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From The 'Fresh Air' Archives: G. Gordon Liddy On Conquering His Fears


And now we're going to take a deep dive into the FRESH AIR past. With the help of grants and generous donations from listeners, we've been able to digitize our archive. And that's a lot of interviews because I've been hosting FRESH AIR since 1975 when it was a local program at WHYY in Philadelphia and our interviews were recorded on reel to reel audiotape.

Now we have a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources to make that digital archive searchable. Our great team of library science specialists is picking a few old soundbites from old interviews that they find especially interesting. And we have the first one for you today with G. Gordon Liddy.

In 1973, Liddy was convicted in the Watergate scandal for his role in the conspiracy to burglarize and bug the Democratic Party's headquarters at the Washington office - at the Watergate office complex. He had been the general counsel to the committee to reelect President Nixon. I spoke with Liddy in 1980 after the publication of his memoir "Will."

Here he is describing how he consciously went about trying to conquer his fears and strengthen his will.


G. GORDON LIDDY: For strengthening my will, primarily I did - I used fire because I had a twofold effect. When I was a child - a little child - I had happened, by accident, because I didn't know what it was, to pick up a hot coal. And it burned me. And it scared me. And I was afraid of pain. And I was afraid of fire for that reason. And at first, what I wanted to do was get rid of the fear of pain and fire.

And so I used fire and pain to overcome that. And then I simply used that as the same technique one would use when trying to strengthen physically an arm, to increase the weights that one would lift. I increased the amount and duration of the fire until I reached the point of diminishing returns, which is where serious injury would set in.

And that seemed to me to be unreasonable. And so I didn't do it.

GROSS: Did that work? Did that apply? I mean, if you can learn to resist that pain, does that work if you're under heavy cross examination? Does that...

LIDDY: Yeah, if you are a psychologically strong person, then you can, in effect, as I did for example, resist all three branches of the federal government if you have to. And if you're not, you won't be able to, as Dean was unable to.

GROSS: You also tell a story about how you overcame your fear of rats. Could you tell us that?

LIDDY: Yeah. First thing I did - this, again, when I was a child - I would go down underneath the piers on the waterfront and try to confront the rats. And this didn't work very well because first of all, rats swim very well. And they would just jump off and swim away. And I remained fearful of them - less and less, to be sure, but still, I had residual dread.

And finally, when my sister's cat killed one freshly, I recalled the fact that certain American Indian tribes used to consume the heart of an enemy, that they consider to be courageous, to overcome the fear of that tribe.

The African Zulus I just learned in another program on this - in this city used to consume the heart, the brains and the genitalia for the same reason. It's apparently a multiracial thing. And so I cooked and consumed part of the rat. And thereafter, I had no fear of rats.

GROSS: So that worked?

LIDDY: Oh, yeah.


That was G. Gordon Liddy recorded in 1980 when FRESH AIR was a local show. Our thanks to a Anu Paul (ph), Niki LaGrone (ph) and Alex Vallejo (ph), our team of library science specialists who will be selecting other soundbites for us to hear as they continue to make our archive searchable.

Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new album that features guitarist Pat Metheny as a guest artist on an album by his former side man, trumpeter Cuong Vu. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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