With the release of journalist Terry Anderson, a grim era comes to an end. Anderson had been held since March 16, 1985, the longest of any American hostage. Because of the tireless efforts of his sister, Peggy Say, he had also become the best known.
But even as Americans rejoice, two Germans remain in captivity in the Mideast. More ominous, despite tentative moves toward peace in the region, any lasting settlement of long-standing disputes and grudges still appears a long way off. But the Mideast does not operate in a vacuum, and changes in the rest of the world -- primarily the end of the Cold War -- have vastly changed the playing field. True, the recent releases have come largely in response to the release of Arabs held prisoner by Israel. But in the larger scheme of things, Western hostages have lost much of their value as pawns in an East-West power struggle. Over the years, however, the hostage crisis produced its share of embarrassments for this country. The biggest, of course, was the Iran-contra scandal, after which the U.S. government could no longer maintain with any degree of credibility that it would never make deals with hostage-takers.
It would be premature -- and overly optimistic -- to proclaim an end to hostage-taking. There is no guarantee that nowhere in the world will innocent Americans ever again be in danger of losing their freedom for so long and in such cruel and inhumane circumstances. For now, however, it is enough to rejoice that the long captivity endured by Anderson and his fellow hostages has come to an end.