'No new society is worth an entrance fee which, for love of humanity, makes you hurt men .
Sir Geoffrey Jackson
The Editor has suggested that it might interest fellowreaders of the Catholic Herald to know something of the eirctImstances in which my book "People's Prison" came to be. written.
It undoubtedly finished as a duty, as my contribution to deglamorising current fashions in violence. Yet I suspect that I really started on it as a therapy of sorts: "Lest I forget," or at least that I might remember without too much pain.
Amnesia is one of nature's most potent anaesthetics; the human mind discards or suppresses with amazing facility anything disagreeable, from the schoolboy's algebra-homework to the prisoner's captivity.
Knowing this, within hours of release from my Tupamaro dungeon in Uruguay in September 1971 I had begun to Jot down even the most fleeting and trivial-seeming snatches of memory — on an aircraft menucard, on the folder of my 'plane ticket, inside last year's chary I had found in a drawer; my captors had removed the current one along with everything else in my pockets.
For as soon as I was in circulation again I found myself willy-nilly under the obligation, personal and official, to satisfy the intense and legitimate questioning of all those I met, both at home and travelling on my official duty.
My conscious mind accepted that it must provide an official account of the episode for the public record. My subconscious would doubtless have been content to leave it at that, get the whole harrowing chore out of the way, and then forget the whole matter.• I can only suppose that it was that uncomfortable accessory, the conscience, which interfered with this easy solution.
Theirs was no idle or morbid curiosity, but the acute preoccupation of all serious men and women with one of the newest recurrences of age-old violence, as deployed by the minority to impose their political will on the majority via — inevitably — the innocent.
In particular, my friends were without exception intrigued by the apparent paradox that I could analyse even with sympathy much of the motivation of my captors, while utterly condemning their implementation of it.
One after another, friends and colleagues offered the same comment, or challenge — that my captivity belonged to all men; I might not just keep it to myself, and forget about it.
Yet for a year, almost, I fancied that my efforts to "put it behind me' were succeeding. But soon I realised that the recovery of my old self was only superficial, if not indeed illusory. I remembered too that the flesh can heal over a splinter, a bullet even, the irritant remaining, and festering under an apparently healthy skin.
So I took up the invitation of old friends, and went to stay
with them hign up in the mountains behind Salzburg; the nearest telephone was 20 kilometres away! In all that stillness and beauty my thoughts coalesced, and I began at last to write, slowly, then in a torrent.
Inhumanity of man
The squalor of "man's inhumanity to man," the ugliness of ends that allegedly. justify their immemorial means, the goodness, too, which even so can still be dredged out of evil — all these things fell instantly into proportion and harmony together.
Reading the story through now, I recognise today the terms of reference I set myself then. I did not wish to write a polemical book, propagating or castigating one ideology or another, one political solution or another.
Nor did I plan to trace an intimate spiritual pilgrimage in any detail, Both projects — as I say in "People's Prison" — will be fulfilled one day if my courage does not fail me. For the moment I am content to
p simple r act ihvreo chronicle, a verreys present a s et rso nail n
I hope that, without dogmatising, it will remind its readers, especially the young,
the warm-hearted, humanitarian, patriotic and idealistic, that when you start to play with principles you end by manipulating men — your fellow-men.
And no new society is worth an entrance fee which, for love of humanity, makes you hurt men and, in the end, hate people.
Sir Geoffrey Jackson's book "People's Prison" will be published by Faber and Faber on October 1.