The Banned Book

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
— Hebrews 4:12 ESV

Foreign Service officer Doug Ramsey fell into the hands of the Vietcong in January 1966. He spent the next seven years trying to hang on in a jungle camp near the Cambodian border.

In his book, Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945 - 1975, Max Hastings describes the conditions:

For much of his early captivity, he occupied a bamboo cage shorter than his own ill-nourished frame, infested with ants, scorpions, termites, and mosquitoes. He was allowed to shave, painfully, only monthly. He received letter from home twice in seven years, and once went seven weeks without an opportunity to wash. For a time he share his quarters with a six-foot black-and-yellow banded krait, which he found in his bed. Eventually it slithered away, to be spotted and killed by guards.

Reading Hasting descriptions of the deprivations he and others suffered makes one wonder how Ramsey and his fellow captives held up. In fact, many did not. Death claimed some by jungle fever, some by distress and despair, and some by a captor’s bullet.

As I read Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, I was intrigued, but not surprised, by the captives’ scarcity of books. Think about it. What does a POW do to keep from going mad when he has 2,555 days with nothing to do but try to live?

Books were a lifeline, but one book was forbidden. Hastings writes,

In the course of seven years, Ramsey gained passing access to just five books—Tom Sawyer, Three Men in a Boat, David Copperfield, and two works by Australian communist Wilfred Burchett. The Bible was explicitly forbidden, a source of deep distress to some prisoners.

The Bible was the book the prisoner was not allowed. This too really doesn’t surprise me, but it is interesting that captors would deprive a captive a book which teaches:

  • Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

  • But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:44

  • Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

Why no Bible? Hastings does not comment, but one reason seems clear. The Scriptures are sharper than an sword, more powerful than bullets, more life-giving than captivity is soul-draining. The Bible leads us to a rest only God can give. No wonder we are urged to listen to it, read it, meditate on it, hear it taught, and devour it. No wonder Jeremiah says:

Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
O Lord, God of hosts.
— Jeremiah 15:16

The Vietcong recognized the Word of God as a prisoner’s lifeline, so they banned it. But today, like Jeremiah, you can devour it. Don’t miss the meal.


Book Review: You can read my review of Max Hastings, Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy by clicking here.

On My Walk Podcast: I’ll be podcasting this week from Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy. Click here to learn more about capturing reading’s AHA! Moments through this podcast.


“For much of his early captivity . . . “ from Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975, by Max Hastings. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2018, page 664.

“In the course of seven years, Ramsey gained . . .” from Vietnam, page 667.