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West: No men left behind? History says differently

Published: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 8:50 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 9:00 p.m. CDT

One day, I predict, the fate of Bowe Bergdahl will prove to be the least important aspect of the Bowe Bergdahl story. For now, though, even more than President Obama, Bergdahl is the focus of rage as Americans erupt in pent-up frustration over the disaster that is Afghanistan.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting that the nation’s wrath is as understandable as it is real.

Bergdahl wasn’t captured as the government vaguely led us to believe, even going so far as to prevent some of Bergdahl’s platoon mates from talking about what happened by having them sign nondisclosure agreements. We now know that as many as 14 American soldiers were killed trying to rescue Bergdahl. Their bereaved families must grieve anew over breaking news about exactly why their sons died. Their pain becomes more fuel for our outrage.

“The United States,” Obama said, “has always had a pretty sacred rule and that is: We don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind and that dates back to the earliest days.”

But this, too, is a lie. Most Americans may not realize it, but the United States has routinely left huge numbers of our POW/MIAs behind.

Shortly before the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner story broke, our country lost a great patriot, Joseph D. Douglass, Jr., someone I am proud to say was a friend and mentor of mine. A widely renowned expert in U.S.-Soviet relations, Douglass passed away on May 23 at age 78. It was his searing 2002 book “Betrayed” that focused my attention on the most ghastly betrayal of all: the betrayal by the U.S. government of literally thousands of American POWs and MIAs who were left behind in Communist prisons after every war America fought in the 20th century, from World War I (against the new Bolshevik regime) to Vietnam.

In assessing the available research, including a landmark 1990 report by the Republican minority staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Douglass concluded that as many as 2,000 Americans were left behind after the Vietnam War, 5,000 to 8,000 after the Korean War, 1,000 throughout the Cold War, and, staggeringly, between 15,000 and 20,000 after World War II.

These giant numbers are not only shocking. They are numbing to the point of sounding fantastic to those among us who have only heard politicians such as Sen. John McCain or Secretary of State John Kerry on the subject, or followed mainstream media coverage thereof. Such coverage is one of consistent denial of the existence of these men, plus ridicule for their advocates.

This backstory of silence and denial offers a sharp contrast to the Bowe Bergdahl spectacle. It also renders declarations about the U.S. government leaving no man behind demonstrably false.

That should be enough to keep the outrage boiling.

• Diana West blogs at dianawest.net, and she can be contacted via dianawest@verizon.net. Follow her on Twitter @diana_west_.

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