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Book Review: Battle Behind Bars (POWs)

I recently finished the book:

Rochester, Stuart I. 2010. The battle behind bars: Navy and Marine POWs in the Vietnam War. Washington, DC: Naval History & Heritage Command, Dept. of the Navy.

This 68 page book will be of great interest if you are:

  • A Vietnam War history buff
  • A Navy or Marine fan
  • Interested in torture, effects of indefinite detention and coping mechanisms for both.
  • Writing a story that involves long duration POWs in any kind of war.

This book is well written, avoids jargon and appears to be drawn from many first person accounts, although specific citations are not provided. The book is also well illustrated with prisoner photos, posters and copies of documents such as rules for prisoners. There is a list of suggested reading on page 67.

Notable features of this book for writers include the sidebar for the “tap code” on page 27 and for “indoctrination” on page 40. The chapter on punishment beginning 35 will serve as a primer on writing torture scenes.

For Americans at large, this book is a testament to the courage, intelligence, ingenuity and plain stubbornness brought by our naval and marine personnel during a dark time in their lives.

Ideally, the book’s condemnation of the use of sleep deprivation, stress positions, water boarding and extensive use of solitary confinement by the Viet Cong would prompt Americans to question the use of these techniques on prisoners we’ve held over the past decade.

Finally, unlike most government documents I’ve reviewed in this space, you can’t freely reuse the content of this book. Although the Naval History & Heritage Command contributed resources to this book and it was distributed through the Federal Depository Library Program, the copyright is registered to the Naval Historical Foundation, a private group founded in 1926. This means that no portion of this book may be reproduced without written permission of the Naval Historical Foundation.

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