The calendar says it is 2023, but it feels more like 1973.
Recall what was happening in 1973: We, Americans, were trying to get out of a long-running war that had taken the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens and had drained our economy. The Vietnam War — and its sideshow conflicts in Laos and Cambodia — was like a plague; the people and their leaders wanted to leave as quickly as possible and never look back.
Under the leadership of then-President Richard Nixon and his foreign-policy guru, Henry Kissinger, the U.S. exited the wars in Southeast Asia, but at a very high cost.
The Paris Agreement, signed Jan. 27, 1973, by diplomats of the warring powers — the U.S., North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the communist National Liberation Front, also known as the Viet Cong — was supposed to put an end to the war and usher in a new era of peace and goodwill. Instead, it proved to be a sellout of many of the Americans captured by communist forces and held back after the promised deadline for their release.
Within the agreement was a provision setting a 60-day time frame for the repatriation of all prisoners of war, concomitant with the withdrawal of all American troops from South Vietnam.
The last U.S. GIs in South Vietnam left on March 29, 1973, but an unknown number of Americans — probably several hundreds! — remained in communist captivity. They were held as hostages for future negotiations and never came home. Some are probably still alive, somewhere, and they remain largely forgotten. Politicians and career bureaucrats like that.
Nixon promised America there would be “peace with honor.” We got neither. To our eternal discredit as a nation, America — in our haste to rid ourselves of the debacle known as the Vietnam War — simply left behind those who had been called to give for their country all their best and all they had.
While it is true that North Vietnam released 591 POWs, and smaller numbers were freed by the Viet Cong, the U.S. government — under the leadership of Nixon and Kissinger — knowingly abandoned Americans known to have been in enemy hands. The confirmation of live Americans came from radio broadcasts and photographs from the communists themselves and live-sighting reports by other Americans, such as pilots seeing fellow airmen bailing out and landing safely in enemy territory.
After the wars in Southeast Asia ended in communist domination of Laos, Cambodia and all of Vietnam, tens of thousands of refugees fled tyranny, including the “boat people,” and brought out stories of live Americans still captive and sometimes working under communist guards. Washington did little, except to collect the stories and denounce their sources as “hearsay” or “no credible evidence.” Dismissing a crisis or a problem means there is no problem. Right?
The cover-up continues to this day. This is a far greater scandal than the big story of 1973 — Watergate. But now, as then, who cares?
Thank you for reminding us of the terrible toll of the Vietnam War, and our POW’s whom our politicians have forgotten.