Useful Captives

The Role of POWs in American Military Conflicts

Edited by Daniel Krebs and Lorien Foote

Useful Captives: The Role of POWs in American Military Conflicts is a wide-ranging investigation of the integral role prisoners of war (POWs) have played in the economic, cultural, political, and military aspects of American warfare. In Useful Captives volume editors Daniel Krebs and Lorien Foote and their contributors explore the wide range of roles that captives play in times of conflict: hostages used to negotiate vital points of contention between combatants, consumers, laborers, propaganda tools, objects of indoctrination, proof of military success, symbols, political instruments, exemplars of manhood ideals, loyal and disloyal soldiers, and agents of change in society.

The book’s eleven chapters cover conflicts involving Americans, ranging from colonial warfare on the Creek-Georgia border in the late eighteenth century, the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great War, World War II, to twenty-first century U.S. drone warfare. This long historical horizon enables the reader to go beyond the prison camp experience of POWs to better understand the many ways they influence the nature and course of military conflict.

“This book is a masterpiece of contemporary scholarship. It does what Daniel Krebs and Lorien Foote say it is intended to do: examine the less-traveled roads with new understandings/visions of the American POW experience. No one can ask for more than that. I recommend it for every collection of American POW history.”

—Robert C. Doyle, author of Voices from Captivity: Interpreting the American POW Narrative

Useful Captives, in clear and convincing fashion, demonstrates how prisoners of war have impacted the cultural, political, and tactical dimensions of American military conflicts. Ranging from the colonial era to the War on Terror, the contributors have produced one of the most important studies on war captives in decades.”

—Glenn Robins, author of The Longest Rescue: The Life and Legacy of Vietnam POW William A. Robinson

Useful Captives shows the vital role that prisoners of war play in American warfare and reveals the cultural contexts of warfare, the shaping and altering of military policies, the process of state-building, the impacts upon the economy and environment of the conflict zone, their special place in propaganda and political symbolism, and the importance of public history in shaping national memory.

About the Author

Daniel Krebs is associate professor of history, University of Louisville, and, during the 2020–2021 academic year, Harold K. Johnson Chair in Military History, U.S. Army War College. He is the author of A Generous and Merciful Enemy: Life for German Prisoners of War during the American Revolution.

Lorien Foote is the Patricia and Bookman Peters Professor in History at Texas A&M University and is the author of The Yankee Plague: Escaped Union Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series