West meets East in Saudi Arabia in 1940s.
By 1950 the horrors of World War II had largely receded, and America dominated the brave new, post-war world. The promising oilfields wildcatted just before the war by American geologists in the arid, menacing Arabian wastelands of the Eastern Province were by mid-century gushing oil and luring former grunts and sailors and flyboys like thirsty camels to a sudden waterhole.
The Americans arrived with their flat-top haircuts, still-lean warrior physiques and that can-do American confidence that anything — “anything in the world” — is do-able if you just refuse to quit. Soon, sporting desert tans streaked with dirt and sweat, and a potent, adventurous brio, they were hard at work creating something from nothing—as Americans from Jamestown to Los Alamos to the Panama Canal had always done.
What the American oilmen and their Saudi hosts ultimately achieved would prove to be nearly miraculous, unleashing the world-changing power of a virtual subterranean sea of “black gold.” Coincidentally, it also inadvertently bequeathed to later generations the inevitable global warfare, social conflict and environmental degradation spawned by competition for and exploitation of a vital and precious yet innately toxic and planet-threatening fossil fuel.
My father, Albert Coleman Snedeker, then 29, had been assigned in 1949 to the new Arabian-American Oil Co. (Aramco) venture — a partnership of top American oil firms, including his employer, Standard Oil of California (SoCal).
In February 1953, Aramco transferred him from its New York office to field headquarters in Saudi Arabia. Because Aramco family housing was still under construction in Arabia, Dad had to temporarily leave the rest of us— my eldest sibling, Mike, 9; sister, Kathy, 4; me, 3; and Mom (the former Betty Brown)—behind in Walnut Creek, California. It was near where Dad grew up and his mother still lived. We left-behinds had moved from New York back to California when Dad departed for the desert.
We would join him about six months later in sunbaked Arabia, arriving on Aug. 7, 1953, at the fledgling Aramco-built airfield near Dhahran.