Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Leave No Man Behind
Following the end of the Vietnam War, many historians have argued that the United States' faith in itself had been shaken -- that the first and, to date, only military defeat the US ever suffered deeply wounded its public consciousness.
Many have argued that Rambo: First Blood 2 was symptomatic of those wounds. Popular theory holds that the film is an attempt to re-fight the Vietnam War, this time with the United States emerging as the victor.
There may be a case for that. But the film also presented the United States with another opportunity: that to go back and make good on what has become a popular mantra for the US Marine Corp:
Leave no man behind.
In the film, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), serving prison time for his rampage in First Blood, is approached with an offer from the United States government: participate in a reconnaissance mission to help identify and recover US servicemen still behind held in Vietnam.
Rambo agrees, and sets off for Vietnam. His mission is to reconnoiteur only -- he is forbidden from engaging the enemy. However, when he stages a rescue of a mistreated POW, the commander of the mission, Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier), calls off the recovery. Rambo is left in enemy hands.
After the arrival of Russian Lieutenant Colonal Podovsky (Steven Berkoff) in the Vietnamese camp, Rambo is tortured until he stages a daring escape.
Rambo even returns to the camp and liberates the POWs. He leaves no man behind.
At the end of the Vietnam war, nearly 2,000 Americans remained unaccounted for in Vietnam. To date, less than 600 have been accounted for.
While the United States had agreed to pay war reparations to Vietnam in exchange for the POWs, the government didn't deliver, and the POWs were withheld. Many of them never returned.
The urgency that no man be left behind clearly wasn't always shared by the US government, but is still felt by many even today. John McCain's efforts to account for POWs have proven to be a noble, if sometimes maligned portion of his record.
During the 2008 election, many slanderous tales were told about McCain being a collaborator during his time as a POW. There was absolutely no truth to them.
One of McCain's proudest records as a Congressman -- as a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate -- has been keeping diplomatic channels open with Vietnam in order to account for POWs still missing.
The likelihood of recovering any POWs alive had already grown slim by the 1980s. Today, many American POWs remain unaccounted for. There is almost no chance any of them are still alive. However, McCain has spent much of his career attempting to arrange the return of their remains to their families.
No Rambo-style mission into Vietnam is known to have ever been staged, let alone successfully free POWs.
Diplomacy has remained the last, best hope to recover these POWs. For many years, John McCain has been their Rambo -- even after their passing.