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Did you intend to do a novel? Never a novel. . . . Change the genre. . . . Yeah, I really had to. I take fiction very seriously. Of course I don’t think most Americans do. I don’t think they know the difference between pulp and serious fiction. I don’t think fiction is an escape, you know, I think as Flannery O’Connor thought that it’s a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system. But somehow I wanted to speak to people in a way that we wouldn’t fight the battle of fictional understanding in this book. I wanted people to see that this was real, that this was real people, a real city, currents of thought that are really operative in this country, and even stranger than fiction. In some respects, when I think of Royce Elms, Reverend Elms, I could not have invented him. I couldn’t have improved on it. He simply transcended my powers of creation. Nor Paul Wagner. Nor Stoner. Buddy Stoner. Yeah. When did you decide to go? Well, it started I guess in the fall. I thought well, I’m spending too much time thinking about this place, and wondering. I should write an article and get it out of my system, and I thought I could. And then in I guess it was November I went to a service at and Bishop Matthiesen was standing in for Archbishop Hunthausen, and I went to hear him to get a little closer to the city without moving, not taking a step out of the city. I was pretty much decided, but after hearing him I thought, `Yes, I’ll go there.’ Did you talk to hini there? No, I did not talk to him. I simply watched him and listened. I said not a word. And then I went to the city and wrote an article, but I had 200 pages of notes in a few weeks and more questions than I could possibly accommodate in an article I was still puzzled went back to the city, and when I came back the United Way dispute broke, and I became very, very concerned about that, and was on the phone actually with the United Way in Virginia, with people at Amarillo, Catholic Family Service, and tried to get an op-ed piece in the New York Times. . . . First of all I tried to talk to the religion people \(at the and the person, I’ve forgotten his name, who wrote the original article on Amarillo, and they said well they thought it was a local story but they’d let their Texas man look into it, and tried op-ed, and they said it’s really interesting, but then they said well it’s really a local issue. Then the Washington Post broke a full-page story, and the New York Times came along with a news story. A thing exists once either prints it, especially ahead of the other. Yeah. That does it. But I was quite ill about that, and I think that moved me to return to Amarillo. icouldn’t stay in New York. I wasn’t spiritually here, emotionally, and so I returned to Amarillo. You wrote: ‘One has to wait and listen to discern the faintest moral qualm. ‘ Now, how do you figure human nature? How do I figure human nature? That’s a large question. Yeah. But it is the question. I mean, these folks are sitting around here making four or five H-bombs a day, or . knowing it’s being done enriching their community. How do you figure human nature? Well, you mean how do I figure How do you figure these people? You’ve talked to them four years, on and of Yeah, right. Actually, when I started out there was a great deal more blankness [among them, toward Pantex] than I would encounter today. Some of it is people are convinced that they’re producing weapons that won’t be used, and that our best defense is offense. That’s somewhere on the Pantex letterhead. “Too tough to tackle.” Yeah, being “too tough to tackle.” Some people believe that nuclear weapons are no different from conventional weapons; we have to have weapons, and these are more cost-effective. There isn’t a substantial difference in quality, this is a cost-effective weapon, this is the latest thing, state of the art. Some people believe that, OK, it’s just too complicated, leave it to the people who know. We voted certain officials in, some of us. Of course the technical advisers we didn’t, but they know and we don’t, and we’re lay people, and trust. Now how does that compare with, say, Auschwitz. The people around Auschwitz. There are differences, what are they? Some of those things also apply. Well, some of those things also apply, some of them do apply. For example, leave it to the officials, they know what’s best. I mean, there is an abdication of responsibility which allows whatever forces good or bad which are in power to simply proceed without moral reflect it’s an abdication of our responsibility as members of a democracy. There are a variety of positions. Some of this, [not expressing] the faintest moral qualm, I think is quite defensive ‘Look, you’re coming from elsewhere, you’re coming from outside, you’re gonnacome here; -you’re gonna stay a little while, and denounce us, and none of your business what I think! Some of it is that. . . . There certainly were a lot of people who were asserting to you well, for example, one of them said that it would be better to extirpate life than lose the Christian crusade. . . . Oh yes, that’s absolutely there. Earthly life, it looks to be important, but it’s our eternal life, so the question is not how long you live, but whether you’re saved, and it’s not whether the earth continues, indeed, the earth is not to continue, it’s written in Scripture, but just whether I’m going to be part of salvation history or not. That’s the issue. There’s a curious ambivalence as to the Jews. On the one hand, Israel is the seat of the Second Coming so it must be preserved. One minister told me if the United States ever abandons Israel he ’11 go and fight. There was a time when a nondenominational Christian minister, very pro-Israel, pro-Begin, said Israel is entitled to all of Judea and Sumeria, and he said, “I believe that. It’s written.” And I said, “I don’t believe that.” .. . Stanley Marsh used the term to you [for Amarillo], “America’s Buchenwald.” Yeah. I let other people raise this. Rabbi [Martin] Scharf said to you: “It reminds me of the situation in Germany people not knowing there were extermination camps twenty miles away.” What’s your conclusion after four years in Amarillo about that analogy? 12 SEPTEMBER 12, 1986