At almost the same moment that Rolling Stone
was reordering the political landscape with its devastating profile of the now-resigned Afghanistan commander General Stanley McChrystal, a smaller, lesser-known political monthly, The American Conservative
(TAC), was publishing a blockbuster that by all rights should have had an even bigger impact.
TAC's July issue carries a 20-page special report headlined "The Men Our Media Forgot." It is about the likelihood that the United States did in fact abandon prisoners of war held by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.
If you are predisposed to dismiss all this as the ranting of right-wing conspiracy nuts, think again. The two articles that make up the meat of the package are written by former New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner Sydney Schanberg, who risked his life reporting from Southeast Asia and whose memoir of that experience, The Death and Life of Dith Pran, was the basis for the Academy Award–winning film The Killing Fields.
As for TAC, it is an unusual magazine that defies glib characterization. It is without a doubt — and proudly — right of center. But TAC manifests a deeply held sense of the counterintuitive based on sophistication and learning that is more akin to the left-of-center New York Review of Books than the often rabid emotionalism of the neoconservative house organ, The American Standard.
According to Schanberg: "There exists a telling mass of official documents, radio intercepts, witness depositions, satellite photos of rescue symbols that pilots were trained to use, electronic messages from the ground containing the individual code numbers given to airmen, a rescue mission by a special-forces unit that was aborted twice by Washington — and even sworn testimony by the two Defense secretaries that 'men were left behind.' "
Schanberg continues: "This imposing body of evidence suggests that a large number — the documents indicate probably hundreds — of the US prisoners were not returned when the peace treaty was signed in January 1973 . . ."
Why would North Vietnam keep the prisoners? To ensure that the US would pay promised war reparations. When Congress nixed the payments, the North Vietnamese were left holding real-life prisoners they claimed they never had.
This is a cold and twisted tale that makes McChrystal's insolence — as documented by freelancer Michael Hastings — seem like frat-boy insouciance.
Implicated in Schanberg's reporting are not only star-quality former public officials such as Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney, but also currently sitting senators, John McCain and John Kerry.
But also tarred with the same brush is the mainstream media, the folks that had the McChrystal story sitting under their nose.