A Legacy of Chains

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“This is a well written and interesting read with compelling and frightening conditions which could happen in America today. It also includea a somber narrative regarding the Prisoner of War (POW) issue. The author sought to keep truthful facts regarding the history of American POWs. The novella’s description of the American government’s words and deeds, unfortunately, are in alignment to truthful American history. I was brought to tears, not only as a POW/MIA family member but as an American citizen. The reader will not want to put this read down until it finished. I thank the author for his honest approach to a dark part of our history; the plight of the [abandoned] American POW.”

— Janella Apodaca Rose, National Chairperson, National Alliance of Families for the Return of America’s Missing Servicemen


“In A Legacy of Chains, Philip Kraske gives us the kind of fiction we need in this “dark time—the kind of darkness history is cut from,” as his narrator in this well-crafted novella puts it. Even amid the sordid mess of a collapsing empire, we are obliged to make art of it and must never neglect this responsibility to ourselves. Kraske gets this done. This book is historically informed, the plot cleverly framed, the writing clear and compelling—and ends in a startling climaxA Legacy of Chains conveys the dense weave of our time—its politics, its power and how it is wielded, its guilt and innocence, its betrayals and loyalties—altogether its bureaucratic personality, so to say, and the character of those who learn they must stand against it. This is a nourishing read.”

– Patrick Lawrence, foreign affairs analyst and lecturer


A Legacy of Chains is a fascinating and compelling dive into the origins of an American dystopia not too far removed from the present. Philip Kraske populates his novella with believable characters who spend an evening exploring the root cause of America’s demise—the gap between the loyalty expected from those who serve our nation in wars long past, and the betrayal of this patriotism by a government that puts the preservation of political power over serving the needs of the American people decades ago.

– Scott Ritter, former Marine and author of Scorpion King


“Fiction is usually fun—something to avert our minds from daily drudgery.  But sometimes fiction is frightening—frightening because it could come true, frightening because we’re headed down that road in real life.  What happens when fiction imitates life, when the term “post apocalyptic” is a serious and apt descriptor of our near-term future?  That’s what Philip Kraske gives us in A Legacy of Chains.  I don’t want to live in that world.  And then I realize that I already am.”  

– John Kiriakou, author of The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror


«The paradoxical power of this fascinating novella is that its languid beginning – five upper middle class people gather for a dinner party – draws you into a story that won’t let you go. Like the best murder mysteries – and this one based on actual political history – Philip Kraske keeps the reader agog and wondering where it’s all heading until you reach the end and are left astonished by human behavior. Like the story’s characters, you are left speechless as the climax interrogates your conscience in a most powerful way.” 

– Edward Curtin, author of Seeking Truth in a Country of Lies



For decades after the Vietnam War, the rumors persisted: some American prisoners-of-war remained behind. In public, both Washington and Hanoi denied it. In private, Hanoi insisted on receiving war reparations before they would release the hundreds of prisoners still in chains. Washington refused; the men never came back.

Now it is the year 2010. American diplomat Paul Klippen is summoned to Spain’s south coast on a strange mission: a boat with nine Americans in their seventies has been towed ashore by the Spanish Coast Guard. They turn out to be P.O.W.s fleeing Vietnam. Klippen works to repatriate the men, but quickly discovers that many in Washington are not happy to see those long-ago denials refuted. Set against the dreamy countryside of Spain and political revolt in America, this novella examines the initial cracks in the social contract between rulers and ruled.

The other six short stories in this collection range from the personal to the political, from the comic to the dramatic. In “Alan the Newsboy”, a cocaine dealer clashes with the fifteen-year-old who delivers his newspaper. In “Shoccer,” ten guys in a Minnesota bar list ideas to make soccer an interesting sport. In “The Rainmaker,” a psyops specialist sits in on the final meeting before the raid on Osama bin Laden’s house in Pakistan and explains to the assembled espionage chiefs how to present the raid to the public in case bin Laden turns out not to be there. Which looks a lot like how it was presented.


EXCERPT from A Legacy of Chains:

“For the moment, I figured I had a window of two or three days while I figured out what to do with the nine men. Because I believed their story – they were American P.O.W.S from Vietnam all right. And they were counting on State – that is, on me – because they knew that the Pentagon would again deny their existence and maybe eliminate their existence as well.

“Well, the men had a few thousand left over from what the captain had returned for not smuggling them all the way to Newark, and they could sit tight in my friend’s vacation house for a few days. Matilda the maid could bring supplies. I figured out how to heat the swimming pool and told the men to stay inside the walls and not make any noise.

“Then I high-tailed it back to Madrid before my absence became noticeable. I told the night-duty staff, in my best espionage tone, that they were to strike from the records the call from the Red Cross and the one they’d made to me. Then I got on a secure line to our esteemed colleague here, Dr. Max Venable, Donelly Chair in Caribbean Studies, and told him I needed a thorough and immediate education in U.S. P.O.W.s left over in Vietnam – this because I couldn’t be sure who might be looking at my home and work computers. Was the issue really as serious as the men were saying? And of course, a few hours later, Max came though. Why don’t you give us a summary?”

“My pleasure, old fruit,” I said, straightening up in my chair, “though I was so enjoying your narration. Well! Have to sing for my supper a bit. Let me see…”

“Oh, god, here it comes, everybody,” said Wanda. “My husband the professor from jolly old England. Pour yourselves new drinks.”

“Thank you, my love. Your confidence overwhelms.” I sipped my port, complimented Ramón on its excellence, and began:  

“It was a bloody sordid business all around. The war ended and prisoners were sent back to their countries. But the gasp across Washington was audible when the Vietnamese handed over a list of but six hundred men. Washington had expected more than double that number. There had never been any accounting on prisoners, you see, as the Geneva Conventions require. For that and many other contingencies, the Vietnamese had a very convenient argument: there had been no formal declaration of war on either side, therefore no legal state of war existed, therefore the Conventions did not apply. The men they captured were not soldiers at all, but criminals and murderers – full stop. And with the war’s end, it quickly became clear that they intended to keep the remaining men just to be sure Uncle Sam forked over the money pledged: 3.75 billion dollars. They’d done the same thing with the French before them after the French-Indochinese war – ended in ’54 – and the French were paying big wampum till 1971 to get their men back.”

“How much is that in today’s money?” asked Cindy.

“On it,” said Ramón, tapping on his cell phone. “Okay…3.75 billion then is 21.88 billion today. That’d fund a couple of federal departments but good.”

I sighed, drank. “But those hard-eyed men in Washington in their white business shirts and narrow black ties weren’t about to lose to North Vietnam and pay for the privilege. So they didn’t. And the whole circus began: the White House saying all known prisoners had been returned, the Pentagon stonewalling every congressional investigation, families of P.O.W.s and M.I.A.s demanding investigations, investigations held, investigations stymied, documents gone missing, documents discovered. A bloody mess. Defectors and refugees from Vietnam, after the fall of Saigon, all described seeing prisoners.”

“Well, what did the government say about that?” Wanda asked.

“Generally, that these were people trying to curry favor, trying to gain some extra attention and maybe money.”

“God, what a bunch of fuckers.”

“There’s nobody so effortlessly lubricious, old love, as a bureaucrat covering up a scandal.”

“Well, what about when Carter came into office? He didn’t have any baggage from the war.”

“Total stonewall. Wouldn’t give the P.O.W. families the time of day. Sent them packing.”

“Carter the great Christian – shit,” said Ramón.

“But what about the the money we promised?” said Wanda. “Didn’t the Vietnamese take the U.S. to an international court or something over that? I mean, it’s black on white, it’s signed, it’s official.”

“The North, I think, got suckered there,” said Paul. “They hadn’t insisted on the number being in the treaty, just the fact that the U.S. agreed to pay war reparations. The actual number was in a letter signed by Nixon and sent to the president of North Vietnam. In fact, the Nixon letter was secret and didn’t come to light until after he’d resigned.” He drank. “Go on, Max.”

I did. “A few years after the treaty was signed, there was a high-level meeting between the Yanks and the Vietnamese; some of the same people who had negotiated the treaty were there. The Yanks pressed for the return of all their men, the Vietnamese said it could all be arranged as soon as Uncle Sam paid up – all that in the euphemisms of diplomacy, of course. The Vietnamese – no longer the North Vietnamese, now that they had reunited their country – waved a copy of Nixon’s letter at the Americans and said, ‘What about this, gents?’ The Yanks’ reply was that they did not consider that document binding.”

“Unbelievable,” said Wanda. “Just unbelievable.”

“Better tell them about Garwood,” said Paul. “That’s when I realized what kind of mess these men were in – not to mention myself.”

“Indeed, old man. Another tawdry little anecdote. One fine day in 1979, the BBC reported a note from a live American P.O.W.. It had been smuggled out of Vietnam by a representative of the World Bank, gent from Finland. Here was living proof: American P.O.W.s were still alive. Big embarrassment for the Vietnamese, and a headache for the Pentagon.”

“Just one guy is a headache?” asked Wanda.

“The problem was not the man, old love, but what he might might have seen, for example, other P.O.W.s. And indeed he had. Private Robert Garwood, U.S.M.C.. A truly gobsmacking story if you ever get the chance to read him up. Long story short, he –” I stopped. The Lilliputians were staring at me. “‘Gobsmacking’ – astonishing, you bloody baboons.”

They laughed.

“Long story short, Garwood was captured in ’65, tortured like all the rest of them, and sent to jungle prisons. Oh, he went through hell, that poor man. American bombs fell on one of his prisons and he was deaf and blind for some six months from the blast. Anyway, early on, an older prisoner took him under his wing and told him the facts of life: either you make yourself useful to the Vietnamese or they let you die. And you can’t make yourself useful unless you know the language. He taught Garwood Vietnamese, taught him what to eat out in the jungle to supplement the bit of rice his captors vouchsafed him, showed him what roots would cure cuts and aches – all that. This good man, by the way, was later beaten to death by the guards for some infraction of the rules: just goes to show you what Garwood was up against.

“But Garwood ultimately gave his captors just enough rope to hang themselves with. He made himself useful. He was a farmboy from Indiana, one of these fellows who can fix a tractor with a piece of wire and a wad of gum. And he became their handyman – repaired whatever they brought him: abandoned equipment, rifles, radios, trucks.

“After some years, they took him into Hanoi from time to time to repair things there, and he worked a deal with his guards: they let him go into a high-class hotel – no Vietnamese allowed – and buy cartons of American cigarettes for them to sell on the black market; all he wanted was a pack for himself. Twice he was able to slip foreigners a note with his name and so on. The first time the fellow who got the note informed the Pentagon. It held a meeting among a lot of generals who mulled it over, rubbed their necks, and said, ‘No, couldn’t be. An impostor. Kids playing a joke.’ And they buried the matter.”

“Those shits!” cried Wanda.

“Shits indeed, old love. But military men are the same the world over: the lower ranks are all excellent fellows, but theirs is but to do or die. At any rate, the second time around, Garwood passed his note to the Finn there in the hotel lobby and talked to him briefly. And the Finn played his cards right. Rather than going with the note to the Yankees, he got back to London, where he was based, and went with it to the International Red Cross. They wisely passed the note to British media, and then there was no wiggle room for the spin doctors: here was a live American P.O.W. being held against his will who wanted out.”

I sipped my port and appreciated its smoothness. “Poor Garwood. Part two of his nightmare was just beginning. He went back on an Air France flight and as soon as it cleared Vietnamese airspace he was charged by American officials with collaboration and some lesser crimes against other prisoners.”

“What?” cried Wanda.

“Fuck. Me,” said Ramón.

“It was so outrageous, not to say gobsmacking, that the French captain of the plane came back into the cabin and told Garwood that the plane itself was French territory and he was in command; he would set Garwood down in Paris if he wanted. Garwood said no. He would go back and face the music.”

“But why would the military do that?” said Wanda. “That’s criminal!”

“The point was to discredit him, old girl. This way, anything he had to say about left-behind P.O.W.s would smack of sour grapes. Garwood was court-marshaled, a few of his fellow prisoners were brought in to testify that he’d collaborated with the Vietnamese prison officials against the prisoners, and it was only the last-minute chance intervention of an Army buddy of his who saved him from the worst charges.

“So Garwood ended up a free man, but he was tossed out into the street with a dishonorable discharge, losing fourteen years of back pay. He could barely speak English anymore, and ended up working at a gas station. Vietnam-veteran organizations helped him get back on his feet. He campaigned hard in favor of abandoned P.O.W.s, but the charges and the media coverage had blackened his reputation. Later on, in the Nineties, Senators John Kerry and John McCaine – both Vietnam vets – buried the evidence on left-behind P.O.W.s – got it all classified Top Secret. Maybe our grandchildren will be able to read the true story. But enough background. Go on, Paul. What was your next move?”



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