10 / CHRONICLESnpolity that would have been a credit to Polybius’ Athens.nThe spiritual power (not necessarily religious) that seepedninto us as we surreptitiously joined forces against ourncommon enemy came as a surprise.nIn my solitude the impact of this unexpected spiritualnpower sometimes caused me to wonder. Does modernityn(post-Enlightenment life under big governments and bignbureaucracies, constantly competing to remake the world innthe image of the new) deaden our noblest impulses? Does itnsmother or atrophy the power of the human spirit, the powernof human nature? Do the readings of ancient times, thenclassics, serve merely to give us insight into the events of thenpast? Or do not the texts of those self-contained cultures ofnantiquity portray human power in all its vibrant potential?nDo they not contain evidence of a more imaginative andnfundamental grasp of the essence of being human than cannbe found even in 20th-century texts that have since joinednthe classics on the humanities shelves?nIn Homer’s immortal epic. The Iliad, as Hector is aboutnto leave the gates of Troy to fight Achilles—knowing, as henmust have known, that he would lose and he would die—hensays goodbye to his wife and baby son at the gates, and thenbaby starts to cry, frightened by the nodding of the plumesnon his father’s shining helmet. Some would think the tale ofnthe Greek-Trojan War to be an irrelevant relic of bygonendays. Some would think it should be stricken from thenreading list because it glamorizes war. Some would thinknthat now at last, with reason to guide us, we can scoff at anwarrior’s suicidal obligations. But others of us react quitendifferently, seeing in that scene a snapshot of the agelessnhuman predicament: Hector’s duty, his wife’s tragedy,nTroy’s necessity, the baby’s cry . . .nMy reaction, of course, is the latter, not only because Inam a romantic by nature, but because by the time I first readnThe Iliad I had lived in antiquity (and I am not referring tonthe lack of electricity or plumbing). I had lived in anself-contained culture, a prison culture I watched grownamong men of goodwill under pressure. I knew what it wasnto be a human being who could be squashed like a bugnwithout recourse to law, and I knew that the culture, thensociety, that preserved me had to be preserved or nobodynhad anything to cling to. I knew that civic virtue, the placingnof the value of that society above one’s personal interests,nwas not only admirable, it was crucial to self-respect, and Inknew that to preserve that culture, sometimes symbolicnbattles had to be fought before real battles could start. I knewnthat obligations, particularly love and self-sacrifice, were thenglue that made a man whole in this primitive element, and Inknew that under the demands of these obligations beingn”reasonable” was a luxury that often could not be afforded.nI also knew during this prison existence that I was beingnshown something good—that life can have a spiritualncontent one can almost reach out and touch. I suppose itncan always have that, but I was used to the idea of it beingnfuzzed up, powdered, fluffed, and often ridiculed here innmanmade modernity, where changing the world takesnprecedence over understanding it, understanding man himselfnThe same message comes through in the writings ofnFyodor Dostoyevski, Arthur Koestler, and AleksandrnSolzhenitsyn. They’ve been where I’ve been. So hadnnnMiguel Cervantes. This future author of Don Quixote was anyoung officer in the Spanish army taken prisoner after thenBatde of Lepanto in the 16th century. He spent seven yearsnin an Algiers political prison. Same story: “Confess yourncrimes,” “Discredit yourself,” “Disavow your roots.” Henwas tortured to disavow Christianity; he could get amnestynand go home if he would disavow it. I was made much thensame offer. I was to disavow “American Imperialism.” Goodnboy, Cervantes, you hung in too. You knew how this age-oldngame is played. Political prisons are not just sources of fablesnof the past. They could just as easily inspire the literature ofnthe future. Unable to tolerate dissent, totalitarian governmentsnmust have them. How else to suppress and discreditntheir enemies within?nYou know, the life of the mind is a wonder—the life ofnthe mind in solitude, the life of the mind in extremis, the lifenof the mind when the body’s nervous system is under attack.nIf you want to break a man’s spirit, and if your victim’s will isnstrong, you’ve got to get physical. Sometimes you mightnthink that you can unhinge strong people with psychologicalnmumbo jumbo. Sorry, there is no such thing as brainwashing.nBut even physical hammering will not alone change allnhard-set attitudes. The real method to jellify those attitudes,nthat is, to extract those seemingly heartfelt “confessions,” isnthe artful and long-term imposition of fear and guilt. Solitarynconfinement and tourniquet-tight rope bindings are merencatalysts for the fear and guilt conditioning. Remember, I’mntalking about strong-willed victims. They’re going to makenyou hurt them. They know from experience that thencompliance extracted by brute force is in no way sonspiritually damaging as that given away on a mere threat.nAnd they have learned from experience that in the end it is anspiritual battie. The leak in the dike always starts fromnwithin.nHow does the mind of the victim respond to thesenchallenges? How did we respond in those North Vietnamesenprisons? Realize the situation here: They’ve got man in anlaboratory test that no university in the United States couldnset up. They’re not going to leave him in a room just to fillnout a bunch of questionnaires, or give him some innocuousnmaze to work his way out of They’re going to boil thenessence out of him as a chemist would heat and pressurize anspecimen to study its properties, its nature, in a laboratory.nWhat is the nature of man? What surprises does humannnature have in store under these conditions?nFirst, regarding the loneliness, the solitude: It’s not as badnas you think. Don’t forget, the time factor is stretched outnway beyond most psychological experiments. There was anprofessor at Stanford who got national attention several yearsnago for locking some students in the basement of a librarynfor a few days, and then writing a book about his observationsnof their behavior. I laughed when I read it. You don’tnknow the first thing about a person until he has been in thencooler for a couple of months. He has to first go through thenstage when he is preoccupied with going insane. That’s annormal prelude without lasting significance. Figure on thatnphase lasting for the first three to four weeks. It ends when itnsuddenly dawns on him that he’ll have no such luck; he’snstuck with himself Almost everybody then sets himself up inna ritualistic life. Something deep-seated in human naturenlikes, feels safe with, repetition — a time for this, and a timen