Every captive is not a hero – Trump may have a point

Trump is being castigated from all sides for questioning John McCain being described as a “war hero”.

“He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

A “hero” or a “war hero” is just a label created by the media and public perceptions. The mere fact of capture and captivity cannot be a qualification for the label – but it very often is. It is a label often used and exploited by those released from a perceived “unjust” captivity.

(In Sweden for example, two rather irresponsible journalists who accompanied rebels from Somalia, illegally across the border into Ethiopia, Martin Schibbye and  Johan Persson, were captured and prosecuted for terrorist activities, and sentenced to 11 years in prison in Ethiopia. But after much outrage and diplomatic activity and ransom payments, they were released after about 18 months in captivity. Being journalists they were feted and made into heroes by the Swedish media – essentially for breaking the law in Ethiopia and for being incompetent. They have exploited their notoriety and their reputation as “heroes” extremely well since then. I note that another black Swedish journalist, Dawit Isaak has been in prison in Eritrea since 2001 but his plight has not engaged the interest of the Swedish media or the public or the government in the same way. A prisoner left behind.)

In McCain’s case, the basic facts seem to be:

  1. McCain was captured and badly tortured.
  2. He spent over 5 years in captivity.
  3. He did receive preferential treatment in captivity because of who his father was.
  4. He did make a “confession” about his war crimes which was widely disseminated by his captors.
  5. He did suffer permanent physical disabilities as a result of poor medical treatment and his torture.
  6. He was one of 591 prisoners released. Many prisoners died during captivity. About 600 other prisoners were alive at the time but were never released.
  7. For some reason, McCain is not supportive of the relatives of the missing prisoners in their efforts to get information about them.

He certainly showed great endurance and fortitude. He certainly suffered greatly. But does that make him a “war hero”?

In October 1967, McCain was flying over North Vietnam when his A-4E Skyhawk was shot down by a missile over Hanoi. McCain fractured both arms and a leg ejecting from the aircraft and nearly drowned when he parachuted into Trúc Bạch Lake. Some North Vietnamese pulled him ashore and he was then transported to Hanoi’s main Hỏa Lò Prison, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton”. He received very basic medical treatment and suffered severe torture and solitary confinement. His father was appointed commander of all U.S. forces Vietnam in 1968 and he was offered early release for propaganda purposes. He declined, in accordance with the Military Code of Conduct for POW’s and his beatings continued. In late 1968 he made a “confession” about his war crimes and this was used extensively by the N. Vietnamese. From 1969 prisoner conditions improved somewhat. He was among a total of 591 POW’s released in March 1973 after over 5 years in captivity. Many prisoners had died in captivity.

But there were many – supposedly hundreds – of other prisoners who were not released at the time. And now the story becomes very murky. Apparently the other prisoners were being retained to ensure that the Vietnamese received war reparations agreed to in the peace agreement. But these reparations were never payed since the agreement was rejected by Congress and these other prisoners were never released. The US Military always denied that there was any evidence of any prisoners left behind. Eighteen years later, in 1991, John McCain became a key member, with John Kerry as Chairman, of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs.

But apparently McCain was disinclined to pursue the fate of the prisoners left behind.

John McCain and the POW Cover-Up

……. The Pentagon had been withholding significant information from POW families for years. What’s more, the Pentagon’s POW/MIA operation had been publicly shamed by internal whistleblowers and POW families for holding back documents as part of a policy of “debunking” POW intelligence even when the information was obviously credible.

The pressure from the families and Vietnam veterans finally forced the creation, in late 1991, of a Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. The chairman was John Kerry. McCain, as a former POW, was its most pivotal member. In the end, the committee became part of the debunking machine.

One of the sharpest critics of the Pentagon’s performance was an insider, Air Force Lt. Gen. Eugene Tighe, who headed the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) during the 1970s. He openly challenged the Pentagon’s position that no live prisoners existed, saying that the evidence proved otherwise. McCain was a bitter opponent of Tighe, who was eventually pushed into retirement.

Included in the evidence that McCain and his government allies suppressed or sought to discredit is a transcript of a senior North Vietnamese general’s briefing of the Hanoi politburo, discovered in Soviet archives by an American scholar in 1993. The briefing took place only four months before the 1973 peace accords. The general, Tran Van Quang, told the politburo members that Hanoi was holding 1,205 American prisoners but would keep many of them at war’s end as leverage to ensure getting war reparations from Washington.

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. ………..

Donald Trump may be a clown.

But he has a point.

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