Honor Bound: The History of American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973

Article excerpt

HONOR BOUND: The History of American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973, by Stuart I. Rochester and Frederick Kiley, US Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1999, 704 pages, $38.95.

To describe Honor Bound as comprehensive fails to do Stuart I. Rochester and Federick Kiley justice. This surprising book compels hyperbole. The authors deliver a first-rate account of not only US prisoners of war experiences but of all allied and western civilian prisoners held by the North Vietnamese, the Viet Cong and the Pathet Lao as well as those held by various factions in Cambodia.

Rochester and Kiley are meticulous and objective; however, unlike the authors of many official histories, they do not succumb to institutional bias. They reveal Department of Defense (DOD) bureaucratic foolishness and the cynical use of prisoners as propaganda while also recounting the outrageous treatment prisoners received from the North Vietnamese and their allies.

Early DOD policy stipulated that prisoners were to be called "detainees" in order to avoid playing into the hands of North Vietnamese who described captured Americans as rogues and criminals. The United States changed the policy only as the number of prisoners increased and as outrage by the prisoners' families mounted.

The authors also clearly and concisely demonstrate the vastly different experiences of prisoners depending on their age, experience, location of capture and time of imprisonment. From the outset, with varying degrees of success and sophistication, the North Vietnamese attempted to use the prisoners as political weapons. They were never really interested in gleaning intelligence; they wanted political statements. …