Please, read the whole thing
Short form reading recommendations are usually reserved for the sidebar, but I feel compelled to give this one front page billing. Sydney Schanberg – a Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose work inspired “The Killing Fields” – has written an absolutely damning indictment of our government’s cursory efforts to recover prisoners of war from Vietnam. Excerpts don’t do the piece justice, but here’s one striking passage:
Throughout the Paris negotiations, the North Vietnamese tied the prisoner issue tightly to the issue of reparations. They were adamant in refusing to deal with them separately. Finally, in a Feb. 2, 1973 formal letter to Hanoi’s premier, Pham Van Dong, Nixon pledged $3.25 billion in “postwar reconstruction” aid “without any political conditions.” But he also attached to the letter a codicil that said the aid would be implemented by each party “in accordance with its own constitutional provisions.” That meant Congress would have to approve the appropriation, and Nixon and Kissinger knew well that Congress was in no mood to do so. The North Vietnamese, whether or not they immediately understood the double-talk in the letter, remained skeptical about the reparations promise being honored—and it never was. Hanoi thus appears to have held back prisoners—just as it had done when the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and withdrew their forces from Vietnam. In that case, France paid ransoms for prisoners and brought them home.
In a private briefing in 1992, high-level CIA officials told me that as the years passed and the ransom never came, it became more and more difficult for either government to admit that it knew from the start about the unacknowledged prisoners. Those prisoners had not only become useless as bargaining chips but also posed a risk to Hanoi’s desire to be accepted into the international community. The CIA officials said their intelligence indicated strongly that the remaining men—those who had not died from illness or hard labor or torture—were eventually executed.
If you have the stomach for it, read the whole thing. The article focuses on John McCain’s complicity in the alleged POW cover-up, but assuming Schanberg’s suspicions are correct, the military bureaucracy’s absolute indifference the families of missing service members is the real story.
More damning still is the media’s silence on this issue. Schanberg says that mainstream outlets were unwilling to publish his findings for decades. I also don’t think it’s an accident that his article was originally put out by The Nation Institute and subsequently re-published in The American Conservative, two ideologically “fringe” outlets who at least share a measure of suspicion toward government assurances, from an alleged POW cover-up to the pretenses surrounding the Iraq War.