The first question you’re probably going to ask is, “Who is Rick Pearlstein, and why do we care?” And when we answer the first question, you might wonder why we bother with the second. Pearlstein is one more wealthy media Manhattanite, raised in a family that sent poor black city kids and white country boys to the coal faces of freedom, while they rode deferments and dodges and Wall Street duplicity to personal comfort and self-satisfaction far removed from a plot in Arlington and a line on a slab of black granite.
Like any well-heeled debtor who does not want to pay the debt, he loathes his creditors. He is a type, one that may be found in widest distribution across the newsrooms and faculty lounges of America, and not any place that physical or productive work is taking place, or that risk is borne.
Pearlstein, further, writes for Newsweek, the forgotten-but-not-entirely-gone news magazine that sold a few years ago at an absurdly high P/E ratio, which is to say, for $1. So hardly anybody reads his drivel, unless the dentist doesn’t have Sports Illustrated or Highlights for Children. We will spare Newsweek the link from our small (but, we suspect, less dentally-captive than theirs) readership, and requote a quote that David French of National Review, a Pearlstein detractor, picked from out of Pearlstein’s word goulash to illustrate Pearlstein’s latest argument. Ickle Rick’s position is that the POW/MIA flag is evil and should be taken down — because Rick Pearlstein hates it, as much as and for the same reasons as he hates the Stars and Stripes. (So, what flag does he fly? That of personal self-aggrandizement, cloaked as concern-trolling for the downtrodden workers and peasants: a red one).
During the Nixon years, the Pentagon moved [missing, downed pilots] into a newly invented “Missing in Action” column.
Um, Perlstein is simply making that up. Here, for instance, is a link to the American Battle Monuments Commission describing, among other things, how the names of roughly 4,400 Americans who were classified as Lost at Sea or Missing in Action in World War I are recorded on tablets at the Commission’s WWI cemeteries. For Rick Pearlstein, of course, this may just be a symptom of just how deep Tricky Dick Nixon’s tentacles reached, polluting the ABMC before Nixon was out of triangular pants.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary notes that the first use of the abbreviation MIA for Missing In Action dates to at least 1944. In Rick Pearlstein’s world, which began when some doctor delivered him and slapped his mother, that’s before the Original Event Horizon, so everything has to begin with Nixon somehow.
That proved convenient, for, after years of playing down the existence of American prisoners in Vietnam, in 1969, the new president suddenly decided to play them up.
You may recall that the guy before Nixon, LBJ, whom Pearlstein here conflates with Tricky Dick his ownself, had no idea what he was doing in Vietnam, just that he didn’t want to lose, didn’t want to win, and didn’t want to make a decision. LBJ was abetted in this by a bunch of Harvard geniuses he’d inherited from the JFK administration. Most of them were geniuses in the Wile E. Coyote mold: Robert S. Macnamara, for instance, after screwing up Ford Motor Company, gave the DOD the colossal TFX program that needed 25 years and an electronics revolution to become a working airplane, then created the Vietnam quagmire, and then proceeded to drive much of the Third World into default by screwing up the World Bank. And he was the high achiever of the pack.
He declared their treatment, and the enemy’s refusal to provide a list of their names, violations of the Geneva Conventions—the better to paint the North Vietnamese as uniquely cruel and inhumane. He also demanded the release of American prisoners as a precondition to ending the war.
The tortures systematized by the People’s Army of Viet Nam are quite literally violations of the Geneva and Hague Conventions. Not because Tricky Dick said so, however much Pearlstein imagines that to be true.
It is worth noting that the thoroughly criminal Nazi government observed these conventions to a much greater extent than the Democratic Republic of Vietnam did.
This was bullshit four times over:
This is projection four times over, as we will see.
first, because in every other conflict in human history, the release of prisoners had been something settled at the close of a war;
It is something that is always discussed between civilized combatants, usually through neutral Powers, and is always covered in end-of-war agreements. So Pearlstein is lying about this, too.
second, because these prisoners only existed because of America’s antecedent violations of the Geneva Conventions in bombing civilians in an undeclared war;
Pearlstein’s attempt at barracks-room lawyering fails just as you would expect someone whose entire life has been dedicated to sending others to the barracks in his stead. “Bombing civilians” of the sort that happened in the Vietnam War (or that happens now, in drone attacks) is not unlawful, if the force is intended to strike military targets and not grossly disproportional to the target. And there is no requirement that a war be declared (or even, for both of the warring parties to be states, and how can you declare war if you are not a state?) for the Laws and Usages of War to attach.
Also, in his credentialed-but-ignorant view of history, he doesn’t even note that only some of the tortured prisoners were airmen. The longest-held POW, Floyd Thompson, was a Special Forces officer captured in South Vietnam in 1964.
third, because, as bad as their torture of prisoners was, rather than representing some species of Oriental despotism, the Vietnam Communists were only borrowing techniques practiced on them by their French colonists (and incidentally paid forward by us in places like Abu Ghraib): see this as-told-to memoir by POW and future senator Jeremiah Denton.
This is, of course, the tu quoque logical fallacy, used twice; typical of Pearlstein’s shallow, juvenile, poorly-educated reasoning skills. How torture by the French, if such existed, prior to 1954, justified torture by the Vietnamese in the 1970s as payback to a third party is unclear. Moreover, just because someone tortured you doesn’t get you a Commit War Crimes Free Card. (That is, in fact, what the Americans at My Lai 4 argued in their defense, a defense that failed. Note also that we put our war criminals on trial, however imperfectly; Pearlstein’s pals in the PAVN showered theirs with honors). Second, his second shot at tu quoque, the misconduct by a poorly led MP unit at Abu Ghraib (led, incidentally, by a female BG that the same Manhattan media scrum liked to hold up as a model for the New Amazon Warrior Woman) was not a systematic, top-down torture effort approved at the highest levels of the nation, but was the creation of one mouth-breathing staff sergeant and his guard shift of unthinking inbreds, who were tried, convicted, and imprisoned. It’s like, we dunno, blaming the New York Bar for Joel Steinberg murdering his daughter. Or blaming all reporters because Pearl Rickstein subscribes to Jayson Blair standards of integrity.
And finally, our South Vietnamese allies’ treatment of their prisoners, who lived manacled to the floors in crippling underground bamboo “tiger cages” in prison camps built by us, was far worse than the torture our personnel suffered.
Ah, it’s another tu quoque. And a false one. And one that has its basis in wartime enemy propaganda, for whom some reporters are still the willing Tannoy, fifty years later.
We get it. Rick Pearlstein hates the POWs, because they criticized his commie pals (the side he and his always wanted to win), and also criticized his candidate for president, the one that did the bidding of those commie pals in 1970-72.
Rick Pearlstein hates the POWs. Newsweek hates the POWs.
Rick Pearlstein hates American soldiers. Newsweek hates American soldiers.
Rick Pearlstein hates the POW-MIA flag. Newsweek hates the POW-MIA flag.
Rick Pearlstein hates the American flag and what it stands for. Newsweek hates the American flag and what it stands for.
And that’s about all you need to know about Rick Pearlstein and Newsweek.