Primary Sources: The POWs Code of Conduct
The Code of Conduct was a set of rules that American soldiers were expected to follow if captured. The code, established by the U.S. Department of Defense, required steadfast resistance against the enemy and evolved out of the Korean War experience, where commanders saw many soldiers collaborate and submit to brainwashing.
Though the code was strictly adhered by the first American prisoners of war, brutal torture techniques by the North Vietnamese led POWs to use more improvisational techniques that would minimize the torture and ensure their survival. For example, in 1967, Commander James Stockdale, the senior officer among U.S. POWs at the time, provided his fellow prisoners with specific rules of resistance, such as forbidding them to bow in public or to make broadcasts. These interpretations of the Code of Conduct improved morale -- and probably saved lives.
The Code of Conduct, printed here, was changed by the Department of Defense to make it gender neutral. The rest of the code stands as it was during the Vietnam War.
CODE OF CONDUCT
I AM AN AMERICAN, FIGHTING IN THE FORCES WHICH GUARD MY COUNTRY AND OUR WAY OF LIFE. I AM PREPARED TO GIVE MY LIFE IN THEIR DEFENSE.
I WILL NEVER SURRENDER OF MY OWN FREE WILL. IF IN COMMAND, I WILL NEVER SURRENDER THE MEMBERS OF MY COMMAND WHILE THEY STILL HAVE THE MEANS TO RESIST.
IF I AM CAPTURED, I WILL CONTINUE TO RESIST BY ALL MEANS AVAILABLE. I WILL MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO ESCAPE AND AID OTHERS TO ESCAPE. I WILL ACCEPT NEITHER PAROLE NOR SPECIAL FAVORS FROM THE ENEMY.
IF I BECOME A PRISONER OF WAR, I WILL KEEP FAITH WITH MY FELLOW PRISONERS. I WILL GIVE NO INFORMATION OR TAKE PART IN ANY ACTION WHICH MIGHT BE HARMFUL TO MY COMRADES. IF I AM SENIOR, I WILL TAKE COMMAND. IF NOT, I WILL OBEY THE LAWFUL ORDERS OF THOSE APPOINTED OVER ME AND WILL BACK THEM UP IN EVERY WAY.
WHEN QUESTIONED, SHOULD I BECOME A PRISONER OF WAR, I AM REQUIRED TO GIVE MY NAME, RANK, SERVICE NUMBER, AND DATE OF BIRTH. I WILL EVADE ANSWERING FURTHER QUESTIONS TO THE UTMOST OF MY ABILITY. I WILL MAKE NO ORAL OR WRITTEN STATEMENTS DISLOYAL TO MY COUNTRY AND ITS ALLIES OR HARMFUL TO THEIR CAUSE.
I WILL NEVER FORGET THAT I AM AN AMERICAN, FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM, RESPONSIBLE FOR MY ACTIONS, AND DEDICATED TO THE PRINCIPLES WHICH MADE MY COUNTRY FREE. I WILL TRUST IN MY GOD AND IN THE United States of America.