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British captives shame the West
Tue, 04/17/2007 - 4:07pm
By: The Citizen
By TERRY GARLOCK
Our British friends and allies enjoy a long and distinguished history of military accomplishments. The British navy once ruled the world’s seas, Admiral Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar will be remembered forever, the rescue at Dunkirk may never be equaled, and countless other British military accomplishments require the words valor and honor.
And so it was particularly galling to watch the 15 captured British sailors and marines fairly kissing the ring of Iranian madman Ahmadinejad on TV news as they publicly apologized for intruding into Iranian waters, which they did not, and thanked him for his charitable decision to release them.
Some of my friends who never served in the military don’t see the problem. After all, the captured troops look so young and surely they feared for their lives. Isn’t the main point to win their release, to preserve their safety and their lives while in captivity, and didn’t their compliant behavior help accomplish all those things?
Well, no. The main point is the face-off between nations, and how the behavior of POWs under difficult conditions can compromise a nation’s position. Islamic nut-jobs tested Western reaction to a provocation again, and the West failed the test, again.
If the British had done more than threaten a UN resolution, or if the EU had not been so reluctant to impose sanctions, the shameful behavior of the captured troops might have mattered even more. Altogether, it was a sorry mess shining a spotlight on Western weakness disguised as sensitivity, restraint and capitulation, a recipe to encourage future provocations.
A discussion of what we expect of our own troops, defined by the U.S. Military Code of Conduct (included nearby), is worthwhile.
The code has many purposes, among them cohesion and resistance among the POWs, not letting captors divide POWs with special gifts or favors, and resisting all attempts to extract information from POWs with a strict limit to name, rank, serial number and date of birth.
Here are a few examples of how young men applied this code of conduct as POWs in the Vietnam War.
I am proud to say Jim Warner is a friend of mine, a retired attorney now living in Maryland. While in his mid-20s Jim was a Marine pilot of F-4 Phantom bomber jets and was shot down just north of the DMZ in Vietnam. While in captivity for five years, Jim was tortured many times.
The worst, he says, was when they kept him over two months in a cement box in the sun, so small it required him to crouch on the balls of his feet, with his feet in irons screwed on so tight his flesh swelled up to football size and the irons disappeared under the infected mess. He still limps from the effect of those irons. In between torture sessions Jim was interrogated and promised he could go home if only he would apologize for his war crimes. He did not.
Jim says for some reason he was never given the “ropes” treatment other POWs remember as the most painful. The North Vietnamese would tie the POWs’ arms tightly behind their back at the elbows, force their arms up so far their shoulder would be dislocated, then throw the end of the rope over a hook on the ceiling and hoist them up by the arms behind their back until they passed out.
Jim says, “Our food was consistently bad and meager. We were ever so slowly starving, susceptible to poor health conditions that accompany malnutrition.”
“We received a bowl of soup twice a day, foul-smelling liquid turned black by what we called sewer greens, an unrecognized plant that was apparently aquatic because it was hollow, with a smell as if grown in sewage. It was terribly bitter.“
“Sometimes we got a small bowl of rice with sand and tiny bits of rock mixed in, making it hard to eat. Sometimes there was bread, old and moldy bread with rat droppings in it. We often found bugs of various types in our food, and we ate them, too, because we were hungry and we knew we needed the protein.”
“However terrible the food was, there was never enough, especially in the winter when our bodies were trying to get warm.”
Jim Warner shared a cell for a while with John McCain, after years in solitary.
The North Vietnamese continually offered McCain special treatment and early release, because they knew his father was a well-known U.S. Navy admiral, and McCain’s release might have propaganda value. McCain was in need of special medical care because his arm and other bones were broken when he was shot down, and his captors twisted and beat his injuries instead of treating them. McCain steadfastly refused special treatment or release because it was prohibited by the Code, and because the POW commanding officer, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Jim Stockdale, spread the word that nobody would go home before the first man captured, or all together.
Stockdale also passed the word that every man has his breaking point, that every man would break at some point under torture, but that it was his duty to hold out in every torture session as long as possible.
When the North Vietnamese indicated they planned to take Stockdale himself to a different location one day hence and gave him fresh clothes, he suspected they wanted to film him for propaganda. That night he beat his own face and head against the cement wall of his cell, and he was a bloody and bruised mess when his captors came for him the next morning. He was completely ruined for a propaganda session.
Jeremiah Denton, who became a U.S. Senator many years after he was a POW in Hanoi, was paraded before TV cameras, with a confession he had signed under torture on display. Denton robbed the North Vietnamese of their propaganda victory by blinking into the camera the Morse Code for “torture.”
Many of our men died from the brutal treatment of the North Vietnamese. Those who made it to the end came home with honor. A few others, who cooperated with the North Vietnamese to gain their early release, narrowly escaped the prosecution sought by Cmdr. Stockdale back in the U.S., and they have never been welcome at the POWs’ annual reunions.
How did the 15 captured Brits measure up? They did not resist capture. After a few days of isolation and head games by the Iranians they cavorted on TV with the Iranians and publicly stated their own country was in the wrong. They publicly thanked their captors. They were filmed by the Iranians playing ping-pong and enjoying hearty meals.
Female Seaman Faye Turney wrote three letters, publicized by the Iranians, confessing wrongdoing by her own country, praising the Iranians, petitioning the House of Commons to end British involvement in Iraq, and criticizing her own country and the U.S. for their role in the war. It didn’t help that she wore a Muslim headscarf instead of maintaining her own uniform.
All 15 accepted Iranian dress in lieu of their country’s uniform. They cheerfully accepted gift bags of sweets and little treasures to take home as mementos of their adventure.
Please pardon my nausea.
I almost expected the 15 released Brits to skip as they rushed off their plane to the waiting arms of their families, wearing their new Iranian suits and tightly clutching their gift bags, having delivered to the Iranians a propaganda gift bag of their own.
While British news reports indicated many citizens were disappointed in the behavior of their troops, the British Defense Ministry waived the rules to allow these soldiers to personally profit by selling to the media their story of 13 days in captivity. Under fire for the decision, the ministry is scrambling to reverse course.
In the words of my 10-year-old daughter Melanie, “Goodness grief!”
Of course the U.S. has had many “goodness grief” moments, too, in recent years. I would argue the West’s long-term survival depends on military strength, a demonstrated will to use that strength, and leadership with a strong mix of iron will, cojones and judgment. Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir in their prime would be perfect.
[Terry L. Garlock of Peachtree City, Ga., is a certified financial planner. He was a helicopter gunship pilot in the Vietnam War, shot down in a firefight and seriously injured. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]login to post comments
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