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Life & Death : The hostage experience as told by Sean Langan

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

James Delingpole is joined in conversation by journalist and documentary film maker Sean Langan.

The Delingpole podcast, published every Thursday, is a guilty pleasure. I drive to work with two Spanish colleagues who do not have especially strong English skills, but they understand Thursday is Delingpole day. This week though with no work for Easter I took my daughter with me on the afternoon dog walk and I listened to Delingpole as she fell asleep in the buggy. What followed moved me and had me standing still contemplating life and family, even the dog showed tremendous dignity and patience as he waited for me to get underway.

Sean Langan is a documentary film maker who, by his own admission, stumbled into war reporting. He made a documentary on the Taliban a few short years before 09/11 brought global scrutiny to bear on the complicated region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Delingpole is fascinated by military history and they even compare the happenstance of Langan's career to that of Clare Hollingworth (who effectively broke the story of World War 2 to the world, read about her in Toothbrush & Typewriter, our obituary entry)

He came to notoriety when he was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008. The middle section of this interview goes into detail on his hostage experience. What transpires is a touching and incredibly moving dialogue on the powerful experiences of a mind faced with certain death.

Psychologists believe that when your life flashes before your eyes, it is a by product of the brain speed dialing your entire database of memory for useful information to help in the life threatening situation. I had experienced detailed recall when I was involved in a car accident and remembered years old conversations that provided vital information in how to handle a car in a spin. I heard an interview once with a surfer who suffered a shark attack and talked about remembering a wildlife documentary on television where someone gave the advice to poke a shark in the eye. Langan gives the most poignant description of this power of super human recall and how it lasted over the course of weeks not seconds. He talks of the power of the human mind to make extraordinary connections with others. He gives a powerful example of what is often referred to as "The Hundredth Monkey effect", named after an experiment observing monkeys on different Pacific islands, when it was posited that behaviour learnt by one island population could be adopted by populations on other islands.

The interview also touches upon other strange coincidences and serendipity in Langan's life that led to heart pounding moments throughout the interview. The interview itself will, I have no doubt, serve as a memory store survival guide for people in the future as he provides vital tips on how to survive a potential captivity situation or period of sustained isolation.

I found myself gripping my daughter's hand ever tighter as the interview progressed, it was a fascinating conversation and one I strongly recommend as a moving listening experience, you never know, it may just save your life.

Click on the image to access the podcast episode via podbean.

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