I happened to be in the car with the radio on during Wednesday afternoon’s White House press conference. President Obama was in the middle of announcing changes to the government hostage policy, which outlines how America officially (i.e. publicly, as opposed to behind closed doors via secured lines) deals with terrorists who have kidnapped Americans. The president affirmed that the official stance remains unchanged—we don’t negotiate with terrorists.
So what changed? What changed is how our government will work with the families of hostage victims. “…the government’s handling of these hostage cases—and in particular its interaction and communication with families whose loved ones have been taken hostage—must improve,” the White House said in a statement. From the sounds of it, families were treated like a nuisance with a total lack of compassion or empathy for the pain they were going through.
As I listened to the president speak, trying to digest what it all meant, I realized it was as much a notification that the world had just changed as it was an announcement that families of hostage victims no longer have to fear prosecution for trying to rescue their kidnapped child. I’m about to become a parent for the first time, so I’m starting to take notice of these changes on a new and deeper level. While I admit I lean towards the pessimistic, I’m not some doom-and-gloom kind of guy. There are plenty of Fox News subscribers already. But it’s clear that the world I grew up in was far different than the one my son will soon experience.
For an introvert, change is naturally hard for me. I have to remind myself that change itself isn’t bad. Certainly not all of the changes over the past 30 years have been for the worse. I love my iPhone 6 (especially my second one). But when the president calls a press conference to publicly announce changes to the American hostage policy, the WTF siren in my head starts to go off.
Never before have we been forced to have a headline-making national discussion about hostage scenarios. Yes, we had the Iran hostage crisis, but it was a one-off act that necessarily deserved top billing on the five o’clock news. Other than that, the “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” mantra was just a banal line muttered in every great mid-90s Harrison Ford film.
Now, in 2015, the hostage problem is apparently reaching epidemic proportions… rampant enough to warrant official policies, updates to such policies and White House statements. The frequency with which Americans are being taken hostage is high enough that the entire U.S. population now needs to be in on the conversation.
“Over the past decade, we have witnessed a significant shift in hostage-takings by terrorist organizations and criminal groups that has challenged the ability of the U.S. Government to secure the safe recovery of U.S. nationals taken captive,” the White House said in its announcement of Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 30, U.S. Nationals Taken Hostage Abroad and Personnel Recovery Efforts. “ The wanton and brutal murder of several Americans held hostage over the past year lays bare the magnitude of this challenge.”
We now live in a world where our government believes it’s in everyone’s best interest to know the hostage rules—presumably to prepare ourselves and our kids for the day we get kidnapped overseas. Pessimist or not, it’s hard to take this news with anything but a twinge of sadness and a cynical feeling of loss.
Sure, we can be resilient, stand tall, and “insert your favorite patriotic pledge here”… but I’m starting to miss the days when the prominent news out of the Oval Office was about stained dresses and the misuse of presidential cigars.
Featured image via Flickr user Matt Coats