POW/MIA, A Review of H. Bruce Franklin’s “Mythmaking In America”

POW/MIA, A Review of H. Bruce Franklin’s  Mythmaking In America

Review by Richard Hugus

January 14, 2000

H. Bruce Franklin’s M.I.A. or Mythmaking in America (Lawrence Hill Books, 1992) is a book about the relentless propaganda created by the Pentagon and U.S. government regarding American prisoners of war in Vietnam. According to Franklin, “the United States has been waging military or economic warfare against Vietnam directly or indirectly ever since the end of World War II. For close to half this period, this warfare has been rationalized first by the POW issue and then by the POW/MIA myth. As we have seen, the POW issue was originally fabricated in early 1969 to protract the Vietnam War, which it helped to do for four years. Conceived as a means to foment pro-war moral passion, obscure the atrocities the United States was perpetrating, deadlock negotiations, and dehistoricize Americans’ understanding of the war, it proved a roaring success . . . ”

By law, the black POW/MIA flag flies over federal, state, and municipal offices all over the country. Most Americans assume that there are still American prisoners of war alive in Vietnam (the POW/MIA cause has only to do with Vietnam; not other wars). There’s just one problem — there ARE no American prisoners of war in Vietnam, as Franklin explains. The prisoners who did exist in Vietnam were all returned to the United States when the war ended in 1973. This is a hoax worthy of the National Enquirer, yet, at the State House in Boston, passers-by can look up and see the black POW/MIA flag flying from the highest pole, beneath the American flag. This fact is as astounding as if a flag were raised displaying the persecuted faces of extra-terrestrial creatures looking out from a UFO in the hope of being acknowledged.

In the American national security state, lies are originally propagated for any number of immediate political ends. Those lies are then held on to in spite of overwhelming evidence of the truth. Some take on a life of their own, progressing from rational argument to mystic belief; and eventually they become embedded in American culture through Hollywood and the media — they become facts of life.   The process is the same for Vietnam as for Yugoslavia. The myth of “humanitarian wars” merely replaces the myth of wars necessary to fight the “Communist menace.” In Yugoslavia a lie was developed about “ethnic cleansing” and genocide committed by the Serbian people against Albanians which subsequent evidence to the contrary — like the absence of bodies to prove genocide — has so far been unable to turn around.

Rule #1 for the U.S. government and the pandering media is: When confronted with the truth, repeat the same lie.  The most effective lies are those which take the truth and turn it directly on its head. Consider this passage from  Bruce Franklin about the 1978 Academy Award-winning film, The Deer Hunter:  “The Deer Hunter” succeeded not only in radically reimaging the war but in transforming POWs into crucial symbols of American manhood. The reimaging was quite conscious, though most critics at the time seemed oblivious to it. The basic technique was to take images of the war that had become deeply embedded in America’s consciousness and transform them into their opposite. For example, in the first scene in Vietnam, a uniformed soldier throws a grenade into an underground village shelter harboring women and children, and then with his automatic assault rifle mows down a woman and her baby. Although the scene resembles LIFE pictures of the My Lai massacre, he is not an American soldier but a North Vietnamese. He is then killed by a lone guerilla, who is not a Viet Cong but our special forces hero, Robert DeNiro.”   Just as the killing of 4 million people in Indochina in what the Vietnamese call “the American War” is never mentioned, is erased by other images, other words. So it is that NATO ruthlessly bombed civilian targets in Yugoslavia for 78 days in the spring of 1999, killing 2,000 people, half of them children, in order to save lives. So it is that UN “peacekeepers” today are in fact facilitating the true ethnic cleansing in Kosovo  — of Serbs by Albanians. So it is that the U.S. can claim to be adamant about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq while killing over a million people in ten years with economic sanctions.   This is an American production throughout, like the movie. What Clinton and Madeline Albright say the enemy did is actually being done by them. The level of fabrication, its insidiousness, the calculation behind it, and the complicity of the media in broadcasting it, is an enormity so great that most people cannot even comprehend it.

To understand Yugoslvia and Iraq, we have only to look at America’s other wars, the lies that justified them, and why those lies were believed. As Franklin explains, “the POW/MIA myth must be understood not just as a convenient political gimmick for rationalizing various kinds of warfare and jingoism but also as a symptom of a profound psychological sickness in American culture.”