In the month before I went to Vietnam early in 1968, I was sent to Little Creek, Virginia, where the military operated a not-publicized training program called S.E.R.E. , for survival, evasion, resistance and escape.
The idea was, you spent a week in classroom and drill-field training and then were hauled up to the barren, godforsaken mountains, assembled into platoons, and turned loose in the wilderness, where Special Forces troops hunted you down. Upon capture, you were held for days in a very realistically simulated P.O.W. camp, staffed by Special Forces and Navy Seal troops playing the roles of your captors.
They were quite good at it, wearing, as I recall, Red Chinese army gear. They hounded and pounded you, locked you in solitary, including a tin box with only a tiny air hole, and generally made you actually begin to believe you were a P.O.W. It was surreal and impressive. I saw a bird colonel cry and breakdown and "confess" when he was tossed naked into a barbed wire fence. The idea -- which infuriated me years later when I thought it through -- was to see who would break and sign confessions and under what circumstances. (Evidently, the military was still fighting the Korean War).
Some people were seriously injured in these exercises, and there are rumors that some even died.
I was given a good boot-stomping and three broken ribs after telling one red-faced goober (with breath that would, as George Carlin says, knock a buzzard off a shit wagon), where to put his confession. As I recall, the majority of us in the camp did not break, sign, cooperate or even act nice. By the end of our three days in capticity, they had so messed with our minds that any one of us would have killed any one of those bastards if we'd had the chance. We got back to civilization feeling a little proud of ourselves, though.
And now I am looking at the delirious photos of the 15 British sailors and marines, who sang and danced on command in Tehran after being shanghaied by Iranian forces who took them hostage -- the Brits did not resist in the least -- in what was quite evidently Iraqi waters, while a British destroyer stood by doing nothing. During their time as hostages, the merry little group reminded me of the Spanish Inquisition scene from Monty Python in which the elderly woman is threatened with a loaf of bread if she doesn't cooperate, which she is perfectly willing to do anyway. [Later correction: It's been pointed out to me that the Python Inquisitors actually threatened the woman with a "comfy chair."]
And so we have this photo of one of the happy ex-hostages, showing off the "goody bag" the Iranians gave him. Good freaking grief. Welcome home, boys and girls. The Coalition of the Willing salute you.
And this, from columnist Richard Littlejohn in the (c0nservative) Daily Mail of London:
"The international image of Britain as Churchillian bulldog has for ever been replaced by this bunch of hapless stooges grinning and waving for the cameras like contestants cosying up to Leslie Crowther in the final frames of The Price Is Right.
Missing you, already. If the British Commonwealth and Empire lasts for a thousand years, no one will ever claim this was their finest hour.
The game's up. Look, I don't blame the unfortunate human ingredients in this pawn cocktail. They were only obeying orders - which, ludicrously, amount to 'surrender first and apologise later.'"
And this, from Marina Hyde in the (liberal) Guardian:
"... it seems reasonable to at least wonder whatever happened to only divulging one's name, rank and number.
"Clearly that has been deemed a rather outmoded concept. According to the statements made by the crew's Captain Chris Air in yesterday afternoon's press conference, all the hostages arrived independently at the decision to cooperate fully with the Iranians, following several days of "mind games". They were then granted two hours of televised "socialising" a night, and eventually released. The world saw them thank their "fantastic" captors, and rifle through the goody bags provided by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in full view of the cameras - after [my italics] they had been committed into British naval hands. No doubt they're all being talked up for VCs by the time you read this, but it would be a tall order to sell the saga as an unalloyed success."--end