Following the Paris Peace Accords, Operation Homecoming returned 591 American prisoners of war (POWs) to the US. At the time, over 1,300 prisoners were listed as missing in action (MIA). An additional 1,200 were killed in action (KIA) and body not recovered. In the ensuing 20 years, activist groups pushed the American government to look into the matter, and several investigations were launched. While no governmental investigation has determined that American POWs were left behind, there remains considerable evidence that the POW MIA issue contains validity.
The Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam was signed on January 27, 1973. This document, finalized during the Paris Peace Accords, signaled the end of the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and the Provisional Revolutionary Government (representing various South Vietnamese insurgents) joined the US in signing this historic treaty. The agreement called for the release of US prisoners of war, along with assistance in recovering and transporting home the remains of deceased soldiers. Due in large part to a lack of reliable intelligence in North Vietnam, the US government never knew truly how many prisoners of war were held. In the years since the war ended, there has been substantial evidence to indicate that many prisoners were left behind. Not only does it appear likely that soldiers were deserted, but it is possible the government was aware of this and covered up its abandonment of servicemen, now known as the Prisoners of War Missing in Action. Their fate remains the most emotional, tragic, and divisive issue of the Vietnam War. Beginning in 1973, the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office was charged with investigating the whereabouts of all missing military personnel. For approximately two years, the US conducted search missions in South Vietnam, while the North Vietnamese handed over remains of deceased American soldiers. Success was very limited in both cases, however. In 1975, South Vietnam fell and the Accords collapsed, and progress soon ground to a decade-long near-halt. (Stevenson, 274). Vietnam came at the height of civil unrest, with anti-war protests taking place all over the country. Many demonstrations turned violent, with a number of deaths adding to the disillusionment of the American public. While it is not uncommon for anti-war sentiment to grow, US military personnel were treated horribly during this time. The public opposition to the Bush-era War on Terror was strikingly similar to that of Vietnam, but treatment of soldiers could not be more different. If the American government did indeed write off the POWs, one popular school of thought suggests this occurred because of the public outrage on the war, the hatred of the troops, and the apathy towards their well-being. While the vocal part of the US dismissed the troops, activist groups played a big role in publicizing the issue and forcing the government to act. The National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia was created in 1967. By 1969, the group’s work resulted in better treatment of US POWs and its publicity began to turn public sentiment. (McConnell & Schweitzer, 372). Groups like The National Alliance of Families for the Return of America’s Missing Servicemen continued the work of keeping public focus on the possibility of POWs. The National Alliance took a more active and assertive role and forced governmental investigations. (McConnell & Schweitzer, 390). It cannot be argued that the US government was far from truthful on the matter, particularly under President Richard Nixon. It was Nixon, for example, who flatly denied that US troops would invade Cambodia. The US did, in fact, invade Cambodia that very day. A much-publicized memo to Vice President Henry Kissinger from...
References: Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office. Vietnam War Accounting History. Retrieved October 2, 2011, from http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/vietnamwar/vietnam_history.htm.
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Eaton, W. J. (1992). Nixon Defense Secretaries Say US Left POWs in Vietnam. Retrieved September 28, 2011, from http://tech.mit.edu/V112/N43/nixon.43w.html.
Executive Summary. Report of the Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. United States Senate. Retrieved September 30, 2011, from http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/1993_rpt/pow-exec.html.
Jensen-Stevenson, M., & Stevenson, W. (1991). Kiss the Boys Goodbye: How the United States Betrayed its Own POWs in Vietnam. New York City: Plume Publishing.
McConnell, M., & Schweitzer, T.G. (1995). Inside Hanoi’s Secret Archives: Solving the MIA Mystery. New York City: Simon & Schuster Publishing.
POW MIA Databases & Documents. (2011). Retrieved October 2, 2011, from http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/pow/.
Time Magazine’s Vietnam Collection: Vietnam 15 Years Later. (1990). Retrieved October 1, 2011, from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,969996,00.html.
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