I remember, years ago, in search of a holiday column, I contacted a local Vietnam vets group to see if there were any families of POW/MIAs in the area. They directed me to a couple in Decatur, south of Fort Wayne. Just a few minutes into the interview, I knew this was a bad idea. I asked them to describe the circumstances of their son’s disappearance, and the mother said he’d been crossing a rain-swollen river with his platoon, stepped in a deep hole, floundered, went under and wasn’t seen again.
“And they’re carrying him as missing in action?” I asked, incredulous.
“His body was never found,” she explained. So they kept holding out hope that someday, somehow, he’d be coming home.
We talked a little more, I excused myself and left. Those poor people, I thought, driving home. But surely they know he’s dead. Surely. Where else would he be?
I didn’t know then, and only recently learned, of the governmental flim-flam known as the MIA. Rick Perlstein:
When downed American pilots were first taken prisoner in North Vietnam in 1964, US policy became pretty much to ignore them ― part and parcel of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s determination to keep the costs of his increasingly futile military escalation in Southeast Asia from the public. Then, one day in the first spring of Richard Nixon’s presidency, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announced the existence of from 500 to 1,300 of what he termed “POW/MIA’s.” Those three letters — “MIA” — are familiar to us now. The term, however, was a new, Nixonian invention. It had used to be that downed fliers not confirmed as actual prisoners used to be classified not as “Missing in Action” but “Killed in Action/Body Unrecovered.” The new designation was a propaganda scam. It let the Pentagon and State Department and White House refer to these 1,300 (later “1,400”) as if they were, every one of them, actual prisoners, even though every one of them was almost certainly dead. “Hundreds of American wives, children, and parents continue to live in a tragic state of uncertainty caused by the lack of information concerning the fate of their loved ones,” Secretary Laird said. That was part of an attempt to manipulate international opinion to frame the North Vietnamese Communists (against whom, of course, America was prosecuting an illegal and undeclared air war against civilians) as uniquely cruel, even though fewer men were taken prisoner or went missing in Vietnam than in any previous American war. (From 1965 through 1969, they were tortured, at least if you believe American prisoners at Guantánamo Bay were tortured; the techniques were essentially the same.)
Isn’t that appalling? I keep thinking of that poor couple sitting in their little house in Indiana, holding out hope that their baby, gone 15 years by that point, might still be alive, somewhere halfway around the world.
Dunno why I’m leading with that today. It just popped up in one of my feeds and it reminded me of Mr. and Mrs. Sad Hoosier. It’s not a day for me to be sad — I am making a Christmas miracle happen for a pregnant friend who is off in lonely Arizona, craving a particular brand of artisanal jalapeño/cherry salsa available only around here. I saw it on the shelf at the market Saturday and picked up two jars. Her only instruction will be to pay it forward, somehow. I suppose, if the salsa disagrees with her fetus, she may pay it forward literally. If you’re in the desert southwest and a beautiful brunette with a slight baby bump presses a jar of it in your hand, be not afraid! It’s just your own Christmas miracle.
And I also renewed my passport. For the next two or three weeks, I will be unable to leave the United States. Be advised, just in case you were going to surprise me with a trip to Paris or something.
Meanwhile, we have some bloggage:
So pause for a moment with me to ponder what it means that some of the greatest civil rights battles of our era are being fought to extend personhood into the weeks prior to viability and the years after incorporation? What does it mean for actual human “personhood”—as well as for reproductive rights and corporate control—that, if the far right succeeds in stretching these two legal fictions to their illogical extremes, American “personhood” will begin at conception, diminish somewhat at birth, and regain its force upon incorporation?
As you may know, a federal judge ruled today that Detroit’s bankruptcy can go forward, which means — well, it means a lot of things, but the biggest is that pensions for public workers are not, as previously believed (and the state constitution says), untouchable. Lots of states have similar constitutions. We’ll see how that goes.
It’s Wednesday already? It is. I hope yours is good.