Ron Uz, upon the seat of Sydney Schanberg:
Last week America suffered the loss of Sydney Schanberg, widely regarded as one of the greatest journalists of his generation. Yet as I’d previously noted, when I read his long and glowing obituary in the New York Times, I was shocked to see that it included not a single word concerning the greatest story of his career, which had been the primary focus of the last quarter century of his research and writing.
The cynical abandonment of hundreds of American POWs at the end of the Vietnam War must surely rank as one of the most monumental scandals of modern times, and the determined effort of the mainstream media to maintain this enormous governmental cover-up for over four decades raises serious doubts about whether we can believe what our newspapers report about anything else.
But the vast majority of my readers, perhaps being of a younger generation, were quite surprised to read my presentation, presumably having always vaguely assumed that talk of the “abandoned POWs” was just some Hollywood-inspired myth of the 1980s, generated by the success of the Rambo movies of the Reagan Era and continued by the populist paranoia of Ross Perot, before gradually fading away with the passage of time. I can’t really blame them because until just a few years ago that was exactly my own impression.
But perhaps it is exactly that past ignorance and disinterest in the Vietnam War and the ensuing POW controversy that affords me some reasonable objectivity on the issue, allowing me to analyze the facts much as I would a historical puzzle from Ancient Greece. And once I finally encountered both sides of the story in late 2008, the evidence in favor of the reality of the POWs seemed absolutely overwhelming.
SO that’s the setting. And now, the tragedy:
When I discovered Schanberg’s stunning 8,000 word expose online, an article rejected by nearly every significant publication in America, my first step was to locate copies of the conflicting articles that had once seemed so persuasive to me, and reread them much more carefully. Once I did that I realized that the factual argumentation they had provided had been extremely thin. Their contents heavily focused on the cultural and ideological aspects of the POW movement, with the possible reality of any POWs casually dismissed upon rather scanty evidence. What I had been reading was cultural criticism rather than investigative journalism.
To a considerable extent, the rightwing POW activists played into the hands of their critics by presenting the facts of the case upside down, framing their arguments in a way sure to attract the scorn of most reporters. Activist rhetoric was heavy with denunciations of the “treacherous” Communists in Hanoi, who cruelly kept our American POWs still imprisoned despite the peace agreement that ended the war. To any objective journalist, this surely sounded paranoid and ridiculous. Why would the Communists want to keep the American POWs? Out of pure evilness or something?
But the reality was exactly the opposite. It was the American government that had been treacherous, by refusing to pay the Vietnamese the $3.25 billion in reparations that they had demanded at the Paris Peace Talks as a price for ending the war and returning the POWs. If you buy a car and you refuse to pay, is it “treacherous” if the car dealer never delivers your vehicle?
The problem had been that for domestic political reasons the Nixon Administration chose to pretend that the promised payment of the money was unconnected with the prisoner return, instead labelling it “humanitarian assistance.” Unsurprisingly, Congress balked at providing billions in foreign aid to a hated Communist adversary, and Nixon, weakened by the growing Watergate Scandal, couldn’t admit that unless the money were delivered, Hanoi would refuse to return the remaining POWs.
The American government, due to the pride of Nixon, let both South Vietnam and its own soldiers to rot and die.
Indeed, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Franklin’s piece is that although he devotes 21 pages of magazine text to exhaustively exploring almost every cultural aspect of the so-called “POW Myth,” including detailed plot summaries of several Hollywood action movies, he never once even mentions the $3.25 billion in reparations that America had promised Vietnam and then never paid, which likely constitutes the key to the entire political mystery. I find that omission highly suspicious and wonder whether he (or his editor) feared that providing such a telling clue might lead his readers to reconsider the entire logical framework being presented to them.
The Establishment does do an occasional lie of commission… but most of its lies are that of omission.
Harder to fight that way.
Lesson learned: Don’t Trust the Masters.