by Ahistoricality | 9/20/2008 03:53:00 PM
(A warm welcome back to our old friend, Ahistoricality! -- Ed.)

I will admit: I have long considered the POW/MIA Flag a somewhat morbid and borderline pathological symbol, evidence of our inability to accept any loss or ambiguity, and odd desire to redeem an extremely unpleasant national historical episode by shifting the focus to a narrative of personal honor and sacrifice bereft of strategic or ethical implications. I have sneered privately (I don't sneer publicly, if I can help it) at the repeated cinematic recapitulation of this theme as bad history, misplaced patriotism and hyperviolent wish-fullfilment.

Now, though, comes the reporting of Sydney H. Schanberg which marshals considerable evidence that
  • a substantial number of POWs -- hundreds -- were not returned by the Vietnamese and their allies after the signing of the 1973 Paris Accords
  • Nixon's administration, and subsequent ones, were aware that these soldiers, sailors and airmen were in Vietnamese hands, but felt they lacked the leverage to get them free
  • Every administration since Nixon has hewed to the line that no US POWs existed, suppressing and distorting evidence, or simply refusing to look for it
  • John McCain was an active participant in the process of marginalizing those families and investigators who believed in the existence of these abandoned POWs
OK, I admit, I love the fact that McCain is implicated: his hypocrisy on this issue goes to the core of his personal narrative. But the article also implicates Sen. John Kerry and other Democratic figures, and twelve of the last thirty-five years have been under Democratic presidents who seem to have willingly participated in this historical deception.

I'm disgusted. In order to appear strong, the US abandoned its own code of military honor, the willingness to search for truth, democratic process. In order to gain some financial leverage, the Vietnamese government held -- and ultimately executed, most likely -- hundreds of men who had every right to be returned to their homeland. It's a violation of international law, and I know that holds little water for some, but I take it seriously: it's the bare minimum code of ethics which is supposed to keep atrocities like this at bay.

So, I'm officially revising my view of the world: the POW/MIA Flag is a memorial to a real, legitimate atrocity, an international shame.

But my worldview revision is relatively minor compared to the stripped mental gears which are going to come from those who consider McCain a "hero" for his time served and believe that he has the best interests of Americans -- civilians or military -- at heart.


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