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American prisoners of war who refused to return to America at the end of the Korean War, 1960s


On 27 June 1953, United Nations Command (UNC) and North Korean communist forces signed an armistice to end three years of fighting in Korea. Although the US-led UNC failed to conquer the entire peninsula, it successfully repelled communist attacks south of the 38th parallel.

Furthermore, although unlike the Geneva Convention of 1947, which mandated the wholesale exchange of all POWs, President Truman's policy of voluntary repatriation proved highly successful: 47,000 Chinese and North Korean prisoners of war chose not to return. struck a propaganda blow against his Marxist governments. to his motherland.

In September, however, 23 US prisoners of war also refused repatriation, sparking a nationwide debate among journalists, politicians, military officials, psychiatrists, and the soldiers themselves.

During the 90-day cooling-off period, the GI was held in a neutral zone in Panmunjom, but only two changed their minds in response to requests from US officials and letters from the GI's families.

The generally accepted reason at the time was that he was brainwashed while in prison. This was effectively confirmed by 149 other POWs held by the Chinese/North Koreans, who "reported that their captors had made a systematic effort to break their beliefs and entice them to cooperate".

Time and Newsweek published articles in 21 looking for flaws to explain why they were brainwashed. Journals blamed reasons like alcohol, STDs, low IQ, and being "sick."

Race played an important role in the entire nationwide debate, especially since three out of 21 nonimmigrants were black. Discussions of black non-repatriates in the white press shed light on public perceptions of communism and civil rights in the mid-1950s.

For example, several publications noted special efforts by the Chinese to woo black American soldiers, emphasizing that all members of society were treated equally in their Marxist nation.

All 23 US troops were placed in neutral territory during the 90-day cooling-off period. 2 people who left the group were court-martialed for abandonment and cooperation, one given a 20-year sentence, and the other 10. The remaining 21 were dishonestly discharged and traveled to China.

Once in China, soldiers were sent to a collective farm to work. Within 1.5 years three of them fled and sought refuge at the British Embassy in Peking. By 1958, 7 more soldiers had left China.

By 1966, only two remained in China. One of 21 returned to the US in 1965 and explained his actions in 1953 as being "inspired by anger at the memory of his idol, General Douglas MacArthur, who supported the use of nuclear weapons to end the war." During his two years as a prisoner, he felt increasingly abandoned by America".

One in three black soldiers (who returned to the US in 1966) explained that the reason they went to China in 1953 was discrimination in the US. In 1991, he said: "Brainwashed? The Chinese brainwashed me. The black man was brainwashed long before the Korea War".

As soldiers withdrew to the US, an additional reason emerged: a handful had apparently informed their comrades in POW camps, and were afraid to return, rather than dismiss the economic and political situation in the United States.

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