In a March 1984 Optimist feature article, Julian Lowenfeld performed the valuable service of focusing our attention on the plight of the remaining 2490 American MIAs of the Vietnam War. As Dr. Lowenfeld makes clear, although these brave young Americans are officially listed as “Missing in Action,” most are actually POWs, still held as human bargaining chips by the barbaric North Vietnamese Communist regime more than a decade after the end of the war. It is vital that all Americans unite to take whatever action is necessary to bring these suffering boys home.
However, while the plight of these 2490 American MIAs currently held captive in Vietnam is sad, is not the plight of the far more numerous American Civil War MIAs even sadder, those 68,431 loyal American soldiers who have been held captive for more than a century in their own native land? It is cruel and hypocritical for those Americans campaigning for the freedom of their sons, brothers, and fathers in Vietnam to remain so callously silent concerning the continuing imprisonment of their own great-great-great-grandfathers in their own country. Let us free all the MIAs.
In the interests of advancing this noble cause, your humble correspondent recently devoted several months to investigating all available evidence on the captivity of these forgotten Americans. Initial leads were difficult to obtain. Natives of the Conquered Southern Territories were understandably hostile towards a representative of the imperialist power occupying their lands, and bore no great sympathy for the enemy soldiers so long imprisoned (to them, mention of the words “Sherman” or “Atlanta” still evokes the same pathos that the words “Haiphong” or “Westmoreland” would to a Vietnamese). Then too, most potential informants appeared fearful of reprisals by guerilla elements of the Kontinuing Konfederate Kause. But generous offerings of the potent native brew available at all Southern roadside taverns eventually loosened the tongues of several natives, who willingly provided the desired information concerning the status of the so-called MIAs.
One individual in particular proved especially valuable as a source. After heavy inebriation, he became defiantly proud and freely admitted to having personally served as a guard and apprentice torturer at several secret MIA camps during the past 120 years. Upon hearing my appeals to his sense of humanity in an effort to solicit his assistance in rescuing the wretched captives, he laughed rudely, drank another “swig” from his whiskey bottle, and firmly refused, claiming to have lost both his arms at the Battle of Gettysburg and to have subsequently developed a burning hatred of “all damn Yankees” (or perhaps “all dem Yankees”) as a consequence, which a full century had been unable to lessen (while his claim to having fought at Gettysburg was perhaps true, his alleged loss of both arms was doubtless mere braggadocio). Fortunately, I shrewdly surmised that the native’s avowed hatred of all things “yankee” would perhaps not extend to a distaste for the “yankee dollar,” and indeed the silent transfer of several greenbacks of varying denominations won me the information which I had sought: the principal MIA camps were located in rural portions of the backward provinces of Ole Miss’ and ‘Bama.
Transferring the location of my activities to these two regions, I successfully obtained corroboration of this personal testimony, though not without considerable difficulty. The OleMissian and ‘Bamanian tribesmen speak an obscure local dialect difficult for other than professional linguists to comprehend; furthermore, they are primitive in the extreme, and are notoriously suspicious and hostile toward strangers and indeed all those who are not members of their immediate kinship group. However, I gradually succeeded in winning their trust with small gifts of beads, trinkets, and greenbacks. Widespread fear of the local secret police organs (the so-called “Revnooers”) forced all informants to request anonymity, but otherwise they freely admitted that approximately once each month (“during Moonshine” as they phrased it in their poetical style) glimpses of old men in tattered Union Army uniforms could be seen at night, often being chased by “some lil’ ole Will o’ the Wisp” (this last phrase, though rather obscure, apparently refers to special guard units of the secret Confederate Army). Furthermore, several of these informants independently estimated the apparent ages of the old men seen as generally being 140-160 years; this tallies closely with the expected average age of remaining Civil War MIAs. (The widespread additional claim that the old men seen included such well-known Northern politicians and generals as Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, while very thought-provoking, must nonetheless be rejected on grounds of plausibility.)
Having amassed this powerful collection of eye-witness testimony, I thereupon sought to probe the reactions of those political figures whose participation in any large-scale hostage cover-up would be certain. Repeated efforts were made to reach Confederate ex-President Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) for comment, but these proved unsuccessful; members of his Cabinet were also unavailable for comment. This widespread reluctance to confront the charges being leveled against them may perhaps be regarded as tacit confirmation. Furthermore, a leading figure of the current Washington administration privately made the dramatic admission that “Of course we’re sure that nearly all of those tens of thousands of Union MIAs are in (sic) Southern soil. But we don’t know where, and there’s not a chance in Hell that we’ll ever be able to find them and send them home again. Anyway, who cares? It was all a long time ago, and raising the issue now would just reopen old wounds all over again.” Most callously, he confirmed rumors of the ill-treatment and starvation rations faced by these MIAs, saying “they’re just skeletons by now after all.”
Such official indifference—so similar to the attitude faced by supporters of the imprisoned Vietnam MIAs—must not be allowed to bury the issue of the American Civil War MIAs. Instead, we must all dig deeply into our consciences to decide what action we can take to force officialdom to unearth the truth concerning the fate of these brave old Union soldiers. Clearly something stinks in the whole rotten business!
Ron K. Unz, A Concerned American Citizen
Note added in proof: It has been brought to my attention by Southern friends that the behavior of the Federal government is also not above criticism. Apparently some 94,552 Confederate soldiers are still missing and unaccounted for; they too must be presumed illegally-held prisoners of war. It is unclear whether the Federal government has retained these men as hostages against future Southern misbehavior or as bargaining chips against the fate of the Union MIAs. In either case, the Union’s behavior is no less reprehensible. Such stubborn cruelty on both sides 120 years after the end of the war would be ridiculous if it were not so tragic. We must allow all the MIAs to return to the warm embrace of their great-great-grandchildren’s families.