THE CODE OF CONDUCT
By Jorge Maspons
Part 1 of 3
This is the first of two articles where I will attempt to explain the six articles that make up the Code of Conduct of our own Armed Forces. This is one of the first things I had to learn upon my enlistment and training in the United States Army. Every member of my basic training company in Fort Polk, Louisiana had to memorize this important guide as we began our military career.
As a soldier in our military forces, it is my first and most important mission to protect my home land both in war and peace. But it is also my duty to protect my country in a prisoner of war camp should I be captured by the enemy and to conduct myself in an honorable and patriotic way. The purpose of my articles is to explain some of the hardships and risks we assume as member of the US Armed Forces.
This "Code of Conduct" goes back to the days of the American Revolution and has been developed as the years have passed and as Americans have shown courage in the middle of adversity. The experiences of our soldiers have contributed to the formation of this code which has been revised from time to time. I think it would be good for everyone to know a little about the risks of serving in the Armed Forces.
The obligations that we assume as members of the Armed Forces are the result of the traditional values which we have experienced as a nation in this land of freedom where we find the highest example of liberty. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are the basis for these values. We have pledged to defend these values so well expressed in those two documents and this Code of Conduct express our obligations toward our country and fellow servicemen in a special way.
Likewise, just as my responsibility to my country under this Code, the United States also have a responsibility to keep faith with me and to be by my side as I take part in the defense of the nation. If someone is unfortunate enough to be captured become a POW (prisoner of war) he must have the assurance that his loved one will be taken care of and that our country will not abandon us. Furthermore, we must trust and believe that our government will do everything possible to gain our release.
To live according to this Code it is necessary to know, not only the words, but the ideas and principles which are written in its paragraphs. Its six articles deal with our concerns as American soldiers in combat. These concerns can turn critical when we must evade capture, resist while being a POW or perhaps even escape from the hands of the enemy.
The experiences of American prisoners of war in the past have reveled that to survive captivity it is necessary to have great courage, a deep dedication and high motivation. To sustain these personal values while in captivity it is require to have an understanding and strong belief in our democratic institutions, love for your country, trust in the justice of your cause, loyalty to your fellow prisoners and last but not least a strong religious and moral conviction in these times of tribulation.
The courage, dedication, and motivation, supported by loyalty, trust and faith will help to endure the horrors of captivity, prevail over the captors and return home to your family with pride and honor. I have observed these virtues in several friends who were POWs and in particular some Cuban friends of mine members of Assault Brigade 2506 who displayed an admirable and exceptional behavior during their captivity in Cuba following the Bay of Pigs invasion. Their loyalty and love are worthy of praise and I will forever remember them.
"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." All members of the United States Armed Forces have an obligation to oppose our enemies at all times and under all circumstances and at the same time support the interests of the country. Weather in training or in combat, alone or together with others, evading capture or while in prison, this is the duty of the serviceman/woman who defend our nation no matter the circumstances.
"I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender my men while they still have the means to resist."
No soldier should ever surrender voluntarily. When he is alone and without any hopes of inflicting damage to the enemy, the American fighting man has an obligation to evade capture and to find American and or friendly forces. Only when the individual is in a position where escape is impossible and to continue the struggle would lead to dead without significant losses to the enemy, then surrender may be considered.
After all means of reasonable resistance have been exhausted and death as the only alternative, to be captured by the enemy does not imply dishonor. For a commander or any officer in charge, his responsibility and authority never goes to the point of surrendering his command as long as that command has the means to fight and resist capture. Any unit in which finds itself surrounded must continue to fight until it is relieved, reinforced or able to breakthrough and rejoin other American forces.
"If I am capture I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy."
It is the duty of all soldiers to use all means available to resist the enemy. This of course does not means that prisoners turn into criminals, no soldier should commit a crime just for the fun of it. A prisoner of war (POW) is still legally bound in the prison camp to the "Uniform Code of Military Justice" (UCMJ) and this "Code of Conduct" can and should be a guide while in prison. Under the rules of the Geneva Convention, a POW is subject to certain rules and regulations imposed by that nation where the POW is kept captured. The duty of the prisoner of war to continue to resist does not include unnecessary attacks not harassment.
Also, the prisoner must obey reasonable orders such as times for "lights out" and meals distribution.
The Geneva Convention allows the prisoner of war a desire to attempt escape. Furthermore, the Geneva Convention does not allow the captor nation to execute any prisoner just for the simple attempt to escape. Under his superior officer, a POW must be prepared to escape as soon as the opportunity presents itself. In the prison camp, the senior must consider the consequences of those left behind after an escape attempt.
In the Korean and Vietnam wars, these enemy nations considered the prisoner of war camp as part of the battlefield. They used a variety of tactics including mental and physical torture to get information from the POW's.
They even used their medical condition and made propaganda films in their efforts to brake the will to resist of the Americans. They tried to make the American POW's accept special favors and privileges in exchange for anti-American statements. The prisoner of war should never accept nor ask for compromises with the enemy, at least as long as he can mentally reject such compromises.
A final comment: In the First and then later the Second World War, the prisoners of war did not abandon military courtesy even when they came in contact with enemy officers. They represented their respected nations and although they would kill each other in combat, there was not. however, personal hatred. There were some traditions and rules that up to that time the belligerent nations observed. There were exceptions but generally speaking the prisoners were not abused and considering the circumstances were treated well. My purpose in this and the following article is to show some of the risks that our military personnel face and the sacrifices that the defenders of freedom must endure. May God bless our nation and our military forces around the world.
Jorge A. Maspons
Former Staff Sergeant
US Army 1969-1972
Louisiana Air National Guard and USAFR, Retired
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