Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Rollover text informationAmerican Experience Logo
Return With Honor

spacer above content
Primary Sources: U.S. Policy Shows New Firmness

It wasn't until 1969 that news spread of the inhumane treatment of American POWs in North Vietnam. This editorial, from the hometown newspaper of some of the captured servicemen's wives, reflects the outrage many felt when learning of conditions in North Vietnamese prisoner of war camps.

The San Diego Union
Tuesday Morning, May 20, 1969
page B-6

U.S. Policy Shows New Firmness

Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird was giving the world another signal that American security policy has changed when he put North Vietnam on notice that we expect humane consideration for American prisoners of war.

The timing, vigor and tenor of Mr. Laird’s forthright statement make it clear that the United States of American is reflecting seriously upon the futility of a policy of appeasement toward communism.

Such a policy, typified in recent years by the performance of W. Averell Harriman, is based on the concept that concession and temporizing are the formula for dealing with Communists; that a strong stand is likely to make them angry — and thus intransigent.

This is the policy that has tolerated the enslavement of millions of Europeans since World War II. It suffered the building of the Berlin Wall. It resulted in the disaster of Cuba and a prolonged war in Vietnam.

Mr. Laird, by demanding humane treatment of American prisoners, is saying that forthright action will produce more, in the long run, than worry about making the enemy angry.

His statement of position regarding prisoners of war is similar in concept to the Administration policy that we should build an anti-ballistic missile defense because our safety demands it without respect to whether it may make the Soviet Union mad.

Our national interest, compassion and the morale of the armed forces undoubtedly compelled Mr. Laird to speak up for the hundreds of Americans held captive in North Vietnam.

North Vietnam has flouted all recognized international law and codes of decency by its brutal treatment of American prisoners, although it signed the Geneva Convention of 1949 which set the standards.

Contrary to the Geneva Convention, North Vietnam has not allowed the captive Americans to communicate with their families. It has not allowed international access to the prisoners, nor has it assured them of mail or proper medical attention. Instead, some the prisoners have been executed; many have been used for propaganda purposes, ignominiously paraded in public.

Pleas from international agencies, from the neutral nations and from the Pope have fallen on deaf ears.

Now Mr. Laird is saying this must end — that North Vietnam and other Communists must account to the world for their treatment of men captured in battle.

If the Communists read their tea leaves correctly, they will see emerging a new era in American diplomacy, where concession and vacillation are supplanted by strength and patient resolve.

Site Navigation

The Film & More: Film Description | Transcript | Primary Sources | Further Reading

Return With Honor Home | The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline | Maps | People & Events | Teacher's Guide

The American Experience | Feedback | Search & Site Map | Shop | Subscribe | Web Credits

© New content 1999-2000 PBS Online / WGBH

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: