Road to Empire – POWs and Total War in Korea

Pictured above: The US and it’s allies exterminated millions of Koreans, 1950-1953, while using biological weapons on both China North Korea, all grotesque crimes against humanity. But, you would never know it, behind the Great Western Firewall and with its Big Lie Propaganda Machine (BLPM). These US prisoners of war in North Korea went home healthy and adequately fed. The POWs sent back to the the North by the West were not so lucky.

…by Thomas Powell, Socialism and Democracy, Submitted by Jeff J Brown.

Source article:

The capture and internment of prisoners of war (POWs) became the most complex issue of the entire Korean War. This was due to the efforts of both the US and China to use the POWs as pawns in a grand international propaganda war which raged with abandon, headlining the conflict and dragging the stalemated ground war along in its wake.

Most POWs on both sides were captured in the first year of the war. And both sides were unprepared for handling the large numbers of captured prisoners. The first winter of 1950–51 was especially severe, the coldest of the century, and many POWs died from sub-zero temperatures, lack of winter clothing and bedding, frostbite, gangrene, starvation, dysentery, dehydration, winter flu, forced marches, exhaustion, and executions. Medical treatment was mostly non-existent.

Again on both sides, POWs who lived through internment had to devise a personal survival strategy, each for himself, and a collective or group survival strategy. This classic struggle between the individual and the group was much accentuated by the prison environment, and by the political agendas of the opposing sides, and it played out very differently in the two camps.1

In a sad irony, the contentious issue of prisoner exchange which stalled the armistice talks a full 18 months directly punished all POWs by doubling the length of their incarceration.

The 1929 and 1949 Geneva Conventions granted certain rights to captured prisoners, but these tenets were only selectively observed by either side. The North Korean captors in the first winter of the war were brutal and vindictive towards US/UN POWs as would be expected of treatment toward an invading army which had committed grievous atrocities upon the civilian population.

The Korean People’s Army (KPA) was responsible for the death marches moving captured and wounded US/UN soldiers from the front lines to the rear. The KPA turned over its captured prisoners to Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) custody at the internment camps located in North Korean villages along the Yalu River which separates North Korea and China.

POW living conditions and rations improved while the Chinese captors undertook a social experiment of adapting their “leniency policy” to US/UN captives. By contrast, the sprawling US-run prison complex at Koje Island (spelled Geoje today) relied on WWII-vintage enclosed stockades, massive prisoner overcrowding, gun towers, routine physical violence, and psychological warfare to maintain control.

The opposing penal philosophies of the two sides were not carrot vs. stick models as they may simplistically appear. They are better understood as tactical means to win the intensifying and clangorous East–West propaganda war with little regard for POW welfare on either side. Through physical and psychological coercion, both parties sought to manipulate their captives. The POWs became pawns on the Cold War global stage.

Interrogating prisoners to discover their personal history, race, religion and political consciousness was a core component of the propaganda war. The Koje prison complex held 20 times more POWs than did the Chinese-run camps, and the US negotiators at Panmunjom sought to take full advantage of this disparity, but neither side’s prisoner population was homogeneous.

Camps on both sides were internally divided by important distinctions ‒ nationality, political factions, secret societies, languages, hometown, and race. The Koje prison camp also included a compound for women prisoners.

Incarcerated populations will self-segregate into groups and factions. This allows captors to exploit prisoner differences, provoke conflict, use violence, and create propaganda.

The public relations goals of the US and China were the same. Each state had to drumbeat public support for the war at home while simultaneously cultivating worldwide public opinion.

The scorched earth tactics of the US bombing campaign especially the napalm bombing, and MacArthur’s threats to use the atom bomb, began to sour international public support for the UN’s war. Then, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai dropped another stunning bombshell in March 1952 – Zhou accused the US of using bacteriological warfare against North Korea and China!

For evidence of the claim, China produced confessions by four US POW pilots admitting to having conducted germ warfare bombings against North Korea and China. This accusation was a terrible shock to the American public.

It was beyond imagination that this could possibly be true, and the Truman Administration vehemently denied it. But the North Korean and Chinese charge of US bacteriological warfare was loud and unrelenting. The POW confessions made the US self-image seem effete, and the US needed its own headline POW issue.

That new topic became “voluntary repatriation.” This concept introduced a novel “liberal” principle of individual rights of prisoners of war which had not previously existed in military convention. Prisoners of war of diverse backgrounds, regardless of what army they were serving in when captured, should now be allowed to choose which home state to be repatriated to at the end of hostilities.

The US Navy took on the task of truce negotiations under the direction of Vice Admiral Charles Turner Joy, with Rear Admiral Ruthvan Libby as head negotiator. Historian Monica Kim discusses Libby’s role as the presenter of the new US liberal policy of voluntary prisoner repatriation, introduced by him into discussion on January 2, 1952.2

Journalists Wilfred Burchett and Alan Winnington wrote that this strategy had been conceived six months earlier, and the US had sat on the policy for six months of truce negotiations waiting to spring it.3

Burchett and Winnington further claim that the intended purpose of the new policy was to scuttle the ceasefire talks. While the American public was rapidly tiring of the war and wanted it ended, the Pentagon and the Truman Administration did not.

They wanted the unqualified capitulation of North Korea which they believed to be within grasp if the ceasefire negotiations could be stalled long enough. Under Ridgeway’s command the US ramped up its saturation bombing mission in the North intending to cut off enemy supply lines behind the front. When this tactic failed to stop the resupply chain, in the dead of winter of 1951–52 the germ war campaign began.4

Voluntary repatriation was a tactic by the US for stalling the negotiations. To implement such a policy, the US declared it would need to interrogate each prisoner once again to determine individual choice of repatriation.

This new process became a violent flashpoint with the POWs, who understood it as a euphemism for a whole new round of coercion and torture. And this is indeed what happened under the most appalling regime of brutality, torture, and mass murder.

China also invested heavily in interrogation with many educated and English-speaking Chinese recruited to the task. The leniency policy of the Red Army in Manchuria and China had achieved considerable success in switching allegiance of both war lord and Kuomintang soldiers.

The method consisted of both physical and psychological rewards and punishment coupled with intense “political re-education.” This was the interrogation model implemented against the US/UN prisoners that came to be called “brainwashing.”

Capture and internment

Following months of military raids and provocations by the South Korean Army (ROKA), the KPA launched a massive invasion of the South on June 25, 1950. The ROKA put up little resistance in retreat. Many turned their weapons upon the civilian population leaving brutal massacres in their wake.5

But other ROKA soldiers had been unwilling conscripts and deserted back into the civilian population. The KPA dragooned many of these ROKA deserters it discovered into its own ranks as the army moved southward in the first two months of the war. This tactic swelled the numbers of the KPA, but it also set in motion later prison clashes between South Korean-born POWs, North Korean-born POWs and their US captors.

At the outbreak of war, some occupation soldiers from the US had remained stationed in Seoul and other South Korean cities training ROCA and protecting US business interests, and they offered nominal resistance against the KPA invasion as the ROKA collapsed and fled south.

Gen. MacArthur rushed in US reinforcements from Japan. The Battle of Osan on July 5, 1950, was the first major engagement between US soldiers of the 24th Infantry Division to slow down the much larger advancing KPA. More troops were brought into battle in a series of southward retreating engagements through Taejon and Taegu.

These soldiers were the initial group of American prisoners taken captive during the first three months of combat. General William F. Dean, the highest-ranking US soldier captured by communist forces was apprehended at this time.6

The KPA attack bogged down in September with the siege of the southern port city of Pusan. Behind a perimeter fortified by offshore naval bombardment, the US assembled a large counter-attack force at Pusan harbor with 140,000 troops deployed from the US, Japan, Okinawa and the Philippines.

About 30,000 ROCA troops were also reassembled and UN forces from the UK, Canada, Australia, the Philippines and Turkey arrived. On September 15, 1950, the US launched a naval bombardment which leveled the port city of Inchon on the Yellow Sea. The US landed an invasion force of 40,000 troops with heavy tank accompaniment which moved east to recapture Seoul, and to cut the main force of KPA off from the North.

The next day September 16, a US/UN surge northward from Pusan pinched the KPA in a vice. A remnant KPA force of 40–60,000 troops was able to retreat north into the mountainous terrain of the Korean peninsula; about 80,000 KPA troops were trapped in the South.

During the next three months remnant detachments in the South were encircled and forced to surrender. For the North, it was a catastrophic reversal of fortune. For the US/UN, the capture of more than half of the KPA was a tremendous windfall and a clear demonstration of white superiority. It was a sure sign that the war would soon be over.

The US/UN capture of POWs was a round-up of many peoples in South Korea, mostly men, but women and infants too. By January, 1951, 170,000 prisoners were confined by UN forces, double the number of actual KPA prisoners.7 Rounding up so many prisoners at once was both a great military windfall and a logistical problem for Supreme Command (SCAF).

The military authority picked Koje-do, an island off the southern coast near Pusan, to warehouse this large prisoner population. Here they could be efficiently guarded, under terms of international law.8 The island was mountainous with cultivated valleys, and a resident farming population.

The sprawling prison complex eventually covered many city blocks of former rice paddy with numerous satellite compounds strung together in a branch of valleys on the south end of the island. Camp buildings consisted of clapboard barracks, corrugated metal roofs, Quonset huts, and military tents laid out on grids.

Each compound was a city block surrounded by wood poles, stretched cables, chain link, barbed wire and concertina wire. Gun towers stood at regular intervals. The camp was immediately over-crowded. New arrivals from the mainland were kept in the enclosed streets between compounds while prisoner work crews continuously built new compounds to house them.

Water shortage was an immediate problem requiring construction of catchment ponds, wells, pumping stations, cisterns, latrines and sewage disposal. The prison complex was a city being built from scratch. It processed and incarcerated increasing numbers of prisoners while under continuous new construction. Administering the entire operation was a complex task.

The US had a long tradition of dealing with non-white defeated people. The imperial machinery of the army and the state followed a well-trod path of imposing subjugation upon colonials. The rules of war and international law as Europeans wrote them, applied to victor and vanquished alike.

The vanquished became wards under the paternal supervision of the victors. They were required by law to behave as captured prisoners under threat of punishment. It was all very logical and legal. However, the communist prisoners of both North and South disagreed and refused to accept their colonial role. They organized collective resistance, and this provoked the prisoner massacres.

It was soon discovered by US interrogators that the large prisoner population under their control was diverse.9 There were ardent North Korean partisans and communists who had joined the KPA. There were North Korean farmers who were not communists but had been conscripted into the KPA.

There was a sizable contingent of South Korean communist and partisans who hated the Syngman Rhee government and had fled north to join the KPA. There were the veterans of many wars, Chinese nationals of Korean ancestry who had fought against the Japanese occupation of Korea and Manchuria during WWII, and for the Chinese Red Army against the Kuomintang in the Chinese Civil War.

Then there were South Korean farm boys who had been conscripted into the ROKA, deserted when the war started, and were subsequently impressed into the KPA. There was a very large contingent of South Korean leftists, unionists, intellectuals and members of the South Korean Workers Party (SKWP) who were arrested, and finally there were many thousands of homeless displaced war refugees from both North and South who were simply rounded up.10

Chinese POWs were captured in later battles in April-June of 1951, and they too had many profiles including radicalized student volunteers to fight the “American imperialists,” hard line veteran soldiers from earlier liberation wars, impressed former Nationalist soldiers, and Red Army regulars.

Following the successful US invasion of South Korea and the recapture of Seoul, MacArthur restored the ROK and Syngman Rhee to power. Under Rhee’s orders, another reign of terror was launched by the ROKA against suspected leftists. From October 1950 through January 1951, many dozens of massacres were carried out by ROKA soldiers and death squads.

At least 30,000 civilians, mostly women, children, and elderly were machine gunned into open trenches.11 On September 30, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai warned the US that China would enter the war if the US crossed the 38th Parallel. Gen. MacArthur ignoring Zhou’s warning, demanded the unconditional surrender of the KPA, and launched the US/UN invasion of North Korea on October 8, 1950.

China then entered the war militarily on October 25, 1950, by launching its First Phase Offensive with a stealth attack against US forces near the Sino-Korean border driving them back to Pyongyang. The PVA then withdrew to see if Gen. MacArthur got the message. MacArthur instead arrogantly believed the Chinese were not serious and launched a second full-fledged invasion of the North on November 24 called the “Home by Christmas Offensive.”

The PVA responded with its Second and Third Phase Offensives and with numerically superior armies and night-fighting tactics, drove the US/UN forces back in a humiliating rout 100 miles south of the 38th Parallel. The capitol city of Seoul fell for the third time on January 4, 1951. It was during this period – from late November, 1950, into January, 1951 – that the PVA captured most of its US/UN POWs.

US/UN forces stiffened under the new field command of the charismatic Christian, Gen. Matthew Ridgeway. January through July 1951 saw the bloodiest and most pitched battles of the war. With superior artillery and a massive bombing campaign, the momentum of the war changed once again.

US/UN forces were able to slowly push the PVA and the KPA back north to the 38th Parallel. Seoul changed hands for the fourth time. The Chinese and North Korean armies gave ground slowly and suffered enormous losses during this phase of the war, and it was in these intense pitched battles at close quarters that most Chinese PVA soldiers died in battle or were taken prisoner.

However, behind the front lines communist forces began their own vast construction project with an underground network of tunnels, bunkers, magazines and fortifications at strategic locations across the 300-mile width of the Korean peninsula, the “Underground Great Wall.” This network of subterranean fortifications and the endlessly rugged Korean terrain proved effective in halting further US/UN ground advance in spite of the constant aerial bombardment, and the ground war stalemated.

The entire civilian population of North Korea also dug into caves, bunkers and bomb shelters for safety against Gen. Ridgeway’s genocidal firebombing. As the brutality of the bombing began to undermine international support for the war,12 and frustrated by their inability to move the battle lines forward, or to increase civilian death toll as desired, and under great pressure from Secretary of Defense Lovett, the JCS ordered the top-secret germ war campaign.13

Total War I

A strong argument can be made for redefining the Korean War as an anti-colonial, eight-year war for independence by the Korean people against the US and the UN as its instrument. It began in September 1945 and continued until June 1953, far longer than the three-year armed engagement of 1950–53 which is taught in the US.

Over the past decades, the war has been defined in the West as a “police action,” as the “Korean conflict,” as a Cold War ideological struggle between capitalism and communism, and as a civil war between North and South.

Each of these definitions is informative, but together they leave out an important piece of the story which was the US’s imperial intentions in Asia following the collapse of European and Japanese colonial rule at the end of WWII. Some historians argue that the US really had “honorable” intentions of promoting the capitalist economic model of development coupled with political liberalism across the region.14

This view is not supportable if we consider Korea as an eight-year anti-imperial struggle by both North and South Koreans. The patriotic liberation struggle against the Japanese had been going on throughout the war. With the Japanese defeated, the entire Korean population was anticipating colonial liberation.

But that joyous expectation underwent a drastic upheaval with two leaflet drops ordered by Gen. MacArthur. The first leaflet informed the public that US Occupation troops would arrive soon to accept the Japanese Army surrender. MacArthur’s second proclamation made it clear that Koreans would not be treated as liberated people, but as the enemy:

Any person who: Violates the provisions of the Instrument of Surrender, or any proclamation, order, or directive given under the authority of the Commander in Chief, United States Armed Forces, Pacific, or does any act to prejudice the good order or the life, safety and security of the persons or property of the United States or its allies, or does any act hostile to the Allied Forces, shall, upon conviction of a military Occupation Court suffer death or other punishment as the Court may determine.15

Gen. John R. Hodge was installed as military governor of South Korea.16 Hodge’s first two significant actions as governor were to outlaw the newly formed democratic government of the “People’s Republic of Korea” (PRK) and to criminalize the institutions of that government, the “Peoples Committees.”17

These were not the political actions of a liberator; these were not even the blunders of an incompetent administrator. These were acts of deliberate political repression which loudly refute claims of benevolence by Cold War historians.

During Hodge’s three-year governorship, approximately 300,000 South Koreans were brutally murdered by US soldiers, by the US created ROKA, and by Syngman Rhee’s youth league/death squads operating under US protection.

Following the 1948 South Korean elections and the declaration of the separatist state of South Korea from the North, Rhee launched wave after wave of genocidal massacres across South Korea which I have previously described.18 A contingent US occupation force remained stationed in Korea to provide the Rhee puppet government protection all during this reign of terror.

During this same 18-month period, Rhee launched many military and paramilitary attacks across the 38th Parallel against North Korea, and greatly ramped up his aggressive rhetoric. Political repression in South Korea from 1945 to 1950, both by the US occupation forces and the ROKA was unrelenting terror, far more deadly and constant than anything that had previously occurred under the four decades (1905–45) of the hated Japanese occupation.

This reign of terror was vigorously resisted by South Koreans who put their lives on the line and died in appalling numbers in hopes of national liberation. With historical hindsight it is possible to understand both the desire and desperation of North Korean leaders to intervene militarily to stop the bloodbath of the US imperial war machine backing Rhee’s rampaging genocide across the South.

The Korean nation had exited WWII with little harm to its cities and industrial infrastructure. In eight years, the US succeeded in killing 4 million Koreans, and reducing to complete rubble centuries of built environment of both North and South Korea. No country emerged out of WWII as completely devastated as the combined North and South Korea were at the end of the Korean War.

From the historical distance of today, a clearer picture of the US war philosophy in Korea emerges. We bear witness to the unrelenting brutality and all-pervasive violence of “total war.” The theory of total war has much of its origins in the US Civil War,19 the world’s first industrialized war.

Its central premise is that war between modern states pits the entire socio-military-economic apparatus of warring states against each other. This includes the state’s armed forces, its full industrial capacity, its population, educational system, transportation networks, cultural institutions, medical and public health infrastructure, media, propaganda machinery, and importantly its agricultural production and food supply.

Modern warfare demands the complete productive organization of the state towards the war effort. Therefore, in combating a modern state in warfare, every aspect of the opponent state’s war machine, including the civilian population, is a “legitimate target” for destruction.

But North Korea was not even recognized by the US as a legitimate state. In every aspect listed above it was far less developed than the United States, and yet, anything that moved in North Korea was targeted for strafing, burning, bombing, germ poisoning and destruction.

The philosophy of total war applied to prisoners of war as it did to everybody else. POW became a legal status. In a strange irony, US war technology contributed to that standing. The huge leap in technical proficiency of killing during the Civil War of the multi-barrel, rapid-fire 1861 Gatling gun made mass execution of prisoners for retaliation or punishment purposes very likely.

he Hague Regulations of 1899 and 1907 were attempts to “civilize” European war practices regarding prisoners. It aimed to keep warring states from massacring captured POWs outright, or from working them to death in mines and slave labor camps.

The Geneva Conventions of 1929 and 1949 further outlawed prisoner reprisals and collective punishment, practices which had occurred during both world wars. The conventions imposed the standard that officers were to be better treated according to rank. POWs could be put to work, but not directly in the war production of the captor’s state.20

“Koje Island is a living hell”

The legalese of war and the mind set of total war were not lost on the North Korean and Chinese communist leadership. The Geneva Conventions by UN decree had been declared “customary international law” making them binding upon all belligerent parties whether state signatories or not, and this became another leverage point for attack by both camps.

The communist armies numerical and “home field” advantage was pitted against the vastly superior killing technology of the US including complete domination of the air for the first six months of the war. The theater of war was not a level playing field at all, and once the initiative of surprise attack was spent, the communist armies needed novel and effective low-tech strategies to counter the overwhelming US/UN technological advantage.

The great underground wall was one effective fortification. The POWs became another weapon of resistance located behind the enemy lines which challenged both the US detainers, and the legitimacy of the UN’s sanctioning role. Monica Kim relates the experience of Major Carroll Cooper, one of the top officials at the Koje Island prison complex:

Carroll’s frustration with the prisoners of war in Compound 72 stemmed from the fact that they did not accept the care or treatment of the US military. In essence, the POWs refused not only to play their roles as prisoners of war but also to allow the US military to play its role as the detaining power, according to the script of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

The POWs refusals were multiple: the refusal to keep the compound clean, the refusal [of officers] to allow enlisted men to labor for them, the refusal to labor efficiently and quickly, and the refusal to eat.

Again, the body of the prisoner of war was at the center of the discussion – and the prisoners of war were strategically not allowing the US military to take care of their bodies in terms of shelter, exercise, and nourishment. And the punishment for not accepting their roles as POWs was a possible death.21

Executions for minor acts of prisoner insubordination were frequent. Kim informs us that many of the prison guards were ROKA soldiers. Tensions arose constantly between the guards and the KPA prisoners and resulted in violent beatings and shootings according to the testimony of prison guard Captain Lee Byong Wha:

In the past I received the following order: If a PW attempts to escape to yell “Chung-Jee” [sic] (cho˘ngji) three times before firing the weapon. But if the PW continues to escape the weapon may be fired.

I misinterpreted the orders to read as follows: In case a PW attempts to escape from the compound, commit a disturbance in the compound, attempts a riot, insults or threatens a guard, or resists or disobeys the guards the guard may fire his weapon for purpose of killing.22

Kim asks incredulously, “[W]hat did an insult transgress that rendered it possibly equivalent of an act like rioting or an escape attempt?” We can further ask why the judgment and execution of capital crimes was delegated so far down the chain of command at the US-run prison camps? Who in the US command of the prison camp permitted this ROKA prison guard to reinterpret his instructions so personally and sadistically? However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The rampant violence of the Koje Island prison camps was documented at the time by two journalists, Wilfred Burchett and Alan Winnington, in a small volume titled, Koje Unscreened.23 Its cover illustration depicts a row of prisoners marching with raised hands guarded by US soldiers in gas masks with rifles and fixed bayonets. The caption states:

In compound 76 on June 10, 1952, US paratroopers rounded up the prisoners in a bloody battle. They are now being stripped and searched while buildings still burn in the background. Their personal effects, including home-made gas masks, cover the ground. 31 prisoners were killed and over 80 wounded.24

This incident was but one of many such slaughters begun as collective prisoner refusals to submit to new interrogation screenings which escalated into wholesale bloody beatings and massacres of POWs by US, UN, ROKA, and Kuomintang prison guards. Western journalists were not allowed on Koje Island by the US Army precisely because of the violence at the prison which the Army did not want known to the world.

The prison operated behind several miles of open sea, barbed wire and gun-tower security, and a USAMGIK-ordered news blackout. Nevertheless, stories of mass slayings and prisoner abuse did leak out and shocked the world. From pieced together wire services reports and American official communiqués, Burchett and Winnington estimated some 3,000 POWs were killed or wounded by US captors by the end of 1952.25

While journalists were banned from Koje Island, Burchett and Winnington were accredited to the Chinese PVA, and from this vantage north of the battle line they were able to obtain scores of eye-witness interviews with KPA and PVA prisoners who had escaped and made it back north through the underground railroad.

They also interviewed captured Kuomintang and Rhee agents who had worked at Koje and had later been parachuted into North Korea as spies. They further interviewed captured UN soldiers who had previously served as prison guards.26 This eye-witness testimony from multiple sources gave them detailed knowledge of events within the island prison complex.

It allowed them to cross reference information and thereby penetrate the imposed news blackout. Their history of the Koje Island prison uprisings of 1951–52 is now a very rare book to find, and that fact of itself, is further testimony to the accuracy of their reportage and the continuing suppression of this appalling story.27

The atrocities committed against the POWs at Koje Island prison complex detailed by Burchett and Winnington are beyond horrifying. Prisoners were beaten with gun butts, clubs and canes, shot with rifles and machine guns, burned with flamethrowers, stabbed, cut and bayoneted, sexually assaulted, hung by their thumbs, hung upside down and flogged, starved and dehydrated, forcibly tattooed with anti-communist slogans, and forced to sign false loyalty oaths to Syngman Rhee and Chiang Kai-shek, including with their own blood.

This extreme level of sadistic violence occurred on a regular basis throughout the three dozen compounds, including the compounds housing women and children, which made up the prison complex.28

It is shocking and terrifying for Americans to contemplate how US soldiers could possibly participate in, much less lead, this level of sadistic cruelty towards unarmed captive human beings. How could this possibly be true? It was possible because it happened far away and out of sight.

It was possible because it was ordered by the soulless administrators of manifest destiny in Washington DC. It was possible because inbred racial bigotry in the US labeled Asians as “chinks,” “japs,” and ‘gooks.” It was possible because subjugation by extreme violence was a time-honored practice of state militias and US Army following a legacy of previous butcherings and scalpings as in Col. Andrew Jackson’s great victory in the 1814 Battle of Horseshoe Bend.29

It was possible because the supreme commander of all US forces in the Far East was General Douglas MacArthur who learned his tradecraft on his father’s knee. General Arthur MacArthur, the military governor of the Philippines deliberately starved to death 200,000 villagers in Luzon Province to punish the independence movement and establish the “Philippine model” of colonial subjugation.30

Overwhelming violence and the absolute subjugation of non-white races is as American as apple pie, but this is a tragic and malevolent truth that many Americans will not hear.31

The criminalization of the People’s Committees, the round-up and murder of suspected leftists in South Korea, the wholesale killings of civilians such as the Bodo League Massacres,32 the imposition of the expatriate, psychopathic puppet dictator, Syngman Rhee, the creation of the separatist state of South Korea, the provocation of the North into war, the landing of the US invasion forces at Pusan and Inchon, the invasion of the North, the relentless ordnance bombing and napalm firebombing, the shocking biological warfare (BW) campaign, and now, the torture and mass murder of POWs, all of these escalations of violence, all of these heinous crimes committed by the US Armed Forces, operating under the directing hands of President Harry Truman, Secretary of State Acheson and Secretary of Defense Lovett, were perpetrated with the intent of forcing the colonial subjugation of the Korean people under the guise of “rolling back communism.”

Interrogation and the General Dodd incident

The interrogation of captured enemy soldiers is intelligence, and its usefulness in wartime cannot be underestimated. Prisoner interrogation is a critical piece of war strategy. The first difficulty presented by the POWs was few Americans spoke Korean. At the end of WWII, the US Army had recruited Nisei youth from the Japanese internment camps at Manzanar and others to act as interrogators in Japan.33 But Japanese was the language of Korea’s former hated colonizer and many prisoners from both North and South refused to speak Japanese. This became a collective strategy of POWs resistance. US interrogators had to use bilingual ROKA and Kuomintang prison guards as interpreters, while picking-up enough Korean and Mandarin to debrief prisoners.34

US interrogation tactics ranged from brutal beatings and torture to routine bureaucratic questionnaires, and all prisoners experienced varying degrees of both. Much of the dirty work was delegated to the ROKA guards to keep the war internecine. An especially brutal contingent of 100 Kuomintang guards was sent from Taiwan to interrogate Chinese PVA captives.35

These agents initiated a regime of beatings and enforced tattooing of Chinese POWs with anti-communist slogans across their arms and bodies. Unlike the Japanese, the Chinese have a deep cultural aversion to tattoos. The shame and stigma of being so branded made it impossible for these soldiers to ever return to their home villages.

The initial questionnaires were profiles, family and personal history, education, military experience, languages, political affiliation, and such, which became statistical data to sort the incarcerated population into groups. It was also supplied to the Army’s Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) to discover ways to manipulate POWs advantageously. From this data set emerged Admiral Libby’s new bargaining chip of voluntary repatriation.

The implementation of the new “screening” policy within the prison complex did not go smoothly. In one incident, 6000 captured KPA soldiers of Compound 62 who had been born in South Korea, been captured in South Korea, and had been initially classified as KPA soldiers, refused reclassification to South Korean civilian non-combatant status. As civilian refugees they would have less protection under the Geneva Conventions than as soldiers. They understood full well that once repatriated to the Rhee regime, they would be imprisoned again, tortured and murdered as communist rebels. The entire compound refused to cooperate. In solidarity they linked arms and sang patriotic songs. Under the direction of Camp Commandant Colonel Maurice Fitzgerald, US infantry troops and ROKA prison guards surround the compound and fired into the demonstration with machine guns – 89 prisoners were killed, 129 prisoners were wounded.36, 37

This shooting down of more than 200 defenseless prisoners in the small hours of a grey winter morning in Koje, was the classic exposure of American “humanitarianism” in trying to force “voluntary repatriation” on unwilling prisoners. …  That shooting was by no means the first that had occurred on Koje, but it was the first to break through the American censorship. …  After February 18, the world was to be constantly horrified by repeated mass shootings.38

President Truman claimed the US military had observed “the most extreme care” in questioning the prisoners. The legal logic of this statement is described by Kim:

Just as “overwhelming force” was a logical display of power, the bureaucratic interrogation room of the simple “yes” or “no” was a rational display of governance. For the Korean POW to resist “overwhelming force” or even entry into the repatriation interrogation room, the POW was placing himself or herself outside the bounds of legible humanity.

Following such logic, the US military investigation could conclude the POWs had brought the mass violence on themselves. …  In the struggle over defining the “prisoner of war,” the United States had taken a definitive turn – the “Oriental Communist prisoner of war” was to be a “fanatic,” one devoid of rational thinking, and certainly devoid of any claims to the political.39

Only the previous month, Cardinal Spellman, the Archbishop of New York City had toured the Koje Island prison complex on an “apostolic mission.” Spellman was an ardent and vocal anti-communist.40 He later became an outspoken early booster of the Viet Nam War. The real purpose of his visit, it became clear, was to whitewash any rumors of prisoner unrest at Koje Island which had leaked out to the international press corps.

On January 28, 1952, Spellman gave a lengthy radio interview broadcast from Tokyo by the US Information Service where he denounced a hard-core group of communist agitators for the prisoner unrest at Koje Island. He claimed that 71 percent of all prisoners at Koje Island were opposed to communist rule in Korea and did not want to be returned to either North Korea or to mainland China.41

Simultaneously, Admirals Joy and Libby were doing their utmost to stall the truce negotiations in Panmunjom, in order to give the interrogators at Koje Island time to convert as many prisoners as possible to anti-communism.42 Spellman’s 71 percent was not a rational number, but some figure indicating a substantial number of defections was necessary for the propaganda war.

The US was running a propaganda shell game with prisoners; it intended to return less than half, and to force North Korea and China to accept these terms or face a prolonged war, one which had already become very costly in manpower and treasure for China and produced complete devastation in Korea.

Libby claimed during negotiations that all prisoners had been rescreened and only 80,000 POWs wished to return to North Korea and China. Some 50,000 would be returned to South Korea and Taiwan; 44,000 were to be reclassified as civilians and repatriated to the South. The list of names of the POWs to be reclassified was withheld.

The news leaks of the Compound 62 massacre tossed a wrench in Joy and Libby’s plans, and Col. Fitzgerald was promptly fired. Fitzgerald was already the 9th commandant of Koje prison camp.43 His replacement was General Francis Dodd who came in with an iron fist and the same instructions – to compel the prisoners into the new screening. On May 7, six weeks into his command, Dodd and his aide, Col. Wilber Raven stood outside the gate of Compound 76 in discussions with the compound’s spokesperson.

A returning latrine brigade grabbed Dodd and hustled him into the compound when the gates were open. Raven managed to avoid capture. “A few minutes after the trap had been sprung, enormous signs around Compound 76 warned, in English, that Dodd would be killed if any attempt were made to rescue him.”44

It was an enormous risk for the prisoners to grab the general, but Dodd later acknowledged he had been treated respectfully by the POWs during the three days of his captivity. The prisoners demanded a camp-wide conference with two representatives from each compound, and General Dodd as their guest.

Dodd sat at the conference and heard a series of reports given by representatives of each compound – a concentrated and unvarnished tale of murder, torture, thuggery, rape (for there were representatives from the women’s compounds present), and of the unrelieved brutality of the men under his command.

If there were any feelings left in the man, unless he were something carved from granite, the factual recital of these enormities must have made an impression. Perhaps for the first time, also, Dodd began to understand the quality of the people that his government was trying to crush and perhaps beyond his frantic anxiety to save his life, he felt another emotion, of shame.45

Brigadier General Charles Colson was quickly brought in to take charge of the camp and negotiate Dodd’s release. The prisoners used Dodd as intermediary to negotiate their demands with Colson, and a phone line was installed. After three days of negotiations, bluster, final ultimatums, and a camp visit by a livid General Van Fleet who had succeeded Gen. Ridgeway as field commander of the war, Colson caved on three of the four prisoners’ demands.46

He agreed the brutal treatment of POWs would stop, so would the screenings, and there would be future cooperation with the prisoner’s representatives. Dodd was released, but disclosure of the terms of the deal was held up for three days while Truman’s National Security Council (NSC) boys figured out how to spin this propaganda catastrophe.47

The capture and ransom of General Dodd took place coincidentally right in the middle of the transition of the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces (SCAF). General Ridgeway had replaced MacArthur at SCAF in April, 1951, when MacArthur was called back to Washington. Ridgeway’s tour in the Far East was now up, and he was being promoted once again to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Commander in Europe.

The new Supreme Commander, General Mark Clark, was outraged to inherit this mess. Both Gen. Dodd and Gen. Colson were fired and demoted one full rank to colonel. Clark categorically rejected Colson’s agreement with the prisoners, and General William “Bull” Boatner was brought in to exact punishment. Clearly the POWs had become the central issue and news story of the war.

Boatner’s instructions were to restart the screenings and get positive results by any means necessary. Calling in additional British, Canadian, and US paratroop forces, Boatner unleashed a campaign of reprisals against the unarmed, half-starved Korean POWs unrivaled in modern war history for its pure viciousness.

On May 19, 1952, using machine guns, flame throwers and even tanks, 127 prisoners in Compound 66 were killed with untold numbers wounded. On May 22 and 23, 88 prisoners were killed and 39 wounded in Compounds 62 and 73 with machine gun fire and hand grenades. On May 23, four prisoners of Compound 76 were beheaded, their severed heads hung in a tree to intimidate the other prisoners.48

Burchett and Winnington quote at length the detailed testimony of three Canadian soldiers, Corporal Jollymore, Lance-Corporal Bell, and Private Allan who participated in these mass executions as well as individual interrogations in which prisoners were beaten with rubber hoses and stabbed in their arms and legs with bayonets to change their repatriation status.49

Horrible criminal acts of murder and assault were committed under orders by young American soldiers, draftees mostly, against unarmed Korean prisoners. Nobody who experienced or witnessed such atrocity could remain unscarred for life. Ultimately, 6670 Chinese POWs were returned to China and 14,692 were sent to Taiwan.

Some 75,823 North Koreans were repatriated to the North while 7826 remained in South Korea.50 At the time the US ballyhooed this as a great moral propaganda victory, that so many prisoners rejected communist rule in their homelands. But where is that moral victory today now that the truth is revealed as to how those defections were achieved?


The story of the US POWs was complex from the beginning and remains incomplete as we do not have Chinese accounts in the West.51 From the US perspective, much of the POW story has been written including several first-hand accounts by survivors, and two thick volumes of oral history collected by Donald Knox.52 However, this literature has also lapsed from our national memory.

The many layers of this story are deeply intertwined so perhaps we could start with this observation of the conduct of the war. Gen. Douglas MacArthur is much renowned for his brilliant landing of a US Army invasion force at Inchon Harbor on Sept. 15, 1950. What has been forgotten is his second invasion three weeks later of North Korea which was a military blunder as equivalently foolhardy.53

When the KPA launched its invasion on July 25, 1950, MacArthur took command of the ROKA as arranged with Rhee on his Tokyo visit. He ordered the ROKA retreat and the terrible massacres of the South Korean population. American consular staff and US businessmen with families in Seoul were safely evacuated to coincidentally awaiting ships.54

The few remaining units of the US occupation force were left in South Korea to face the full onslaught of the KPA assault; they were overrun and largely slaughtered. MacArthur’s calculated sacrifice was a “bloody nose” strategy to outrage the American public and drum beat support for the coming US intervention.

It also served to slow down the KPA advance to buy MacArthur time to set up the Pusan defensive perimeter with naval bombardment, and to assemble a fighting force from an army which had been largely decommissioned after WWII. As a soldier MacArthur was forever the tactician and never a philosopher. His grand design was for all out nuclear war against the USSR and mainland China to wipe out communism.55

In spite of atomic bomb threats, Premier Zhou Enlai warned MacArthur that China would defend North Korea, but MacArthur dismissed him. President Truman green-lighted MacArthur’s punitive invasion of the North, and this fact all by itself, is convincing evidence that US intentions in Korea following WWII had always been imperial. Under the shepherding hand of John Foster Dulles at the United Nations in 1948, had not the US already engineered the creation of the secessionist state of South Korea?

Dulles visited Syngman Rhee in Seoul only six days before the invasion. He detoured for a quick photo-op at the demilitarized zone, then flew to Tokyo to meet with MacArthur. The trap was set. Rhee ordered the ROKA to attack the provincial city of Haeju,56 and North Korea responded with a full-scale invasion of the South.

Meanwhile, MacArthur, Dulles, Rhee, Truman, Acheson, CIA Director Hillenkoetter, and all the other DOD and NSC and State Dept. planers knew the attack was imminent, and they knew their roles; the fiction of the “surprise communist attack” was successfully sold to Congress, the UN General Assembly and to the Western press.

The first US soldiers were captured in July 1950 during the KPA invasion of the South. Many were killed in battle and many others including the wounded were summarily executed after capture.57 The KPA leadership had not considered the problem of what to do with US POWs before they launched their attack.

They had no love for the enemy given the viciousness of US occupation and horrors of Rhee’s repression. The prisoners were initially paraded from village to village as war trophies. James Thompson, an African-American career soldier in Truman’s newly integrated army gives us this sober account of his capture.

The minute you are captured it is ass-kicking time and you are not the kicker. I knew it and braced for the worst … in North Korea in 1950, white and black prisoners of war sat together looking down the same rifle barrel and praying to the same God.58

Thompson’s life was spared and he credits his good fortune to his own will to survive, and to his childhood in Arkansas which prepared him to endure hardships. Half of his fellow soldiers did not survive. They starved to death, died from wounds, disease, or dysentery, collapsed of exhaustion, gave up and were shot as laggards, or froze to death during the winter 1950–51 North Korean Death March.59

[T]here never have been any great news accounts documenting the plight of American and allied troops forced to march, primarily at night, 400 miles in sub-zero temperatures on cold damp grounds through North Korea. While I respect what those brave soldiers endured on Bataan during World War II, I also highly resent the fact that history has all but ignored what we endured during that infamous trek in North Korea. Those troops suffered and suffered badly. Those who died, did so hard.60

The second round of capture of US/UN soldiers occurred during the PVA invasion from China, October, 1950–January, 1951. These soldiers were captured by both the PVA and the KPA. US/UN POWs were force-marched north by the KPA to a holding camp named Death Valley then transferred to PVA custody in the permanent camps. China assumed responsibility for the control, maintenance, and interrogation of all POWs.

A cluster of a half dozen Korean farming villages far to the north along the Yalu River border with China were requisitioned and converted into prison camps. The plight of the POWs improved following their transfer to Chinese custody. Shelter was provided, food quality improved and cigarettes became available. But these improvements came with strings attached which the Chinese captors called their “leniency policy.”61

The leniency policy

The leniency policy towards POWs of the Chinese Red Army is best described as a political and social experiment which began with the founding of the Chinese Red Army in 1927 following Chiang Kai-shek’s murderous purge of trade unions in Shanghai. The Chinese communists were social reformers as well as political revolutionaries. They preached Marxism and historical materialism as explanatory political truth. The Marxism of Lenin and the Bolsheviks was a proselytizing belief system which the Chinese communists embraced as a successor truth to the traditional wisdoms of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism which had molded the many centuries of Chinese civilization. This radical new scientific worldview lent a clarity and religious fervor to their undertaking, which in turn gave them faith in the conversion of others through re-education. The religious zeal of the Chinese Communists should not be denied.62

Chinese Communist Party discipline imposed a confessional practice upon its members. There was regular study of political and historical doctrine, and there was “wrong-thinking.” Party members could be criticized by their peers. Self-criticism and admission of wrong-thinking were promoted within the party. The humbling process of acknowledging wrong-thinking was conceived as a social means to the political goal of party discipline and clear doctrine.

The policy of leniency towards POWs evolved from this confessional formula. Instead of immediately brutalizing and torturing captive soldiers for battlefield information which was the common practice of all armies since time immemorial, communist interrogators sought to convert their prisoners to the communist cause through lenient treatment and heavy doses of political indoctrination. They believed class struggle should be taught to captured soldiers, who were themselves from the downtrodden peasant and proletarian classes. The practice became the standard procedure of the Red Army when it produced good results with captured “bandit armies” in North China. Captured Kuomintang troops during the Chinese Civil War had also been converted and dragooned into the PLA through this technique. A pedagogy of indoctrination was already in place, so why not try it on the American, British, and Turkish prisoners?

The first goal of Chinese interrogation was to extract personal confessions from the POWs admitting to war crimes. The confessions were written out in longhand by prisoners, edited by Chinese interrogators, and rewritten until they were approved. The prisoner was required to read his confession into a microphone for a tape recording that could be transcribed or broadcast as news stories and war propaganda. Not all prisoners understood the propaganda value of their testimony, and countless confessions were given by US soldiers.63 The second goal was to subvert prisoner loyalty away from capitalism and towards the communist cause. This agenda was promoted through long classroom indoctrination lessons in European colonial history and Marxism. If a POW studied the daily lectures and truly repented, he could be forgiven for past crimes, and he could be rewarded with leniency and better rations. This was strong incentive for half-starved and exhausted prisoners, and it gained traction as a survival strategy with some American POWs.

Within the camps, the confessions worked to drive a wedge between the prisoners forcing them into three distinct groups with conflicting allegiances. There were the “progressives” who made confessions, signed petitions for world peace, and marched in prison camp May Day parades. They were the converts, though how deep their conversion to Marxism ran is a question.64

Their opposites were the “reactionaries,” prisoners who adamantly resisted interrogators in spite of isolation, beatings, and deprivations. Reactionaries believed themselves to be true patriots and within their ranks secret societies like the Ku Klux Klan emerged as a group survival tactic.65 Reactionaries viewed progressives as enemy collaborators, and there were instances of assaults and murders of progressives in the camps. The third and largest group of prisoners were those who tried to “play it cool” by agreeing to some communist demands while passively resisting others.

The play it cool survival strategy was to follow orders, attend lectures and draw little attention to oneself. These soldiers did their best not to betray allegiance to the US, or to rat out other prisoners. The play it cool prisoners attached little moral weight to their confessions and viewed them as a way to survive by gaming the communist penal system.66

The Chinese Communist Party’s prisoner interrogation was modern psychological manipulation and re-education on a grand scale. The Chinese indoctrination process was revolutionary because it taught Marxist political consciousness. For centuries, conquered people had been forced into religious conversion, into embracing new deities, or for loyalty demanded by the new sovereign.

The Chinese Communist viewed their military interrogation project as novel and sophisticated. They believed it treated the enemy soldier with respect, as teachable of the persuasive logic of historical materialism; it introduced modern European principles of psychology developed in Russia from Pavlov’s work on conditioned reflex, and equally it followed traditional Daoist principles spelled out in Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Persuasion was transformative. A converted prisoner could experience a cathartic cleansing of the brain.

Psychological manipulation controlled the Yalu prison camps as there were armed guards but not perimeter fences.67 As the number of US/UN prisoners held in the Yalu River camps was far fewer in number than at Koje Island, the relationship between prisoner and guard was far more personal and interlocutory.68

However, special prisoners such as Air Force pilots were kept separated in isolation sometimes for months while being intensely questioned by teams of trained English-speaking interrogators.

The pilot’s confessions

Many US soldiers gave confessions. The value these documents today is what they reveal of both the moral and emotional trauma experienced by the US soldiers in Korea, and the communist psychology regarding prisoner interrogation.

Certainly, the US Army had engaged in horrible atrocities against Korean people since occupation began in 1945, and it had empowered Syngman Rhee and the ROKA to ever greater pinnacles of terror, and so that litany of criminal deeds, admitted to in the US POW confessions was true in general, if not in particular. But true confessions are not all equal; they vary in value depending upon the confessor, the crime, and the means of extraction. That group of POW confessions which stands apart from the herd is the US pilots’ confessions admitting to BW against civilians and soldiers in North Korea and China.

Four airmen’s confessions, those by Lt. K. L. Enoch, Lt. J. Quinn, Lt. F. B. O’Neal, and Lt. P.R. Kniss, were published in the International Scientific Commission’s Report as Appendices KK, LL, MM, and NN respectively. Appendix OO contains the Commission’s notes on the lengthy interview it conducted with the four airmen. Together, the four testimonies and notes run 107 pages of text.69 Joseph Needham writing for the Commission stated:

The Commission had the opportunity of extended conversations with these four men under conditions of free discourse. Its members unanimously formed the opinion that no pressure, physical or mental, had been brought to bear on these prisoners of war in order to induce them to make the declarations which they made.70

The Commission noted that O’Neal and Kniss had both been deployed to the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group, though the two pilots had never met. Kniss arrived in Korea after O’Neal had already been shot down, but their testimonies corroborated specific facts. Both were briefed by Capt. McLaughlin about types of BW agents and were given similar warnings regarding secrecy, and instructions for bombing runs. The Commission attributed differences in their testimonies to the US discovery that disease outbreaks were not so easy to spread once the enemy was aware of the attack and could take protective measures.

The discrepancies between the evidence of these two pilots seem merely to reflect the modifications of methods introduced by the U.S. Government as they developed their germ warfare plan.71

All four airmen express sincere remorse for their actions in their confessions. Lt. Kniss made this plea:

The civilians of North Korea have suffered terribly from this war already and now they are being subjected to the most inhumane type of warfare. It is now the job of all the people in the world to take these facts that I have presented and demand an immediate stop to germ warfare in North Korea. The people of the United States should insist that no nation should ever use this type of warfare again.72

The airmen were young, educated men. O’Neal at the time of his capture was 24 years old. He had graduated from Citadel College in Charleston with a B.S. degree and a commission as a second lieutenant. He next earned a M.S. degree in physical chemistry at Tulane University where he worked as a T.A. and lab assistant. O’Neal is precise in this explanation:

From the standpoint of an American citizen, I cannot see any justification whatsoever for the use of bacteriological weapons against the peoples of North Korea and Northeast China. There is no need to use such terrible weapons of mass destruction against the civilian populations of these countries … .

The members of the armed forces of the United States have to lay aside their personal feelings on such matters and carry out the orders given to them by their commanders. This outlook has been so instilled in our fighting forces that it has become habit not to question an order, but to carry out the order first and then think about it. This system of discipline is necessary in order to commit such acts as those involved in bacteriological warfare.

This type of blind, dumb obedience enables men to be ordered to do things which they may personally hate, but discipline has become so strong that they carry out orders without thinking of the consequences. Another factor in the Air Force is that everything is sort of remote – the ground where the germ bomb hits is thousands of feet below and the aircraft crews never see the results of the bombs which they drop. Still, if one has a sense of righteousness, one cannot help meditating on the things which he has done. As one having taken part in germ warfare, it is the most unpleasant feeling to think about your actions in this type of warfare.73

There were 25 published pilot’s confessions, although others may exist. The next group of nineteen was published in Supplement of People’s China, dated December 1, 1953, after the war had ended and the POWs had been repatriated.74 These testimonies were released because the US continued to deny the charges of germ warfare, and made wild counter charges of POW brainwashing, or “menticide” as proclaimed by one scholar.75

This group of pilot testimonies makes an immediate impression upon the reader for its sobriety and sincerity. The testimonies are highly detailed as to briefings and bomb delivery instructions. The original handwritten documents included sketches of germ bombs. The pilots were good students who took lecture notes and remembered.

These testimonies also echo the deep remorse, humility and Christian moral values expressed in the four earlier declarations. The testimony of Lt Richard G. Voss is an example. After crash landing, Chinese troops who he had just finished strafing and bombing pulled the unconscious Voss from the wreckage, treated his burn wounds gave him food, water, cigarettes and “even a magazine to look at.” Three days later he was evacuated by truck to a Chinese hospital:

I was especially grateful for this because without top rate treatment and care I would have been horribly scarred by my burns, but my face is now as it always has been – there are no scars and I feel no ill effects of my wounds. During this period I did much thinking about my own life. I came to realize that many of the thing I had done in the Korean conflict were terrible crimes against civilians and actually crimes against all humanity.

I am a Christian and I did much praying in the hospital. I found that I could not withhold what I had done and pray at night with an easy mind. The Chinese have proved themselves my friends, they have fed me, cured my wounds, given me clothing, tobacco, sugar – everything I needed. In return all I can give them was repentance and the truth. In my heart I now have peace – I am happy.

Voss concludes his confession:

I have done a criminal deed to the North Korean people by dropping germ bombs on them. I know I could work the rest of my life and never be able to repay these people for the misery I have caused them. I believe my telling of the germ bomb information will in some small degree help to right the wrongs I have committed. Personally my telling has “taken a great load off my chest.” I can face each new day with a happier feeling now that I have told.76

The one testimony of this group which stands out was made by Air Force Col. Walker M. “Bud” Mahurin. Mahurin was a WWII fighter ace with many kills in Germany and the Pacific Theater. He was older than the other pilots with a wife and kids back home in Maryland, but he was also a man with a burning desire for more combat action. Mahurin was stuck in an important desk job in the office of the Sec. of the Air Force at the Pentagon. His combat record awarded him “M” security clearance above top secret, and he had been sent on a fact-finding tour to Ft. Detrick for the Air Force in November 1950, a full year before the BW campaign was ordered to begin.

Mahurin’s testimony describes his visit to Ft. Detrick, and his recommendation that the bombing technology be adapted for fighter jets. Mahurin attached his wagon to the Air Force’s BW campaign to get back into combat flying. He was sent to Korea in late 1951 to help organize the BW deployment. According to his deposition the first BW attack by his squadron took place on December 28, 1951:77

The first germ mission we made was in the Chong Chon River area between Sinanju and Kunuri in North Korea. Major Koons directed that the aircraft involved would fly along with the rest of the aircraft of the Wing until they approached the target area. They would then descend and release tanks in the area directed. After dropping they would rejoin formation with the other aircraft and patrol in the standard manner.

The pilots who were to fly on the special mission attended the regular briefing the same as the other pilots. After the regular briefing had ended they were taken aside and told by the flight leader that they were carrying experimental tanks that were special in nature. They were to carry out the mission as directed dropping their germ tanks in the assigned area. When they returned to base they were not to talk about what they were doing nor were they to discuss the tanks. The first germ mission took place as directed.78

Mahurin got his wish and flew many fighter jet sorties over North Korea and China including five BW drops until he was shot down.79 His description of his captivity makes it clear he was a reactionary POW. He suffered starvation, caging, isolation, and marathon sessions of badgering interrogation. He claims he finally broke down when his jailers told him that he was listed as MIA, his family did not know he was alive, and that he would be moved to a prison deep inside China and not be repatriated with the other POWs. He later claimed that he was forced to bargain his confession for his freedom, and that he inserted small lies and misinformation into it to tip off US intelligence monitors. Mahurin’s deposition gives us this summary of the BW enterprise:

The objective of the germ warfare program was to use these weapons under actual field conditions in Korea to test the effect. Also the weapons might be used later in the Korean War on an expanding scale depending on the conditions at a later date. Containers for the different types of aircraft were to be tried out and the weapons would be dropped over different types of terrain and under all kinds of climatic conditions. It was hoped that the peace talks might be influenced and that a satisfactory outcome might result. By this time the Air Force had developed an external tank for the F-86 that could carry insects infected with various diseases. These tanks would be tested by the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing under actual combat conditions.80

Mahurin was also a very outgoing, larger than life personality. He became the self-appointed spokesperson for the POW airmen after their release from captivity. He led the chorus in denouncing his Chinese interrogators and claimed that he had been tortured into his confession. He later resigned the military, went to work as a salesman for the armaments industry, and wrote a memoir titled, Honest John.81 This tag had been his flight moniker in Korea which he had used to make brash radio threats and taunt Chinese ground forces, so they were very happy indeed when they caught him. Mahurin was a good writer and spun a good yarn. Many of his war stories have the ring of practiced telling, especially his encounters with Soviet MiG-15 fighter jets flown by Chinese pilots. Regardless, Mahurin the storyteller did too good of a job of spilling the beans, and seeing his own writing on the wall, took early retirement from the service.82

Operational BW

The last two pilot confessions were made by Col. Frank H. Schwable and Maj. Roy Bley, officers of the United States Marine Corp (USMC). Both men had aged out of combat and were no longer allowed by regulation to fly missions. They had held senior positions in the Corps far too long in to be allowed to risk capture and interrogation. Schwable had been in Korea only three months at Pohang K-3 airbase when on the morning of July 8, 1952, he requisitioned a transport aircraft, a Beechcraft SNB, to visit forward airbase K-6 where he was to assume operations command of MAG-12 from Col. Galer the following month. Bley, who worked under a separate command structure at K-3 was also a combat pilot turned administrator. He had his own business at K-6 and hitched a ride with Schwable. On the return flight to Pohang, Schwable charted a circular route which would take them along the battle line so he could do aerial reconnaissance. Apparently, he strayed into enemy territory, the plane was shot down, Bley was wounded, but they both parachuted out.

Schwable’s biographer, Raymond Lech makes the point about separate command hierarchies to suggest that Bley had absolutely no knowledge of the particulars of Schwable’s job as Chief of Staff to Major General Clayton Jerome, Commanding General, First Marine Aircraft Wing who ran the top-secret US BW campaign on the west flank of Korea. Lech argues that Bley’s confession came only after seven months of isolation with intense interrogation and with a signed execution order set in front of him. Bley signed his confession and read it over Beijing radio. But Lech claims it was a fake confession because Bley was not in the BW command and didn’t know anything about it. Lech uses this oblique argument to cast doubt on the veracity of all the pilot confessions.

Lech also tells us, “Frank Schwable hunted and killed at night.” Schwable founded the first US night-fighter squadron during WWII which saw action in New Georgia, Bougainville, the Bismarck Archipelago, and the Northern Solomons. He flew more than 65 missions and was in the sky four to six hours every night. He was credited with four Zero kills and many small craft sunk. His commanding officer at that time was the same General Jerome who ordered the exhausted Schwable to take R&R in Australia which made him cry. Schwable was 43 years old when he deployed to Korea. He also left a wife and two children at home. Lech circuitously suggests Schwable enjoyed killing other men in combat. “Although Col. Schwable enjoyed flying, it would not be incorrect to state that he was addicted to combat. Addiction is not healthy physically or mentally. His desires, however, motivated his comrades.”83

Schwable had spent the post-WWII years working his way up the Pentagon bureaucracy, and he was on trajectory for high command. He had, in fact, been a top-level planner for BW deployment in Korea; his reports were read by the JCS.84 The Chinese captors did not initially know the prize they had in Schwable until his identity and MIA status had been announced at the Pentagon. The interrogation of Frank Schwable is a fascinating case of psychological penetration of a very stubborn mind. His interrogators were highly educated and trained professionals and Schwable’s testimony shows their skill. The Chinese art and science of interrogation was light years ahead of US methods which at that time still relied on physical torture and thuggery.

Schwable was a tough reactionary, and a very smart guy, and it took his interrogators five months of skilled determined interrogation to extract his confession. But once Schwable began to talk, he spilled the entire BW operation. Schwable gave three depositions. In his first deposition, he laid out the BW chain of command from the JCS and the timeline that Mahurin later corroborated. He also provided this assessment of officers’ reactions to first being informed of US BW use:

I do not say the following in defense of anyone, myself included, I merely report as an absolutely direct observation that every officer when first informed that the United States is using bacteriological warfare in Korea is both shocked and ashamed. I believe, without exception, we come to Korea as officers loyal to our people and our government and believe what we have always been told about bacteriological warfare ‒ that it is being developed only for use in retaliation in a third world war.

For those officers who come to Korea to find out that their own government has so completely deceived them by still proclaiming to the world that it is not using bacteriological warfare, makes them question mentally all the other things that the government proclaims about warfare in general and in Korea specifically.

None of us believes that bacteriological warfare has any place in war, since of all the weapons devise bacteriological bombs alone have as their primary objective casualties among civilians ‒ and that is utterly wrong in anybody’s conscience.85

The initial gag reaction of the younger pilots has the ring of truth, but it is hard to reconcile this inclusive show of personal remorse with Schwable’s back story. However, Schwable continues:

Squadron 513 operated in this manner throughout June and during the first week of July without any incident of an unusual nature.

An average of five aircraft a night normally covered the main supply routes along the western coast of Korea up to the Chong Chon River but with emphasis on the area from Pyongyang southward …

Security was far the most pressing problem affecting the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, since the operational phase of bacteriological warfare, as well as other type combat operations is controlled by the 5th Air Force.

Absolutely nothing could appear in writing on the subject. The word “bacteria” was not to be mentioned in any circumstances in Korea … 86

In his second deposition, Schwable describes a high-level meeting called by Gen. Jerome on May 25 at K-3 to inform his top staff of new orders. Up to this point, the BW operation has been run very discretely with random drops on the experimental scale as planned, but at this meeting Jerome informs them it is to be ramped up to operational level with a new goal – to create a contamination belt behind enemy lines across the 300-mile waist of the Korean peninsula! The interdiction task of stopping communist supply routes to the front lines with ordinance bombing and firebombing was not fulfilling the mission. The new interdiction strategy would add sowing epidemics behind enemy lines. The Marine Corps was given the task of contaminating the left flank, the Air Force would cover the long middle stretch, and the Navy was to take the right flank. The plan appeared particularly desperate and wanton, and a heated discussion followed Gen. Jerome’s announcement. Schwable reports these topics were discussed:

  1. Even if diseases could be established in the contamination belt, the enemy would rush supplies through with whatever safeguards they had, and it was likely contagion would spread to our side. “An epidemic is quite impersonal as to whom it effects.”
  2. More accurate night ordnance bombing would be more effective in interdiction of supplies than spreading disease.
  3. An intensified BW campaign would lead to the exposure of the myth that the US was not using BW and make liars of ourselves.
  4. Marine aviation was not equipped to go operational as BW deployment was not part of amphibious operations.
  5. There was resentment expressed that the Marine Corps was under the operational control of the 5thAir Force temporarily.
  6. There was also the opinion expressed that the US Government should admit to BW use if it was to go operational.
  7. It did not make sense to progress to operational stage in a war the size of the Korean War as BW is a strategic weapon directed solely at human mass populations in an effort to stop war production – a condition which did not apply in Korea.87

It was a long and thoughtful discussion by top field officers, but ultimately they followed orders. Schwable’s third deposition devoted itself entirely to the subject of security, meaning secrecy, and how to organize logistics at the delivery end with the fewest “need to know” personnel. The three testimonies taken together gave a very complete picture of the entire military strategy of the US BW campaign from the JCS to the bomb drop, including its ambitions, reservations, logistical problems, and the absolutely paranoid need for secrecy of the whole operation. Schwable’s three testimonies completely unveiled this horrific planned and secret genocide.

Schwable’s testimony sent shock waves across the globe when it was released in March, 1953. Eisenhower by then had become president. The ISC Report, which came out in September, 1952, during the presidential campaign, had already declared the US was guilty of germ warfare in Korea and China. Its evidence had included the controversial testimony of the four airmen. The US had more or less successfully shouted down the ISC Report by calling Joseph Needham and his fellow investigators “communist dupes.” But with Schwable’s testimony, here was the confession not of a junior 2nd Lt. pilot, but of a senior military staff officer involved in directing the US germ war program. Eisenhower who had campaigned on a bully pulpit for a better managed war decided it was time to wrap this one up.


The confessions of the US airmen who were educated and commissioned officers caught the military flat-footed. This was on top of the earlier POW confessions by regular soldiers, so clearly the Chinese interrogators had devised some new devious psychological means of extracting confessions as the POWs did not exhibit outward signs of battery.

One of the first theorists to provide an explanation was Joost Meerloo. He was a Dutchman, a medical doctor and psychologist who had a private psychiatric practice in The Hague when the Netherlands was overrun by the Nazis. After observing Nazi interrogation and propaganda techniques first hand, Meerloo escaped to England where he ran the Dutch Army’s psychological warfare program in-exile. In 1946 he emigrated to the US where he evolved his own theory of totalitarian mind control which he applied universally to both Nazi and Communist state propaganda machinery. Meerloo was not the only promoter of mind control theory,88 but he coined the term “menticide” and he was at the right place at the right time to promote his thesis to US generals and politicians.

Meerloo’s thesis introduced many new concepts to military psychology: the barbed wire disease; the need to collapse and the moment of sudden surrender; mental blackmail through overburdening guilt feelings; the law of survival vs. the law of loyalty; the conditioned reflex and the robotization of man; the womb state; the strategy of terror; purging rituals; and talking people into submission. Meerloo later published these concepts and other mind-control techniques including drug addiction and hypnotism in his 1956 book, The Rape of the Mind.89

Meerloo traced totalitarian mind control techniques to the Russian physiologist and Nobel laureate, Ivan Pavlov, and his research on conditioned reflex in dogs. No doubt there is some validity to this attribution, but a more influential set of sources was likely two Americans, Walter Lippmann who wrote the highly regarded book, Public Opinion, (1922)90 and two books by Edward Bernays, Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda (1928).91 Bernays’s works especially are how-to propaganda primers. He argued that the masses were governed by herd instinct. Music, symbols, images and chosen words could be used to manipulate people’s psychological fears and desires. Clever handlers, aka admen, could mold public opinions and public behaviors. Bernays’ thesis took on a much darker role in politics and under totalitarian rule.92

Brainwashing was the straw US war explainers grasped to defend the US internationally from the very ugly bacteriological warfare charge. The US defense against the BW charge at the UN and at other global venues was simple: (1) it was all a vile propaganda lie made up by the USSR, Communist China, and North Korea; (2) US POWs had been coerced into making these testimonies through the devious new oriental mental torture technique of brainwashing; (3) No fair! The Communists cheated! The Communists were liars and cheaters and could not be trusted!; and (4) Might makes Right, and whose friend do you want to be anyway? Ours or theirs? There were many particulars, but in a nutshell this denial, swaddled in a counter-accusation, wrapped in a whine, and rolled in a threat, was a full half of the US international defense to the BW charge. This stance is still widely upheld within the US today. The other half of the defense was hiding the evidence.93

To the American audience, which was really the only one of importance to the Truman Administration, the government’s strategy to defend itself against the Communist’s BW charge was to vehemently deny it to the American people. The good, Christian, United States had only recently saved the world from the twin evil tyrannies of German Nazism and Japanese Fascism. Now the US was confronting Godless Communism in another great existential moral struggle. The US public simply was not capable of absorbing the enormity of the BW truth, and what it meant about the USA as the world standard-bearer of Democracy. It was too traumatic and horrible for the US news media to contemplate, and for America’s self image as the Land of the Free, and therefore, it was possible for government authorities like Sec. of State Dean Acheson to dismiss the accusations as horrible Chinese communist lies.94 That was a much easier fable for Americans to believe, and privately-owned US newspapers across the country bought into this lie and did not dig for the truth. Meanwhile, Congressional repression of the Red Menace ratcheted up with prosecutions promised, and Schwable’s testimony quickly fell off the front page.

The brainwashing defense had a second advantage to top military brass which is transparent to us today, but survived unchallenged for many decades. The claim of brainwashing allowed the Army to redirect the POW confession topic in a very significant way. Instead of journalists, congressional committees, and eventually historians delving into the content of the prisoner testimonies to assay their truth or falsehood, brainwashing allowed the Army to re-set the inquiry agenda; how could captured American boys be mentally coerced into giving false testimony against their country? This had never happened in any previous American war. It was an interesting question to huff and puff about, but it was also a completely tangential subject to the truth of the BW charge.

It is very interesting to contrast the pilots’ testimonies with their subsequent retractions. The testimonies as a group are literature. They are individualistic and exhibit wide variation in writing style. They reveal each author’s thought process for they belabored and rewrote these texts in the desire for precise descriptions. The pilots’ testimonies do not shirk personal responsibility for their actions; they discuss their emotions and feelings, and they exhibit true Christian remorse. By contrast, the retractions lack the personal touch; as a group, they are generic and boilerplate. They appear to run down a checklist of claims of physical and mental torture. They were written under threat of court marshal which greatly undermines their authenticity.95

The blame game

In January, 1953, Eisenhower replaced Truman as president, and the Republican Party swept new faces into the White House after a 20-year hiatus. Admirals Joy and Libby rotated out of the truce negotiations, and Eisenhower appointed his old Army crony Lt. Gen. William Harrison, Jr. to carry on. In March, Joseph Stalin abruptly died, and shortly thereafter the Kremlin made peace overtures. The war was taxing the Soviet economy and the Politburo wanted a hastened conclusion. The armistice was signed by three generals on 27 July 1953.96 Remarkably, the ceasefire has endured so long given the endless litany of hostilities and threats.97

The focus shift from the content of the POW confessions to the mechanics of their acquisition by the Chinese captors was a slight-of-hand-shift-in-blame. The blame for the US Army’s military failure to achieve a victory in Korea rotated away from the administration and Pentagon brass in Washington DC with their imperial plans gone awry, and onto the backs of the conscripted foot soldiers who had broken down and confessed in captivity. Confession was effete in military service and a great blemish to American military prestige. This was a cowardly and scurrilous betrayal of the foot soldier by the Eisenhower Administration and the elite officer corps that has had lasting trickle-down repercussions until today.

The blame game began once the war was over. The disdained Communist nations of China and North Korea, which did not even have UN recognition as legitimate states had fought the US with its far superior weaponry to a draw on the battlefield. They had neutralized the secret use of a new biological weapon of mass destruction; they had proven themselves to be extremely sophisticated in psychological warfare, and they had prevailed in the international propaganda campaign. The war might be technically a draw regarding territory, but it sure felt like a loss at the Pentagon.

The Army began studying POWs soon after they were released into Freedom Village at Panmunjom, site of the drawn-out peace talks. Former US POWs were loaded onto transport ships for the two-week cruise back across the Pacific. This gave the men a chance to eat well and regain weight, and to begin to process their experience before meeting stateside families and an eager press wanting stories of captivity and torture. It also gave the Army psychologists the opportunity to debrief the men on the homeward voyage, and begin collecting data. Over the next five years some 4000 POW case histories were compiled. A high-level Defense Advisory Committee was charged with making the inquiry. The Committee’s first task was to formulate a new code of conduct document that would apply universally to all service branches and ranks. The Code of the U.S. Fighting Forces produced in 1955 simplified military and POW conduct down to six easy-to-remember articles.98 In 1958, five years after the war ended, the committee finally produced a synopsized 75-page report titled, POW – The Fight Continues After the Battle.99 The Report’s belated appearance aroused little fanfare. Concerned generals at the Pentagon gave interviews to investigative journalist Eugene Kinkead who then produced a muckraking book, In Every War but One.

The Army’s internal findings about POWs were a shock to all for they revealed that Army discipline in Korea during the first several months of the war had experienced widespread collapse at the lower chain of command. Kinkead quotes an anonymous Pentagon source he identifies as Col. Brown:

During this period, sizable units under fire in more than one division just broke and ran away. Many times the enemy was mistakenly given credit for destroying a particular group, whereas actually, at the time of his attack, our group as a fighting group never existed. Men refused to help each other or hang together. Groups as large as four hundred surrendered in a body. My God, with that number you can give a pretty good account of yourself with sticks!100

In the Home-by-Christmas rout of November, 1950–February, 1951, the PVA invasion pushed over-extended US/UN forces 400 miles backward on their heels well below the 38th Parallel. As the coldest winter of the century swept down out of Siberia, the lightly-dressed, frontline US forces faced a massive Chinese invasion. Non-commissioned officers, sergeants and corporals, lost command of their men. Without discipline and group cohesion organized resistance collapsed, and large numbers of troops simply gave up, “give-up-itis” it was called, and surrendered. Gen. Ridgeway’s arrival in February to take field command finally stopped the flight, however, Kinkead’s revelations of the committee’s findings got worse:

As everybody knows, twenty-one of the Americans captured during the Korean war decided to remain with the enemy – the only time in history that American captives have chosen not to return home … [A]lmost one out of three American prisoners in Korea was guilty of some sort of collaborations with the enemy  … [W]hen the war ended and the prisoners began to return, it became clear that some of them had behaved brutally towards their fellow prisoners; and for a time the newspapers carried reports of grisly incidents in the prison camps, including the murder of Americans by other Americans  … [D]uring the entire Korean conflict, not one of our men escaped from a permanent enemy prison camp and successfully made his way back to our lines.101

Kinkead also quoted startling statistics which he believed indicated a personal moral or disciplinary failure of the incarcerated men. Of the 7190 US soldiers taken prisoner 2730 of them or 38 percent died in captivity. Furthermore, this alarming prisoner mortality rate was not due primarily to communist maltreatment:

Communist treatment of prisoners, while it came nowhere near fulfilling the requirements of the Geneva Convention, rarely involved outright cruelty, being a highly novel blend of leniency and pressure.102

Kinkead maintained the explanation for the collapse of discipline, giving-up-itis, and failure to survive had to be different for each soldier, nevertheless, he generalize a set of cultural criteria – “home training of children, education, physical fitness, religious adherence, and the privilege of existing under the highest standard of living in the world” – as the root causes of soldier failure. In other words, Americans had become too soft. Kinkead’s informant, Col. Brown, also asserted the quality of draftees had deteriorated; new recruits into the Army after WWII had little loyalty to country or the Army. Furthermore, WWI had a marching army; WWII had a riding army. The mechanized army had no provision for failure of mechanization. A riding soldier required to walk is lost.103 This is what happened to US soldiers on the North Korean Death Marches who were forced to walk all night in snow and ice. They marched for many days.104 They had not trained for such hardship, and many gave out and were shot or abandoned to freeze by their KPA captors. It is estimated by survivors that 65–75 percent of all POW fatalities in the war occurred on the death marches that first winter of 1950–51.105

Kinkead’s book convinced many generals of the need to convert the US to the volunteer army, but that transition took another losing war in Viet Nam to bring to pass. Kinkead’s sources were exclusively Pentagon brass; he dumped full blame for the Home-by-Christmas rout and the subsequent POW collaborations squarely upon the individual soldiers themselves. In so doing, he failed to fully acknowledge the competency and motivation of the enemy; he did not explore the many larger structural and ideological problems within the downsizing US military following WWII, and he did not question the legitimacy of the imperial ambitions of US politicians, generals, and war profiteers.

Kinkead’s claim that US soldiers had become soft did not get a completely free ride. While the idea persisted at the Pentagon and in public perception through the Vietnam War, there were loud and angry rebuttals from veterans groups. The most comprehensive critique of Kinkead’s thesis eventually came from Albert D. Biderman, one of the Army’s own psychologists.106 Biderman interviewed and provided psychiatric counseling to a caseload of some 300 former POWs, but the statistical base of his study included most of the former POWs. Biderman found problems with the initial methods and conditions of the shipboard debriefings of the 4000 returning POWs which led to misconceptions in the subsequent Pentagon analysis. Regarding military indoctrination and authority Biderman proposes:

Soldiers who have been trained to look for leadership exclusively from those who have higher rank will adapt poorly to circumstances in which all those of higher rank … are removed and punished … 107

When one Army’s ridged authority is replaced with the captor’s ridged authority, then this situation can result:

Soldiers whose discipline is dependent upon the constant exercise of punitive sanctions by those in authority are likely to be disciplined subjects of whoever possesses the most powerful sanctions at the moment … [S]oldiers who are accustomed to receiving indoctrination lectures from those in authority specifying what their beliefs are to be on political, ideological, and religious issues will not resent and resist indoctrination efforts of a captor as will those who feel firmly that these are private matters to be decided on the basis of personal disposition, self-interest, and conviction … 108

Biderman’s main argument is that US soldiers were never given any training for the possibility of capture. The Army put little effort into teaching US soldiers the rationale for the war or explaining their enemy. Soldiers’ knowledge of their mission in Korea was simplistic. The enemy was “a horde of cowed, simple barbarians dominated by vile commissars who exude evil from every pore.”109 Biderman extends this argument to the American media as well which sought to vilify the North Koreans, not to understand their motivations:

Many leaders of these troops, and leaders of opinion as well, appear to trust themselves with the truth as little as they trust their troops. They too must hold a distorted image of the enemy as a literal diabolical incarnation, rather than to trust the comparative rectitude of the actual moral traditions they must defend, and to discern the true elements of evil in the enemy they fight. Blind hatred may have been a satisfactory basis on which to instill fighting spirits in leaders of men in armies of bygone days. The modern soldier must know that among the ranks of opponents he may face there will be dedicated patriots and humane idealists as well as rapers of women and butchers of children.110

Biderman’s second agenda was to educate the public and professional community that psychological torture is very real. Waged professionally against confined individuals or groups it can be effective, controlling, and potentially very debilitating. Biderman’s psychological torture is an evolved concept from Meerloo’s menticide, but the sinister elements remain.

Why confess?

Like phased sine waves, the three great confessional traditions of Communism, psychology and Christianity reinforced and peaked together in Korea in a phenomenologically interesting way. Not a lot is known about the Chinese interrogators in the West, but apparently they were older men than the POWs, they were educated teachers and many spoke English.111 Explaining the leniency policy gave the interrogators the opening to begin a conversation with the terrified prisoner. Once the conversation had begun and if it could be sustained over several meetings, psychoanalysis of the patient was discretely undertaken until the right buttons were pushed and the patient broke down and bared his soul. In essence, the Chinese interrogators medicalized the confessional process.

The war crimes which US soldiers acknowledged included genocide, murder, kidnapping of civilians, torture, bombing, firebombing, strafing, and facilitating Syngman Rhee and the murderous ROKA in their reign of terror. All of these crimes the US had been guilty of since US occupation in South Korea began in 1945. The confessions were signed by individual soldiers, but as a group it was a collective indictment of US imperial warmongering. The earliest US soldiers captured had been stationed in Korea to mentor the ROKA. They knew the crimes were true. As early as July 9, 1950, when the war was only two weeks old, the first broadcast by a captured US soldier was made over Seoul radio:

At that time an American Army officer of the 24th Infantry Division, taken prisoner some 48 hours before, made a nine hundred word broadcast in the enemy’s behalf over the Seoul radio. Purportedly speaking for all American soldiers, this man said, among other things, “We did not know at all the cause of the war and the real state of affairs, and we were compelled to fight against the people of Korea.”112

Soldiers captured a few months later during the Home-by-Christmas rout had witnessed plenty of bombing and firebombing results. Some had participated under orders in village massacres and forced evacuations, and many had civilian blood on their hands. It was a brutal invasion of North Korea, and few solders liked the war or their part in it. The refugees and civilians they came to liberate from Communism stared back at them with hatred and despair. Young soldiers were deeply traumatized by the violence they had witnessed and participated in. The Chinese interrogators offered psychological counseling and many Christian prisoners needed to confess.

“My political instructor helped me a lot. I talked my family problems over with him and he was sort of a father confessor. When I get home I’m going to act exactly like he said.” This soldier had been having problems with his wife on the one hand and with his mother and his mother-in-law on the other. Another instructor might have wielded no power over him whatever. But this particular instructor did.113

Many prisoners also signed petitions and appeals for peace, and these documents outraged Pentagon brass. US news outlets demanded that such treasonous acts by POWs must not go unpunished. In January, 1951, almost 300 prisoners of Camp 5 signed the Stockholm Peace Appeal. In the spring of 1952, many prisoners also signed petitions calling for an end of germ warfare after hearing lectures by captured US pilots. In February, 1953, many prisoners signed a petition to the United Nations General Assembly calling for a speedy agreement in the negotiations and the quick repatriation of POWs.114 The petitions brought out the brainwashing charges, but as one soldier later asked, “how can it be brainwashing if what they are telling you is something you already know is true?”

The Christian confession is a judgment of one’s soul, and cannot be taken lightly by the penitent. A Christian confession must be truthful and remorseful if it is to provide the sinner with absolution for God knows the truth already. The eternal existence of the individual soul separate from one’s mind and one’s body is the deepest, most profound ideological belief in Christianity, and most other great faith traditions, and only you are responsible for the quality of your soul. Under the profound obligation of his soul’s eternal existence, the testimonies of Col. Schwable and the other airmen are factual and true. Once Schwable agreed to confess, he had no choice but to be honest; he had no choice but to put the quality of his soul first.

Given this consequence, why did Schwable agree to confess? Schwable confessed for the same reason all the pilots confessed, because he first entered into dialogue with his interrogators. If he had stuck to name, rank, and serial number as Col. Bley did, and refused to say another word, the Chinese interrogators could have tortured an addicted night stalker like Schwable to death without ever extracting a confession. However, the leniency policy seduced him into dialogue. Once he realized his captors were not going to beat him, or kill him, he then thought he was smarter than they were and he could talk his way out. But once he started talking his ability to maintain secrecy was lost and it was only a matter of time before he spilled all. Schwable’s communist interrogators were far more experienced with the confession process than was he. And they had their own confessional tradition. They were also far more intelligent and capable than his internalized American racism would allow. The US was guilty of the horrible BW crime; his interrogators knew it, Schwable knew all the details of it, and over time and under great persuasion and what had to have been a great cathartic moment of self examination of his life, he came to realize how desperately his soul needed expiation.115

Total War II

While Kinkead and the Army brass lamented the unspartanlike quality of American soldiers, there were much larger factors which led to the Home-by-Christmas rout which had been glossed over. Gen. MacArthur is the most blameworthy for arrogantly launching the invasion of North Korea to begin with. Also eminently blameworthy were President Truman and Sec. of Defense Marshall who green-lighted MacArthur’s “hot pursuit” attempt to unify North and South with the reservation that the Soviets and the Chinese were not moving armies into the region. Therefore, the intelligence failure of Gen. Willoughby regarding the 300,000 Chinese PVA amassed at the border must also be spotlighted.

Another problem within the Army was its lack of preparedness for war. After James Forrestal suffered a nervous breakdown, Truman brought in Louis Johnson as Sec. of Defense to downsize the new Defense Dept. For 18 months, Johnson redirected Pentagon expenditures to build the Strategic Air Command to bomb the USSR to smithereens, while simultaneously dismantling WWII surplus. When war broke out the robust US military of WWII was largely mothballed. Truman, realizing late his blunder fired Johnson and brought George Marshall out of retirement to quickly rebuild military depth. The invasion force MacArthur had at his disposal was hurriedly assembled and many detachments had not trained together as a fighting unit. This was OK during September and October, 1950, when the army was advancing, but it proved disastrous in November and December when they needed to retreat.

Institutional racism also threatened Army cohesion. In spite of Truman’s order to desegregate the Army, little had been accomplished. Both James Thompson and Clarence Adams who served in separate heavy artillery batteries manned by Black soldiers claimed that white infantry units who should have provided cover for the battery retreat instead were ordered to retreat past them by rear command white officers. Black regiments and Turkish regiments were abandoned in forward positions.116 Racism against Asians also caused the US war planners to continuously underestimate the intelligence, the fighting skill, and the resolve of the two armies they were fighting.

The viciousness of the US bombing campaign, and the napalm firebombing campaign, and the massacres of Korean civilians by the ROKA, the ill treatment of the POWs at Koje Island, the allegations of US germ warfare, and the four years of post-WWII military occupation, the creation of the secessionist state of South Korea with the murderous Syngman Rhee regime in charge, all of this carnage left a bitter taste in the mouth of everybody under US/UN forces who engaged this war in some large or small capacity. It had a generational impact. The Korean War was an ugly war for the US and for its veterans. MacArthur’s landing at Inchon was the only event of the entire war for US war planners to cheer about. The Korean War did not have a glorious big bang ending. What was worse, that litany of war atrocities in Korea which clearly illustrated the true face of US imperial ambition had to be covered up to the American public.

Inside the United States secrecy about the events of the Korean War was disbursed in a plume. There were welcome home troop parades and Life Magazine spreads and fanfare, books written and medals awarded, but there was also a great anti-Communist fervor roiled up in Congress. The US political landscape which had shifted left in the 1920s and 1930s through industrial and farm labor organizing was under attack by the right wing through the new national security agencies of the state. The political pendulum in Washington had swung far to the right. The dirty war in Asia morphed into a Cold War abroad, and a domestic communist witch hunt. Returning Korean War veterans did so quietly; they did not become a vocal and demanding political force, and so the forgetting began.

Total war is the modern extension of the 2500-year-old political debate between Socrates and Thracymachus that Plato explored in the Republic. Should political justice serve the common man or the strong man? Thracymachus insisted that “might makes right”; the theory of total war is the logical extension of his thesis. And what a logic it is that proposes death as the ultimate arbiter of justice! However, it is not actually death which judges, since death ultimately claims us all, but really, it’s my asymmetric power to kill you. In the US prison camps on Koje Island, the US policy was logically consistent under the Thracymachian rubric. I am the victor, you are the vanquished; I am completely dominant, you must be completely submissive. I now control your body. You must do exactly as I order. If you do not, you will be physically punished. If you continue to resist, you will be killed by me for refusing to obey my authority.

There is a recognizable level of insanity to this logic since the initial point of conflict could have been insignificant, but the escalation of violent enforcement must always be overwhelming. Compromise is not allowed; only absolute submission to authority is permissible under this regime. The tragedy within the US today is that this modality of overwhelming violence has trickled-down to militarized police departments across America. If you are a Black male youth in Oakland or any other American city you are likely to be shot dead if you do not become completely submissive to police authority, regardless of any initial cause. Escalation of minor conflicts into legal murder occurs very quickly. Minor acts of rebellion are violently repressed while witnesses and survivors are terrorized.

Total war theory ensured that the Air Force bombing campaign against North Korea was a campaign of genocide. Four-million Koreans died in the war, most from bombing, firebombing, and strafing. In the first few months following the US intervention, the US had complete domination of Korean Airspace.117 The Air Force began a saturation bombing campaign flying formations of B-28s. This was a highly successful killing campaign from the air; it caused massive casualties and the bombing destruction of North Korean cities. It disrupted food supplies by bombing warehouses, granaries, and rail yards which caused punishing food shortage across the land. That coldest winter of the century, 1950–51, the winter of the death marches, was also the winter of widespread starvation across North Korea. The US Air Force was a new entity then, birthed from the old US Army Air Force, and made a co-equal branch of service under the also recently reorganized Joint Chiefs of Staff. Korea was the Air Force’s first war and its generals were gung-ho.

The Korean War must always be viewed in the context of the US’s big play for global hegemon following WWII. The role of the mightiest state on the planet was after all America’s Manifest Destiny since a young George Washington marched west into the Ohio Valley. It was the culmination of American exceptionalism. The post-WWII mindset in Washington DC was to grab the golden ring while the opportunity beckoned. But this ruthless ambition was tempered by a strange mix of humanism and pragmatism that brought the United Nations into fruition. There was an opportunity, however remote, for a major evolution in human political consciousness to flow into the world following the disasters of two mechanized total world wars within 30 years, but human civilization could not transcend the ideology of patriarchy. That concept had not yet been clearly articulated, and the opportunity for global disarmament and world peace was lost.

In judging the Korean War, we must consider both its aesthetics and its morality. If the war had been glorious, it would be celebrated still today. The litany of hidden US war crimes has been the cause of its erasure. The great ugliness of European imperialism embraced by the 13 Colonies has always been twofold – its racism and its eagerness to use overwhelming violence to subjugate people. No one desires to be colonized; there is always resistance, and that in turn requires continuous repression. The “horror” of the colonies must be hidden from the colonizer’s home public. The work of empire was done in secret behind walls of lies, propaganda slogans, false ideologies, heavy security and domestic surveillance. But total war requires records, and secrets eventually leak out. The Korean War was the US’s first play for grandeur on the global stage. It was ugly, and it set the course for subsequent US interventionism and global belligerence which has been equally ugly. That same cabal of militarists, politicians, and war profiteers who came to power in the US via the NSC 68 coup d’état, their heirs are still in charge.


1 Playing off the individual vs. the collective is an effective control technique in prison system management. Snitching, entrapment, blackmail, lying, starvation, and isolation are prisoner interrogation techniques that do not leave physical marks.

2 Monica Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War: The Untold History (Princeton and Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2019), 191.

3 Burchett and Winnington cite an article by Demaree Bess written in the November 1, 1952 issue of Saturday Evening Post in which Bess attributed the policy to the US Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) which presented it to the JCS on July 5, 1951, five days before the ceasefire talks began. It was then forwarded to the National Security Council (NSC) where the policy of voluntary repatriation was adopted by the Truman Administration. Wilfred Burchett and Alan Winnington, Koje Unscreened (London: Britain–China Friendship Committee, 1952), 5. A. B. Abrams reports on the discussion surrounding the adoption of this policy by Truman. A. B. Abrams, Immovable Object: North Korea’s 70 Years at War with American Power (Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press, 2020), 215–217.

4 Report of the International Scientific Commission for the Facts Concerning Bacterial Warfare in Korea and China (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1952), 1.

5 Thomas Powell, “The Korean War Remembered,” Socialism and Democracy, 34:2–3,

6 Gen. William F. Dean with William L. Worden, General Dean’s Story (New York: Viking Press, 1954). General Dean was captured early in the war. He sat out the remainder of the war in remote caves and huts as a trophy prisoner of North Korea alone with the company of his immediate Korean captors. The only outside visitor he received was Wilfred Burchett who brought a bottle of whiskey and interviewed him.

7 Allan R. Millett, War Behind the Wire: Koje-do Prison Camp, HistoryNet, (accessed 1/2/2021).

8 There were several smaller POW camps run by UN/US and ROKA forces on smaller islands and the South Korean mainland, but Koje Island held the vast majority of POWs.

9 Monica Kim introduces us to the central function of interrogation on both sides of the war. Monica Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War: The Untold History (Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2019), 33–78.

10 More than half of the 170,000 captured POWs were people displaced by the war, not KPA soldiers.

11 The Goyang Geumjeong Cave massacre and the Namyangju massacre were two such bloodbaths of women and children. The December Massacres alone claimed 20,000 victims. For an incomplete but sobering list of Korean War massacres see: “List of Massacres in South Korea,” in Wikipedia, June 15, 2020,

12 Later, the Chinese Air Force got the new Soviet MiG-15s and was able to challenge US bombing.

13 Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: University of Indiana Press, 1998) Chapters 6 and 9. In Chapter 6, the authors explain the lead up and deployment of biological weapons (BW) by the US Air Force in the winter of 1951–52. In Chapter 9 they explain the CIA’s role in BW deployment through the Office of Policy Coordination which likely caused the North Korean smallpox epidemic of spring 1951.

14 John Gunther does his best to give a sympathetic assessment of Gen. John R. Hodge’s military governorship of South Korea. John Gunther, The Riddle of MacArthur (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951), 179–186.

15 Quoted in Monica Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War (Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2019), 44–45.

16 United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK).

17 The People’s Republic of Korea (PRK) was the provisional government with widespread popular support in both North and South Korea. It formed on Sept 12, 1945 under the leadership of Lyuh Woo-Hyun. The PRK were radical social reformers who organized a national government through the revolutionary social institution of the People’s Committees. USMGIK, under Gen. Hodge’s orders outlawed the PRK throughout South Korea on Dec. 12, 1945. In the North, The People’s Committees were incorporated by Kim Il Sung into the DPRK government. Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 34, Nos. 2–3.

18 Powell, “The Korean War Remembered.”

19 Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army is considered one of the founding strategists of total war. His destructive “march to the sea” cut a swath of destruction 60 miles wide by 300 miles long across Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah.

20 The role of prisoner in this scheme was passive. POWs could no longer participate in the war efforts of either party; they sat out the remainder of the war as non-combatants, paying for their incarceration through labor. Remuneration for POW labor was a negotiated item of the succeeding truce. It was to be paid to the opposing state, not to the POWs. The US was signatory to the convention as the Army had long understood the advantage of legal process and paper trails; the formal rules of war including treaty outcomes were written by the powerful to favor the powerful.

21 Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War, 115.

22 Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War, 113.

23 Wilfred Burchett and Alan Winnington, Koje Unscreened (London: Britain–China Friendship Association, 1952).

24 Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, cover and frontispiece.

25 Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, 3.

26 Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, 3.

27 The electronic reproduction of Burchett and Winnington’s, Koje Unscreened, can be downloaded from the web site of the Bioweapon Truth Commission Global Online Library.

28 Walter G. Hermes, Truce Tents and Fighting Front (US Army Chief Military History, 1988), Chap 11. Hermes gives his account of the suppression of the POW revolts in the Koje prison camps in May–June of 1952. He singles out Brig. Gen. Thomas Trapnell, Commandant of the 187th Airborne Regiment as instrumental in putting down the rebellion.

29 Col. Jackson forced the Creek nation to cede 23 million acres, roughly the northern half of Alabama.

30 Regarding US occupation of the Philippines, “The US imperialist aggressors practiced genocide of monstrous proportions. They committed various forms of atrocities such as the massacres of troops and innocent civilians: pillage on women, homes and property; and ruthless employment of torture, such as dismemberment, the water cure and the rope torture. Zoning and concentration camps were resorted to in order to put civilians and combatants at their mercy” Wikipedia,

31 John Grenier, The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1607–1814 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

32 The Bodo League Massacre was a pre-planned genocide committed by the South Korean ROKA soldiers under orders from Syngman Rhee and Gen. MacArthur in June and July, 1950. Death toll estimates range from 60,000–200,000.

33 Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War, Chap. 3, 123–168.

34 “In November 1950, second-generation Japanese American Sam Miyamoto found himself on the Korean peninsula after having been drafted by the US military to work as a POW interrogator. The US military reasoned that since Korea had been a colony of Japan, interrogators could use Japanese to communicate with Korean POWs, even though many Koreans refused in practice. The Japanese American had been the object of bureaucrat rule and surveillance during World War II, but in the Korean War the Japanese American interrogator became a small military bureaucrat in the role of POW interrogator, responsible for assessing the ‘reliability’ of the Korean POW. …  Approximately 4000 Japanese Americans were in the Korean War serving in some linguistic capacity for the US military Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War, 124.

35 Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, 12–19.

36 Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, 27–30; Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War, 118–19.

37 The Red Cross (ICRC) did visit the Koje Island prison complex as a response to the worldwide publicity given the POW slaughter at Compound 62. Their reportage to the US press was a whitewash of unimportant details. A more detailed report of their investigation was buried in the French language: Revue International de la Croix Rouge, Geneva, April, 1942. Perhaps still stinging from rebukes of the Red Cross’s cover-up of NAZI concentration camp atrocities, this prison camp report does state the horrible camp conditions of sanitation, overcrowding, lack of medical supplies, poor food quality and quantity. It describes the prisoners’ complaints about reclassification. And it describes the sequence of events leading up to the mass shooting of the POWs. Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, 30.

38 Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, 33.

39 Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War, 120–121.

40 Spellman was a protégé of Pope Pius XII (1939–1958) who preached excommunication of communists. Pius XII was also criticized for not condemning WWII Nazi concentration camps.

41 Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, 26.

42 Armistice talks began in Kaesong on July 10, 1951. The talks were suspended for two months when the Air Force bombed the headquarters of the North Korean and Chinese delegation.

43 Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, 33.

44 Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War, 171–172.

45 Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, 48.

46 Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, 49–50. The prisoner’s demands were: (1) Immediate cessation of barbarous behavior; (2) No more voluntary repatriation; (3) No more screening and rearming prisoners (forced conscription); and (4) Recognition and cooperation with POW representative group. Colson deferred on Item 2. which was a decision of the negotiation table, but he agreed to the other three demands.

47 Walter G. Hermes presents the US Army’s official history of the Korean War including the General Dodd incident. However, there was no way to disguise just what a PR disaster it was for the US. Hermes’s history of the Korean War tries to spin the entire war in a favorable light, but his task is insurmountable, and he knows it. Walter G. Hermes, Truce Tents and Fighting Fronts (Washington DC.: Center of Military History, US Army, 1966), 242–255.

48 Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, 56.

49 Burchett and Winnington, Koje Unscreened, 60–65.

50 These numbers are provided by Monica Kim. Kinkead provides different numbers with a jingoist spin and no discussion of interrogation practices. Some Chinese POWs chose neutral country repatriation. Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War, 256–257. It is also reported that up to 50,000 ROKA and South Korean civilians POWs were imprisoned in mining camps in North Korea, never listed as POWs, and not returned after the war.

51 There were British, Australian, Canadian, Filipino, and Turkish POWs whose story is not discussed here.

52 Donald Knox, The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin (San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1985) Donald Knox, Uncertain Victory, v.2 (San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt, Inc., 1988). See also, Lewis H. Carlson (New York, Remembered Prisoners of a Forgotten War: An Oral History of Korean War POWs, St. Martin’s Press, 2002).

53 MacArthur’s push for “hot pursuit” to destroy the KPA was not well thought out or planned. It was cavalier and reckless. UN troops were stretched to the limit of resupply, and sorely short of occupation manpower, while winter weather rapidly approached.

54 Powell, “The Korean War Remembered.”

55 Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences (New York: McGraw Hill, 1964). MacArthur explains his battle strategy to slow the KPA invasion with US troops of the 8th Army strategically deployed from Japan to confront KPA column advances. His plan for the surprise invasion at Inchon is described (see pp. 327–375). MacArthur’s 438 page autobiography is entirely first-person reportage of events in his life and military career without any detours into humanism or self- reflection.

56 Gavin McCormack makes this case for the start of the war. Gavin McCormack, Cold War Hot War: An Australian Perspective on the Korean War (Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1984), 85–87.

57 Massacres of captured US POWs by KPA troops are discussed in several sources including eye-witness accounts of James Thompson (cited below) and William Shadish, M.D. (cited below.) MacArthur states, “On August 20th, the atrocities being committed on prisoners caused me to advise the enemy’s commander-in-chief that unless immediate orders were given for the cessation of such brutality, I would hold each and every enemy commander criminally accountable under the rules and precedents of war.” MacArthur, Reminiscences, 344.

58 James Thompson, True Colors: 1004 Days as a Prisoner of War (Port Washington, NY: Ashley Books, Inc., 1989), 19.

59 The PVA invasion across the Yalu River in October with superior numbers and night-fighting tactics caused a rout of US/UN forces, which was ugly and disorganized. During this bitterly cold winter of 1950-51, the PVA captured soldiers of US, Britain, Philippines, Turkey, and South Korean nationality. As POWs accumulated they were herded into groups of 4–500 or more and force marched 10–12 hrs per night at temperatures of -40F across the frozen, mountainous terrain of North Korea. There were multiple death marches from different capture points, some as long as four weeks duration. Shadish and Thompson were not in the same prisoner group, but each estimate that about half the POWs in his group died on the march.

60 Thompson, True Colors, 23.

61 William Shadish recounts the Chinese leniency policy was explained to him and 900 other captured POWs at the temporary Death Valley Camp before they were marched to the permanent Camp 5. William Shadish, M.D. with Lewis Carlson, When Hell Froze Over (New York, Lincoln and Shanghai: iUniverse, Inc., 2007), 24–25.

62 This interpretation will likely be controversial to some Marxists and scholars of Chinese history, but it offers a clear explanation if we wish to understand the psychology and motivations of the Chinese interrogators. Proselytizing, besides offering political and moral conversion, had many practical benefits for prison management.

63 The exact numbers of confessions given by US POWs is difficult to know. China has not released that information, but likely they were many hundreds. Some were transcribed and broadcast, but collectively the confessions were useful for manipulating prisoners.

64 Kinkead claims that among the “progressives” there were three broad types of collaborators – those who “lacked the moral stamina to resist even minimal emotional discomfort. They were, in effect cowards; there seems no other word in ordinary language appropriate to them.” Kinkead identifies the other two types as “opportunists” and “true converts.” Eugene Kinkead, In Every War But One (New York: W. W. Norton Company, 1959), 128.

65 “[T]he US military investigation board described ‘organizations [that] were formed for the purpose of resisting communist indoctrination.’ The exemplary organization was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK): This organization was formed in most of the camps and the membership included a few well-meaning individuals who sent anonymous notes bearing the signature ‘KKK’ to some of the better known ‘progressives’ warning them to desist from collaborating with the enemy. Beatings were also administered to progressives and informers.” Kim, The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War, 315.

66 “‘Playing it cool’ meant essentially withdrawing emotionally from any involvement with the captor that might entail either dramatically resistant or dramatically collaborative actions. The men would do what was necessary to survive and be left alone as much as possible. The men would withdraw into a shell that shielded them against further involvement with the Chinese … ” Albert D. Biderman, March to Calumny: The Story of American POWs in the Korean War (New York and London: The MacMillan Co., 1963), 45.

67 Biderman reports that physical brutality was used against stubborn or rebellious POWs, and sometimes psychological and physical violence were combined. A particularly recalcitrant POW could be ordered to stand or sit motionless at attention for hours without end. Prisoners were locked in small cages, isolated in the dark without room to stand or lie flat. A prisoner could be strung up with a noose around the neck while the other end of the rope was looped over a beam and secured to the prisoner’s hands behind his back. When the prisoner sagged from exhaustion, he began to hang himself in a form of self-inflicted torture. Biderman argues that the purpose of the confessions was always propaganda. Prisoners were also tricked to give signature samples on blank pages which were later typed in with confessions of massacres, germ warfare participation, and other despicable crimes. Biderman, March to Calumny, Chap. 3, 27–37.

68 Eugene Kinkead, In Every War, 126.

69 Report of the International Scientific Commission for the facts concerning Bacteriological Warfare in Korea and China (ISC Report), Beijing, 1952, 491–606.

70 ISC Report, 48.

71 ISC Report, 591.

72 ISC Report, 588.

73 ISC Report, 569.

74 Supplement of Peoples China, Beijing, Dec. 1, 1953.

75 Joost Meerloo, The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing (Mansfield Center, CT: Martino Publishing, 2015).

76 “Deposition of 2nd Lt. Richard G. Voss, August 27, 1952” in “Depositions of Nineteen Capture U.S. Airmen on Their Participation in Germ Warfare in Korea,” Supplement of People’s China, Beijing, December 1, 1953, 48–51.

77 “Depositions by Col. Walker M. Mahurin, August 10, 1953” in “Depositions of Nineteen Captured U.S. Airmen on Their Participation in Germ Warfare in Korea,” Supplement of People’s China, Beijing, December 1, 1953, 17.

78 Mahurin, Supplement, 17.

79 Mahurin, Supplement, 15.

80 Mahurin, Supplement, 14.

81 Walker M. Mahurin, Honest John: The Autobiography of Walker M. Mahurin (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1962).

82 It becomes apparent from reading both his testimony and his memoir that Mahurin’s captors figured out to play up to his vanity. Once he began talking he had to make his personal role important. Mahurin reveals his official Air Force tour of Ft. Detrick, drops names of Pentagon generals, and spills logistical plans, some of this information he might have kept away from his interrogators.

83 Raymond B. Lech, Tortured into Fake Confession: The Dishonoring of Korean War Prisoner Col. Frank H. Schwable (Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2011), 38.

84 Lech states, “It’s extremely important to realize how highly placed the colonel was in the Marine Corps. Not all colonels spend time in the Pentagon. Frank Schwable held positions during the transition period between two wars that were steps on the way up to general.” He then goes on to cite Schwable’s impressive Pentagon resume. Lech, Tortured into Fake Confession, 27–29.

85 “Depositions by Colonel Frank H. Schwable, Former Chief of Staff of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, U.S. Marine Corps,” “Main Deposition of Colonel Frank H. Schwable,” Supplement of People’s China, Beijing, March 16, 1953, 3–13.

86 Schwable, Supplement, 6–7.

87 “Second deposition of Colonel Frank H. Schwable,” Supplement of Peoples China, Beijing, March 16, 1953, 10–11.

88 For example, journalist Edward Hunter defined brainwashing as a mix of ancient and modern voodoo. “What they had undergone was more like witchcraft, with its incantations, trances, and potions, with a strange flair of science about it all, like a devil dancer in a tuxedo, carrying his magic brew in a test tube.” Edward Hunter, Brainwashing: The Story of the Men Who Defied It (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1956), 3–4.

89 Joost Meerloo, The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1956).

90 Walter Lippman, Public Opinion (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & Co., 1922).

91 Edward Bernays, Crystallizing Public Opinion (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1923) and Edward Bernays, Propaganda (New York: Horace Liveright, 1928).

92 According to his biographer who calls him “the Father of Spin,” Bernays was emotionally a very complex personality. Given his famous uncle, Sigmund Freud, it is hard to believe he would be naïve to the political applications of his research. He expressed deep remorse that Joseph Goebbels had read his books. Larry Tye, The Father of Spin: Edward Bernays & the Birth of PR (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1998).

93 Dave Chaddock arrives at a very similar conclusion. Dave Chaddock, This Must Be the Place: How the US Waged Germ Warfare In the Korean War and Denied It Ever Since (Seattle, WA: Bennett & Hastings Publishing, 2013).

94 A.B. Abrams makes this argument that BW was too unimaginably awful a weapon for US public or the US media to believe. Abrams, Immovable Object, 136–144.

95 Pilot retractions are available at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Cold War International History Project. accessed 11/2/2020.

96 Gen. Harrison signed for the UN Command (UNC); Gen. Nam Il signed for the KPA; Gen. Peng Dehuai signed for the PVA. South Korea was not included as a signatory. Armistice is defined as a temporary cessation of hostilities.

97 The continuous snarling between the US and North Korea benefits only the military caste of both countries.

98 The Code of the U.S. Fighting Force was enacted by Executive Order 10631 and signed by Dwight Eisenhower on August 7, 1955. “Code of the United States Fighting Force,” in Wikipedia, March 3, 2021,

99 U.S. Secretary of Defense Advisory Committee on Prisoners of War, POW—The Fight Continues After the Battle (Washington, DC: US Govt. Printing Office, reprinted 2020).

100 Eugene Kinkead, In Every War but One (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1959), 171.

101 Regarding collaboration, these ranged from serious offenses such as writing confessions and informing on fellow prisoners, to fairly innocuous Christmas broadcasts to family back home. As an example of prisoner-on-prisoner brutality, Kinkead mentions the case of Sergeant James C. Gallagher who was subsequently court martialed and convicted for forcibly removing two seriously injured soldiers from a temporary shelter and left them to freeze to death in the snow. Kinkead, In Every War but One, 16–17.

102 Kinkead, In Every War, 17.

103 Foot care was lax in US Army. Kinkead, Every War, 171.

104 James Thompson claimed his group of POWs marched 400 miles. At 20 miles per night it would take 20 days. Clarence Adams was taken prisoner north of Pyongyang and stated his forced march was 10 days. Dr. William Shadish was captured on Nov. 30, 1950 near the town of Kunuri. His Death March was also about 10 days.

105 “Two Korean War combat physicians and POWs, Sidney Esensten and William Shadish, believe the fatality rate for Americans captured in the last six months of 1950 to be much higher than the official figures. Esensten puts the figures at 75 percent [Sidney Esensten, “Memories of Life as a POW 35 Years Later.” The Greybeards, July–August 1997, 6] and Shadish at more than 65 percent, (interview with editor, Lewis H. Carlson, March 17, 2004).” Shadish’s estimate of the death toll is cited by Carlson in: Clarence Adams, An American Dream: The Life of an African American Soldier and POW who Spent Twelve Years in Communist China, edited by, Della Adams and Lewis H, Carlson (Amherst and Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), Chapter 3, footnote 1, 152.

106 Biderman, March to Calumny.

107 Biderman, March to Calumny, 181.

108 Biderman, March to Calumny, 181.

109 Biderman, March to Calumny, 178–179

110 Biderman, March to Calumny, 179.

111 Regarding the Chinese interrogators: “All of them had good backgrounds in American history and geography, and understood our political and economic systems thoroughly. They had access to the latest newspapers, magazines, and books published in this country, and even listened to our radio programs.” Kinkead, In Every War, 99.

112 Kinkead, In Every War, 18.

113 Kinkead, In Every War, 131.

114 Clarence Adams, An American Dream, The Life of an African American Soldier and POW Who Spent Twelve Years in Communist China (Amherst and Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), 56.

115 Schwable stayed in the military after his repatriation until he retired. He was brought before a Marine Corps Court of Inquiry which decided not to press Court Marshal charges. He was relieved of the privilege of command and given a desk job as an aircraft inspector. Lech, Tortured into Fake Confession, 167).

116 Thompson, True Colors, 20–29; Adams, Dream, 39–45.

117 The US relied primarily on two WWII bombers, the Boeing B-29 Super fortress, and the Douglas B-26B/C Invader which combined flew more than 80,000 sorties in three years. The first six months of the war from June–Dec. 1950, the US bombers were unopposed in the airspace over Korea. In Dec., as noted earlier, the new Russian MiG-15 jets appeared in the war and many bombers were shot down. The US Air Force responded by bringing in the F-86 Sabre jets to escort the bombers on their runs, and dogfights between fighter jets occurred.



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  1. This is by far and away the best account of the Korean War that I have seen. I knew (personally, for about 20 years) the late Prof Joseph Needham, the head of the ISC, and I know that he was a very sincere and brilliant scientist. I am as certain as can be, that he was correct in his conclusions about the US use of BW.
    During my NS, I served in a regiment (The Royal Norfolk Regiment) that had just returned from Korea. I was interested in the remark: ” Black regiments and Turkish regiments were abandoned in forward positions.116 ” as my fellow soldiers explained their hatred for Americans by recounting how the US units on either side of them in the front line, had retreated during the night without bothering to inform them! So, it wasn’t just Blacks and Turks that got stitched up. Their degree of hatred was expressed by one Sgt who while instructing us in unarmed combat, said: ” Now, we call this “unarmed combat” but you aren’t really all that “unarmed”! No! See! You’ve got your boots. Now, as the saying is: “Practice makes perfect”, but I wouldn’t want you to practice on your mates. However, there’s always plenty of Yanks to to be found in the Blue Room, in Prince of Wales Road, so there’s always that!”

    Since Winnington’s and Burchette’s reports in the 1950s, I have not seen a mention anywhere else of the horrors of the POW camps. I’m glad to see that it is not entirely forgotten.

    • 10-4, Fernando.
      If wars were fought only by those were all for it, there’s a chance wars would be small;………..and infrequent.

    • The success of S. Korea outcome invited the thwarted attempt in Vietnam. One could find similar themes in the Philippine occupation and violent war.

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