- Historic Sites
The Obsequious Bow
The Story Behind the Picture That Shocked America
August/September 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 5
Stratton then refused to have anything to do with the “confession.” He would not read it. Yes, he was told, he would read it. He would be stood up before a political rally at the stadium filled with the citizenry, and he would tell what he had done; and then he would repeat it before a group of intellectuals. He refused. They badgered him all morning, apparently wanting him willing; he still refused. Finally they compromised. He could taperecord it.
Yes, there was a way, the frustrated Rabbit stormed. Stratton’s cell door was opened, and through it stepped an old acquaintance. Vegetable Vie, the torture expert, stood before them dramatically, silently, wearing his silly hat. In his hands were lengths of cargo strap and sets of manacle cuffs. Now you have a choice, Stratton was told. He knew with sinking heart and disgust that he had been seriously outfoxed again. In a last defiant gesture out of fear and anger, he told his captors they could make him tape, but they could not make him read any “confession” in public nor could they make him appear in public. He was fluent, he blustered, in French and Spanish and English. He would tell whatever audience they put him in front of exactly what had been done to him. They could kill him afterward, they could kill him on the spot where he spoke, but he would tell of his torture and that the “confession” was false.
Taping was scheduled for March 4.
“Here are three military types that I never saw before [or since] sitting there with a tape recorder with earplugs on so they hear at the head what you’re saying on the tape, and then they start taping it. I realize we’ve got real English speakers here now, not the clowns I’ve been used to working with. So what’s my choice? My choice was [to record the whole thing in a complete monotone]. And that was, to a certain measure, a success because those who heard it, my friends, … my own family, were convinced that that was not my voice, that that was not me. And I tried to make it absolutely without any inflection whatsoever.
“…And at that point was the germ of [the idea that] I will appear to have been doped or under the influence of something. That was the germ right there, sitting there taping, realizing these guys were listening to it, that they spoke perfect English, because they would correct me, every mistake that I made, and erase the tape and start over. It took all afternoon to tape it.
“The night we finished taping, they said, okay, you are going to see a group of intellectuals downtown, and in the Orient, it is the custom that you will bow. In the prison system the definition of a salute was a ninety-degree bow to the ducks, to the chickens, the VC and everybody else.
“So, they said, now we will practice bowing. They said, ‘Bow!’ And I bowed at ninety degrees.
“‘Oh, no! You do a fifteen-degree bow. Now, bow prettily, bow prettily,ᰱ and this went on for about a half-hour. And this is where the germ of this thing starts growing, sitting there talking in a monotone, and then the bowing practice.”
On March 6 Lee Lockwood had taken breakfast and was walking through the lobby of his hotel ”… and in through the door came the foreign press aide. …” ‘Oh, Mr. Lockwood,’ he said, ‘I have some wonderful news for you!’ And I said I was certainly ready for some wonderful news because until then I hadn’t had much. And he said: ‘Today you are going to be able to interview American prisoners of war as you have requested. I can’t give you any further details right now, but you must stay in your hotel…where we can reach you.’
“That’s the way he put it. ‘Today you are going to be able to interview American prisoners of war’—plural—‘as you have requested.’”
Lockwood passed the time in his room. Bobby Salas, a Cuban photographer, knocked and entered.
“Hey, did you hear about the press conference?” Salas asked.
“What press conference?”
“They’re going to have a press conference this afternoon. You’d better come. Rumor is they’re going to have an American POW there.”
Lockwood found that confusing. Why would they have a press conference like that the same day he was to do his interviewing? Perhaps, somehow, they were connected.
He mulled this over awhile. Then came the word, by telephone, that he was to get ready; a car would be sent for him. He loaded his cameras with film and cleaned and checked the lenses. He put a new cassette in his tape recorder, and he waited.
At the Zoo, Stratton’s morning had been routine, not that there was ever much variation in solitary confinement. But at lunchtime a trio of turnkeys entered his cell carrying a basin of water and a razor.
“Now you shave.”
“I said, Tm not going to shave.’ And they said, well, you must shave and all this routine. They slapped me around a little bit, and said, ‘Shave!’ And finally two guys held me by the hair and one of the gooks started to shave me.
“Well, first of all, it’s an old razor and the blade must have been invented in 1890 and in use ever since, you know? But the guy did a beautiful job and left me with a complete razor burn all over my face which added to my physical appearance. They suited me up; said I looked thin so they got me a double set of sweaters, which was beautiful, put the set of pajamas over me, got me a set of socks from somewhere and put them on me (and I never saw them again after that day) and put a pair of go-aheads [sandals] on my feet.