"Proteus" by Morris West
JCT: Weird inspirations pop up any old time. During the years I was The Professor at the Taj Mahal Poker Room in Atlantic City, New Jersey, I used to go to the Salvation Army and buy a couple of dozen novels at a quarter each to read between hands. So I really loaded up on them. I recently had a few hours to kill during transit and serendipitously chose "Proteus" by Morris West ISBN:0-553- 13201-6 (1979) William Morrow & Co., 105 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10016. Funny, I started my Abolish Interest Rates Project in the same year Proteus was published. Why didn't I read this 25 years ago?
This is the first book report I've added to my home page in years. It is a spell-binding novel about John Spada, a Bill Gates-style billionaire, whose daughter marries a crusading news reporter living in a third-world dictatorship where he has investments. She and her husband are eventually arrested by the police. She's raped and tortured before they find out who she is and El Presidente eventually releases her but claims they don't have her husband. Spada busts him out of the prison and in retaliation, the bad guys try to blow him up and blow up his wife, daughter and son-in-law instead. All in all, such a bad week is a pretty good good reason to be upset. So he prepares to unleash a biological agent on the whole world proclaiming:
Page301: "Open your jails; let the prisoners out into the light; or I, John Spada, who have nothing now to lose, will turn your cities, one by one, into cemeteries."
JCT: Of course, he's emptying the jails but forgetting to change the laws that keep putting them there in the first place! Going after the symptom, not the cause.
Page312 "One week before the United Nations General Assembly as scheduled to meet, a package was delivered to the mail room. In the evening the Security Chief read it aloud:
"The symbol which heads this paper represents Proteus, shepherd of the creatures of the sea, custodian of knowledge, the elusive god of many shapes. It is also the symbol of the organization of which I am the founder and which, like Proteus, functions in many places and in many disguises. "When you read this letter for the first time, you will be tempted to say: "This is the work of a madman." I beg you, do not yield to the temptation. As you will see, it contains no proposition to which you and your colleagues do not subscribe, no demand which the United Nations organisation has not made, over and over again; the liberation of prisoners of conscience, the abolition of torture, the restoration of the right of free speech, free assembly, fair trial, the right to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. "That you have made these demands is a matter of history. That you have been unable to enforce them is a matter of universal regret. However, now that they are enforceable, I beg you and your colleagues, in the name of humanity, not to abrogate them. "With this letter you will receive samples of the poisons... to create a biological disaster... "At this moment, I know, the familiar words will spring to your mind: hijack, blackmail, terrorism. I beg you to reflect on another word: sanction. I am placing in your hands, Mr. Secretary-General, the one power you have never had: the power to impose a decision of the United Nations by sanction, by penalty without redress. If you are not prepared to use this power, then I shall use it, and continue to use it, until my and your legitimate demands are met. "With this letter I send you a schedule, necessarily incomplete, of those places of detention where men and women are confined, interrogated, tortured, in defiance of every principle of humanity. I send you lists of prisoners, again incomplete, because secrecy is the weapon of all tyrants. I request and require that these places of detention be opened, their inmates released, and dispersed to their homes within twenty-one days of this date, and that their release and dispersal be supervised and confirmed by observers from international agencies appointed by the United Nations.
JCT: Again, he does not address the reason that the General El Presidente is putting them in jail in the first place.
"I further request and require that this demand be made known at the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly and that the Assembly invite me, on the next day, to plead it before the members.
JCT: Getting an invite to address the assembly is as easy as that? But who has an issue as big as the ego to dare?
"If and when the prisoners are released, I undertake that all supplies of the cultures and the toxin in the hands of the Proteus organisation will be destroyed forthwith. I shall, immediately afterwards, give myself into the custody of that country of which I am a citizen and accept, without contest, all the penalties of its law. If the demand is not met, the serial disaster will begin; and you must be in no doubt of its magnitude and its continuity. "Let me now make disclosure. I belong to no party, either of the left or the right. I have no affiliation to national causes, only to the cause of those who cannot speak because they are deprived of the right to do so.
JCT: But would the people who have no say be happier if he asked to stop the laws that fill the jails? I would be. Though I have some say.
"I have no personal ambition. Once I am in custody, I shall have no human future; but this I am happy to accept in order to accomplish what I have set out to do. "Immediately after the first session of the General Assembly, I shall telephone your office to hear the decision. If the decision is affirmative, the Assembly must guarantee my immunity from arrest within the confines of the U.N. building. If the decision is negative, then there is nothing more to be said. Action will follow as certainly as night follows day. "I am, my dear Secretary-General, With profound respect, Yours sincerely, Proteus"
The Secretary-General asked: "Can you sum up please?"
"It is clear that Proteus is aware of how the United Nations organization functions. He writes formally to the Secretary- General, who is obliged to bring the matter to the attention of the General Assembly, which alone can consent to his appearance in this place -- as it did to the appearance of Yasser Arafat."
JCT: So Yasser Arafat's appearance is the precedent for John Spada's quest to save the world from those sad symptoms of the as-yet-unknown cause of oppression.
Page317: They will respond by strict adherence to protocol. The Secretary-General will refer the matter to the heads of delegations to the General Assembly. They will advise their respective governments and seek instruction.
Page327: The first disclosure was made, according to protocol, by the Secretary-General to the plenary conference of correspondents accredited to the United Nations... Each correspondent received a copy of the letter of demand, the schedule of camps and inmates, a photograph of the vials containing the legal material.
The Secretary-General deposed briefly: "The documents in your hands speak for themselves. The material has been inspected b y the experts and has been identified as a culture and a toxin, capable of wide dissemination and lethal results. Faced with this threat, all delegates to the United Nations have been instructed by their governments to vote in the General Assembly, which will commence at ten tomorrow morning. The purpose of this session is to hear the views of all member nations and to determine, by vote, whether the person who calls himself Proteus shall be admitted to address the Assembly or whether we shall refuse to receive him -- with all the consequences that may entail. I have only brief comments to make. "I have a question which you may feel disposed to put to your readers and viewers. If you sit where we shall sit very soon, how would you choose?
Page 330: Everywhere, the authorities had expected a panic. There was none. It was as if mankind were satiated with horror, drunk and numb after an orgy of violent images thrust at it hour after hour without respite. There was no place to hide. There was no board on which they could read the odds for or against their personal survival. There was no enemy to provoke their fury -- not even Proteus himself, because the very magnitude of his challenge touched some chord of elation, of desperate sympathy, deep within them. The issues of good and evil were too closely entwined to distinguish them clearly. There was no appeal to the law because the law was plainly impotent against this thunderbolt intervention in human affairs.
After the first welter of sensational headlines and hastily prepared commentary, a tone of cool, if desperate, sanity began to make itself heard. The end proposed by Proteus was good. It was not beyond human accomplishment. It had been urged for years by wise and compassionate people -- yea, by us, too, of the Fourth Estate. If our urgings went unheard, it was because... and here the reasonings became diffuse and contradictory, the sovereignty of states, commercial considerations, political expediencies. Still, if the end was good, could not a good means be found to attain it?
JCT: Not if you don't know what's causing the symptom.
Proteus was wrong to hold the world to ransom like a highwayman... They had not dropped the emotive words: terrorist, blackmail, hijack; but at least, in response either to instinct or directive, they had begun to introduce qualifications that admitted some possible goodwill.
Page331: At three in the afternoon, by a narrow majority, the General Assembly voted that: "In the hope of a speedy removal of a monstrous threat to humanity, we agree to invite the person called Proteus, under guarantees of immunity, to address the members of this Assembly in an extraordinary session and permit full news coverage of the occasion by all the media."
Page334: In the great chamber of the General Assembly,
JCT: I sat in that same chamber twice, with my "The Engineer" hard-hat on!
John Spada faced the delegates of the nations, the press of the world, the privileged audience of the potent who filled the public galleries. They were silent, grim-faced, clearly hostile to this interloper in their midst. They had not come to hear testimony, but to look on the man who as to give it, to measure his strength, his resolution, his nerve as a gambler. So be it then. He himself must prove them: whether they would know a truth when they heard it, stand for or against a right when they saw it plain. But he must look beyond them, speak over them, to the world outside, where his image and his words would reach hundreds of millions who, even if they could not enforce them yet, would make their own judgments on the witness he was about to give.
The Secretary-General's introduction was brief and bleak:
"...We are here under duress and under protest. The man who will address you has no right to be in this place. Nevertheless, we have granted him immunity, guaranteed his security, while he is among us. In a forum held to ransom, we will grant him a free hearing. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the man who calls himself Proteus: Mr. John Spada.
As he stepped down from the rostrum, they applauded him. When John Spada took his place, the applause died instantly to an eerie silence. Spada arranged his papers on the lectern, adjusted the microphone and began to speak, calmly and persuasively.
"It is true that you are here under duress; but you are here, in comfort, in your own place, free to come and go at will, to debate openly, to eat well, to demand immunities in your persons and your houses. There are others, tens of thousands of others, in prisons, in detention camps, in torture rooms, in psychiatric institutions who are not free, whose simplest human rights have been abrogated. It is for them that I have come to speak. It is for them that I have, temporarily and very mildly, abridged your very great freedom. I remind you that, in a public document, I have permanently surrendered my own."
They had expected something else -- threats, exhortations, a tirade perhaps. They were not disarmed yet, but yes, they would listen. He began now to reason with them.
"I stand before you, one man, alone. You are many. Behind you there is the serried might of nations, great and small, their wealth, their armies, navies, air forces, their police, civil and secret. You have, in short, a mandate of enormous potency. I, it would appear, have none. "I claim that I have. It is a mandate from the silent to speak for them, from the imprisoned to plead for them, from the tortured to proclaim their wrongs, from the dead to write a decent epitaph. This is the meaning of the name I assumed: Proteus, the shepherd of those who live in an alien element; Proteus of many shapes. When you look at me, I want you to see many other shapes and faces: the schoolgirl raped and bleeding on a table, a great scholar reduced by drugs to mumbling lunacy, a journalist beaten to a bloody pulp, a long line of detainees, inadequately fed, inadequately clothed, working in sub-zero weather... You ask who gave me my mandate. They did.
JCT: A mandate to tackle the symptom of the unknown cause?
The hands that first offered it to me were the hands of my own daughter,tortured to an extremity in Argentina. Then my wife, my daughter and my daughter's husband were murdered... What more motive is needed for the action I have taken? Is your own patent of authority so sound? Should you not accept mine, as I do yours, de facto, and ask, now how it was come by, but what use, good or bad, is made of it?
"I will not insult you with any of the catchwords of politics: the right, the left, the center, capitalist, communist, revolutionary, deviationist, dissident... You have heard them all, too many times, in this place and elsewhere. These are labels, hung on mannequins. I will use other worlds: man, woman, child; and I will show you what has done to this man, that woman, their child." He sensed their restiveness and he challenged them sharply: "You are bored -- or embarrassed? You know it already? Then why have you not risen in revolt against it? You did not do it? Of course not! There are always vicars, deputies, surrogates to do the filthy work and leave you free in conscience afterwards. You will sit! You will be silent! You will listen!.."
He read the catalogue, country by country, figure by figure, detail by sordid detail, until he had cowed them again into silence. Then he tossed the papers on the floor of the chamber with gesture of contempt.
"Challenge it, if you dare! Refute it, if you can! Prove me a liar. I would welcome it... You cannot. You know it. So what do you do? You say: we are delegates only, puppet voices, puppet figures. Blame our masters, not us. I blame them -- dead loving God, how I blame them! But I blame you too, because you hide behind their skirts like lapdogs, whimpering at their anger. And this is why I threaten you, put you under duress: to show you that for every monster there is a mirror image, for every terror there is a response of terror, throughout all ages of ages, Amen!"
His voice was a thunder rolling through the domed chamber. After the thunder came a silence, and after the silence came a passionate plea.
"Look! Listen! Take heed, I beg you! These are your brothers and sisters! Their blood is your blood, crying, not for vengeance, but for an end of this long iniquity. What are you? Savages dancing around the fire, chanting while your victims burn? Medieval inquisitors wrenching irrelevances from dying men? If you are, then the terror which I hold over you is less than you deserve. If you are not, then, in the name of whatever gods you worship, make an end of this monstrosity. Remember, time runs out." He stood for one silent moment, dominating them, waiting for the questions they dared not ask.
JCT: How about "What would you have us do to stop more oppression while we empty the jails?"
Then he walked out of the chamber to the room they had provided for him, threw himself on the bed and lay like a cataleptic, staring at the white ceiling......
JCT: Then the book goes on to what happens after that. Once they agree, he will go on international TV to call off his fishes from spreading the toxins. It's a great read and I won't tell you any more about it for at least a couple of weeks so visit your local library and find out how John Spada uses his one opportunity to plead for those who have no say. I can only say that if I ever pulled a Proteus move, I'd know about the root cause before claiming any mandate. Proteus demands a remedy that really changes nothing for long. Must be related to Alan Young. I'd demand the end to machine that creates poverty which is the raison-d'etre of a military-police establishment to keep the debt slaves down.
Maybe I should make a Proteus demand? Not "Proteus versus the symptoms of oppression," but "Proteus versus the cause," During the Millennium year, I sent emails about UNILETS to every politician and government with an email address on the whole planet. "Dear Sir, the UNILETS Engineer is trying back at the UN again 3 years later?" Har har.
What with LETS in 54 countries around the world with online connections, what with 90% of the world's politicians knowing what I'm about, what with the international LETS conference going on in Montreal next week from whence all the little fishes could go back to their nations and push for UNILETS from the bottom up while I push their politicians' emails from the top down. Is this too serendipitous to expect success so why bother trying? It might be time to raise UNILETS at the United Nations once again. No one helped the last time when getting on the Millennium Declaration seemed such a quixotic venture, maybe some will will help now that's getting on the Millennium Declaration makes it less so.
What else do I possibly need?
a comment to John Turmel