Rick Perlstein, Washington Spectator writer, calls POW/MIA flag a racist 'banner of lies' (The Washington Times)

August 12, 2015

By Jessica Chasmar  

An article published by The Washington Spectator is causing a stir after its author claimed the American POW/MIA flag is a racist symbol, “useful only to venal right-wing politicians who wish to exploit hatred by calling it heritage.”

The Spectator’s national correspondent Rick Perlstein argues that the flag, which is meant to honor U.S. military personnel taken as “prisoners of war” or soldiers “missing in action,” is nothing but a cult invented by President Richard Nixon “in order to justify the carnage in Vietnam in a way that rendered the United States as its sole victim.”

“Downed pilots whose bodies were not recovered – which, in the dense jungle of a place like Vietnam meant most pilots – had once been classified ‘Killed in Action/Body Unrecovered,'” Mr. Perlstein writes. “During the Nixon years, the Pentagon moved them into a newly invented ‘Missing in Action’ column. 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.

“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,” he continues.

“These prisoners only existed because of America’s antecedent violations of the Geneva Conventions in bombing civilians in an undeclared war,” he writes. “[O]ur 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.”

Mr. Pelstein laments that the POW/MIA flag memorializes Americans as the preeminent victims of the Vietnam War, a notion he blames on the 1978 film “The Deer Hunter.”

“That damned flag: it’s a shroud. It smothers the complexity, the reality, of what really happened in Vietnam,” he concludes. “We’ve come to our senses about that other banner of lies. It’s time to do the same with this.”

The article reads like an opinion piece, but is filed under “Politics” on The Spectator’s website. Newsweek, which  reprinted the article, categorized the piece as “Opinion.”

Many social media users condemned the article as PC culture run amok.