Kiss The Boys Goodbye

by Monika Jensen-Stevenson And William Stevenson
49 pages,
ISBN: 0771083262

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Misfortunes Of War
by Michael Coren

NOTHING EXPUNGES CREDIBILITY from a good cause like a bad movie. Chuck Norris, Sly Stallone, and their risible but muscular friends insist on making low-budget, high-violence films about MlAs, the acronym applied to those American fighting men who participated in the Vietnam War, and are listed as "missing in action:` presumed dead. The generic hero of these productions believes that a plethora of MlAs are still surreptitiously incarcerated in Vietnamese prison camps, under verminous conditions. The scenarios run along tiresome and familiar lines: they are our boys out there, there`s a conspiracy between the Vietnamese government and Washington, in we go, a man has to do what....The moribund wretches are rescued from the jungle, flown to the United States and paraded, eyes blinking and uniforms in noble tatters, before the cameras. Here, expostulates the bruised but defiant hero, is breathing proof to the CIA, the state department, and the other peacehungry weaklings that Americans are still held prisoner in Vietnam. End movie. End plea for the resumption of the war. End good taste. The conundrum is that there are elements of verisimilitude in this reasoning that are, surprisingly, too poignant to ignore. Unbeknownst to Norris and Stallone, they may be more involved with truth and integrity than we ever thought possible. Monika Jensen-Stevenson encountered the MIA phenomenon in 1985, while researching a CBS documentary on a young marine who had escaped from a Vietnamese prison camp some six years earlier. The man in question claimed that there were innumerable Americans still captive in Indochina. A smear campaign ensued, and the marine was subsequently court-martialled, having been found guilty of collaboration with the Vietnamese. In this volume Jensen-Stevenson analyses, with the aid of the journalist William Stevenson, the wider questions raised by the television program. The evidence displayed by the authors is impressive in both its quantity and quality. Many American soldiers and agents, the hook explains, were secretly sent into Laos and Cambodia -where the U.S. government denied a presence -- and when captured were without uniform, identification, or recourse to American help. The Vietnamese are willing to exchange the prisoners for financial aid, just as they did with French soldiers in an earlier conflict; Vietnam has few bargaining chips, and these untortunates constitute most of them. But a most 20 years after the event, Washington is anxious to revise or ignore the Vietnam catastrophe; and since it is even more reluctant to admit that a fullscale war took place outside Vietnam`s borders, repatriating men captured in Laos and Cambodia is out of the question. To add insult to injury, the book continues, the American authorities go so far as to allege that any Americans still alive in Vietnam are traitors, men who have been "turned" and now work or fight for the Communist government. The focus of the book, however, is not the duplicity of generals and bureaucrats, but the clamorous pleas of the families of those individual soldiers and airmen who have not returned home. These are isolated and hurt people, unsure of the fate of their loved ones, and afraid that the government will terminate their pensions and benefits if they continue to insist that their sons, husbands, and lovers are alive in Vietnam. "They classified everything on POW., to keep secrets from falling into the hands of the enemy to protect our national security," explains Diane Van Renselaar, whose husband is allegedly a prisoner in Vietnam, But in this case the secret wasn`t kept from the enemy. The enemy knew he was their prisoner; his own family did not. Does national security require keeping such secrets from our own people? ... I was heartsick at the thought of all those years lost, when I could have been trying to get Larry out. Obfuscation was and is the main weapon of the American government. From refutation they have crept towards affected indifference. The first-hand accounts, documentary evidence, and photographic identification offered in this hook -- Usually with admirable balance and restraint, occasionally with hyperbole and overstatement -- surely make further procrastination impossible. Whatever the morality of the Vietnam War, no military prisoner should be held hostage to a stubborn government. Kiss The Boys Goodbye is triumphant journalism, because it is accusatory journalism. If it succeeds in its goal, the guilty men will have much to explain, and the innocent much to ask.

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