How to Be a Bored War Captive

Read the same damned book 20 times

How to Be a Bored War Captive How to Be a Bored War Captive

Uncategorized March 17, 2014 0

How to Be a Bored War Captive Read the same damned book 20 times America’s secretive operations in Colombia—targeting drug traffickers and leftist FARC... How to Be a Bored War Captive

How to Be a Bored War Captive

Read the same damned book 20 times

America’s secretive operations in Colombia—targeting drug traffickers and leftist FARC rebels—involve U.S. Special Operations Forces, the CIA and obscure private contractors flying covert surveillance planes.

The decades-long campaign has included no shortage of drama and tragedy … at least once playing out in the minds of FARC’s captives and on the pages of one acclaimed novel.

Marc Gonsalves, Tom Howes and Keith Stansel—Americans working for a Northrop Grumman subsidiary—were flying a counter-narcotics mission in Colombia in February 2003 when their Cessna Caravan spy plane crashed.

The three were captured by FARC. Five years later, U.S. intelligence helped pinpoint the rebels’ location. Colombian commandos disguised as aid workers rescued the Americans and 12 other hostages.

Gonsalves, Stansel and Howes are pictured here, from left to right, surrounded by staff at an Army hospital in 2009. (Photo via Wikipedia.)

In March 2009, Gonsalves and Howes spoke to reporters in a Pentagon-arranged teleconference. The only thing I wanted to know was how the men dealt with the boredom that comes from doing essentially nothing for five years. The boredom was “incredibly painful” at first, Howes said.

He said he would watch Gonsalves painstakingly clean mud out of the treads of his shoes, and “marveled how he could do that.” In time, Howes added, he learned Gonsalves’ trick: spending hours planning for, doing, then recalling the simplest tasks, all in a bid to keep his mind occupied. “I made a huge thing out of cleaning my shirt.”

Howes said he would also travel in his mind, “pick the most pleasurable things and dream about them.” He and the other captives would play chess for “hundreds and hundreds of hours.” “Wrapped up in a chess game, [we were] not mentally prisoners.”

Howes got his hands on a book—The General and His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez—and read it, out loud, 20 times. Sick of the book, he tried throwing it away, but each time, it somehow came back to him. Finally, he buried it.

In time, he said, his brain “grew that callousness … [where] I didn’t need quite so many crutches. I had accommodated mentally to being a prisoner.”

After the rescue, Howes said he got a call from Mexico. It was Marquez. “We talked for a while and he sent an autographed copy of the book.”

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