“60 Minutes” Interview with Admiral Rickover by Diane Sawyer

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DIANE SAWYER: He’s the Navy’s most famous and most cantankerous admiral. Hyman George Rickover, the father of the nuclear submarine, was censored last month for accepting gifts from a naval contractor, General Dynamics, over a 16-year period. The gifts totaled more than $67,000 but it seems that the company was wasting its money. Before he retired, Rickover declared war on General Dynamics. He accused them of trying to cheat the government. When we first broadcast this interview, the investigation of the admiral and the gifts had just begun, but the 84-year-old Rickover was undaunted. He was much the same as he had been in 1957, the last time he submitted himself to an unrestricted personal interview – combative, challenging, deliberately provocative.

ADMIRAL HYMAN RICKOVER: No, I never have thought I was smart. I thought the people I dealt with were as dumb, were dumb, including you.

SAWYER: I’ll tell you, to be called dumb by you is to be in very good company, Edward R. Murrow, for one. I think you said he asked you stupid questions.

AD RICKOVER: Oh yeah, he – well, I told him the same – I told him he was asking stupid questions and he agreed. He says, well, what questions should I ask? And I told him.

AD RICKOVER (previous interview): You’re looking for easy solutions. The trouble with you is you want easy answers, but you don’t know the proper questions.

EDWARD R. MURROW: All right, you go ahead and phrase the question and then phrase the answer.

AD RICKOVER: Perhaps the question should be, what should be the role of educated or intellectual people in the United States? Now does that sound like a better question?

MURROW: That’s a fine question.

SAWYER: In an interview or on a ship, Hyman George Rickover likes to take command. Even at 84, the admiral can inspect a submarine with the agility of an ensign. In Rickover’s mind, these are his submarines. He designed the reactor, he trained the men. One out of four admirals commanding ships today was trained by Rickover. His nuclear empire became known as ‘Rickover’s Navy,” and it ran solely Rickover’s way. And you just thought that the rules of the Navy were silly?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: I don’t know about – I never read the rules. I prohibited – I – we never had a Na – book of Navy regulations in my office. I prohibited it. One time some guy brought it in and I told him to get the hell out and bum it.

SAWYER: Because you wanted them to think?

AD RICKOVER: I wanted them to think. If they knew what their job was, they didn’t need a book of regulations.

SAWYER: How can you run a navy if everybody in it acts like you do? If everybody considers himself-

AD RICKOVER: Well, I don’t – I – I never told the others how to act. I acted my own way, my own genius.

SAWYER: But you know they said that you were unaccountable.

AD RICKOVER: I was a hundred percent accountable. If anything had ever gone wrong with a nuclear ship, to whom would – who would they have pointed their finger at? What – what they mean is I would not do all the things they asked me to do. I did the things I thought was right.

SAWYER: But that’s not working within the system. Isn’t that what the military is about, working within the system?

AD RICKOVER: I – my job was not to work within the system. My job was to get things done and make this country strong.

SAWYER: What he got done was this: the Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine, launched in 1952, the machine that would change military strategy forever. His submarine could stay underwater for months. Rickover stunned the world by building the Nautilus from scratch in only five years, leaving the Russians far behind. Many people called him the best engineer the Navy ever had. Today there are 141 ships in the nuclear fleet, but once there was just the man and his obsession – with science, not saluting; with engineering, not command. What drove you down into the body of the ship to learn about why the cranks cranked and the –

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: Well, for Chrissake, what the hell is there about standing up and saluting and dressing up in uniform? You can put dummies to do that job.

SAWYER: That’s why you became an engineer?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: Well –

SAWYER: Naval engineer?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: I was in the Navy and I could do more and I could learn more. I couldn’t see myself just standing officer, the deck-watchers and saluting and all that nonsense.

SAWYER: But why did you really – why did you work so hard?

AD RICKOVER: I was getting paid for it.

SAWYER: No. Why did you work so –

AD RICKOVER: I would have worked hard at any job. No job I ever undertook that I didn’t work hard on.

SAWYER: Why? Why did it all matter to you so much?

AD RICKOVER: Because that’s what being a human being is, to do the best you can under any circumstances.

SAWYER: What is at the heart of leadership? Is it in personality? Charisma?

AD RICKOVER: No. For example, I have the charisma of a chipmunk. So what the hell difference does that make?

SAWYER: It was certainly not his personality that won Rickover three Distinguished Service Medals and, to celebrate the Nautilus, a ticker-tape parade through the streets of New York – a long way from the tiny town in Russian-occupied Poland where Rickover was born, the son of a tailor; a long way for the boy who landed at Ellis Island at the age of six and grew up in a ghetto in Chicago, and won an appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. He was terrified he wouldn’t make it. He became the class grind.

Did you ever go out on dates?

AD RICKOVER: No.

SAWYER: Did you ever go to dances?

AD RICKOVER: No.

SAWYER: Did you ever go to the movies?

AD RICKOVER: On Saturday night occasionally. I studied. Girls didn’t – I – I was so busy trying to get by, stay alive, that I didn’t worry about girls. You can get along without girls. Yeah. Don’t wink at me.

SAWYER: Was it a very snobbish atmosphere?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: No. Sure everybody got hazing there at that time. I got probably somewhat more than the average. So what? I was mature.

SAWYER: Why did you get more than other people, you think?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: Because I was Jewish. They didn’t have any – very rare for a Jew to go to the Naval Academy. You know an interesting thing that later on, many years later when I had high rank in the Navy, one or two of those – I was going to use the word bastard – came around and asked me for favors for them, those who had treated me that way. I wouldn’t do it.

SAWYER: You remembered them?

AD RICKOVER: Of course. The most pleasant thing was in becoming an officer and going to a ship and seeing the mature, adult attitude in which one was treated as compared to that lousy boys’ school.

SAWYER: Today that lousy boys’ school has a science building named for Rickover; inside, models of his submarines and the testing devices he invented. Rickover science and a Rickover superstition: it’s supposed to be good luck to rub his nose, the one on the statue. And how about the Rickover stories? The admirals who run the Naval Academy remembered being grilled by Rickover when they applied for admission to his nuclear sub school.

OFFICER: One young man there came in with long hair and he told him he had to choose between the long hair and the program. And he walked out and said, ‘My girlfriend likes this ponytail.”

AD RICKOVER: Fine. That was the end. The little son of a bitch should have gotten cut it all off and gotten a wig.

SAWYER: I heard that you had people come in and they sat – you sat them down in chairs in which some of the legs were shorter than the others.

AD RICKOVER: No, no, no. Only two. I’d saw off six inches from two –

SAWYER: Oh, just two.

AD RICKOVER: Only two, and it – it was difficult because they kept – it was a shiny chair and they kept sliding off. So it was – they had to maintain their wits about them while they were asked these questions while they were sliding off the chair.

SAWYER: And what about those that you brought in and made stand in the broom closet?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: Well, they came in, they gave stupid answers. So I thought I’d give them a chance to think. I’d put them in there for a couple of hours, three hours, and it gave them plenty of time to think.

SAWYER: But what were you trying to do with these young men who came in to you?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: I was trying to draw out of them what they had potentially in them.

SAWYER: A young ensign from Georgia eluded the broom closet, but couldn’t escape Rickover’s demand for excellence. But did you hate him a little?

PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: There were a few times, yeah, when I hated him, because he demanded more from me than I thought I could deliver.

SAWYER: James Earl Carter hated him, revered him and became his Commander in Chief. Is anyone his boss?

PRESIDENT CARTER: I never really felt like his boss, although he would say that I was. I’m not sure that he ever acknowledged it really deep down in his heart.

SAWYER: Carter and four other Presidents would intervene to keep Rickover on active duty 20 years past his retirement date. The Navy was not pleased. It had been trying to retire Rickover as far back as the year he launched the Nautilus. His fellow officers were tired of his abrasiveness and contempt for regulations, but Rickover had taken care to build alliances in the White House and on Capitol Hill. In a public relations tour de force, he cultivated members of Congress by asking their wives to sign the keels of his submarines, and by taming his launches into lavish photo opportunities for his congressional supporters. He valued their protection. They valued his blunt testimony.

CONGRESSMAN: What do you think is the – is the – is the prospect, then, for nuclear war?

AD RICKOVER: Well I think we’ll probably destroy ourselves. So what difference will it make? Some new species will come up that might be wiser than we are. I do not believe in divine intercession. In the eyes of the Lord, we are not the most important thing in the universe.

SAWYER: The Reagan Administration finally forced Rickover to retire in 1982. Nearly everyone said he was too old. But after 64 years of service, he didn’t even receive the courtesy of a call.

AD RICKOVER: My wife told me, it’s on the radio that you’re fired. ‘Mat’s how I found out about it, yeah. ‘That’s how the Navy notified me, my wife hearing it on TV-

SAWYER: Were you surprised when the Reagan Administration told him goodbye?

PRESIDENT CARTER: No, because the defense contractors were out to get Rickover for a long time. He was an embarrassment to them and he was part of a one-man watchdog.

AD RICKOVER: There was over a billion dollars worth of claims by shipbuilders which I thought were false and I fought it. Now, it’s quite a complete coincidence, but within a month or two months after I left – left, most of that money was given to the shipbuilders. Of course, that’s a coincidence.

SAWYER: The shipbuilders did hate him because he refused to pay them and because he demanded perfection. He said they didn’t know ships from horse droppings. And now, Rickover has been charged with taking presents from the shipbuilders. A former executive from one contractor, General Dynamics, was the first to reveal that Rickover had been given gifts, a lot of them, some of them expensive.

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: Oh, they gave me little plaques, they gave me all kinds – one time I think I even got a small diamond, in the time I was married. But the question that ought – I did. I took – so did others. I don’t deny it. But the question that ought to be asked is, did I favor General Dynamics or any other contractor? The question is whether it influenced you.

SAWYER: But how can an – an American citizen know whether it influenced you or not?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: I didn’t – I didn’t think about the views of the American citizen. I was governed by my own thoughts.

SAWYER: In fact Rickover requested a lot of the gifts so he could give them to members of

Congress who supported his subs, expensive gifts and not just the key chains he picked up off his desk.

Why do you think this has come out now?

AD RICKOVER: On account of claims –

SAWYER: General Dynamics?

AD RICKOVER: I accused them of false claims.

SAWYER: General Dynamics?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: General Dynamics. And I always stuck to it.

SAWYER: And you think this is just a little revenge they’re trying on you?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: I don’t care. They’re not taking any revenge on me. I have my own conscience. Do you think I was crooked when I was in office? Do you think the public thinks so because I got things like this?

SAWYER: But do you worry that, at the end of this long career, that something like this has been raised and your ethics are questioned by the press?

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: Well I don’t – it doesn’t bother me, it doesn’t bother me. I think God knows what I did and I don’t care what the contractors or you think.

SAWYER: What Rickover admits to caring about is American education. Over the years he has given $100,000 of his own money to educational projects, and now he’s raised some $200,000 for a foundation of his own, the Rickover Science Institute, which brings 60 gifted students to Washington each summer for intensive study. What is it that you think the gifted children. most need that they’re not getting in the school system?

AD RICKOVER: They need the exercise of their brains. They need not to be kept in apathy, not to let their parents run around and have a good time. The primary function of parents in this world is to raise their children to the best of their ability. They’re not doing it.

STUDENT: Okay, well I agree with you in that we need to invest more money –

AD RICKOVER: Well, thank you very much. (Laughter)

SAWYER: And sometimes the educator can’t resist being the admiral again.

AD RICKOVER: You’d better talk up because the audience is not hearing what you’re saying. Start all over again and talk up. (Laughter) Yeah, use all your equipment. C’mon!

SAWYER: If Rickover is hard on parents and kids, he’s also hard on an institution he fathered civilian nuclear power. This is the plant at Three Mile Island. Rickover built the first civilian nuclear plant. He says nuclear energy will be necessary for the future because Americans are squandering their resources. But he worries that the plant technicians are not being properly supervised and he worries where the nuclear discovery will lead.

PRESIDENT CARTER: One of the most remarkable things that he ever told me was when we were together on the submarine and he said that he wished that a nuclear explosive had never been evolved. And then he said, ‘I wish that nuclear power had never been discovered.’ And I said, ‘Admiral, this is your life.’ He said, ‘I would forego all the accomplishments of my life, and I would be willing to forego all the advantages of nuclear power to propel ships, for medical research and for every other purpose of generating electric power, if we could have avoided the evolution of atomic explosives.’

SAWYER: What is the biggest threat in the use of nuclear weapons? Is it the Russians?

AD RICKOVER: It’s always somebody else, of course. But you might think maybe it’s both the fault of both of us.

Where do I sign, here? Why – why don’t you write your initial? People will always remember how you look. They’ll never forget.

SAWYER: You won’t even – you won’t even accept the bureaucracy of signing your name –

AD RICKOVER: I never have, even in the na – in the military, I’ll do that.

SAWYER: You don’t agree with the rule?

AD RICKOVER: I – I ag – any rule that I like I agree with.

SAWYER: Rickover runs four miles a day and works eleven hours arranging fund-raisers and speeches – here with the director of his foundation, Joann Digennaro. He’s also working on a book, a kind of summation. ‘Me text will be taken from these notebooks – 100 volumes of thoughts and ideas Rickover has written and collected through his lifetime.

AD RICKOVER: It says Dean Acheson said –

SAWYER: And among the volumes, a glimpse of the private Rickover, a man few people other than his second wife Eleanor know: the love letters he wrote to his first wife fifty years ago. This is you on a submarine –

AD RICKOVER: Yeah, what did I –

SAWYER: And you were – read this to me. This is so terrific.

ADMIRAL RICKOVER: Here, I’ll read it to you. ‘Forgive me for not writing more, I am so tired. Above all though, there is the clear thought of you and of my love. Your vision is ever fresh, smiling and lovely. Your likeness and alertness contrasts with my drowsiness. Good night. I shall fall asleep with thoughts of you as my lullaby.’ Is that a good (indistinct)?

SAWYER: The letters his first wife wrote back are gone. Rickover says he burned them in despair the night she died. Do you believe there’s an afterlife?

AD RICKOVER: I don’t know. I’ve never talked with any of the people there. I don’t know. Never met any yet.

SAWYER: You don’t think it likely there’s a heaven and a hell?

AD RICKOVER: I don’t give any thought to that. I think you make your heaven and hell right on ” earth. You should – you should act on this earth as if it were heaven.

SAWYER: A footnote on those gifts that got the admiral in such trouble. The Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, said that the censure of Rickover should not overshadow his many achievements. It was just that a Navy admiral should be held to a higher standard. In response, Rickover issued a public rebuttal of the charges. He has also called Secretary Lehman one of the biggest fools the Navy ever had.

사진맹

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초창기의 인류가 느꼈던 하지만 형용할 수 없는 두려움, 위대함을 나타내는 상징물, 신의 형상물을 만들었다면 선형적 글은 (성경, 과학적 방법론 등등) 모호한 상징물이 풍기는 아우라를 빼앗거나 파괴하였다. 하지만 우상 숭배 혹은 오캄의 면도날라는 판단 기준을 통해 상징물을 억눌러온 선형적 글과 문자가 오히려 19세기에 발명된 사진, 비디오 매체에 의해 한낱 구시대 유물로 전락되어가고 있음을 알 수 있다.
이와 더불어 Photogenic 소위 사진 잘 받는 사람, 이런 사람을 보면 처음에는 나보다 멋있거나 이쁜 사람이란 점에 무력함을 느끼고, 이러한 미모를 감상한 사람이 모델 본인과 나를 제외하고도 사진작가가 있음에 거리감이 느껴지고 이 사진이 복제 되어 여기저기 퍼지는 것은 마치 쓰나미 밀려오듯이 막을 수 없는 현상황이 필연이라 생각하게 된다. 인물 사진이 아닌 다른 사진 보더라도 내가 뭘 느껴야 할지, 정확히 모르겠기 때문에 무력함, 거리감, 필연은 여전하다. 그래서 나는 사진 앞에 서면 위의 감정들이 복잡하게 섞이게 되며 위축 되는 경향이 있다.
상징이 풍부한 희곡, 때로는 말씀 그 자체에만 충실하라며 내려주신 성경을 붙잡고 위로를 찾으면 앞서 언급한 거리감, 무력함은 어찌 해결되는 것 같다. 하지만 앞서 언급한 ‘필연성’을 어찌 해볼바는 없는 것 같다. 그리스 비극은 주변에서 보기도 어렵고, 심판의 날 외에는 요즘 대세를 거스를만한 강력한 드라이브 걸어줄 구절을 아직 찾아보지 못했는데 언제 심판의 날이 올지 알 수 없는 노릇 아닌가?
조만간 대세를 따르지 못해 사진맹, 비디오맹 소리 듣게 될 날이 올 것만 같다.

올레 올레 올레, 세나, 세나

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아빠 밑에서 얌전히 삼십살이나 처먹은 햄릿이 클로디우스를 찔러 아비 죽음을 복수했고 동생에게 “울지마라. 20세에 죽으려면 용기가 필요하다.” 말 남기고 죽은 수학자 갈루아를 떠올려 볼 때 34살이면 살면 살만큼 살지 않았을까? 단, 죽음을 앞두고 수학적 난제 해결이든, 회개든 그 이전의 나와 그 이후의 나를 확실하게 구분 지을 수 있는 변화가 이루었다는 가정하에 말이다. 아참, 그리고 역대 최고 F1 드라이버 중 하나로 꼽히는 아일톤 세나는 34번째 생일이 얼마 지나지 않은 5월 어느 하루, 산 마리노의 F1 코스 돌다가 사고로 사망하였다.
아일톤 세나가 죽은지 일년 지난 해, 당시 나와 같이 학교 다니던 브라질 애가 아래 위로 검은 상복을 입고 왔다. 물어보니 세상에서 제일 빠른 사람이 죽은지 일년된 날이라고, 그 사람 이름은 아일톤 세나라 말해줬다. 그전까지만 하더라도 내 머리 속에서 브라질은 축구만 하는 나라, 독일은 자동차만 만드는 나라이기 때문에 브라질 애가 축구 선수가 아닌 사람을 위해 상복을 입는다는 것을 쉽게 이해하지 못했다. 심지어 독일인 슈마허가 얼마전에 F1 그랑프리 우승하지 않았는가! 하지만 그 친구의 열띤 아일톤 세나 찬양을 듣고 난 후, 슈마허는 세나가 사라졌기 때문에 우승했다는 즉, 호랑이 대신 여우가 왕노릇하고 있다는 그 친구 말에 설득 당해버렸다. 그 이후, F1에 대한 관심을 조용히 끊었다. 결국 진정 챔피언다운 챔피언, 세나가 첫 우승한게 29살였으니 30 언저리에 인생 한번 바뀔 타이밍이라는 생각은 여전했다.
최근 세나 다큐멘터리 영화가 나왔다. 그의 팀 동료이자 최대 라이벌였던 알랭 프로스트, 15년 베테랑 기자, 업계 관계자 인터뷰들과 당시 남은 자료를 토대로 만든 이 영화를 통해 88년 89년 연속 프로스트 – 세나 충돌 사건 (같은 코스, 둘다 우승 결정 짓는 경기) 정황, 뒷이야기를 포함하여 그동안 어렴풋 봤던 세나의 뒷모습이 아닌, 다른 면을 바라볼 기회가 생겼다. 영화를 통해 느낀 점: 예전의 나는 프로스트와 세나가 같은 팀임에도 불구하고 참으로 성격이 먹같아서 불필요한 충돌했다고 생각했다. 이제는 너무나도 상반된 성격 소유자들이 서로 갈길 가다보면 스칠 수 밖에 없음을 이해한다. 꼬꼬마 카트 시절이나 공간 보이면 충돌 마다하지 않고 뛰어드는 습관은 타이어 값만 1억하는 프로 레이싱 세계에서는 관례에 어긋날 뿐더러 결코 통용 되어서는 안될 논리였으나 세계 최정상급 세나는 그 습관을 버리지 못했다. 휠 잡는 매 순간마다 그는 카트탈 때나 무명일 때나 챔피언일 때나 늘 앞선 사람과 자리를 바꿔야 했고 빨라야했다. 설사 앞선 사람이 “교수”라는 별명으로 불리우며 계산적인 드라이빙 스킬을 기반으로 3회 우승한 알랭 프로스트이며 덫 놓듯이 일부로 빈틈을 보였다고 의심될지라도 일단 찔러야 했던 것이다. 이처럼 앞선 사람과 자리를 바꾸는 것이 그에게 일종의 사명이였다. 더 이상 자리 바꿀 사람 없을 때는 자신의 최고 기록을 갱신하기 위해 전속력으로 달리다가 결승점 얼마 안두고 부딪혀 1등을 놓치는 사람이니 말 다했다.
사람은 언제 바뀌는가? 30? 30이란 숫자는 아무 것도 아니다. 단지 저들은 그 때 마지막으로 바뀌었을 뿐.