By Alan Caruba
The taking of hostages is so commonplace that we only take notice when a former President of the United States is compelled to be an accomplice to a “photo op” in order to free two Americans.
Why the two young women thought they could enter the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea without extensive prior negotiations with this nation of international thugs defies understanding, but that they worked for former Vice President Al Gore’s television channel, Current, adds to the mystery. They caused their government a lot of trouble.
I am increasingly of the opinion that Americans who put themselves at such unnecessary and generally stupid risk should be left to suffer whatever fate befalls them. While the State Department can and should initiate efforts to get them out, going out of our way to accommodate rogue regimes hardly seems worth it.
Contrast this with the young Israeli, Gilad Shalit, who has been held hostage in the Gaza Strip by Hamas since his capture in 2006. Yes, three years ago. In July, Hamas said that Israel has to release more than 1,000 Arab and Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinians so routinely have taken Israeli soldiers hostage that it is part of the “normal” relations that exist and Israel has in the past traded large numbers of terrorist prisoners for one or more of their own soldiers.
Iran is currently holding three American hikers hostage who they say strayed into their territory. Our troubles with Iran began in 1979 when that nation broke every international law by taking 53 American diplomats hostage and holding them for 444 days. Hostage taking is their idea of initiating a dialogue. It is what passes for diplomacy with these thugs.
If the United States wasn’t so damned civilized, I would love to see us take Mamoud Ahmadinejad hostage the next time he attends a United Nations meeting and Hugo Chavez, too. We could liberate two entire nations if we did. And it might cut down on Barack Obama’s travel plans. He’d have to do all his apologizing for America from the White House.
In July three members of Iran’s elite Quds Force, a unit of Iran’s military and intelligence establishment, who were seized in Iraq by the United States forces and held for more than two years were turned over to Iraq and returned to Iran. We were, however, engaged in a war at the time and Iran has been manufacturing the devices that kill our soldiers, so these guys were prisoners of war.
It strikes me that we live in a world not that dissimilar to earlier, more primitive times, in which taking hostages was an ordinary aspect of discourse between tribes or governments or just gangs seeking bargaining tools who just happen to be human beings.
It can be argued that a superpower like the United States cannot afford to stand by idly when our people are taken hostage. If we do, we’re told, it undermines our perceived power to do something about it, but generally speaking the U.S. always negotiates as opposed to staging a military action that could trigger the hostage’s murder and other ramifications. When Jimmy Carter finally got around to doing anything, the military mission was a disaster.
The Guantanamo quandary of prisoners taken on the field of battle will likely be resolved by the Obama administration by letting most of them go, although that has encountered difficulties because few nations want to accept them on any terms. Even U.S. states have made it known they do not want them in their prisons. They are not, however, hostages. They are “enemy combatants” swept up in an “asymmetric war” where the enemy does not wear a uniform.
Clearly, hostage taking cannot be taken lightly. Much of the world depends on tourist travel and, for that, tourists need to be confident they will not be seized and/or killed. Even so, I doubt many tourists are visiting the Sudan or Somalia these days. Mexico is a hotbed of kidnappings, but they seem to leave the touristas alone for the most part. However, if you are making travel plans, you can feel confident visiting Switzerland or Vatican City.
Hostage taking is, of course, not a joking matter, but it has been so much a part of history that, unless you are a valuable bargaining chip for some nation or group, you can and should pretty much kiss your rear end goodbye if they grab you.
Don’t expect for it to end any time in your lifetime or beyond.