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  • Name, Rank, and Serial Number: Exploiting Korean War POWs at Home and Abroad by Charles S. Young
  • Allan R. Millett
Charles S. Young, Name, Rank, and Serial Number: Exploiting Korean War POWs at Home and Abroad. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 241 pp. $35.00.

Written as a doctoral dissertation at Rutgers University (2003) under the direction of Lloyd Gardner, John Chambers, and Marilyn Young, Charles Young’s comparative study of prisoner-of-war (POW) politics in the Korean War suffers from “MASH syndrome.” This affliction is the tendency to write about the Korean War through the prism of the Vietnam War, Cold War history written as if the U.S.-USSR rivalry were a fantasy created by partisan domestic politics in the United States.

Young’s thesis is that the United Nations Command (UNC), by failing to repatriate all the Chinese and Korean POWs it held in 1951, prolonged the war, killing thousands. Young argues that although both belligerent coalitions committed criminal acts under the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War (1949), the culpability of the U.S.-led side was greater. He asserts that the UNC sponsored a reign of terror in the POW camp at Koje-do that made free individual choice on repatriation a joke.

Young repeats the charges made by General Nam Il, the chief political officer of the North Korean army, that the United States, South Korea, and Nationalist China conspired to force POWs to reject repatriation. “United Nations forces withheld thousands of prisoners at the end of the Korean War” (p. 102). Young puts the number at 40,000. [End Page 156]

Young goes to great lengths in his chapters discussing the ordeals of UNC POWs in North Korea to destroy the myths of brainwashing, torture, and widespread collaboration. By limiting his focus to U.S. Army prisoners, he is merely making the verbal rubble bounce. Numerous other studies, such as Albert Biderman’s March to Calumny (1963), have already performed this task. Young does not study with equal ardor the experience of U.S. airmen and technical personnel, who faced a high level of coercion, including trials as war criminals and the threat of execution or endless imprisonment.

The POW chapters are marred by errors of fact and interpretation so egregious that they should embarrass Young and his advisers. The X Corps did not cut Korea in half in September 1950 (p. 20). Chinese POWs became numerous in April–June 1950, not in February, and they never deserted “in significant groups” (p. 21). The U.S. Second Infantry Division fought for Heartbreak Ridge, but it was not part of the “Iron Triangle” (p. 22). Lieutenant No Kum-sok (Korean, not Chinese) did not know about the $100,000 bounty for his MiG-15 (p. 35). General William Dean is not “Deane” (p. 53). The companion who escaped capture with Brigadier General Charles Dodd at Koje-do was Lieutenant Colonel Wilber Raven, the military police compound commander, not an “interpreter” (p. 90). The majority of Turkish POWs became captives in November–December 1950, not after the winter of 1950–1951 (p. 153). This is an incomplete list of errors but is indicative of serious flaws within the book.

On the other hand, Young does recognize that “the war behind the wire” did have some roots in misguided UNC policies regarding POW “re-education.” The POW rebels also received orders from Generals Nam Il and Yi Sang-cho at Panmunjom sent to Senior Colonel Lee Hak-ku, who goes unmentioned. In his own 1952 testimony, Colonel Lee admitted that POW violence was directed, not a protest movement.

In a concluding section entitled “Over Here,” Young argues in six chapters that McCarthyesque ideologues fueled the postwar controversy over U.S. POW behavior in the cultural wars over Communist subversion of hallowed American institutions. Young believes the principle of non-repatriation (based on the concept of political asylum) was a fig leaf of victory for the Korean War, which justified the militarization of U.S. national security and government-by-elitist-conspiracy (pp. 182–192). Most of Young’s conclusions have already been studied and refuted, most recently by Steven Casey in Selling...


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