One of the things one learns as a recruit is the Code of Conduct for American Soldiers (etc). The Code was introduced after the Korean War and has an interesting history. Here, Jack Webb introduces it, then called the Code of Conduct of the American Fighting Man, in a 1959 training film. Webb is best known today for his deadpan detective on the long-running police procedural Dragnet, but his best movie role as The D.I. may have got him this gig.
The US did not have such a code prior to the Korean War. Given the extreme resistance displayed, sometimes to the point of death, by US Prisoners of War in Japanese and German camps, none was thought to be needed. The behavior of some prisoners held by the North Koreans and Chinese during the 1950-53 Korean War came as a shock.
Some prisoners captured in this conflict went far beyond the name, rank and serial number that POWs are compelled to provide to their captors, and provided not only information, but also propaganda statements and other active collaboration. While many of these men were conscripts and short-service officers poorly acculturated to the military, this behavior was so contrary to both past experience and leaders’ expectations of the conduct of American fighting men as to alarm the military and drive the creation of a military code or creed.
The Norks and Chinese did not seek tactical or technical information, in their interrogations. They sought to break men just for the sake of breaking them, and they also sought converts to their Marxist faith.
Accordingly, the Eisenhower Administration proposed and promulgated a Code of Conduct. Marion F. Sturkey wrote, in The Warrior Culture of the US Marines, that:
After the war the American armed forces jointly developed a Code of Conduct. The President of the United States approved this written code in 1955. The six articles of the code create a comprehensive guide for all American military forces in time of war, and in time of peace. The articles of the code embrace (1) general statements of dedication to the United States and to the cause of freedom, (2) conduct on the battlefield, and (3) conduct as a prisoner of war.
The Code was established by Executive Order 10631 of Aug. 17, 1955; since then it has been modified by XOs 11382 of Nov. 28, 1967, 12017 of Nov. 3, 1977, and 12633 of Mar. 28, 1988.
Some of the changes have been minute or driven by desire to update to the latest politically correct terminology. Others have been more substantive.
The biggest change came after the Vietnam War. At the time, the Code came in for criticism due to its inflexibility. A number of stubborn captives (Rocky Versace springs immediately to mind) resisted to death. This led to a code with a little more “give” in it than the original, solid version Webb uses here.
Frankly, we prefer the Webb version. In captivity, the war is not over, it continues.