Posted on Aug 11, 2015
TSgt Joshua Copeland
185K
3.73K
955
344
344
0
Bedb0d74
67ae2902
One columnist of a major news periodical thinks so.

--
You know that racist flag? The one that supposedly honors history but actually spreads a pernicious myth? And is useful only to venal right-wing politicians who wish to exploit hatred by calling it heritage? It’s past time to pull it down.

Oh, wait. You thought I was referring to the Confederate flag. Actually, I’m talking about the POW/MIA flag.

I told the story in the first chapter of my 2014 book The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan: how Richard Nixon invented the cult of the “POW/MIA” in order to justify the carnage in Vietnam in a way that rendered the United States as its sole victim.

It began, as cultural historian H. Bruce Franklin has documented, with an opportunistic shift in terminology. Downed pilots whose bodies were not recovered—which, in the dense jungle of a place like Vietnam meant most pilots—had once been classified “Killed in Action/Body Unrecovered.”

During the Nixon years, the Pentagon moved them into a newly invented “Missing in Action” column. That proved convenient, for, after years of playing down the existence of American prisoners in Vietnam, in 1969, the new president suddenly decided to play them up.

He declared their treatment, and the enemy’s refusal to provide a list of their names, violations of the Geneva Conventions—the better to paint the North Vietnamese as uniquely cruel and inhumane. He also demanded the release of American prisoners as a precondition to ending the war.

This was bullshit four times over: first, because in every other conflict in human history, the release of prisoners had been something settled at the close of a war; second, because these prisoners only existed because of America’s antecedent violations of the Geneva Conventions in bombing civilians in an undeclared war; third, because, as bad as their torture of prisoners was, rather than representing some species of Oriental despotism, the Vietnam Communists were only borrowing techniques practiced on them by their French colonists (and incidentally paid forward by us in places like Abu Ghraib): see this as-told-to memoir by POW and future senator Jeremiah Denton. And finally, our South Vietnamese allies’ treatment of their prisoners, who lived manacled to the floors in crippling underground bamboo “tiger cages” in prison camps built by us, was far worse than the torture our personnel suffered.

(Time magazine quoted one South Vietnamese official who was confronted with stories of released prisoners moving “like crabs, skittering across the floor on buttocks and palms,” and responded with incredulity that such survivors even existed: “No one ever comes from the tiger cages alive.”)

Be that as it may: It worked. American citizens enacted a bizarre psychic reversal. A man from Virginia Beach, Virginia, described to a reporter the supposed treatment of American prisoners in North Vietnam: “They just dig holes in the ground and drop them in. They throw food down to them, and let them live there in their own waste.” In fact, that was how prisoners were treated in South Vietnam—as recently revealed in a shocking Life magazine exposé.

Children began wearing “POW bracelets,” drivers sported “POWs NEVER HAVE A NICE DAY” bumper stickers. As the late Jonathan Schell of The New Yorker memorably wrote during the war, the Americans were acting “as though the North Vietnamese had kidnapped 400 Americans and the United States had gone to war to retrieve them.”

Actually, it was worse: Whenever Nixon or one of his minions talked about the problem, they tended to use the number 1,400. The number of actual prisoners, was about 550. The number of downed, missing pilots were spoken of, prima facia, as if they were missing, too, although almost all of them were certainly dead.

And in 1971 that damned flag went up.

The flag was the creation of the National League of Families of Prisoners of War, later the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, a fascinating part of the story in itself.

The organization was founded by POW wife Sybil Stockdale, during the Johnson administration, in an effort to embarrass LBJ and challenge his line that all in Vietnam was going swell. Johnson tried to silence them; Nixon’s people, however, spying opportunity, coopted the group, sometimes inventing chapters outright, to fan the propaganda flames.

Then the war ended, the POWs (yes, all the POWs) were repatriated to great fanfare, one of them declaring: “I want you to remember that we walked out of Hanoi as winners”—a declaration that seemed to suggest, almost, that by surviving, the POWs had won the Vietnam War.

The moral confusion was abetted by the flag: the barbed-wire misery of that stark white figure, emblazoned in black.

It memorializes Americans as the preeminent victims of the Vietnam War, a notion seared into the nation’s visual unconscious by the Oscar-nominated 1978 film The Deer Hunter, which depicts acts of sadism, which were documented to have been carried out by our South Vietnamese allies, as acts committed by our North Vietnamese enemies, including the famous scene pictured on The Deer Hunter poster: a pistol pointed at the American prisoner’s head at exactly the same angle of the gun in the famous photograph of the summary execution in the middle of the street of an alleged Communist spy by a South Vietnamese official.

By then, the league and its flag had become the Pentagon’s own Frankenstein’s monster. You can read about the mess that resulted in the definitive book on the subject: Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War by Northwestern University’s Michael J. Allen.

Allen describes how Vietnam’s “refusal” to “account for” a thousand phantoms became an impediment to reconciliation and diplomatic recognition between the two nations. (How bizarre, how insulting, how counterproductive this must have been to a nation that must have suffered missing corpses in the thousands upon thousands?)

A delegation led by Congressman Gillespie “Sonny” Montgomery (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Missing in Action in Southeast Asia, traveled to Vietnam in 1975, convinced of the Nixon administration’s deception that hundreds of “MIAs actually” existed.

The members of Congress returned home, having found their Communist hosts warm and accommodating, doubting there were any missing at all. In hearings, a CIA pilot captured there in 1965 testified: “If you take a wallet-full of money over there, you can buy all the information you want on POWs on the streets.”

The House committee also produced evidence that China had manufactured stories of MIA in Vietnamese prison camps in order to keep the U.S. from normalizing relations with China’s Asian rival. No matter that the flag’s promoters were abetting an actual, real-live Communist conspiracy, from its original sightings above VFW and American Legion posts, the “You Are Not Forgotten” flag became as common as kudzu.

Midwifing an entire metastasizing Pentagon bureaucracy, the League of Families would also become an irritant to every future president. By 1993, 17 Americans were stationed in Hanoi in charge of searching for the missing and working to repatriate remains. They were provided a budget of $100 million a year, “over 30 times the value of U.S. humanitarian aid paid to Vietnam,” Allen writes.

It would have been evidence of Ronald Reagan’s old saw that the closest thing to eternal life is a government program—if Reagan were not a prime culprit: In 1988, he became the first president to fly the flag over the White House. The next year, Congress installed the flag in the Capitol rotunda.

In 1990, it was designated “a symbol of our nation’s concern and commitment to restoring and resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia.” Thus ending the uncertainty for their families and the nation.

The League of Families also still exists, and “continues to work at keeping the pressure on both Washington and Hanoi to bring complete resolution to this issue on behalf of each family with a loved one still missing in Vietnam.” My own state of Illinois holds a ceremony every year to honor the “66 Illinoisans listed as MIA or POW in Southeast Asia.”

And Bernie Sanders posted an image of the POW/MIA flag on Facebook in response to Donald Trump’s insult against John McCain. The message read: “They are all heroes.”

Actually, as I document in The Invisible Bridge, it’s more complicated than that: many of the prisoners were anti-war activists. One member of the “Peace Committee” within the POW camps, Abel Larry Kavanaugh, was harassed into suicide after his return to the U.S. by the likes of Admiral James Stockdale, who tried to get Peace Committee members hanged for treason.

Stockdale would become one of the nation’s most celebrated former POWs and a vice-presidential candidate. Kavanaugh took his life in his father in law’s basement in Commerce City, Colorado, in June 1973. Americans would agree that one of them—Stockdale or Kavanaugh—is not a hero—though they would disagree about which one is which.
That damned flag: It’s a shroud. It smothers the complexity, the reality, of what really happened in Vietnam.

We’ve come to our senses about that other banner of lies. It’s time to do the same with this.

https://archive.is/sVUot#selection-2277.0-2517.93
Posted in these groups: Racism_logo RacismPow_logo POW/MIA6262122778_997339a086_z Politics
Avatar_feed
Responses: 647
SGT Jeremiah B.
356
356
0
What the hell did I just read? I usually try to be generous and understanding, but yeah, I got nothin'. I think I just got dumber.
(356)
Comment
(0)
SPC Bill Bailey
SPC Bill Bailey
3 mo
It's no longer for POWs, they've come home. It's for the MIAs and there are still a lot of those.
(8)
Reply
(0)
SGT David Jackson
SGT David Jackson
2 mo
22610b4e
PO2 John Fronza - Knot "Knat", "Gnat". Gnot it?
(0)
Reply
(0)
SFC William Turner
SFC William Turner
1 mo
SPC Bill Bailey - Sorry Spc Baily, ALL the POW have not returned there ars many who never did.
(2)
Reply
(0)
SPC Bill Bailey
SPC Bill Bailey
1 mo
I meant the live ones came home, the others are MIA POWs and that flag is for them and the all the other MIAs.
(2)
Reply
(0)
Avatar_small
SFC James J. Palmer IV aka "JP4"
260
260
0
So I did an undercover operation to find facts or reasons why this could be a racist flag.

Results:

Nothing Found. NSTR.

JP
(260)
Comment
(0)
CPO Arthur Weinberger
CPO Arthur Weinberger
9 mo
My comment on your dogs waste; was expressed to mean useless criticism is a waste of space and time.
(2)
Reply
(0)
CPL John C. Lynch
CPL John C. Lynch
9 mo
SSG JP4--Nothing found cause nothing there. Proudly Fly my MIA/POW Flag and bring it to Work every MIA/POW Day to Fly off the Buildings Flag Pole. This guy reminds me of the day I had to call a Hotel flying the Japanese Flag on December 7th. When I mentioned it was Pearl Harbor Day to the eejit that answered, his response was, "Guess that's why we have it up."
(11)
Reply
(0)
SMSgt Jacob Verhoeff
SMSgt Jacob Verhoeff
8 mo
I try to remember that while that may have been why it got started, it's not what it means to many of us. I instead use the flag and the idea to honor those that have given;" that last measure of devotion...".
(4)
Reply
(0)
COL Jim Ainslie
COL Jim Ainslie
1 mo
CWO4 Will Bush - Just like all the folks on the Right are so understanding and willing to accept when their views might be wrong.
(0)
Reply
(0)
Avatar_small
SFC Mark Merino
158
158
0
Edited 5 y ago
17e7f54e
2015. The year of the weenie (or surgical removal thereof)...lol
(158)
Comment
(0)
MSgt Marvin Kinderknecht
MSgt Marvin Kinderknecht
7 mo
I agree. Everybody's daddy is a "hero". If you don't like "bud" you are a Racist. Words don't mean shit anymore. Which reminds me, the word "shit" is being used more often. You can't call it a hero or racist because no matter what the smell or color--- it is still SHIT. LOL
(3)
Reply
(0)
CPO Gerald Rahm
CPO Gerald Rahm
5 mo
Man are you fucked up nothing wrong with the flag
(4)
Reply
(0)
Sgt Robert Beckwith
Sgt Robert Beckwith
3 mo
Gerald I agree. It's a good flag. Makes the point at a glance. Don't need experts to explain it to us. That invisible bridge joker should have told John McCain that the NVA torture wasn't so bad. You know that after McCain refused to be released as a political gesture his fingers were broken... repeatedly. Until he signed a "confession". His hands were permanently crippled and painful. Up close he never looked like a well man. No I didn't much care for his behavior as a Arizona Senator but once upon a time he was a true hero. Can many of us say more?
(5)
Reply
(0)
CPL Edward Varnhagen
CPL Edward Varnhagen
3 mo
Sound like a protester from the 1960s, those that were not dodging gunfire in the boonies.
(1)
Reply
(0)
Avatar_small

Join nearly 2 million former and current members of the US military, just like you.

close