FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

POWs Then and Now

by MICKEY Z.

On Jan. 17, 1991, Navy Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, 32, was piloting a F/A-18 fighter jet at the start of the first Gulf War. Hit by an air-to-air missile fired by an Iraqi warplane, Speicher, known as a “top gun among fliers,” was later given up for dead. However, as reported by Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent, Christine Spolar (“U.S. hunts POW of ’91 war,” April 24, 2003), “Classified documents show that Speicher was seen years after being shot down.” As recently as early 2002, a host of unnamed, anonymous, yet “credible” sources declared Speicher to be alive and in Iraqi custody.

A faulty DNA test misidentified a body as that of Speicher’s and the case was considered closed. “His wife remarried, and she and her new husband, a former Navy pilot, had two children,” explained Spolar. When Speicher’s fighter plane was found, largely intact, in December 1993, everything changed. The Pentagon admitted the error and by 2000, President Bill Clinton publicly declared Speicher “might be alive” and “if he isSwe’re going to do everything to get him out.”

In reality, of course, little was done to secure Speicher’s release…but he was promoted twice and, dead or alive, is now a captain.

Besides highlighting U.S. military inefficiency and insensitivity, Speicher’s story evokes images of a soldier left behind to face inhuman torture in a hateful country. This image, along with more recent U.S. POWs like Jessica Lynch, resurrects a potent tool of wartime spin: The template of a dehumanized enemy victimizing the good guys (and girls) was forged during the U.S. invasion of South Vietnam.

“There are some fairly obvious needs being met by the images of American POWs tortured year after year by sadistic Asian communists,” states H. Bruce Franklin, author of MIA: Mythmaking in America. Considering the influence this fairy tale has wielded both in pop culture and in demonizing the Vietnamese, its veracity is remarkably tenuous. “It is unique,” Franklin says. “What distinguishes it is that this is an entirely manufactured issue.” It is also an emotional issue, an issue susceptible to spin. Spin-inspired emotion helps account for its durability; it helps explain how Americans have managed to ignore far greater numbers of MIAs in other wars. In WWII and the Korean War, between 20 and 25 percent of U.S. combat dead were never found. In Vietnam, it was 3.4 percent.

This is where the “manufactured” part comes into play. Upon his election in 1968, President Richard Nixon added an unusual precondition at the Paris Peace Talks with North Vietnam: Before the U.S. would agree to even discuss terms for ending the war, Hanoi and the southern insurgents must release all U.S. POWs. “This is totally crazy,” says Franklin. “This is not what belligerent nations do. They figure out the terms for ending the war and then they exchange POWs.” The New York Times, of course, did not agree. In 1969, the newspaper of record weighed in the POW/MIA debate, calling it a “a humanitarian, not a political issue,” before condemning “the Communist side” as “inhuman.” According to Franklin, “Nixon and Kissinger were manufacturing the belief that there might be POWs for very specific purposes: to renege of the $4 billion in aid and to keep the war going. There is irrefutable evidence that they were doing this and they were doing it consciously.” Wartime spin was once again called on to recast the enemy as a merciless villain and it worked. A pro-war group called Victory in Vietnam Association (VIVA) concocted a scheme to sell bracelets engraved with the names of POWS and MIAs to fund a campaign to raise awareness. Before the end of the war, more than 10 million Americans wore bracelets, including celebrities from Johnny Carson to Sonny and Cher to Nixon himself. Such lucrative mythmaking took root in a nation seeking to justify and explain its behavior and position. Celluloid POW-rescuers like Rambo and Chuck Norris exacted revenge not only on Vietnam but also on the U.S. government for its inaction. As late as 1991, 69 percent of Americans believed that POWs were still being held in Vietnam and 52 percent believed the U.S. government had not done enough to bring the POWs home.

With a handful of U.S. POWs having been held in the Gulf (and now destined for book deals and TV movies) and U.S. corporations poised to “rebuild” the post-Hussein Iraq, not much is said these days about those alleged POWs in Vietnam…where American sneaker companies now erect sweatshops and utilize impoverished Vietnamese as cheap labor.

So, how do you say “just do it” in Arabic?

MICKEY Z. is the author of The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet and an editor at Wide Angle. He can be reached at: mzx2@earthlink.net.

 

Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here. This piece first appeared at World Trust News.  

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail