The Vietnam War POW/MIA issue concerns the fate of United States servicemen who were reported as missing in action (MIA) during the Vietnam War and associated theaters of operation in Southeast Asia. The term has also referenced issues related to the treatment of affected family members by the governments involved in these conflicts. Following the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, 591 American prisoners of war (POWs) 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; if they did not survive, then they considered 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 hypothesis 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 for the United States.
Read more about Vietnam War POW/MIA Issue: Origins, POW/MIA Activist Organizations, Recovery and "rescue", Effect On Popular Culture, The "live Prisoners" Debate, Kerry Committee, Normalization With Vietnam, In The 2000s, See Also
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