During the recent ceaseless media coverage of the desertion/defection of United States private Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan a constant refrain from virtually every commentator has been the platitude that the United States of America never leaves any of our military or clandestine personnel in enemy hands.
If it were only true.
But it’s not. Provably!
And the truth should make Americans cry.
International communism alone—ignoring other actors such as the Taliban/Hakkani Network that held Bergdahl, South American drug dealers, and others—has for one hundred years kidnapped, captured, held, and refused to return American citizens.
And our government has known about it, and been complicit in it. For one hundred years!
In her Townhall.com article of June 6, 2014, Diana West wrote of “the betrayal by the U.S. government of literally thousands of American POWs and MIAs who were left behind in Communist prisons after every war America fought in the 20th century, from World War I . . . to Vietnam.”
Unfortunately, very few of our countrymen know the details of this century-old criminality perpetrated by America’s politicians and military. (Several years ago I wrote about this in a long article entitled “Archangel 1918 to Hanoi 1974,” telling the story of a pilot shot down during the Vietnam War. The article, with extensive notes, appears at: http://www.henrymarkholzer.com/f/publishedarticle.pdf .)
The fact is that during the Twentieth Century the United States openly fought international communism three times, on battlefields from the frozen wastes of Siberia, to the harsh mountains of Korea, to the steaming jungles of Vietnam—and after those conflicts ended we never recovered thousands of American POWs and MIAs. Diana West says the book Betrayal by the late Joseph D, Douglass, Jr. puts the Vietnam number at 2,000, Korea at 5,000-8,000, 1,000 during the Cold War, “and, staggeringly, between 15,000 and 20,000 after World War II.”
How was this possible?
As I have written in “Archangel 1918 to Hanoi 1974,” in addition to the three overt wars against Communist, the United States fought them covertly during World War II when they were our allies, and later in the “Cold War” when they were not. At those times, too, our country suffered the loss of countless American POWs and MIAs.
These hot and cold wars against worldwide communism, together with unimpeachable evidence that emerged after all American prisoners of war were supposed to have been repatriated from Vietnam in 1973, strongly suggest that by the end of the Vietnam War hundreds, if not thousands, of American fighting men were deliberately withheld from repatriation by the Indochinese Communists.
But America’s experience with non-repatriated military (and some civilian) personnel began long before Vietnam—and long before private Bowe Bergdahl deserted his post in Afghanistan.
In 1991 a United States Senate Report was issued entitled “An Examination of U.S. Policy Toward POW/MIAs.” The Report noted that “it is not surprising to learn that the problems with which the United States has had in dealing with prisoners of war and the missing in action [from the Vietnam War] are not the result of chance, but of historic Communist policy. Indeed, history reveals that policy. In the years after World Wars I and II, the Soviet regime, and later their North Korean cohorts, held American soldiers and citizens captive in the aftermath of these wars.” (Holzer’s emphasis.)
The Senate Report further acknowledged that “Soviet and Asian Communist regimes view POW/MIAs, living or dead, not as a problem of humanitarian concern, but  as leverage for political bargaining,  as an involuntary source of technical assistance, and  as forced labor.”
There were two additional purposes for which the Communists used American POW/MIAs:  to obtain hard cash and needed goods, and,  to turn them into human guinea pigs.
The United States Senate Report added that “the [Communists’ POW/MIAs-as-commodities] policy began with Lenin.
Indeed it did.
In World War I, an Allied Expeditionary Force was sent to protect the Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel from the Germans. According to the Senate Report, “[a]s a result of the fighting against Soviet Bolshevik forces around Archangel in 1918-1919, there were many . . . eyewitness accounts of hundreds of U.S. and British and French personnel who disappeared.”
One American lieutenant stated that “[w]e were worried about hundreds of missing from our ranks and arranged a truce to affect an exchange.” In the end, the Communists “traded us two of the seven Americans for the 500 Russian soldiers, and we had to toss in a round of cigarettes to seal the bargain. We never did learn what had become of the missing.”
After two years of indifference by the government, on April 18, 1921 The New York Times confirmed that American POW/MIAs were being held for ransom by the Soviet Union.
Not only was the Soviet government holding American prisoners as barter in return for diplomatic recognition and trade relations, but the Communists had the impudence to attempt a manipulation of the United States federal criminal justice system by having us release from prison one of their own, American socialist Eugene V. Debs.
The Twentieth Century quid pro quo trafficking of Americans had begun.
Although Americans were held prisoner by the Soviets following World War I, the issue did not become prominent again until World War II. The most damning proof that the Soviets used American military personnel, “liberated” from German POW camps, as human bargaining chips after World War II appears in unimpeachable official records. Many never returned home.
In early 1945, American ambassador to the U.S.S.R. Averill Harriman cabled President Roosevelt that “there appear to be hundreds of our prisoners wandering about Poland trying to locate American contact officers for protection. * * * The Soviet Government is trying to use our liberated prisoners of war as a club to induce us to [make post-war concessions].
Soviet unwillingness to return American military personnel was not confined to the European Theater of Operations. According to the Senate Report, “[i]n the Pacific Theater, even though the Soviets were late-comers in the war effort against Japan, they managed to take control of territory just across the Soviet Union’s contiguous borders with Manchuria, China as well as the northern islands of Japan. In doing so, the Soviets were able to seize some Japanese POW camps holding Allied prisoners.” The fate of many of these men has never been determined.
In one episode during the Cold War, six U.S. servicemen were kidnapped in Germany and Austria and transferred to the former Soviet Union. All six eventually returned to U.S. control after years in various prisons and camps in East Germany and the former Soviet Union.”
There are countless reliable witness reports of American military personnel held by the Soviets and East Germans during the Cold War, in prisons and the Gulag.
The despicable Soviet imprisonment of American military personnel continued during and after the Korean War.
According to the Senate Report, “[o]n June 17, 1955, almost two years after the end of operation “Big Switch,” [repatriation of unwounded POWs], the Office of the Secretary of Defense, issued an internal report titled, “Recovery of Unrepatriated Prisoners of War.” The report admitted that:
After the official repatriation efforts were completed, the U.N. Command found that it still had slightly less than 1000 U.S. P[O]Ws (not MIAs!) “unaccounted for” by the Communists.
At the time of the official repatriation, some of our [returnees] stated they had been informed by the Communists that they were holding “some” U.S. flyers as “political prisoners” rather than as prisoners of war and that these people would have to be “negotiated for” through political or diplomatic channels.
(Later, the North Vietnamese would insist on characterizing downed American airmen not as “prisoners of war,” but rather as “air pirates,” and “criminals,” threatening at one time to put them in the dock at “war crimes” trials.)
In its June 19, 2000 issue, Newsweek published an article about American Korean War POWs, claiming that “hundreds” may have been kept against their will. “After the collapse of the Soviet Union,” according to Newsweek “the Kremlin’s archives yielded an extraordinary exchange of telegrams among Joseph Stalin, Zhou Enlai [the Chinese Communist foreign minister] and the North Korean strongman Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current psychopathic dictator. Toward the end of the war, the Chinese had suggested that if American prisoners were to be repatriated, ‘at least 20 percent should be held back.’ Mao thought he could use the prisoners as political pawns in support of his efforts to win a U.N. seat and diplomatic recognition from Washington.”
Again, there are many reliable witness reports attesting to these facts.
The information contained in the Senate Report covering the period immediately after World War I to the eve of the Vietnam War—through World War II, the Cold War, and The Korean War—prove beyond any doubt that American military personnel were held captive in the Soviet Union over the course of some forty years, from approximately 1918 to 1960.
Whether these men were held by Soviets, East Germans, Chinese, or Koreans; whether they were enlisted or officers; whether they were native born or immigrants; whether they were pilots or had other military occupational specialties; whether they were wounded or not; whether they were arrested, kidnapped, shot down, survived crashes, not repatriated, or were POWs liberated by the Soviets from Germans and Japanese prison camps; or whether they or fell under Communist control some other way—the indisputable fact is that thousands-upon-thousands of our countrymen lived, and died, in Soviet and other Communist prisons, labor camps, “hospitals,” and other detention facilities.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that this despicable conduct by the Communists was repeated during the Vietnam War.
Nearly ten years before United States involvement in Vietnam ended, Ambassador Averill Harriman, whose outrage over Soviet treatment of liberated American POWs after World War II had come to naught, was again involved in repatriation efforts—this time concerning our countrymen held captive in Indochina.
In late 1966 (seven years before the war’s end), during the Johnson Administration, a plan was floated by Harriman that would have ransomed American POWs the North Vietnamese then held. The idea was quickly scotched by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In The Long Road Home: U.S. Prisoner of War Policy and Planning in Southeast Asia, an official study by the Department of Defense, author Vernon E. Davis has written that, also in 1966, “U.S. representatives in Berlin reported an approach by a[n East] German ‘lawyer’ [I have used quotation marks because ‘prisoner broker’ would be a more apt term], Wolfgang Vogel . . . [who] had been involved in arranging the return to the West of detainees [i.e., prisoners] from Communist countries in Europe.” (Indeed he had. Once, unsuccessfully, I approached Vogel on behalf of two brothers imprisoned in the Gulag.)
Declassified CIA documents reveal that in 1964 the North Vietnamese Communist Party “ordered that all North Vietnamese military personnel and civilians be trained to capture American military personnel alive so that they could be used ‘as hostages to compel the U.S., in the event of a cease fire, to pay war reparations for the destruction inflicted upon NVN by the United States’.”
The story of American POWs and missing military personnel who had been held in Communist Indochina is a long, complicated, and in the end a sad and frustrating one. Because our political and military leaders knowing left men behind.
It is a fact that on July 1982, no less a personage than Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger revealed to POW/MIA families the Reagan administration’s new understanding: “[W]e [now] proceed under the assumption that at least some Americans are still held captive by the Indochinese Communists, [citing] over 400 first-hand sightings.”
In January 1986, on the Good Morning America TV show, the State Department’s Richard Armitage stated that “there may indeed be some Americans held against their will” in Indochina. Paul Wolfowitz, another high-ranking Department of Defense official, said on the Today TV show that of some 800 live-sighting reports in the past ten years “[t]here are roughly 100 that we believe hold up under this [sic] best scrutiny we can put to them.”
So why for one hundred years were Americans left behind in hell holes?
The short answer is because their political and military leaders had more “weighty” considerations than the freedom of those who had served their country.
Woodrow Wilson wanted America in the League of Nations.
Franklin Roosevelt wanted the U.S.S.R. to come into the war against the Japanese.
Harry Truman wanted to deal with containment of the Soviet Union.
Dwight Eisenhower wanted an armistice with the North Korean and Chinese Communists.
Richard Nixon wanted “peace with honor” in Vietnam.
Leaving American Marines, airmen, soldiers, sailors, and clandestine operators in the hands of our enemies is surely immoral by itself. But to lie about it to their loved ones and the American people is to compound the monstrous wrong.
Even worse, if that’s possible, is that the lies give false hope to those Americans who may fall into enemy hands and only then learn that they are mere pawns in a game where they don’t know the rules and over which they have no control.