Rochester, Stuart I. and Frederick K. Kiley. Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973.
Stuart Rochester has a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and taught at Loyola for several years before joining the Office of the Secretary of Defense as a historian in 1980. The author of several books, he became Deputy Historian of the OSD in 1987.
Kiley also holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Denver. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1953, he taught at the Air Force Academy and then served in Viet Nam in 1968-69.
Academically trained, the authors managed to trace the history of our unfortunate POWs in prose that rivals that which one finds in the better novels. Well written, the book is also well documented, comprehensive and balanced. The authors give a detailed account of American citizens who were captured and imprisoned in Cambodia, Laos, and Viet Nam during the years of our military involvement there in the 1960s and 70s. Readers will need strong arms and hands to hold this book in place while reading it. It also has a companion volume (which I did not see or read). The book was first published in 1998. Now it is available in paper, and that was what I read.
The authors based their findings on readings of the relevant literature, careful sifting of official records, and interviews with many of those who suffered captivity, deprivation, and often absolutely bestial tortures. One author, Frederick Kiley, chose to undergo some of the torture, including the 'rope burn" in order to "get the feel of it." Most, if not quite all, authors would rather choose to distance themselves from such personal contact!
It paid off. As one reads, it is obvious that the authors felt great empathy for those unfortunate men and the occasional woman who were held in captivity. Although the writer of the Foreword (Alfred Goldberg, OSD historian) maintained that this cannot be the final word on the subject, it is difficult for me to see how a newer and different approach could be any better. Their work presents a"vivid, sensitive, sometimes excruciating account of how men sought to cope with the physical and psychological torment of imprisonment under wretched and shameful conditions" (p. vii). They endured the longest captivity ever for U.S. prisoners of war, ending finally on 12 February 1973 as 116 of them landed in a C-141 at Clark Field in the Philippines on a nonstop flight from Hanoi.
The story begins with an account of French POWs during the First Indochina War, then moves on to discussing POWs taken in Laos by the Pathet Lao. We read of those men captured in Viet Nam by the National Liberation Front and the Viet Cong. Later we find pages upon pages of those who were imprisoned in the Hoa Lo (the oven) in Hanoi, called by inmates the Hanoi Hilton. We are treated to a fascinating account of the development of the "tap code," by which prisoners were able to communicate with one another. This excellent chapter also tells the history of tap codes, a version of which was first used by POWs in the American Civil Wars and then used again by POWs in the First World War and carried on by British POWs in North Korea during the Korean conflict.
We are reminded of those who were identified as captured in Southeast Asia but who then vanished without a trace. We learn of two men who escaped-Isaac Camacho, who walked away from this captors and into the arms of friendly forces on 13 July 1965 after having made a"confession" to his captors about the illegality of American actions, expressed sorrow for hurting Vietnamese, promising never to return to Viet Nam if he was released. Then there was James Rowe, a more heroic man, captured on 29 October 1963 and who after years of torture and deprivation finally escaped to freedom on 31 December 1968-five years and two months as a prisoner.
Chapters eight and nine are devoted to a lengthy discussion of the use of torture both physical and psychological by Vietnamese captors, and how our men tried to deal with effects. We learn again of the "war crimes trial" sponsored by Sir Bertrand Russell and visits by war protestors such as Joan Baez and Jane Fonda. The authors remind us of the forced march through the streets of Hanoi by our POWs while angry Vietnamese crowds lined the edges and hurled insults and small objects at our men as they staggered along.
Throughout the pages are filled with helpful explanatory footnotes and photographs. It is a book to be studied, reflected upon, and savored because of its content. Need I add that it has my highest recommendation?
A small footnote. In my several trips to Viet Nam for research purposes in 1988-1991, I found the people there to be gentle, kindly, and helpful-often coming up to me whether I was in the north or south and flashing a thumb, and saying "America Number One!" The difference between the years of torture and my visits was remarkable.
Cecil B. Currey
University of South Florida
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|Author:||Currey, Cecil B.|
|Publication:||Journal of Third World Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2012|
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