A sprawling indictment of eight U.S. administrations. The charge: sacrificing American war prisoners in the interest of focusing, as Bush aides have said, “not on Vietnam’s past but on its future.”
Beginning in 1966, write former Rep. Hendon (R-NC) and attorney Stewart, GIs captured in South Vietnam were moved north along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and other routes. Cataloguing sightings with the diligence of Vincent Bugliosi—whose Reclaiming History (2007), on the JFK assassination, is something of a companion piece—Hendon and Stewart reckon that hundreds of POWs had crossed the Demilitarized Zone by the time of the Tet Offensive, their numbers swelled by pilots downed over North Vietnam. Many of these soldiers, Hendon and Stewart charge, were used as human shields against American bombing attacks on power plants, military headquarters and other strategically important venues. North Vietnam and its allies in Laos and Cambodia weren’t particularly forthcoming on all these things, but the U.S. played a dirty hand, too; by the authors’ account, the prisoners’ ultimate release was bound up in negotiations conducted by Henry Kissinger, “the surrogate president,” who reneged on promises of U.S. aid owing to supposed violations of previous accords, thus closing off a diplomatic channel for repatriation. Fast forward to 1987, when Ross Perot traveled to Vietnam and told the foreign minister, who insisted that there were no POWs there, “Don’t embarrass yourselves, I know too much.” Fruitful negotiations ensued, the authors report, only to be brushed aside by the Reagan administration—even though, they claim, at least 100 U.S. prisoners were still alive in Vietnam. Hendon and Stewart, who appear nonpartisan in their disdain for governmental inaction and double-dealing, close by offering advice to President Bush to send an army of former presidents and their staffs to negotiate the release of the remaining captives.
Much of the authors’ evidence is circumstantial, but there’s an awful lot of it. A convincing, urgent argument.