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The Unanswered Case
Against George Polk

Why are journalists turning a blind eye to fraud?

12:00 AM, Apr 13, 2007 • By RICHARD B. FRANK
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In this context, one of these forged documents purports to be the award for a Purple Heart Medal in connection with an alleged attempt by George Polk to take off in an aircraft from Guadalcanal during a Japanese bombing attack. William Polk provided a transcription of this document with a date of September 23, 1942, but the transcription left unclear whether this was the date of the event or the date of the award. William Polk has declined my request for a copy of the original and has not made it public. His recent letter of March 14 indicates he does not understand the facts about the award in general, or in the particular case of George Polk. He states that I am correct that at "that stage of the war, the Purple Heart was not given for wounds. It was, however, given for bravery."

The facts are as follows: The Department of the Army revived the Purple Heart Medal in the 1930s as an award for combat wounds and meritorious service. (Meritorious service covers commendable action not involving valor.) The Navy Department declined to follow the army in restoring the decoration. This situation led to the inconsistency early in World War II that while army personnel and even naval personnel serving under army commanders could receive the Purple Heart Medal for combat wounds (or meritorious service), naval personnel could not. President Roosevelt cured this inconsistency by an executive order in December 1942 authorizing the award of the Purple Heart Medal to naval personnel for combat wounds. Like the army award, the navy award never was for bravery, but the navy also never authorized the award for meritorious service. (The army later dropped meritorious service as a basis for the award to return parity between the services.)

Accordingly, William Polk's argument that the award was for "bravery" is contrary to the facts. More importantly, if September 23 was the purported date of the award, this would be months before any member of the naval service could authorize or receive the award. As I further detailed in my article, if September 23 was the purported date of the event, Japanese and American records agree that there was no air raid on Guadalcanal on this date. Even more devastating is the fact that George Polk's own oral history statement denying he ever flew from Guadalcanal would make the claimed event impossible, regardless of the date. Thus, yet again William Polk's defense trips over further gross evidence of fraud.

IT WAS ONLY WHEN THIS EVIDENCE of carefully calculated fraud unmistakably emerged that I realized that even an event I heretofore had presumed to be true had to be tested. As another naval officer ruefully described it, in December 1942 when they were on the small island of Tulagi about 25 miles north of Guadalcanal, George Polk used his limited flying skills as a private pilot to bamboozle this officer into permitting him to fly a light float biplane. On his first documented mission, Polk lost the plane but came back with the extenuating account of how he encountered and battled two similar Japanese float planes. (Polk also admitted at that point that he was not actually a qualified naval pilot.) When the records of all the Japanese float plane units in the region were examined, it became clear that none of them reported any such encounter. This episode again shows that George Polk crafted a fiction he calculated could not be detected at the time that served his personal interests.

It should be obvious by now that William Polk's argument that my article was long on innuendo and short on fact is risible. As to his further argument that this explains why the article was not published by the eight outlets I listed, the response I received from Scott Stossel, managing editor of the Atlantic was that the article was "fascinating, and seems credible," and he further said that "Polk's fraud is clearly a big deal." But he gave as his reason for not publishing the piece that the Atlantic "just didn't have the space" to publish it. After the article was published, I received an email from David Plotz of Slate stating that the article was "very impressive." Obviously, the Manchester Guardian not only found the piece convincing, but was astounded that none of the publications I approached would take it.