Face to Face with Charles Jaco

By Mary Emerson and Jamal Hasan

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While we shall long remember and hopefully never forget the men and women who fought in Desert Storm, it is sometimes easy to overlook or understate the bravery of media personnel assigned to the war-people on whom we depended day and night to disregard their own safety to give us play-by-play description of a war literally falling over their heads. These media people, strategically placed in the center of Baghdad when thousands of fireballs rained from the sky, in Saudi Arabia as a neighboring country and enemy of Iraq, in Kuwait City as liberation began as well as countless other important, dangerous locations, deserve a special round of applause and rememberance in their own right.

They are unsung heros we came to know up close, in our homes, every waking hour we could afford as we hungered desperately for information on our loved ones in uniform, for information about the progress of the undertaking and about our very survival as a nation. In the spirit of acknowledging these outstanding persons in the media, we turned our eyes to a fellow South Floridian, Charles Jaco. Who could forget the serious minded, youthful Jaco, as he relayed the live scenario in Saudi Arabia while air raids, Scuds and Patriot interceptions interrupted his transmissions from time to time? Who could forget his calm, unswerving dedication to the job before him under perilous conditions, and the accuracy and detail of his reporting? Without guns, they stood the heat of battle and learned much from their experiences.

Since the war drums of Desert Storm have halted, leaving the imprint of their hideous noises still beating in our brains, it seems time to reflect with people like Charles Jaco on what it all meant, personally and collectively. We asked Charles Jaco some heart-to-heart questions, which we are pleased to share. His answers are verbatim, so as not to distort the truth as he saw it and now sees it, as follows:

Question: What was your experience in the Middle East like?

Jaco: It was eye-opening. In that I saw both the utmost heroism and the most barbaric acts juxtaposed. Coming near death several times made me realize just how precious life really is, and how much we should value every moment we’re alive.

Question: Were you frightened?

Jaco: Definitely. When we were in Saudi, we had no way of knowing if the next Scud might land on our position. When we went into Kuwait ahead of the Allied troops, we had no way of knowing if we might walk into an Iraqi ambush, or whether Allied air forces might attack us by mistake.

Question: Do you think the war ended at the right time, or do you think it should have gone on longer including the ousting of Saddam Hussein?

Jaco: The Allies were just going along with the UN Resolutions, which called for the ouster of Saddam from Kuwait. The resolutions said nothing about invading Iraq, or killing Saddam.

Question: Do you think the Persian Gulf War will start up again?

Jaco: It all depends on whether Saddam Hussein refuses to go along with the UN resolutions that ended the war. It also depends upon Iran. Many in U.S. policy making circles say a future conflict with Iran may be likely.

Question: Are you glad you had the chance to be part of the Persian Gulf scenario?

Jaco: Extremely glad. Professionally, it afforded me the opportunity of my career. Personally, it allowed me to travel to Iraq, Jordan, Saudi, Kuwait, and Iran experiences I will never forget.

Question: If you meet Saddam Hussein what will you say to him; or what would you like to say to him?

Jaco: I would ask him why his people should trust him, after they were led into war by him. I would also ask him why his country was busily constructing nuclear weapons, and why his troops never used gas or chemical warfare during the war.

Question: You have visited Saudi Arabia and many of the Gulf states – Kuwait also. Do you think that so-called Pan Arabism has some grounds or that they will always clash among themselves on different agenda?

Jaco: The war pretty much buried the myth of Pan Arabism. They never before considered that Arab state would attack one another. Saddam shattered that illusion. It could be that the Arab states will now act in their own national self interest, rather than in the name of a vague Pan Arabism.

Question: Do you think there is any possibility of the Saudi society ever becoming a secular modernistic one?

Jaco: There could be a good possibility, but the Saudi royal family is terrified of reaction from conservative mullahs. So the royal family seems intent on keeping Saudi society confined within the limits of Islamic law. They seem to be trying to erase all Western influences that came into their country during the war.

Question: Do you think the war facilitated some kind of partisan politics in US?

Jaco: It’s been said that the real reason for the war was oil, and denying Saddam’s control over the vital oil shipping areas of the Persian Gulf. That doesn’t fit any one party’s agenda, but could be lumped generally under the label of US nationalism.

Question: Did you have any cultural shock, and if so, can you cite one or two happenings in this regard?

Jaco: The culture shock I experienced came mostly from the ways Saudis, Kuwaitis and others treat women. I was amazed that the Saudis were so surprised over the fact that American women served in the armed forces and the media.

Question: Where did you stay during the war – hotel, shelter?

Jaco: During most of the war, once we stayed at a hotel, rest of the time we slept wherever we could – in our jeeps, in the desert, or in the homes of Kuwaiti resistance sympathizers.

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Charles Jaco, the CNN correspondent during the first Gulf War is now a broadcaster with a St. Louis TV station. He is also a radio talk-show host. The above interview was published in The Voice of Bangladesh, New York, April, 1992.

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