Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War

Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War

Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War

Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War


Fewer Americans were captured or missing during the Vietnam War than in any major military conflict in U.S. history to that time. Yet despite their small numbers, American POWs inspired an outpouring of concern that slowly eroded support for the war. Michael J. Allen reveals how wartime loss transformed U.S. politics well before, and long after, the war's official end.

Throughout the war's last years and in the decades since, Allen argues, the effort to recover lost warriors was as much a means to establish responsibility for their loss as it was a search for answers about their fate. Though millions of Americans and Vietnamese took part in that effort, POW and MIA families and activists dominated it. Insisting that the war was not over "until the last man comes home," this small, determined group turned the unprecedented accounting effort against those they blamed for their suffering. Allen demonstrates that POW/MIA activism prolonged the hostility between the United States and Vietnam even as the search for the missing became the basis for closer ties between the two countries in the 1990s. Equally important, he explains, POW/MIA families' disdain for the antiwar left and contempt for federal authority fueled the conservative ascendancy after 1968. Mixing political, cultural, and diplomatic history, Until the Last Man Comes Home presents the full and lasting impact of the Vietnam War in ways that are both familiar and surprising.


On 22 September 1992, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger appeared before the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs to rebut charges that he and President Richard Nixon had abandoned American captives at the end of the Vietnam War. “That allegation is a flat-out lie,” Kissinger objected. “What has happened to this country that a congressional committee could be asked to inquire whether any American official of whatever administration would fail to move heaven and earth to fight for the release of American pows and for an accounting of the missing? Can anyone seriously believe that any honorable public official would neglect America’s servicemen, and especially those who had suffered so much for their country, or, even worse, arrange for a conspiracy to obscure the fate of the prisoners left behind?”

These questions warrant more sober consideration than scholars have yet shown them. For despite Kissinger’s attempt to dismiss such ideas as absurd, this book will show that belief in POW/MIA abandonment was so serious and widespread as to alter U.S. politics and foreign policy over four decades. Kissinger was, after all, appearing before some of the Senate’s leading policymakers and savviest politicians to dispute claims that Americans were left behind in Vietnam. and the ferocity of his response, as he accused committee chairman John Kerry of “unforgivable libel” and charged Kerry and other antiwar activists with having tied his hands as he negotiated the release of American captives, showed how seriously Kissinger took such claims, as did Kerry’s curt reply. “Look, I didn’t ask for this job. I’m here because twenty years later this question confounds America.”

Had he wished, Kerry could have cited polling data to substantiate his . . .

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