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

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail