Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

POWs Then and Now

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.

 

More articles by:

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.  

May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail