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Prisoners suffer in every conflict, but American servicemen captured during the Korean War faced a unique ordeal. Like prisoners in other wars, these men endured harsh conditions and brutal mistreatment at the hands of their captors.
In Korea, however, they faced something new: a deliberate enemy program of indoctrination and coercion designed to manipulate them for propaganda purposes. Most Americans rejected their captors’ promise of a Marxist paradise, yet after the cease fire in 1953, American prisoners came home to face a second wave of attacks. Exploiting popular American fears of communist infiltration, critics portrayed the returning prisoners as weak-willed pawns who had been “brainwashed” into betraying their country.
The truth was far more complicated. Following the North Korean assault on the Republic of Korea in June of 1950, the invaders captured more than a thousand American soldiers and brutally executed hundreds more. American prisoners who survived their initial moments of captivity faced months of neglect, starvation, and brutal treatment as their captors marched them north toward prison camps in the Yalu River Valley.
Counterattacks by United Nations forces soon drove the North Koreans back across the 38th Parallel, but the unexpected intervention of Communist Chinese forces in November of 1950 led to the capture of several thousand more American prisoners. Neither the North Koreans nor their Chinese allies were prepared to house or feed the thousands of prisoners in their custody, and half of the Americans captured that winter perished for lack of food, shelter, and medicine. Subsequent communist efforts to indoctrinate and coerce propaganda statements from their prisoners sowed suspicion and doubt among those who survived.
Relying on memoirs, trial transcripts, debriefings, declassified government reports, published analysis, and media coverage, plus conversations, interviews, and correspondence with several dozen former prisoners, William Clark Latham Jr. seeks to correct misperceptions that still linger, six decades after the prisoners came home. Through careful research and solid historical narrative, Cold Days in Hell provides a detailed account of their captivity and offers valuable insights into an ongoing issue: the conduct of prisoners in the hands of enemy captors and the rules that should govern their treatment.
Imprisoned in Korea, Accused at Home
Eighteen-year-old Johnny Moore was an energetic, self-confident private first class when he entered combat with a heavy-weapons platoon in Korea. Four and a half months later, after surviving heavy attacks on the Pusan Perimeter and in one of the forward units of the western column advancing on the Yalu River, he was captured by the Chinese infantry.
Moore and other American POWs suffered from starvation rations, bitter cold, and mental torment. Although the intense Chinese efforts to change the prisoners’ ideologies were largely unsuccessful, they were very effective in engendering distrust among the prisoners and abandonment of duty by the officers. Encouraged by an American sergeant, Moore worked with his captors to obtain better sanitation, a fairer distribution of food, and, on two occasions, medicine for the sick. Twice he tried to escape from imprisonment. Just four days after his twenty-first birthday, in 1953, the Chinese released him.
Moore cooperated fully with US military interrogators, giving as much information as he could on the prison camp and the methods his captors had used. But two years later, army officers arrested him at his home and charged him with treason. Although the charge was dropped and a Field Board of Inquiry returned him to regular duty, the army’s treatment of him left Moore further traumatized. He eventually went AWOL and turned to drinking, gambling, and other self-destructive behaviors.
Military historian Judith Fenner Gentry has worked with Moore’s memoirs of his experiences during and after the war to corroborate, clarify, elaborate, and situate his story within the larger events in Korea and in the Cold War. She has consulted records from courts-martial, newspaper interviews with returning POWs, and Freedom of Information Act documents on the Army Criminal Investigation Division and the Army Counter-Intelligence Corps.
The actions of the British 29th Brigade in defending the Imjin River line—in particular the sacrifice of the "Glorious Glosters"—and the hilltop fights of Australian and Canadian battalions in the Kapyong Valley have achieved greater renown in those nations than any other military action since World War II. This book is the first to compare in any depth what happened and why. Using official and unofficial source material ranging from personal interviews to war diaries, this study seeks to disentangle the mythology surrounding both battles and explain why events unfolded as they did. Based on thorough familiarity with all available sources, many not previously utilized, it sheds new light on fighting "the forgotten war."
The Americans Who Fought the Korean War
" The Korean War in World History features the accomplishments of noted scholars over the last decade and lays the groundwork for the next generation of scholarship. These essays present the latest thinking on the Korean War, focusing on the relationship of one country to the war. William Stueck’s introduction and conclusion link each essay to the rich historiography of the event and suggest the war’s place within the history of the twentieth century. The Korean War had two very different faces. On one level the conflict was local, growing out of the internal conditions of Korea and fought almost entirely within the confines of a small Asian country located far from Europe. The fighting pitted Korean against Korean in a struggle to determine the balance of political power within the country. Yet the war had a huge impact on the international politics of the Cold War. Combat threatened to extend well beyond the peninsula, potentially igniting another global conflagration and leaving in its wake a much escalated arms race between the Western and Eastern blocs. The dynamics of that division remain today, threatening international peace and security in the twenty-first century. Contributors: Lloyd Gardner, Chen Jian, Allan R. Millett, Michael Schaller, and Kathryn Weathersby