Vice Admiral Stockdale, who spent nearly a decade as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, "tears apart" some of the false asumptions about captivity .
As an eight-year beleaguered and bludgeoned captive of Hanoi who spent most of that time in solitary confinement, I have in recent months been bombarding audiences from the eastern seaboard to Ohio to California with the message that America has been inviting future hostage disasters by so naively providing both actors and audiences in support of the new worldwide art form, "Extortionist Theater" -- most recently successfully produced by Iran. Every outlaw power and terrorist group in the world surely took note of how Jimmy Carter's queasiness about the threat or use of force, and our national demand for continuous TV hostage soap opera, provided the positive and negative terminals of a power source into which they could plug a few American captives for profit and prestige. We got ourselves into this tempting and vulnerable position by backing into what became a national stance roughly attuned to a misguided popular sentiment that fell out of highly questionable if not false assumptions about the basic nature of the captivity problem. On my road show, I contrasted some of these assumtions with the reality I knew behind barbed wire and proceeded to tear them apart. The sample below will give you an idea of what I mean.
False Assumption No. 1: "We must not hammer the captors or they'll take it out on the captives." Ask any of the 400 Americans in the prisoners' organization in Hanoi and they'll tell you that our North Vietnamese jailers were never more sweet than right after Col. Bull Simon's Son Tay helicopter rescue attempt (when he shot up a couple hundred of them, and they in turn, for security reasons, felt obliged to bring us leaders out of solitary and put all prisoners together in better living conditions in the big prison donwtown), or during the B52 bombings in December 1972 (when formerly abusive guards dropped their posturing and meekly broke precedent by bringing us tubs of hot coffee each dawn.). Our bones got broken as often as not during America's sporadic bombing pauses when we were showing national "good will." Does the Iranian experience correlate with this? I think it does. Being nice to the enemy so he'll be nice to your captives is still a bush-league idea.
False Assumption No. 2: "We as a country are doing best by the captives if we support the infusion of 'a little bit of home' into their lives by sending visitors, at least during the Christmas season." Rev. Do-Good, or even William Sloane Coffin and Ramsey Clark, some Americans believe, are better than nobody. To fully realize the evil these people do, the damage they wreak on the morale and self-respect of the captives, one has to appreciate the tremendous ennobling and uplifting effect the overcoming of shared hardships has on a band of prisoners over time. In Hanoi, the greater the degradation and torture and the more years we withstood this together, the deeper grew the bonds of mutual respect and love for each other. Our world literally became our band of brothers, and personal pride and reputation among our peers our total life's investment. Captors became symbols of tinhorn fakery.
Imagine now the stage of Extortion Theater onto which enter "the friendly representatives of the people back home" -- all of whom are necessarily admitted as suplicants, as apologists. Moreover, these visitors are psychologically committed to dragging the captives before cameras as actors in the supplicant role. "Let the people at home see you" or "The Intelligence people want to see you," they probably say. Though feeling humiliation, few captives can muster the emotional energy to take on these American finks as enemies. Each has enough enemies to concentrate on even thought these so-called friends are on the make, and they detablize and damage the prisoner's life. Sometimes these finks damage his most prized possession: this reputation. Ramsey Clark came to Hanoi and incited American prisoners of war to violate their Code of Conduct and got a few takers. When does he accont for that and for the disinformation, he spread about the situation is Iran?
False Assumption No. 3: "Any release is a good release; if they'll agree to return 5 out of 52 next week, encourage it." Thank goodness this is often identified as a poor bargaining idea as seen from Washington; what our politicians and countrymen in general need to understand is the true and total perniciousness of early releases as seen from within that band of brothers behind barbed wire. Each person who walks out ahead of the others leaves behind him a trail of lifelong grudges and broken unity, and he installs within himself a time bomb of repressive remorse.
The early release idea also has the potential of providing the producers of Extortionist Theater with a grand finale act featuring the captives scrambling for places in line to go home by scoring high in an anti-American propaganda production contest. Hanoi had something like that in mind for us POWs, but I and others finessed that finale with strict orders to all Americans that there would be no exception to the Code of Conduct's prohibition against accepting parole. I also outlawed the accepting of amnesty. After our release, my constituents demanded justice in the form of prosecution of the few who bugged out in violation of my orders. Funny thing, though; I couldn't find anybody in Washington who understood the problem.
These problems and a dozen more like them need to be understood if we are going to truly shut down Extortionist Theater on a "never again" basis. This country has to get itself in hand, get its actors off the stage and get our audiences ready to shed not tears but rotten eggs and at least a credible threat of bombs and bayonets the minute the next bunch of punks tries to pull our chain by taking prisoners.