Two who triumphed over terror. Books by former hostages in Lebanon are spiritual odysseys of trial, suffering, forgiveness, and eventual freedom
Hostage Bound, Hostage Free, by Ben and Carol Weir, with Dennis Benson. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. 180 pp. $12.95. Triumph over Terror on Flight 847, by Capt. John Testrake with David J. Wimbish. Old Tappin, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Company. 256 pp. $14.95.Skip to next paragraph
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ON May 8, 1984, Ben and Carol Weir were strolling to a meeting at an ecumenical Christian seminary in west Beirut when a car pulled up behind them. In what is now a familiar scenario, two gunmen forced the Presbyterian minister into the back of their car and sped away. For the next 495 days, the Rev. Mr. Weir was held hostage by the Islamic Jihad (``Islamic holy war'') organization.
On June 14, 1985, Capt. John Testrake was piloting TWA Flight 847 between Athens and Rome when two gunmen burst into the cockpit and ordered the plane flown to Algeria. It was the beginning of one of the most bizarre hijackings in history, an ordeal that would soon break down into the second mass hostage trauma for the United States.
The subsequent plight of both men marks the emergence of the foreign hostage phenomenon as the most effective tactic of Middle East terrorists in the 1980s. Since 1982, 131 foreigners from 18 nations have been abducted in Lebanon; 55 have been Americans. Eight Americans are still in captivity in Lebanon.
Their ordeals have gripped the US and made the yellow ribbon into a national symbol. Yet, while hostages command world headlines during captivity, too little attention is paid to their subsequent, often politically discomforting comments.
Two books, which reflect a special genre within the burgeoning literature on terrorism, offer insights into the ominous new hostage trend as well as interesting commentary on US policy response. ``Hostage Bound, Hostage Free'' by Ben and Carol Weir and ``Triumph over Terror'' by John Testrake are moving accounts of their similar but separate captivities. They are also narratives about politics, religion, and human suffering - of all involved.
The strength of both books is the straightforward, almost understated style. Despite initial anger and anxiety, Weir and Testrake are coolheaded, honestly disclosing moments of humor and humanity as well as occasions of cruelty by Islamic extremists.
Weir, whose abduction was linked to demands to free 17 convicted and imprisoned Lebanese and other Shiite extremists in Kuwait, spent more than a year in primitive solitary confinement. He was perpetually chained to a radiator and blindfolded whenever his captors were nearby. He was interrogated once and threatened often. His wedding ring was stolen; two of several buildings in which he was held were wired with explosives to prevent rescue attempts.
Yet Weir usually received the basics he requested - a Bible, vitamins, eye ointment, and warmer clothing during winter - plus infrequent surprises. A yule log cake and cologne were given on Christmas, a jigsaw puzzle at New Year's, and hamburgers to mark evening feasts during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. As time passed, more books - from George Orwell and Albert Camus to poetry and trashy mysteries - were provided. During intense fighting, he was given a flak jacket, which his captors noted they could not afford for themselves.
His exchanges with the rotating young guards are the most revealing passages. One had studied physics at Lebanese University and had hoped for a graduate scholarship to the US, but the Beirut government ran out of money; instead he joined a militia that paid less than $35 a month. Another struggled briefly to learn English. Several queried Weir about Christianity.