The Enemy in Our Hands: America's Treatment of Prisoners of War from the Revolution to the War on Terror (review)
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The Enemy in Our Hands: America's Treatment of Prisoners of War from the Revolution to the War on Terror. By Robert C. Doyle. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010. Pp. xx, 468. $34.55 cloth)

Arnold Krammer, in his acknowledgements in Prisoners of War: A Reference Handbook (2008) calls Robert C. Doyle "the doyen of POW studies." Doyle, a popular lecturer and historical consultant for movie and television programs dealing with POWs is well known for two earlier books, Voices from Captivity (1994) and A Prisoner's Duty (1997). They deal respectively with American POW narratives and with tales of American escapes from the hands of wartime enemies. In his latest book, Doyle shifts focus; he reviews the history of the American treatment of "enemy prisoners of war," EPWs as he calls them. He has found that, with the exception of the exemplary treatment [End Page 261] afforded German POWs held in the United States during World War II, the story of American treatment of the enemy in American hands has not been commendable. Americans have meant well, but they have had a short fuse when confronted with perceived barbarity on the part of their adversaries. Americans have practiced reciprocity in the handling of their captives, but this has resulted in retaliatory excesses when Americans have dealt with Tories, Indians, Philippine insurgents, and Middle Eastern "terrorists" who have not "played fair."

The Enemy in Our Hands will be of special interest to readers desiring an up-to-date broad review of the wars and experiences with EPWs of America. Doyle has produced a very readable, comprehensive survey, strong on battle narratives, extensive in quotation of historical documents, and with copious endnotes and a long bibliography of secondary sources. However, his tendency to lose his focus on specifically POW issues will disappoint scholars. The absence of a strong thesis and the paucity of primary sources make his latest work a synoptic textbook rather than a monograph. It will not attract discerning historians looking for new questions, new sources, and new insights about the past.

Arnold Krammer, who wrote the foreword to The Enemy in Our Hands, says that "America bears a special responsibility to live up to its creed and ensure the humane treatment of captives" (p.x). Doyle agrees, but he raises more questions than he answers. Because Doyle is all too aware that many of his countrymen continue to argue the necessity for a pragmatism verging on barbarism when dealing with EPWs, he repeatedly reminds his readers of the difficulty of maintaining the moral high ground. He asks but does not really answer the question, "[H]ow much and to what degree might national vulnerability be enhanced if one side uses the World War II EPW model based on reciprocity and good treatment and the other side does not" (p.348)?

This reviewer dares to wish that Doyle had written a slightly different book. There are several other recent works that deal more [End Page 262] forcefully with the need of America to maintain the moral high ground. One is Because It is Wrong: Torture, Privacy, and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror by Charles Fried and Gregory Fried (2010). Another book that deals directly with Doyle's subject is America's Captives: Treatment of POWs from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror by Paul J. Springer (2010). Springer analyzes American POW-policy planners' past moral and tactical failures and makes suggestions for planned improvements. Of course, there remain no easy answers. Robert Doyle is completely correct on that count.

Robert D. Billinger

Robert D. Billinger Jr. teaches history at Wingate University in Wingate, North Carolina. He is the author of Nazi POWs in the Tar Heel State (2008) and is currently interested in the political diversities among German prisoners held in the United States during World War II.

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