Sun, Feb 18, 2001 - Page 17 News List

A brush with evil

McGill Alexander, the former South African military attache to Taiwan, who along with his family was held hostage by Taiwan's most wanted fugitive, has recently released a book detailing the chaotic events of that night and his family's forgiveness toward their captor

By David Frazier  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Alexander family is shown here in South Africa. Four members of the family were taken hostage in Taipei in 1997 by one of Taiwan's most notorious criminals. The father, McGill Alexander, has recently released a book detailing the incident and how his family came to forgive the man who threatened their lives.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CLADACH PUBLISHING

On the evening of Nov. 18, 1997, McGill Alexander and his family were taken hostage by Chen Chin-hsing (陳進興), one of the most notorious criminals Taiwan has ever known. For Taiwan and its rapacious media, this hostage crisis was the spectacular climax of an eight-month crime spree and manhunt involving Chen and two other criminals. It was a finale of showdowns and gunfire presented live on national TV.

In December, Alexander released a book titled Hostage in Taipei through Cladach Publishing, a small publisher in California. The 317-page volume describes his personal experience of the night during which he and his daughter were shot and his wife and adopted infant were held at gunpoint for 20 grueling hours. Though the book has not yet seen an official release in Taiwan, it is available in English at some local book stores, including Eslite (誠品). In April, a Chinese translation will be released locally by the Cosmax Publishing Co.

Unlike the portrayal of events in the Taiwan media, Alexander's account does not dwell on the mania and bloodshed of those moments. Instead, he tells the tale of how the wickedest person he ever met turned to God. In the process, he levels some justified criticisms at both the Taiwan's police and media.

Though I have never met Alexander in person, I know from news reports, photos and his book that he is a man of imposing stature. In the book Alexander mentions -- almost as an aside -- that his career has included "pathfinder training with the Israeli paratroopers, then commando training with the Chilean special forces and airborne exercises with the British Parachute Regiment in the Netherlands." In 1997, he was in Taiwan as a colonel, serving as South Africa's military attache. Now at the age of 53, he is a brigadier general, and his active duty continues. A significant portion of the book, he told me, was written while on active duty in KwaZulu-Natal, a region of South Africa that has been on the brink of civil war for nearly two decades.

Though he has been a soldier for much of his life, he does not display much of a rough exterior. Over the phone, his voice comes across as a warm baritone. He spoke eloquently in statements that were measured and even. If one dares judge from impressions, the impression he gave was one of gentle and tempered strength.

One can imagine that this man, a commander, was not at all comfortable tied up and at the end of a madman's gun. And despite his cool demeanor and rugged background, he could not help but admit that there was something especially dire about that night when Chen eased into his livingroom with a gun at the cheek of Christine, his 12-year-old daughter.

"I think there have been other occasions where I've probably been as close if not closer to death," said Alexander. "One doesn't know. When a bomb explodes almost next to you, how close were you to death? Or if a bomb lands right next to you and it doesn't go off, you again think to yourself how close were you to death ... but I've never been in a position where I was, one, so personally helpless and unable to do anything about it, and two, where my family was under the severest threat. I could do nothing. I had to sit and watch what was being done to them. I think that was the greatest pain, the greatest angst that I had to go through during that time."

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