John McCarthy: Surviving Freedom

This resource is great for:
Looking at an example of a hostage situation and its aftermath.

Listen to clips from journalist John McCarthy’s event at the 2012 Edinburgh International Book Festival and then use the discussion points to further explore hostage situations and the impact on your life once you have been freed.

John McCarthy CBE is a British journalist, writer and broadcaster.

In April 1986, he was kidnapped by Islamic Jihad terrorists in Lebanon while working for a TV news agency. He was held in captivity for nearly 2,000 days until his release in August 1991.

Following his release, he co-authored with Jill Morrell a memoir of his years in captivity entitled Some Other Rainbow.

In 2012, he delivered the Frederick Hood Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Listen to extracts from his discussion with journalist Allan Little and then use the discussion points below to start a class conversation.

Activity – Discussion Points

In the extract below, John McCarthy describes being kidnapped in Lebanon, while working as a journalist in Beirut.

  • What do you make of John’s reaction to the frightening events?
  • Are you surprised that he felt calm at the moment he thought he was going to be shot?
  • What do you think his experience teaches about the resilience of people in desperate situations?
  • Can you relate this to more ordinary challenges in your own life?

 In the following short extract, John talks about the laughter among the terror.

  • Does it surprise you that there was humour and laughter among the hostages?
  • What does this tell us about how people cope with adversity?

In the following section, John describes his release after being held hostage for more than five years, and finding himself in the public eye

  • What do you imagine was the effect of freedom on someone after all those years in captivity?
  • How difficult would it be to settle back into ordinary life?
  • Do you agree with his view that he wasn’t a hero?
  • What added pressures would there be due to his celebrity status?
  • Discuss the potential impact of his return on his girlfriend and his family.
  • Do you think you would have a different perspective on life if you had been through John’s experience?

In the following section, John remembers talking about his experience and reliving it in the book he wrote with his girlfriend Jill, who campaigned for his release.

  •  Do you think writing about a bad experience is a good way to cope with it?
  • Why do you think John emphasises the importance of other people in the story? What does he mean when he says they were hostages too?

Thinking about all the extracts you have heard:

  • What does John’s story tell us about man’s inhumanity to man and the motivations for that behaviour?
  • The topic of the Frederick Hood Lecture is inspiration. In what ways do you find John McCarthy inspirational?

Further information:

You can read more of John McCarthy’s story in his book, Some Other Rainbow which you can buy here.

More information on the Frederick Hood Memorial Lecture:

In 2008 Frederick Hood died tragically in an avalanche at the age of 28. Fred revelled in academia, studying in the UK, US and Italy. He was also active in the arts, debating and drama as well as in business and finance.

The Frederick Hood event was established by Fred’s former colleagues at Walter Scott to celebrate his life and his talents. The idea of an annual lecture under the auspices of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with whom Walter Scott shares a Charlotte Square address, seemed an apt way to embrace the subjects, the city and the festival of which he was so passionate.

Inspiration comes in many forms and the ambition of the annual Frederick Hood Memorial Lecture is to highlight, honour and promote an inspirational individual or event. The pre-requisite is simply a story of inspiration, the source of which is limitless.

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Supported by Walter Scott & Partners Limited