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May 11, 2006

America's Media to Military: Just Go Away

flag10.jpg Sergeant Thomas knows. But how many of his fellow countrymen will ever have a sense of how much they owe?

If James Carroll and his compatriots are successful, the answer is simple: not many. For them, these stories are an annoyance, a distraction from what's really important.

Something to be swept under the rug.

Why, oh why, he asks, can't they just go away?

THE SAD BLACK flag flies today from the tallest pole at Fenway Park. It flies atop municipal buildings, legion halls, and police stations in every city and town. Fire trucks carry it on antennae, and it waves from highway overpasses. The silhouetted profile of a beleaguered man droops before a prison tower and a string of barbed wire. Inscribed above are ''POW-MIA," and below, ''You are not forgotten." That the tattered, faded flag still flies so ubiquitously, more than three decades after the end of the Vietnam War, suggests that America's self-inflicted psychological wound has yet to heal. But the flag that started out as a well-meaning symbol of remembrance took on other meanings, and now more than Vietnam is evoked.

Carroll spends the next few paragraphs detailing the numerous ways in which North Vietnam, which imprisoned and gruesomely tortured our prisoners of war in defiance of all the laws of war, was made to suffer by the outrageous desire of some Americans to learn the fate of our POWs and MIAs. "Punitive" trade sanctions were imposed on them. They were "demonized", as though a government which brutally tormented helpless men were in need of further demonization than their own actions brought upon them. But fortunately, help was on the way in the form of one John Forbes Kerry:

In 1991, a Newsweek cover showed a photo that was purported to be of three captive Americans -- a hoax. The perversion of what began as authentic concern for lost young men was complete when Americans convinced themselves that any direct acknowledgment of the MIAs' almost certain fate was treason.

Finally, in 1993, a Senate committee led by John Kerry and John McCain found ''no compelling evidence" that any Americans were being held, and in 1994 the embargo against Vietnam was lifted. Against all reason, Bob Dole tried to keep the issue alive, arguing against normalization of relations with Vietnam. Dole's argument failed, but his rescue of the banner whose time had clearly passed succeeded. The missing men were conscripted again, now as ghosts to haunt the nation. The black flag, though born in love, had become a symbol of a true American darkness.

Oddly, the Village Voice, a publication any righteous conservative would think would come down firmly on Kerry's side, has a different tale to tell:

Here are details of a few of the specific steps Kerry took to hide evidence about these P.O.W.'s.

He gave orders to his committee staff to shred crucial intelligence documents. The shredding stopped only when some intelligence staffers staged a protest. Some wrote internal memos calling for a criminal investigation. One such memo—from John F. McCreary, a lawyer and staff intelligence analyst—reported that the committee's chief counsel, J. William Codinha, a longtime Kerry friend, "ridiculed the staff members" and said, "Who's the injured party?" When staffers cited "the 2,494 families of the unaccounted-for U.S. servicemen, among others," the McCreary memo continued, Codinha said: "Who's going to tell them? It's classified."

Kerry defended the shredding by saying the documents weren't originals, only copies—but the staff's fear was that with the destruction of the copies, the information would never get into the public domain, which it didn't. Kerry had promised the staff that all documents acquired and prepared by the committee would be turned over to the National Archives at the committee's expiration. This didn't happen. Both the staff and independent researchers reported that many critical documents were withheld.

The Voice's expose makes for disturbing reading. So do these links. But our supposedly unbiased press showed little interest in the issue during the last Presidential election. So what kind of men are our media in such a hurry to forget?

Men like Admiral Jeremiah Denton, a POW for seven long years in a North Vietnamese prison. Admiral Denton was my neighbor in high school. He also became a US Senator. But none of this made his story one the media wanted to tell:

Before his captivity, Jeremiah Denton believed in God. But after surviving nearly eight years of torture, beatings, isolation and starvation at the hands of the North Vietnamese, Denton knew there was a God. Denton, a retired Navy rear admiral, former Alabama senator and ex-prisoner of war, was in Fayetteville this week, where he met with an international humanitarian aid advisory group that bears his name. He toured Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base and talked with groups about the principles he believes made America great.

An unbreakable, unshakable belief in those principles -- patriotism, love of country, belief in God -- allowed Denton to endure the unendurable. "War is violence. War is hell," he said. "But when the alternative is worse, we must go to war." Liberating people from enslavement is worth the price of war, to Denton. He has paid dearly for his beliefs.

On July 18, 1965, Denton, then 41, was leading a group of 28 aircraft from the USS Independence on an attack on enemy installations near Thanh Hoa. He was shot down into the Ma River and captured by the North Vietnamese. He wouldn't see his wife, Jane, his seven children or his homeland for the next seven years and eight months. Four of those years he spent in solitary confinement. "They tortured us from '65 to October of '69," Denton said in a tone most people use when talking about the weather. "Four full years. That was a tough time."

During a 1966 televised interview, 10 months after his capture, millions of Americans watched as Denton, who had refused to give in to threats of torture, looked into the camera and said he would support whatever the position his government took. "I support it, and I will as long as I live," Denton had said. Denton's captors didn't take kindly to losing face. Denton would pay for his remarks with his blood. During the same interview, Denton blinked his eyes in Morse code and spelled out the word "torture." It was the first time U.S. intelligence was able to confirm suspicions that American POWs were being mistreated in Vietnam.

Jeremiah Denton was an American hero. So were men like Leo Thorsness:

Only once have I exercised my personal privilege in the Senate chambers to relate as incident from my confinement as a POW in North Vietnam at the Hoa Lo prison camp. The treatment has been frequently brutal at the "Hanoi Hilton" as it became known. but after six years the beatings and torture that were once routine became less and less frequent.

During the last year, we were allowed outside most days for a couple of minutes to bathe. We showered by drawing water from a concrete tank with a homemade rubber bucket. One day as we all stood stripped of our clothes by the tank, Mike, a younger naval aviator, found the remnants of an old handkerchief in a gutter that ran under the prison wall.

Mike managed to sneak the grimy rag into our cell and began fashioning it into a flag. Over times we all leant him a little soap and he spent days cleaning it. Although it was just a grey and tattered piece of cloth, we all stole bits and pieces of anything red and blue. At night, under his mosquito net, Mike worked on the flag.
With thread from his one blanket and a homemade bamboo needle, he sewed on stars. He made red and blue from ground up roof tiles, medicine; anything we could scrounge or steal. With watery rice glue, he painted them onto the cloth.

Early in the morning a few days later --- when the guards were not alert --- he whispered loudly from the back of his cell. "Hey gang, look here." He proudly held up this tattered piece of cloth waving it as if in a breeze. If you used a lot of imagination, you could kind of tell it was supposed to be an American Flag. When he held up that grimy rag, we automatically saluted as our chests puffed out and more than a few eyes had tears.

About once a week the guards would strip our clothes, run us outside and go through our clothing. During one of these shakedowns they found Mike's flag. We all knew what would happen. That night they came for Mike. Night interrogations were always the worst. they opened the cell door, and pulled him out. We could hear the beginning of the torture before they even had him into the torture cell. They "bent" him most of the night. About daylight they pushed what was left of him back through the cell door. He was badly broken, even his voice was gone.

Within two weeks, Mike had scrounged another piece of cloth and began making another flag --- you see, Mike was that kind of American.

And therein, I think, lies the reason our mainstream media won't write about these men. They form a living rebuke to the kind of "objectivity" that bends over backwards to tell the story of those who would do us harm while suppressing the stories of those who defend us. All over this country, hometown newspapers beam with pride at the gallantry of America's sons and daughters. One even won 2 Pulitzer prizes for telling a story the New York Times and the Washington Post wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. Oh, they got their Pulitzers too: for violating the Espionage Act during time of war. For releasing classified information. For stunning social commentary on the clothing of politician's families. They, too, have their role to play in the War on Terror. Too bad they are not on our side. Nothing could make that clearer than the self-serving whining of a privileged generation who never put anything on the line for their country:

One would like to think the POW-MIA flag had transcended the reactionary uses to which it was put by a political fringe that abused the memory of lost heroes to raise money and win elections. For many Americans, the flag is simply a token of sorrow for the entire Vietnam episode, and it functions also as a sign of concern for a new generation of US troops who are at war. But the darker meaning dominates. After Vietnam, a self-pitying sense of victimhood defined the American mood. That generated a vengeful determination never to be shown up as weak -- or captive -- again. That, in turn, brought us to the disastrous present, which is explained by recalling that the men on whose watch the disgrace of Vietnam climaxed included Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Their wars against Baghdad (Cheney's in 1991, Rumsfeld's now) were supposed to stifle the Vietnam syndrome once and for all, but Iraq, in pathological recombination, has only quickened it.

No wonder the grief-struck flag refuses to go away. When we Americans behold that silhouetted bowed figure -- the prison tower, the barbed wire -- we may feel the pointed shame anew, but now we recognize the unknown image. We ourselves have become the prisoners of war; it is our own government that has taken us captive. The black flag at last belongs to all of us.

The James Carrolls of this world are too busy magnifying imagined slights; telling themselves that they are this generation's heroes. No wonder they don't want to be compared to men like this:

He was shot seven times. Then 40 pieces of super-heated shrapnel melted into his flesh.

And at three different moments, in nanoseconds laced with adrenaline, confusion, sweat and blood, Marine Corps 1st Sgt. Bradley Kasal took account of his life.

Then he decided it would be OK if he died.

His decision earned him the Navy Cross on Monday.

In November 2004, while serving with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Kasal rushed into a house in Fallujah where Marines were trapped in a small room. They were pinned down by Iraqi insurgents firing into the house from a higher and superior position.

The first time, after being shot and crawling to safety, Kasal went back out into the line of fire to rescue an injured Marine.

"I knew I was gonna get shot (again)," he said.

Now, after having suffered seven gunshots, Kasal decided to again put his life at risk.

He would use all of the available field dressings to help stop the bleeding of a gunshot wound suffered by a fellow Marine. He decided not to use any of the dressings for himself and instead "bleed out." It just made sense that one of them should survive.

Finally, the insurgent, knowing the injured Marines had no way out, lobbed a grenade into the room. Kasal saw the grenade, and using his own body as a shield, leapt onto his fellow Marine as the grenade exploded.

"I thought the chances of surviving were zero," he said.

James Carroll fancies himself a prisoner of war in George Bush's Amerikka. In reality, he is only a prisoner of his own overweaning arrogance. He will never be a hero, except in his own twisted imagination. This "man" will never be able to look Marines like these in the eye.

But his reputation is safe, so long as he and others like him control the megaphone.

I wonder how people like James Carroll sleep at night. If only better men and women would "go away" and leave him to his fantasies.

CWCID: Sorry - I thought I had included this earlier but apparently I'm still a bit spacy. Thanks to Eric Blair and Grim for the Sgt. Major piece and the Boston Globe piece.

Posted by Cassandra at May 11, 2006 08:56 AM


Cassandra - you've done it again.

I'm simply amazed at the information you've given me. I'm awed by the strength of our soldiers, and my blood is BOILING over the dishonesty of Mr. John "I got three purple hearts" Kerry.

His heart is black. So much disdain for our fighting men. So much dishonesty in covering up the truth. I'm appalled that this man was the Democratic candidate for president and so relieved that he was not elected.

Posted by: Lyric Mezzo at May 11, 2006 11:51 AM


Tremendous! I was moved to tears as you recounted the POW accounts. Thanks so much for taking the time to present such poignant thoughts for us to contemplate. Glad you're feeling some better!


Posted by: Gary at May 11, 2006 12:22 PM

Out of the park. You just hit that out of the park.

Kerry is a slimeball, to be sure, but keep mentioning this as we get closer to 2008. People need to be reminded that John McCain had a hand in the actions as well.
Now I have to go vigorously clean something to get this anger out of my system.

Posted by: Carrie at May 11, 2006 12:51 PM

He seems to forget this flag is not just to remember POWs, but also MIAs. We still have MIA from the World Wars as well. Apparently, he doesn't honor their sacrifices, either...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at May 11, 2006 01:02 PM

Pity Kerry and his ilk. They will never live up to the measure of a true Patriot. As Shakespeare so famously put it: "They hold their manhood cheap." They know this which only makes them work with increased vigor, as Hamlet, "...out damned spot."

Channel your anger and continue to spread the inconvenient truth. We are at war with an implacable enemey. They are the bad guys and we are the good guys. Kasal is a true American, a hero (He would probably deny it), and a Patriot. Anyone who suppresses stories of these awe-inspiring Americans is a coward who refuses to face his/her own failure of will.

Fine statement of the situation Cassandra!
Carry On!

Posted by: vet66 at May 11, 2006 01:09 PM

Starship Troopers (The book, not the movie.)

Posted by: Mike H. at May 12, 2006 12:06 AM

I wish I had a stick so I beat the hell of out of this sleazbag!If it is one thing I can't stand is self abasorbed weenies!what hardships has he had?Journalism school?!This is the best that some selfish boomers and sadly genxers can do.If things are as bad as he and these other obnoxious assholes say,why hasn't he left and gone to China hmmm?!Cassandra,Denton is from my home state,and I almost forgot that he was a POW.My dad lost a lot of his friends as well many 0ther Nam vets.I would love nothing more that get this guy a bruising that he missed forty years ago on behalf of those vets!

Posted by: Lisa Gilliam at May 14, 2006 01:44 PM

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