Rick Perlstein's latest book is The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.
From his Q & A with Thomas Frank at Salon:
Talk about how the POW/MIAs became such a huge cultural touchstone. I mean, people don’t remember that this was very cynically masterminded by one Richard M. Nixon.--Marshal Zeringue
Yeah. Clever fellow that Richard M. Nixon. The baseline of this is, we know from the testimony of one of his friends and aides, Leonard Garment, that as early as 1966, Richard Nixon knew that we couldn’t prevail in the Vietnam War. And what he told a rich donor in 1966 was: The question of Vietnam was not, whether we could win or lose — we couldn’t win — but that we had to settle it on the terms that were most favorable to us. So he lied about that for seven straight years.
As president, you mean?
Yeah, as candidate, as president. Basically, he had a terrible political problem on his hands, which was to end this war and make it look like America had done an honorable thing, instead of what they had actually done, which was pursue a war that was completely wasteful, did nothing but terrible things for the country—our country, and, of course, their country too.
So part of what he came up with was, to wrest concessions from the communists at the negotiating table, he created this issue that they were historically cruel to their prisoners and that if they really…
Did you say historically cruel?
Right. Historically...[read on]