“MCGUINNESS, why don’t you write a book about your experiences?” I’ve heard that query a dozen times or more, spoken in a variety of languages ranging from Gaelic to Chinese.
My answer became a set formula: “I haven’t the time, even if I could write; besides, I value freedom!”
However, in the summer of 1931, when I abandoned rum-running in the United States as a means of combining lucrative employment with excitement, I harkened to the advice of a friend. ” Mac,” he said, ” you’re going to Soviet Russia; you may never come back. Why not avail yourself of the couple of months’ grace before leaving to jot down a chronological record of your life? ” Thus in New York City, in an apartment on Riverside Drive, overlooking the Hudson, I gathered together all thedocuments I possed: seafaring discharges, certificates, criminal charge-sheets, letteters, photos, postcards, and innumerable newspaper clippings. With these authentic reminders I found no difficultly retracing the path back to my earliest recollection of boyhood.
During the time I wrote and completed the first rough draft of the manuscript I was negotiating a passage to Moscow. This preecluded the incentive to write for money- I was going to a land where such was taboo (at least so I thought in 1931). In this respect alone this autobiography had an original beginning.
Two years in the Soviet Union, however, convinced me that, no matter what the system may be called, money is highly essential. I could have escaped much privation had I been less idealistic; gullible is a better word. Luckily, this disturbing truth came too late to affect my humble literary efforts. As the book was written, so it must be published: an account of personal adventure unembellished with imaginary heroics or highly colored descriptions of the mediocre.
The condemning feature, I realize, is that perhaps too much is condensed into such small space; but a sailor is accustomed by profession, and more often through necessity, to abbreviate when chronicling major happenings. An entry in the ship’s log calls for no scholastic training. A gale of wind, a hurricane, a typhoon, is brought down to a cipher on the Beaufort scale, and as such officially recorded. A mountainous sea that looked like the end of the world is entered: ” Five bells. Shipped extra heavy sea. Starboard lifeboat and hen-coop washed overboard. All hands on deck securing port lifeboat and gig. Ship awash and laboring heavily.”
There are some who may criticize my flouting law and order. I offer no alibis, apologies, or excuses. Anything I have done has been to satisfy curiosity or the urge for change, but mostly for the thrill of doing something unusual. I have been labeled “soldier of fortune” and “adventurer” ; the latter is possibly true, but I have yet to fight for remuneration. I quit the service of Britain during the War because she was winning. I fought in Ireland for the reason that there was no earthly hope of winning. I went to China to help the harassed forces of Chiang Kai Shek; when he became War Lord and an ally of the great powers I returned to America. My service with Byrd was voluntary. I became a rum-runner more out of curiosity than for gain. The world condemnation of the Soviet Union and the wall of hostility thrown around it made me determined to find out for myself the truth about actual conditions. The greater part of my service was north of the Arctic Circle under the most primitive conditions. A winter in latitude 70 degrees north, in summer underwear (most of my clothing was stolen while absent on the work of building up socialism), would hardly recommend itself to the average author who gives his impressions of Soviet Russia in the mass-production style. It has not been possible, however, to deal with my Russian experiences in this book; I may write about them in a later volume.
In omitting a hunt for buried treasure or the rescue of a beautiful maiden in distress who turns out to be an heiress or a princess, I may be unorthodox. In the former case the treasure I know of still remains to be salved, but nothing could tempt me to cut through malaria-infested jungles for the sake of gold. And as to the latter and romantic omission, I must truthfully state that any distressful maiden who crossed my path attributed to the writer a goodly portion of the distress.
One point I wish to keep before the reader. This book is written primarily by a sailor. The absence of fine phraseology comes from the fact that I never use any.
As you are readers, so are ye judges.
C. J. McG.
March 17th, 1935