Squamish’s Graham E. Fuller worked for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency for more than two decades, and that is not even the most interesting thing about the guy.
The American-born author of numerous non-fiction books about the Middle East has also been a professor and was a senior political scientist at the RANDCorporation.
This week, Fuller launches his latest novel, Bear: A novel of the Great Bear Rain Forest and Eco-Violence. The book weaves First Nation’s lore, environmentalism and the symbolic and real value of the bear.
The Squamish Chief sat down with Fuller for a wide-ranging chat about his latest novel and his time with the CIA.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: What are you hoping readers take from your latest novel, Bear?
A: There are a couple of key themes in it, but if I had to pick one I would say it is a lot about the environment. There’s a lot about the Great Bear Rain Forest. But it is also about First Nation’s culture and I was quite intrigued by the idea of a bear. It is such a universal theme. Yes, they are animals and they are impressive, but in many older cultures, the bear was a symbol of justice and power and wisdom. That is not just here in B.C.
Q: Obviously, regular fans of your books will read this, but who else do you hope reads Bear?
A: I love it that you say I have fans! I guess I do. As you know, I immigrated to Canada almost 16 years ago and so I felt a strong desire to reflect the environment that I chose to live in. It is physically stunning here, and the First Nations cultures are extraordinary and I wanted to give back and deal with these things that are really exciting and it turns out really pertinent to today’s world.
Q: Why did you choose Squamish when you immigrated from the U.S.?
A: We had discovered B.C. many years ago, my wife and I, and we kept coming up here. I kept saying I would love to move here and my wife would say, “Yes, but we have moved 17 times. Maybe we should just visit.”
After George Bush came in and 9/11 happened, America just went bonkers and Bush was starting wars all over the Middle East. I know hundreds of people over there —Iraqis and I had lived in Afghanistan — so I was really and truly upset about this primitive approach of just sending bombs. And I couldn’t stand the “rah-rah USA” jingoism that was in the U.S. at the time. It almost made me physically ill. That is when I said, this is it. We are going.
Q: You are reflecting on the U.S. being “bonkers” 15 years ago, what about today?
A: My American friends all say I left too soon. Now is the time to leave. I am beyond that because I really came to believe the U.S. was on a downward course well before I decided to move to Canada.This is almost irreversible. There are so many intractable problems. I don’t see how you get out of them. There’s the massive corruption of politics; money in politics where every single congressman is bought; capitalism out of control. Capitalism is an amazing mechanism, but like any mechanism — like fire or something — you don’t want to let it get out of hand.
Q: It must be strange to be here watching what is happening in your homeland, no?
A: All my Canadian friends are glued to the TV. I won’t even watch it. I read about it, but I won’t watch it. It is political porn.
Q: Forgive me this basic almost stupid question, but after all your time in the Middle East, what is something you can point to that we in North America don’t understand about that region?
A: I think most North Americans, and especially those in the U.S., lack any sense of cultural difference — how people could think differently. When you are the world’s super power what you do is the only thing that matters. Dick Cheney once said something like, ‘We make the realities in the Middle East.’ That thinking is very pervasive, so I think there is a total absence of empathy and understanding about how other people just might react to many things. The press kind of buys into it. I would pay you $100 if you could find over the last years a single article that is remotely positive about anything in Russia. I had a lot to do with Russians. I majored in Russian in university and lived with Russians, and met with all kinds of Soviets as a CIA officer overseas. I just cannot believe what I would have to say is hysteria about Russia now. The Republicans want that because it supports arms sales and bigger military budgets and the Democrats totally have bought into it because if it weren't for the Russians, Hillary Clinton would be president. So, the country has lost its senses in so many respects. It is a remarkable, creative country, but they have lost it.
Q: Do you ever worry where Canada is headed politically?
A: One of the things I tell my American friends is that Canadian politics is somewhat boring. I tell them that is the good news. Do you want the excitement of race riots, murders and going to war non-stop and this wild political system — that is exciting politics. But how many countries would give anything to have stable, boring politics? The country works and that is a remarkable thing to say in this world.
Q: How did you ever get involved with the CIA?
A: I love languages. I had a knack for it and I have an interest in it. I majored in Russian and was starting to study some Middle Eastern languages. There was a draft still on in the latter years of the Vietnam War and after I got my master's degree I was going to get my PhD and the Air Force sent me into military intelligence. I didn’t even really know what it was. The short of it is I was drafted into the CIA to fulfill most of my military service. I didn’t expect to stay but I found it was really interesting. It was intellectually stimulating — it was essentially information gathering.
This was in the days before kidnappings and before terrorism, really. I never carried a gun, ever. The main targets and concerns were Soviets, Eastern Europeans and local communist movements. It was a very different world.
Then, the world changed, especially after the end of the Soviet Union when the U.S. felt it was riding on as the sole global super power; the State Department changed, the CIA changed, the Pentagon changed.
The States now has a national security outlook, rather than being more open and diplomatic.
Q: Changing gears drastically, what do you think of how Squamish is changing? A lot has happened since you moved here.
A: There’s some good with the bad. I think the town is getting more interesting. It has lost some things, but it has also gained. There are better restaurants and interesting professionals moving in who came here by choice.
Fuller will launch his novel Bear at the Squamish Public Library Thursday (March 8) night at 6:30 p.m. His latest novel is available at the Brackendale Art Gallery and the Squamish Adventure Centre.