History Forgets Hostages


         During the four or five centuries of British imperial (colonial) power many of their citizens were taken hostage by the native peoples throughout the world from North America to India, Africa and Australia  for a total of tens of thousands of diplomats, entrepreneurs and their dependants having been killed as hostages (this does not include military casualties). In addition to these thousands killed, some women and especially children captives were incorporated into the native societies.  All of this is scarcely mentioned in history books with the exception of the British military incursion into Afghanistan in 1838 for the purpose of regime change (my source actually called it that).  After 12,000 British and Gurkha soldiers were killed, the departing Britons were ambushed during their planned withdrawal.  Many hostages were taken including diplomats’ dependents.  The expedition was “successful” in influencing Afghan foreign policy (Great Britain wanted a buffer between tzarist Russia and colonial India).


          Now that the United States has become the superpower, how do we expect to be treated      differently from our predecessor, Great Britain, when we fail, as they failed, to take foreign opinion (and colonists’ opinions) into account?  Pollsters recently asked Europeans how they would vote if permitted to participate in our upcoming election: only 6% of Germans, 4% of French and 5% of Spaniards said they approve of the Bush administration.  Would the percentage be even greater in favor of regime change in the United States if such polls could be taken in some other pertinent parts of the world?  How can 50% of Americans be so unconcerned with our acceptance by the rest of the world?  Or, are the opinion polls unreliable as they were in 1948 when several prominent newspapers were embarrassed by printing the headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN”?


           The foregoing is a brief composite summary of  articles by Linda Colley and Jonathan Freedland  published in the October 1-7, 2004, issue of The Guardian Weekly, a British newspaper.  Plagiarize my summary in any way that you see fit.  Harry Truman himself said, “It is remarkable how much you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”


           A remotely pertinent tidbit of history: At roughly the same time as the1838 British disaster in Afghanistan a group of Mormons perpetrated The Meadow Massacre (they said God told them to do it).  All the men of an entire wagon train en route to California were killed and the women and children forced to be Mormon converts.  Hostage takers’ (terrorists’) motives arise from the larger society from which they come-- the larger  society may even condone actions that they themselves would not consider.  For example, mortality in childbearing and the impact of polygamy contributed to  a shortage of women among the Mormon colonists in Utah.  Could such seedbeds of circumstance be pertinent to our discussion of terrorism in general?


         I say this not to defend hostage taking and other terrorism, but as a plea to avoid the mistakes of the British mentioned above.

John A. Frantz, M.D.

October 14, 2004                          


            Never fight evil as if it were something that arose totally outside yourself.

                                                                                                Saint Augustine