What If the Hostages Are Already Home?

By McCORMICK, Patrick | U.S. Catholic, August 1999 | Go to article overview

What If the Hostages Are Already Home?


McCORMICK, Patrick, U.S. Catholic


If your captors live in Iran or Serbia, your country will bring out the yellow ribbons, pray for your release, and welcome you home with parades. But if your captor lives under the same roof, writes Patrick McCormick, all too often yours is a life of dangerous obscurity.

MEN COMING HOME. THE SOLDIER RETURNING from battle, the captive back from his imprisonment, the lost husband cresting the last hill and spotting the rising smoke of a well-tended hearth. As Sam Spade said in The Maltese Falcon, "It's the stuff that dreams are made of." It's also one of the oldest stories we have in Western literature, a story Homer first fashioned when he spun his yarn about Ulysses' long trek across the Aegean, a story Luke recounts in his parable of the prodigal son, and a story etched into ancient Roman arches celebrating the return of victorious legions. Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Alexandre Dumas's Count of Monte Cristo both ached to get home from their exiles; Charles Frazier's prize-winning Cold Mountain tells of a confederate soldier's long walk home, and Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan has Tom Hanks and Matt Damon hoping for the same deliverance.

Over the past 20 years we've seen a particularly American version of this story take shape. It is the story of hostages returning. In 1980 we cheered as the long captivity of 52 Americans trapped in Tehran came to an end. Festooning our yards with yellow ribbons, we followed news reports of their flight to U.S. military hospitals in Germany, watched their haggard grins on CNN or Nightline, and welcomed them home from their torment.

A decade later we watched a similar drama enacted as folks like Edward Austin Tracy and Terry Anderson were finally set free from their Shiite and Lebanese captors. And though he was not ever taken prisoner by Bosnian Serbs, we reacted much the same when news broke that downed Air Force Captain Scott O'Grady had been rescued and was on his way home. More yellow ribbons. More grinning waves from a hospital in Germany. More hero's welcome.

The most recent reenactment of this now-familiar tale came in May when Jesse Jackson negotiated the release of three American soldiers being held by Slobodan Milosevic. Again we cheered at the news that Staff Sergeants Andrew Ramirez and Christopher Stone and Specialist Steven Gonzales would be coming home safely. Again we watched as they arrived in Ramstein, followed reports of their medical exams, and joined with their families and friends in welcoming them home.

Aside from the stopovers in Germany and the presence of yellow ribbons, the odysseys of these various hostages have several things in common.

First, these are all tales about people being kept in dangerous places far from home, tales about being kidnapped, beaten, and/or terrorized by strangers.

Second, in all of these stories deliverance from one's captors means safety. When these hostages arrive in Germany or the U.S. there is a huge sigh of relief because we know they are now out of harm's way. No terrorist or zealot, we believe, will be coming after them.

Third, not only are these returning hostages safe, they are welcomed. In short order they are hugged by their friends and relatives, cheered by their neighbors, and offered free medical care and temporary shelter by our government. The welcome mat is definitely out--as well it should be.

Fourth, in these stories the ex-hostages are treated as heroes. For having survived their often brutal captivity they are praised in the news and lauded by our politicians. They appear on talk shows, receive honors from their hometown neighbors, and occasionally write autobiographies.

And finally, as already noted, these are the stories of men. I mention this last fact because there is another set of hostage stories that is markedly different, a set of stories about American hostages where the captives are women. And while these other stories don't tend to get the sort of high-profile coverage normally reserved to school shootings and terrorist bombings, they are depressingly familiar to most of us. …

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