Hey! Randy

The Best View of the War

Posted by heyrandy on December 3, 2011

Five Years to Freedom, James Rowe, 1971.

My only thought was that war was always more glorious when watched on film. p303

This is a story of courage and will. It is the true story of one man’s struggle to stay alive and sane while being held in horrible conditions for five years as a Viet Cong prisoner. Captured in 1963, Lt. Rowe endured repeated bouts of debilitating dysentery and beriberi, constant malnutrition, and clever psychological  manipulation. He survived while three of his fellow prisoners died.

After his 1960 graduation from West Point, Rowe was assigned to a special forces unit in Vietnam as an adviser. He was captured when the Vietnamese unit he was with encountered a larger than expected enemy force. Two other Americans were also capture with him.

Rowe soon began the horrible experience of living in a small cage, subsisting on an almost rice only diet. The degrading conditions would induce three other prisoners to simply lose the will to live. In those conditions it was easy to die. Rowe almost took that path. Physical weakness coupled with hopelessness can be a powerful incentive to quit.

The prospect of release was always held out to Rowe. All he had to do was cooperate. This would have betrayed his oath to uphold the Code of Conduct, but it would have certainly gained him better food if not release. The propaganda effort against him was intense. Constant “lessons” in socialist doctrine as well as a steady stream of “You are loosing the war. Why waste your life?” talk was difficult to resist.

Rowe presents a perspective on the war that no longer common. We mostly look back on the war as a giant mistake. Rowe presents the U.S. involvement in a good light. A few years and generations make a lot of difference. They also make no difference. The arguments his captors made against American involvement in Vietnam sound a lot like the arguments made against American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The book is not about the politics of war. It is about the courage of one who fought in it. This is why you should read the book.


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