John McCain on What He Learned as a Prisoner of War

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Answer by John McCain, United States Senator and author of Thirteen Soldiers: A Personal History of Americans at War, on Quora.

That’s not a question I can answer briefly. So, I won’t really try. I wrote a book, Faith of My Fathers, which gave the experience the space I needed to describe all my thoughts about it. Suffice it to say, it was a mostly terrible experience but not all of it. I hated it, and yet I made some of the most important discoveries and relationships of my life in prison.

I was treated poorly by my captors, but not as poorly as they treated other POWs, and the treatment improved as the years passed, though it never met Geneva Convention standards.

My contact with the outside world was pretty much limited to conversations with new prisoners, who would bring the old timers up to date on world events. Otherwise, we were stuck with Hanoi Hannah’s propaganda broadcast for news, which for all her enthusiasm wasn’t exactly fair and balanced.

I adjusted instantly to life after prison. It was nothing but a pleasure to get used to the freedoms and conveniences of American life again. My experiences in Vietnam didn’t change me as dramatically as you might think they would or as much as some people probably wish they would have. I learned two big things though. I learned I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was, but I was strong enough. And I learned there were things I couldn’t do on my own, but that nothing is as liberating as fighting for a cause that’s bigger than yourself.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What is it like to be a prisoner of war?

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