Ed Griffin, author of Veto, agreed to answer some questions for me about his life and his writing career. Some of his answers even contain excerpts from his other books. I hope you enjoy his interesting and informative answers as much as I did.
Veto focuses on the United Nations. Are you a student of politics, or is the United Nations a special interest of yours?
Good question. I did have some extra courses in grad school in political science, but my degree was in the community organizing part of social work (like Barack Obama). The UN has been and still is a great concern of mine. We live in a very small world and as is clear in recent financial events, what happens in one country affects other countries. The world is too small for us not to have an effective world body. Look at the nonsense going on now in Syria. Everybody knows it’s all wrong, yet nobody can do anything. If Pilar’s reforms (as in the novel) were in effect, the current crisis would not be happening. If the majority of members said that Syria should have a regime change, then that’s what the UN would do. The veto is very, very undemocratic.
What influenced you to write Veto?
Another thing – and a key thing is what I learned as a young man in the Catholic Church. I was a Roman Catholic priest from 1962 to 1967. During those years Pope John the 23rd called the Vatican Council and wrote several important documents. One of those documents (Encyclicals) talked about the UN and stated something to the effect that it was a good start and needed to become stronger. Conservatives at that time vehemently opposed Pope John for his progressive ideas.
My story with the Catholic Church is the subject of another book, Once a Priest. I marched in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King, but when I got back to Cleveland, Ohio and my parish… but that’s another story.
I also was amazed at the European Union. How could these countries which had fought each other for centuries, come together in a political and economic union? I read a history of the European Union and learned that it IS possible to set up structures that can help the world become a better place.
Have you been inside the United Nations building in New York?
Yes, I have been in the UN at least twice, observing the rooms etc.
Did you interview any of the UN Ambassadors as research for this book?
No. I read all of Phyllis Bennis books on the UN, such as Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s UN, and I absorbed the book that the Independent Nations wrote about their goals (name escapes me now). But most of my information came from careful reading of the Internet. There is a world of information out there. I did read many books to write Veto and I spent hours on line. For example, where does the Secretary General live? What kind of home is it? The answers are all on the Internet, but it does take some careful work.
Pilar Marti is one brave lady, and she chooses to take on the world. Was there a specific person (maybe even more than one) you based her character on?
No, no one special. But I know a woman could do this, maybe even better than a man. A woman – most women – would put the human element first. Her strategy, however, I copied one hundred percent from the American system. Though I live in Canada, my wife and I are dual citizens. We vote in all elections and file a US income tax every year. While there is some criticism of the way the US operates in the UN, Pilar’s answer is to copy the American system. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, the old expression says. She sets up a house of representatives and a senate, on the same principals that govern the American House and Senate.
The fact that Somalia needs water is what starts Pilar on her endeavor to reform the UN. Did you travel to Somalia yourself and see the need that is there?
When I was at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, my roommate, Abdul Elmi, was a man from Somalia. He taught me a lot about Somalia and gave me a feel for the country and the people. I read more and more about Somalia. Abdul was an architect student and he had to learn all about building below the frost line, even though there is no frost line in Somalia. He returned to his country, but the leader then was Sid Bare, a cruel dictator. Abdul was able to get out of the country and return to America, where I sponsored him to enter the country. He still lives and works in Milwaukee. So Somalia is almost in my blood. Most of us white people cannot tell one African from another, and no doubt I could not tell a Sudanese from a person from Zambia, but I can spot Somalis. I was waiting in line at Macdonalds recently and I walked up to a guy and asked “Somalia?” He smiled and said yes and we had a great conversation.