tv Charlie Rose Bloomberg April 6, 2015 10:00pm-11:01pm EDT
>> from our studios in new york city, this is "charlie rose." charlie: admiral michael mullen is here. he served as the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff from 2007 to 2011. he was the top military advisor to president obama and president bush during the wars in iraq and afghanistan. he was also influential in the repeal of don't ask, don't tell and america's relationship with pakistan. his parting piece of advice for the american public was to take care of the generation that has fought a decade of war. his message holds significance as president obama continues to end two wars alongside a slew of global crisis.
i'm pleased to have admiral mullen back at this table. welcome. adm. mullen: it is good to be back. charlie: how is retirement? adm. mullen: it has been terrific. it was best put by the younger of my two sons when somebody asks him about that. he says my dad has about half the schedule and 2% of the stress. [laughter] adm. mullen: i thought that was a pretty good formula. it has been good. i'm teaching at princeton in the fall. i'm teaching a course on the use of u.s. military power and u.s. diplomatic power and getting the right balance. i'm on a couple of boards -- general motors and sprint. deborah and i spend a lot of time with veterans and their families on the issues that are challenging them. these extraordinary young men and women who have served so nobly for decades, but certainly the ones that were very close to us in these two wars. charlie: every person that i
admire that served with distinction in the pentagon, as an officer or as someone appointed by the president like secretary of defense, has always come away and their most important thought is how well did i do for the men and women fighting for america? that is the single thing, and i take them at their word, that burns in their soul. adm. mullen: i think that is true for everybody. charlie: it seems to me that this time we live in right now is as difficult as we have seen in a while. adm. mullen: it certainly, from my perspective -- i came in during the vietnam war in the late 1960's and have watched us move through very challenging times. it is as complex as anything i have seen. it is as uncertain as anything i have seen. i think the united states is in a position where we cannot do it alone anymore.
i think we are also continuing to devolve out of the cold war out of that bipolar, freeze the world relationship we had with the soviets then, which when the wall came down, that devolution started. i think there are still vestiges of that very much a part of what is going on. charlie: i just returned from syria. i had a conversation with president assad. last week, i was there. you see this very interesting circumstances which iran and america on one side and iraq not coordinating and not working together. you saw that in tikrit where they had pulled back and iraq seemed to be insisting on that. there is real worry on the part of people in iraq that iran will flex its muscle which is being used there in some permanent relationship. adm. mullen: i think that is a great worry. i think where iran clearly is now in iraq is a place that none
of us anticipated they would be so strongly and i think that was also facilitated by isis. charlie: by the threat of isis or -- adm. mullen: i mean by isis being in iraq. that is what generated the force flow of iranians into iraq. effectively, iran has become the defense minister writ large for what is going on in that country. at the core of this becomes this whole issue of can shia and sunni figure out how to live together? and what leadership -- are there leaders in the world particularly arab leaders, that can figure this out? as iran gets stronger in these countries -- you see saudi arabia now striking in yemen very specifically. there is this historic tension between iran and saudi arabia. charlie: and the houthi rebels.
adm. mullen: in the complexity of who's on whose side is very representative of how difficult these issues in that part of the world. charlie: what role do we play? adm. mullen: my own view of this is we have to stay engaged. we have friends in that part of the world. clearly, the saudis are concerned about any deal we make with iran. i think we have to work hard to make sure we can alleviate those concerns. we will, i believe and i think the president said again today we will never walk away from israel. we will always be there for them in support of them in whatever they need in terms of their security. they are our closest ally in that part of the world. i think we have to stay engaged. i do worry -- it is not just us. this deal, the framework is a p5 plus one. there are six countries involved. this is not just for the united states. i think leaders throughout the world -- charlie: that includes russia.
adm. mullen: that is true. and china. so, there's -- what they have done, in a way, the deal could be a signature effort in terms of how do you address issues in that part of the world? a good friend of mine said three or four years ago -- if you think the sectarian violence in iraq was bad, and it was, stand by for syria. it is worse. so, what -- charlie: there is a sunni majority and the alawites are 10% or 15%. right now, they have the power. adm. mullen: there is a big question about what if they lost that power, what would happen to them? if you look at what happened in iraq for instance in terms of shia going after sunni -- charlie: that led to the rise of isis. adm. mullen: that's right. is something like this, the p5 plus one or the right leaders at the table on what is going on in syria right now a way to get at
stopping the killing in that part of the world, in syria. when you have countries -- i believe we could not get iran for a long time anywhere close without putin and russia. i think the same is true in syria. is there a way to frame a political outcome through negotiations with leaders from those countries -- very difficult relationships in some cases -- to include turkey, to include possibly iran, to include hezbollah. charlie: in order to stop the killing, you need to negotiate a political outcome and if you negotiate a political outcome, you need to include all these countries who have a reason to sit at the table. adm. mullen: and generate a strategic view of ok, this is how we will get at it and then
deploy the diplomacy and, if necessary, deploy the military inside a strategy. charlie: deploy what military? adm. mullen: i think that becomes a question of how it is going. i think from a standpoint of let's say the 40,000 arab force, putting that together. certainly, i believe and i think many people believe they need to lead on this. there is support that we could provide. we have the best, the most capable force in the world right now. we have been through a lot. there are a lot of things we could do to help get that to -- the military outcome inside this strategic framework. charlie: you need a political solution in syria. it seems to me we have clearly had to make a decision that the removal of assad was not the primary priority.
adm. mullen: i think that is true. that said, the long term -- i think we need to take a long view, by the way -- long term, i don't think assad will last. i don't think that should be the principal objective of interaction there now. charlie: for those rebels and those people that demand assad's removal before they negotiate, that is a nonstarter. because he has the power. adm. mullen: absolutely. i think that also becomes part of how do you get to a political outcome that everybody agrees to and then how do you enforce it? those are very tough and complex issues. i don't know how syria concludes right now. it is just getting worse and worse. i don't know how it comes together in a way that stops the killing, restores the millions
of refugees to their homes and starts to generate some kind of stability there without the political, diplomatic, economic as well as military capabilities coming together. not just let's hit them with the military and see how it comes out. we have done that too many times and i would argue it had not come out that well. charlie: let's turn to russia and ukraine. where are we there? adm. mullen: i don't think we are in a good place. i have worried about russia and, particularly president putin for a long time. charlie: because? adm. mullen: when i was commanding officer of a united states navy cruiser in the 1990's, i took my ship up in the early 1990's when it was really bad. the ruble was worth less than a penny and it was going down every day. there was nothing on the shelves. the people that were there were
desperate about their future. what strikes me in retrospect, going back to that timeframe is when the cold war ended, what we did was we gloated. we didn't do what we did after world war ii which was focused on germany and japan and restoring it. we gloated. many russians remember that. charlie: especially putin. adm. mullen: especially president putin. he comes into power in 2000. he is resourced heavily because of the energy shift in the world and the bountiful energy they had. he saved the country. here is a man who's got a terrible demographic problem
terrible infrastructure problem. his economy is in really bad shape which has doubled because of the sanctions and the oil. yet, he is an important player in the world. i worry that we have got him actually cornered and it is not going to get better. charlie: if he is cornered, how is he likely to respond? adm. mullen: with strength, with abject military power or certainly he has adopted -- charlie: do you think he wanted this or saw an opportunity to do something he had long wanted which was to grab crimea, but he did not want to be in the place he is right now with the separatists in ukraine and all it has brought down on him? and he is looking for a way out. adm. mullen: we need to figure out if there is a way out. i also think he is an individual who responds to strength. he needs to know you cannot do this anymore. i used to take a temperature
about how russia was going with my baltic counterparts that led their militaries. on their best day, they were nervous. i cannot imagine how nervous they are right now when you have countries that have 25% of the population speaking russian. charlie: in those countries, we are committed, if they are a member of nato, to their defense. adm. mullen: we are indeed. charlie: everybody i have talked to in the administration say they will stand by that. adm. mullen: i think if we did not do that, it would fundamentally break nato apart. that is the essence of what nato is. charlie: if he moves into a nato country, we will respond. you say we need to fight strength with strength. how do we do that that we have not done that? what is your criticism of what we have done before or how have we not been as tough as we might have to get his attention? adm. mullen: i was -- when i was chairman, the russians went into georgia. i was taken in conversations and
what was written back then by the essence of what georgia and ukraine are to russia. on the western side, what the western view is that these are countries that want to come into nato, towards the west. we are at the heart of where russia started. i think we need to be very careful about opening those doors or being forceful about pushing them in that direction. charlie: it was wrong to encourage a nato expansion into certain parts of the eastern end of europe? adm. mullen: i thought we were accelerating that far beyond -- charlie: and it scared him. adm. mullen: absolutely. this is his homeland. the russian empire started in kiev. when you start talking about kiev being into nato, it is like putting a hot poker in there.
we have now started to rotate forces into eastern europe -- rotational forces, u.s. forces as well as nato. i think we need to stick with that. i think we need to be very careful about any rhetoric with respect to removal of u.s. forces from europe. i think nato -- i worked long and hard as this president did president bush and others, to get nato countries to spend more on defense. they don't. i think nato has to recalibrate itself in terms of how they will provide security for their own country as well as nato given the change that is there. i think it is where we were headed with russia, we are in a completely different position. i have spoken for the last several years -- one of my worries and i partially negotiated the new start treaty for nuclear weapons.
one of my concerns is we get this so wrong that somehow we bring the nuclear weapons, the weapons of mass destruction, back into play. president putin in the last two or three weeks has mentioned nuclear weapons twice. charlie: that he was prepared to go on nuclear alert about crimea. which seems like -- adm. mullen: ok, i think it is crazy. charlie: you have to ask yourself is he serious? why is he serious? adm. mullen: i think he is serious because he is caged at an 80% approval level in his own country. ♪
♪ charlie: the assassination of nemtsov -- what signal did that send? adm. mullen: i mean, i was not shocked. charlie: a political assassination. adm. mullen: i don't know the facts. i worry a great deal about not knowing the facts, but i was not surprised what came out of chechnya in terms of the possibility of originating there. so, i think that is part of the control. he has great control of that country right now. he is somebody that is formidable and that i think we have to figure out how to deal with. charlie: at the same time, china is developing a better relationship with him.
he's sending a whole bunch of energy over there. what is he getting for it? adm. mullen: back to my early 1990's -- this has been evolutionary, not just what has happened in the last year or two. again, i think if we get this wrong. charlie: get what wrong? adm. mullen: if we are unable to reach out to him and figure out a way forward that is peaceful and recognizes the challenges and the needs on both sides, but essentially to a point where he stops doing what he is doing and back to him being in a corner, i think we almost weld a relationship between him and china. that is not a relationship that is easy historically. it is not natural. charlie: it was kissinger who did the reverse when he drove a wedge between that relationship
by recognizing china. adm. mullen: i think there is an opportunity to make sure that does not happen. i think the two of them aligned against us for the next 50 or 60 years is a very bad outcome, not just for us, but in the world. so, i worry about that as the totality of the impact of not having a relationship with putin right now. charlie: here is what you seem to be saying -- as a military man who spent his life in the military, rose to the highest job you can have, chairman of the joint chiefs, you are saying we're not doing enough diplomacy. that is the problem. adm. mullen: yes, and we have been through a lot. i don't sign up to this we are tired and cannot do anything. charlie: there are a lot of fronts here. adm. mullen: that is correct. this is the essence of the course i put together at princeton because we have been using the military too much and we have not been able to deploy the other forces of government to generate outcomes as we used to do. charlie: that is bob gates' idea, too.
adm. mullen: believe me, i'm tired of living with the answer ok, let's pull out the gun and see what happens. the gun may be a part of the solution but i wanted a part of a strategy, not just hope. charlie: i assume -- the cry is we ought to be arming the ukrainians, sending bigger and better weapons to them. not troops, but better weapons. would you be resistant to that? because it fuels the flame? adm. mullen: it is -- there is risk associated with this as there -- we have the same discussion about do we arm our friends in syria or individuals -- this question of who's got them and how will they be used? charlie: whose hands they will fall into. adm. mullen: exactly. in some cases, you have to take that risk. on the other side of that, there are individuals in ukraine or syria that don't understand why
we aren't there to help them in that regard given what they are up against. the longer this takes, the more difficult those decisions become. charlie: let's go back to syria for a second. a lot of people look back at that point in which the moderate forces were begging for weapons and people like john mccain, at the same time, hillary clinton and bob gates and david petraeus were saying we ought to do this. the president made a decision not to, basically saying it was a fantasy. was it a fantasy? adm. mullen: i'm not sure. first of all, i'm reluctant to talk about a time i was not there and did not know the facts. charlie: you know a lot more about it than most people. adm. mullen: i think what we find ourselves in now that we have arrived in the position where we are providing some weapons is had we done that earlier, the potential is there to have a bigger impact than it does now.
charlie: they could have built up a moderate force in opposition. adm. mullen: i think so. even at the time this discussion was going on, this idea of what was the free syrian army? there were a lot of views of who they were. charlie: what is your view? adm. mullen: they were more coherent a couple of years ago than they are now because of what has happened. charlie: isis has rose. there are some who argue that assad wanted to see the rise of isis because he wanted the circumstance in syria to be this -- either me or isis, not it's me or moderate reformers. adm. mullen: i'm not sure i would give him that much credit. charlie: you don't think he is that -- adm. mullen: i'm not sure i would give him that much credit, that's all. charlie: because most of the bombing -- adm. mullen: yeah, yeah. charlie: some say he used more of his force against the moderate forces than he did against isis as they were rising
to power and that is one of the reasons they rose. you don't give him that much credit? adm. mullen: i'm just not. i think that may be analytically viewed in hindsight to have some kind of value. as i recall, going in and being on the front end of this, there was never any discussion. charlie: in the near term, he has to stay in power because he -- adm. mullen: i think he will stay in power. charlie: what do you think china wants militarily? adm. mullen: i think china would like to see us leave the area. leave that part of the world. i think they would like to become the dominant force in that part of the world. charlie: we have to recognize they have significant influence in the region and they have to recognize we have significant friends in the region like india, japan, south korea. adm. mullen: believe me, i think if we picked up and left, they
would be happy campers. that said, we are not going to do that. we have too many friends. it is such a critical part of the world from many perspectives, but economically that is the engine -- india, china, asia, american -- i have talked about it being the century of the pacific. the 21st century. it has to be stable. charlie: can it be the century of the pacific and still be an american century or not? is that a zero-sum game? adm. mullen: i don't think it is zero-sum. i think the question on china is, as it has been for some time, are they going to be constructive in their evolution? if that is the case and they develop a military and they do it in a way that makes a difference on the positive side, that's certainly a potential outcome. if it is the other way around, it becomes destructive. they are going to have a very difficult time getting where they need to go economically if
they have a destructive military force. destructive to the region, destructive to stability. charlie: because they need a lot of trading partners in the west. adm. mullen: they do. globally, they need them, but certainly in the west as well. as the top two economies in the world, that has to be the case between the united states and china. charlie: i want to talk about two things and let you go -- number one is cyber security. a lot of people i talk to worry more about that than almost anything. adm. mullen: i think i try to frame my view in the world in terms of security with respect to existential threats. there are only two to us as a nation -- one are the nukes we have. i worry about our inability to deal with putin in a way that takes them off the table. the second one is cyber because so few people understand. it is represented in the scale
kind of issues you have seen at target, jpmorgan -- it is tens of millions of impact. charlie: attacks are taking place every day. adm. mullen: by the hundreds or the thousands. and, there is certainly a great deal of work going into that but that is a capability that could shut us down, shut our financial system down. it could shut our electrical grid down. if they are able to sustain that, whoever "they" are -- it could be state-sponsored individuals or states themselves -- that becomes a way that our life changes. that is existential to our future. it is a very tough space to understand technically. i encourage leaders everywhere to understand the technical details because they are the ones that supply the resources hire the people, create the policies to deal with them, but we are behind. charlie: one last question about
terrorism and isis and a caliphate and what we see happening in yemen and in kenya today. the reports of people being romanticized over social media to slip through the borders and go to syria and get training to do whatever they want to do. are we winning that battle? adm. mullen: charlie, i have thought about this in terms of my own upbringing. i know that you were there for this as well when we were going through such difficult times in the 1960's and the 1970's. the number of disenchanted disaffected young people, even in our own country, that went in different directions, if you will. that certainly was my experience here. then, i take that, if you fast-forward that and accelerate it with this explosion of communication. when you have disaffected,
disbelieving young people with no future all over the world, it does not surprise me at all that the draw is there and people come from all over the world to be engaged in these kinds of fights. charlie: it gives them purpose and connection. adm. mullen: it goes back to what i said earlier -- if they don't have any hope, they will sign up. what we as leaders have to do is figure out a way to create hope. charlie: that has to come not just from the united states, but within the middle east and within the muslim community. adm. mullen: i think that is the fundamental issue in the middle east -- leaders there have to figure out a way to provide hope for their people so that what, they all have youth bulges particularly what they have been, what they see as a future which is very grim actually changes. charlie: it is a thrill to have you. it is a pleasure to have you here and i hope you will come back. adm. mullen: it is good to be back with you and i will. charlie: former chairman of the joint chiefs, admiral michael mullen. back in a moment. stay with us. ♪
charlie: kazuo ishiguro is here. he is considered one of the most important fiction writers of our time. his books include "never let me go" and "the remains of the day," which won the man booker prize in 1989. "the buried giant" is his first novel in 10 years. "the new york times" has called it the weirdest, riskiest and most ambitious thing he has published in his celebrated 33-year career. i'm pleased to have him back at
this table. welcome. kazuo: nice to be here. charlie: congratulations because of all the people are saying about this. my question is is it about appropriate for you to take 10 years to complete a novel? kazuo: i would like to do it more quickly, but i'm doing the best i can. [laughter] kazuo: there's no problem with the quantity of books out there. charlie: you are going for quality. kazuo: i wouldn't say i'm going for quality. if i put something out there, if it is good or bad, i would like to slightly change the landscape, change the skyline of the pile of books out there. so, whether people like it or not, i want to offer something a little different. until that gets into place, i don't feel like i am ready to put the book out there. charlie: you know some people believe this is a radical departure for you. kazuo: it comes as a slight
surprise to people. because i always come at these things from the inside. i never really -- i'm a bit like somebody building a flying machine before aviation got going. all these guys used to make funny flying machines in their backyards. i feel like i am a bit like that. i'm just trying to get this thing that will fly. for a long time, it does not fly -- finally, it kind of flies. but, i don't really know what it looks like. it may look really weird to somebody coming at it fresh. charlie: do you know what it is or does it have to be something in your mind? is it, for example, a love story? kazuo: it is certainly a love story. i knew that it is a love story but it is a love story of a certain kind. when we say love story, we usually mean a courtship story a story of two people coming together and the story ends when they declare love to each other.
this is a love story, but i think there should be more love stories like this one. it is about the decades, the years, the long distance of love. it is about all those years you have struggled to keep the flame alive. this is about a man and a woman who are determined to stand by each other right to the end. charlie: they suffer from a kind of amnesia. kazuo: when i was talking about getting my flying machine together, this was one of the main problems. i start off with a story that i can express in two or three lines in the abstract. i often cannot find the right way to put it on, the right setting. one of the things i started off with was i wanted a situation where there is a whole community, a nation suffering from some kind of selective memory loss. the nation has to decide, as a nation, do they want to remember everything? maybe there has been something
very traumatic buried in the recent past. maybe there was a very good reason for these things being buried. charlie: do you have a point of view on that? kazuo: my only point of view is it is very difficult to generalize. there are situations -- let's take france after the second world war. charlie: good example. kazuo: i don't want to pick on france, but i'm being polite. i'm in the united states and i don't want to talk about any buried giants in american society. i'm sure we can all -- as a matter of etiquette, i'm here as a visitor so i want to talk about france. the french after the second world war, what are they going to do with this stuff? they seem to be on the winning side, but they spent a lot of time collaborating with the nazis, sending french jews to the gas chambers without much help from the germans.
betraying each other to the gestapo. what do they do with that? how do they move on from that? maybe there is something to be said, however outrageous or unjust it seems for the position de gaulle took to say, let's all pretend we were all brave resistance fighters and let's not visit this question for a few decades. there will be a time when we are stronger, when we can face this, but right now, if we look at our recent past, we are just going to tear each other to pieces. we will go communist. there might even be civil war. the society cannot hold. you look at situations, say like -- this is what i suppose the starting point was when i was thinking about this book -- situations like what happened in bosnia and kosovo or rwanda. charlie: or cambodia. kazuo: yeah.
you have situations here where people seemed to have lived together, different tribes communities and managed to coexist for at least a generation. then some kind of societal memory was deliberately reawakened to mobilize hatred and violence. charlie: do you start with that idea, that situation and then create characters? kazuo: kind of, yeah. i start with that situation, but the other thing i was very concerned about -- that same question about do we want to remember certain things? are we better off keeping some memories buried? i wanted to apply it not just to a nation, but side-by-side with that, i wanted to apply it to a marriage because i think the same questions apply to a marriage, any kind of long-distance marriage, as it would with any long-term parent-child relationship.
that same question arises -- most relationships that go on for a long time, inevitably there are passages you agree to just keep buried. all right, that was unfortunate. it was painful. let's just move on. the couple at the center of my novel, they have this very difficult question. would our love survive remembering some of these things? do we want to remember some of the things that we have buried? on the other hand, if we don't look at these things and they sense their time together is limited, if we don't look at these dark passages, is our love genuine? is it based on something phony? i think they are very similar questions a larger family might have. charlie: so individuals have what states have? a sense of having to --
kazuo: that question of when is it better to remember, when is it better to forget is a very difficult one that applies to nations and to families and to marriages. charlie: this is a scientific aspect of this and i am not knowledgeable about it. i think there are some experimentations going on to try to understand the brain. there are things and drugs that can affect what you remember that can tamper with memory. kazuo: that kind of thing might have been very useful for me. i came to a stage, right? this is what happens to me as a novelist. i don't write novels in a sensible order. i start off with a story without a setting. if you had said that to me at a certain point in my attempt to compose this novel, i might have
said that is good. maybe that is what i need. i will go with that as a kind of sci-fi-ish modern device. that would give me what i want because i need a situation where everyone has to make that decision. do we want to turn back the force that allows us to forget or actually is it terribly useful? do we depend on forgetfulness to carry on? that is a very good -- what you just said was very interesting. i did not in the end decide to go down that path. i decided to go back into some kind of mythical past where i thought i could rely on very ancient kind of storytelling devices so i could have a supernatural mist. charlie: it is worth looking up. there are a number of things as we explore the brain, as everybody does.
we are finding out interesting things and that is one aspect of it. memory has been a theme of yours, has it not? kazuo: i sometimes worry it has become a bit of an obsession. my entire seems to be obsessive memory. i think it has evolved over the years. when i started to write fiction as a very young man, i think it was in order to remember. i think that is why there is a very intimate link in my mind and heart between writing fiction and remembering. charlie: how does writing fiction catalyze or stimulate memory? kazuo: it is not so much to stimulate memory. i had left japan at the age of five to live in britain. i think all the way through my growing up, i had these memories
of this place that was very precious to me and it was the place i thought i was going to return to at some point. i had these memories and it was not like a specific series of memories, it was like a memory of a whole world, a whole life and atmosphere and a group of people. as i got older, i realized that that very personal japan inside my head was somewhere i could not go to. it was fading with every year that i got older. so, i think i started off my whole writing fiction career by actually wanting to preserve these memories. i could not preserve them just by writing down facts. i had to actually rebuild the japan of my imagination and memory in a book. i think right at the foundation in my writing impasse was this
notion that creating a world in fiction was an act of memory preservation so i can say it is safe inside that book. charlie: i have to call on my memory to inform my book. am i right about that? your memory is going to have to influence the setting and character development. kazuo: i do not really have to call on my memory. it is almost like i have this world i have built in my head naturally, not just because i am trying to write a novel. naturally, this world built up in my head. it is a mixture of imagination speculation and memory. i get to a certain age, what am i going to do with it? do i let it disappear as the time goes on? if it is a very special place and only i have access to it, i want to get it down in some kind of way.
i want to build, i want to preserve it inside a fictional world. that is how it started. as i carried on writing, i never lost that fundamental idea that there is something -- writing is something about memory. i started to look at other people or other characters in some depth, but i always tended to tell my stories through memory. people remembering about themselves. people putting up memory from 30 years back right next to a memory from five or 10 minutes ago or two days ago. trying to assess these memories. are the memories accurate? are there blood on the edges or are they being distorted by the person remembering? it is a way of constructing a sense of oneself. charlie: what was the impact of
that 14th-century poem called "sir gawain and the green knight?" kazuo: not a huge amount. most of that poem -- many people watching now know it. it is an entertaining story poem. most of it is not particularly relevant to my novel. although, i recommend people read it because it is a very entertaining poem. but, i took -- there was just one little stanza. the story takes place in two castles. but, there is a bridge passage where the young sir gawain rides from one castle to the other castle and you get a little glimpse of what britain was like back in those days. and, the anonymous poet says it is a hell of a place. there were no inns in those days so he had to sleep on rocks in the pouring rain. i don't know why he slept on rocks. he should sleep under a tree or something. charlie: you don't know why?
kazuo: what really struck me was it says in the next couple of lines, it says something like he was chased by wild boar, wolves and panting ogres were chasing him up hills out of villages. then the story continues and he goes to another castle. this little glimpse of this weird, imaginary ancient britain, just those few lines sparked off a whole world for me. i thought that would be a fun place to put that in my novel. i could suddenly see this very inhospitable place. charlie: when you find that, that is a huge benefit. kazuo: yeah. i go location hunting because i go about things backwards. i get a story and i don't have a location or setting. sometimes -- you ask why 10
years? sometimes it takes a long time to find the right setting. charlie: how long did it take you to find the setting in this case? kazuo: it took a long time. i did actually think about sci-fi settings -- a galaxy far away. sometimes you come across something and just a few lines sparks off a whole world. i particularly liked the banality of the panting ogres. charlie: the banality? kazuo: there was no surprise. the poem doesn't say, you know what? there were ogres. it is a nuisance, these ogres made life very inconvenient. they were like, you know, not very friendly bulls that you encounter when you are walking across a farm field. i thought i will have that. in my world, there will be ordinary things in the background. charlie: it is said that your wife, when she first read the
book, hated it. is that fair? kazuo: this is what you are getting at when you wanted to know why it took 10 years. [laughter] kazuo: i'm giving you very serious literary responses and you want a simple human answer. you're right. no, she did not hate it. for encouragement -- i have done a lot of work, i found the setting, so i'm quite a long way into it. i'd written about 60 or 70 pages. i thought even i sometimes although i usually work alone, i need a bit of encouragement. i thought my wife would give it to me. i showed it to her and she said you're going to have to just start again from scratch. [laughter] charlie: how was that moment between the two of you? kazuo: well, it was a little bit awkward. charlie: you have to start over
from the scratch. kazuo: what she was saying was i'm not saying you have to alter this character -- not a word of this can survive. she did say you don't have to abandon this idea. she said the concept, the ideas are very interesting. charlie: but, you have to start all over. kazuo: yeah. the execution is all wrong. you will have to start from scratch. i did not mind this too much. charlie: did you take it seriously? kazuo: i did take it seriously. i put it aside and wrote another book, a book of short stories. i had a couple of movies to worry about. i wrote some song lyrics for the jazz singer stacey kent. i did these other things. but, i always knew i would come back to this. this happens to me a lot. "never let me go" i had to attempt three times. there are two abandoned versions of that book back in the 1990's. charlie: but they build on each other, don't they?
kazuo: they build on each other. charlie: you didn't throw it in the ocean. kazuo: i never abandoned anything actually because i have this kind of strange, naive confidence that if i come back to it, something that was wrong before would have gone away and there will be a solution that had not occurred to me the first time round or second time that would present itself. that has been my experience. "never let me go" is only the third time round that i came upon the sci-fi conceit, that this should be a story about young people who actually had been harvested as clones for organ donation. that was not there in my first two attempts. i was trying very hard to contrive some way in which young people could go through the experience of old people. that they could go through the struggles of the whole thing of becoming middle-aged and then old and then getting sick and
dying and asking all the questions that people do over a larger lifespan. i wanted to find some way in which they could do this in like 28, 30 years. i just could not do it before, but this piece of the jigsaw presented itself. charlie: if you could have been a great musician, would you have preferred that to a great novelist? kazuo: that is a very difficult question. charlie: because? kazuo: because i still love music. when you are not allowed to do something, because i wanted -- not really a musician, i wanted to be a songwriter. i love songs. not a composer, that is too grand. i love the three-minute, four-minute song. a beautiful emotion or world contained in just a song with all these dimensions -- lyrics performance, the music, the orchestration.
i think songs are a wonderful thing. if i could have been a songwriter, i might swap it. a novelist is not a bad thing. it just takes 10 years to write a novel. charlie: why does it have to be either/or? because they are both so demanding? kazuo: it doesn't have to be in theory, but in practice, i'm not a very good songwriter. charlie: if you are great writer, you know whether you are a good songwriter or not? kazuo: i'm not a bad lyricist. i worked with jim tomlinson, stacey kent's band leader and husband, he writes all the music. as i have gotten older, when i was in my mid-20's, when i moved from songs to short fiction to novels, i started to feel there were certain things i wanted to do that i could not do in song.
nevertheless, i think many of the things that mark me as a novelist today -- my style, my priorities -- they derive directly from my decisions that i made about songwriting. i think somewhere in the back of my head i am still writing a song. this is why i like first-person narratives so much. somewhere i think a novel like "never let me go" are like songs. it is just one -- not like big band songs -- something like a guy or woman with an acoustic guitar singing to about 17 people in a new york coffeehouse. i want that intimate thing. almost like a confessional thing. somebody is telling the story of their life to a small audience in an intimate setting. that is why i love a certain
kind of first-person narrative. charlie: can you play an acoustic guitar? kazuo: i'm not a bad guitarist. i can play many styles -- jazz folk. i can play in weird tunings. blues. i can play bad piano. but, as i say, i'm not interested in being -- i wouldn't mind being eric clapton or bb king -- it's not that kind of guitar. for me, a guitar is something that helps pin down a song. it is a good instrument for songs because it holds down rhythm, harmony and melody at the same time. charlie: it is great to have you here. kazuo: it is lovely to be back. charlie: "the buried giant" is the title of the novel. kazuo ishiguro. thank you for joining us. see you next time. ♪
>> live from pier 3 in san francisco, welcome to "bloomberg west.” we focus on innovations, technology and future of business. i'm cory johnson. here is a check of the top headlines. ed fed president william dudley said the timeliness of an interest rate hike will be data dependant and uncertain. >> the likely pass of short-term interest rates after liftoff is just as important as the timing of liftoff. here i anticipate a path will be relatively shallow. head winds in the aftermath of the financial crisis are still in evidence, particularly with the diminish availability and tougher terms that we see for residential mortgage credit.