COVER-UP: ‘An Enormous Crime’, The Definitive Account Of American P.O.W’s Abandoned In South-East Asia

Source – unz.com

  • “…. During the Paris Peace Talks that ended the Vietnam War, the U.S. government had committed to pay its Hanoi adversaries $3.25 billion in war reparations, and in exchange would receive back the American POWs held by the Vietnamese….Congress balked at appropriating such a large sum for a hated Communist regime. Desperate for “peace with honor” and already suffering under the growing Watergate Scandal, Nixon and his aides could not admit that many hundreds of the POWs remained in enemy hands, and so declared them all returned…Similarly, Hanoi’s leaders falsely claimed that all the captives had been released, while they waited for their money to be paid. As a result, the two governments had jointly created a Big Lie, one which has largely maintained itself right down to the present day”

A Story Too Big for the New York Times

By Ron Unz

Could a news story ever be “too big” for the media to cover? Every journalist is always seeking a major expose, a piece that not merely reaches the transitory front pages but also might win a journalistic prize or even change the history books. Stories such as these appear rarely but can make a reporter’s career, and it is difficult to imagine a writer turning one down, or an editor rejecting it.

But what if the story is so big that it actually reveals dangerous truths about the real nature of the American media, portrays too many powerful people in a very negative light, and perhaps leads to a widespread loss of faith in our major news media? If readers were to see a story like that, they might naturally begin to wonder “why hadn’t we ever been told?” or even “what else might be out there?”

Towards the end of the 2008 presidential campaign, while John McCain battled Barack Obama for the White House, I clicked an intriguing link on a small website and discovered Syd’s remarkable expose, one which had been passed over or rejected by every major media outlet in the country, his enormous personal reputation notwithstanding.

The basic outline of events he described was a simple one. During the Paris Peace Talks that ended the Vietnam War, the U.S. government had committed to pay its Hanoi adversaries $3.25 billion in war reparations, and in exchange would receive back the American POWs held by the Vietnamese. The agreement was signed and the war officially ended, but the Vietnamese, suspecting a possible financial double-cross, kept back many hundreds of the imprisoned Americans until they received the promised payment.

For domestic political reasons, the Nixon Administration had characterized the billions of dollars pledged as “humanitarian assistance” and Congress balked at appropriating such a large sum for a hated Communist regime. Desperate for “peace with honor” and already suffering under the growing Watergate Scandal, Nixon and his aides could not admit that many hundreds of the POWs remained in enemy hands, and so declared them all returned, probably hoping to quietly arrange a trade of money for prisoners once the dust had settled. Similarly, Hanoi’s leaders falsely claimed that all the captives had been released, while they waited for their money to be paid. As a result, the two governments had jointly created a Big Lie, one which has largely maintained itself right down to the present day.

In the troubled aftermath of America’s military defeat and the Nixon resignation, our entire country sought to forget Vietnam, and neither elected officials nor journalists were eager to revisit the issue, let alone investigate one of the war’s dirtiest secrets. The Vietnamese continued to hold their American prisoners for most of the next twenty years, periodically making attempts to negotiate their release in exchange for the money they were still owed, but never found a American leader daring enough to take such a bold step. The Big Lie had grown just too enormous to be overturned.

Over the years, rumors surrounding the remaining POWs became widespread in veterans’ circles, and eventually these stories inspired a series of blockbuster Hollywood movies such as Rambo, Missing in Action, and Uncommon Valor, whose plots were all naturally dismissed or ridiculed as “rightwing conspiracy theories” by our elite media pundits. But the stories were all true, and even as American filmgoers watched Sylvester Stallone heroically free desperate American servicemen from Vietnamese prisons, the real-life American POWs were still being held under much those same horrible conditions, with no American leader willing to take the enormous political risk of attempting either to rescue or ransom them. Over the years, many of the POWs had died from ill-treatment, and the return of the miserable survivors after their secret captivity would unleash a firestorm of popular anger, surely destroying the many powerful individuals who had long known of their abandonment.

Eventually, America’s bipartisan political leadership sought to reestablish diplomatic relations with Hanoi and finally put the Vietnam War behind the country, but this important policy goal was obstructed by the residual political pressure from the resolute POW families. So a Senate Select Committee on the POWs was established in order to declare their non-existence once and for all. Sen. John McCain, a very high profile former POW himself, led the cover-up, perhaps because the very dubious nature of his own true war record left him eager to trade secrecy for secrecy. Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, our media declared that the abandoned POWs had never existed and closed the books on the long, lingering controversy.

As it happens, not long after the committee issued its final report and shut down, a stunning document was unearthed in the newly-opened Kremlin archives. In the transcript of a Hanoi Politburo meeting, the Communist leadership discussed the true number of POWs they then held and made their decision to keep half of them back to ensure that America paid the billions of dollars it had promised. Former National Security Advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger both stated on national television that the document appeared genuine and it seemed undeniable that American POWs had indeed been left behind. Although the national media devoted a couple of days of major coverage to this uncomfortable revelation, it then reported denials from both the U.S. and Vietnamese governments, and quickly dropped the story, returning to the official narrative: There were no abandoned POWs and never had been.

As I reviewed Syd’s massively-documented 8,000 word exposition, and confirmed for myself that the bylined Sydney Schanberg was indeed the Sydney Schanberg, I experienced a growing sense of unreality. I was reading what might rank as “the story of the century,” a scandal vastly greater and more gripping than the sordid political abuses of Watergate or Iran-Contra, a tale of national treachery suppressed for forty years by our government and our media, but now broken by one of America’s most distinguished journalists. The gravest possible charges were being levied against Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, coming right at the height of his presidential campaign. And not one word of this was being mentioned in any of our mainstream media outlets, while almost all of the thousands of political websites, large and small alike, remained just as silent. From that day forward, I have never looked upon our national media with the same eye.

Everyone to whom I showed the article was just as shocked as myself, except for one or two individuals with a strong Vietnam War background, who privately confirmed that it was all probably true.

The election came and went with McCain’s defeat, and the incoming Obama Administration began coping with the intensifying financial crisis, but I still couldn’t put Syd’s remarkable article out of my mind, nor the deafening silence it had received. Perhaps, I thought to myself, the piece had been ignored because it appeared on a small website with few readers, and the unprepossessing circumstances of its release had raised serious doubts about its credibility.

TAC-McCainPOWs

At that time I served as publisher of The American Conservative, a small but generally well-regarded opinion magazine, and I eventually decided to commit my publication to providing the story the wider attention it so obviously deserved. By October I had gotten in touch with Syd, and spent several hours with him on the phone, explaining my interest, gaining his trust, and also assuring myself that he was still just as solid and sober a journalist as he had always been. I began preparations to republish his long expose as the cover story of one of my issues, making it the centerpiece of a symposium on government cover-ups and media lapses, with a special focus on the POW issue.

Not long afterward, Syd published a collection of his articles in book form, with his McCain/POW expose being one of the last and longest pieces. David Rohde, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning war reporter then at The New York Times, described the outstanding journalism contained within, writing that “Sydney Schanberg is one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century,” and the praise from Pulitzer Prize winner Russell Baker was equally fulsome. Joseph Galloway, a journalist who had authored major books on the Vietnam War, explicitly contrasted Syd’s integrity with the shameful reticence of nearly all other journalists who failed to acknowledge the reality of America’s hundreds of abandoned Vietnam POWs. So the historical truth seems to be known and generally accepted within informed circles, but no mainstream publication has been willing to allow it to reach the eyes or ears of the general population.

Syd had always believed that the American media was simply scared of his story, with its troubling implications, and I tend to agree with him. Just as the government has maintained its cover-up for all these years because admitting the truth would destroy too many reputations, crucial elements of the media may feel the same way. There is the famous precedent of Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty, whose reports from the Soviet Union regularly ridiculed claims of any significant Ukrainian famine during the 1930s and thereby helped ensure that nearly all of America’s elite media discounted and ignored the reports that millions were dying. The Times took nearly sixty years before finally admitting its error.

Although Schanberg became the most prominent journalistic advocate of the Vietnam POW story, he had not been alone on the issue. The year before he wrote his major article, former Republican Rep. William Hendon and a co-author had published An Enormous Crime, a book on that same topic.

Hendon was a former military intelligence officer and during his two terms in the House of Representatives, he had become a leading political advocate for the POWs and their return, helping to organize many other members of Congress on the issue and continuing his efforts for decades after his reelection defeat. His exhaustive 2007 work runs nearly 600 pages and seems to provide the most comprehensive coverage of the entire story. Yet although it was released by a major press and sold well, it was unsurprisingly ignored by the entire media, and I only very recently got around to reading it.

I also recently read Rick Perlstein’s very widely praised three volume narrative political history of America in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Although my own assessment sharply differed from that consensus, I think the author helped shed some further light on why the media would never acknowledge the reality of Schanberg’s revelations.

Perlstein persuasively argued that during the later years of the Vietnam War, the Nixon Administration successfully shifted the entire focus of the conflict to the American POWs and their safe return, almost as if the war had originally been fought merely to free them. Under such circumstances, Nixon could not possibly admit that half of the prisoners still remained in captivity after peace was declared and the American went home.

But once journalists had been misled into swallowing the government’s falsehoods and several years had passed, the media became complicit in maintaining that same story. All our elite outlets and their top editors had despised Nixon and reveled in the central role they had played in removing him from office for abuses of power. For them to have later admitted that they had allowed him to get away with an act of monumental treachery would have been ruinous to their elevated post-Watergate reputation, especially since all those accusations had continually been made by elements of the right-wing fringe whom they most detested. For very similar reasons, Perlstein’s 2,300 pages of text makes no mention of Schanberg’s crucial research, let alone that of Hendon.

Building upon Schanberg’s seminal work, I later published a couple of articles of my own focusing upon Sen. John McCain’s role in the subsequent cover-up and the apparent reasons for his participation, as well as the broader conclusions we can probably draw regarding media reliability and the hidden undercurrents of the American political system. These pieces are included in the same print collection.

https://www.unz.com/runz/a-story-too-big-for-the-new-york-times/

3 thoughts on “COVER-UP: ‘An Enormous Crime’, The Definitive Account Of American P.O.W’s Abandoned In South-East Asia

  1. Pingback: COVER-UP: ‘An Enormous Crime’, The Definitive Account Of American P.O.W’s Abandoned In South-East Asia | RIELPOLITIK – Additional survival tricks

    • As they say, the first casualty of war is truth. I might add that wars are all founded on lies, and the media plays a big role instigating and propagating them.

      “Let’s you and him fight.”

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