American POWs in Southeast Asia and the Violation of a National Ethic

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This document is research paper prepared for 1991 course requirements at the US Air Force Academy. Access it on:

The introduction reads:

One of the most famous quotations in the history of the United States was stated by President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address, when he encouraged all Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” In the years which followed Kennedy’s inauguration, as the United States became more deeply involved in the war in Indochina, many Americans answered their nation’s call to duty. Inevitably, many of the men who served the United States in Southeast Asia became prisoners of war (POWs). Although 591 American POWs were repatriated to the United States in February 1973, some POWs were left behind (Tighe Report 33). The failure of the U.S. government to secure the return of American servicemen remaining in captivity in Southeast Asia after February 1973 is a continuing violation of a national ethic that has developed historically, that holds “the war is not over until all the men are back.” American servicemen certainly went to fight in Southeast Asia prepared to suffer hardship in battle, but they could not have been prepared to be abandoned by the country that sent them there. The betrayal of American POWs in Southeast Asia is one of the darkest pages of American history yet written, and suggests that the conscience of our nation has been violated in addition to the implicit promise made to U.S. servicemen by the government to bring them all home at the end of the war.



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