The Truth Needs Its Own Channel

POW_MIA_LOGO_FOR_TRIAD_400x

W.J. Astore

Today’s article is a potluck of observations.  Please fire away in the comments section if I stimulate some thoughts!

  1. My wife today noticed how the weather is now militarized.  An “arctic invasion” of cold air is coming our way, or so the Weather Channel warned.  Do we need a new “Weather Force” to meet this “invasion”?
  2. The other day at the gym, I was watching the impeachment drama on two TVs tuned to Fox News and MSNBC.  For Fox News and its parade of Republican guests, the impeachment was a “hoax.”  For MSNBC, it was a foregone conclusion Trump is as guilty as sin.  I mentioned this to my wife and she had the perfect comment: “The truth needs its own channel.”
  3. A reader wrote to me about a piece I wrote in 2008 about all the “warrior” and “warfighter” talk used by the U.S. military today.  It got me to thinking yet again about the rhetoric of war.  Back in World War II, when we fought real wars and won them, we had a Department of War to which citizen-soldiers were drafted.  After World War II, we renamed it the Department of Defense, and after Vietnam we eliminated the draft, after which you began to hear much talk of warriors and warfighters.  In the 75 years since 1945, America has fought many wars, none of them formally declared by Congress, and none of them “defensive” in any way.  The longest of those wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq) have been utter disasters.  Which is not surprising, since wars based on lies and fought for non-compelling reasons usually are losers.  So, how do you buck up the morale of all those volunteer troops while encouraging them not to think about the losing causes they’re engaged in?  Get them to focus on their warfighter identities, their warrior “cred,” as if it’s a great thing for democracies to fight constant wars.
  4. The New York Times endorsed Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar today as the Democrats best prepared to serve as president.  Looks like Jimmy Dore is right: establishment Democrats would rather lose to Trump than win with a true progressive like Bernie Sanders.
  5. The other day, I went to my local post office and saw the POW/MIA flag flying.  It got me to thinking: Who are the POWs/MIAs we need to remember today?  Don’t get me wrong.  As a retired military officer, I think we should remember America’s POWs and MIAs.  But I see no reason to fly flags everywhere to remind us of those veterans who were prisoners of war or missing in action.  Sadly, the POW/MIA flag is associated with conservative activism and reactionary views; it also can serve as a distraction from the enormous damage inflicted overseas by the U.S. military.  As Americans, we are constantly told by our leaders to focus on American victims of war; rarely if ever are we encouraged to think of war itself as a disaster, or to think of the victims on the receiving end of American firepower.

More on the POW/MIA issue: In the early 1990s, when I was a young captain, there were persistent rumors of American POWs who’d been deliberately left behind by our government.  These rumors were strong, so strong that the George H.W. Bush administration had to issue denials.

What are we to make of this?  One thing strikes me immediately: an often profound mistrust of our government exists within the military.  Our government has lied to us so often that some of my fellow officers believed it was lying again when it said there were no POWs remaining in Southeast Asia.  We just assumed our government was so wretched and dishonest that it would abandon our troops to their fate.

This is nearly 30 years ago but it’s stayed in my memory — the suspicion back then that those commie bastards still held U.S. troops and our own government was part of the cover-up.  (All those Chuck Norris and Rambo movies didn’t help matters.)

For more on this: The POW/MIA issue is still very much alive and is discussed by H. Bruce Franklin in his article,  “Missing in Action in the 21st Century,” available at hbrucefranklin.com.  As Franklin noted recently to me, “What we now think of as the Trump base was organized originally in this [POW/MIA] movement.”  Now that’s a fascinating comment.

What say you, readers?

35 thoughts on “The Truth Needs Its Own Channel

  1. I was also a young captain in the early 90s and I simply figured that if it was convenient for Uncle to come find me and my helo crew if we went down in some unfavorable spot, then then someone would approve the mission. If not, they wouldn’t. I saw all the Chuck Norris fantasy stuff as less about the merciless commies than about our own individual disposability. I figured at root we were taking a personal risk in the spirit of ‘needs of the service.’ I don’t think this was the common view with my peers, but perhaps I was more cynical than most (probably largely from a diet of anti-authority cinema featured on UHF channels of the 70s-80s). And of course, we spent lots of time “finding” and retrieving notional downed airmen in TRAP training missions. But I always figured that there was a non-zero likelihood that someone up the chain would make a cost benefit and then, well, sometimes it just works out in the bureaucracy that we are all eventually at some point on our own. I saw the popularizing of the POW/MIA story as an allegory about how Uncle Sam takes care of its own and not really a statement about the communist threat. I grew up on Blue country, before that stupid tv dichotomy was imposed on everything civic, and I suppose the environment was not overly triggered by the supposed communist menace. Vietnam continues to loom over society because of what that sad show said about the sensibilities of our leaders. But yes, the system is always on the search for mythical monsters to destroy…I’ll check out the Franklin piece. I hadn’t heard of that association before, but who knows. Thanks for the thoughts.

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  2. “Back in World War II, when we fought real wars and won them,”

    If by “we” you’re including Russia, I’ll drink to that. But if you’re inferring that the USA won that war, truth indeed does need to have its own channel.

    (In fact, when, if ever, did the USA win a war?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When did the USA win a war? In the 19th Century vs Mexico. Not a very fair war, but we won. The Spanish-American War. Again not a fair fight, but we won. But we did win the war against Japan. Russia suffered greatly and did more than us to defeat Nazi Germany, but not so with Japan. Russia jumped in at the very end to seize territory at very little cost to them.

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    2. Lou Cassivi–I reckon the last war the US won on its own was the so-called Spanish-American War, which laid the basis for modern US imperial expansionism. Those lucky, lucky folks in the Philippines and smallish South Pacific isles, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Hawaiian Islands, Panama, etc. got to be swallowed up by “the Exceptional Nation”! Oh, joy! (The wars to overthrow the dangerous Cuban advisors on little Grenada and the re-seizing of Panama on Reagan’s and G.H.W. Bush’s watches, respectively, were so one-sided I don’t think they merit the title of “wars.”)

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  3. Here’s the line that got me:

    “We just assumed our government was so wretched and dishonest that it would … ”

    No need to fill in the blank, which would merely be variations on a theme. No doubt, trust that our elected and appointed representatives are there to do the will of the people in the operation of government has by now been squandered. Although collective will is a tricky determination, on many issues, it’s quite clear. Instead, as your other points regarding rhetoric indicate, we subjected to subtle and pervasive thought control as various narratives are shaped and spun beyond recognition. Quite Orwellian, actually. Soon enough we’ll get our Ministry of Truth devoted to lying. Oh, wait …

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  4. Dear Bill
    Many things to say about this piece of yours, but most of all about the truth channel.
    I have been thinking the same – but a variation on that. We need a Truth Commission. An organisation that could sift the evidence on issues like the Soleimani assassination, the Douma gas attacks (or not) and the subsequent OPCW report, the Skripal poisoning, the assumption of presidential duties by Juan Guaido, the ousting of Evo Morales, …
    There is an organisation called The Elders that goes some way down that line, but when I ask around, nobody has ever heard of them or the outcome of their work. Another is an organisation set up by Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia and that has had some reasonably high profile trials of the likes of Tony Blair – but it does not have international credibility.
    I tried to establish an organisation called the International Institute for Human Accountability – to hold humans accountable, before the world, for their crimes, without going to the huge expense of trials before the ICC. I was not able to raise the comparatively small funding for that. Would this fare any better?
    Best wishes
    Mike

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    1. Mike Boddington–Interesting idea, but since the US Beast refuses to respect even the World Court, your proposed organization would have even fewer teeth than existing tribunals. Outside the bubble of unreality that has settled over the US, I suspect most awake people in the world understand that, as Dr. King put it 50 years ago, the US is the greatest purveyor of violence on Earth, the greatest menace to peace.

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      1. Thank you (again!) Greglaxer, for your response.

        I am afraid that I have not expressed myself very well. This International Truth Commission would simply be charged with examining issues and issuing a verdict on what is the truth, as between one version and another. Elsewhere, such organisations have not been uncommon and are called Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. In this case, no reconciliation is sought, although it would be good. It is simply to offer the person-in-the-street a statement that in such-and-such issue, the following is, as far as can be determined, the truth of the matter.

        This proposal is to deal, of course, with truths that are, apparently, not self-evident!

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  5. That despicable POW/MIA flag is flying again at my local post office, also. This is because our marvelous Congress mandated that it be flown at certain times. I have commented on this previously. I deem that piece of cloth racist in the extreme, as its sole intent was/is to foment hatred of the people who sacrificed so incredibly to win back their independence from the murderous American invaders. Those who embraced the notion that promoting the big lie that some troops had been “left behind” was a good thing are, I argue, “spiritual” antecedents to the racist movement in this country that never went away but was emboldened to get louder by Trump’s election. And they were present in the thousands in Richmond, VA on the day set aside (grudgingly) to honor one of the greatest American peacemakers. According to reports, there were also prominent “Trump/Pence 2020 Make America Great Again” banners. Some sheriff was heard on NPR News boasting that he was prepared to “deputize” thousands of gun freaks to “defend gun rights” by force of arms if necessary. I believe that threat was Virginia-specific, since that state’s legislature has had the temerity to suggest that sensible firearms regulation might be an acceptable idea! That’s why VA was the site of this rally on Jan. 20. It says a lot when a nation appears far more concerned with “rights” for firearms than for human beings.

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  6. Some US veterans, myself included, who nowadays live full time or spend long periods in Viet Nam find the blck POW flag (most of which show the tower guard wearing the iconic VNese cone hat, the nón lá) a bit anachronistic.

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  7. Speaking of professional “prisoners of war” who made the experience pay:

    Before Inferno’s Gate

    My friends, if I might have a word or two
    About a subject that just slipped my mind …
    No, wait! I’ll have my staff get back to you

    About how many houses, and what kind,
    My wife might own in various disguise
    To keep the tax-man guessing, vexed, and blind.

    My friends, I never meant to criticize
    The Black Messiah preaching to the choir
    Or spread those “Foreign! Muslim! Traitor!” lies

    Of which, my friends, you know you never tire.
    So when I spit and drool you never flee,
    But sit, engrossed, around your TV fire.

    I’m John McCain, I think you’ll all agree.
    Abandon hope all you who’d vote for me.

    My friends, if I might speak in a cliché
    And utter static noise with “clarity,”
    Or coin a phrase used endlessly each day

    I say with not one trace of irony
    That I was held a prisoner before
    But suffered grim and stoic and silently

    Until I found it useful to implore
    Some voters to accept my vicious lies.
    I’ve therefore learned an easy way to score

    Cheap points about my “private” jet that flies
    At altitudes from which I take the view
    That those who weep should simply dry their eyes.

    My friends, I’ve got three words to share with you:
    A noun, a verb, and P. O. W.

    Michael Murry,”The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2009

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  8. She’s back! And meaner than ever! https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/hillary-clinton-blasts-sanders-won-t-commit-backing-him-party-n1119011

    The Democratic establishment is hitting Bernie Sanders with everything they have. First it was Warren and sexism; then Biden and “doctored” videos. Now even Hillary is back to smear Sanders.

    This is an organized smear campaign against the only true progressive in the race with a serious chance.

    For shame, DNC.

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    1. And just to ratchet up the silliness, as I understand it HRC said this on Howard Stern’s show! Guess what, Mrs. Clinton? Just about nobody likes YOU, either!

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      1. Last time she was on the Stern show they were both yukking it up about how silly Sande’s notion of free college was “Free hot chocolate for everyone too! HaHaha!” BOTH of these nitwits were of college age when state universities were often nearly tuition free – and some actually were truly tuition free. I can’t thin of a politician who has dropped so far in my regard, so fast as Hillary Clinton. Back when she was running against Obama I was ambivalent about who should win. I remembered the bad things from the Bill Clinton years (the health care fumble, NAFTA, the “end of welfare as we know it,” “superpredators” and the crime bill and the changes to commodities and financial regulation. But I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt as First Lady isn’t President. Her time in the house was… impressively unimpressive. It was her term as Secretary of State that turned me, and my stomach. The primary campaign lowered my opinion of her even more. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have believed you if you had told me that US voters would be fed the choice of Trump or Clinton… and that if I were in their shoes I really don’t know who I would have voted for. Fortunately for me, I’m Canadian so the terrible choice wasn’t one I had to make!

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  9. POW reminds me of Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and Ofer ( in Israel).
    There were some criminals at Abu Ghraib but others were imprisoned for resisting USA occupation and Oppression and they were tortured and humiliated…
    http://www.zombietime.com/botero_abu_ghraib/
    Innocent individuals have been imprisoned in Gitmo without trial… WHAT is the USA’s excuse?…. a nation of Laws!!
    Israeli govt with USA complicity in violation of International Law imprisons children in military detention at Ofer.
    https://archive.org/details/StoneColdJustice
    AND aren’t all the military personnel returning home with PTSD, POWs? They have become prisoners of their own minds as a result of multiple deployments without any time for recovery.
    And MIA, as the article states ( have not read the whole article yet ), those who did not return were unaccounted for because their bodies were not recovered. I do not know if the article mentions but was it ever considered that at least a few never wanted to return to the USA!!

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    1. rs–Thanks for your very cogent observations. When I was resisting the US War Against Vietnam from within the Army, I helped found a local for-GIs publication called POW. On the masthead, I preceded that title with, in smaller font, “Every GI is a…” Even the gung-ho types were prisoners of the War Machine without being conscious of it. And yes, it appears that PTSD (Gen. George S. Patton would not approve!) is being diagnosed for a huge percentage of today’s recent veterans. This is the lasting moral damage that comes from soldiering for empire, invading/occupying other peoples’ lands, terrorizing and often killing them in non-“official”-combat situations. The “nation of laws” can’t produce the evidence to hold something resembling a legitimate trial for many of the Gitmo detainees, many of whom I’m sure are only there because informant X fingered them as “terrorists.” Permanent imprisonment without formal charges even presented. Oh yeah, a nation of laws! It makes such a sham of the US when it wags its finger in the face of Cuba, Venezuela, etc. with accusations of human rights abuses. Some US troops in Vietnam did switch sides and fight on the side of the liberation forces. Some hooked up with local women and went AWOL and then “underground” over there. But many were indeed blown to unidentifiable bits, but a drop in the ocean next to number of Southeast Asians whose fate was same. But the US continued to make a huge fuss about recovering remains, and occasionally some are still returned to US by the present government in Vietnam. This phenomenon, of course, only increased in frequency as warfare evolved to employ more and more deadly munitions. Oh what a marvel, the bloody human race! Parents!! Want to avoid agonizing over recovering the remains of YOUR son or daughter from foreign soil? Persuade your progeny to stay the hell out of the US military!

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  10. Agree with the article. As a former Marine officer, I too have been mystified as to why we need a POW/MIA flag. Also, I haven’t followed the Dem primaries very much yet, just through reading news and visiting candidate websites. I’m on board with a lot of Sanders’ ideas but can’t get beyond his age; even though he is only a few years older than me. Go figure. The more I read about Andrew Yang, the more impressed I am with him. Thanks for the article.

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    1. Jerry Spencer–Yes, Bernie’s recent cardiac issues are a serious matter. Not that these conditions are limited to us old geezers, of course. The incumbent, if I’m not mistaken, will be 74 by Election Day. Biden is right up there with Bernie in age, and Sen. Warren is over 70 also. I don’t think this should be the deciding factor for voters, but I can tell you Biden really pissed me off in the very first “debate” when he basically flat-out stated “NO, I won’t stand aside and give younger generations a shot at this thing.” Not only an insulting stance, but stupid, guaranteed to blow up in his face. But that’s good ol’ Joey Biden for ya! Hypothetical for you: suppose a Sanders/Warren ticket actually won the White House and Bernie departed this world early in the term, or simply became physically incapacitated. We would then have Pres. Warren and for VP…the Speaker of the House, who could be a Republican at that time! Hmmm…

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    1. I assume the “reform” referred to is the loosening of restrictions on who can be treated for PTSD by the VA System. Again, the veteran suicide rate is directly related to “moral damage” from participating in unjustified, ginned-up Wars of Choice.

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      1. A study in 2016 found that veterans without combat deployments had a higher rate of suicide than combat vets. Don’t know if that is till true. It is also a problem in Britain and Germany, and probably others. As a side note, I read recently that based on population, Britain sent more troops to the Mideast than did U.S. Sad situation all around. One can only imagine the toll on the countries in the war zone. They don’t get to rotate “home” in a year.

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        1. On the watch of the pathetic excuse for a Labour Party leader named Tony Blair, Brit. troops were deemed expendable. For decades, the very phrase “Labour Party” has been a bad joke in terms of its actually standing up for the Brit. working class. But Mr. Blair, I must say, sank to new depths!

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  11. Here is an interesting article On The Media and the Military.
    “The news on cable television relies on retired general officers to analyze and assess the military actions of the United States. Nearly all of these retired generals and admirals have high-level positions at various arms manufacturers, but this is rarely noted.”
    https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/01/22/the-media-and-the-military-mindset/

    The Mc-Mega-Media in my lifetime folded under at the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. They might have had an excuse back then, since at the time it seemed unbelievable such outrageous lies would be told to the American people. It seemed to take on the proportions of Pearl Harbor.

    The lying scheme that the US and ARVN were winning was blown to hell, by TET in 1968. The TET offensive had to be massaged – Oh, it was the 1968 version Battle of the Bulge, a last desperate gasp by the North Vietnamese-VC. Once that proved to be untrue, the continued failures to defeat the NVA-VC revealed itself and finally the ARVN defeat happened, we got the “Stab in the Back” excuse.

    The Anti-War people provided aid and comfort to the enemy, and our press by reporting on the Anti-War Movement were complicit in the “Stab in the Back”. Hollywood played along with series of Rambo type movies. Oh, if only we had more Rambo’s instead of us draftee drug taking hippies, we could have won the Vietnam War.

    Since then the McMega-Media has been in the pocket of the Pentagon and their fellow travelers. The Red Scare of the late 1940’s and 1950’s showed how easy a career could be destroyed by not being patriotic enough.

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    1. Some good thoughts, ML.

      Speaking of America’s stuffed-shirt, greasy-pole-climbing, fuck-up-and-move-up (Parkinson’s Law meets the Peter Principle) senior military ranks, did you see this one?

      “How Trump Rebelled Against The Generals”, by “b,” Moon of Alabama (January 17, 2020)

      [Some history about the three-sided structure of the U.S. government dating from the 1950s]

      Then:

      “… At the beginning of his regime Trump stuffed the White House with the military faction while the executive government -the deep state- wage a war against him. The corporate side of triangle of power was quite happy with his tax policies.”

      “But Trump soon discovered that the military faction did not concur with his ‘America first’ isolationist tendencies. The ‘grown ups’ and generals wanted to explain to Trump why they believe that the U.S. needs many allies and bases and why the many long wars the U.S. fights are sensible policy.”

      Apparently, President and Commander-in-Brief Donald J. Trump did not take well to having himself lectured-to by persons he considered less-than-successful in the business of “war.” Skipping ahead to my favorite part of the article:

      Trump’s rant during the meeting with the generals continued:

      Trump mused about removing General John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in charge of troops in Afghanistan. “I don’t think he knows how to win,” the president said, impugning Nicholson, who was not present at the meeting.

      “I want to win,” he said. “We don’t win any wars anymore . . . We spend $7 trillion, everybody else got the oil and we’re not winning anymore.”

      “I wouldn’t go to war with you people,” Trump told the assembled brass. Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, “You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”

      A drill sergeant act performed on recruits with four stars on their shoulders. I find that quite impressive. Those perfumed princes must have fumed.

      While some will certainly say that Trump disgraced the military with his rant most of the soldiers in the field will likely agree with his opinion about their generals [emphasis added].

      Most of the ‘dopes and babies’ who were in that room have since been fired or retired. Their replacements are yes-men more to Trump’s liking. They did not even protest about Trump’s latest blunder. He rented out scarce air defense units to Saudi Arabia and went on to murder Qassem Soleimani in Iraq while the U.S. bases there no longer had air defenses to protect them against the inevitable retaliation.

      The anti-Trump leaders of the executive side of the triangle have likewise been removed and replaced with people who are unlikely to put up a fight against Trump.

      The third side of the triangle, the corporate faction, is happy that Trump pressed the Fed to douse the markets with free money. Unless the inevitable stock market crash comes before the election, which is unlikely, they will stick to Trump’s side.

      With all three sides of the triangle of power inclined to favor him or neutralized Trump seems to have a good chance to win the next election. That is unless he continues to follow the advice of neocons with a bad record and starts by shear stupidity a war against Iran.

      I truly wish that Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard would somehow gets to read this. If she really has the determination to become President and end all of these many imperial wars of choice (I prefer that term to “regime-change wars”) she will find herself confronted by all three sides of a vast triangle of powers — most notably the military establishment — determined to see that she succeeds at nothing. Subduing them will take a self-confidence — if not a monumental ego — even greater than Trump’s, combined with the actual intelligence (and an understanding of Machiavelli’s The Prince) required to accomplish even a fraction of the task. I wish her well, for I see no other Democratic candidate for President who even understands the nature of the problems. And if President Trump would just fire the entire Joined Chefs of Stuff and half the Pentagon by noon this coming Monday, then I would begin to think at least a few good thoughts about him for a change.

      I’ll do my best to see that some of these thoughts reach the Tulsi Gabbard campaign. They have asked for and received a few hundred dollars in contributions from me, so they can damn well accept whatever hard-earned words of anti-militarist wisdom that I have to share. I may not have all that many years left to share them with anyone, so now or perhaps never …

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      1. The squeaky wheel may get the oil, but the quiet yes-men move up the chain of command, winning additional stars, ribbons, and ever fatter pensions, as you have often stressed, Michael. Now I’m going to go way out on a limb and express a belief that if Trump attempted to seize actual dictatorial power (unthinkable? no longer, the man is literally DERANGED), the majority of military leadership would resist. Wow, I’m sweating bullets just to express such a notion!

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    2. Well, to be sort of fair to the media, they fell in line with virtually every then-member of Congress because, you know, had to stop “Commie dominoes from falling.” Network reporters in the field and indie journalists (including Errol Flynn’s son, if you weren’t aware) started to poke ever-larger holes in the Pentagon’s official story. There was no Fox “News” then to cheer on the Holy War to the masses, “just” local newspapers (NY Daily News notoriously) with very rightwing agendas. To my mind, things only truly went to hell when the military insisted American journalists “embed” themselves with military units. But still, stories like the horrors of Abu Ghraib, the fabulous “disappearance” of pallets full of US currency (a mere $6 Billion) in newly “liberated” Iraq, etc. have managed to leak out. But being a whistleblower has become increasingly hazardous, no question about that.

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  12. Another great column WJA! And thanks for featuring HB Franklin’s column on the POW/MIA scam. It’s a condensed version of his excellent ‘MIA, or Mythmaking In America’ book that I came across about 10 yrs ago that was SO explanatory of the whole phenomenon, especially the EXTREMELY cynical manipulation by Nixon and later Reagan. Reading your column and books like HBF’s is like listening to a knowledgeable mechanic talk about cars vs listening to a car-salesman (ie; like the mainstream media babbling-on with their predictable boosterism and pandering without any serious, comprehensive analysis).

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