Posts Tagged ‘Bicentennial’

Idi Amin and Independence Day

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

July 4th, 1976 was remembered by most as the nation’s Bicentennial, its celebration of two hundred years of independence.  For a hundred or so people, nearly ten thousand miles away that day, the notion of liberty had a much more immediate connotation.

I was nearly one of them.

On June 27th, an Air France plane departed Israel’s Tel Aviv International Airport.  It had a termination destination of Paris, France, with a stop-over scheduled for Athens, Greece.  My family had just spent a week touring Israel and had tickets for the flight.  Our plan was to spend a week in Paris, see some sights, then return home.  We had an option to get off in Greece, where we were on the wait-list for a cruise of the Aegean Islands.

July 4, 1976 | Israel | Uganda

Israelis greet commandos returning from rescuing over 100 Israeli hostages from Idi Amin’s clutches at Entebbe, Uganda, on July 4, 1976.

A few days before the flight was scheduled to depart, we received word that a spot had opened up on the cruise.  My parents, realizing that a week aboard a luxury boat with occasional, light sightseeing stop-offs might be a more enjoyable family vacation than a week navigating the famously surly Parisian citizens stuck in the city for the summer, opted to book us on the cruise.

Several hours after we deplaned in Greece, we saw on the news that a plane had been hijacked by terrorists and flown to Entebbe in Uganda, where the hijackers had been given sanctuary by the nation’s dictator, Idi Amin Dada.  From all accounts, Amin bizarrely greeted the hostages as though he was the host of a Club Med and told them he hoped they would be very happy during their stay.  Even the terrorists were a bit put off.

Idi Amin Dada

Idi Amin Dada

We heard little more about the hijacking (this was, after all, in the days before ubiquitous, flat-earth communications), enjoyed our trip and flew home. We celebrated along with the rest of the country on July 4th, 1976, the 200th year since America’s liberation from England.  And as we watched the fireworks and explosives light up the sky from the safety of our homes, about 100 people were overseas, huddled in a dark airport, when a group of Israeli commandos burst in, lit up the sky with a different class of fireworks and explosives entirely, and liberated the hostages in what the Israelis dubbed Operation Thunderbolt.

As more and more details came in, my father and mother listened to the news reports, their faces registering something more than odd, something more than chilling.  I heard their hushed voices, saying things like, “Honey, was that…?” “Should we tell them…?” The kinds of conversations that many of my classmate’s parents were having all across my state, given their newfound embrace of California’s no-fault divorce laws.  Independence from each other, from unhappiness, from staring down their status as hostages in conformist structures for which they seemed unaware of ever having signed up.  Several of my friends, many of whose blank stares I would later liken to those of sufferers of Stockholm Syndrome, had overheard these conversations when the adults either didn’t know or didn’t care that they were listening.  In my case, however, my parent’s conversation had a far more literal bent, and my peripheral involvement was rewarded not with a trip to my favorite restaurant, but with a trip to the some of the world’s most famous remnants of other ruined civilizations.

The newspapers came and did a feature on the family that had narrowly missed an encounter with Idi Amin Dada and a brush with history.  The Air France pilot, who had been offered the opportunity to leave by the terrorists on account of not being an American or a Jew but had remained, insisting that he had a responsibility to see his passengers to safety, was fired, prompting my father to observe that only in France could someone be fired for a lack of cowardice.  The red white and blue tints that had been so prevalent in our lines of vision disappeared from our landscape entirely, the Bicentennial coins that had been circulated were spent or banked or pressed into commemorative plastic, and another school year started with a whole new batch of broken homes and shattered civilizations, the remnant wisps of terrorists, hostages, and history forgotten once again for another year and another time, but very much doomed to be repeated.

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