Interviewer's Name: M. Scott Sosebee
Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted late July 2011 at the home of Joanne Herring in Houston, Texas.
Context Notes: Interview and transcription completed in conjunction with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas. In addition to Stephen F. Austin State University history professor M. Scott Sosebee, Perky J. Beisel (also at SFA) is present and talks briefly.
Tapes and Interview Record: The original recordings of the interview and a full transcript are held by the East Texas Research Center, R. W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.
Transcription Notes: The policy of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project has been to eliminate false starts and crutch words from transcriptions when determined not to affect the meaning and flow of the spoken word. Obviously, and admittedly, this is a subjective endeavor and all care was taken to maintain the integrity of the interview.
The interviewers M. Scott Sosebee and Perky Beisel are identified as SOSEBEE and BEISEL, respectively. Joanne Herring King is identified as HERRING.
SOSEBEE: Okay. We are here with Joanne Herring in Houston as part of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project that is headed by Dr. Paul Sandul who is in New Jersey today and can't be with us, but he is the director. Present is Joanne Herring, Perky Beisel, and I am Scott Sosebee, [who] will be asking the questions. Joanne, just to, before we get started, but I want you to tell us something about you, okay?
HERRING: About me?
SOSEBEE: Yes. And perhaps, more specifically, how you became involved in . . .
HERRING: In Afghanistan?
SOSEBEE: . . . in politics. We'll get to Afghanistan, I do want to ask you more . . . but politics, anti-communist causes, this type of thing first. But about you, your life, where you grew up.
HERRING: I grew up on Kirby Drive. Strangely enough I'm back on Kirby Drive.
HERRING: [Laughs]. And then I lived in the country. We had a country home, we moved out there. So I lived way out in the country. But everybody was nice enough to come. So, I had lots of friends and I enjoyed it and I had a marvelous life. I never dreamed of being in Afghanistan or in television or doing any of the things that I've done all my life. They were all surprises. And for a woman in the era that I lived, it was very difficult because ladies didn't do that [laughter]. And so my family, when I was off of the job on television, they said, "Television?" It was fine for me to appear on television because that is how I got the job. Actually my grandmother started something called the Women's Christian Mission because she had gone to, she had been on the board of the Seamen's Mission, and she went to a meeting and they had a lady come in with five children. And the woman was quite beaten, had black eyes, and obviously had been beaten by her husband. And she said, "I can't live there anymore and I have no money. So I don't know where to go. Can you take me and my children?" And they said, "No. We don't take women." So my grandmother said, "Well where do they take women?" And they said, "There's no mission for women." So my grandmother bought a house, built it to the rafters. We had idea there was so many used ones. . .
SOSEBEE: What was your grandmother's name?
HERRING: Her name was Mrs., well Laura Samson.
SOSEBEE: Laura Samson.
HERRING: And she started this mission. She said, "Come and help me." What happened was that she had so many that she never dreamed of having. And she said, "I can't handle this. I've been trying to fund it alone and I just can't." So I said, "Well I don't know anything about abused women," I was very young, in my twenties, and I said, "but I know how to raise money" [laughter]. So I went out and took an old alarm clock that, one of those battered ones with a little bell on top, and I went to every television station and every newspaper and I said, "I want to see the president or the publisher," or whoever it was, and "here's my alarm clock. After five minutes, I will, this alarm clock will go off and I'll leave."
SOSEBEE: What a novel idea.
HERRING: And so they, and it was so terrible, see I purposely had gotten one that was terrible, that the secretary took it in . . . first it amused her. So it amused her enough to go to the boss. And the boss looked at it and that amused him. So he said, "Well, you know, anybody that. . . I'll see." So I went in and I told them about the need. So they decided, well yes, they thought that was a very good project and they would like to help it. And so I did the, all the articles, and I, what I did on television, oh it was a smash because I was the first person to talk about how these, well what happened to the women, which was frankly like one had to have been picked up by a truck driver and brought to Houston thinking she was going to start a new life. He shaved her head, put her, locked her in a room, and turned her into a prostitute.
SOSEBEE: Oh, my gosh.
HERRING: So she got away and got to the Christian Mission. So anyway, I was telling these salacious stories that are common today on television, but then, a nice girl from a nice family? [Gasps] Mmm. So, anyway, they were astonished and they watched. So the television stations all had me come back. And then one day I got a letter, and saying would you like to do our show, new show? And I looked at it and thought, "Eeee."
SOSEBEE: And which television station?
HERRING: This was the CBS affiliate. It was owned by Jock Whitney.
SOSEBEE: Oh, okay.
HERRING: Who was one of the richest men in the United States. And he looked at this television station as kind of a fun thing. And so they were very amused by me, too, because they thought, this was the first woman's show. There had been no women on television before. And they'd had men do it, but they thought well maybe . . . see I'd been chairmen of the opera ball and a lot of these things, so my name was in the paper a lot, and so on and so . . . they said, they think that this would be a fun thing to do, to have a woman do it. So I started on television and I was terrible [laughter]. There's a big difference between interviewed and interviewing. You see . . . the interviewer previously had made me look good because he just asked me the questions. I told my terrible story and everybody thought that was just fascinating. But, all of a sudden, when I had to do that, it was a different thing [laughter]. But anybody that's willing to work long enough and hard enough can do anything.
SOSEBEE: So you were a trailblazer? I mean, missions, I mean this was a . . .
HERRING: Oh, I was a woman contractor before that.
SOSEBEE: But this ain't about Houston women who, they make trailblazers that we don't think about. This is my side as a Texas historian . . . but it's, you know, the. . .
HERRING: . . . and we look through it. And we don't try to break it. And then we just kind of find a way around it.
SOSEBEE: I guess that's what it is. And then how about . . .
HERRING: Then I got interested in communism.
HERRING: And I decided, at that period, that the communists were intent on taking over the world, which they certainly were. But nobody at that point believed it. And it was a very hard fight and of course it went on all of my life. And that's how I got . . . now how did I get into the Middle East? I married a man who was chairman of what became Enron, Robert Herring, who was the chairman of what was then called Houston Natural Gas. And they changed the name because he was the one that assembled every pipeline, every business, and there were twenty-six. And he did a tremendous job. And they named it Enron when he died. He said, "Okay. I don't want to do lobbying myself. I want you to help me. And I don't want to hire somebody. We're going to go to Washington." And I had spent a lot of time with my television show in Europe. I was not interested in Washington. I liked kings and dukes and things like that . . . because they were something we didn't have. So we went to Washington. We became lobbyists, so to speak. And we were successful. And it was helpful to his business. And I became known in Washington, and that's how I met Charlie. But Charlie said, "No, that's not how we met." It seems he had come to the television station . . . I got starting seeing Charlie in the '70s and he had been in the television station in the '60s. And he said, "No, I saw you." And he said, "I never forgot you." [Laughter.] So that was very nice. And we became good friends.
SOSEBEE: Now, part of this joy of getting to interview you is you get to clear things up and misconceptions sometimes. And, in [George] Crile's book [Charlie Wilson's War], that he talks about, he seems to suggest, and this is part of implication, that it was your friend Sandra Hovis, is that how you say it . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . who actually led you to this anti-communism. My suspicion always is that's not the case. So . . .
HERRING: I loved Sandra. She was one of my best friends. And her mother was a brilliant woman. And she was one of the Minute Women [one of the largest of a number of anti-communist women's groups that were active during the 1950s and early 1960s]. And actually, a Mrs. Lyon and Sandra's mother, they were all part of that. And so they, what they did is invite some young women to come and join them. And that's when I began to learn, you know, about the communists. And I'm very proud of being a Minute Woman. They are so very misunderstood. And in the movie they bring that up. Well, you know what, the Minute Women did, and the John Birch Society [another well-known anti-communist organization]? They ask you to read. Just to read what was going on. And if you felt that it was important and it should be changed, some of the laws or what was going on in Washington or what you saw in world affairs, to write a letter. I don't really think that's very compromising.
SOSEBEE: Doesn't seem to be, does it?
HERRING: [Laughs.] But you see, because they began to take on some very big issues, then the whole idea was to malign them and destroy them, which they did. And, then, at one point the John Birch Society went a little too far to the right, and they wanted to impeach [Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren] . . . which was probably a good idea, but awfully hard to do. And they ruined themselves because they were so very attacked.
SOSEBEE: Now, this is a good segue . . . talking about this now. Joanne, I'm from Texas, and so, in case you couldn't tell.
SOSEBEE: And I know how people not from Texas can skew things, can attach language that probably portrays you as something that may not be actually accurate. You have been described as arch-conservative, extremely right-wing on a number of occasions. Now's the chance. Tell us, how would you describe that and how is that skewed or . . . ?
HERRING: Okay, I'm an independent vote. Everybody says I'm a Republican. I certainly, many times, support the Republicans. But I believe in what makes sense. If you tell me a story, I want to know why. And I want to know where you got your information and how you came to those conclusions. And then I will, can make my own. And right now the whole world's concerned with finance. And a family or a country have to spend what they have. And during the time that the communists were trying to take over the world, which they were, and they very blatantly said they were.
SOSEBEE: They were pretty forthright about that.
HERRING: They made that very forthright, and that they were out to destroy America. I believed them. And when the dominos began to fall, and particularly when they were in Cuba, Nicaragua, Angola, and Afghanistan, saying that they were protecting their borders . . . Angola and Cuba are a little far out for a border. And many people described what they were doing in South America, because they were not just in El Salvador but they were in Nicaragua, and they had infiltrated Colombia and Chile. And they called this the Cuban Empire. And when I saw the Cuban Empire happening, and this was a far-flung border for the Soviet Union to be protecting. I said, "This has got to stop because their obvious objective is the United States."
SOSEBEE: Okay. Good. That's, yeah . . . you told us how you met Charlie the first time, and you did, and how y'all, in Washington, and the activities there. But, just . . . can you give us, what was your initial impressions? When you first, I mean, just a measure of the man, if you will, or initial impressions of Charlie Wilson?
HERRING: Well, you see, I, Bob being in the oil business, very deeply appreciated Charlie's efforts for the oil business. Charlie was a very serious man underneath all the, the charm, and the fun, and all the things Charlie is so famous for. But he had done significant things for everybody in the oil business because he believed in it. He thought it needed to be done. It was good for the country. And certainly it was good for Texas. And he always cared about that number one. So Bob admired him and liked him. And he said, "This is my friend, Charlie Wilson." And I thought of him as a very astute, active politician who was doing something significant in Washington. And, of course, he was extremely attractive and handsome. But that was secondary. First, that's always secondary with me.
HERRING: I care about what you think, what you say, and what you're able to think and say.
SOSEBEE: Everybody, you know, Good Time Charlie, and this is a, we allude to that here. Everybody, you know, they know that outward image. Everybody I've interviewed and all of us . . . there's been a number of us interview, people, we want to get to, almost beyond that. And you say you found him a serious, astute person . . .
HERRING: Mm-hmm. And, in fact, I didn't see any of the other. Charlie was really careful around me. I never saw him drunk, but once, and that's in my whole relationship with him. And I never saw him do anything that wasn't, he had very nice manners. Charlie came from a lovely family.
SOSEBEE: A great, good family. Yeah.
HERRING: And they were not rich, but they were very fine people. And Charlie reflected that. And with us he was always just a delightful companion. Very astute and interesting and ready to listen but also ready to add. And I always thought of him as attractive and cute, you know, and fun, but I considered him serious.
SOSEBEE: Do you think, and this is another thing . . . do you think that he intentionally cultivated that Good Time Charlie image as a political ploy?
HERRING: I don't know that it, yes, but I think it was more than that. I think it was almost a personal ploy. Because I don't think Charlie enjoyed the shenanigans as much as he enjoyed talking about them.
SOSEBEE: The good stories [laughs].
HERRING: Yeah, well, what Charlie, what I saw, that I saw Charlie loved to do, is to tell his buddies about all these things he'd done, you know, and they'd all go, "[Gasps] Wow," you know, "That must really have been fun." And Charlie just loved that. I think he loved the telling of it afterwards more than he loved the doing of it while it was happening. Because, when you look at his life, his liaisons with the ladies, which were world famous and all gorgeous, were short-lived, you know. And they, he came and they went, and he loved dating the current Ms. Universe and the next year he'd date the next one, you know [laughter]. And he'd take them on these boats and all the sailors would go, "[Gasps] Wow." And Charlie loved that. So more than anything, because there was this really, serious, good side of him. That's good too. I think having fun is terribly important. And it was one of the attractions for me later. But he, Good Time Charlie doesn't describe him in my . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . I don't remember, I think it might have been his brother-in-law on that same question, said that he thought that there were t-, his brother-in-law Sam, two Charlies, that there were two Charlies, and people only got to see the one who really wasn't the real Charlie. And the real Charlie was actually . . . compassionate, and care . . .
HERRING: Oh, yeah.
SOSEBEE: . . . and serious, as you say.
HERRING: And he was a man of taste. You know, when you looked at his office or his apartment, except for the hot tub . . .
HERRING: . . . which, that first night I saw the hot tub, I, in the bedroom, I had brought. . .
SOSEBEE: Well it was the seventies [laughs].
HERRING: Yeah, but, I had some very elegant guests. What had happened, well this is later, but anyway, maybe you don't . . .
SOSEBEE: No, whatever, no.
HERRING: Okay. Well, what happened was, this was when he started, it was our first date. And so we went with some people from Los Angeles who were very wealthy and well-placed. And afterwards, we'd had a marvelous dinner and it was fun, and Charlie said, "Oh! It's much too early to go on." It was twelve. He said, "But come on to my apartment and have champagne. And I have the score from [the musical] Cats." And that had just been on Broadway and nobody had ever seen it. So he said, "In fact I'll take you all to Cats. But come tonight to hear and have the champagne." So we walk in the apartment. It's lovely. Then he says, "Now this is my dining room. This is my bedroom.". . . we walk in, there's this enormous black hot tub by the king-sized bed. And I think, "[Gasps] These people think I'm . . . of the hot tub." I made it very clear that was the first time I had seen Charlie's apartment [laughs]. But anyway, whatever shenanigans Charlie enjoyed in the hot tub, I'm glad he had them [laughs]. I just didn't want to be a part of that.
SOSEBEE: Perfectly understandable. Back to some political id-, questions. Charlie's moniker that he got, really from when he was in the Texas legislature, was the "Liberal from Lufkin." That's what he was known as quite often. So superficially, you and he would seem like an odd pair to be political allies on this. So, how did that happen? How did y'all become so politically aligned? Or perhaps, has that "Liberal from Lufkin" moniker been overdone?
HERRING: Well with me, as I said, we were friends and, because at this point I was married to Bob Herring and I never even thought of Charlie in any way romantically, but just kind of as a neat guy who liked pretty girls. And so, but the reason I like him, and he was, I didn't realize how much Charlie was in our life, but until I wrote this book. And when I did we had to go back through our multitude of scrapbooks and things and there were pictures from almost the time Bob and I started going to Washington, of Charlie. Always in the background, but always there. And so I realized that we saw a whole more of him than I didn't think. But he was to me and to Bob somebody that you could really talk about anything with. And Charlie would listen. And if he thought you were saying something worthwhile. If he didn't, he'd go off into a Charlie story, you know, and make everybody laugh and so on, because he . . . alleviate the boredom. But see I didn't find this liberal Charlie. If what you wanted made sense, Charlie, but he would tell you, you know. That was one of the great things about him. He always told you, "This I can do" or "This I can't do" or "I don't want to do because this is not, my constituents won't understand it. And I first serve my constituents." And we all know that his constituents were a certain group who were very liberal-minded. But see I don't mind those things, when it co--, you have to vote for, and I like voting for good things. It's just voting when it costs too much money and you don't have it and you have to borrow it and somebody has to pay ultimately, or it doesn't make sense politically. But he, did he become interested in the communism? Well, he listened. And yes I think he did.
SOSEBEE: Did you think some of it was already there for him, though? I mean he was. . .
SOSEBEE: You don't think so. Okay.
HERRING: No. And I think that the recognition . . . see, Charlie just hadn't bothered with that. He was very busy with his constituents and what he was doing in Washington. And like they said in the movie, maybe this is, did I get the one congressman that doesn't, isn't tied to a whole lot of strings? And Charlie said, you know, "I'm maybe the one congressman whose constituents don't want anything." You know, they do want things, but. And I asked him, I said, "Charlie how do you always get things passed?" He said, "I don't go to the well too often. But when I go, I except . . . "
SOSEBEE: And he was very good at forming those relationships, wasn't he?
HERRING: Oh, terrific. And you see, he said, "I vote 'yes' a lot." And he voted "yes" on a hundred bills to get one that he thought was really important.
SOSEBEE: Back to, and moving into more of the, actually into Afghanistan, what's going on there, and you've already told us some that you had some personal connections to the region. And I know some of these things have been well-documented. But just for us, if you'll go over what those personal connections were and what role that played in getting Charlie involved. You know, how did you get, for example, he and President Zia Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq [President of Pakistan] together? And what was your role in those?
HERRING: What happened; I was terrible when I first started in television. But the show ended up being the sixth highest-rated show in the United States. And so I had gotten a lot of national attention. And we became friends with the ambassador to [from] Pakistan [to the US], who was a brilliant man, Yaqub Khan*, you may have heard of him, Charlie became a very good friend of his. He had been a prince before the partition of India [Khan is a member of the royal family of the former Indian princely state of Rampur]. And after the partition, he had b--, he was a nephew of the . . . , and he walked out of his palace that was big enough . . . they could play polo with a tennis racket, to Pakistan, and became the aid to [Muhammad] Ali Jinnah, who was the founder of Pakistan [popularly referred to as Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader) and Baba-e-Qaum (Father of the Nation)]. And, so, he was a brilliant man, very elegant, and of course one of the most popular ambassadors in Washington. And he became a great friend of ours and he helped enormously in our ascension in Washington. And so they saw that we had political clout in Washington. And so they asked Bob if he would consider being the honorary consul of Pakistan. And Bob said, well, he was very honored. And they said, "Well, you'll be the only person in the United States holding this title and it would not be an empty title. It would be something where we would expect you to do things that were important and I think you'd find it interesting." And Bob said, "I would, but I have twenty six companies." [*Yaqub Ali Khan (b. in India in 1920): a high-ranking general who held some of the most senior military and government positions in the Pakistan for half a century. Upon graduating from the prestigious Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College, he served in North Africa during World War II for the British Indian Army. Captured, upon his release he went to Pakistan as rose in the ranks of the Pakistani Army. He served as Chief of General Staff, Commander Eastern Command, and, briefly, Governor of East Pakistan. After retiring from military service, Khan served as Ambassador to France, the United States, and the Soviet Union from 1972 to 1982. He then served as Foreign Minister from 1982 to 1991 and, again, for several months in late 1996 through early 1997. From 1992 through 1997 Khan was the United Nations Secretary General's Special Representative for the Western Sahara.]
HERRING: And he said, "I would not be a good ambassador or a good consul for you because I don't have the time. But, why don't you take Joanne?" [Gasps.] Pakistan did not want Joanne. I mean, what in the world are they going to do with a woman? A woman had no place in Pakistan. And they didn't know what to do with me. But, at that point, no oil had been discovered in Pakistan and Bob, of course, was famous for his drilling. So they didn't want to offend him. So, they said, "Uh . . . yes" [laughter]. Very reluctantly. But, what happened, I went to Pakistan and I thought, you know, I don't want to just get drunk sailors out of jail and have the national day parties. I want to do something for these people. And I thought, well what can I do? And I thought, what do they need? They need money. How do I . . . and also I wanted to export free enterprise. The communists were all over the world doing their propaganda before they ever invaded a country, telling everybody what I call the Robin Hood story. Take from the rich, give to the poor. It's a great idea. It just doesn't work. Obviously it doesn't work because nobody was trying to get into those countries; they were trying to get out of those countries. So Robin Hood obviously had failed. But the story sells very well. So I said, "Okay. I want to sell that free enterprise works for the very poor. And this is important because this is what I'm doing today." And I spent twenty years working with the very poor of Pakistan, and getting, which is virtually the same as Afghanistan, they're . . .
HERRING: . . . so similar. Anyway, I learned tremendously that this is another planet. And America doesn't understand this planet. And when you land on this planet you have to do it their way, not our way, and that's where so many of our mistakes were made. But anyway, I was successful. So they made me a man. They named me "sir."
SOSEBEE: Is that right [laughs]?
HERRING: Yes. And I went to every meeting with maybe a hundred men, and I would be the only woman. But I was treated like a man. And Zia became a very good friend because I made sense. He was never interested in me as a woman. He was interested in me as "sir." And he felt I brought something to the table Pakistan needed. And no one had been working with the poor like I did. I went up into the mountains and he flew me all over Pakistan. And we made great impact. And I got the top designers of the world to design clothes with the Pakistan things. We took them to Japan, Paris, New York, Washington, Atlanta, and Houston, and we had huge success. And they were ordering a thousand of everything. Then we hit the bureaucracy. They said, "We can't produce that." So I walked out on that note. But that was years later. But I became; Zia was grateful. See, I was appointed under [Zulfikar Ali] Bhutto [Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1973 to 1977, and, prior to that, President of Pakistan from 1971 to 1973]. But I had already started my work with the poor and he saw what I was doing and he had the foresight. He was a marvelous man. He's so . . . But you see, he was the one cog in the way of the Russians. And if we had not had total cooperation from Zia, we couldn't have gotten anything into Afghanistan. And he risked everything to help us do that. And we know that he was killed by the Russians.* This is a very significant point. And the way we know, if you care, Alexandere de Marenches was a French . . . whose son had been killed. And so he devoted his life to the French CIA [Marcenches was head of the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (France's external intelligence agency) from November 6, 1970 to June 12, 1981]. And he was head of it through seven presidents - that shows you how good he was. So he was known as the top man in the world for investigating . . . and I got to know him very well because he was very anti-communist too. We all were fighting for the world opinion and to get the world to wake up. He was called upon by the Pakistan government and a lot of the people to check into how Zia was killed, and it was the Russians. We know it was the Russians. Because it wasn't just Zia that was killed, but the most significant people that he had working in Pakistan. So I became very significant in Pakistan. And so Charlie also became a friend of Yaqub Khan and admired him very much and took an interest in Pakistan. But I was the one that introduced him to Zia. Because Charlie wasn't interested in communism or any of that. [* Zia, still President at the time, died in a plane crash on August 17, 1988. Many theories exist, including claims the Soviet Union was to blame for the crash.]
SOSEBEE: Uh-huh. This is just off of this, and this is a personal observation I guess, that, with your experience in Pakistan, in the region, your obviously great knowledge of the region, have our current leaders, who are having a lot of trouble . . . there, any of them, ever contacted you to ask you?
HERRING: Oh, yes.
SOSEBEE: So you have been consulted?
HERRING: Oh, yes. All the time. And when my book comes out I will be on Hannity [cable news show hosted by conservative pundit Sean Hannity], Huckabee [cable news show hosted by conservative pundit and one-time presidential candidate for the Republican ticket in 2008 Mike Huckabee], The View [day-time talk show]. Joy Behar [comedian and talk show host on The View], can you imagine me there?
HERRING: And all the morning shows. And numerous others. Those are just the beginning. And all the radio shows and so forth, which will give me a great platform for today because we are faced today with something as equally dangerous as communism, which is terrorism. And their intent is no different from the communists. They're out to conquer the world. Are they religious? No. They are thugs and they are interested in power and money. Always look for the money. It's always there.
SOSEBEE: Well sure. That's one of the first axioms of history.
HERRING: That's what the communists wanted. You see, every government the communists took over sustained their war machine because they took over everything that country owned and really enslaved them. And they gave them, by taking over the treasures of countries, the means to continue their war of occupation and domination. And that is what we are faced with today in the terrorists and I am very involved in it.
SOSEBEE: When you brought Charlie in to the cause and to the anti-communist cause and specifically in Afghanistan. First off, did you ever envision Charlie becoming as passionate about it as he did? And why do you think he became so passionate and so committed?
HERRING: You see, Bob had died [in 1981]. We have to kind of do this sequentially. Bob died and it was terrible for me. And Charlie was just about the first person to come, he sent me two-dozen roses. And I was so overcome that I didn't even thank him. Imagine, I didn't thank the handsomest man in Washington. Charlie couldn't get over it. He had made this lovely gesture and I ignored it. But anyway, he started taking me to things and I felt comfortable with Charlie because I thought Charlie liked really young girls, wouldn't have any interest in me anyway, and we were just buddies. But it seems that's not quite right. And so, if you were around me, you had to talk about communism. And then you had, at this point, you had to talk about Afghanistan because Zia and I had been in many conferences. See, I became his advisor. And he would take my call if he was in a cabinet meeting. And Charlie's the one that said that in George Crile's book [Charlie Wilson's War], not me. But it's true. And he even took my notes and got up in front of an audience in Washington and in New York, with David Rockefeller* and people like that, and said, "I am going to quote Mrs. Herring's comments. I've changed my whole speech." And in the middle of the speech, "Mrs. Herring, stand up and tell everybody how they can come to Pakistan and get rich." So, I had a really interesting friendship with him because we listened to each other. And he told me what was going to happen in Afghanistan and how it was going to happen. And, you see, then, this is really significant, I wasn't doing this for Afghanistan or Pakistan, I was doing it for my own country. [*The head of the Rockefeller Family in modern times, David Rockefeller is the youngest and only surviving child of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and the only surviving grandchild of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller; besides his work at Chase Bank and his philanthropy, he has also been known to consult with US presidents, and, particularly due to his friendship with Allen Dulles, former Director of the CIA in the 1950s, believed to have consulted with the agency on sensitive foreign affairs and intelligence matters.]
SOSEBEE: That was my next question.
HERRING: Because what I did was look at the map and I said, at that time, Afghanistan now, you know, has, they discovered billions of dollars in minerals. But at the time there was absolutely nothing in Afghanistan. There were a few rocks and a few ragged tribesmen. And there wasn't anything in Pakistan either. There was no oil to speak of. They had discovered a little, but not even enough to become self-sufficient. There was nothing in either country. So I said, "Why are the Russians taking this over? Why do they want this part of the world?" And I looked at a map. And there was the Straits of Hormuz.* And through the Straits of Hormuz passes the energy of the world. And at that time, two ships sunk in the Straits of Hormuz, and that would be the energy to the United States. Which means not just our air conditioners in our cars, but our factories and our economy, everything. And when I went home and started talking to Congress about that, suddenly the glaze . . . in everybody's eyes, changed. And this is how we made the difference out there. They began to understand that they looked at the map, and they said . . . so the way Charlie got into it was absolutely not like the movie. My son Robin King went with me to Afghanistan and we made a film because nobody would believe it. [Jimmy] Carter was president, and he wouldn't, he said it was a tribal war, that there was no real war going on in Afghanistan. And people were being killed daily. Horrible things were happening. They were being piled up like kindling and then tanks would drive over them. They had pregnant women that they'd put cattle prods on them till their breast poured with milk and the baby died. Oh, so horrible, you can't imagine this. And our Congress and our world was saying there was no war. And they said that besides, Afghanistan can't govern itself, which I have some really good answers to which I hope you'll ask me. But anyway, we went over there and we said, "The world cannot deny pictures." So we took pictures of everything. And my son was only nineteen and he was fantastic. And he did a great job with this film. And that's the film Charlie saw, [William] Casey [Director of the CIA under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1987] saw, [Caspar] Weinberger [Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1987] saw of what was happening over in Afghanistan. Not, what's his name, commentator . . . [*The narrow Strait of Hormuz is considered one of the most strategic strait of waters in the world. Located just southeast of Afghanistan and Pakistan, it runs between the Gulf of Oman in the southeast and the Persian Gulf. As the only sea passage to the ocean for the large oil countries in the Persian Gulf, tankers pass much of the oil from Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Indeed, about 20% of the world's oil passes through this one strait.]
SOSEBEE: Dan Rather [TV new journalist whose 60 Minutes CBS news special on Afghanistan in 1980 is prominently featured in George Crile's account of how Wilson first heard about what was going on in Afghanistan].
HERRING: Dan Rather. Dan Rather was long after this. So Charlie did come to Houston to see the film. But I wasn't auctioning girls [as shown in the movie Charlie Wilson's War].
HERRING: And I didn't invite him upstairs to get in the tub in the middle of a party. You know, when that happened in the movie it was . . .
SOSEBEE: Before we're done we want to talk about the movie a little bit. But go ahead, while now we're on the subject, you said you had good answers for about the, they can't govern themselves, go ahead and give them to us.
HERRING: Alright. Okay. If I may, it's so important, because it's one of the reasons that the Afghans don't trust us. They loved us. They would've done anything for us. And they did twice. What America has forgotten is that not one American soldier died in the war against the Soviet Union. The Afghans fought it all. We gave them a lot of good stuff, and God bless Charlie he got it. But they fought that war. And we walked out on them. We didn't do anything. Then, after 9/11 [terrorists attacks by the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, led by Osama Bin Laden], the terrorists had been trained in Afghanistan. And then we said, "Fight with us again. Fight to the death with us because we got to get those Taliban [Islamic militant and political group that ruled large parts of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001] out of your country." And the Afghans said "Yes. We'll do it." And they did. And we didn't do a thing for them. Not even the scoop by Charlie, or in the movie [Wilson is credited with having said, "These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world . . . and then we fucked up the endgame"]. And you see people have a tendency to think the movie is totally correct. It's 80% correct. It was a brilliantly done movie. I really loved it . . .
SOSEBEE: It's highly entertaining.
HERRING: Highly. But it's true. And it's great. But there are so much more to this than what that movie could possibly show . . . anyway, this was done and the world was seeing it. And suddenly there was a change in Congress. And I took it up to my Republican friends and they said, "Joanne, you got to get a Democrat. We can't even get three million dollars for Nicaragua [to battle against, or aid those fighting against, i.e., the Contras, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (the socialist regime in control of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990)]. We can't get anything. So you got to get a Democrat." So I . . . "Well, how about Charlie?" And everybody kind of snickered, you know, because they didn't think Charlie would be interested. But Charlie was interested. And he, when he saw that film, he was on board because, as you said, he had a great heart. And he, his heart really went out to the Afghans. And what happens to anybody who is involved with Afghans, is that after you know them, you love them. These are great people. They're worth helping. But we've not done it. And you asked me about their governing, but I had to tell you a little bit about this. The way they govern themselves was exactly what our forefathers envisioned for us which was state's rights. Every province in Afghanistan has a provincial leader. That leader's like our governor. The shura [translated from Arabic as "consultation," some Sunni Muslims believe that Islam calls for a shura, who is mentioned three times in the Quran, to make all decisions for Muslim societies] are like the city council. And the city council makes their local decisions. If there's anything that involves a province, they go to the provincial leader and get . . . All the provincial leaders met together, whatever time of year they did, and they, they met several times of course, and they elected a shah [translated from Persian as "king"], which was kind of like our president. But he existed as a tie-breaker. When they couldn't resolve their problems, all the provincial leaders, the shah would decide and they would accept that. And that's how they managed . . . they said, "You know, for you to say that we have never governed ourselves, when we've been doing it for hundreds of years. And as far as fighting with one another, you fight with each other too." Look at the Democrats and Republicans.
SOSEBEE: It's true.
HERRING: They fight all the time. But anyway, where we were wrong is now we have forced on them a strong central government. They don't understand it, they don't like it, it doesn't work for them. Because, yes, the provinces do have problems. They are tribal, and the tribes have many grievances with one another. But they had managed to govern themselves very well. Afghanistan was known as the fruit basket of the Middle East before the Russians invaded. Girls went to school, women did not wear veils. And it was a poor country, but it was viable.
SOSEBEE: What about, and I'm assuming given that you were politically connected, you had a relationship with Doc Long [Clarence Dickinson Long, who received a Ph.D. from Princeton (and hence called "Doc Long), served as a Democratic Representative in the US House for Maryland from 1963 to 1984 and chaired the subcommittee on Foreign Operations of the House Appropriations Committee that Wilson served on and utilized to help fund the Afghans in the Afghan-Soviet War] already, and we know that he . . .
HERRING: No I didn't.
SOSEBEE: You didn't know him before?
HERRING: No. Doc Long was a Democrat, honey [laughs].
SOSEBEE: So you didn't know him at all. Okay.
HERRING: I never laid eyes on Doc Long.
SOSEBEE: In getting these things through, you and Charlie kind of teamed up, is hoodwink the right word to use?
HERRING: Sure. We did everything . . .
SOSEBEE: Okay. Tell us how you did that [laughs].
HERRING: . . . any- and everything we could. Well I had the Republicans. They were ready, you see. So Charlie went into their office and said, "You know I really think we ought to help Afghanistan because of this and this and this." They say, "[Slaps Sosebee] Charlie, that's really a good idea. We're ready to go with you. That's a great idea, Charlie. Good for you that you thought of that." So he'd go to all the Republicans and they'd all say yes, you see. So then he'd go to the Democrats and he started selling this project. And they, and not every Republican, but let's say the ones that understood the situation out there, did, were on board. And he got what he could among the liberals. The reason Doc Long was so important is, of course, he was the key to the money. And so Charlie said, "We have to really . . . Doc Long." So we took this trip with all of the, this one congressional committee that Charlie felt would be . . . to get them to vote with us. But Doc Long was the key. So, listen, there's nothing we didn't do for Doc Long. We made him have the time of his life. Doc never had so much fun. We went to Paris. We went to Germany, Vienna, Israel. And Doc was, you know, a big deal everywhere and he just was having a ball. But a lot of them didn't, on the trip, didn't even know who the president of Pakistan was. And, because I sat down by each one of them and said, "I want to tell you that Zia didn't kill Bhutto." Course, there was this big canard that Zia had killed Bhutto. This is wrong. Bhutto had murdered a political opponent and he had been convicted of murder by his own judges. Zia wasn't even in the picture. And so, in Pakistan the constitution is the Quran, which is "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." You kill, you die. All Zia did was not commute the sentence. And how could he? It was against the constitution. See, Zia never expected to be president. He was an army general and he was very happy being one. And when he became president . . . but I saw the difference. I didn't know anything when I went out there. And I was mesmerized by Bhutto who was charming, oh he was so charming and very elegant and very worldly . . . . And so I thought he was wonderful. And I mentioned him to various generals out there and various people and there'd be this deep silence. Nobody said anything. And I thought that was very odd because I thought Bhutto was wonderful. But after Bhutto was gone and I met Zia, I saw . . . and then what he did for the country. He, I mean, he suddenly, people had jobs. Everything was beginning to work for Pakistan. It was going to move up out of the Third World. When four million Afghan refugees poured across the border. And Pakistan was hardly eating itself and then had to feed and take care of these people. Ehh, it was a desperate situation. And Charlie, so I ask him to, he didn't want to meet Zia. But he said well he would go on one of his wonderful trips, which actually took a belly dancer on this trip. I wasn't even around when the belly dancer . . . But anyway, and in that scene where they get the arms from Israel, I was the one that was with Charlie, not Gust [Avrakotos].
SOSEBEE: Oh, is that right?
HERRING: See, because Gust came in a little bit later. But anyway, that's just neither here nor there. But I did firsthand see this exchange between . . . you know, the Israeli friend [Zvi Rafiah] . . . who was a great man, great man. And they managed to, of course, to get these arms because of Charlie's shenanigans. Then when we took Doc Long, the money came. But we had to keep Pakistan alive until that happened. And this was a very big job because Pakistan [unintelligible] didn't have any money and they didn't have any arms or anything to really to protect themselves. So we got that. And we got that through the Republicans and the Democrats . . . because Carter, I was in the room when the president had just sent out a telegram to the president . . . Carter had offered him five million dollars, and the president sent back a telegram saying, "That's peanuts." And everybody was [gasps]. And I said, "Why didn't you take it? Money's money." He said, "You don't understand. If I took that five million, that's exactly what the Russians want to invade Afghanistan," I mean, "from Afghanistan to Pakistan," he said, "Because they would say I was an American puppet and I was taking money from the Americans, so we have to invade to protect our borders." But he said, "As long as I don't retaliate for anything that's being done out there," like he said "everyday they're coming across the border straight for my people." But when Charlie heard all of these things, you see, he began to really admire and to be a friend of Zia's. And everybody became Zia's admirer. Walter Cronkite [famous TV news journalist] wanted to go to Afghanistan. And so he asked me. He said, "Can you get me into Afghanistan?" And I said, "Yes, Walter, I can get you in there, but you have to see Zia first." "I don't want to see Zia. He's a monster." I said, "Well I'm sorry. That's how you're going to get to Afghanistan. You have to guarantee me that you will interview him." So he went. I had to get him in through Zia, anyway. But I did want him to know what kind of man he was. And so I came back and I said, "Okay, Walter, what'd you think?" He said, "I loved him. He was great. I can see why you admire him." He said, "But he lied to me." I said, "Walter, how did he lie to you?" He said, "He told me he didn't have the bomb." I said, "You know what Walter? He's the president of Pakistan. He doesn't owe you anything. He doesn't owe you truth or untruth or anything. And if he has the bomb, he has it to defend himself." Quite honestly, what Zia had told me about the bomb, he said, "Look, yeah, I've got the bomb." He said, "Do you know why I have the bomb? India has a bomb. China has a bomb. Everybody has a bomb that is around me. I have .t . . . " But he says, "Do you think anyone in their right minds think that Pakistan would invade China? Would invade India? We're a little small country. But I can keep them from invading me." And of course Russia was on his border with a bomb. So he said, "This is the only thing I've got to protect myself." So anyway, Charlie heard all that and believed it because he could see it happening.
SOSEBEE: When, as this, as the aid to Afghanistan began, and began to take off, how involved, and this is for the record, of course, how involved did you stay with this . . . ?
HERRING: I didn't. Once Charlie got the aid and got it, I got married [laughter]. And so, and my husband did a little bit with me on it. I went out with Charlie to welcome some refugee children and things. You know, Charlie did the rest and he did a magnificent job of it. I just helped in first, awareness and getting the Pakistanis support because if we hadn't had that, you see, the Iranians would naturally allow us to come in through Iran . . . the Russians or the Chinese or the Indians weren't going to do it either. It had to go in through Pakistan. So that was our only hope to get any help to the Afghans. And I was able to do that. And also I was able to go to the Saudis and to get . . . they matched us dollar for dollar in the war in Afghanistan . . .
SOSEBEE: And that's another society, of course, that is fairly closed to women, but you were able to go in there. Is it the oil influence? Tell me, how did that happen?
HERRING: Well, you see, and that's what made Charlie's and my associations so significant. He had the Israelis. He didn't even know any Arabs. And I didn't know any Israelis because I didn't dare, you know, really. You had to be on one side or the other. And so I knew the Saudi royal family very well because Bob had been out there trying to make oil deals. And they became good friends. And I entertained them whenever they came to the United States and they came to Houston and I entertained them over and over. And I gave the party to introduce Prince Bandar [Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud is a prince of the Saudi royal family and served as Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005], who was the most significant ambassador they ever had to Washington. So I had the big relationships there. And actually one Sunday, but Charlie and I and John Towers [first Republican US Senator (1961-1985) from Texas since Reconstruction], who John Towers, of course, was the Senator from Texas and good friend, and he was head of the senate foreign relations, I mean senate arms committee . . . exactly the name [the Senate Armed Services Committee in which Towers served on from 1965 until his retirement, including a stint as chairman from 1981 to 1984]. But anyway, this was his next guy down. And I took them to Prince Bandar's house and we talked about it. And this was Charlie's first relationship with the Arabs, except with Yaqub Khan, because the Pakistanis aren't really Arabs but they're Muslims. And, of course, the Israelis were not pleased with that because Charlie had been their golden boy. He'd gotten so much money for Israel and done wonderful things for them. And I'm certainly not anti-Israel. I admire Israel and am grateful that it's an ally, but we have other allies. And I asked James Baker, who was my childhood friend and now former Secretary of State [Baker, among other things, served as President Ronald Reagan's Chief of Staff from 1981-84 (as well as for President George H. W. Bush in 1992), Secretary of the Treasury from 1985-1988, and Secretary of State for President Bush from 1988-1992]. We were talking about the Saudis and he was, had just made a speech about how there's problems with Saudi Arabia. I said, "Jimmy, what would happen if we, if the Saudi's royal family were not there?" He said, "The fires of hell."
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
HERRING: Because, you see, what people don't understand about what's happening in Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda was headed by a Saudi, Osama Bin Laden, who's very rich. And his family disowned him because they were totally against what he's doing. But he, and to give you an idea how against terrorism the Saudi royal family are, they, Al Qaeda put a price of a million dollars on the king's head. If you killed him you got a million bucks. So, Saudi Arabia is a country like a seesaw and the governing body of Saudi Arabia has to keep the seesaw even. The people are very Muslim and very oriented toward Sharia Law, which is the problem. That is the side of Islam that is so significant that in Texas they are considering a law against it, in Texas. Because Sharia Law is, the girl, you know, that got her ears cut off and her nose cut off, my organization, are the ones that repaired her [Aisha, an 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws in 2010].
SOSEBEE: Oh is that right?
HERRING: The one who was on the cover of Time Magazine, right. That is Sharia Law. That is a result of Sharia Law. And that is what the Taliban is and that is what Al Qaeda is, and Hezbollah [a Shi'a Muslim militant group and political party based in Lebanon], and the Egyptian Brotherhood [The Society of the Muslim Brothers, often called "The Brotherhood" or "MB", is the world's most influential and one of the largest Islamist movements and is the largest political opposition organization in many Arab states; founded in Egypt in 1928], and Hamas [The "Islamic Resistance Movement" is the Palestinian Sunni Islamist political party that governs the Gaza Strip]. And they have been working for fifty years for today.
SOSEBEE: I had some other people when we've interviewed them and they've talked about this, you said that you never saw Charlie drunk, when you knew him.
SOSEBEE: And they, some of this has been suggested, that as the Afghanistan situation, you got more involved in this, this is what led him to perhaps drink more because of the stress. That he was under a great deal of stress to keep this going.
HERRING: Oh, he was.
SOSEBEE: Can you comment on that for us?
HERRING: Well, you see, at that, when Charlie went back to, George Crile, who interviewed him for years, literally, knew more about that period than I did because by that time I was married and gone. I think Charlie, the stress did, and I think, George felt that he was very depressed. He was virtually alone in this. And he was going to continue the fight if it killed him. And, yes, I think that did exacerbate that a lot. And George felt that Charlie was two people, too. I just didn't see the two people.
SOSEBEE: Didn't see . . . [laughs].
HERRING: The only people I ever saw in Charlie was this one that was really a patriot and a very intelligent businessman-mind that was quick to grasp everything and willing to sacrifice anything it took in order to get this done.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. So, you married and as it, the situation and your relationship, personally played out, did you see Charlie much after that and what was the, what happened to the relationship and what . . . ?
HERRING: No. See, what happened, my husband was very jealous of Charlie.
SOSEBEE: Oh, is that right?
HERRING: Because, you know, there was a romance.
HERRING: And Charlie did ask me to marry him. And I accepted at the time. But later on we really realized that what was between us was the war [laughter].
SOSEBEE: Not a real good basis for a marriage.
HERRING: No. No. But . . . it was like a Viennese Waltz. It was a wonderful Viennese Waltz. We had a great time. We went around the world. We accomplished a lot of things together. And we were good together. And Charlie enjoyed it and I enjoyed it. But when I saw that I felt my job was really done, and it obviously wasn't because Charlie could've used my help, but my husband wouldn't let me even take calls from him.
SOSEBEE: I see. We're almost, we're coming up on our hour . . . But a few things I want to get in. One is, again, this is kind of a, you can set records straight, and you've done some of this and that's what's been fantastic, but of all the stories about the Afghan-Soviet conflict, about you, about Charlie Wilson, Crile, the news media, historians, the movie, everything that's gone on, all these conduits, what have they missed? What part of the story have they missed? Or is there something you want to set straight?
HERRING: Well only what I think I've said.
HERRING: That there was a real reason we were there. And we worked very well together because we both understood it. We understood the people. Charlie had the means on the Democratic side and the Israeli side. I had the means on the Republican side and the Arab side. And we both understood both worlds. And we thought they could work together and that they had to work together. And that was what the movie missed, that it wasn't just some lighthearted dance. It was daily, hard work . . . I'm back in Afghanistan now and launching a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan, which has taken me three years to do. And it is hugely important because if it works, we can really solve a lot of the problems and bring our troops home and that's my dream. But anyway, Charlie would've very much been a part of it. So what you miss is that I miss Charlie. I think maybe he missed me a little bit, you know, because we have helped each other a lot. Gosh, I wish I had him now [laughs].
SOSEBEE: He'd be a big help now for some of this stuff, wouldn't he?
HERRING: He really would. Oh, my goodness.
SOSEBEE: What do you think he would comment on today? It's not real clear. You know, I asked you if some of the powers-that-be that's involved in this have consulted you and you said they have. Best anybody can tell, they never called Charlie.
SOSEBEE: They didn't consult him.
SOSEBEE: No, that's . . . everybody said, "No." As far as they know, they never contacted him. What do you think he would say about all of this?
HERRING: Well, first I don't understand why they didn't contact him because he certainly knew. And that is sad. And I'm surprised. And they didn't contact me . . .
SOSEBEE: And they may have. It's just, nobody had any knowledge of that happening.
HERRING: Yeah, that's right. They contacted me because basically I contacted them.
HERRING: You see I was getting things for Afghanistan and I wanted to do it a certain way because I know those people. I would put myself up against anyone in the world of understanding the poor of those two countries. And that's what we have to understand. Ninety percent are illiterate. You cannot deal with them like you do Americans. They're very intelligent people, but you have to deal with them like in their culture in their way. Charlie understood that and that was one of the things that made him brilliant. Charlie was brilliant. For people to look at an . . . graduate and laugh it off as Good Time Charlie, you know.
HERRING: But I like to have fun, too.
HERRING: You know, they kind of, that's. . . all the newspaper articles, all the things on me, was always "socialite, da-da-da," you know.
HERRING: This kind of look-alike, that kind of look-alike. And both Charlie and I were victims of an article done in the Washington Post by Sally Quinn. And that's where Good Time Charlie got really started. And then what she wanted to do was me, but all my friends warned me. They said, "Do not let that happen." So I told her, "No, I'm sorry I'm not going to do this. I don't think I'm important enough." Well you know what she did? She said, "I want to do an article on Houston, or interview on Houston. Would you introduce me to the most important people in Houston?" So I didn't want to introduce her to my friends, so I introduced her to all my enemies.
HERRING: And they reported on me. That'll just teach you, never be . . .
SOSEBEE: Sometimes you can be crossed up by not even thinking about it.
HERRING: And Sally Quinn lacerated me upside-down and backwards. And Henry Kissinger [National Security Advisor under President Richard Nixon from 1969-1975 and, overlapping, Secretary of State from 1973-1977] said, "Listen, Joanne. Nobody since [President John F.] Kennedy's funeral has had five pages in the Washington Post. So be thrilled that . . . you don't even live here" [laughs].
SOSEBEE: I guess that's right. Share with us, just, and this may be on a personal level, whatever you want, just one or two of your favorite memories of Charlie.
HERRING: Well, one is very personal. But it was so Charlie. We were sitting at dinner with two people. And all of a sudden Charlie disappeared. And in a minute he came back. He'd gone to the flower shop and bought every flower in the shop. And he put them all around the table and he said, "I love you."
SOSEBEE: Isn't that fascinating? Because he wasn't an affluent . . . man.
HERRING: No. But you see he was very generous but also he was very romantic. He had this lovely side that was so romantic. And the people at the table, just for fun, were Verna Jordan and a lady who'd . . . an English lord, now Lady Palmer. And Verna Jordan was famous for playing footsie with everybody. When you had him for a guest, he'd play footsie with all the ladies. And so it was a very unusual group of people. And for Charlie to go out and get all these flowers, and of course he had to have the waiters help him bring . . . you see, Charlie was bigger than life. His gestures were big. And so that was fun. And the fact that we could, we'd sometimes call each other six times a day because he'd be in Washington, and he came to Houston every weekend, or I went up there, and then, but I was going to London and Paris and a lot of other places doing a lot of this, and he would call me and we talked all during the day about everything. And it was wonderful relationship because we could discuss anything. And we'd laugh and we'd say, and everything was fun because everything was a story with Charlie. And he made everything fun. So we laughed and we had fun and we made an impact.
SOSEBEE: When is your book coming out? What's the title?
HERRING: I'm not thrilled with this title [laughs] But, because see it's . . .
SOSEBEE: Yeah publishers have a tendency to pick out what you don't like.
HERRING: See they bought an idea so they own everything. It's called Diplomacy and Diamonds. You see, again Joanne has to play this . . .
SOSEBEE: You had to play the socialite a little bit.
HERRING: That's right. And so, but what it is, is a story of a woman who has spent her life working with a glass ceiling. I've never tried to break it. I just tried to go around, you know, find the cracks in it or the little holes and use those. And that's what the book is about. But it, of course, goes through with Charlie and our, the movie, and then ends of course with what we're doing in Afghanistan today, which is a Marshall Plan, which is that you must, every village must have food, water, education, healthcare, and jobs.
SOSEBEE: Who are you aligned with helping doing . . . other people aligned with you on doing that?
HERRING: Only other NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. But I have forced my way into Admiral Mullen's car [Mike Mullen, now a retired United States Navy Admiral, served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama from October 1, 2007 to September 30, 2011 (shortly after this interview was conducted)], which everybody said I wasn't going to get within five feet of him. And I got in the car and I got to ride to the airport with him. And so I told him about it and he said, "No, that's the way. It's the answer." So I began then, you know, to make him . . . in Washington, which is where I see my job. And my job is to find the best nonprofit organizations that are already successful in Afghanistan and put them together holistically to provide those five things at the same time. We can do it for less than it costs to keep a soldier in the field one year. And we do it with people who already know how to do it. And it's taken me three years. Not one person has not said, "This is the way." But nobody wants to give me any money. So I had to get the money on my own, which I did, and we're going to have the village. And I have been promised that if this village theory works, there'll be money for all of Afghanistan.
SOSEBEE: Well good. Good. And so, and the book's coming out, have they given you a publication date?
HERRING: Yes. October 19th .
HERRING: I'm really flattered that they . . .
SOSEBEE: Oh, it's almost my birthday.
HERRING: Oh really?
SOSEBEE: Mine's the 21st.
SOSEBEE: Who's publishing it?
HERRING: There was actually a sort of bidding war for it. Disney and Simon Schuster and Hachette all bid on it.
SOSEBEE: Would you do me a favor? I gave Alexis my card. Because, you'll see I'm also the executive director of the East Texas Historical Association. We have a journal, East Texas Historical Journal.
HERRING: Oh really?
SOSEBEE: Would you make sure that we get a review copy for someone? I'll send it out for someone to review.
HERRING: Oh, I'd be very grateful.
SOSEBEE: Yes. Because we would want to do that.
HERRING: Because, you see, I don't want . . . It's a lot of loddy-dah because that's what everybody likes.
HERRING: Mine is, it's a funny book. It's like the movie, it's funny, because it's all about how I failed and in failing I learned. And that's what Charlie and I did in Afghanistan. We failed and we failed. Like we went after the anti-aircraft guns because we were told that Afghans couldn't handle anything more complicated than a World War II anti-aircraft gun. I want to tell you a story. This is another story I remember very well. So we say, "Okay. Where in the world are we going to find World War II anti-aircraft guns?" And so this one man said, "Well I bet they're in warehouses all over Germany." So they said, "Do you know anybody in Germany?" And I said, "Oh, I know everybody in Germany." The Von Bismarck family were very close friends of mine. And then they said, "But also, the person who made that was . . . ," and I knew the president because I had met him at parties in Paris. He was a baron. He was one of these very wildly attractive men that you didn't miss like Charlie. So I called him and I said, his name was Bernard Bernhard von der Planitz [Ambassador and former Chief of Protocol of the German Government and former Consul General in New York], I said, "Could we come talk to you . . . have these anti-aircraft guns?" He said, "No. But I can make them." He said, "The only problem is you have to have bullets." So we had to make bullets for them too. Then after we got the guns, we had to corner the market on mules to get them over the mountains. And Charlie called them one day and said, "Well . . . ," he said, "I've done a lot of things. But I have never thought I'd have to go after every mule." He said, "But I've got to have it." But, before, but we hit another snag that is another story. This is wonderful. There were two Republicans, Pete Wilson who later became governor of California, and the, the one who was the senator from Alaska . . .
SOSEBEE: Ted Stevens.
HERRING: . . . Ted Stevens, thank you. I didn't think I'd ever forget. Anyway, they were not against it, but they weren't sure whether they really wanted to commit themselves and their constituents in Texas and so forth to Afghanistan. So Charlie said, "Well we just have to do this." And I said, "Well . . . alright. Let's give them a party. Let's give them a party that they'll never forget." And at that time Cristal Champagne had just launched its pink champagne. So I had a friend in France and I, we corned the market on Cristal. You could not buy it anywhere in the world. But we got it. We got two cases. I put them under my bed to take care of them. And then I called the gentleman who was [British Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher's Defence Minister who was the Marquess of Salisbury, became the Marquess of Salisbury, who is, goes in front of the queen in all ceremonies. But this is a brilliant man. And his brother, he was committed to Afghanistan, he knew the problems. His brother was killed out there.* So I said, "I need you to fly over on a Concord," this is the day before the party, "I want you to fly over at your expense on the Concord for this dinner." He said, "Joanne, I can't do that. Are you out of your mind?" And I said, "No you have to do it." I said, "The whole vote depends on it." I said, "Charlie and I are not enough weight. We need you to come over here and tell them what's happening in Afghanistan and how important it is." He did it. He got on the Concord at his own expense. Came over, we did the dinner. The next day they voted "Yes." [*Herring is possibly alluding to Robert Michael James Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury, who is the only Marquess of Salisbury, at least in the twentieth century, to have anything to do with the Defence Ministry, as he served as junior Defence Minister in the early 1990s (but under Prime Minister John Major); in addition, his brother was indeed killed, but in Rhodesia. The Secretary of Defences (i.e., Minister of Defence) under Thatcher, none of whom were the Marquess of Salisbury, were Francis Pym, John Nott, Michael Heseltine, George Younger, and Tom King.]
SOSEBEE: There's something about Houston women, I'm telling you. They get things done. Is there anything I haven't asked you that you want to say?
HERRING: Well there's, you know, it's a very long story. And there's a whole lot of things to say. But mainly, we were very lucky to have Charlie at that time. And many men would've quit. He didn't. The fact that he went through a very bad depression during it, but he came through it, and he got it. And we put the crack, and I helped, he did it. We put the crack in the wall. And later, you know, Reagan, in fact, Baker and Bush said to me, "You know, we were really surprised that Reagan and Bush," and Baker was speaking, "and I had nothing to do with bringing down the wall. You and Charlie did it all."
SOSEBEE: Jim Baker's going to come to SFA [Stephen F. Austin State University]. He's our Archie McDonald Lecture Series speaker in April .
HERRING: Oh, fantastic.
SOSEBEE: It's a big. . . that's he's coming. And he's very gracious. He's not charging us anything.
HERRING: Now that's very rare.
SOSEBEE: Yeah . . . we feel very blessed.
HERRING: Oh, you are blessed because he will make a fantastic speech.
SOSEBEE: Mm-hmm, I'm sure he is and he's quite the man. Anything that you want to, do you think?
BEISEL: No. I've thoroughly enjoyed today. It's been wonderful.
SOSEBEE: This has been fantastic. And if we can think, and you know, if our feeble minds can think of something else. . .
SOSEBEE: . . . maybe we come back and. . .
HERRING: Of course. And also, I have some photographs that you might want to. . .
HERRING: . . . of Charlie and me.
BEISEL: She [Herring's assistant] was going to send some up to us?
BEISEL: That would be wonderful.
SOSEBEE: Because you know we'll scan them and get them all back to you.
HERRING: Oh, that's alright she's going to do them by email.
SOSEBEE: Oh she's going to do it . . .
HERRING: .Jpeg I think.
SOSEBEE: That's technical stuff . . .
HERRING: But I'm going to give you some photographs that nobody has.
SOSEBEE: That's great. That's the thing . . . that's great.
HERRING: They're very personal photographs that, actually, Charlie sent me. And they're fun. And then I'm going to send you, because I'm very touched by it, if you would consider this, I told our troops what, three thousand of them, they did a kind of Bob Hope show, and I didn't go but I made a tape, and I told them what we were going to be doing in Afghanistan, and three thousand of them, including the general, stood up and said, "We love you, Joanne." And that meant so much to me . . .
SOSEBEE: Uh-huh. As it should.
HERRING: . . . because, I have to tell you why, because without the lieutenant commander in the navy in a landlocked country - how much is that like our government? - and a colonel in the special forces, the [Houston] Chronicle ran a front-page article on my plan for Afghanistan, and they saw it. Can you imagine that?
HERRING: And they called me from Afghanistan . . .
HERRING: . . . and said, "You know, this is the answer. We've been out here. We know what's going on. We see it. We want to help you. Would you consider calling us?" So I did, and because of that, lieutenant commander Ryan extended his tour [possibly Lieutenant Colonel Robert M. Ryan] . . .
HERRING: . . . to get this done. And his family had been very bitter about his being over there because he was father of a big family. And they said, but when they heard what he was doing for the Afghans, they changed their whole feeling about it. And so he's now going back to Afghanistan with . . . next week. And we've already, see, the Afghans are hungry, that's what people don't understand. They don't have enough food. They don't have enough water. And that water makes them sick. So they can't fight. And they can't get an army together if you don't have the rudiments, the strength that you've got to have. But anyway, we're doing it. And it's started and we're going to do it. And when we do . . .
SOSEBEE: Let's hope this can rise up. This is a story that needs to rise above the clatter and get out. Let's hope maybe the book and other things will make this happen.
HERRING: That's what I'm hoping. God bless you.
BEISEL: I do have a question.
SOSEBEE: Do what?
BEISEL: I did think of one question.
BEISEL: That film that you said that you went over and you made and your son did the filming.
HERRING: Yes. Yes.
BEISEL: Is there a copy of that somewhere?
HERRING: Yes. My son has it. And he's been very difficult about it. One of the reasons was, during the time that Crile was writing the book, Caspar Weinberger and [Robert] Bud McFarlane [National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan from 1983 through 1985] were all invited. These men gave their lives for their country. This was the most terrible thing to ruin their lives like that. And my son was afraid that I was going to get invited. And Charlie was, you know.
SOSEBEE: Oh yeah.
HERRING: And that was another terrible tragedy that should never have happened.
HERRING: And I did see Charlie during that period. And we have seen each other off and on. But that was horrible.
SOSEBEE: And you got to go to his funeral, too, correct?
HERRING: Oh yes, I wouldn't have missed his funeral. And I got called to Washington over this. And both Charlie and I said, "This was the most important thing we did in our lives. And here we are threatening, being threatened by our own country. We're tying to save it." And it was a horrible time because they were trying to do everything they could to us. In fact, do you want to hear this?
HERRING: Alright. One day I was out at my farm. And these, it's a mile from the gate to my house. The gate is locked. Two women walked that mile, and fortunately I was upstairs. And they said, "Hi. How are you?" And I said, "Who are you?" And they said, "Well, I'm from the IRS and I'm from the CIA. And we want to talk to you." And I said, "Well, what do you want to talk to me about?" And they said, "We just really want to just talk." And I said, "Why didn't you call me for this?" And I said, "It's a mile for you to walk and it's hot. It's August. Why didn't you," I said, "I would've been happy to see you. Why didn't you call me?" "No," they said, "we just wanted to talk to you. Not anything serious." Well, something told me, "Be careful." So I went in and I said, "I'm sorry, but I really don't think I care to see you without my lawyer." And I called my lawyer and he said, "Thank God you didn't let them in." Because then I had to hire a special kind of lawyer that fights that kind of suit.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
HERRING: And I said, "Why do I have to do this? I don't have anything to hide." They said, "Well let me just tell you how it happens . . . there's a man in Kansas that hadn't done anything either. And he allowed two of those people to come in. And he offered them tea and gave it to them and so forth. And they indicted him. And it cost him $125,000 to prove he was innocent."
SOSEBEE: The IRS is the one agency where you have to prove your innocence. It's not innocent until proven guilty.
HERRING: That's it . . . it was mostly the IRS.
SOSEBEE: When did this happen?
HERRING: And they wanted me to come in against Charlie.
SOSEBEE: When did this happen?
HERRING: Oh, I have it all . . . I'm not very good about dates. But . . . whenever Charlie was indicted.
SOSEBEE: Okay. So late nineties or something.
HERRING: Yeah, uh-huh. Whenever that happened is when, I was right there in that. And I did see Charlie in the airport one day, and I had just come back from Washington. And . . . they did call me in front of the jury. And there were all these people there that were not, I didn't think would be very sympathetic toward me. But when I told them the story, they were. And the prosecutor couldn't wait to get me out of the room. So I was very glad. But it was one of the most horrible experiences of my life.
HERRING: And Charlie, I know, that must've been just horrible to him because he gave up his life for this. And to then have your own government . . . when our real reason for doing any of it was to save us.
SOSEBEE: Hard to explain. You know, it leaves you kind of wordless.
HERRING: It does. It leaves you wordless. And hurting.
SOSEBEE: I'm sure.
HERRING: It hurt me.
SOSEBEE: I bet you it did.
HERRING: And so on the question about the film, Robin did not want to give it to, you see, oh, you don't know this, but on the film . . . friends are wonderful. I had a very important friend in Hollywood. Hollywood is not my scene. They had never called me about the film. And they had to talk to Charlie all the time. And I said, "Don't you want to talk to me?" They said, "No." And I said, "Well, Julia Roberts is a very important actress. You're paying her a lot of money to play me. Don't you want to talk to me at all? Doesn't she want to talk to me? Doesn't anybody want to talk to me?" "No." So I wondered, you know, what was happening. So the script was written. And this friend risked her job to get the copy of it. And when Charlie heard that I had it, he said, "How did you get it?" He said, "I had to sign all kind of papers to get my script." Well, this script said, "Joanne and her conservative Christians caused 9/11." And end of the movie was 9/11.
HERRING: And I looked at that and I thought, "This is what my children and grandchildren are going to remember" because today that's all anybody ever talks to me about is the movie.
HERRING: And it's always, what was in the movie had to be true, right? And, you see, of course what I'm doing now is, Charlie, and I'm going to name a project after him, because it was Charlie's dream to have schools. He didn't expand it as much as I did and I have reasons for the expansion that are statistically proved. But anyhow, I feel this is part of a tribute to Charlie. And it was, I was so happy that he was completely exonerated and went back to Congress, because that's what should've happened, but that he had to go through that. And of course I know that was terribly stressful for him.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. Do you think . . . ?
HERRING: But I got the script changed. . .
SOSEBEE: Well obviously it wasn't . . . that's the thing I know, the movie, I know it's a movie and . . .
HERRING: . . . yeah, that's right. But Lord, no. And oh I was, oh I was in bed with everybody. Every time I was on the phone I was in bed with some unidentified man. And here I am saying I'm a Christian, you know. And I'm in bed with everybody. And I was using the "F" word. I've never used the "F" word in my life. And . . .
SOSEBEE: I can't even imagine it coming out of your mouth.
HERRING: And here I am, every other word is the "F" word. And in one scene, just to give you just for fun, Gust and I are up on this mountain and he says, "Well, you just got to stop all this Christian stuff." And I turn to him and I say, "'F' you."
SOSEBEE: Only Hollywood writers could write something like that.
HERRING: But Aaron Sorkin [the script writer and famous for his writing generally] and I became greats friends.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
HERRING: Yeah. And Tom [Hanks; movie star who played Wilson], and Julia [Roberts], and all of them. When I finally, they finally got scared of me because I did get a really tough lawyer. And he gave me the . . . and they had changed, get the "F" word out and they began then . . . then they wrote a whole, Tom wrote a whole new script. And he was happy about it. And I want to tell you this because it's a great tribute to Tom. He called me one night from Hungary. And he said, "Joanne, I've changed the whole script." I said, "Who am I speaking with now?" He said, "Your husband." And I said, "Well, is that clear?" He said, "Yes. He's got on a wedding ring . . . and, not very noticeable, but he does." And so he said, "Everything is different, Joanne." He said, "Now there's a little hanky-panky with Charlie. But you got to understand, this is Hollywood." And so, that I do understand. That's fine. There was hanky-panky with Charlie. But anyway, that wasn't what was bothering me. And so he said, "You're going to love the script." And he said, "And we love it." And he said, "You told me to buy Ben Franklin," because I did. I said, "Tom, the first one was a real downer. It was kind of about how bad Washington was. How you could manipulate the system." We did sort of manipulate the system, but for good. Not for bad or for somebody making money or something like that. So anyway I said, "Why, Tom, do you want to make a movie like that?" I said, "You are the most loved actor in America. Why don't you make a movie that's about what's good about America?" And I said, "You should buy Ben Franklin, Sam and John Adams, and 1776." He said, "Joanne, I bought them." And John Adams has been on, I don't know whether you saw it. . .
SOSEBEE: Oh yes. The book is fantastic and they actually did a good job . . .
HERRING: It was great.
SOSEBEE: . . . adapting that for the screen. 1776 is such a, it's a fresh look at the Revolution and a well-done book. [Historian David] McCullough is someone I'd love to meet.
HERRING: Oh he's wonderful. So I don't know. Do you think Charlie, that Tom is going to play Washington?
SOSEBEE: I can't see who else he would play. I mean . . .
HERRING: [Laughs.] Oh, I have to tell you something really funny about Tom and Charlie, because it has to do with the film. They, you know, Tom was trying to be as much like Charlie as possible. And of course, that's not always so easy. And he did a fantastic job of it. But everybody was saying, "Well Tom isn't as tall as Charlie." Yes he is.
SOSEBEE: Oh is he really.
HERRING: Tom is 6 feet 2. And Charlie was 6'4", not 6'6". And so Tom put lifts in his shoes and he was the same height. But you see, everybody has the idea that Tom Hanks isn't a, is a small man, he's not. And so anyway, he, I looked out on the mountain, Charlie had kind of a individual way of standing. And I said, "Oh, there's Charlie out on the mountain." They said, "No. That's Tom."
SOSEBEE: Yeah, the whole, kind of, with your feet a little spread, you kind of, he pulled him, Charlie would pull himself, I never met him, of course, these are just photographs and talking to people, kind of pulled himself up to full height and it was just yeah. I didn't come to Nacogdoches until, I'm from West Texas, so I didn't take a job at SFA till 2006.
HERRING: I want to say two other things, if you don't mind . . .
SOSEBEE: Okay you go right ahead.
HERRING: . . . about the movie. The girls in Charlie's office were lovely. They were great girls and there was no hanky-panky in the office. Charlie was too smart for that. You know, he had plenty of hanky-panky on the side and he could have any woman he wanted. But he did not fool around with those girls. One, I don't think they would want it. And number two, he's much too smart to do it. And I thought that was sad. And then speaking of Nacogdoches, you know there was supposedly this girl that came up with her very Christian father. And that scene, Charlie would no more have played around with a constituent's daughter than fly to the moon. That is the stupidest thing that anybody could ever do when there were plenty of other girls to fool around with, you know.
SOSEBEE: And plus he didn't even like Nacogdoches that much [laughs] because they wouldn't vote for him.
HERRING: But anyway, I don't, those are the sort of things that Charlie would never have done.
SOSEBEE: Sure. But I would've, I think I would like to have met him.
HERRING: Oh you would've loved him. You would've loved him.
SOSEBEE: That would've been something else. And to listen to people talk about and the stories that we've heard it just sounds like he was, he was quite the individual. And that's ultimately, that's my goal. I'm going to do, I'm going to write a book. It's a political biography of Charlie.
SOSEBEE: That's going to happen. Because I think Crile's book's fine . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . something more scholarly needs to be done. So . . .
HERRING: Well, I'm happy to hear that.
SOSEBEE: I'm becoming acquainted with him quite well.
SOSEBEE: And everything. This has been fantastic. Unbelievable. Can I get you to sign, just to make sure that we get that done or I will forget.