I was looking forward to my second day of work at a bank in Kuwait City when the Iraqi army invaded. For the next 28 days I was a fugitive from Saddam Hussein's secret police, at times hiding in the homes of Kuwaitis.
I was captured when I left a safe house to deliver a message to a Westerner still at my hotel. The following day I was brought up to Baghdad as, in the best Orwellian tradition, a "peace guest" being "hosted" at a possible military target.
Only a minority of the Americans trapped in Kuwait and Iraq are hostages. The rest are better described as fugitives, although, from an immediate physical perspective, it is probably better to be a hostage.
When hiding in an Arab's house I found the days dragging on forever, the food growing more and more limited, the tension rising and the morale ebbing. Nevertheless, I was not directly in the hands of the Iraqis and I preferred it that way.
After my capture the chief Iraqi secret police officer demanded to know where I had been hiding, where the other Americans were and which Arabs had been protecting me. Saying I had 15 minutes to talk, he brought his AK-47 level with my chest. I kept to my story that I had been in an abandoned part of the hotel the entire time, and on the following day I was brought to Baghdad.
Initially, I stayed at a luxury hotel, but was soon moved to the military site, where I celebrated my 25th birthday. The other hostages and I were well-treated; indeed, we ate better than our captors. I was startled one night to find them devouring our leftovers in the kitchen.
I never had the feeling that the Iraqis hated me. Rather, I felt most were simply carrying out orders they wished had not been issued.
One day in the hotel, I was trying to teach a member of the secret police to play squash. After a few minutes in the isolation of a concrete squash court, he whispered to me, "Saddam Hussein -- he is madman."
Many in the West have taken to linking the words "battle-hardened" and "Iraqi army." A better description is "battle-exhausted."
Before going into hiding I spoke with Iraqi soldiers guarding the beach beside my hotel. Some seemed no older than 12, few could read or write, and all were scared. Most had suffered through the eight-year war with Iran and none understood why Saddam Hussein had put their nation on the brink of another war.
I asked one group of soldiers what they thought would happen if a war started. One soldier pointed to himself and his three comrades. He then drew his finger across his throat and pretended to die.
There appear to be some Western bigots who do not seem to care about the Kuwaitis. They call their culture "medieval" and autocratic and thus not entitled to our help. These critics do the Kuwaitis a severe injustice.
Kuwait was a nation whose people had led a peaceful existence prior to Aug. 2. No one would mistake Kuwaitis for Afghans. Yet when they found their way of life destroyed by a feared and ruthless dictator, many began an armed struggle that was by any objective standard suicidal. From sniper attacks at night to gasoline bombs thrown on tanks, the Kuwaitis attacked the Iraqis.
They were also kind and generous. Even though food was in short supply, with long lines outside the stores, one proprietor invited me in the back door and urged me to take whatever I wanted, for free.
The Iraqi secret police were supervising the hunt for Westerners, and Saddam Hussein had announced anyone caught harboring us would be executed. In spite of this I had repeated offers of shelter. The Kuwaitis and other Arabs were willing to risk their lives and the lives of their families to protect me.
Many of these people were wealthy, and they could have gone to Monte Carlo and spent their millions. They did not. They were willing to die for their country and the safety of people such as me, all the while pleading for our aid. One man asked: "When will the United States come? We need you today. We have no guns and they are killing us all."
I hope the fugitives and hostages are freed, that the Iraqis will not have to die in another of Saddam Hussein's senseless wars and that the Kuwaitis will regain their sovereignty.
THOMAS EWALD was deputy head of international banking at Al-Ahli Bank.