History · Opinion · World War II

POWs and Politics Then and Now

This Newsweek article unpacks some little-known history behind a flag visible all over the U.S. in honor of Vietnam-era prisoners of war and those missing in action. This is pretty strong language, but it’s illuminating even if you find it extreme.

Being acquainted mainly with World War II-era prisoners of war, and British/Australian/Dutch ones at that, I was surprised to learn how few American Vietnam War POWs there were – and how much the U.S. government used them, impersonally, as a political tool.

Since the staggering mobilizations and displacements of the Second World War, war imprisonment has been much less of an issue for any former Allied power. (Not mentioned here: kidnappings between the two Koreas, etc. etc.) Since the 1940s, the people having experiences similar to those World War II POWs are not prisoners, but rather refugees. They’re the ones who are into underequipped camps, subject to random violence, forced to travel long distances without help, hungry, disempowered. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees afoot today (depending on how you define the term). And that’s without anybody declaring a world war.Homeless vs POW

Of course those who suffered as prisoners of war in any conflict deserve memory and honor. But it’s clear, at least in the U.S., that they’re past any other kind of help. Refugees, on the other hand, still have a scrap of hope. A sampling of sources and resources:

The International Rescue Committee (dating from World War II)

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres