World War II was a tumultuous time for the women of Darien.

Husbands and sons were sent to fight overseas; mothers and daughters enlisted as nurses and factory workers; the entire nation was focused on a far-off land few had ever visited, let alone read about.

"World War II made everybody realize that they didn't know as much about the world as they should," said Darien resident Susan Bhirud, whose parents lived through the conflict.

So, a group of women from the Darien Community Association came together in 1956 to organize a lecture series, with each meeting covering a different angle of an international issue. More than 50 years later, the program has continued with the same goal -- educating women, and the greater public, on global dilemmas impacting the United States.

Taking place on Thursday mornings and one evening in January, the Academic Lecture Series on Global Issues will focus on the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, a region of immense wealth and poverty, social inequality, abundant resources, government corruption and growing extremism. The program will take a closer look at Saudi Arabia and Yemen, nations of particular import to the national and economic security of the United States, Bhirud said.

"The situation in Yemen is a breeding ground for unhappy people, and history tells us that unhappy people can cause problems for the entire world," she added.

On Friday, Jan. 7, Christopher Boucek, an associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, will speak more specifically on the causes and nature of this "unhappiness" in his lecture, "Yemen on the Brink."

According to Boucek, Yemen is facing an array of challenges -- rampant unemployment, corruption and civil conflict; and waning social services, natural resources and arable land. The growing presence of Al-Qaeda has exacerbated these issues and threatened the security of the United States, he added.

Boucek said if conditions are to improve, the U.S. government must change its diplomatic approach to the country.

"We're dealing with it as if it was a failed state," he said. "We need to change the way we deal with Yemen.

The series continues on Thursday, Jan. 13, when Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations speaks on "Women and the Struggle for Reform in Arabia." The third lecture, on Thursday, Jan. 20, will feature independent journalist Brian O'Neill, whose topic is "Multiplying the Threat: The Minor Role and Major Impact of Al-Qaeda in Yemen." On Thursday, Jan. 27, David Ottaway of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars will explore "The U.S.-Saudi Relationship: Refound Allies."

The series concludes on Tuesday, Feb. 1, with Ambassador Barbara Bodine's lecture, "Reflections Past and Present on the Arabian Peninsula." Bodine, the former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, is a professor at Princeton University.

The series is an opportunity for adults, many of whom have been on an extended vacation from the academic world, to keep up with international issues.

"What we choose are places in the world -- and occassionally, an issue -- that we feel the people in our area don't know enough about," Bhirud said.

Launched a little more than a decade after the war, the lecture series began as " a way for women to learn about the world," Bhirud said. Since then, men have slowly joined the ranks of the attendees and the popularity of the series has mushroomed.

As the world becomes more globalized, it becomes increasingly difficult for America to ignore events in other parts of the world, and this makes knowledge of Yemen and Saudi Arabia all the more important, Bhirud said.

"All these international issues ultimately affect the united states, and that's what people realized as a result of World War II," she said. "This is even more apparent today."

The Darien Community Association is at 274 Middlesex Road, Darien. Thursday, Jan. 6, 13, 20 and 27 at 10 a.m.; Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 8 p.m. $80, $65 for members for morning series; $25 for evening lecture and reception. 203-655-9050,

Facts about the Arabian Peninsula

"¢ Includes Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen, running from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea.

"¢ The wealthiest countries are the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia; Saudi Arabia because of its vast oil reserves and the UAE because of Dubai, an important financial center.

"¢ In Saudi Arabia, the Qur'an is the basis of its constitution and the country is governed by Shira (Islamic law).

"¢ Saudi Arabia is an important ally of the United States, and a large supply of its oil is purchased by the latter country.

"¢ In contrast, much of Yemen is a war zone racked by tribal feuds. In recent years, Al Qaeda in Yemen has become increasingly threatening.