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Prisoners of War

Back to Truce Tent and Fighting Front

The Foundation of Freedom is the Courage of Ordinary People

History  Bert '53  On Line

On the surface the problem of prisoners of war seemed simple. The United States was a signatory to the Geneva Convention of 1949 although it had not ratified the convention when the war began. The North Korean Foreign Minister had declared shortly after the outbreak of war in 1950 that his government would abide by its stipulations. Since the opening sentence of Article 118 of the convention clearly stated: "Prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of hostilities," there seemed little reason for dispute. Yet difficulties arose at the outset of the discussions on the exchange of prisoners and steadily mounted as the issue became surcharged with emotional elements. A series of conflicts broke out between the rights of the individual and those of the majority, between human rights and legal rights, and between humanitarianism and Communist Party pride. As the controversy became very involved, a glance at the contributing factors would appear to be in order.

Voluntary Repatriation

Early in its history the United States had come into contact with the principle of voluntary repatriation or the right of each individual prisoner to choose whether he wanted to return home or not. At the close of the Revolutionary War the Treaty of Paris of 1783 had simply stated: "All prisoners on both sides shall be set at liberty . . . ." Thousands of British and German soldiers decided to stay in the new country and to live under the new form of government rather than go back to Europe.1

But this experience had been the exception to the rule. The common practice was to exchange all prisoners of war at the end of a conflict. When the 1929 Geneva Convention was fashioned, compulsory repatriation was taken for granted since it was generally accepted that the great majority of prisoners would wish to return home as soon as a war was finished. World War II added a new chapter to the handling of prisoners of war when the Soviet Union retained large numbers of German and Japanese prisoners for a long period after the war to assist in the rehabilitation of the USSR. Perhaps to prevent a recurrence of this action, the delegates to the Geneva Conference in 1949 strengthened the article dealing with repatriation, It became a fiat statement prescribing quick and compulsory repatriation.2

But in their zeal to protect the right of each prisoner to return home swiftly, the delegates ignored the other side of the coin. They failed to incorporate escape provisions to cover the possible exceptions- the prisoners who might be afraid to go back, those who had fallen out of sympathy with their national regimes, and those who preferred the ways of their captors.

The omission was soon revealed by the Korean War. The Communists, however, did not allow a scrap of paper to deprive them of an advantage. As soon as they began to accumulate prisoners in mid-1950, they set about reeducating and incorporating as many as possible of the former ROK soldiers into the Korean People's Army. When the United Nations Command turned the tables after the Inch'on landing in September 1950, no such easy solution was permissible. Respecting the provisions of the Geneva Convention, the UNC sent its ever-increasing bag of prisoners, military and civilian, back to the stockades and faithfully reported the names to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It was inevitable that some of the ex-ROK soldiers should fall into UNC hands and many of them now claimed that they had been impressed into the Communist forces. This was the initial complication.

When the Chinese entered the war in late 1950, another element was added. For among the Chinese troops were many quondam members of the Nationalist armies of Chiang Kai-shek. During the civil war there lead been wholesale desertions and surrenders and the Communists had taken the former Nationalists into their military organization en masse. Disaffection was widespread in their ranks and once they had become prisoners of the UNC, many soon demonstrated a lack of enthusiasm for a return to Communist control.3

As the number of enemy prisoners mounted and their composition grew more complex, the problem of their ultimate disposition came to the fore. On the eve of the opening of the truce negotiations in July, Brig. Gen. Robert A. McClure, Army Chief of Psychological Warfare, voiced his concern over the possible fate of the former Nationalist soldiers in the event of an armistice. Many of these men, he told General Collins, claimed that they were forced to join the Communist army. If they were now compelled to return, they might well be faced with heavy punishment or even execution because they had surrendered to the U.N. Command. To forestall this McClure presented a clever, if somewhat debatable solution. Since the bulk of the ex-Nationalist prisoners would probably elect to go to Taiwan if they were given a choice and since it could be officially considered a part of China, he urged the repatriation of the group to Taiwan. In this fashion the United States would avoid the experience of World War II when it had consented to the forcible repatriation of prisoners to the Soviet Union. At the same time, McClure went on, future psychological warfare operations would be strengthened since if enemy soldiers were confident that they would not be repatriated, they would be more likely to surrender.4

The McClure approach deserved further consideration, in Collins' opinion, and he submitted it in expanded form to the JCS on 6 July. Although the United States had not ratified the Geneva Convention, Collins and the Army Judge Advocate General felt that it was committed to the principles expressed therein. On the other hand, the Chief of Staff thought that provided adequate safeguards for the protection and safe return of UNC prisoners were arranged, General Ridgway could repatriate all Chinese prisoners claiming Nationalist sympathies to Taiwan on the technical ground that it was still part of China. Collins was willing to go even further. If it could be accomplished without prejudice to the rapid recovery of UNC prisoners, he suggested that no Chinese or North Korean prisoners should be forced to go back to Communist-controlled territory without their full consent.5

While the Taiwan proposition complied with the letter of the Geneva Convention and could be defended, the voluntary repatriation concept advocated by the Chief of Staff was clearly at variance with the provisions of the convention. General Ridgway, when asked for his comments, was quick to point this out. The adoption of voluntary repatriation at this time, Ridgway declared, might establish a precedent that would work to the disadvantage of the United States in future wars. In addition, the Communists might make use of this breach of the convention to formulate adverse propaganda and influence the borderline countries not yet committed to communism. Despite these disadvantages, Ridgway felt that the concept had definite merit.6

Further support for voluntary repatriation came from the joint Strategic Survey Committee, the senior advisory group to the joint Chiefs of Staff, but the committee recommended that since the problem transcended military considerations, it should be handled on a higher governmental level. Final approval, the committee concluded, should come from the General Assembly of the United Nations. General Jenkins, the Army G_3, disagreed strongly, for he felt that giving the matter to the General Assembly would result in no decision at all on the basic policy. His arguments won over the JCS and General Collins was instructed to inform Ridgway that he could develop a UNC position for planning purposes based on the principle of voluntary repatriation.7

During the long recess over the incidents at Kaesong, there was a gradual change within the Defense Department, Robert A. Lovett, who succeeded General Marshall on 17 September as Secretary of Defense, keynoted this shift. Referring to the instructions of 30 June to Ridgway on prisoner of war exchange, he declared that the Communists might not consent to negotiate on a one-for-one basis and might well insist upon an all-for-all agreements This possibility immediately cast a pall over the doctrine of voluntary repatriation, for the primary consideration was to secure the speedy return of all UNC prisoners. In a one-for-one exchange, the UNC could easily have held back the enemy prisoners who did not want to return to the Communists until all the UNC prisoners were turned over. An all-for-all agreement would void this plan completely.

General Jenkins reflected the new climate of opinion in early October when he counseled the Chief of Staff to accept the Lovett argument that the UNC should be ready to agree to an all-forall exchange if the enemy refused to deal on any other basis. Since Ridgway's armistice instructions were about to be revised in preparation for the resumption of the truce talks and since voluntary repatriation was contrary to the Geneva Convention anyway, the Army G-3 did not think that the principle should be reaffirmed. Collins and his JCS colleagues agreed.9

This appeared to be the end of voluntary repatriation. In Tokyo General Ridgway had also shifted his ground. Unless there were a one-for-one exchange, he told the JCS, he did not see how he could hold back the prisoners unwilling to be repatriated. The United Nations Command had avoided the subject of nonrepatriation in its psychological warfare program and had not offered asylum to the Communist soldiers. Instead it had promised food, medical care, and good treatment to all, plus permission to the North Koreans to return home as soon as practicable. And to the Chinese troops, it had proffered the chance to save their lives.10

Although voluntary repatriation was now deemphasized, some progress was made on the reclassification of prisoners held in the UNC camps. Among the thousands of men captured by the United Nations Command, there were many who claimed South Korean residence. These fell into five general classes: 1. Volunteers from civilian status who joined the North Korean forces; 2. Personnel impressed into North Korean military units from civilian life; 3. ROKA personnel captured and impressed into the enemy army; 4. ROKA personnel mistakenly taken into custody while in a straggler status; and 5. "Innocent bystanders" who joined prisoner of war groups or broke into the stockades to get fed or were picked up on suspicion of being North Korean soldiers in civilian clothes. Both the Far East Command Provost Marshal General and Judge Advocate General felt that only classes 2 and 5 could be properly reclassified as civilian internees; the others should be held.11

There were then about 40,000 South Koreans in UNC custody who had earlier been impressed into the North Korean Army, according to Ridgway's estimates, and with JCS approval he began to reclassify members of this group as civilian internees. He intended to parole individuals from this category acceptable to the ROK Government to local officials gradually when the situation seemed opportune.12

After discussion of Item 3 began in late November, Ridgway submitted his proposed approach to the prisoner of war problem to the JCS on the 28th. Before he would enter into substantive matters, he intended to insist upon delivery of names, numbers, and locations of all UNC prisoners held by tile enemy. Initially he would attempt to secure a one-for-one exchange. If this were successful, the U.N. Command could withhold the prisoners it desired. If, on the other hand, the enemy refused, he would agree to an allfor-all exchange, even though it meant turning over suspected war criminals, intelligence prospects, soldiers who had aided the U.N. Command, and individuals who did not want to go back.13

Faced with the immediate problem of deciding whether or not to sacrifice the unwilling repatriates, the JCS again debated the question without reaching a solution. Torn between their natural concern for the safety of the UNC prisoners and their humanitarian desire not to force enemy prisoners to return to the Communists, they could see no sure method of safeguarding both groups. As a suggestion they informed Ridgway that he might try to secure an agreement providing for the screening of all prisoners by joint teams prior to their release. If, during the screening, a prisoner did not wish to be repatriated, he could remain under the jurisdiction of his captor. But there were frank indications that the JCS did not put a great deal of faith in the possible success of this maneuver since they told both the Secretary of Defense and Ridgway that they would welcome any suggestion for resolving the question. In the meantime they authorized the U.N. Commander to go ahead on the basis of his 28 November proposal.14

By the time the subdelegation on Item 4 opened its meetings on 11 December, the principle of voluntary repatriation was placed in a strange position- neither in nor out of UNC planning. To the JCS and to Ridgway it was a desirable objective that should be attained, but no one was sure if or how it could be won. On the other hand, there seemed to be no overriding reason for adhering to the concept in the event the Communists balked or showed a disposition to withhold the UNC prisoners in retaliation. As the talks began, the fate of voluntary repatriation appeared to depend mainly upon future Communist actions and reactions in handling the prisoner of war problem.

The Period of Reconnaissance

The repeated efforts of the UNC delegation to initiate discussions on Item 4 concurrently with those on Item 3 finally bore fruit on 11 December when the Communists agreed to hold a subdelegation meeting that afternoon. Across the conference table the familiar faces of Maj. Gen. Lee Sang Cho and Col. Tsai Cheng-wen indicated that the enemy had assigned two of its ablest negotiators to the task. On the UNC side, Rear Adm. Ruthven B. Libby, who had just replaced Admiral Burke officially, and Col. George W. Hickman, Jr., USA, were chosen to match wits with the Communists. Libby was a fiery sea dog with a salty tongue who had no difficulty in coping with the best or the worst that the enemy had to offer. He combined quickness of mind, common sense, and spirit in an admirable blend and made an ideal negotiator for dealing with the Communists. Colonel Hickman was intelligent and capable, experienced in staff work, and provided added balance to the UNC team.15

After the credentials were presented, General Lee made the opening move. The prisoner of war issue could be settled very quickly, he declared, if all POW's were released and allowed to go home after the armistice. Provided that the conferees could agree upon this principle, Lee thought that everything else fell into the category of details and could be straightened out without too much trouble. But since, the UNC delegation was not authorized to start the substantive discussions until the enemy furnished current lists of prisoners, Libby ignored the Communist gambit. Instead he pressed for the exchange of POW information and for permission for the International Committee of the Red Cross representatives to visit the prisoner of war camps. In the preliminary sparring that followed, Libby hinted that the UNC general position on POW's was fashioned around a fair and equitable exchange of prisoners along with suitable supervision to insure that they received humane treatment and comfort until they were repatriated. Naturally, Libby told Lee, the U.N. Command desired to establish a priority for the transfer of sick and wounded prisoners.

Lee was interested in probing the significance of some of the vague terms that Libby had used in setting forth the UNC approach, but the admiral was not ready to get down to specifics at this stage. All that Lee found out was that a "fair and equitable exchange" meant that neither side should gain an undue military advantage over the other if hostilities resumed before a final peace settlement was concluded.16

After the first session was over, Admiral Joy informed Ridgway that it appeared that the Communists were going to support an all-for-all exchange and would oppose a one-for-one trade no matter how it might be modified.17 At the moment, however, Ridgway was interested in supporting the visits of ICRC representatives to the camps and he was trying to marshal strong backing from his superiors. The latter were quite willing to have the U.N. Command secure such a concession from the enemy, but did not want the visits to become an issue.18

The next few days were spent in exploring and establishing the lines of battle. Libby concentrated his comments on the failure of the Communists to observe the Geneva Convention. Although the North Koreans had promised to comply with the Geneva rules in 1950, they had reported only 110 names of prisoners taken during the early fighting and then ceased. The United Nations Command had been obliged to gather later POW information via Communist news media and radio broadcasts. Before the general problem of prisoners could be discussed intelligently, Libby maintained, the U.N. Command would have to know the names, locations, and nationalities of all the prisoners in enemy custody. He also reminded General Lee that the convention also provided for the visits of ICRC teams.

Lee was nothing loath to use the convention for his base of argument. The only difference was that he had his own favorite articles. First and foremost was Article 118 supporting all-for-all repatriation on a compulsory basis. There was no doubt of the Communist hostility to any suggestion of a one-for-one exchange and Lee sought doggedly to determine whether the U.N. Command intended to insist upon this. Despite Libby's successful evasion of debate, the enemy's position was very clear. On 12 December Lee followed up with a definite proposal featuring the acceptance by both sides of the all-for-all principle. Once this was conceded, the Communists were willing to provide POW lists and to carry out the actual transfer of prisoners at Panmunjom. They remained adamantly opposed to any visits by ICRC representatives, however, and Lee made it plain that these were "out of the question."19

In the absence of substantive discussions, the mid-December meetings were frequently devoted to assaults upon the opponent's position, Occasionally there was a lighter moment. Since the Communists admitted that the POW data were necessary yet refused to release them, Libby accused the Communists of wanting to take a bath without soap or water. Lee promptly retorted that they were ready with soap and water, but the U.N. Command would not get into the tub. The most important thing, Lee claimed, was to free the prisoners and not to worry too much about giving each other lists.20 In any case both sides seemed eager to take the other to the cleaners; the big problem was to settle which one would be cleaned.

The Communists agreed to furnish POW data on 18 December. A four-day recess followed to allow both sides to check the information. For the U.N. Command the lists submitted by the enemy proved to be a definite disappointment. During the first months of the war, the Communists had reported via news releases and radio broadcasts the capture of over 65,000 prisoners. Yet their lists showed that they now held only 7,142 ROK soldiers and 4,417 U.N. personnel, or a total of 11,559 prisoners.21 Since the ROK Army carried over 88,000 men missing in action and the United States over 11,500 in the same category, the discrepancy was particularly large. The disparity was even more striking when compared with the UNC record. Out of 188,000 men listed as missing by the Communists, the U.N. Command held over 132,000 prisoners of war and in addition had another 37,000 recently reclassified as civilian internees.

When the first shock over the small number of names listed by the Communists wore off, Admiral Joy and Ridgway decided to send a cold and factual letter to the enemy leaders requesting an explanation. Until they received an answer, the UNC delegation would attack the all-for-all plan and probe the enemy position fully. It would present no counterproposals.22

The Communists were not entirely satisfied with the United Nations lists either. When the meetings resumed on 22 December, General Lee charged that there were shortages of 44,259 names on one list and 1,456 on another. Libby explained that the bulk of the missing persons consisted of former residents of the Republic of Korea who had been taken prisoner under suspicious or hostile circumstances. During the spring of 1951 the U.N. Command had thoroughly screened its prisoners and discovered that a large number of them had been caught in the flow of war or had been impressed into the North Korean armed forces. Prisoners in these categories had been separated from those who had voluntarily joined the Communists and 37,000 had been reclassified as civilian internees. In addition, Libby went on, the U.N. Command was in the process of screening another 16,000 prisoners who had proven to be ROK citizens and these would not be repatriated either,

Branding Libby's arguments "cute and strange," Lee quickly protested this unilateral action. It was not the place of residence but the army in which a man served that determined whether he should be repatriated or not, Lee maintained.

Libby declined to debate the point and instead counterattacked in another quarter. Just how, he asked, did the Communists propose to justify the exchange of some ten thousand prisoners held by them for the hundred-odd thousand in UNC possession? Reminding Lee that General Hsieh in the Item 3 discussions had clearly stated that there should be no increase of military forces after the armistice, Libby charged that an all-for-all swap would add the equivalent of ten divisions to the Communist forces. Then, turning to the POW lists, he requested that Lee explain why only 7,142 ROK soldiers were included when the enemy had claimed that they had captured tens of thousands.23

From intelligence reports and POW interviews, the U.N. Command was well aware that the North Koreans had incorporated a large number of former ROK Army personnel into the Communist armed forces. Although the prospects for their return were not bright, Joy and Ridgway agreed that the UNC negotiators would at least attempt to get them back.24 At the same time the demand for the onetime ROK Army members would serve as a counterweight to the enemy's request for the return of the 37,000 reclassified civilian internees.

Admiral Libby pressed the attack during the holiday meetings. He told Lee that the Communists had not reported all the prisoners that they held. This drew a hot denial from his opposite.

The lists were small, Lee declared, because his side had re-educated and released thousands of prisoners at the front. If this were true, Libby swiftly rejoined, why had only 177 returned to the UNC lines. He believed that the lists were small because so many ROK soldiers had been forced to join the Communist army. This was not so, Lee maintained, only volunteers were allowed to become members of their forces.25

During this exploratory period much of the wrangling centered about the apparent inability of either side to furnish the other with accurate information. The discrepancies between the numbers missing in action and those reported as prisoners by the Communists made the UNC delegation question the sincerity of the enemy lists. But the UNC was not blameless, since it had submitted more names of prisoners to the International Committee of the Red Cross at Geneva than it now had on hand. As it turned out, more than 2,000 POW's had been sent through the processing line twice and the later lack of co-operation shown by many Communist soldiers in providing identifying information had made it difficult to correct errors. Other enemy prisoners had escaped or disappeared, increasing the inconsistencies in the UNC figures. Recognizing the vulnerability of the UNC position as long as the variances persisted, Joy requested a complete audit of all POW's so that he could present an up-to-date, accurate, and complete list to the enemy.26

While this census was going on, Joy hoped to collect more information on the attitudes of the Chinese and North Korean prisoners toward repatriation and to find out how strongly the ROK Government felt about the recovery of ROK civilians in enemy custody.27 Behind this search for knowledge lay the case for voluntary repatriation. Without an estimate of the numbers of enemy POW's who would refuse repatriation or of the reaction of the ROK officials toward the principle, the U.N. Command could place itself in an awkward and exposed position.

As the New Year began, Admiral Libby brought up the civilian internee question. Although this was a delicate matter, more political than military, General Lee had demonstrated at an earlier meeting that his side was not opposed to its inclusion. In the course of the discussion that followed the sides agreed that after the armistice was signed displaced civilians would be allowed to go to the area of their choice. Libby pressed his advantage. Since the military commanders would have the task of supervising the movement of the civilians, he argued successfully that the agreement should be written into the armistice stipulations.

Once this matter was settled, Libby was ready to present the first UNC substantive proposal. There were three major areas of disagreement to be resolved, he began. Both parties wanted all of the prisoners released, but the U.N. Command wished to do this under an equitable formula. Secondly, there was the disposition of the ex-ROK soldiers who had been impressed into the North Korean Army. The United Nations Command desired all in this category returned to POW status. And lastly, there was the question of what standards to use in determining to which side a prisoner belonged: the UNC claimed that the place of residence should be the deciding factor and the Communists maintained that the army in which a man served when captured should establish his nationality.

The U.N. Command proposed to solve these differences, Libby continued, by a fair compromise. It would accept the concept advanced and advocated by the Communists that a soldier who becomes a prisoner can, upon his "release," exercise his individual option as to whether he will return to his own army or join the other side. The UNC wished to extend this principle to all prisoners, military and civilian. To supervise the interviews of the prisoners, Libby suggested the ICRC. All POW's in excess of the one-for-one exchange would be paroled and could not fight against their captor again. None of those who refused repatriation would be allowed to bear arms against the other side, Libby concluded.28

It was neatly done. Since the Communists had permitted the ROK troops captured in the early stages of the war to join the North Korean forces or to choose release at the front, they had practiced voluntary repatriation. At that time it had been to their advantage to swell their ranks and to lighten the burden of guarding large numbers of prisoners. Now this policy was being turned against them. They had provided the United Nations Command with a propaganda lever and with only a comparatively small bag of prisoners to bargain with, the Communists were placed at a distinct disadvantage. If a large proportion of the prisoners in UNC hands refused to return to communism, the adverse publicity would be hard to combat, no matter how it was rationalized. Unusual as the doctrine of voluntary repatriation might be, its humanitarian aspects were bound to appeal to a large part of the world. Only on legal grounds could the principle be freely attacked and whether this would be successful in the face of world opinion was a matter for conjecture.

Obversely, the United States and its allies were now officially linked with voluntary repatriation. Although it was in the nature of trial marriage, the possibility existed that once public opinion had been marshaled in its support divorce might prove to be out of the question.

The Communists Reject Voluntary Repatriation

The first reaction of the Communists to the UNC proposal of 2 January was not unexpected. On the following morning Lee led the assault. Calling the plan "absurd," he insisted that it was a one-for-one exchange. In his complete rejection of the proposal, Lee waxed eloquent. "The release and repatriation of prisoners of war is not a trade of slaves," he charged, nor was the twentieth century "the barbarous age of slavery." He paid no attention to Libby's explanations nor to the admiral's barbed references to the inconsistencies of the Communist position in attacking a policy that they themselves had introduced in the Korean War.29

But Libby was not easily put off. He twitted Lee for his concern over the possible defection of the Chinese Communist soldiers. After all, he reminded Lee, the Chinese troops were all volunteers according to the enemy's own avowals and part of "an army composed entirely of men eager to fight for the Korean People's Army." If this were true, Libby event on, he could not understand why the Communists were worried about any of these volunteers not wanting to go back home. When Lee refused to rise to this bait, and persisted in branding the UNC proposal a slave trade, Libby became ironic. "Your analysis is faulty, your arguments are specious, and your conclusions are wrong," he told Lee, "outside of that it was a nice piece of work."30

Despite the spirited accusations of the Communists, Admiral Joy detected a ray of hope behind the facade. He noted that although they had termed the UNC proposal too unreasonable to discuss, they had soon begun to argue its merits.31

In the subdelegation meetings, Admiral Libby tried to dispel some of the hostility of General Lee by careful explanation of the UNC proposal of 2 January. But the detailed statements had little effect upon the Communist delegate. As January wore on, Lee became more abusive in his attacks and Libby had to rebuke him several times for his slurring remarks about Syngman Rhee, Chiang Kai-shek, and the United Nations Command.32

It did no good to point out the incongruities of the Communist opposition to voluntary repatriation after they had introduced and practiced the principle. Lee had no hesitation in accusing the U.N. Command of educating the POW's politically to influence their choice even though he had admitted at an earlier meeting that the Communists had reeducated many UNC prisoners and then released them at the front. On the other hand, even Lee could see the somewhat distorted humor in his own arguments at times. At the meeting on 11 January as he defended the Communist system of prisoner education and called it righteous and benevolent, he become so convulsed with laughter that he could scarcely finish his remarks.33

When Libby charged that the North Koreans had impressed thousands of ROK soldiers into their army, Lee denied it vehemently. He asserted with a straight face that only volunteers could serve in the Communist forces. And despite the fact that the enemy had violated the Geneva Convention many times since the war began, the Communists extracted the last measure of benefit in propaganda and argument from the provisions that favored their own positions and blithely ignored the rest.34

There was little progress made on Item 4 during mid-January. The efforts of Admiral Libby to indicate the advantages that would accrue to the Communists if they accepted the UNC proposals were regarded with deep suspicion by General Lee. He reminded Libby that the U.N. Command was not doing any favors for the Communists and could not without betraying its own cause and interest.35 When Libby confirmed the Communist apprehension that the Chinese POW's would be allowed to choose between Communist China and Nationalist China, Colonel Tsai became very agitated. The Chinese people, he declared, "will never tolerate it and will fight to the end."36 Under questioning, Tsai refused to state whether he was speaking for the Chinese Volunteers in Korea or all the Chinese people.

In view of the static condition of the negotiations, General Ridgway requested that the JCS approve a final position for the UNC delegation. But all that the JCS could provide was a quasi-final position. On 15 January they authorized Ridgway to agree to an allfor-all exchange provided that no forceful return of POW's would be required. However, since this position would be taken only as a last resort and since public pressure might influence the President to modify this stand in the interim, there was in reality nothing conclusive to the JCS instructions. The UNC delegation was to continue its attempts to secure an agreement on the return of selected U.N. and ROK civilians held by the Communists. To convince the enemy that the U.N. Command was not using voluntary repatriation as a pretext for holding on to most of the prisoners the possibility was suggested that Ridgway might conduct, under ICRC supervision, a poll of the POW's to discover the approximate number desiring repatriation. It was also proposed that at the proper moment Ridgway might transfer the POW problem back to the plenary conference and present a trade to the enemy- the U.N. Command conceding on the airfield issue while the Communists agreed to the UNC prisoner proposal.37 This was the first indication of the package deal that was to be drawn up in April.

In his reply on 19 January the U.N. commander agreed that it might be possible to combine unresolved issues once these could be reduced to a minimum. He did not favor a poll of the prisoners since he believed that one of the strongest points of the UNC proposal was that the POW choice would be expressed at the exchange point in the presence of representatives of both sides and of neutral observers. As the UNC delegation had denied the existence of any program to influence or coerce the decision of the POW's, the Communists might very well seize upon the poll as a means of prejudicing the prisoners' choice and refuse to accept the results, If the International Committee of the Red Cross conducted the poll, the enemy would have further cause to impugn its neutrality. There was little doubt that the Communists already regarded the ICRC as a UNC agent and not as a neutral body anyway. Besides, Ridgway concluded, he and his staff did not think that the enemy had any real concern about the numbers of prisoners who might return to them, "it is the principle which is anathema to them since the question of the individual versus the state is the essential difference between democracy and communism."38

To listen to General Lee as he denounced the UNC proposal in the subdelegation meetings as immoral and inhumanitarian might have confused the casual observer into believing that the Communists were the ones who were concerned over the plight of the individual. But when Admiral Libby asked him to cite an example, he dodged the question deftly and after a long speech wound up asking a couple of questions of his own. The exchange that followed illustrated the tenor of the conversations and the Communist technique.

Admiral Libby: "You are extremely adept at refusing to give a direct answer to any question which our side asks; you are also extremely adept at capping your refusal to answer a question with two or three questions of your own, and then insisting that we must answer them. That is typical of the whole spirit with which your side approaches these negotiations, You have made blanket charges against our proposal: that it is immoral, that it is inhumanitarian, that it is unfair, and that it is unreasonable. When we attempt to pin you down, to get you to show how in the simplest case- in any one particular- our proposal is any one of these things, you wiggle out of it, you will not answer. You will not answer because you can not answer....

General Lee: "One thing we have found through the meeting is that when you try to delay the time of the meeting, you say we did not give any answer, although we really have given one; and when we shrewdly pursue any question, you say we make a smoke screen .... This seems to be your only weapon and this is a special stunt which you alone have.... But we have a sound standpoint. We love truth and righteousness and standing upon the truth, we do our work; and from righteousness and truth, we speak and insist.39

Whether the Communists were standing on the truth or trampling it was unimportant, for the key fact was that they would not recognize the principle of voluntary repatriation. They argued steadfastly and with considerable justice that it was in conflict with the Geneva Convention. To provide Admiral Libby with some counterarguments, the State Department forwarded its interpretation of the convention on 22 January. Under Article 6, it pointed out, parties to a conflict could make special agreements covering prisoners of war as long as the prisoners were not deprived of their rights under the rest of the convention. Since the spirit of the convention was to protect individuals, the State Department felt that voluntary repatriation was not inconsistent with its provisions.40 Thus, there was some legal as well as abundant humanitarian justification for the UNC position in the interpretation of the State Department.

The Communists not only opposed voluntary repatriation, but strongly challenged the parole features of the UNC proposal. Since all the prisoners who would be paroled belonged to the Communists, the enemy delegates claimed that it was a unilateral requirement upon their side. Admiral Joy was inclined to agree with them and suggested that there were two possible solutions. Either he could be given authority to extend the parole feature to both sides to guarantee that repatriated POW's would not be permitted or compelled to bear arms against the other side or he should be allowed to drop the parole feature entirely from the UNC position. Since the ROK Government opposed the paroling of prisoners and the Communists probably would not let the detail stop them from reusing their recovered personnel, General Ridgway agreed that Joy could delete the requirements at his own discretion.41

Actually concession even on minor matters was contrary to Admiral Joy's usual stand. Both he and Ridgway felt that the enemy regarded concessions as signs of weakness. In a published interview in late January 1952, Joy declared that patience and unmistakable firmness backed by applied military power were the elements that influenced the Communists. In the presence of a military stalemate, he was doing his best to negotiate an effective and stable armistice. But unless the enemy had a change of heart voluntarily, sufficient military force would have to be applied to induce such a change, Joy maintained.42

One of the stumbling blocks in the path of the UNC negotiators during January had been the inability to present the Communists with a complete and accurate list of the prisoners in its hands. The normal delays occasioned by the necessity to check over a hundred thousand men and women were compounded by the technical failure of the mimeographing machines which turned out illegible copies of the lists. With the enemy delegates constantly reminding Admiral Libby of the UNC promise to produce a corrected roster, the admiral in turn sought to apply the pressure upon Eighth Army headquarters to supply the data. But it was not until January 28 that Libby was able to hand over the new lists. According to these, there were 20,720 Chinese, and 111,360 Koreans, or a total of 132,080 prisoners in U.N. custody. This was less than the 13 December roster, but the 394-man differential was due to reclassifications to civilian internees, Libby explained. He also told Lee that the U.N. Command had completed work on the 44,000 reclassified civilian internees and was ready to exchange this information on 72-hour notice if and when the enemy would agree to supply similar data on the 65,000 prisoners captured by them.43

Although Lee ignored the last offer, he did begin to demonstrate some signs of resuming negotiations. On 3 February he introduced a Communist counterproposal, designed to meet most of the UNC requirements except on the voluntary repatriation issue. The enemy was willing to promise that none of the POW's would again take part in acts of war and to allow the ICRC representatives along with Chinese and North Korean Red Cross members to attend the camps, but held steadfastly to an all-for-all exchange.44

Recognizing a more co-operative attitude across the table, Libby tried to settle some of the details. He told Lee that the parole item should be made less ambiguous. First, it should apply solely to soldiers and not civilians, and secondly the agreement should pertain only to the Korean War since some of the soldiers were professionals and forbidding them to engage in acts of war in the future would deprive them of their living. Libby suggested that the staff officers get together and work out the particulars. On 5 February Lee consented. He also agreed that the parole feature should bind only the soldiers and be valid just for the Korean War, but warned the UNC delegation again that the Communists would not accept the ICRC as a neutral agency.45

As the staff officers conferences began on 6 February, Admiral Joy submitted a candid report on Item 4. The delegation felt that the Communists would not offer additional lists of prisoners, but thought that the U.N. Command could assure that it received back all on the present rosters by giving itself ninety days to dispose of its larger holdings of POW's while granting the enemy only thirty days to return the smaller numbers in Communist custody. Provided the U.N. Command was willing to accept the good faith of the enemy as sufficient guarantee, the delegation thought that provision for the return of all ROK civilians who lived south of the present line of demarcation and wanted to be repatriated could be written into the armistice agreement. As for the ex-ROK soldiers now serving in the North Korean Army, Joy and his staff field that this was a hopeless cause and asked for permission to drop the matter at an appropriate moment.46 Washington officials concurred, but stipulated that agreements on the return of both Korean and U.N. civilians be written into the armistice terms regardless of whether specific safeguards were included.47

It was evident from Joy's report and from staff conversations with the admiral that he had little confidence that the Communists would conclude a satisfactory armistice in the near future. Not only did he believe that the enemy would never concede on voluntary repatriation, but he also felt that the U.N. was on unsound ground in insisting upon the principle. Most prisoners in his opinion surrendered because they were hungry, poorly equipped, or out of ammunition and not because they were promised nonrepatriation. Joy thought that now that the Communists had stabilized positions, good supplies, food, equipment, and ammunition, they would be content to maintain the status quo and negotiate as long as time seemed to be operating to their advantage. In the past the negotiations had been influenced by considerations other than military even though they were basically a military matter. Until the armistice effort concentrated upon a direct and simple approach to resolve the remaining issues, Joy did not feel that it woud be successful. And if the direct effort failed, he still was convinced that the negotiations should be terminated.48

As voluntary repatriation threatened to stall progress at Panmunjom, General McClure, one of the founding fathers of the doctrine, suggested a new approach which would avoid the term completely. The U.N. Command would agree to an all-for-all exchange but since there were many prisoners who claimed they were impressed or did not live in an area controlled by the Communists, and others who might claim political asylum, prisoners in these categories would be held and the matter referred to the governments concerned under Item 5 as essentially political rather than military. McClure thought that this suggestion might allow the Communists to save face and should be broached on the staff officer level.49

Another avenue was explored in Washington during the early part of 1952 that offered a more daring solution to the nonrepatriate problem. When Assistant Secretary of the Army Earl D. Johnson and Vice Chief of Staff General John E. Hull were in Tokyo in mid-February, they broached to General Ridgway the concept of unilateral release of all nonrepatriates. Once the prisoners were freed, the U.N. Command could present the Communists with a fait accompli and then attempt to ride out the storm of protests that would follow. This plan also had the advantage of allowing the enemy to save face. But Ridgway was not yet ready to abandon the old approach. He looked with disfavor upon schemes to reclassify and release certain categories unilaterally. Although he still was not enthusiastic about screening the prisoners before they were about to be exchanged, if it had to be done he preferred a quick, single-day screening that would be done openly. Each prisoner would be informed that the choice would be final and segregated as soon as he made it.50

Before he resorted to screening, Ridgway wanted to try and trade off the rehabilitation of airfields for voluntary repatriation. If this failed, he would go ahead and screen the prisoners and then propose an all-for-all exchange of the remaining POW's. Were the Communists to insist, he would grant the airfield rehabilitation as a final concession. In his opinion, the linking of the issues would permit a breaking off of the negotiations to occur over two points rather than one.51

Ridgway's chief objection to the ideas advanced for the release of the prisoners who indicated that they would forcibly resist repatriation stemmed from his belief that subterfuge at this time would nullify the prestige that the UNC had won in supporting voluntary repatriation. He feared that the UNC might be accused of treachery and deceit such as had characterized the enemy's dealings and that the lives of the prisoners in Communist hands might be endangered. Under the circumstances he recommended that voluntary repatriation and airfields be presented in one package and then if the enemy refused to accept the former, the UNC should be authorized to announce its final position on no forced repatriation.52

Despite the arguments of Ridgway, the President decided to go ahead with the plan to remove from POW status the prisoners that might be expected to resist repatriation violently because of their fear of the consequences if they returned to enemy control.53 If the Communists rejected a voluntary repatriation airfield trade, Ridgway would remove the names of the violent resisters from the POW lists and indicate that the UNC was willing to agree to an all-for-all exchange on the basis of the revised list.53 This would be the final U.S. position and one full of intriguing possibilities if it were used, for it would mean that the U.N. Command would be utilizing the enemy's own tactics in handling the prisoner of war problem unilaterally. How the Communists would react to this turnabout was unknown, but one thing was certain - they would protest loudly and at length.

By the first of March, the negotiations on Item 4 had been narrowed to one issue - voluntary or forced repatriation. The details of the exchange would be easily settled as soon as this principle was decided. But the Communists gave no sign that their adamant opposition to any form of voluntary repatriation- no matter how it was disguised- was weakening. The UNC position, too, had hardened during January and February. Although the ideal objective of full voluntary repatriation seemed unattainable, the UNC delegation had finally received the support of the U.S. policy makers to hold out firmly for no forced repatriation and had been further armed by authority to effect a unilateral release of nonrepatriates. Now it appeared to be a question of whether the irresistible force or the immovable object or perhaps both would have to give way.


1 See Lt. Col, George G. Lewis and Capt, John Mewha, History of Prisoner of War Utilization by the United States Army, 1776-1945, DA Pamphlet 20-213, June 1955, p. 200.

2 DA Pamphlet No. 20-150 October 1950 Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 for the Protection of War Victims. Article 118, p. 129.

3 Msg, C-67842, CINCFE to CINCUNC (Adv), 28 Jul 51, in FEC 387.2, bk. 1, 44.

4 Memo, McClure for CofS, 5 Jul 51, sub: Policy on Repatriation of Chinese and N.K. Prisoners, in G-3 383.6, 4.

5 Memo, CofS U.S. Army for JCS, 6 Jul 51, sub: Policy on Repatriation of Chinese and N.K. Prisoners, in G-3 383. 6, 4.

6 Msg, CINCFE to JCS, 21 Jul 51, DA-IN 17240.

7 (1) Memo, Jenkins for CofS, 7 Aug 51, sub: Policy on Repatriation of Chinese and N.K. Prisoners, in G-3 383.6, 4/4. (2) Msg, DA-99024, G-3 to CINCFE, 15 Aug 51.

8 Memo, Lovett for JCS, 25 Sep 51, no sub, Ind to JCS 2095/5.

9 (1) Memo, Jenkins for CofS, 9 Oct 51, sub: Policy on Repatriation . . . , in G-3 383.6? 4/9 (2) Decision On JCS 2095/7, 12 Oct 51.

10 Msg, Ridgway to JCS, 27 Oct 51, DA-IN 12414. (2) Msg, Ridgway to JCS, 15 Nov 51, DA-IN 15530. (3) JCS 2095/8, 9 Nov 51, title: Policy on Repatriation of Chinese and N.K. Prisoners.

11 Memo, Lt Col D. T. Hamersley, SGS, for Asst CofS G-1 FEC, 8 Nov 51, sub: Investigation and Release of ROKA Personnel in UN POW Enclosures, in FEC SGS Corresp File, 1 Jul-31 Dec 51.

12 (1) JCS 2095/8, 9 Nov 51, title: Policy on Repatriation of Chinese and N.K. Prisoners. (2) Memo, Collins for Secy Defense, 15 Nov 51, same sub, in G-3 383.6, 4/14.

13 Msg, Ridgway to JCS, 28 Nov 51, DA-IN 3785.

14 (1) Decision on JCS 2095/10, 4 Dec 51, Policy on Repatriation of Chinese ant[ N.K. Prisoners. (2) Memo, Jenkins far CofS, 7 Dec 51, sub: Proposed Dispatch to CINCFE in Regard to PW's, in C-3 383?6, 5? (3) Msg, JCS 89172. JCS to CINCFE, to Dec 51

15 Hickman later became the Army Judge Advocate General.

16 Transcript of Proceedings, First Session, Subdelegation on item 4, 11 Dec 51, in FEC Subdelegation Mtgs, item 4, 11-25 Dec 51 (hereafter cited as FEC Mtgs on item 4, vol. I) .

17 Msg, HNC 541, Joy to CINCUNC, 11 Dec 51, in FEC 387.2, bk. 5. 1951, case 349.

18 (1) Msg, CX 59155, Ridgway to JCS, 11 Dec 51. (2) Msg, JCS 89474. JCS to CINCFE, 12 Dec 51. Both in FEC 387.2, bk. 5, 1951. case 349.

19 Transcripts of Proceedings, Second and Fourth Sessions, Subdelegation on item 4, 12 and 14 Dec 51, in FEC Mtgs on Item 4, vol. I.

20 Ibid., Fifth Session, 15 Dec 51.

21 The UNC POW list was broken down as follows: 3,168 U.S.; 274 Turkish; 10 French; 10 Dutch; 40 Filipino; 1 Greek; 4 South African; 919 U.K.; 6 Australian; 1 Canadian; and 3 "Japanese." The Japanese later proved to be U.S. citizens.

22 (1) Msgs, HNC 605 and 607, Joy to CINCUNC, 20 and 21 Dec 51, in FEC Messages, Dec 51. (2) Msg, C 59779, Ridgway to CINCUNC (Adv), 21 Dec 51, in FEC 387.2, bk. 5, 1951, case 385.

23 Transcript of Proceedings, Ninth Session, Subdelegation on item 4, 22 Dec 51, in FEC Mtgs on item 4, vol. I.

24 Msg, HNC 618, Joy to CINCUNC, 22 Dec 51, in FEC 387.2, bk. 5, 1951, case 396.

25 Transcripts of Proceedings, Tenth through Seventeenth Sessions, Subdelegation on item 4, 23-30 Dec 51, in FEC Mtgs on item 4, vols. I and II.

26 Msg, HNC 682, Joy to CINCUNC., 30 Dec 51, in UNC/FEC, Comd Rpt, Dec 51, G-3 Jnl, 30 Dec 51, tab J-8.

27 (1) Msg, HNC 619, CINCUNC (Adv) to CG EUSAK (Main), 22 Dec 51. (2) Msg, HNC 629 CINCUNC (Adv) to American Embassy Pusan, for Muccio, 23 Dec 51. Both in FEC Msgs Dec 51.

28 Transcripts of Proceedings, Nineteenth and Twentieth Sessions, subdelegation on item 4, 1-2 Jan 52, hr FEC Mtgs on item 4, vol. II.

29 Ibid., Twenty-first Session, 3 Jan 52.

30 Ibid., Twenty-second and Twenty-third Sessions, 4-5 Jan 52.

31 Msgs, HNC 715 and 716, Joy to CINCUNC, 4 Jan 52, in FEC Msgs, Jan 52.

32 Transcripts of Proceedings, Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Sessions, Subdelegation on item 4, 6-7 Jan 52, in FEC Mtgs on item 4, vol. II.

33 Hq UNC/FEC, Korean Armistice Negotiations (Jul 51-May 52), vol 2, ch. III, p. 50.

34 Transcripts of Proceedings, Twenty-sixth and Thirty-first Sessions, Subdelegation on item 4, 8 and 13 Jan 52, in FEC Mtgs on item 4, vols. II and III.

35 Ibid., Thirty-second Session, 14 Jan 52, in FEC Mtgs on item 4, vol. III.

36 Ibid., Thirty-fourth Session, 16 Jan 52.

37 Msg, JCS 92059, JCS to CINCFE, 15 Jan 52.

38 Msg, CX 61829. Ridgway to JCS, 19 Jan 52, DA-IN 2276.

39 Transcript of Proceedings, Forty-first Session, Subdelegation on item 4, 23 Jan 52, in FEC Mtgs on item 4, vol. III.

40 Msg, JCS 92490, JCS to CINCFE, 22 Jan 52.

41 (1) Msg, HNC 785, Joy to CINCUNC, 22 Jan 52. (2) Msg, CX 62010, CINCUNC to CINCUNC (Adv), 23 Jan 52. Both in FEC Msgs, Jan 52.

42 An interview with Vice Adm. C. Turner Joy, "Russia Calls the Turn in Korea- Chinese do the Arguing," in U.S. News and World Report (January 25, 1952), pp. 24-25. See also Msg C 62217, Ridgway to JCS, 25 Jan 5, DA-IN 4540.

43 Transcript of Proceedings, Forty-sixth Session, Subdelegation on item 4, 28 Jan, 52, in FEC Mtgs on item 4, vol. IV.

44 Communist Proposal of 3 Feb, incl to Transcript of Proceedings, Fifty-second Session, Subdelegation on item 4. 3 Feb 52, in FEC Mtgs on item 4. vol. IV.

45 Transcripts of Proceedings, Fifty-third and Fifty-fourth Sessions, Subdelegation on item 4, 4 and 5 Feb 52, in FEC Mtgs on item 4, vol. IV.

46 Msg, CX 63013, CINCUNC to JCS, 6 Feb 52, DA-IN 102022.

47 Msg, JCS 900383, JCS to CINCUNC (Adv) for Ridgway, 6 Feb 52.

48 Msg, OT 577, Col James R. Davidson to DA, 12 Feb 52, DA-IN 104519.

49 Memo for Rcd, by Gen McClure, sub: POW Exchange, 16 Feb 52, in G-3 383.6, sec. I, 4

50 Suggestions that the nonrepatriate prisoners be released unilaterally to break the deadlock were advanced several times during the last year and a half of the war and were always disapproved. See below. Chapters VIII, XII, and XVII; also Vatcher, Panmunjom pp. 157-58.

51 Memo for Rcd (sgd M. B. Ridgway), 19 Feb 52, no sub, in G-3 383.6, 5/1.

52 Msg, C 64383, Ridgway to JCS, 27 Feb 52, DA-IN 109858.

53 (1) Msg, JCS 902159, JCS to CINCFE, 27 Feb 52. (2) Memo, Eddleman for CofS, 5 Feb 52, sub: Armistice Negotiations in Korea, in G-3 091 Korea, 15.

54 Memo, Maj Gen Clyde D. Eddleman for CofS, 4 Mar 52, sub: Status of Korean Armistice Negotiations as of 4 March, in G-3 091, Korea, 23.

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