LA Times Editorial:
A Breath of Reality
The following editorial was published in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday, April 15, 2001.
Copyright 2001 / Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
April 15, 2001, Sunday, Home Edition
SECTION: Opinion; Part M; Page 4; Editorial Writers Desk
HEADLINE: HONOR MIAS IN MEMORY
Of all the indescribable losses inflicted in battle, the cruelest, most
lasting to survivors may be the casualties known as missing in action, those
souls who go off to war and never return, dead or alive.
MIAs are presumed dead. But the lack of certainty leaves scabs, not
scars, on the lives of wondering widows, widowers, parents, siblings and
World War I still has 3,350 MIAs, World War II 78,000, Korea 8,100 and
various Cold War incidents 120. Today's 1,982 Vietnam War MIAs are some 600
fewer than at war's end, predominantly airmen who flew off a radar screen
into their family's memory somewhere over Southeast Asia.
Vietnam's MIAs are different in many ways. Modern forensics and dedicated
detective work facilitate the U.S. military's traditional and admirable
fervor to identify and bring fallen comrades home.
Vietnam as a highly political war also turned its MIAs into a durable
political cause, abetted by books and movies suggesting evil conspiracies as
well as by a dedicated, effective grass-roots lobby of friends and families.
They convinced the government to make MIA accounting a condition of
normalized relations with Vietnam. And the search for a relatively few
Vietnam MIAs, like many government programs, took on an enduring life of its
own, a life that continues today with 500 full-time MIA workers worldwide
and a cost to taxpayers of about $ 2 million weekly.
Vietnam, which lists 300,000 of its own MIAs, has by all accounts
fulfilled its promise, albeit with a cultural puzzlement over American
preoccupation with body fragments a quarter-century after hostilities ended.
Last weekend, workers recovered the bodies of 16 American and Vietnamese
killed in a helicopter crash while looking for MIA remains in old crashes.
U.S. officials vow to reexamine not the hunt's financial or human costs but
only whether to continue using Russian helicopters flown by Vietnamese.
Maybe a new century is the time to bow our heads and begin closing the
book not on the hallowed memory of the Vietnam missing but on the proactive
quest for remains, to make the search instead reactive as it has long been
for other conflicts. Today whenever a farmer or hiker uncovers American
remains from other wars--in Russia, New Guinea, North Korea, even
China--Americans rush to retrieve them with full military honors, as they
should. This weekend a U.S. P-51 pilot will begin the trip home from France
57 years after his crash. It is no disrespect to anyone to allow unfound
remains to rest in peace.
Now, who better to begin this delicate discussion and overdue healing
than a new president, the son of a once-downed combat flier?
For my views on this matter, read my proposal.
The proposal is a bit dated -- I posted it in December 1997 and updated it in March
1999 -- but the views presented there are still valid.