A Prisoner’s Duty

Great Escapes in U.S. Military History

Robert C. Doyle

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2016, 400 pages

Book Review published on: August 10, 2018

The title of Robert C. Doyle’s book, A Prisoner’s Duty: Great Escapes in U.S. Military History, sets an expectation for the reader in which the book does not quite deliver—great escapes in U.S. military history. What the reader does receive is an overarching discussion of the psychology behind why military prisoners—or anyone held against their will—attempt to escape as well as the peculiar sets of circumstances that may drive prisoners to attempt escape when they had previously not given serious consideration to escaping.

Notwithstanding, Doyle does deliver an exhaustive, interesting, and incredibly well-researched book on “rejecting the condition of captivity,” as he explains in the first chapter. The remaining chapters broadly tell of escapes from different periods of time or during wars in which the United States was involved. Doyle tells the story of Squanto, a Native American who taught Pilgrims how to survive in the New World. Squanto had been taken prisoner by a fisherman along the New England coast and taken to England where he learned English. Sold into slavery, Squanto escaped, returned to England, and eventually made his way back to the New World where he adopted the Mayflower’s Pilgrims. Chronologically, the last prisoner released was Terry Anderson, an Associated Press journalist taken hostage by Hezbollah in 1985 and finally released in December 1991. Between Squanto and Anderson, Doyle tells of escapes from the Revolutionary War to the frontier wars as the U.S. boundary continued moving west; of slaves escaping during the Civil War era; of escapes during the two world wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War; and of escapes during the multiple Middle Eastern hostage scenarios that have played out. He does not limit himself purely to U.S. military escapes; he provides the details of German and Russian prisoners of war escaping as well as East Germans escaping under and over the Berlin Wall.

Throughout this book, Doyle provides tremendous details regarding challenges specific to the war, time in history, and the locale of the prisoners that had to be overcome to escape. He provides considerations for the mental calculations made by escapees such as the implications and consequences to not only themselves if caught, but also to those prisoners remaining in captivity—whether the escapee was recaptured or not.

Though A Prisoner’s Duty: Great Escapes in U.S. Military History goes well beyond escapes in U.S. military history, readers will find this book highly informative and interesting. Originally published in 1997, this is Doyle’s second book on the American POWs; he published Voices from Captivity: Interpreting the American POW Narrative in 1994. Doyle subsequently published The Enemy in Our Hands: America’s Treatment of Prisoners of War from the Revolution to the War on Terror in 2010.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Kevin Lee Watson, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Belvoir, Virginia