Commentary : All Share Duty to Liberate Hostages


“We are alive! We were told yesterday someone claiming to be Islamic Jihad telephoned the news media and said that all the American hostages had been shot and killed. . . . I cry for the hurt that the false report has given all of you. Please keep the faith. I shall survive! All my love, Dad.”

So reads a postscript to a letter written by my father, David Jacobsen, on Nov. 8, 1985. He was six months into what has now become an eleven-month imprisonment in a “small windowless room” somewhere in Lebanon.

A phone call never was received claiming Peter Kilburn had been killed. A letter from Peter contradicting the rumor of his death was not delivered the following day. His body was found by the side of a road, alongside the bodies of two Englishmen, shot in the head, disfigured to the point that initially he was mistaken for one of the other hostages. They were killed April 17 in retaliation for Britain’s role in the U.S. air raid on Libyan targets.

I’ve been assured by experts that the longer a man is held hostage, the harder it is for his captors to kill him. They begin to know him as a human being, not just as an animal in a cage. Peter was held for sixteen months, longer than the hostages in Iran, TWA and Achille Lauro combined, and that obviously wasn’t enough time for his captors to come to know him as a human being.


There is no assurance that Father Lawrence Jenco, Terry Anderson, David Jacobsen, Thomas Sutherland, William Buckley and Alec Collett are known to their captors as fellow human beings. There is no indication that the groups holding them would hesitate in their executions. There is nothing to calm our fears that eventually all of these innocent men will suffer the same fate.

My father also wrote in that same letter: ". . . quiet diplomacy has not resulted in the release of a single hostage in two years. William Buckley is presumed dead. He could and should be alive if there had been a reasonable effort made on his behalf.”

This reasonable effort my father refers to is not limited to the U. S. government. It is an effort required of all of us. It needs to come from President Reagan, from the American people and from the captors of these men as well. Indifference by any party could result in the continued imprisonment and the same tragic end suffered by Peter Kilburn.

The American people can be the catalyst that initiates the eventual release. We’ve seen it before with Iran and the TWA hijacking. A mandate from the people gets action.


This mandate should be directed three ways, first to our fellow citizens. We are not free from responsibility toward fellow Americans. We can not allow the present hostages to be forgotten or needlessly killed. We are setting a precedent that may determine our own lives should we fall victim to a similar act of violence.

Secondly, it should be directed to President Reagan. If he is allowed to sacrifice these men in his war on terrorism, then he will sacrifice any one of us in a similar situation. If he is fighting to save the lives of innocent Americans, here are some innocent lives waiting to be saved.

And thirdly, our mandate should be directed to the captors of these innocent men. We need to make a spiritual plea, as fellow human beings, as children of the same God, to release these innocent hostages.

As the son of a present hostage, as a possible future victim of terrorism, I ask every American who worships God to pray for their immediate and safe release and to begin generating this mandate through your own place of worship. Let’s send a spiritual message to the captors, to President Reagan and to our fellow Americans, saying, “The lives of these men are important! We will not allow them to die!”


It is a simple choice. During the homecoming of these men, will we be able to greet them with pride, knowing that we did everything possible to contribute to their safe return? Or will we lower our eyes in shame knowing that our indifference has prolonged their captivity and resulted in their deaths?

Keep in mind, should any one of us fall victim to a similar fate, we will receive nothing more than these men have received.