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(7,644 posts)
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 08:00 AM Jul 2021

The nature and purpose of conspiracy theories are obviously on our minds

these days, for obvious reasons.

And so I've been thinking about the history and purposes of conspiracy theories in American politics. There's obviously much to explore, to learn, and to analyze.

One particular conspiracy theory I haven't seen discussed at much length is the whole MIA movement that began after the end of the Vietnam War. You can still see those black MIA flags flying from post offices and elsewhere, long after the theory should have been put to rest.

This occurs to me while reading Doug Anderson's "Keep Your Head Down: Vietnam, the Sixties, and a Journey of Self Discovery."

The bulk of the book concerns his tour of duty as a combat medic in Vietnam in 1967-68. It's an amazing and brutal story.

Years later he revisits Vietnam with other veterans. His description of PTSD, and his compassion for the Vietnamese are striking.

Then there's this:

"...the price paid [by the people of Vietnam to drive the US out] was staggering. Three million Vietnamese, military and civilian, died during the war. I don't know the statistics on Vietnamese wounded, but the number of wounded is often triple the number of dead. Four hundred thousand are still missing in the North alone. When I think now of the black POW flags I've seen flying from police and fire stations mourning the two thousand missing Americans, a number that is much smaller compared to other wars, especially in a jungle war where the retrieval of bodies was more difficult, I wonder what the POW issue is really about. I don't believe that Communist Vietnam held back some POWs for political reasons, or for perverse 'Oriental' reasons. I think simply that they are dead, and that keeping hope alive for their families is perverse."

I too have often wondered what that whole movement was about. My impression is that the POW issue was mainly a right wing Republican thing, and fed into the whole "liberal government is holding back the truth" BS we see so much of today. The POW myth became the basis for the Rambo movies with their revisionist history of the war, at the same time Reagan was declaring it "a noble effort." The line in Rambo where the hyper-masculine hero asks some sinister government character, "This time are you going to let us win?" or words to that effect, is a perfect example of the papering over of the realities of that war. Then too, as I recall there were quite a few scams connected to the issue, with sleazy characters milking families desperate to believe their loved ones were still alive.

Anyway, I highly recommend anything by Doug Anderson. He's an especially amazing poet. I started with his book "The Moon Reflected Fire" and went on from there.

Best wishes.


(45,988 posts)
1. Don't forget the con artists...
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 08:08 AM
Jul 2021

The ones that said they knew of people "being held by the Communists," and it turns out every time that the "evidence" they would show was fake or misidentified.

And when caught, they'd get violent, quite often.


Effete Snob

(8,387 posts)
6. Huge grifting opportunity
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 09:17 AM
Jul 2021

Remember that dumb son of bitch "Bo Gritz"?

He made a career out of raising money for his expeditions to free non-existent MIAs.


During the 1980s, as part of the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue, Gritz undertook a series of private trips into Southeast Asia, in attempts to locate United States prisoners of war that some Americans believed had been detained since the Vietnam War, by the communist governments of Laos and Vietnam, e.g., at Nhommarath. Those missions were heavily publicized, controversial and widely decried as haphazard, for instance, as some commentators stated, few successful secret missions involve bringing to the border towns women openly selling commemorative POW-rescue T-shirts.


For years, Gritz has traveled the country offering a series of well-attended paramilitary training sessions under the acronym SPIKE — Specially Prepared Individuals for Key Events. In them, and in the pricey, 12-part SPIKE video series he also hawks, he sells the skills he learned in Vietnam and elsewhere, from close-quarters combat to field interrogation techniques.

Thousands of men and women have emerged from these elaborate training seminars with the know-how to fight a war. And indeed, many have gone on to join the violence-prone wing of the extremist antigovernment movement.


(7,644 posts)
10. Yes, the willingness of right wingers to grift off the tragedy of others
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 02:26 PM
Jul 2021

has been evident for decades.

The Wizard

(12,324 posts)
2. The widespread rumor that
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 08:10 AM
Jul 2021

Servicemen were spat upon when returning is way out of proportion. At best there were isolated and rare instances. I know when I returned if anyone looked at me crooked they were in for a fight. Had anyone spit on me they were going to the ER.


(7,644 posts)
11. This is something else that Doug Anderson recounts in his book.
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 02:35 PM
Jul 2021

He doesn't mention the spitting, but the fact that he caught more grief from right wingers and felt more betrayed by their reaction to homecoming vets than anything he ever heard from lefties.

There's a book called "The Spitting Image" that lays out the fallacy of this particular meme. I forget who it's by, but it's easily Googled.

My older brother was a Vietnam vet. who lost his leg in combat. No one ever spat on him, and certainly no hippy ever accosted him (our town was pretty conservative back in the day, besides which missing leg or no they would have had their ass kicked). He did go to a meeting of either the local American Legion or the VFW (can't remember which now) and came home absolutely ripshit. A bunch of drunks had laid into him with the "We won our war, why can't you pussies win yours" line.

He never again had anything to do with any veterans group.


(49,619 posts)
3. Sounds like a great book. Thanks. I'm reserving it from the library now.
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 08:17 AM
Jul 2021

A thought while reading your post: is our massive problem of toxic masculinity, that seems to have gotten worse in this generation, a mass compensation for the fact that we lost that war? And is it coincidence that it seems to be stronger in the South that lost a war itself?


(68,808 posts)
4. i think you are on to something.
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 08:57 AM
Jul 2021

my nephew is a post nam army lifer.
he did get to see his share of combat. but when he joined, peace was seen as quite the obstacle to rising in the ranks.

eta- he told me at the time that there was a generation of stalled officers.


(7,644 posts)
13. That's an interesting thought.
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 02:44 PM
Jul 2021

And the whole "we would have won that war if the politicians had let us," always reminded me of the "stab in the back" nonsense that Germans came to believe after they lost their first war.


(49,619 posts)
14. Right. And it conveniently forgets the fact, that your post shows clearly, that they
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 03:41 PM
Jul 2021

had the will to win it and we did not.

If my thought is correct, though, hang onto your hat as we exit Afghanistan.



(7,510 posts)
5. What is amazing is the rehabilitation of Vietnam
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 09:16 AM
Jul 2021

Apparently we feel quite friendly to Vietnam 50 years later, even though the Communist Party of Vietnam and the Vietnamese government appear to be quite similar to the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government.

But US companies are encouraged to move their operations from China to Vietnam.


(34,675 posts)
7. Yes. Rehabilitation of Japan also.
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 10:41 AM
Jul 2021

Yes. Rehabilitation of Japan also. Many POWs never forgave Japan and hated Japan until they died. There may still be some alive now.



(7,510 posts)
8. But Japan is different. We conquered them, wrote their constitution, and changed their government
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 10:56 AM
Jul 2021

In the case of Vietnam, they defeated us. The government of Vietnam is what was essentially the government of North Vietnam.


(34,675 posts)
9. Now we have Iraq which was going to be a cakewalk.
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 12:29 PM
Jul 2021

Now we have Iraq which was going to be a cakewalk.


We haven't heard a lot for quite a few years about their rehabilitation.

Their oil was going to pay for our military efforts.

(Much like Mexico was going to pay for Trump's wall - 100%)


(7,644 posts)
12. Before the pandemic it had also turned into quite the tourist destination.
Thu Jul 15, 2021, 02:42 PM
Jul 2021

I thought it would be mostly Vietnam vets (like Anderson) going back for closure, but it turns out it's a favorite among younger people as well. There are YouTube videos done by tourists in Saigan and Da Nang that are real eye openers.

Laos and Cambodia apparently have done less well. I saw a program a while back on intense motor journeys. Two women from Australia or New Zealand decided to drive from Vietnam into Laos down these incredible dirt roads and such. Along the way they saw how poor the people are, and also how much of their lives are still lived in the shadow of the war. People still risk their lives collecting unexploded bombs or the fragments of exploded ordnance to turn into candles and tools and various other items. It was very sad.

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