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Prof. Boerner's Explorations

Thoughts and Essays that explore the world of Technology, Computers, Photography, History and Family.


Archive for November 5th, 2009

Photographers: Here is something to dream about… The new Canon 7D seems to be a beauty. It is not overpriced and has some fantastic features. This ‘Hands-On’ article shares some of these advantages. Read it and drool; I know that I am… 

The Canon EOS 7D offers a complete set of photo and video imaging tools for creating rich, digital content. Similar in form to the popular 10D-50D bodies, the 7D adopts numerous 1D-series attributes in addition to a host of ambitious new features for professional and advanced photo and video shooters. Featuring 18 megapixel resolution, 8 frames per second bust mode, a completely redesigned AF system and viewfinder, wireless flash control, and a host of selectable HD video recording modes, the 7D stands out as a completely new class of EOS camera. Priced under $1700, the body is sure to be popular with a variety of professional and advanced users.

Canon shooters should have no problem finding their way around the 7D. While the camera is easily recognized as a member of the EOS family, the build quality and control layout are quite unique. The body is composed of rigid magnesium alloy panels, with seals protecting the battery and memory card doors, as well as the buttons and dials. A rounded rubber grip seats nicely in the hand and offers a comfortable amount of flex. A slight protrusion into the palm allows the thumb to fall comfortably into the 11 o’clock position. This provides natural interface with the rear Quick Control Dial, Multi-controller joystick, and newly-developed Live View/Video switch. A first for the EOS line, this dedicated round switch enables Live View and Video mode with greater efficiency than other Canon models. Start/stop is engaged using a button centered in the switch. The addition of this controller solidifies Canon’s commitment to hybrid photo and video shooting. It would not surprise me to see this type of controller on future EOS models. [MORE]

Art Lovers: The Comtesse d’Haussonville has arrived… For the winter, at least, this excellent example of French Portraiture by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres is at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. This would be a viewing experience well worth a visit.

Enjoy yourselves…

Current Exhibitions 

The Norton Simon Museum is delighted to announce the arrival this fall of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s magnificent painting Comtesse d’Haussonville, 1845, on loan from The Frick Collection in New York.

This portrait of the comtesse, a young woman known as Louise, Princess de Broglie (1818–1882), is the first loan from the Frick in an art exchange program between the venerable New York institution and the Norton Simon foundations. Comtesse d’Haussonville will be on view at the Museum from October 30, 2009, through January 25, 2010.

In February 2009, the Museum sent to the Frick five of its masterpieces—Jacopo Bassano’s Flight into Egypt, c. 1544–45; Peter Paul Rubens’s Holy Women at the Sepulchre, c. 1611–14; Guercino’s Aldrovandi Dog, c. 1625; Francisco de Zurbarán’s Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose, 1633; and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s Birth of St. John the Baptist, c. 1655. [MORE]

by Gerald Boerner


“For me Ernst was sensitivity itself….”
— Author Unknown

“Best wide-angle lens? Two steps backward. Look for the ‘ah-ha’.”
— Ernst Haas

“The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But, you have to SEE.”
— Ernst Haas

“I am not interested in shooting new things – I am interested to see things new.”
— Ernst Haas

“A picture is the expression of an impression. If the beautiful were not in us, how would we ever recognize it?”
— Ernst Haas

“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.”
— Ernst Haas

“I don’t believe in photography for photography, I believe that a photographer has to be linked to all the other arts.”
— Ernst Haas

“…a free spirit, untrammeled by tradition and theory, who has gone out and found beauty unparalleled in photography.”
— Edward Steichen

“In my estimation we have experienced an epoch in photography. Here is a free spirit, untrammeled by tradition and theory, who has gone out and found beauty unparalleled in photography…”
— Edward Steichen

“With photography a new language has been created. Now for the first time it is possible to express reality by reality. We can look at an impression as long as we wish, we can delve into it and, so to speak, renew past experiences at will.”
— Ernst Haas


Ernst Haas (1921 – 1986)

Haas_Portrait_BioErnst Haas  was an artist and influential photographer noted for his innovations in color photography, experiments in abstract light and form, and as a member of the Magnum Photos agency.

Ernst Haas began his photographic career in the 1940s in Vienna, rising to fame following the publication of his photo essay on returning prisoners of war from Russia. Haas chanced upon his subjects at Vienna’s train station after a fashion shoot was cancelled. In 1951, Haas visited America and decided to make his home in New York, and it was at this point in his career that he began to photograph in color and establish himself as one of the early pioneers of color photography. Haas later became renowned for his work with motion photography of bullfights, nature and athletics. He also found success in the corporate advertising market with campaigns for companies such as Marlboro, Chrysler and Volkswagen.

Photography career

Haas moved to New York City and in 1953 produced a 24-page, color photo essay on the city for Life, which then commissioned similar photo spreads on Paris and Venice. In 1962, the Museum of Modern Art mounted a one-man show of Haas’ color photos. Haas’ first photo book, Elements, was published the next year.

haas_blurred-running-figures Some of Haas’ most famous pictures were deliberately out-of-focus and blurred, creating strong visual effects. He used the dye transfer process to make many of his original prints, yielding richly saturated colo rs.

haas kenya Although Haas photographed in a straight documentary style, he gradually became more involved in the interpretive possibilities with color photography in keeping with a man who was intensely interested in poetry, music, and paining. "I don’t beleive in photography for photography," he has said. "I believe that a photographer has to be linked to all the other arts."

Haas_Soapy Water_bw07 Edward Steichen called Hass "a free spirit, untrammeled by tradition and theory, who has gone out and found beauty unparalleled in photography," and gave him the first color exhibition ever held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Haas photographed in Venice, Germany, the Himalayas and continued his love with America, but his final great work of his life, which ended so abruptly in 1986 at the age of 65, brought him to Japan five times to photograph landscapes and personal projects.

Color Photography

Haas_Colored BalloonsWithin two years, Haas was working in the United States. While photographing in black and white in the New Mexico desert, he experienced a great longing for color. Thus began a life-long odyssey of exploration of the uses and meaning of color in photography.

Haas’s frustration with the limitations of technology pushed him at every turn to be slightly ahead of his time. He was a technological pioneer with the eye of a painter and the soul of a poet. It has been written that before Haas there was no color photography, only colored photographs.

Haas_New York Wall_bw02 Haas’s first color essay was on New York, the city he would ultimately make his home. When the editors of LIFE magazine saw it, they gave it an unheard-of layout of 24 pages and called it "Magic Images of a City". Essays on Paris and Venice followed.

Ten years later, when the Museum of Modern Art held their first color retrospective, it was the work of Haas they chose to feature.

Though a Magnum photographer in the heyday of photojournalism, Haas was not interested in color as reportage. He was interested in the super-reality of dreams. To achieve this he gave commonplace objects and silhouettes new meaning. A reflection brought home the hidden depths underlying a conventional urban storefront; torn posters peeling off buildings shaped themselves into an art gallery. In his quest to produce feelings, he introduced hues and tones never before seen in printed color. And at all times his work was informed and enlightened by a guiding intelligence capable of great and quizzical humor.

haas vermont Having changed color photography permanently, Haas turned his attention to the capture of movement. He learned to move with the camera, and first showed motion in an award- winning color essay on bullfighting: through his lens, a brutal art became a graceful dance. Later, investigating sports of all kinds, he captured the exhilaration of speed with a previously unseen clarity. He explained:

"To express dynamic motion through a static moment became for me limited and unsatisfactory. The basic idea was to liberate myself from this old concept and arrive at an image in which the spectator could feel the beauty of a fourth dimension, which lies much more between moments than within a moment. In music one remembers never one tone, but a melody, a theme, a movement. In dance, never a moment, but again the beauty of a movement in time and space."

In 1958 an international panel of 243 eminent critics, teachers, editors, art directors and other photography professionals voted on the world’s 10 Greatest Photographers for Popular Photography magazine. They were: Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Ernst Haas, Philippe Halsman, Yousuf Karsh, Gjon Mili, Irving Penn, and W. Eugene Smith.

Haas_The Creation CoverHaas later pushed the boundaries of still and motion photography even further, directing The Creation sequence (based on the book of Genesis) for John Huston’s 1964 film, The Bible. His belief that a series of images seen together added up to more than the sum of their parts also led him to produce four monumental photographic books. The product of thirteen years of work, The Creation (1971) was the most successful color photography book of its time, selling over 350,000 copies.

Commissioned for the bicentennial, Haas regarded his second book, In America (1975), as "a love letter" to his adopted country, a love affair that had begun when he was a boy in Vienna, his imagination aflame with stories of American Indians. In Germany (1976) represented a return to and investigation of his European roots, and Himalayan Pilgrimage (1978) showed his increasing concern with spiritual matters.

In his quest for a more visually attuned world, he created the four part television series The Art of Seeing. He felt equally strongly about his black and white photography as about his color; each was suitable for different modes of expression.


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Ernst Haas that can be found at…


Ernst Haas Biography… and

by Gerald Boerner


“If the Confederacy falls, there should be written on its tombstone: Died of a Theory.”
— Jefferson Davis

“Gen. Grant habitually wears an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall and was about to do it.”
— A Union Soldier

“…arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction.”
— Abraham Lincoln

“In firing his gun, John Brown has merely told what time of day it is. It is high noon.”
— William Lloyd Garrison

“We have shared the incommunicable experience of war. We felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youths, our hearts were touched by fire.”
— Oliver Wendall Holmes

“…this question of Slavery was more important than any other; indeed, so much more important has it become that no other national question can even get a hearing just at present.”
— Abraham Lincoln

“I see the President almost every day. I see very plainly Abraham Lincoln’s dark brown face with its deep-cut lines, the eyes always to me with a deep latent sadness in the expression. None of the artists or pictures has caught the deep, though subtle and indirect expression of this man’s face. There is something else there. One of the great portrait painters of two or three centuries ago is needed.”
— Walt Whitman

“When news of the surrender first reached our lines our men commenced firing a salute of a hundred guns in honor of the victory. I at once sent word, however, to have it stopped. The Confederates were now our prisoners, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”
— Gen. Ulysses S. Grant

“I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than the dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation.”
— Gen. Robert E. Lee

“If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong … And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling … I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”
— Abraham Lincoln

“…our enemies are about to take possession of the Government, that they intend to rule us according to the caprices of their fanatical theories, and according to the declared purposes of abolishing slavery.”
— John Townsend, South Carolina Planter and State Senator

“…the Act of Congress which prohibited a citizen from holding and owning [enslaved persons] in the territory of the United States north of the line [36°30′ parallel] therein is not warranted by the Constitution and is therefore void.”
— Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice in Dred Scott v. Sanford

“I think that the North fought that war with one hand behind its back…If there had been more Southern victories, and a lot more, the North simply would have brought that other hand out from behind its back. I don’t think the South ever had a chance to win that War.”
— Shelby Foote, Southern historian


Veterans Day: Remembering the Civil War

A civil war is a war between organized groups within a single nation state, or, less commonly, between two nations created from a formerly-united nation state. The aim of one side may be to take control of the nation or a region, to achieve independence for a region, or to change government policies. It is high-intensity conflict, often involving regular armed forces, that is sustained, organized and large-scale. Civil wars result in large numbers of casualties and the consumption of large resources.

Battle_of_Gettysburg_798px Scholars investigating the cause of civil war are attracted by two opposing theories, greed versus grievance. Roughly stated: are conflicts caused by who people are, whether that be defined in terms of ethnicity, religion or other social affiliation, or do conflicts begin because it is in the economic best interests of individuals and groups to start them? Scholarly analysis supports the conclusion that economic and structural factors are more important than those of identity in predicting occurrences of civil war.

The American Civil War

The American Civil War (1861–1865), also known as the War Between the States and several other names, was a civil war in the United States of America. Eleven Southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America (the Confederacy). Led by Jefferson Davis, they fought against the United States (the Union), which was supported by all the free states and the five border slave states. Union states were loosely referred to as "the North".

Abraham_Lincoln_seated,_Feb_9,_1864_534px Abraham Lincoln
16th President of the United States

In the presidential election of 1860, the Republican Party, led by Abraham Lincoln, had campaigned against the expansion of slavery beyond the states in which it already existed. The Republican victory in that election resulted in seven Southern states declaring their secession from the Union even before Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861. Both the outgoing and incoming US administrations rejected the legality of secession, considering it rebellion.

President-Jefferson-Davis_474px Jefferson Davis,
only President of the
Confederate States of America

Hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces attacked a US military installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Lincoln responded by calling for a volunteer army from each state, leading to declarations of secession by four more Southern slave states. Both sides raised armies as the Union assumed control of the border states early in the war and established a naval blockade. In September 1862, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made ending slavery in the South a war goal, and dissuaded the British from intervening.

Confederate commander Robert E. Lee won battles in the east, but in 1863 his northward advance was turned back after the Battle of Gettysburg and, in the west, the Union gained control of the Mississippi River at the Battle of Vicksburg, thereby splitting the Confederacy. Long-term Union advantages in men and material were realized in 1864 when Ulysses S. Grant fought battles of attrition against Lee, while Union general William Sherman captured Atlanta, Georgia, and marched to the sea. Confederate resistance collapsed after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

The American Civil War was the deadliest war in American history, resulting in the deaths of 620,000 soldiers and an undetermined number of civilian casualties. Its legacy includes ending slavery in the United States, restoring the Union, and strengthening the role of the federal government. The social, political, economic and racial issues of the war decisively shaped the reconstruction era that lasted to 1877, and brought changes that helped make the country a united superpower.

Causes of secession

The coexistence of a slave-owning South with an increasingly anti-slavery North made conflict likely, if not inevitable. Abraham Lincoln did not propose federal laws against slavery where it already existed, but he had, in his 1858 House Divided Speech, expressed a desire to "arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction." Much of the political battle in the 1850s focused on the expansion of slavery into the newly created territories. All of the organized territories were likely to become free-soil states, which increased the Southern movement toward secession. Both North and South assumed that if slavery could not expand it would wither and die.

Conf_dead_chancellorsville_800px Confederate dead behind the
stone wall of Marye’s
Heights, Fredericksburg,
Virginia, killed during the
Battle of Chancellorsville,
May 1863

Southern fears of losing control of the federal government to antislavery forces, and Northern resentment of the influence that the Slave Power already wielded in government, brought the crisis to a head in the late 1850s. Sectional disagreements over the morality of slavery, the scope of democracy and the economic merits of free labor versus slave plantations caused the Whig and "Know-Nothing" parties to collapse, and new ones to arise (the Free Soil Party in 1848, the Republicans in 1854, the Constitutional Union in 1860). In 1860, the last remaining national political party, the Democratic Party, split along sectional lines.

Both North and South were influenced by the ideas of Thomas Jefferson. Southerners used the states’ rights ideas mentioned in Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions to defend slavery. Northerners ranging from the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to the moderate Republican leader Lincoln emphasized Jefferson’s declaration that all men are created equal. Lincoln mentioned this proposition in his Gettysburg Address.

The Confederacy

Robert_E_Lee-01Seven Deep South cotton states seceded by February 1861, starting with South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. These seven states formed the Confederate States of America (February 4, 1861), with Jefferson Davis as president, and a governmental structure closely modeled on the U.S. Constitution. Following the attack on Fort Sumter, President Lincoln called for a volunteer army from each state. Within two months, four more Southern slave states declared their secession and joined the Confederacy: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. The northwestern portion of Virginia subsequently seceded from Virginia, joining the Union as the new state of West Virginia on June 20, 1863. By the end of 1861, Missouri and Kentucky were divided — each of them having a pro-Southern and pro-Northern government.

The Union states

Ulysses_S_GrantTwenty-three states remained loyal to the Union: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. During the war, Nevada and West Virginia joined as new states of the Union. Tennessee and Louisiana were returned to Union military control early in the war.

The territories of Colorado, Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington fought on the Union side. Several slave-holding Native American tribes supported the Confederacy, giving the Indian territory (now Oklahoma) a small bloody civil war.

Border states

The border states in the Union were West Virginia (which was separated from Virginia and became a new state), and four of the five northernmost slave states (Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky).

Confederate Surrenders

Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at the McLean House in the village of Appomattox Court House. In an untraditional gesture and as a sign of Grant’s respect and anticipation of peacefully folding the Confederacy back into the Union, Lee was permitted to keep his officer’s saber and his horse, Traveller. On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was shot. Lincoln died early the next morning, and Andrew Johnson became President.

Dead Union soldier civil war_705px A dead soldier in Petersburg,
Virginia 1865, photographed
Thomas C. Roche.

Events leading to Lee’s surrender began with the capture of key Confederate officers Richard S. Ewell and Richard H. Anderson on April 6, following Confederate defeat at the battle of Sayler’s Creek. On April 8 Union cavalry under Major General George Armstrong Custer destroyed three trains of Confederate supplies at Appomattox Station, leading to the surrender of General Lee the next day. General St. John Richardson Liddell’s army surrendered after the loss of the Confederate fortifications at the Battle of Spanish Fort in Alabama, also on April 9.

On April 21 John S. Mosby’s raiders of the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry disbanded and on April 26 General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his troops to Sherman at Bennett Place in Durham, North Carolina. Surrendering on May 4 and 5 were the Confederate departments of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana regiments and the District of the Gulf. The Confederate President was captured on May 10 and the surrender of the Department of Florida and South Georgia happened the same day. Confederate Brigadier General "Jeff" Meriwether Thompson surrendered his brigade the next day and the day following saw the surrender of the Confederate forces of North Georgia.

On June 23, 1865, at Fort Towson in the Choctaw Nations’ area of the Oklahoma Territory, Stand Watie signed a cease-fire agreement with Union representatives, becoming the last Confederate general in the field to stand down. The last Confederate ship to surrender was the CSS Shenandoah, on November 6, 1865, in Liverpool, England. These surrenders marked the conclusion of the American Civil War.

Victory and aftermath

Historians have debated whether the Confederacy could have won the war. Most scholars emphasize that the Union held an insurmountable long-term advantage over the Confederacy in terms of industrial strength and population. Confederate actions, they argue, only delayed defeat. Southern historian Shelby Foote expressed this view succinctly: "I think that the North fought that war with one hand behind its back…If there had been more Southern victories, and a lot more, the North simply would have brought that other hand out from behind its back. I don’t think the South ever had a chance to win that War." The Confederacy sought to win independence by out-lasting Lincoln; however, after Atlanta fell and Lincoln defeated McClellan in the election of 1864, all hope for a political victory for the South ended.

American_Civil_War_Montage_2 At that point, Lincoln had succeeded in getting the support of the border states, War Democrats, emancipated slaves and Britain and France. By defeating the Democrats and McClellan, he also defeated the Copperheads and their peace platform. Lincoln had also found military leaders like Grant and Sherman who would press the Union’s numerical advantage in battle over the Confederate Armies. Generals who did not shy from bloodshed won the war, and from the end of 1864 onward there was no hope for the South.

On the other hand, James McPherson has argued that the North’s advantage in population and resources made Northern victory likely, but not inevitable. Confederates did not need to invade and hold enemy territory to win, but only needed to fight a defensive war to convince the North that the cost of winning was too high. The North needed to conquer and hold vast stretches of enemy territory and defeat Confederate armies to win.

Also important were Lincoln’s eloquence in rationalizing the national purpose and his skill in keeping the border states committed to the Union cause. Although Lincoln’s approach to emancipation was slow, the Emancipation Proclamation was an effective use of the President’s war powers.

The Confederate government failed in its attempt to get Europe involved in the war militarily, particularly England and France. Southern leaders needed to get European powers to help break up the blockade the Union had created around the Southern ports and cities. Lincoln’s naval blockade was 95% effective at stopping trade goods, as a result, imports and exports to the South declined significantly. The abundance of European cotton and England’s hostility to the institution of slavery, along with Lincoln’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico naval blockades, severely decreased any chance that either England or France would enter the war.


Grand_Army_of_the_Republic_800px Monument in honor of the
Grand Army of the Republic,
organized after the war.

Slavery effectively ended in the U.S. in the spring of 1865 when the Confederate armies surrendered. All slaves in the Confederacy were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, which stipulated that slaves in Confederate-held areas were free. Slaves in the border states and Union-controlled parts of the South were freed by state action or (on December 6, 1865) by the Thirteenth Amendment.

The full restoration of the Union was the work of a highly contentious postwar era known as Reconstruction. The war produced about 1,030,000 casualties (3% of the population), including about 620,000 soldier deaths—two-thirds by disease. The war accounted for roughly as many American deaths as all American deaths in other U.S. wars combined. The causes of the war, the reasons for its outcome, and even the name of the war itself are subjects of lingering contention today. About 4 million black slaves were freed in 1861-65. Based on 1860 census figures, 8% of all white males aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6% in the North and an extraordinary 18% in the South.

One reason for the high number of battle deaths during the war was the use of Napoleonic tactics such as charges. With the advent of more accurate rifled barrels, Minié balls and (near the end of the war for the Union army) repeating firearms such as the Spencer repeating rifle and a few experimental Gatling guns, soldiers were devastated when standing in lines in the open. This gave birth to trench warfare, a tactic heavily used during World War I.


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

American Civil War that can be found at…

by Gerald Boerner


“no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia.”
— U.S. Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs

“As of now, I can come to no other conclusion. [But] that does not mean there are any alive today.”
— Richard Nixon, President

“I think it was unfortunate to be that positive. You can’t be that positive when we had the kind of intelligence we had.”
— Melvin Laird, Defense Secretary

“…most people seemed resigned to the idea that the fortunes of war are bound to leave a few mysteries.”
Time Magazine

“While the Committee has some evidence suggesting the possibility a POW may have survived to the present, and while some information remains yet to be investigated, there is, at this time, no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia.”

“Contact with one another was essential. Without it, we were doomed.”
— Everett Alvarez

“Faith in God, in our president, and in our country — it was this faith that maintained our hope… God bless you, Mr. and Mrs. America. You did not forget us.”
— Everett Alvarez


Vietnam Prisoner’s of War (POWs)

ISSUE990906 The Vietnam War POW/MIA issue concerns the fate of United States servicemen who were reported as missing in action during the Vietnam War and associated theaters of operation in Southeast Asia. Following the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, 591 U.S. prisoners of war were returned during Operation Homecoming. The U.S. listed about 1,350 Americans as prisoners of war or missing in action and roughly 1,200 Americans reported killed in action and body not recovered. Many of these were airmen who were shot down over North Vietnam or Laos.

Investigations of these incidents have involved determining whether the men involved survived their shoot down, and if not efforts to recover their remains. POW/MIA activists played a role in pushing the U.S. government to improve its efforts in resolving the fates of the missing. Progress in doing so was slow until the mid-1980s, when relations between the U.S. and Vietnam began to improve and more cooperative efforts were undertaken. Normalization of U.S. relations with Vietnam in the mid-1990s was a culmination of this process.

Considerable speculation and investigation has gone to a theory that a significant number of these men were captured as prisoners of war by Communist forces in the two countries and kept as live prisoners after the war’s conclusion for the United States in 1973. A vocal group of POW/MIA activists maintains that there has been a concerted conspiracy by the Vietnamese government and every American government since then to hide the existence of these prisoners. The U.S. government has steadfastly denied that prisoners were left behind or that any effort has been made to cover up their existence.

Popular culture has reflected the "live prisoners" theory, most notably in the 1985 film Rambo: First Blood Part II. Several congressional investigations have looked into the issue, culminating with the largest and most thorough, the United States Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs of 1991–1993 led by Senators John Kerry, Bob Smith, and John McCain. It found "no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia."

The fate of those missing in action has always been one of the most troubling and unsettling consequences of any war. In this case, the issue has been a highly emotional one to those involved, and is often considered the last depressing, divisive aftereffect of the Vietnam War.


The origins of the POW/MIA issue date back to during the war itself. Suffering from a lack of accurate intelligence sources inside North Vietnam, the U.S. never had solid knowledge for how many American prisoners of war were held. Indeed, the U.S. often relied upon possibly inaccurate North Vietnamese newspapers and radio broadcasts to find out who had been captured, as well as memorized lists of names brought out by the few American POWs given early release. As the Department of Defense built up lists of those in the categories of killed in action, killed in action/body not recovered, prisoner of war, and missing in action, its tentative numbers fluctuated, but most of the time, the number of expected returnees upon war’s end was around 600.

However, the Nixon administration had made return of the POWs one of its central arguments to the American public for prolonging the war and bringing North Vietnam to terms. In doing so, the administration exaggerated the number of POWs at issue, at one point stating that there were "fifteen hundred American servicemen" held throughout Southeast Asia. These higher numbers would be the focus of much of the controversy in the issue to come.

United_States_POW-MIA_flag_466px The National League of Families’
POW/MIA flag, created in 1971
when the war was still
in progress.

Following the Paris Peace Accords of January 1973, U.S. prisoners of war were returned during Operation Homecoming during February through April 1973. During this, 591 POWs released to U.S. authorities; this included a few captured in Laos and released in North Vietnam. U.S. President Richard Nixon announced that all U.S. servicemen taken prisoner had been accounted for. At that time, the U.S. listed about 1,350 Americans as prisoners of war or missing in action and sought the return of roughly 1,200 Americans reported killed in action and body not recovered. The low numbers of returnees from Laos caused some immediate concern, as previous Pentagon estimates were as high as 41 for prisoners held there, although only a few had been known to be captured for certain.

Investigation of the fate of all the missing service personnel would end up residing with the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command also played a major role in subsequent investigations. In 1973, the Defense Department established the Central Identification Laboratory–Thailand to coordinate POW/MIA recovery efforts in Southeast Asia.

Vietnam_POW_Camps_691px A map of POW camps identified
in North Vietnam.

The U.S. conducted some limited operations in South Vietnam in 1974 to find the remains of those missing, and pursuant to the Paris Accords, the North Vietnamese returned some remains too. These efforts halted following the collapse of the Accords and the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, and over the next ten years, little progress was made in recovering remains.

During the late 1970s and 1980s, the friends and relatives of unaccounted-for American personnel became politically active, requesting the United States government reveal what steps were taken to follow up on intelligence regarding last-known-alive MIAs and POWs. When initial inquiries revealed important information had not been pursued, many families and their supporters asked for the public release of POW/MIA records and called for an investigation.

In 1979, the re-emergence of U.S. Private First Class Bobby Garwood constituted the only POW to surface following the end of the war and release of prisoners. Garwood is considered by the Department of Defense to have acted as a collaborator with the enemy after he was taken prisoner, while proponents of the "live prisoners" belief, and Garwood himself, claim he was an American POW abandoned by the military

Normalization with Vietnam

The actions of the committee were designed to allow for improved ties between the U.S. and Vietnam, for which the unresolved fate of American MIAs had long been a sticking point. The belief by Americans from a few years earlier that live prisoners still existed had mostly passed; in the words of Time magazine, "most people seemed resigned to the idea that the fortunes of war are bound to leave a few mysteries." In 1994 the Senate passed a resolution, sponsored by Kerry and McCain, that called for an end to the existing trade embargo against Vietnam; it was intended to pave the way for normalization.[44]

When President Bill Clinton lifted the trade embargo on February 3, 1994, he stated:

“I have made the judgment that the best way to ensure cooperation from Vietnam and to continue getting the information Americans want on POWs and MIAs is to end the trade embargo. I’ve also decided to establish a liaison office in Vietnam to provide services for Americans there and help us to pursue a human rights dialogue with the Vietnamese government.”

I want to be clear; These actions do not constitute a normalization of our relationships. Before that happens, we must have more progress, more cooperation and more answers. Toward that end, this spring I will send another high-level U.S. delegation to Vietnam to continue the search for remains and for documents.

In response, columnist Dan Rather wrote the following:

“In an obvious attempt to blunt criticism, President Clinton actually characterized lifting the embargo as creating the best opportunity to get the true story of what happened to America’s missing. This was especially ill-advised. Because it was obvious that lifting the embargo wasn’t designed to resolve doubts about the fate of the missing. It was designed to make money. It was a trade initiative, plain and simple. The people least likely to mistake it for anything else were the families of America’s missing.”

In 1995, President Bill Clinton normalized diplomatic relations with the country of Vietnam, with McCain’s and Kerry’s visible support during the announcement giving Clinton, who came of age during Vietnam but did not serve in the military, some political cover.


Other Events on this Day
  • In 1862…
    Frustrted by Union troop’ lack of success, Abraham Lincoln removes George McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac.

  • In 1889…
    Wyoming citizens approve the first state constitution granting full voting rights to women.

  • In 1912…
    Woodrow Wilson defeats incumbent William Howard Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt to become the twenty-eighth U.S. president.

  • In 1966…
    Everett Alvarez begins month 28 of what will eventually be 102 months as a POW in North Vietnam.

  • In 1994…
    Former president Ronald Reagan announces that he has Alzheimer’s disease.

Dates and events based on:

William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)

Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Vietnam POWs that can be found at…