When you think about the Vietnam War, there's a good chance you picture the Hollywood version, complete with long-captive POWs, gobs of bush fighting, and Christopher Walken playing ultra-violent games of Russian roulette. But just as Russian roulette was known to have been played during the war precisely zero times, many of the things you think you know about Vietnam turn out to be complete bullshit, such as the "fact" that ...
5 The Communists Kept American POWs After the War
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If Rambo is to be believed (and many of us were raised in his ways), hundreds of American POWs remained captives of the commies after the end of the war. And this story definitely wasn't invented by the movies -- in the 1980s, President Reagan said that recovering the POWs was "the highest national priority." Hell, Ross Perot gained 19 percent of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential election thanks in part to his support of the MIA/POW issue, and it was used as a stick to bash efforts to normalize relations with Vietnam decades after the fall of Saigon. As a matter of fact, the black POW/MIA flag still flies atop federal buildings to this day.
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Not to be confused with the KMA MIA flags that fly atop Cleveland buildings in remembrance of LeBron James.
It's true that after the war ended and all POWs had been accounted for, there were still 2,646 Americans listed as missing in action. But -- and this is not to minimize the profound effect this must have had on the families involved -- you have to understand that there's a long list of MIAs after every war. For instance, there were more than 20 times as many (70,000 plus) after World War II, but nobody assumed the Germans or Japanese had them stashed away somewhere. They're just presumed dead, and their families do their best to move on.
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"We've mourned enough, now let's boom a baby into you."
So why did it become an issue after Vietnam? Well, first off, the Nixon administration. Nixon elevated the issue for two reasons: so that getting them back could serve as a substitute for victory in Vietnam, and -- unlike the returning soldiers who criticized the war -- the POWs and their families still supported the war effort by default, thereby serving as heroic endorsers of Nixon's policies.
Subsequent investigations have been successful in discovering the remains of 998 of those 2,646 MIAs -- they've even managed to identify the soldier previously buried in the Tomb of the Unknown. For their part, Vietnamese officials have offered assistance in putting the remaining soldiers to rest as they also search for their own MIAs ... all 300,000 of them.
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"This would go a lot faster without all this rain, RAIDEN."
But that's not the stuff you tend to hear about in the media. As in any tragedy, conspiracy theorists kicked into overdrive, suggesting that the Vietnamese kept American captives even after they returned 591 American servicemen during Operation Homecoming. Since then, plenty of well-publicized evidence has been brought up before being quietly discredited, mercenaries have offered themselves up as POW rescuers, and '80s action movies did no small part to help popularize the idea. Yet as historian H. Bruce Franklin pointed out in 1991:
Every responsible investigation conducted since the end of the war has reached the same conclusion: There is no credible evidence that live Americans are being held against their will in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, or China.
It's a tough call, but we're going to have to take the word of the leading cultural historian and Rutgers University professor over that of a fictional character portrayed by Sylvester Stallone. This time.
He is, however, still the leading authority on settling child custody disputes.