Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Symbol For The Iraq War Aftermath

Today, I was walking to work when I saw someone riding a bike, wearing a POW/MIA shirt. Every day I pass by two post offices and a park that fly the POW/MIA flag.

It got me thinking. This flag has always bothered me deep down, ever since I first became aware of it. Now, I don't wish to denigrate anyone that has an emotional attachment to the flag, but I think there is something troubling about its prevalence in the US.

According to the Department of Defense's Defense Prisoner Of War/Missing Personnel Office, the flag is "a constant reminder of the plight of America's POW/MIAs".

Now, if this flag gives people comfort, that's a good thing. Yet, I think there is an undercurrent of anger about the outcome of the Vietnam War in this flag, too. There are traces of hostility. If the US would have been seen as winning this conflict (what "winning" means in this context is very problematic), would this flag be flying everywhere in the US? I don't think so.

I see the POW/MIA flag as an iconic symbol of the Vietnam War for many people -- not necessarily due to the fact that they experienced a personal loss of someone during this conflict, but that the flag was some sort of representation of a psychic wound that the person felt was inflicted upon them. As Jimmy Carter infamously said, no apology was required to Viet Nam for the war because "the destruction was mutual".

But, the POW/MIA symbol doesn't begin to encapsulate the tragedy that the Vietnam War was. What about the people who didn't go missing in action, but came back irreparably damaged?

For God's sakes, what about the Vietnamese? They suffered deaths in the millions. They're still suffering from the effects of chemicals used in the war. What does the flag have to say about that?

I don't have a lot of optimism about the current conflict in Iraq. Again, we have invaded another country without provocation. Again, the conflict has been drawn out over several years, with drastic consequences for the US military, and far more drastic consequences for the civilian population of the country we are occupying.

I think winning, something we again seem to be having a great deal of trouble defining, much less achieving, is not a likely outcome. So, what will be the iconic symbol Americans grab hold of after this conflict finally sputters out?

I saw a lot of people generate their own seal for their blog at an Official Seal Generator website.

So, I made a seal for the aftermath of the war. Not funny, but I put some thought into it.


Joe said...

Very well done Splotchy.

Johnny Yen said...

Great post. Yes, it was tragic that nearly 58,000 Americans died. But it was even more tragic that 2 million Vietnamese also died. And continue to die because of Agent Orange (dioxin is the most poisonous manmade poison) and land mines that continue to kill and maim people.

There are groups of Vietnam vets who go to Vietnam with charts they've gotten ahold of, and help the Vietnamese clear minefields. I can think of nobody more noble.

Johnny Yen said...

One other thing-- I read an article some years back that pointed out an irony-- that Vietnam actually had the lowest percentage of MIA's and unidentified of any American war.

Splotchy said...

Thanks for the kind responses.

SamuraiFrog said...

I've felt that hostility in the POW/MIA flag, too. I think a lot of people throw it in our faces as a constant reminder. As someone who was born after the Vietnam War, I've grown up seeing how people were (and continue to be) affected by it. I think, for all these years, there's really been something shameful in the way the veterans of that war have been treated, and that flag seems to have nothing to do with them but with a bitterness directed at the government.