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Korean War FAQ
On January 2, 1952, the UN team on the peace talks introduced the doctrine of voluntary repatriation of POWs. That is, Chinese POWs who refused to return to China Mainland could choose to go to Taiwan.
Washington's thinking was the following: since many of the Chinese POWs were former KMT soldiers, they have in effect surrendered twice, once to PLA and once to UN, these POWs might be viewed by PRC government as unreliable or even traitorous. The refusal of the Chinese POWs to return to PRC might result in a substantial propaganda victory for Washington.
Despite objection from many senior officials, Truman proclaimed: "we will not buy an armistice by turning over human beings for slaughter or slavery".
The POWs rioted many times because of the "voluntary repatriation", on December 14 1952, 84 POWs were killed, and 120 were wounded. The London Daily Mail commented on December 18, "The United nations refuse to return captives who would almost certainly be shot when they got home,... But the effect of this humanitarian policy will be weakened by continual shooting of prisoners, even in self-defense"
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The US invented "voluntary repatriation" was a clear violation of Article 118 of the Geneva Convention of 1949, which stated "Prisoners of war shall be repatriated without delay after cessation of hostilities."
At the time of Korean war, US had signed but not yet ratified the Geneva Convention.
Many POWs were forced not to repatriate.
Inside the camps, anti-communist enclosures used brutal methods to coerce the majority for non-repatriation, "harrowing scenes preceded the official screening, in which violent, systematic terrorism occurred". "Those who wanted repatriation were either beaten or killed". "As a result, when polled the majority were too terrified to say anything but 'Taiwan' repeated over and over again". (MacDonald).
From stories told by POWs who got back to PRC, the KMT agents used most brutal methods to ensure non-repatriation, the details can be found from a book written by a former POW, it is in Chinese and is online. (link to be added)
US did nothing to stop this kind of brutality within the camps, on the contrary , it introduced anti-communists agents into the camps and encouraged their coercions.
"In the Chinese camps, the leaders were ex-Guomindong [Kuo-Min-Tang, KMT] soldiers drafted into the PLA after 1949,... this group used 'brutal force' to attain control and force POWs to express their loyalty to the Guomindong. Terror was reinforced by manipulation of essential supplies which were distributed by compound leaders. The choice for the average POW was often to conform or to starve. The situation was tolerated by the camp administration which ... was sympathetic to the anti-communist cause....The Chinese [KMT camp leaders] were in contact with Taiwan through Guomindong personnel in the camp administration".
How did KMT agents get there? From files of the Far East Command, "In January 1951 MacArthur requested 20 linguists from Taiwan who were selected by Jiang's Ministry of Defense. In February 1951 he asked additional 55 and despatched a staff officer to Taiwan to coordinate psychological warfare programmes with Guomindong regime. Muccio recalled that 75 personnel were recruited on Taiwan who were 'doubtless members of the Chang Kai-Shek's Gestapo'."
"After the cease-fire, repatriate POWs were exchanged in OPERATION BIG SWITCH and the non-repatriates turned over to the NNRC [Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission] and the Indian Custodial Force in the DMZ for 'explanations'. The Americans recognised that ...Once outside the UNC control there was no guarantee that large numbers of POWs would not opt for repatriation.... Their main worry was that the prisoners would somehow be separated from the anti-communist leadership which had imposed order in the compounds."
To avert the situation in which many POWs switch to repatriate, US mounted a intensive propaganda campaign with the assistance of the KMT regime, camp leaders held screening to weed any 'communist elements' which remained.
NNRC proposed a rule to segregate POWs who received explanation from those who had not. Americans consider this to be extremely dangerous and objected to it strongly. US news correspondents at Panmunjom warned, "If the Communists succeed in separating anti-Communist leaders from [their] respective compounds, then very appreciable numbers of the prisoners may switch and elect repatriation".
The Americans scored a victory in opposing the NNRC proposal, the anti-Communists elements would appear at the beginning of the explanation and disrupt the proceedings. "Thus the explanations were marked by abuse and violence." "As a result, the mass of POWs was never interviewed. " "Of the Chinese 2085 out of 14700 were screened".
"In a separate report, the Swedes and Swiss agreed that 'The attitude of prisoners of war in respect
of explanations has...been influenced and coordinated by organizations of a political nature....acts of violence
and even murders have been committed."
So, almost 2/3 of the Chinese POWs were sent to Taiwan.
Upon this victory, US government proclaimed: "They will remember that freedom is the popular choice, and the desire for freedom can overcome even the most intense indoctrination and brutal discipline. We in the free world have a special right to feel proud today. we have stood by a principle and won."
21 Americans and one Briton refused repatriation at the end of the war. Most of these Americans went to China. 2 Americans chose not to repatriate but changed their mind after hearing explanations from their priest and officials.
By 1959, the Americans claimed to have identified 75 former POWs in Korea as Communist agents.
The most serious case was that of George Blake, who became a key Soviet agent inside the British Foreign Office after released by the communist.