Naval aviator Stratton--tough, loud-mouthed, intolerant--was one of the first of the ""Caucasian air pirates"" shot down...


PRISONER AT WAR: The Survival of Commander Richard A. Stratton

Naval aviator Stratton--tough, loud-mouthed, intolerant--was one of the first of the ""Caucasian air pirates"" shot down over North Vietnam and, under torture, he ""confessed"": ""Obviously,"" he had to recognize, ""I am no James Bond."" But his bitterness is directed less at his brutish jailers--whose propaganda show he subverted by bowing like a zombie--than at the members of the American peace movement who, he feels, let themselves be used. Like visiting dove Dave Dellinger--""Jeez. . . the guy was stupid""--who accepted Stratton's altar-boy explanation of the bowing as, in Dellinger's words, ""perfectly logical."" Their intercut recollections of the interview are devastating but inconclusive--for Stratton's effort not to appear brainwashed (D's interpretation: ""It sort of hurt his ego, his pride"") allowed for the assumption that the prisoners were not ill treated; and who, now, is to pronounce either at fault? Something of this uncertainty dogs the book as a whole. The lengthy account of Stratton's six-year captivity--and Alice Stratton's siege as a POW wife--is guardedly sympathetic but tacky, undercut by coarse language (""Major Bui's ass was in a crack""), cliffhanger chapter-ends, and a basic inability to penetrate this allegedly ""very complicated man."" At the same time, it fails to wrap up the POW experience--despite the interspersed summary of events--because of the focus on Stratton and his exceptional situation. But, especially early on, the book has a grab: in the non-vicious, ""openhanded whacks of frustration and fear and pent-up anger"" that ordinary people direct at the downed airman, in his recognition of the ingrained ""superiority complex"" that leads him to underestimate his captors. And overall it is bound to have an impact, if only by reviving the conflict between hard-liners and doves. ""We lost,"" Stratton's peace-worker sister hurls at him after his homecoming; but it is clear, though Blakey does not give his answer, that Stratton would never say so.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 1978


Page Count: -

Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1978