dictator yet. Then there was that American Lieutenant [Robert] Frishman of the U.S. Navy, whom I interviewed in Hanoi. He was acting so cowardly in front of the North Vietnamese. It makes me crazy to see a man in chains, humiliated, so I was very good to him. Then he came home the hero. He pretended not to recognize me, and I got furious. I was kind with Thieu [South Vietnam’s ex-president], because the moment I saw him I judged him to be a victim of American policy. He was crying.


Then where does your reputation for brutality come from?

Oriana Fallaci:

Americans invented a character that doesn’t exist. What I am—forgive an act of pride—is courageous. Most of our colleagues don’t have the guts to ask the right questions.”

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I don’t think people should be exalted, any of us. No statues should be built. Even the best of us are disappointing–small and petty and vain and vengeful. We often take out our unhappiness on others. Even when being seemingly generous–celebrating our country, our community, our family, our friends–we’re often just celebrating ourselves. And we should never do that. We should remain humble.

Neil Armstrong was just flesh and bones like the rest of us. He had his bad days and his flaws. But it’s amazing that he displayed such humility while accomplishing so much and braving every challenge. Not everyone can afford to be so modest. Some people have so many strikes against them that they have to convince everyone else–even themselves–that they belong. But it’s great that the one of us who went the furthest, and got there first, stayed so down-to-earth. Neil Armstrong was above and beyond, and I’m not only talking about atmosphere and stratosphere. 

From Oriana Fallaci’s 1966 book about the space program, If the Sun Dies:

“The third old man was thirty-four and looked like John Glenn’s young brother: the same freckles, the same fair coloring, the same ease; he had even been born in Ohio. Nevertheless certain things distinguished him from John Glenn–his lack of vivacity, his diplomacy and his shoulders that were extraordinarily rounded for such a strong physique. His mouth was ironical, but an irony full of caution. His voice was quiet, his movement economical. His name was Neil Armstrong and they picked him with the second group. The most interesting piece of information about him, for me, was that he didn’t have a service background. The only astronaut civilian I was to meet. And perhaps because of this he entered like someone visiting the dentist. And I felt indeed like a dentist, I was tempted to ask: Is it a molar that hurts or a canine? I would not have been at all surprised if he had answered: ‘No, Doctor, it’s an incisor.’ Sound track:

‘What a fine thing, Mr. Armstrong! You’re not from the service!’

‘I came from NASA, where I was an electronics engineer and a jet test pilot. It isn’t different. I mean, I’ve got as much discipline as the others and discipline is the main thing you need if you’re going into space. Besides, the reason they pick servicemen isn’t because they’re more suitable than civilians; they pick them because they’ve got them all neatly packaged and pre-selected so it’s easier to dig up the right man. You know everything about a serviceman, including how far you can trust him. But they knew everything about me too: I’ve been with NASA for several years.’

‘However, becoming an astronaut must give you great joy.’

‘I wouldn’t know. Let me think….”

‘Haven’t you thought about it before?’

‘To me it was simply being transferred from one office to another. I was in one office and then they moved me into this one. Well, yes, I suppose I was pleased. It’s always nice to gain in status. But I don’t have any personal ambition. My one ambition is to contribute to the success of this program. I’m no romantic.’

‘Do you mean that you don’t have a taste for adventure?’

‘For heaven’s sake, I loathe danger, especially if it’s useless; danger is the most irritating aspect of our job. How can a perfectly normal technological fact be turned into adventure? And why should steering a spacecraft be risking your life? It would be as illogical as risking your life when you use an electric mixer when making a milkshake. There should be nothing dangerous about making a milkshake and there should be nothing dangerous about steering a spacecraft. Once you’ve granted this concept, you can no longer think in terms of adventure, the urge of going up just for the sake of going up…’

I observed his mouth. Perhaps not the molar, not the canine, nor the incisor. It was probably the wisdom tooth.

‘Mr. Armstrong, I know somebody who would go up even if he knew he wouldn’t come back. Just for the urge to go up.’

‘Among us astronauts?’

‘Among you astronauts.’

‘I rule him out. If you knew him, he’d be a boy, not an adult.’

‘He’s an adult, Mr. Armstrong.’

‘But who?’

‘It doesn’t matter. Let’s talk about you. Leaving aside the milkshake, I suppose you’d be sorry not to go up?’

‘Yes, but I wouldn’t get sick about it. I don’t understand the ones who are so anxious to be the first. It’s all nonsense, kid stuff, just romanticism unworthy of our rational age. I rule out the possibility of agreeing to go up if I thought I might not come back, unless it were technically indispensable. I mean, testing a jet is dangerous but technically indispensable. Dying in space or on the Moon, is not technically indispensable and consequently if I had to choose between death while testing a jet and death on the Moon, I’d choose death while testing a jet. Wouldn’t you?’

No, it wasn’t the wisdom tooth that hurt. That one was healthy. It was something else, Father, a lack of pain, I would say, a good cry such as children have when they want the Moon, no matter if they have to die to get the Moon, that exquisite infancy which stays in us, as a gift, even when we are adults with all our teeth, our prudence.

‘No, confronted with such a dilemma, I’d unhesitatingly choose to die on the Moon: at least I’ll get a look at the Moon.’

‘Kid stuff. Nonsense. Die on the Moon! To get a look at the Moon! If it were a matter of staying there for a year or two…maybe…I don’t know. No, no, it would still be too high a price to pay because it’s senseless.’

‘Did you spend all you young years at NASA, Mr. Armstrong?’

‘I spent them traveling: Europe, Asia, South America. So I saw what there was to see, I understood what there was to understand, and here I am.’

‘Were you in the war, Mr. Armstrong?’

‘Sure, I was in Korea. Seventy-eight combat missions. I’d be lying if I said they’d done me any good.’

‘Do you have any children, Mr. Armstrong?’

‘Sure. One seven and one two. How could I not have children at my age?’

‘Ten minutes,’ said the Bureaucrat. ‘Hurry!’

He stood up. ‘I’d better say goodbye. I have to go in the centrifuge.’

‘I don’t envy you, Mr. Armstrong.’

‘Yes, it’s very disagreeable: perhaps the thing I hate most. But indispensable.’

‘Time’s up! Stop!’



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Very happy to find an online version of the 1970 Look magazine interview with Walter Cronkite that Oriana Fallaci conducted, though it was scanned haphazardly so if you want to read it you have to rotate it several times or print it out. But it’s worth it, as the Q&A was the meeting of two very different journalists while they both were in their prime. An excerpt:

Walter Cronkite:

Anyhow, let’s begin our conversation. What’s the subject?

Oriana Fallaci:

The one we are already talking about: Walter Cronkite, of course—who he is, what he thinks. Yes, overall, what he thinks. I share this curiosity with God knows how many million people. Each time I listen to you, I wonder: What are his opinions? He doesn’t express them, and he must have them!

Walter Cronkite:

You bet I do. Very strong opinions. Yet I would never give them with the news because this would hurt my objectivity. From time to time, CBS has suggested that I do commentaries or analyses, but I have always refused. Should I take a position with analysis or commentary, then the public would decide that I am prejudiced in editing the news. The public does not understand journalism. They do not know how we work, they do not believe that we can hold strong private thoughts and still be objective journalists. So I choose to do only unbiased reporting. I give you the news, and I don’t help you make the judgment. You make it all alone. Don’t you agree?

Oriana Fallaci:

Not completely. I say rather: Look, I do not possess the whole truth, so I can only give you the truth that I saw and heard and touched and even felt. Which is very uncomfortable because it is the perfect way to make everybody unhappy. Like when the reactionaries call me a Communist, or the Communists call me reactionary. . . .

Walter Cronkite:  

But this means that you are objective! The point is that the public doesn’t understand objectivity, they judge us on the facts that we give them. Besides, your journalism is different from mine, you explain facts more than give news, and you are not as cautious as I am. You can afford the luxury of being emotional.

Oriana Fallaci:

Yes. No solid German stock, all furious Florentine stock. Yet I admire your detachment so passionately. Only a couple of times, if I am not wrong, you have shown emotion on TV. When John Kennedy died and when the first man landed on the moon.

Walter Cronkite:

Uhm . . . ‘Go, baby, go!’ I yelled so. The moon excited me a lot. But there are other examples. At the Democratic Convention in Chicago. for instance, I got very angry. We had such a bunch there on the Convention floor. And certainly when I found out that Kennedy was dead, that I had to say it, I choked up quite a bit. God, it was hard! You know, Oriana, I never go on the air in shirt-sleeves or with my hair uncombed. That day, Charles Collingwood relieved me, and when I got up after four hours and a half, I saw my jacket hanging over the back of my chair. So I realized that I was in shirt-sleeves and that I had not even combed my hair. But something else happened. When I went to my office to call my wife, both my lines were busy because the switchboard was jammed with calls. Then my phone rang, I grabbed it and the voice of a woman came on: “May I have the News Department of CBS?’ So I said, ‘This is the News Department of CBS.’ And she said, ‘Well, I want to say that it is absolutely criminal for CBS to have that man Cronkite on the air at a time like this, when everybody knows that he hates the Kennedys. But there he is, in shirt-sleeves, crying his crocodile tears.’ I said: ‘Madam, what’s your name?’ She gave me her name . . . let’s say it was Mrs. Smith. And I said: ‘Mrs. Smith, you are speaking to Walter Cronkite and you are a goddamn idiot.'”


Walter Cronkite’s first evening news broadcast on CBS, 1963:

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Sad to hear today of Ray Bradbury’s passing. His work belonged to the whole world–and worlds beyond–but he had a distinctly American voice. Here are all the posts about the writer on this blog.

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It wasn’t her most unusual assignment, but Oriana Fallaci spent a year focused on NASA in the mid-60s when the space race was in high gear. The result was If the Sun Dies, a book-length mélange of reportage and personal impressions about humans hurtling into the future. Fallaci was known for her ferocious Q&A interviews, but she was also a brilliant prose writer. A bigoted ass at times, but really brilliant. Here are the first three paragraphs from her book about life among the boldest rocketeers the world has ever known, in which she travels to Los Angeles to do research and finds the city to be odd and denatured:

“You couldn’t see the stone, so thick and lush was the grass. I tripped over it and fell flat, alongside the road. Nobody came to help me. But then who could? There was nobody walking along the road, nobody along the roads of the whole city. Nobody existed, nobody with feet and legs, with a body on his legs, a head on his body. Only automobiles existed, sliding by, smooth, controlled, always at the same speed, at the same distance, never a man inside, nor a woman. There were human forms behind the steering wheels, yes, but so straight they were, and still, that they could not be men or women; they were automatons, robots. Isn’t modern technology perfectly able to make robots identical to ourselves? Isn’t the first rule for robots ‘remember that you must not interfere with the actions of humans unless they ask you to’? And was I asking anyone to intervene? On the contrary. Stretched out on the grass by the roadside, my cheeks burning with embarrassment, I was only hoping that they wouldn’t notice me and laugh at me. And the robots obeyed, sliding by, smooth and controlled, always at the same speed, at the same distance, not even asking their computers whether the woman lying there was dead or alive and if she was alive why she wasn’t getting up. I wasn’t getting up because I had noticed something absurd. The grass didn’t smell like grass.

I stuck my nose into it and sniffed. No, it didn’t smell like grass, it had no smell at all. I grasped a blade and tugged. No, it didn’t come out and it didn’t break. I scrabbled underneath with my fingernail, looking for a speck of earth. No, you couldn’t even get hold of a speck of earth. How odd. Yes, it was the color of earth, it had the consistency of earth. And the grass that was planted in it was the same color as grass, it had the consistency of supple fresh grass, even watered with an ingenious sprinkler system to keep it green and make it grow; my God, I couldn’t be delirious, dreaming, the grass was grass, yes, of course it…Was it grass? I sniffed it again. Again I grasped a blade between my thumb and forefinger and tugged. Again I scrabbled underneath with my fingernail, looking for a speck of earth, and like a dagger-thrust in my brain the doubt became certainty. The grass was plastic. Yes, and perhaps all the grass I’d seen there, the grass plots along the avenues, along the highways, in front of the houses, the churches, the schools, looked after by gardeners, watered, treated like real grass, grass that grows and dies, was all plastic. A huge shroud of plastic, of grass that never grows or dies, a mockery.

I jumped up as if I’d been stung by a thousand wasps, hurried back to my hotel, flung open my door of my suite and almost fell over the cactus plant that adorned the living room. It was a big cactus, green, lush, bristling with thorns, and on top there was a flower. I felt the flower, I bent it and twisted it. It remained intact. I poked my finger between the thorns, squeezed the fleshy part, hoping for a drop of liquid. I felt only the sponginess of rubber. I squeezed the thorns with both hands, desperately praying that they would prick me, that they would tell me I’d made a mistake. They only tickled me gently, the thorns were made of aluminum and rounded points. And the plant in the corridor? False, too. And the hedge in the garden? False of course. And probably those trees too around which there were never any flies or birds, every blade of grass, every branch, every leaf was false in this city where nothing green sprouted and grew and died. The daisies, the azaleas, the rhododendrons, the rose in that vase…The vase was on the TV and I approached it without hope. I gently removed a rose, raised it to my face, let it drop, and the rose went crack; it shattered on the floor in a thousand splinters of glass. On the floor a cold frost, a spark of light remained. I had reached Los Angeles, first stage of my journey into the future and into myself.”


Oriana Fallaci reflected on some of her most famous interview subjects in a 1969 Life article in which the grand inquisitor was the one being quizzed:

Robert F. Kennedy: A very cold and shy man. He blushed at every question. I never managed to provoke him. One of my worst interviews.

Barbra Streisand: We liked each other very much, but she and her press agent complained about the story. I sent them both to hell.

John Glenn: The second time I saw him, after his fall, he was a better man, I thought, not playing the Boy Scout so much.

Federico Fellini: We are total enemies now. He wished me to die. I don’t wish him to die–but I don’t give a damn whether he lives.

Paul Newman: He seems like a nice American boy who reads the Times and Washington Post daily. I think I’d like him as a neighbor.”


More Oriana Fallaci posts:


So, this is an interesting find, to say the least. I was looking for something completely different and stumbled across “The Dead Body and the Living Brain,” a 1967 Look magazine article by Oriana Fallaci about pioneering head-transplant experimentation. (Unfortunately, the PDF file has the pages sideways and out of sequential order.) In the piece, Fallaci reports on the sci-fi-ish experiments that Prof. Robert White was doing with rhesus monkeys at a time when consciousness about animal rights was on the rise. White’s unusual work continued until his death in 2010. The opening:

“Libby had eaten her last meal the night before: orange, banana, monkey chow. While eating she had observed us with curiosity. Her hands resembled the hands of a newly born child, her face seemed almost human. Perhaps because of her eyes. They were so sad, so defenseless. We had called her Libby because Dr. Maurice Albin, the anesthetist, had told us she had no name, we could give her the name we liked best, and because she accepted it immediately. You said ‘Libby!’ and she jumped, then she leaned her head on her shoulder. Dr. Albin had also told us that Libby had been born in India and was almost three years, an age comparable to that of a seven-year-old girl. The rhesuses live 30 years and she was a rhesus. Prof. Robert White uses the rhesus because they are not expensive; they cost between $80 and $100. Chimpanzees, larger and easier to experiment with, cost up to $2,000 each. After the meal, a veterinarian had come, and with as much ceremony as they use for the condemned, he had checked to be sure Libby was in good health. It would be a difficult operation and her body should function as perfectly as a rocket going to the moon. A hundred times before, the experiment had ended in failure, and though Professor White became the first man in the entire history of medicine to succeed, the undertaking still bordered on science fiction. Libby was about to die in order to demonstrate that her brain could live isolated from her body and that, so isolated, it could still think.”•

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From a 1969 Life piece about the interlocutor Oriana Fallaci, who recalls introducing a young Muhammad Ali to her aggressive interviewing style:


Has anyone actually threatened to break your nose off for something you wrote?

Oriana Fallaci:

Something like it happened with Cassius Clay. I had seen him a couple of times, and I went back to his house in Miami to finish the interview. He was eating a melon. I said, Good Morning, Mr. Clay. He keeps on eating the melon and suddenly belches very loud. I think he is just being impolite and I sit down with my tape recorder. And then oooaaagh. He belches again. A big one. Well, I said, let’s go on anyway. And just at that moment, buurp, buurp, whoops, whoops. I turned to him and shouted, I am not going to stay with an animal like you. And I was undoing my recorder, when he took the microphone and threw it against the wall. My microphone! I saw it flying past my head and I took my fists and bam, bam. Went against him. He stood there. So enormous. So tall. And he watched me in a way an elephant watches a mosquito. Black Muslims suddenly came out of all the doors into the room. Evil. Evil. They began to chant. You came for evil. It was like a nightmare. I backed out to my cab, trying to keep my dignity, but really afraid, and went straight to the airport. After the interview was published, Cassius Clay said he was going to break my nose if he ever saw me again. I said, we’ll see, if he breaks my nose, he is going to jail and we will have beautiful news in the papers. I saw him later in New York. I passed with my nose in the air, and he went by without looking at me.”

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Ray Bradbury explains to Oriana Fallaci why we should travel into space, in the 1966 book, If The Sun Dies:

“For the same reason that makes us bring children into the world. Because we’re afraid of death and darkness, and because we want to see our image reflected and perpetuated to immortality. We don’t want to die, but death is there, and because it’s there we give birth to children who’ll give birth to other children and so on to infinity. And this way we are handed down to eternity. Don’t let us forget this: that the Earth can die, explode, the Sun can go out, will go out. And if the Sun dies, if the Earth dies, if our race dies, then so will everything die that we have done up to that moment. Homer will die, Michelangelo will die, Galileo, Leonardo, Shakespeare, Einstein will die, all those will die who now are not dead because we are alive, we are thinking of them, we are carrying them within us. And then every single thing, every memory, will hurtle down into the void with us. So let us save them, let us save ourselves. Let us prepare ourselves to escape, to continue life and rebuild our cities on other planets: we shall not long be of this Earth! And if we really fear the darkness, if we really fight against it, then, for the good of all, let us take our rockets, let us get well used to the great cold and heat, the no water, the no oxygen, let us become Martians on Mars, Venusians on Venus, and when Mars and Venus die, let us go to the other solar systems, to Alpha Centauri, to wherever we manage to go, and let us forget the Earth. Let us forget our solar system and our body, the form it used to have, let us become no matter what, lichens, insects, balls of fire, no matter what, all that matters is that somehow life should continue, and the knowledge of what we were and what we did and learned: the knowledge of Homer and Michelangelo, of Galileo, Leonardo, Shakespeare, of Einstein! And the gift of life will continue.”

More from If The Sun Dies:

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Oriana Fallaci was one of the people who overreacted after the tragedy of 9/11, seeming to believe that the West was at war with Islam rather than terrorism. But she was pretty spot-on in her assessment of Muammar el-Qaddafi when coversing with that shock jock Charlie Rose in 2003.

More Oriana Fallaci posts:

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No, I don't have gold in my ear. Please stop asking me that.

Before I reluctantly return Oriana Fallaci’s out-of-print 1976 book, Interview with History, to my shelves, I bring you one more excerpt. I’ve previously presented segments of her tête-à-têtes with Henry Kissinger and Indira Gandhi, and now we look at her meeting with Golda Meir, who was then Israel’s Prime Minister.

Even though Fallaci differed politically with Meir on crucial issues, the journalist acknowledged a sort of love for the politician, who physically resembled her mother. The interview actually took place twice because the first set of microcassettes were stolen from Fallaci’s Jerusalem hotel room. (Fallaci believed that Muammar al-Qaddafi was behind the thievery.) An excerpt from the women’s exchange on the topic of feminism:

“Oriana Fallaci: Shall we talk about the woman Ben-Gurion called ‘the ablest man in my cabinet?’

Golda Meir: That’s one of the legends that have grown up around me. It’s also a legend I’ve always found irritating, though men use it as a great compliment. Is it? I wouldn’t say so. Because what does it really mean? That it’s better to be a man than a woman, a principle on which I don’t agree at all. So here’s what I’d like to say to those who make me such a compliment. And what if Ben-Gurion had said, ‘The men in my cabinet are as able as a woman’? Men always feel so superior. I’ll never forget what happened at a congress of my party in New York in the 1930s. I made a speech and in the audience there was a writer friend of mine. An honest person, a man of great culture and refinement. When it was over he came up to me and exclaimed, ‘Congratulations! You’ve made a wonderful speech! And to think you’re only a woman!’ That’s just what he said in such a spontaneous, instinctive way. It’s a good thing I have a sense of humor….

Oriana Fallaci: The Women’s Liberation Movement will like that, Mrs. Meir.

Golda Meir: Do you mean those crazy women who burn their bras and go around all disheveled and hate men? They’re crazy. Crazy. But how can one accept such crazy women who think that it’s a misfortune to get pregnant and a disaster to bring children into the world? And when it’s the greatest privilege we women have over men.”

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Nixon and Gandhi, together in 1971, despised one another. He referred to her behind the scenes as an "old witch."

I recently brought you an excerpt of Oriana Fallaci’s spellbinding 1972 session with Henry Kissinger from the journalist’s great out-of-print book, Interview with History. I’m returning for passage of Fallaci’s 1972 Q&A with Indira Gandhi, one of the most complex and thorniest political leaders of that era.

By the time Fallaci had published her book in 1976, she had renounced her admiration for Gandhi, who had been India’s tough-as-nails Prime Minister and a feminist icon. In 1975, Gandhi, rather than resign as Prime Minister after being convicted of election fraud, declared the Indian version of martial law, had her political opponents imprisoned and repealed many of the citizens’ freedoms. She had, in effect, become a dictator.

Fallaci wrote a new introduction to the four-year-old interview that expressed bitter disappointment in the fallen idol. (“I didn’t hide my regret and shame at having portrayed her in the past as a woman to love and respect.”) Here’s a portentous excerpt from the interview that was conducted in New Delhi:

“Oriana Fallaci: Mrs. Gandhi, I have so many questions to ask you, both personal and political. The personal ones, however, I’ll leave for later–once I’ve understood why many people are afraid of you and call you cold, indeed icy, hard…

Indira Gandhi: They say that because I’m sincere. Even too sincere. And because I don’t waste time with flowery small talk, as people do in India, where the first half hour is spent in compliments: ‘How are you, how are your children, how are your grandchildren and so forth.’ I refuse to indulge in small talk. And compliments, if at all, I save for after the job is done. But in India people can’t stomach this attitude of mine, and when I say, ‘Hurry up, let’s get to the point,’ they feel hurt. And think I’m cold, indeed, icy, hard. Then there’s another reason, one that goes with my frankness: I don’t put on an act. I don’t know how to put on an act; I always show myself for what I am, in whatever mood I’m in. If I’m happy, I look happy; if I’m angry, I show it. Without worrying about how others may react. When one has had a life as difficult as mine, one doesn’t worry about how others will react.”

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Kissinger later called his interview with Fallaci "the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press."

The late journalist Oriana Fallaci had a dubious final chapter to her life when in the wake of 9/11, she lived in fear a Muslim planet. But in her younger days, she was one of the greatest interrogators in all of journalism. It’s not likely in this self-conscious age that many of today’s bigwigs would suffer her substance and style, but it’s not like too many interviewers are even trying.

In 1972, as the war in Vietnam raged, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sat down for an interview with Fallaci and regretted it almost immediately. The piece was published in the New Republic and anthologized in Interview with History. Here’s an excerpt:

Oriana Fallaci: And what do you have to say about the war in Vietnam, Dr. Kissinger? You’ve never been against the war in Vietnam, it seems to me.

Henry Kissinger: How could I have been? Not even before holding the position I have today…No, I’ve never been against the war in Vietnam.

Oriana Fallaci: But don’t you find that [Arthur] Schlesinger is right when he says that the war in Vietnam has succeeded only in proving that a million Americans with all their technology have been incapable of defeating poorly armed men dressed in black pajamas?

Henry Kissinger: That’s another question. If it is a question about whether the war in Vietnam was necessary, a just war, rather than…Judgements of that kind depend on the position that one takes when the country is already involved in the war and the only thing left is to conceive a way to get out of it. After all, my role, our role, has been to reduce more and more the degree to which America is involved in the war, so as then to end the war. In the final analysis, history will say who did more: those who operated by criticizing and nothing else, or we who tried to reduce the war and then ended it. Yes, the verdict is up to history. When a country is involved in a war, it’s not enough to say it most be ended. It must be ended in accordance with some principle. And this is quite different from saying that it was right to enter the war.

Oriana Fallaci: But don’t you find, Dr. Kissinger, that it’s been a useless war?

Henry Kissinger: On this I can agree.”

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