David H. Hackworth
January 17, 1995


U.S. Army pilot Bobby Hall "became disoriented," flew into North Korea, was shot down, and out of "fear" spilled his guts to his Communist jailers. After such disgraceful behavior, Hall returned home to all the trappings once given to real American heroes.

Things have changed since Nathan Hale told his British captors in 1776, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

During the Korean War, many American POWs ratted on and stole the food of their fellow inmates or allowed themselves to be used for propaganda purposes. In 1955, to stop such despicable acts and to teach our warriors -- if taken prisoner -- to stand together for the common good, the Code of Conduct was created. Since then, every member of our armed forces has been trained in the expected standards of conduct governing behavior as a POW.

In my infantry battle group in the early 1960s, our combat savvy, Texas-tough colonel, Glover S. Johns, had us chant the Code at reveille. I can still shout it out as I can my serial number, beginning with Article I: "I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense."

Having the rules drilled in so well worked. Had we tangled with the Soviets, I doubt if anyone in the 18th Infantry wouldn't have spit in the face of the Russkies if captured. Johns knew from his experience in WWII and the Korean War the damage defectors do to a country at war.

Except in survival training for most USAF/USN pilots and special troops, the Code has been neglected and watered down over the years to take into account the pressures to make propaganda statements POWs frequently face. It's also been made politically correct. For example, Article I has had the "fighting man" bit eliminated to make room for women in combat. It now reads, "I am an American fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life."

And Article V, the one Hall violated, has been softened: "When questioned, should I become a prisoner, I am bound 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 statement disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause." "Bound" has been replaced by "required," making caving in more acceptable.

Now guys like Hall, who before he was released by the Reds signed a statement saying he had committed an "intolerable crime" when his helicopter "illegally intruded" into North Korean air space, and Michael Durant, Army Chief Warrant Officer, who conveniently forgot the Code when captured in 1993 in Somalia, can say just about any damn thing and still come home to yellow ribbons, a hero's welcome, medals and congratulatory calls from the President.

The Code's adulteration and neglect insults all those who have stood tall, such as Medal of Honor winner naval pilot (and eventual Vice Adm.) Jim Stockdale, who bashed his face into a concrete wall so the Hanoi thugs couldn't use his mug on the tube to sell their propaganda. Nathan Hale and Colonel Johns must be spinning in their graves, and all those brave pilots who told Ho Chi Minh to get stuffed must be asking: Why have a Code if it's not enforced?

Hall, Durant and Navy Lt. Jeffrey Zaun, who, shot down during Desert Storm, became in effect an Iraqi press agent as soon as he was threatened by Saddam's guards, are all guilty of violating the Code. But so is the Pentagon brass for letting it become diluted and neglected.

USAF Lt. Col. Alan Lurie, after being released by Hanoi in 1972, said the Code gave him and his fellow tortured POW airmen the will to resist the "North Vietnamese attempts to exploit us."

But the conduct of Hall, Durant, Zaun and other POWs since Vietnam proves the Code has become more about lip-service than standing proud. It must be reaffirmed and reinforced, from corporal to chairman, or we can expect a rerun of the Korean War disgrace somewhere down the bloody track.