I was thinking today about all this turmoil in Egypt and what I expect will be the imminent departure of Hosni Mubarak, but does anyone wonder what ever becomes of such past bêtes noir when they have been ousted?
I am going back now to an incident in my history when I was a student at Warwick University. It was considered in terms of the student body to be a rebellious and a revolutionary body, there was the famous occupation of 1969, and the occupation of 1975, still recorded as the longest in student history and I was part of that and so was Brian Deer. (Yes that one)
Well Brian Deer and his ignominious later career excepted I am taken back in my memory to a Christmas party in 75 I think. Earlier in the day I had been on a field trip organised by Lincoln Allison (now retired I believe) which included a little tour around those parts of Warwickshire I was well familiar with but my fellow politics students not being natives were not. Anyway forgetting the Dassets spattered with snow, and the journey back in a rickety car with a failing alternator (what is new there) I can recall ending up in one of those Victorian Villas in Leamington, inhabited by my personal tutor Prof. Malcolm Anderson. That was a curious situation because everybody was there, and it was there I met with General Yakubu (Jack) Gowon. This was indeed an odd situation because the student's union had vehemently protested against his presence at the University, yet this was a politics department party, and everybody was there, lefties included, protesters and all. (yeah me too)
How does a twenty year old rebel react to being face to face with a bogey such as Jack Gowon? Well it I don't know, I am glad I have never met George Dubya or Tony Blair because they might scare me.
There is much said about the banality of Evil and I can well ask is my MP a guy I know quite familiarly as Bob Ainsworth any more evil than Jack Gowon? Who has brought about the greatest body count? We just don't know do we? Bomber Harris of WW2 fame maybe, and where does that morality leave us?
For that matter before we heap on the guilt consider, you and I will never know our own body count when the final judgement comes. Should I never have eaten Cadbury's chocolate, and ought I not to bank with Barclay's you might guess the score....
I guess Jack Gowon was civil and a gentleman, how could I hate him? I cannot imagine what our encounter might have been in circumstances other than those in which we met. Never mind that you cannot imagine in those days can you? I was dressed for a "civilised" party and I was wearing my combat fatigues, very Fidel Castro. I can recall Jack helping me on with my coat at the end of the party. He picked up my jacket and found it heavy and he said to me "what have you got in your pockets gold bars?" It makes you wonder doesn't it?
Apart from that I did have a keen political debate with him, he was at the time a Freshman and I was in my second year. That was an amazing debate that I recall, me a working class nobody talking to this guy who had headed a nation and been involved in a controversial war, and I lectured him about politics, and he listened and said that he had a lot to learn. In retrospect I didn't know a lot at all but there I was in conversation with an international pariah of the time and I was introducing him to new concepts he was not aware of as a de facto head of state. I mean what does that feel like, I was heavily into Hobbes at that time, very relevant.
Hey Jack where are you now? It is easy to write him off as a monster, but when I met him he was a human as anybody else, there was no aura of evil, if anything there was an aura of naievity. I cannot make a judgement and say he was/is any more evil than Tony Blair, or Colonel Gadaffi or Larry Arnold.
And where is he now? Well believe it or not he has been and is in the latter days involved in what would generally be considered humanitarian causes, so we might consider nobody is beyond redemption, hey even me.
I do not think by any means Jack Gowon was the most evil person I ever met, he may have been involved in decisions and acts that killed thousands, but your next door neighbour may be filled with a hate that given the opportunity would do as bad, is there really any moral difference?