Those Americans who are both concerned and activated over the hundreds of Vietnam servicepersonnel still missing from the Vietnam War fall into two camps. One camp feels our government should take a no-nonsense, all-out hostile/aggressive position on the plight of our missing... On one extreme the members of this camp feel the least our government should be doing is denying any diplomatic or trade relations with the communist government in Vietnam. On the other end of their bell-shaped curve this camp feels sending several divisions of armed and angry Green Berets/Navy SEALs to Vietnam to manage our POW/MIA investigations there... and re-start the war if necessary... is an extreme they "can live with."
The other camp takes a demonstrably moderate view. They feel that the only way -- at this point in time -- to gain a full accounting of the missing is to "flood Vietnam" with as many American business suits as possible... that is, multiplying the 'Garwood Factor': only by increasing the numbers of Westerners working/traversing Vietnam's cities and rural areas can we increase the potential/opportunity for anyone possessing information about a/any POW/MIA to make contact with someone to share their knowledge. Many Vietnamese, it is believed, are afraid to come forth with any information they possess for fear that the Vietnamese government will subject them to indignities and deprivations harming not only themselves but their families. After all, as Vietnamese themselves remind us, "Unlike you we do not have direct access to the United States congress... the only people we can contact over here are the communist's offices. If you want to help us to contact you, establish an embassy and offices we can go to in safety."
Ann Mills Griffith, America's 'First Lady' of the MIA/POW movement, expresses the moderate, reasonable view... in this week's edition of STARS AND STRIPES, (Vol. 120, No. 15, page 7). Neither 'rubber stamper' nor 'Exterminatrix', Ms. Griffith's earthy rationale, politically and humanly wise perspective of the POW/MIA problem -- seasoned over twenty-plus years of negotiating with four star generals, congressmen and women, presidents and countless Department of State officials -- may well be the most balanced approach to advancing America's further information acquisition/understanding of determining exactly what happened to the missing Americans whose true whereabouts depressingly haunt us daily.
The American government, both camps concede, made terrible mistakes in the many years following the war's end regarding how best we should handle the POW/MIA problem... notwithstanding the awesome global limitations preventing us from exerting our instinctive approach to resolving the problem. The only consistent element in all those years has been the position of the Vietnamese government that demanded: "Give us hundreds of millions of dollars and maybe, just maybe, we will think about providing a full accounting." But no American with a full understanding of the complex political, international, economic intricacies involved in obtaining more information about our missing -- even using 20/20 hindsight -- can unequivocally denounce the strategies employed by the six Administrations that unsuccessfully tiptoed the MIA/POW minefield. Never in Post-Marxian history has a western, democratic government ever succeeded in negotiating successfully with the communist mentality that constantly shape-shifted its positions and demands -- even when we agree to their basic philosophical premise that: 'What's theirs is theirs, what's ours is negotiable.'
Ms. Griffith is on the right track, a position the President of the United States appears to agree. I agree with the view that, within certain boundaries, the only way to open up the length and breadth of Vietnam's shadowy backworld where Americans will be found -- if indeed any are still living and being held against their will -- is to increase the numbers of in-country WestWorlders whose commercial business interests carry them throughout the country. Unfortunately, the members of the first camp are fighting tooth and nail to prevent this... even though they can offer no viable other alternative aside from crossing their arms over their chests and asserting "Let's just wait until Vietnam agrees to our terms."
Vietnam can/is willing to wait until Hell freezes over... or our generation of still hostile Americans who served in Vietnam and the families thereof are long dead... leaving the final decision to Americans whose lives were not personally touched by the war.
This weekend the Los Angeles Times entered the fray from a necessary economic POV. In a Column One editorial on U.S.-Vietnam relations The Times insists that the communist government in Vietnam do what no communist government has ever done: establish/exercise capitalist business practices/policies. In short, The Times asserts that Vietnam must undertake certain reforms their former enemy, us, feel are required before America can/should move forward in its expensive/risky investments there. The Times' rationale is understandable... and quite probably correct. America must have some basic guarantee that internationally accepted business practices are confirmed and supported by the Vietnamese national government before we sink billions of dollars in their future. With Hong Kong teetering back and forth Vietnam's best interest is in working with an Administration who voted for an anti-war protester who's simple, decades-old argument that the Vietnam War should never have been finds agreement among a numerically superior majority of American voters.
The Vietnam War, like all wars was, essentially, fought for commercial reasons. Even if Communist China turned capitalist overnight it would still remain our international competitor... with the previously dominated British and French Hong Kong still never to become an American commerce satellite despite Bill Clinton's recent huffing and puffing. The British and French are now re-investing in Vietnam to the tune of millions... doing what they did in the 1950's, alienating and distancing American interests. But America requires a foothold on the Asian continent. And the only viable prospect of possessing a continental coastline is through partnership with Vietnam.
Vietnam will inevitably have to move toward democracy... just as the Soviet Union did. But the process of democratization must begin, as it did in Soviet-dominated Poland, with an introduction of American business interests... a strategy that has proved successful in Poland when American dollars and labor organizations united the masses... causing a domino effect that eventually toppled the Soviet Union.
The business of America is business. The United States is the greatest nation on Earth because of our acumen for business. We're good at making/doing business... we applied that acumen to the Gulf War... overwhelming an opponents resources/assets... we should stick to what we do best. Perhaps it is only by taking a business approach to resolving our grey-haired MIA/POW problem that we can achieve our goal of obtaining a full and complete accounting.
-- Phill ColemanREFERENCES: LOS ANGELES TIMES