I'm looking for examples of countries that have armed prisoners and sent them to war? Were the prisoners coerced, or were they offered amnesty should they survive?
I believe that often is subjective.
Here are some examples from World War II:
- Strafbattalions in Nazi Germany were created from prisoners
- Dirlewanger Brigade in Nazi Germany was originally formed for anti-partisan actions, but took part in war battles, later.
- Shtrafbats, in the Soviet Union, were created mostly from courted privates and officers for Red Army.
The Wikipedia article on Penal military units links to other examples.
In the Soviet Union Order No. 227, soldiers and officers convicted of cowardice and/or disciplinary problems were assigned to penal battalions. Penal battalions were sent to the most dangerous sections of the front lines. There was a possibility to achieve amnesty through outstanding military service, though no amnesty was guaranteed.
Relevant parts of the order:
The Supreme General Headquarters of the Red Army commands:
Form within each Front from one up to three (depending on the situation) penal battalions (800 persons) where commanders and high commanders and appropriate commissars of all service arms who have been guilty of a breach of discipline due to cowardice or bewilderment will be sent, and put them on more difficult sectors of the front to give them an opportunity to redeem by blood their crimes against the Motherland.
Form within the limits of each army up to ten (depending on the situation) penal companies (from 150 to 200 persons in each) where ordinary soldiers and low-ranking commanders who have been guilty of a breach of discipline due to cowardice or bewilderment will be routed, and put them at difficult sectors of the army to give them an opportunity to redeem by blood their crimes against the Motherland.
I have no information about amnesty for Nazi soldiers.
The French Foreign Legion was originally a fighting force made up of criminals and other undesirables.
The purpose of the Foreign Legion was to remove disruptive elements from society and put them to use fighting the enemies of France. Recruits included failed revolutionaries from the rest of Europe, soldiers from the disbanded Swiss and German mercenary regiments of the Bourbon monarchy, and troublemakers in general, both foreign and French.
In ancient times some states would in times of extreme adversity arm their slaves and promise hem freedom if they acquitted themselves well in the fight.
However by the time of the Achaean war in the 140s BC, the League's army had decreased in strength and efficiency. The League was even reduced to freeing and arming 12,000 slaves.
"Prisoners" fall into two categories. The first is military men court-martialed for cowardice, or other offenses, that are given a chance to redeem themselves. The second is criminals sent to war.
The first kind of prisoners were quite common particularly in totalitarian societies such as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union (e.g. in World War II).
The second type was less common, but used from time to time. By definition, criminals are aggressive people suited to fighting, and who need a chance to redeem themselves.
Sometimes the "amnesty" was offered before the criminals were caught. The British (and other countries) did this in the 17th and 18th century with pirates. Provided that they agreed not to attack ships of their own country, such people were given letters of pardon that immunized them from punishment for attacking the ships of OTHER countries. That process turned "pirates" into "privateers."
The British army has sent convicts to war, perhaps most notably during the time of Wellington and the Peninsular War. Convicted criminals could choose between prison/execution or joining the army. An army of such men lead Wellington to describe them as "The scum of the earth" after the looting that occurred following the battle of Vitoria.
I know it has been common practice in the USA in the past to send convicted criminals to serve in the military in time of war in lieu of jail or some other kind of community service. Particularly during WWII, when thousands of men were paroled contingent on military service.
During the unit self-intro bit at the beginning of Stripes, I believe at least one recruit had been sent by a judge. That is high fiction of course, but I know of a least one reference in non-fiction: In the opening chapters of Hill 488 Ray Hildreth relates being given a choice of jail or military service after some "youthful indiscretions"
This is cheifly something that was done back when there was a draft (and thus men of fighting age would have been at a premium), not something done today with the USA's all-volunteer armed forces. So the reference in Stripes was probably an anachronisim. Today the USA armed forces generally do not even accept convicted (violent) felons. For example, the current Army regs(pdf) on this require a waiver for a lot of criminal offenses, and a lot more cannot be waived.
A large part of the French "Black Legion" under the American Colonel Tate, which invaded Wales in February 1797, was made up of convicts. An action referred to as "a singular expedition of jail birds" by French author Captain Desbriere.
The plan of attack was devised by General Lazare Hoche, who had also conceived a similarly ill-fated attack on Ireland a couple of months earlier. The idea was that a small force would be landed in a relatively unprotected part of the British Isles. They could then use a form of guerilla warfare to cause damage out of proportion to their small number and provoke a lower-class revolt.
Hoche credited Carnot with the first idea of organizing a chouannerie or system of guerilla warfare in England, for the purpose of giving the inhabitants freedom and inducing them to adopt a republican form of government. With this object in view, the invaders, recruited from the galleys and prisons, and promised full enjoyment of their booty, immunity from their crimes, and a remission of all past sentences, were to proclaim themselves the "avengers of liberty and enemies of tyrants"… as they advanced they were to throw open the prisons and replenish their ranks by a fresh supply of indigenous malefactors
Napoleon and the Invasion of England, Vol 1, Wheeler & Broadley (London, 1907), pg 38
Hoche himself described the force, raised in secret, in a letter to the Directorate, on the 11th December 1796…
It is composed of six hundred men from all the prisons in my district, and they are collected in two forts or islands to obviate the possibility of escape. I associate with them six hundred picked convicts from the galleys, still wearing their irons.
Irishman Wolfe Tone had seen this force, whilst in France, and described them
I have witnessed a review of the Black Legion, about 1800 strong. These are the bandits destined for England, and are unmitigated blackguards.
As Wheeler & Broadley rightly noted, "No plan was assuredly ever conceived more entirely calculated to defeat its own object".
In the event, the force that landed near Fishguard, on 22nd February 1797, consisted of around 1,400 men (with no artillery or cavalry). After a brief stand-off with the local militia force, the French surrendered without a fight on the 24th February, having shown little intention of doing anything else.
During World War II, the Germans captured quite a number of Soviet troops who were from the far eastern, Asiatic regions of the Soviet Union. The Germans pressed some of these Soviet Asiatic prisoners into service in the German Army, particularly to fill out low-quality static, positional defense units. The Allies captured some of these troops in Normandy in 1944. There is an amazing but true story of a Korean man who was forced to serve in the Japanese Army. He was captured during one of the Soviet vs. Japanese fights that took place shortly prior to World War II breaking out globally. The Soviets offered him the opportunity to serve in the Soviet Army and he took it. Later, he was captured by the Germans and forced to serve in the German Army until he was taken prisoner by the Western Allies.
My father reported that approximately 30 of 130 men in his RAF squadron (247 China British) were former inmates of HM Prisons who were allowed to enlist for the duration of WW2 and would not have to return to complete their sentence. I have recorded this in Nash, John C.,"Across an Ocean and Time: The World as Seen by Harry Nash", Ottawa, Canada: Nash Information Services Inc., 2010. ISBN 0-88769-013-0. Available freely at https://archive.org/details/AcrossAnOceanAndTime_201411}.
I have not, unfortunately, so far discovered documentation of this program, which I would, of course, welcome.
France, in the late 1940's, had a part of their colonial army made up of German prisoners of war and French collaborationists, taken from prisons and prisoner of war camps. It was called the Overseas Light Infantry Battalion. It was similar to the Battalions of Light Infantry of Africa, though I think the latter was almost all released prisoners who had not regained their civil rights.
One should add to the accepted answer that besides "regular" criminals as well as "soldiers and officers convicted of cowardice or/and common crimes", some political prisoners were also sent to serve in the Red Army during WWII. One of the most prominent examples is Konstantin Rokossovsky who went from a political prisoner to one of the most important Soviet military commanders.
The American/Canadian First Special Services Force of WWII -- the Canadians sent their best volunteers, the US Army emptied their brigs. Intended to perform special operations in Norway and Sweden, they were trained in parachuting, skiing, amphibious operations, and close combat. Instead, they landed in the Aleutians -- after the Japanese had left -- and served in Italy, where their assault of Monte la Difensa practically ended the unit as a fighting force.
As a practical matter, many post commanders seized this opportunity to empty their stockades and rid themselves of hard-case troublemakers in all categories. Prisoners frequently were given the option of continuing their sentences or 'volunteering' for Frederick's Force.
Source: "The Devil's Brigade", Robert Adelman and George Walton. p 47 (Kindle Edition)
Frederick, the unit commander, wrote a memo in which he said:
From one post I received a telegram that said, 'All volunteers for your command have departed this date. Direct the officer in charge and armed guards to return to this station as soon as practicable.
All personnel transferred to your command are en route except 42 AWOL, 26 men sick not in line of duty and requiring further treatment, and 14 men in confinement awaiting final action on remission of sentences. These volunteers for your command will be transferred as soon as available.
On page 59 of the same book, the process by which Canadian members were chosen is discussed:
there were approximately 85 of us who signed up, but after taking medical and IQ tests there were only 26 left. Then Colonel Williams talked to us and advised anyone that was married to drop out as the Force was likely to have a short but lively life. I believe we ended up with sixteen men who went to Helena for training.
The Prussian Marshal Blucher, although born in the territory of Mecklenburg in Germany began his military career by enlisting in the Swedish army, in the Hussars in 1758. He was captured by the Prussians in 1760 during the Seven Years War and accepted the opportunity to switch sides and serve in the Prussian army, which he continued to do, on and off, for more than 50 years thereafter, playing an important part in the Napoleonic Wars including in Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo in 1815.
I do not know if that was common in those days, but other members of his family enlisted in the Danish or Prussian armies, so it seems there was flexibility about such matters then.
I also read somewhere of an occasion in 1919 during the Russian Civil War when 'Red' (Communist/Bolshevik) troops captured by the anti-communist Whites were formed up in line, saw their officers shot in front of them, and were then told that any of them who wanted to volunteer to serve in the White army should step forward. They were not actually told what would happen to any who refused, but being able to guess, they all stepped forward.
I am currently writing a book on a the extraordinary life of Ralph Emerson Lee. Lee's criminal record began in 1910 at age 15 until 1946. There are newspaper accounts (do not know yet if the accounts are TRUE.) of him being released from the Az. State Prison in 1918 to serve in the army. He was supposedly released at the end of WWI with an Honorable Discharge:*
*Franklin Evening Star " (Franklin, Indiana) 25 Sept 1924, page 6 "… he (Lee) was sentenced to the Arizona peniteniary. He was confined there until the outbreak of WWI. When the war started, Arizona had a ruling that permitted the release of all young prisoners who would promise to enter the service overseas and Lee availed himself of this opportunity. He went to France and served with credit and at the end of the war, received an honorable discharge."
Despite deep digging I have not been able to substantiate this. The man was a gifted artist and could have forged the discharge document.
"Stories of the Great War for Public Speakers" by William Herbert Brown, page 200: "The Oregon State Penitentiary officials were proud of a service flag in that insitution which contained forty stars when the great war closed, representing forty prisoners who had been paroled to enlist in the U.S. army or navy. They made good to such an extent that nearly every one of them was restored to citizenship by the Governor of Oregon."
If one googles the current situation in our military branches of service one will find numerous articles that because of the enlistment crisis--men are being offered service in the military as an alternative to jail. Each branch of our military has a "waiver" system where a prisoner can opt out of jail and serve in the military. One of many examples:
Above is the link to one such article. Appeared in Salon magazine, Feb 2, 2006:
Would appreciate any and all referenced sources about the state of Arizona releasing young prisoners to serve overseas in WWI
I heard stories about incarcerated Americans in the U.S. penal system who were allowed to serve in hazardous capacities or duties in support of military operations during the Vietnam war/conflict. One example; CIA recruited crew members for dangerous reconnaissance flights crossing into then North Vietnam to include overflights entering China and Russian airspace. These stories were not collaborated nor verified true and accurate, as far as I know, and all seem preposterous because the very nature of such action using convicted felons would have violated American code of law. Such stories likely created and made up by desperate individuals with criminal pasts seems now woven into part of America's 'urban legends'.
Beginning in 2001, U.S. forces raided Afghanistan to first topple the Taliban and then gradually ensure the complete eradication of the Taliban from Afghan territory while rebuilding core institutions in the country. The U.S. also implemented counter-insurgency troops in the country to protect the civilians from Taliban attacks, and to allow the Afghan government to establish it's position in the country in a steady manner. However, despite all of the measures undertaken, insurgency clashes and Taliban attacks continue to persist in the country. The current war situation in Afghanistan continues to claim civilian lives through bombings, crossfires, assassinations, and improvised explosive devices.
The long history of Iraq has been marred several times by the ravages of war. The Second Kurdish–Iraqi War (1974–1975), the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988), and the Gulf War (1990–1991) are some of the major wars fought by Iraq in the past century. In 2003, U.S. forces invaded Iraq to overthrow the Iraqi government led by Saddam Hussein, and the war that ensured ultimately led to Saddam’s defeat in the war and his consequent death. War and conflict also appears to haunt the country in the present time, as much of the country is in the grip of the Iraqi Civil War. In 2014, the Iraqi insurgency achieved the status of a Civil War when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) conquered major areas in northern Iraq. The ISIS militants, not limiting their actions to only Iraq, have also terrorized much of the world with their acts of extreme violence. This has forced countries like the U.S., Iran, Syria, and other countries to aid the Iraqi Government to resist the growth and spread of ISIS militants. A shocking study reveals that around half a million Iraqis, including those killed directly or indirectly, lost their lives to warfare between 2003 and 2011.
Currently, the gravity of the civil war situation in Syria is drawing attention from across the globe. The war started with the spread of the wave of Arab Spring protests in Syria in the early spring of 2011. The revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests swept across Syria, demanding the eradication of President Bashar al-Assad’s government. The government’s forces meted out a violent response to these protests, which were heavily criticized by the European Union and the United Nations. The civilian protests soon transformed into an armed rebellion, and escalated into the Syrian Civil War of the present day. The war has displaced more than 11 million Syrians from their homelands, and claimed the lives of at least 250,000 people. Although peace initiatives have been attempted, fighting continues on as of the end of 2017.
The rape of men: the darkest secret of war
Dying of shame: a Congolese rape victim, currently resident in Uganda. This man’s wife has left him, as she was unable to accept what happened. He attempted suicide at the end of last year. Photograph: Will Storr for the Observer
Dying of shame: a Congolese rape victim, currently resident in Uganda. This man’s wife has left him, as she was unable to accept what happened. He attempted suicide at the end of last year. Photograph: Will Storr for the Observer
O f all the secrets of war, there is one that is so well kept that it exists mostly as a rumour. It is usually denied by the perpetrator and his victim. Governments, aid agencies and human rights defenders at the UN barely acknowledge its possibility. Yet every now and then someone gathers the courage to tell of it. This is just what happened on an ordinary afternoon in the office of a kind and careful counsellor in Kampala, Uganda. For four years Eunice Owiny had been employed by Makerere University's Refugee Law Project (RLP) to help displaced people from all over Africa work through their traumas. This particular case, though, was a puzzle. A female client was having marital difficulties. "My husband can't have sex," she complained. "He feels very bad about this. I'm sure there's something he's keeping from me."
Owiny invited the husband in. For a while they got nowhere. Then Owiny asked the wife to leave. The man then murmured cryptically: "It happened to me." Owiny frowned. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an old sanitary pad. "Mama Eunice," he said. "I am in pain. I have to use this."
Laying the pus-covered pad on the desk in front of him, he gave up his secret. During his escape from the civil war in neighbouring Congo, he had been separated from his wife and taken by rebels. His captors raped him, three times a day, every day for three years. And he wasn't the only one. He watched as man after man was taken and raped. The wounds of one were so grievous that he died in the cell in front of him.
"That was hard for me to take," Owiny tells me today. "There are certain things you just don't believe can happen to a man, you get me? But I know now that sexual violence against men is a huge problem. Everybody has heard the women's stories. But nobody has heard the men's."
It's not just in East Africa that these stories remain unheard. One of the few academics to have looked into the issue in any detail is Lara Stemple, of the University of California's Health and Human Rights Law Project. Her study Male Rape and Human Rights notes incidents of male sexual violence as a weapon of wartime or political aggression in countries such as Chile, Greece, Croatia, Iran, Kuwait, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. Twenty-one per cent of Sri Lankan males who were seen at a London torture treatment centre reported sexual abuse while in detention. In El Salvador, 76% of male political prisoners surveyed in the 1980s described at least one incidence of sexual torture. A study of 6,000 concentration-camp inmates in Sarajevo found that 80% of men reported having been raped.
I've come to Kampala to hear the stories of the few brave men who have agreed to speak to me: a rare opportunity to find out about a controversial and deeply taboo issue. In Uganda, survivors are at risk of arrest by police, as they are likely to assume that they're gay – a crime in this country and in 38 of the 53 African nations. They will probably be ostracised by friends, rejected by family and turned away by the UN and the myriad international NGOs that are equipped, trained and ready to help women. They are wounded, isolated and in danger. In the words of Owiny: "They are despised."
But they are willing to talk, thanks largely to the RLP's British director, Dr Chris Dolan. Dolan first heard of wartime sexual violence against men in the late 1990s while researching his PhD in northern Uganda, and he sensed that the problem might be dramatically underestimated. Keen to gain a fuller grasp of its depth and nature, he put up posters throughout Kampala in June 2009 announcing a "workshop" on the issue in a local school. On the day, 150 men arrived. In a burst of candour, one attendee admitted: "It's happened to all of us here." It soon became known among Uganda's 200,000-strong refugee population that the RLP were helping men who had been raped during conflict. Slowly, more victims began to come forward.
I meet Jean Paul on the hot, dusty roof of the RLP's HQ in Old Kampala. He wears a scarlet high-buttoned shirt and holds himself with his neck lowered, his eyes cast towards the ground, as if in apology for his impressive height. He has a prominent upper lip that shakes continually – a nervous condition that makes him appear as if he's on the verge of tears.
Jean Paul was at university in Congo, studying electronic engineering, when his father – a wealthy businessman – was accused by the army of aiding the enemy and shot dead. Jean Paul fled in January 2009, only to be abducted by rebels. Along with six other men and six women he was marched to a forest in the Virunga National Park.
Later that day, the rebels and their prisoners met up with their cohorts who were camped out in the woods. Small camp fires could be seen here and there between the shadowy ranks of trees. While the women were sent off to prepare food and coffee, 12 armed fighters surrounded the men. From his place on the ground, Jean Paul looked up to see the commander leaning over them. In his 50s, he was bald, fat and in military uniform. He wore a red bandana around his neck and had strings of leaves tied around his elbows.
"You are all spies," the commander said. "I will show you how we punish spies." He pointed to Jean Paul. "Remove your clothes and take a position like a Muslim man."
Jean Paul thought he was joking. He shook his head and said: "I cannot do these things."
The commander called a rebel over. Jean Paul could see that he was only about nine years old. He was told, "Beat this man and remove this clothes." The boy attacked him with his gun butt. Eventually, Jean Paul begged: "Okay, okay. I will take off my clothes." Once naked, two rebels held him in a kneeling position with his head pushed towards the earth.
At this point, Jean Paul breaks off. The shaking in his lip more pronounced than ever, he lowers his head a little further and says: "I am sorry for the things I am going to say now." The commander put his left hand on the back of his skull and used his right to beat him on the backside "like a horse". Singing a witch doctor song, and with everybody watching, the commander then began. The moment he started, Jean Paul vomited.
Eleven rebels waited in a queue and raped Jean Paul in turn. When he was too exhausted to hold himself up, the next attacker would wrap his arm under Jean Paul's hips and lift him by the stomach. He bled freely: "Many, many, many bleeding," he says, "I could feel it like water." Each of the male prisoners was raped 11 times that night and every night that followed.
On the ninth day, they were looking for firewood when Jean Paul spotted a huge tree with roots that formed a small grotto of shadows. Seizing his moment, he crawled in and watched, trembling, as the rebel guards searched for him. After five hours of watching their feet as they hunted for him, he listened as they came up with a plan: they would let off a round of gunfire and tell the commander that Jean Paul had been killed. Eventually he emerged, weak from his ordeal and his diet of only two bananas per day during his captivity. Dressed only in his underpants, he crawled through the undergrowth "slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly, like a snake" back into town.
"The organisations working on sexual violence don't talk about it:" Chris Dolan, director of the Refugee Law Project. Photograph: Will Storr for the Observer
Today, despite his hospital treatment, Jean Paul still bleeds when he walks. Like many victims, the wounds are such that he's supposed to restrict his diet to soft foods such as bananas, which are expensive, and Jean Paul can only afford maize and millet. His brother keeps asking what's wrong with him. "I don't want to tell him," says Jean Paul. "I fear he will say: 'Now, my brother is not a man.'"
It is for this reason that both perpetrator and victim enter a conspiracy of silence and why male survivors often find, once their story is discovered, that they lose the support and comfort of those around them. In the patriarchal societies found in many developing countries, gender roles are strictly defined.
"In Africa no man is allowed to be vulnerable," says RLP's gender officer Salome Atim. "You have to be masculine, strong. You should never break down or cry. A man must be a leader and provide for the whole family. When he fails to reach that set standard, society perceives that there is something wrong."
Often, she says, wives who discover their husbands have been raped decide to leave them. "They ask me: 'So now how am I going to live with him? As what? Is this still a husband? Is it a wife?' They ask, 'If he can be raped, who is protecting me?' There's one family I have been working closely with in which the husband has been raped twice. When his wife discovered this, she went home, packed her belongings, picked up their child and left. Of course that brought down this man's heart."
Back at RLP I'm told about the other ways in which their clients have been made to suffer. Men aren't simply raped, they are forced to penetrate holes in banana trees that run with acidic sap, to sit with their genitals over a fire, to drag rocks tied to their penis, to give oral sex to queues of soldiers, to be penetrated with screwdrivers and sticks. Atim has now seen so many male survivors that, frequently, she can spot them the moment they sit down. "They tend to lean forward and will often sit on one buttock," she tells me. "When they cough, they grab their lower regions. At times, they will stand up and there's blood on the chair. And they often have some kind of smell."
Because there has been so little research into the rape of men during war, it's not possible to say with any certainty why it happens or even how common it is – although a rare 2010 survey, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 22% of men and 30% of women in Eastern Congo reported conflict-related sexual violence. As for Atim, she says: "Our staff are overwhelmed by the cases we've got, but in terms of actual numbers? This is the tip of the iceberg."
Later on I speak with Dr Angella Ntinda, who treats referrals from the RLP. She tells me: "Eight out of 10 patients from RLP will be talking about some sort of sexual abuse."
"Eight out of 10 men?" I clarify.
"No. Men and women," she says.
The research by Lara Stemple at the University of California doesn't only show that male sexual violence is a component of wars all over the world, it also suggests that international aid organisations are failing male victims. Her study cites a review of 4,076 NGOs that have addressed wartime sexual violence. Only 3% of them mentioned the experience of men in their literature. "Typically," Stemple says, "as a passing reference."
“One man was told: ‘We have a programme for vulnerable women but not men”: a Congolese rape victim. Photograph: Will Storr for the Observer
On my last night I arrive at the house of Chris Dolan. We're high on a hill, watching the sun go down over the neighbourhoods of Salama Road and Luwafu, with Lake Victoria in the far distance. As the air turns from blue to mauve to black, a muddled galaxy of white, green and orange bulbs flickers on a pointillist accident spilled over distant valleys and hills. A magnificent hubbub rises from it all. Babies screaming, children playing, cicadas, chickens, songbirds, cows, televisions and, floating above it all, the call to prayer at a distant mosque.
Stemple's findings on the failure of aid agencies is no surprise to Dolan. "The organisations working on sexual and gender-based violence don't talk about it," he says. "It's systematically silenced. If you're very, very lucky they'll give it a tangential mention at the end of a report. You might get five seconds of: 'Oh and men can also be the victims of sexual violence.' But there's no data, no discussion."
As part of an attempt to correct this, the RLP produced a documentary in 2010 called Gender Against Men. When it was screened, Dolan says that attempts were made to stop him. "Were these attempts by people in well-known, international aid agencies?" I ask.
"Yes," he replies. "There's a fear among them that this is a zero-sum game that there's a pre-defined cake and if you start talking about men, you're going to somehow eat a chunk of this cake that's taken them a long time to bake." Dolan points to a November 2006 UN report that followed an international conference on sexual violence in this area of East Africa.
"I know for a fact that the people behind the report insisted the definition of rape be restricted to women," he says, adding that one of the RLP's donors, Dutch Oxfam, refused to provide any more funding unless he'd promise that 70% of his client base was female. He also recalls a man whose case was "particularly bad" and was referred to the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR. "They told him: 'We have a programme for vulnerable women, but not men.'"
It reminds me of a scene described by Eunice Owiny: "There is a married couple," she said. "The man has been raped, the woman has been raped. Disclosure is easy for the woman. She gets the medical treatment, she gets the attention, she's supported by so many organisations. But the man is inside, dying."
"In a nutshell, that's exactly what happens," Dolan agrees. "Part of the activism around women's rights is: 'Let's prove that women are as good as men.' But the other side is you should look at the fact that men can be weak and vulnerable."
Margot Wallström, the UN special representative of the secretary-general for sexual violence in conflict, insists in a statement that the UNHCR extends its services to refugees of both genders. But she concedes that the "great stigma" men face suggests that the real number of survivors is higher than that reported. Wallström says the focus remains on women because they are "overwhelmingly" the victims. Nevertheless, she adds, "we do know of many cases of men and boys being raped."
But when I contact Stemple by email, she describes a "constant drum beat that women are the rape victims" and a milieu in which men are treated as a "monolithic perpetrator class".
"International human rights law leaves out men in nearly all instruments designed to address sexual violence," she continues. "The UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000 treats wartime sexual violence as something that only impacts on women and girls… Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced $44m to implement this resolution. Because of its entirely exclusive focus on female victims, it seems unlikely that any of these new funds will reach the thousands of men and boys who suffer from this kind of abuse. Ignoring male rape not only neglects men, it also harms women by reinforcing a viewpoint that equates 'female' with 'victim', thus hampering our ability to see women as strong and empowered. In the same way, silence about male victims reinforces unhealthy expectations about men and their supposed invulnerability."
Considering Dolan's finding that "female rape is significantly underreported and male rape almost never", I ask Stemple if, following her research, she believes it might be a hitherto unimagined part of all wars. "No one knows, but I do think it's safe to say that it's likely that it's been a part of many wars throughout history and that taboo has played a part in the silence."
As I leave Uganda, there's a detail of a story that I can't forget. Before receiving help from the RLP, one man went to see his local doctor. He told him he had been raped four times, that he was injured and depressed and his wife had threatened to leave him. The doctor gave him a Panadol.
This week in history: China enters the Korean War
John J. Muccio, United States ambassador to Korea, who was decorated with a Medal of Merit, watches President Truman pins the Distinguished Service Medal on the shirt of Gen. Douglas MacArthur during a ceremony at the airstrip on Wake Island, in this Oct. 14, 1950, file photo. Associated Press file photo
On Nov. 25-26, 1950, the Chinese Army entered the Korean War in earnest with a violent attack against the American and United Nations forces in North Korea. The 300,000-man Chinese offensive caught the U.N. forces off guard, largely because of U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur's belief that China would not openly enter the war, and vastly expanded the conflict.
The Korean War began when communist North Korean forces invaded democratic South Korea on June 25, 1950. The unexpected surprise attack pushed the South Korean (Republic of Korea or ROK) forces and the small number of American troops in the country to the southeastern corner of the peninsula, holding a line around the city of Pusan. With a United Nations mandate approved to defend South Korea from northern aggression, the United States and its allies began sending troops to hold the Pusan perimeter.
In September, MacArthur, who commanded the U.N. forces from Tokyo, launched a surprise amphibious raid behind North Korean lines, with the intent of trapping North Korean forces in the south and cutting them off from a line of retreat. Moving too slowly, MacArthur was unable to trap the North Koreans, but the Inchon landings did force the North Koreans out of the south in a panicked rout.
With the south now liberated, MacArthur's forces began the invasion of North Korea. The advance proved successful, as the U.N. troops moved steadily, defeating North Korean units in a series of engagements along the way. Despite his success, MacArthur's advance caused serious consternation in Washington, as many believed that as the U.N. forces approached the border with China, the large Asian nation, with its seemingly endless reserves of manpower, would enter the fight.
One year earlier the communists had succeeded in conquering China, forcing the legitimate Chinese government into exile on Taiwan. The new People's Republic of China, with its leader Mao Zedong, was an enigma. Nobody knew for sure what position China would take if the entirety of North Korea, which shared a nearly 900-mile-long border with China, fell to the U.N. forces. Did Mao believe that the U.N. troops would then invade his country in order to restore the legitimate government?
In the book “15 Stars: Eisenhower, MacArthur, Marshall: Three Generals Who Saved the American Century,” historian Stanley Weintraub wrote that on Oct. 8, “(President Harry) Truman cabled MacArthur … warning of 'the possible intervention of Chinese Communist forces.' Four days later, on Oct. 12, a contrary CIA assessment argued that 'barring a Soviet decision for global war,' Chinese involvement 'will probably be confined to continued covert assistance.’ ”
So concerned with the possibility of Chinese intervention, Truman had ordered MacArthur not to approach the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China. To be sure, MacArthur's forces had been battling smaller units of Chinese forces fighting alongside North Korean troops since late October. The belief was that these soldiers were volunteers, no doubt countenanced by the Chinese government, but not acting for it.
MacArthur agreed with the CIA and refused to believe that Mao would be so reckless as to take on the might of the world's greatest superpower, armed as it was with nuclear weapons. Additionally, he perhaps also believed, as the CIA did, that communist China was dancing to the tune that Joseph Stalin was calling from Moscow. What many failed to understand, however, was that despite his communist alliance with the Soviet Union, Mao was eager to prove himself to the world as his own man.
For Mao, however, the conflict reflected not only a foreign policy within the context of the Cold War, with whatever potential advantages and risks came with it, but participation in the war had an important domestic angle as well.
In the book, “The Rise and Fall of Communism,” historian Archie Brown wrote: “(Mao) saw that there would also be opportunities to be exploited. External threat could help consolidate domestic control, and by taking the fight to the Americans, Mao would strengthen his prestige among Communists internally. He was certainly ready to make use of heightened tension as an excuse for cracking down on even potential opposition. The number of executions of their own citizens by the Chinese Communists increased sharply after the Korean War began.”
To this end, Mao had been moving Chinese forces away from the coast facing Taiwan and moving them into position near the Korean border. To his inner circle, Mao stated his readiness to help the North Koreans during the summer, and by the fall, with his communist ally in retreat, he was preparing 300,000 soldiers for intervention.
On Nov. 24, MacArthur launched a major offensive, what was intended to finally defeat all North Korean forces and end the war. U.S. troops and their allies were told that they would be home before Christmas. Though the advance appeared to make headway, American and allied units failed to maintain cohesive lines and often lost contact with one another. The Chinese counter-attack began shortly before midnight on Nov. 25.
One unit that bore the brunt of the Chinese onslaught was the United States Army 2nd Division, Ninth Regiment. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Lt. Gene Takahashi had been, along with his family, among the over 100,000 Japanese-Americans interned in the United States during World War II. In Korea, Takahashi served in the Ninth Regiment’s Love Company, made up of about 170 men, where he commanded a platoon. The company had crossed the cold but relatively shallow Chongchon River and held a perimeter on its west bank. Unaware of the impending Chinese assault, the company had little ammo and few grenades.
When the Chinese attacked, Love Company was taken completely by surprise. The company's captain had been hit, and Takahashi held the perimeter for as long as he could before ordering his men to fall back to higher ground. Rallying his men, who were dropping like flies to Chinese bullets and bombs, Takahashi set up a position on the hill.
In the book, “The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War,” historian David Halberstam wrote: “Sergeant First Class Arthur Lee … one of Takahashi's best men, was handling a machine gun just to his left. If Takahashi was going to die taking on what appeared to be the entire Chinese Army, he was glad it was next to Lee. … Suddenly the only sound coming from Lee was a gurgle. He had been hit in the throat and was drowning in his own blood. The others fought on, and the Chinese made charge after charge, getting closer to their little knoll all the time, until they finally pushed the Americans off the hill. Almost every man was killed.”
Love Company was completely destroyed. Takahashi and a few survivors were taken prisoner by the Chinese but were able to escape and make it back to American lines.
Impact of Liberation
Liberators confronted unspeakable conditions in the Nazi camps, where piles of corpses lay unburied. Only after the liberation of these camps was the full scope of Nazi horrors exposed to the world. The small percentage of inmates who survived resembled skeletons because of the demands of forced labor and the lack of food, compounded by months and years of maltreatment. Many were so weak that they could hardly move. Disease remained an ever-present danger, and many of the camps had to be burned down to prevent the spread of epidemics. Survivors of the camps faced a long and difficult road to recovery.
Allied casualties were generally much higher whenever they were thrown into combat opposite seasoned SS troops. Consequently the SS were both feared and admired for their military prowess. The allies feared that the SS would continue to offer armed underground resistance to the occupational authorities, therefore they determined to thoroughly disband and discredit this able military force before the eyes of not only the world, but of the German people as well. Consequently, the members of the SS received the most brutal treatment at the hands of the allied forces. Often accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the allies sought to expunge the very memory of this elite Nazi formation. The truth of the matter is that the Waffen SS was no more criminal than any other fighting unit, allied OR axis, and the treatment it’s members received at the hands of the allies was unjust and often criminal. Since SS members were stationed at concentration camps as guards, the allies took advantage of this fact and used it to condemn the members of the SS as a whole. Of course it should go without saying that simply because someone was a guard at a camp does not mean he or she was a criminal. What follows is a series of reports concerning the treatment Waffen SS soldiers received at the hands of the allies.
One such case was the cold-blooded slaying of an estimated 700 troops of the 8 th SS Mountain Division. These troops who had fought with honorable distinction had earlier captured a US field hospital. Although the German troops had conducted themselves properly they were, when subsequently captured by the US Army, routinely separated and gunned down in groups by squads of American troops.
The term neutralized of course is a politically correct (or cowardly) way of saying that prisoners-of-war were rounded up and machine-gunned in groups. Accounts of the mass murder of prisoners-of-war at Dachau have been described in at least two books 'The Day of the Americans by Nerin Gun, Fleet Publishing Company, New York, and, Deliverance Day - The Last Hours at Dachau by Michael Selzer Lippincot, Philadelphia
Martin Brech Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York
Martin Brech lives in Mahopac, New York. When he wrote this memoir essay in 1990, he was an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Brech holds a master’s degree in theology from Columbia University, and is a Unitarian-Universalist minister.
This essay was published in The Journal of Historical Review, Summer 1990 (Vol. 10, No. 2), pp. 161-166. (Revised, updated: Nov. 2008)
War Behind The Wire: Koje-do Prison Camp
Americans learned a hard lesson when North Korean prisoners took over their compound-and kidnapped a general.
The Korean prisoners of war stood in sullen ranks, disciplined, belligerent, ready for battle even though their only weapons were homemade spears, clubs, and incendiary grenades. Their enemy-also disciplined and far better armed, with bayoneted rifles, tear gas, and tanks-stood ready to assault the POWs and recapture Compound 76 of Camp One, Koje-do, a hilly 150-square-mile island 20 miles off the southeastern coast of Korea. In May 1952, the Korean War continued hundreds of miles to the north, but on Koje-do prisoners were waging war as tenaciously as on Sniper Ridge or Porkchop Hill-and here the Communists were winning. N Modern Western ideas about POWs had developed during the American Civil War. The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 transformed these into international law, further refined after World War I in the Geneva “POW Convention” of 1929. That prisoners of war could be a strategic asset was a legacy of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, and the Geneva Convention of 1949 defined the ultimate responsibility of a detaining power to return POWs to the nation that put them in uniform. Conferees adopted these revisions because the Soviet Union was holding German and Japanese POWs as slave laborers, reparations for the damage inflicted on Russia in World War II. Even though tens of thousands of non-Germans-largely Soviet citizens-had served in the Wehrmacht and resisted repatriation in 1945 and 1946, the 1949 Convention revisions were largely silent on the right of POWs to refuse repatriation and on the detaining power’s right to forcibly repatriate unwilling prisoners.
The Geneva Convention of 1949 assumed that prisoners would want to be liberated or exchanged and did not anticipate that the POWs might actually see themselves as unarmed combatants. Although the convention addressed attempts to escape or to attack other prisoners, it never foresaw prison camp violence on a mass scale directed against camp authorities. It was even more unthinkable that POWs would delay their own repatriation with such attacks, or that POWs refusing repatriation would resort to violent resistance. But even as an armistice loomed in Korea in 1952, prisoners in a U.S. Army-run POW camp were scheming to seize the American who ran the camp, Brig. Gen. Francis T. Dodd, and then extort from him a confession that prisoners were abused on his watch. Indeed, the senior officers of the United Nations Command in Korea were about to get a startling education in a POW war behind the wire.
Brutality characterized the Korean conflict for years before the North Korean invasion of June 25, 1950. During the postwar American occupation of Korea (1945-1948), American troops, the Korean National Police, and the Korean Constabulary (the forerunner of the South Korean Army) crushed a major Communist-directed rebellion in October and November of 1946. In March and April of 1948, the South Korean Labor (Communist) Party began a continuous insurgency to prevent United Nations-sponsored elections that would establish the Republic of Korea.
Although the Communists could not stop South Korea from gaining independence on August 15, 1948, the withdrawal of all but 5,000 U.S. Army troops accelerated the partisan war. Trained and organized as guerrillas, Communist Koreans could field up to around 10,000 fighters in 1948 and 1949, supported by probably five times as many South Korean Communist Party sympathizers. Korean security forces, assisted by American weapons and more than 500 advisers of the U.S. Army Military Advisory Group Korea, finally suppressed the insurgency in April and May of 1950.
All the belligerents committed atrocities. The ardently anti-Communist Korean National Police and guerrilla bands led by dedicated South Korean Communist Party members were the worst offenders.
The South Korean government acknowledges the deaths of 7,235 security forces members, with all other deaths in this period estimated at 15,000 to 30,000. South Korean President Syngman Rhee’s critics put the “innocent” deaths at no less than 30,000 and perhaps as high as 100,000. When the Rhee government declared the insurgency crushed in May 1950, there were five to six thousand insurgents and suspected sympathizers in South Korean jails, but more than a thousand remained in hiding, ready to help the impending North Korean invasion. These South Korean Communist Party partisans would play a central role in the fate of the Communist POWs.
In June 1950, as nine divisions of the Korean People’s Army rolled south across the Han River valley toward Pusan, the North Koreans dragooned many South Korean enlisted men into their army. The Communists shot or imprisoned South Korean leaders and “class enemies.” During the capture of Seoul, North Korean soldiers shot the wounded in two hospitals.
Meanwhile, as they withdrew south toward the Taegu-Pusan enclave, South Korea’s national police jailors and South Korean MPs executed their Communist prisoners in Seoul, Wonju, and Kwangju rather than take them south or risk their escape. Only the intervention of an American colonel prevented a mass execution in Pusan. Alan Winnington and Wilfred Burchett, Western journalists sympathetic to the Communists, saw a mass grave near Taejo?n with 1,000 to 1,500 victims. Helpless U.S. Army advisers verified that South Koreans had executed those buried there.
When American infantrymen entered the war near Osan on July 5, they became both POWs and victims. The first North Korean killing-of four captive GIs-took place at Chonui on July 9. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, heading the U.S. Army’s Far East Command and the UN Command, called on all the combatants to observe the Geneva Convention in an announcement broadcast in English and Korean on July 19, 1950. He ordered American commanders to investigate atrocities and to ensure that their troops treated POWs well.
The UN Command, whose forces were retreating in July and August of 1950, did not have many Korean POWs. However, the number of prisoners mounted to 1,899 by the end of August and soared with the Communist defeats of September and October of 1950. By October 31, the UN Command had custody of 176,822 POWs (essentially, any detained Korean), concentrated in three areas: the captured North Korean capital of Pyo?ngyang (80,647) and the southern ports of Inchon (33,478) and Pusan (62,697).
The POW administrators could not provide for their wards-in addition to more than 150,000 refugees-so any South Korean civilian who could convince an interrogator that he had been forced into service as a North Korean soldier or supply bearer was released. South Korean soldiers forced into the North Korean army were turned over to the South Korean army’s military police and intelligence officers for further screening most remained in custody, along with northern anti-Communist guerrillas who had fled south. All were terrified that their South Korean jailors would execute or torture them, so they were initially docile and cooperative.
The Communist defeat in the autumn of 1950 also created complex problems in categorizing the detainees. North Korean soldiers appeared easy to identify they surrendered in uniform on the battlefield. Yet interrogators soon realized that many of them were impressed South Koreans who were not Communists (or who had made rapid reconversions to anti-Communism). Others were North Koreans, also impressed into the North Korean army, who would have fled North Korea if they could have.
South Koreans posed other problems. When the U.S. Eighth Army and five South Korean army divisions advanced across the 38th Parallel in October, they left behind the U.S. 2nd and 25th Infantry Divisions, three reconstituted South Korean divisions, and the Korean National Police in South Korea to deal with North Korean army stragglers (estimated at 10,000) and thousands of South Korean Communist Party partisans. All Communist Party members and sympathizers in South Korea became fair game. American and British soldiers-and Western journalists-witnessed mass summary executions around Seoul. For any Korean who thought he could be suspected of collaborating, surrendering to the Americans looked attractive.
The Chinese military intervention of October and November of 1950 threw the United Nations’ prisoner management into even greater confusion. As the Chinese People’s Volunteers Force liberated Pyo?ngyang from the Eighth Army and forced the U.S. X Corps and South Korean I Corps to evacuate northeastern Korea by sea, the UN Command evacuated its Pyo?ngyang POW population, along with more than 900,000 additional refugees from North Korea. No longer shooting suspected Communists-at American insistence-the Rhee government wanted refugees and POWs treated alike until their loyalty could be established. Not unreasonably, South Korean counterintelligence officers suspected that some of the refugees were Communist infiltrators and long-term moles sent to reestablish the South Korean Labor Party.
Most of the POWs and shipborne refugees went directly to Koje-do Island, with some shipped to Cheju-do Island, the traditional last bastion of Koreans against foreign invaders and the potential evacuation site for Rhee’s government. Temporarily, the rest of the POWs went to the Pusan area. At the end of December 1950, UN Command had 137,175 Koreans and 616 Chinese in custody.
The Koje-do camps, managed by the U.S. Army 3rd Logistical Command, had been evacuated directly from the areas of Inchon and Seoul. The first 53,588 Korean POWs built their own camps, primarily tents and wooden barracks. Even though UN Command’s military fortunes began to improve by February 1951, the UN Command jailors continued transferring POWs to Koje-do because of threats of guerrilla raids and jailbreaks. By March, 28 different Koje-do compounds had become the home of 139,796 captives, mostly North Koreans-and far more than their intended maximum capacity. The Pusan camps held 8,000 hospital patients, 420 political figures, 2,670 high-ranking officers, 3,500 intelligence targets, and 2,500 administrative and medical personnel.
Because the POWs still seemed docile and cooperative, the camps remained undermanned with ill-trained, poorly armed guards: one South Korean guard for every 26 prisoners and one American guard for every 200-plus prisoners. The POWs and civilian refugees mingled daily while constructing the camp, cooking, and disposing of waste. More refugees served as clerical and medical personnel and interrogator-translators. The camp administrators, focused on short-term management challenges, judged the prisoners cooperative. The Red Cross reported the camps minimally acceptable. A joint U.S.-Korean counterintelligence team warned, however, that the North Korean POW population included a large group of Communist militants capable of violent resistance to the UN Command prison policies.
Three Korean POWs later emerged as leaders of the resistance movement. Sr. Col. Yi (or Lee) Hak-ku had led a mutiny against the commander of the North Korean army’s 13th Division, who would not surrender his battered, helpless division, trapped north of the Pusan Perimeter. Division Chief of Staff Lee had shot (but not killed) that commander and fled to Eighth Army lines with his division’s classified documents. He requested a transfer to the South Korean army, which was denied. Off he went to a prison pen, knowing his former employer, North Korea, would put him to death if he returned home.
Sr. Col. Hong Chol, an intelligence officer, had also been cooperative on surrender, and may have surrendered on purpose, to organize the camps. Pak Sang-hyon, the ultimate commander of the Koje-do resistance, a civilian and Soviet citizen, had been born and raised in the Asian Soviet Union, where his family of radical nationalists had found refuge from the Japanese. He became a full-fledged member of the Communist Party USSR in 1940.
In 1945 Pak joined the Red Army (unwillingly) as a Korean language interpreter, with the nominal rank of captain, for the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and northern Korea. He became vice chairman of the North Korean Labor Party’s branch in rich, populous, and unhappy Hwanghae Province, south of Pyo?ngyang. In October 1950, even before the advancing Eighth Army arrived, Pak fled his station. In the crisis, North Korean leader Kim Il-sung decreed summary execution to any Communist Party member who tore up his party card and deserted his post. To avoid being shot, Pak surrendered to an American patrol on October 21, 1950, in the uniform of a North Korean army private.
Three UN Command initiatives in 1950 and 1951 contributed to the ballooning of the resistance movement among the Communist prisoners of war: an effort to reduce epidemic gastrointestinal diseases among the POWs the political-religious reeducation programs conducted for the POWs and the investigation into war crimes committed by the North Koreans and Chinese. None of these UN Command programs alone was responsible for the resistance movement, but all provided extra opportunities for the Communists to reduce UN Command access to the POWs, as Communist planners turned the POWs into weapons of warfare.
Jailors’ access to their prisoners was the issue at the heart of the violence that was about to envelop Koje-do. American and South Korean prison authorities needed access to the prisoners to determine if they wanted to be repatriated to North Korea or China after the war ended.
But the Communist leaders, both in China and in North Korea, sought to prevent embarrassing mass defections to South Korea or Formosa. So they decided to try to force the UN Command to abandon any sort of screening process, thereby prolonging the war and undermining U.S.-South Korean relations.
Given the primitive conditions and overcrowding of the Koje-do prison complex in early 1951, the UN Command’s public health doctors were not surprised when dysentery, diarrhea, and a variety of enteric fevers broke out in epidemic proportions. The key figure in treating the fevers was a U.S. Navy physician, Lt. Gerald A. Martin. Jerry Martin’s medical training in the United States was first-rate, and his family had been medical missionaries in Korea for two generations. His father, Dr. Stanley H. Martin, had been a prominent staff physician at Seoul’s Severance Hospital, Korea’s preeminent medical center.
Jerry Martin, who spoke Korean, rallied Korean Christian doctors, nurses, and technicians from Severance Hospital to establish a major clinic at Koje-do in May 1951. After identifying different strains of parasitic diarrhea, Martin and his staff developed different treatment regimes that cured many of the stricken POWs.
Martin’s fame spread from Koje-do to Korea and to Japan through his military sponsors, the United Nations Civil Assistance Command and Far East Command’s Civil Intelligence and Education Service (CI&E), a program ostensibly for educating POWs about life outside China and North Korea, but in essence an indoctrination program that promoted democracy and Christianity. One of the program’s most effective representatives was the Rev. Edwin W. Kilbourne, Martin’s brother-in-law.
The Communists, however, charged that Martin was conducting germ warfare experiments in the same spirit of Japan’s heinous Unit 731 during World War II. Communist propagandists in Pyo?ngyang condemned Martin as a war criminal even before they announced that the UN Command had waged a bacteriological warfare campaign in Korea and China. They especially focused on an inoculation program Martin’s staff of medical “researchers” had begun for the POWs.
By the autumn of 1951, the public health teams found it harder and harder to reach the POWs some even attacked them in the compounds. Providing effective medical treatment had become a battleground for the hearts and minds of the POWs.
The need to improve living conditions and to keep the POWs busy gave the Civil Intelligence and Education staff plenty to do on Koje-do. Gen. Douglas MacArthur believed that only an ideological campaign that fused democracy, capitalism, and evangelical Christianity could stop Communism in Asia. The indoctrination program became the UN Command’s principal opportunity for prisoner reeducation. Begun with 500 Korean POWs at Yongdungpo, an industrial suburb of Seoul, in October 1950, the indoctrination program combined literacy education (in Korean and Chinese), vocational training, recreational sports and physical education, musical events, and political indoctrination.
The reeducation program began in March 1951 with North Korean civilian internees, refugees from Communism who were expected to become interpreters and camp service workers. The screening immediately took on a religious dimension since the refugees included an estimated 1,000 ministers and 20,000 lay leaders, predominantly Presbyterians and Methodists. The U.S. Army and CI&E civilians found it difficult to sort out the self-proclaimed Christians among the POWs, but Korean Christians in CI&E’s employ could do a more dependable job of testing POWs’ religious convictions.
Indoctrination program participants-estimated at 150,000 POWs and internees in 1951-were trained as metalworkers, brick makers, furniture makers, instructors, textile workers (mats and rice bags), tailors, electricians, musicians, and artists. The indoctrination and industrial program participants became so industrious that Far East Command’s civil affairs administrators feared that Koje-do’s captives were taking work away from the refugees and mainland Koreans. In secret, the POWs also made hand weapons.
Given the separation of church and state in the United States, Far East Command could hardly publicize the indoctrination program’s evangelical character. The Far East Command’s reports provided statistics aplenty on all of the indoctrination program’s literacy, civic education, and vocational training efforts, but they never mentioned that an estimated 60,000 POWs and civilian internees “accepted Christ.”
Communist Chinese and North Korean political leaders fully appreciated that Christianity represented a more serious ideological challenge than the vague promises of Western democracy and capitalism. In broadcasts and publications of the Chinese People’s Committee on World Peace, in speeches at the Panmunjo?m negotiations, and through sympathetic journalists Winnington and Burchett, they repeatedly attacked the indoctrination program staff as religious fanatics, dupes, fellow travelers with the Chinese Guomintang fascists on Formosa, and capitalist agents.
The Far East Command’s pursuit of North Korean and Chinese war criminals also spurred the Communist POW resistance movement. By August 1950, the bodies of executed GIs and a handful of massacre survivors proved that the North Koreans were flouting the Geneva Convention on POW treatment. Evidence of repeated, large-scale massacres mounted in October 1950 as the United Nations forces advanced to Seoul and then into North Korea. That month the North Koreans killed 138 Americans in one incident near Pyo?ngyang, and they killed South Korean civilians by the thousands at Taejo?n, Chongju, Hamyang, Mokpo, Kwangju, Pyo?ngyang, and Wonsan, where they had been jailed as “enemies of the people.” The Communists also eradicated suspect North Korean civilians as they retreated north.
The number of incidents and the horrific evidence of mass burials required a quick response, so in October 1950, General MacArthur directed the Eighth Army commander, Lt. Gen. Walton H. Walker to organize a War Crimes Division within his Judge Advocate General’s office and collect evidence of POW murders. He intended to prosecute Communist war criminals. Investigators concluded they had evidence of some 400 atrocities among the nearly 2,000 incidents investigated. The lawyers concluded they could try 326 cases and compiled a list of suspects and witnesses.
The investigators, desperate for results, developed a network of informants at Koje-do. No security precautions could disguise that perhaps a thousand or more POWs might be tried as war criminals, based on their own confessions and the testimony of their fellow prisoners. The South Korean investigation teams, aided by POWs, conducted long, painful sessions with suspects and witnesses. The South Korean army lieutenant who supervised the largest number of agents admitted using torture to extract confessions and expose Communists, as well as suspected murderers.
The hard-core Communist POWs-though a fraction of the total Koje-do prison community-had plenty of reasons to disrupt the 1951 camp routine. The first collective violence against camp personnel occurred on June 18 and 19, 1951, when some North Korean officers protested having to dig latrines and garbage pits. When a South Korean guard detail entered Compound 76, the prisoners stoned the guards. Soldiers opened fire, killing three POWs.
More incidents followed: demonstrations within the compounds, work refusals, threats against camp personnel, and some 15 murders of Korean prisoners. In July and August of 1951, the guards killed eight more POWs. On one occasion, the guard force had to rescue 200 POWs from Compound 78, where hard-core Communists had executed three supposed collaborators in a plan to control the compound. Camp administrators noted that the demonstrations and protests followed the first visits of Red Cross inspectors and journalists to Koje-do. The public relations crisis stirred Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, who replaced MacArthur in April 1951, to order Lt. Gen. James A. Van Fleet, Eighth Army commander, to fix Koje-do-which meant quiet things down there.
In late September, Van Fleet and his staff visited Koje-do and concluded that the physical conditions were adequate but that there were too few guards and they were poorly disciplined. POWs had too much free time and independence, and the indoctrination program instruction was too classroom oriented. Van Fleet sent a new U.S. Army military police battalion to the island, which brought the 8137th Military Police Group up to three battalions and four escort companies.
In December 1951, a battalion of the crack U.S. 23rd Infantry Regiment augmented the guard force. More South Korean army MPs arrived, too. The guard force now numbered 9,000 officers and men, but it was still 40 percent below the force requested by Brig. Gen. Paul F. Yount, commanding general, 2nd Logistics Command. Yount relieved the U.S. Army camp commander and persuaded the South Korean army to find another colonel to lead its guards. Reinforcements, reforms, and reliefs-the traditional military response to a crisis-should have made a difference. They did not.
In July 1951, Sino-Korean allies and the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to discuss an armistice. Neither the Chinese nor the North Koreans liked negotiating but Stalin, providing the munitions and limited air defense for the Chinese and Korean armies, had enough leverage to draw Mao Zedong and Kim Il-sung into negotiations. The Sino-Korean allies also needed some relief from combat.
The Chinese demanded to manage the talks, and the negotiators established a rough agenda. Agenda Item Four would deal with the issue of a prisoner exchange. The South Koreans had screened all but the hard-core Communists and concluded that they could release almost 38,000 civilian detainees, all from South Korea. Indoctrination program leaders confirmed the estimate, reporting (too optimistically) that 98 percent of the Korean civilian internees had become militantly anti-Communist and wanted to remain in South Korea. General Van Fleet endorsed their release, which would have simplified his security problems, but Ridgway, with guidance from Washington, rejected a total release. About 37,000 civilian internees were finally released in November 1951, but thousands remained.
Their anti-Communism now exposed, several thousand internees, most from North Korea, remained behind the wire-essentially as hostages to the truce talks. When General Ridgway issued “Articles Governing United Nations Prisoners of War,” effective November 1, 1951, he stressed that the articles applied to everyone detained by United Nations Command. Any act of violence or noncooperation might be punished-with the death penalty available for mutiny, murder, rape, assaulting a member of the UN Command, and organizing a mutiny.
The Communists had been equally busy turning the POWs to their advantage. They could see that the United Nations Command had difficulty censoring or shaping the reports of Western journalists, not only Communist champions like Winnington and Burchett but also non-American reporters and representatives of American newspapers critical of President Harry Truman’s administration. The North Koreans, very junior partners on the battlefield, wanted to sponsor the POW resistance and increase their influence at the truce talks. They set their ultimate goal as capturing Koje-do and staging a Great Escape, aided by South Korean Communist guerrillas.
The organizational instrument was the Guerrilla Guidance Bureau, an agency of the Korean People’s Army’s political department, directed from Panmunjo?m by its leader, Gen. Nam Il, who was actually a Soviet citizen. His deputy, Gen. Kim Pa, established contact with the Communist POW leaders.
In the autumn and winter of 1951-1952, the Guerrilla Guidance Bureau sent an estimated 280 male and female agents to Koje-do, some to be POWs, others to establish local support units on Koje-do and the mainland. Col. Bae Chul, a Soviet citizen and Red Army officer, managed the infiltration through Pusan.
Agents informed Pak Sang-hyon in Compound 62 that General Nam had named him chief resistance leader. With the help of colonels Lee and Hong, Pak was to seize control of as many of Koje-do’s compounds as possible and use violence to antagonize the Koje-do guards and administration. POW losses would be inevitable, and retribution was encouraged to ensure press coverage. The ultimate goal was a combined POW-guerrilla attack to seize the island. The resisters-especially the leaders-would be heroes welcomed back to the ranks of the Communist faithful. If they failed, their families would die-or suffer worse.
The Communist resisters and their anti-Communist counterparts tested their strength over the issue of screening the remaining Korean civilian internees, most of them former South Korean soldiers and guerrilla suspects. Compound 63 produced the vanguard anti-Communist camp government, supported by an ultra-patriotic paramilitary society called the Hwarang Association. When South Korean screening teams approached Communist-dominated Compound 62, 300 members of the Hwarangs arranged a transfer to Compound 62 to assist the screening by doing away with the Communist organizers.
The compound had already been the scene of a reign of terror against the non-Communists, a minority of the 5,000 captives. Deaths and torture had been inflicted by beating, burning, electrocution, castration, mutilation, and drowning.
The coup attempt went awry and produced a riot. After three hours of violence on December 18, 1951, that left 14 dead and 24 wounded, the South Korean guards rescued the Hwarangs and 100 other anti-Communists. Three days later, all civilian internee screening ended in Compound 62, now under complete Communist control. Pak Sang-hyon became the first commissar of the resistance leadership.
The camp commander, Col. Maurice J. Fitzgerald, continued to feed the captives but attempted no other contact with Compound 62. Instead, Fitzgerald surrounded the compound with guard strongpoints designed to prevent a breakout. Pak and his cadre displayed protest signs in Korean and English, drilled with spears, sang and chanted with revolutionary fervor, and threw rocks at passersby. The civilian internee screening and the indoctrination program began to falter in other Korean compounds.
The resumption of armistice negotiations on November 27, 1951, brought a dramatic escalation of POW resistance. The issue was the final disposition of the POWs. The Communists, citing the Geneva Convention of 1949, argued that each side had to return all captives and internees without any consideration of the POWs’ personal preferences. The Communists feared a potential propaganda disaster-multitudes of Korean and Chinese voluntarily and loudly rejecting Communism.
The UN Command saw the issue differently. General Ridgway suspected that he held far more POWs than the Communists, even if as many as 41,000 Koreans were reclassified from POW to civilian internee status and held out of the POW exchange, not being enemy combatants. The UN Command held at least 100,000 POWs, while the Communists had perhaps 6,000 American and allied troops and maybe 28,000 South Korean soldiers.
The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff favored a one-for-one exchange, but would accept “all for all,” and as quickly as possible to save lives. Ridgway had ample evidence that Communists were committing atrocities against prisoners in North Korea, and allied POWs certainly lived in miserable conditions. Yet “all for all” also meant returning war criminals, collaborators, intelligence operatives, and many innocents to Communist control.
The POW exchange issue escalated when South Korea’s Syngman Rhee demanded no forced repatriation, the immediate release of cleared civilian internees, and the prosecution of war criminals. The Truman administration divided only the president himself could resolve the issue.
In December 1951, Truman chose voluntary repatriation. With the president’s approval, the actual plan envisioned a two-phase exchange: “one for one” until all UN Command POWs had been released, and then voluntary repatriation. The Chinese negotiators originally considered the proposal a stalling tactic related to other issues like the location of the future military demarcation line. The North Koreans accused the UN Command of covering up its own war crimes and of POW intimidation. Nevertheless, all sides agreed to prepare a list of POWs in custody.
The exchange of these hurriedly compiled lists surprised, shocked, and outraged each side. The South Korean army estimated it had lost 70,000 soldiers to captivity and could not account for 88,000 others. Yet, the Communists claimed to hold only 7,412 South Korean soldiers. (In fact, the Communists had impressed thousands into their own armed forces, where many died in action. Thousands of others, mainly “class enemies,” died in slave labor camps from which POWs were still escaping four decades later.)
The lists had surprises. The UN Command had more than 10,000 MIAs and thought at least 6,000 were-or had been-in enemy hands. Nevertheless, only 3,198 American names were listed, 1,219 from other allied units, and the list excluded some people known to be POWs.
The Communists were equally shocked (or put on a convincing act) to learn that the UN Command held only 95,531 Communist Koreans, 16,243 uncleared South Koreans, and 20,700 Chinese soldiers. They also heard estimates from Western sources that more than half their POWs would refuse repatriation.
As the Communist POW resistance organized in early 1952, the conditions for exchanging prisoners came to dominate the Panmunjo?m negotiations. The UN Command position, formed in Washington, was that no POW would be repatriated against his will. The Communists insisted that the Geneva Convention of 1949 required that all POWs be returned. The Communist POW resisters, now with plenty of incentive, tested the camp administrators in a violent protest on February 18, 1952. Armed with rocks, clubs, and spears, between 1,000 and 1,500 inmates of Compound 62 attacked a South Korean team trying to rescue non-Communist civilian internees in the compound. A battalion of the U.S. 27th Infantry fought back, killing 75 captives and wounding 139 others. One GI died in the melee and 22 were wounded. Five days later General Nam charged the UN Command with “barbarously massacring” large numbers of harmless civilian internees.
With neither side wavering on POW exchange at Panmunjo?m, Ridgway planned to screen all the Koje-do captives for their preference on repatriation, at Washington’s direction. He ordered “a detailed plan to provide for the selection, segregation and protection of those North Korean and Chinese Communist prisoners of war who would violently oppose repatriation to Communist control.” The South Korean POWs or civilian internees would be allowed to elect repatriation or to stay in South Korea. Ridgway warned Van Fleet to ensure that disorder, riot, and bloodshed were kept to an absolute minimum. He advised taking as little time as possible for the screening, “preferably during daylight hours of a single day.”
The task went to Brig. Gen. Francis T. Dodd, Eighth Army deputy chief of staff, reassigned to command Koje-do Camp One with Col. Maurice J. Fitzgerald as his deputy. Dodd’s staff drafted a plan, Operation Spreadout, which would send an estimated 82,000 POWs and civilian internees to new camps on the mainland and to Cheju-do Island. Dodd thought that screening would be inevitably violent and didn’t think it could be done quickly, but that the screening could be supported by promises to protect the anti-Communist POWs.
On March 13, resisters in Compound 76 stoned a passing work detail. South Korean guards fired, killing 12 and wounding 26. In trying to stop the shooting, a Korean indoctrination program staffer and a U.S. Army officer were wounded. The entire U.S. 38th Infantry regiment then joined the guard force because of intelligence assessments that the Communists wanted to destroy the screening process with a mass jailbreak. Yet Ridgway rejected Van Fleet’s request to postpone screening. Instead, he ordered strict new controls on the indoctrination program and on the activities of Chinese nationalist agents. He also wanted recommendations on reducing the South Korean guard force, Korean service personnel, and refugees at Koje-do.
The screening began April 8 in the 11 compounds deemed most friendly. On April 10, however, Koreans in Compound 95 captured a medical party, and South Korean soldiers armed with clubs had to rescue them. The melee spread when other South Korean soldiers opened fire on the mob. A U.S. Army officer with a jeep-mounted machine gun stopped a rush to the gate. Three POWs died, and 60 fell wounded while one South Korean soldier disappeared and four were wounded. Operation Spreadout started separating repatriates from those preferring not to return. In command of the entire POW system, General Yount began moving the Koreans who refused repatriation from Koje-do to mainland camps at Pusan, Masan, Yongchon, Kwangju, and Nonsan. The captive Chinese, divided into repatriates and nonrepatriates, would be sent to new camps on opposite sides of Cheju-do Island.
Heavily protected, the UN Command screening teams worked their way through 22 of 28 compounds not firmly under Korean Communist control. They deemed six compounds-four North Korean army compounds and two for Communist Party members and guerrillas from all over Korea-to be too well-armed, well-organized, and belligerent to enter until the prospective battlefield had been cleared of all nonrepatriates and refugees. The nonrepatriate Chinese left the island first for Cheju-do, many unhappy they were not headed to Formosa. Some 7,000 Chinese POWs who wanted to go home to their families were left behind, only a few of them Communists.
By April 19, 1952, General Dodd’s teams had screened 106,376 POWs and civilian internees. Of these, 31,244 chose to return to Communist custody, while 75,132 preferred being sent to South Korea, Formosa, or elsewhere. Screening at the 64th Field Hospital in Pusan shows the strength of the resistance movement there: 4,774 POWs wanted repatriation 1,738 did not.
Forwarding Dodd’s report to Washington, Ridgway warned that the Koje-do guard force still faced 43,000 violent, vicious North Korean resisters in six compounds: 37,628 POWs commanded by colonels Lee and Hong and 5,700 civilian internees directed by the mysterious, unidentified Mr. Pak. Yet many POWs had already been shipped from Koje-do to Pusan, Masan, Yongchon, Kwangju, Nonsan, and Cheju-do. It appeared Operation Spreadout was nearing completion in relative peace.
But this progress on nonrepatriates galvanized the resistance leaders to take desperate action in May 1952. Whether the resistance leaders received specific directions from General Nam is unclear, although reporters Winnington and Burchett later claimed that Pak, Lee, and Hong acted without orders, which brought them disgrace. The Koje-do Three-as Pak, Lee, and Hong came to be known-decided to kidnap General Dodd and force him to confess to mistreating the Communist POWs. At a minimum, they expected to create a media sensation and win a propaganda victory. Perhaps there would be a breakout. The plotters could also assume that they still had informers in their midst, requiring them to move quickly.
On April 29, the North Korean officers of Compound 76 asked to meet with Lt. Col. Wilbur Raven, a military police officer and enclosure commander. The meeting was supposedly to resolve Raven’s suspension of a cigarette ration after North Korean army officers refused to serve on work detail. Raven and a South Korean interpreter entered the “headquarters” hut just inside the wire and began listening to a barrage of demands. Suddenly more than a hundred cadremen flooded the building. They screamed at Raven and one tried to force-feed him bean soup. Then the POWs produced an EE8 field phone and told him to call General Dodd. After Raven passed on the prisoners’ demands-which Dodd rejected-the POWs released Raven. The whole bizarre episode was a rehearsal.
On May 7, the diehards of Compound 76 seized General Dodd. Responding to another POW request to discuss prison conditions and screening, Dodd and Raven met a delegation at the compound’s front gate. Discussions through the outer wire lasted more than an hour. Dodd, following Raven’s advice, was unarmed but armed GIs protected him. Then a “honey bucket” crew came by and a guard opened the outer gate. With a yell, POWs grabbed Dodd and almost captured Raven, who grabbed a gatepost and kicked his assailants away until the guards rescued him. As he was being carried away, Dodd ordered his soldiers not to shoot. None did.
The Dodd affair-called a mutiny by Western writers-threw unwelcome light on the UN Command’s POW management and the voluntary repatriation policy. It occurred as General Ridgway was turning over the Far East and UN Commands to Gen. Mark W. Clark. Ridgway ordered the use of “whatever degree of force” necessary to gain Dodd’s release. His demand to turn over Dodd was met with catcalls when read to the POWs. The next day a new Koje-do commander, Brig. Gen. Charles F. Colson, arrived with an American infantry battalion. An able, decorated infantry commander of World War II, Colson warned the POWs not to harm Dodd, his friend. He deployed all his infantry and mounted machine guns to deter a mass jailbreak, predicted by Dodd’s G-2.
Dodd reported his status to Colson, first by notes and later by telephone. His captors were treating Dodd with respect, but he found himself discussing prison reform, repatriation policy, and capitalist injustice-with his release at stake. The POWs also threatened him with a “trial” as a war criminal. The Communists placed festive protest signs around Compound 76 warning that Dodd would die if Colson tried to rescue him.
In May 9, Van Fleet, the Eighth Army commander, came to Koje-do to review the plans to break Compound 76’s resistance and save Dodd, though the latter was a secondary concern. The general had company: Ridgway and Clark. Both urged Van Fleet to give the POWs plenty of opportunity to surrender. They agreed there would be no media coverage of the Koje-do crisis. The critical matter, they thought, was massing firepower to neutralize the 19,000 POWs outside the hard-core Compounds 76, 77, and 78. Only then would American soldiers enter Compound 76, using tear gas and other riot-suppression equipment.
Van Fleet gave Colson another day for negotiations. Company B of the 64th Tank Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, had not arrived from the mainland with its 22 tanks, including five flamethrower tanks. General Van Fleet also knew, however, that generals Ridgway and Clark wanted the Koje-do problem to disappear.
For reasons that are unclear, Ridgway did not tell Clark of Dodd’s capture until May 8. Ridgway knew that whether Dodd lived or died, the Communists would probably fight relocation, and he knew they were prepared to die in large numbers, which could not be kept secret. Ridgway may have preferred to let the inevitable massacre occur on Clark’s watch, because Ridgway wanted to be U.S. Army chief of staff. Clark wanted to retire.
Not briefed about the POW rebellion on his way to Tokyo, Clark was dismayed by the Koje-do surprise, which he called “the biggest flap of the entire war.” After negotiations the next day with the captors and several telephone conversations with Dodd, the two American brigadier generals made a deal. Eventually the Koje-do Three accepted a signed statement by General Colson that United Nations guards had killed and wounded “many prisoners of war.” Colson promised to “do all within my power” to treat the POWs according to international law he said he had no authority to modify the UN Command position on voluntary repatriation.
He promised he would conduct no more “forcible” screening sessions, nor would he force nonrepatriates to again bear arms, and he would recognize POW representatives chosen by the POWs themselves. At nine thirty in the evening on May 10, Dodd walked out of Compound 76, unharmed. He and Colson were not, however, out of harm’s way.
Always public relations-conscious, Clark wanted Ridgway to explain the crisis to the press, but Ridgway issued no statement until May 12, when Clark coaxed him to approve a memo Clark’s staff had prepared, announcing that Dodd had bought his freedom two days earlier with what amounted to a confession of war crimes that implicated Ridgway and Van Fleet. Colson had signed the statement only to recover Dodd.
General Clark immediately disavowed Colson’s “confession” and produced an account he and Ridgway had agreed on even before Van Fleet and Dodd talked to the press in Seoul. Clark’s statement, however, revealed such a degree of ignorance of conditions on Koje-do that he could have been judged either a fool or a liar by anyone who knew about the events, including newsmen. For example, Clark claimed that the POW violence had been exaggerated and had no bearing on the armistice negotiations, when clearly they were central to those meetings.
Dodd’s account of his captivity revealed a more complicated picture of the Communist POW resistance movement. Dodd also said that Colson’s concessions were “of minor importance” and the POWs’ demands inconsequential, a view shared by Van Fleet. An inevitable investigation by a board of Eighth Army officers found Colson’s conduct meritorious but Van Fleet rejected this finding, under pressure from Clark. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, strongly suggested that Clark punish Dodd and Colson. Clark convened a board of Far East Command generals that recommended sanctions. Without further investigation or formal charges, Dodd and Colson returned to their permanent rank of colonel and left the army for ignominious retirement. General Yount, who was not represented, received a letter of reprimand for being a propaganda embarrassment, in Ridgway’s words as “humiliating and damaging a defeat as any that might have been imposed in bloody battle.”
The Koje-do Three and the hard-core North Korean Communist leadership had succeeded in pulling off the resistance movement’s most theatrical and deadly propaganda victory. But now the UN Command had to tackle the problem of its central prison being run by armed prisoners.
To relieve the Eighth Army of its long-term POW management responsibilities, Clark appointed a new commander for Koje-do Camp One, Brig. Gen. Haydon L. “Bull” Boatner. Boatner specialized in Chinese language and culture and had spent 10 years in Asian tours, giving him special insight in the psychology of Asian soldiers. With his eyeglasses, thinning hair, and flabby physique, he had an avuncular look that belied his profane, bullying, perfectionist, professional approach to command. He chose tough Col. Harold Taylor as his deputy. Thinking the enlisted men were “the poorest quality of American soldiers with whom I’ve ever served,” Boatner got quality replacements. He also had Clark lend him a judge advocate schooled in the Geneva Convention to review Koje-do operations, and Boatner intended to follow his lawyer’s advice.
Clark contributed the paratroopers of the 187th Regimental Combat Team. Boatner wanted more crack troops, and Van Fleet agreed, ordering the British Commonwealth Division to produce some troops to pacify Koje-do. As he learned about the POW resistance, Boatner came to view the insurgency as a “self-inflicted mess” created by American commanders who knew nothing of Asians or POWs. Boatner was appalled to see undisciplined GIs rush to the wire to scream catcalls and throw rocks at demonstrating POWs. He relieved three of the four senior MP officers and culled NCOs from the MP brigade. To counter Communist atrocity charges, he opened the new camps to inspection by a team from the International Red Cross, and Boatner insisted that 40 to 50 war correspondents come to Koje-do and report his actions.
Before he could attack Compound 76, Boatner had to establish new quarters for five compounds of North Korean soldiers and two for civilian internees, in all almost 70,000 determined repatriates. He planned new, smaller, closely guarded camps that were more isolated, more secure, and that would depend less on Korean service personnel and refugee labor. The small islands of Yoncho-do and Pongam-do would house 12,000 segregated leaders and troublemakers. He ordered another small camp (Chogu-ri) to be built for the same purpose on Koje-do. The equivalent of solitary confinement, it nonetheless complied with the Geneva Convention.
On June 10, 1952, General Boatner assaulted Compound 76 with a tank platoon and two battalions of paratroopers. Although Communist “shock troops” charged the GIs with handmade flails and spears while others threw firebombs from trenches and dugouts, Boatner’s troops defeated 6,500 North Korean officers and NCOs with relatively few casualties.
First they ordered the POWs into their barracks on the threat of machine gun fire. Some POW resisters fought on for three hours, although their comrades-including Sr. Col. Lee Hak-ku-streamed from the compound to surrender. Thirty-one POWs died and 131 were wounded. Army investigators later decided that fellow prisoners had murdered about half the dead for sympathizing with the Republic of Korea. One paratrooper bled to death from a stab wound and 14 others collected Purple Hearts. In the next two weeks, residents of six other POW and civilian internee compounds moved to the three new camps in the Koje-do system, without resisting (but not before murdering 15 more prisoners). Around 48,000 POWs remained in old Camp One.
The completion of what had been dubbed Operations Spreadout and Breakup restored United Nations Command control over the prison population. Van Fleet felt secure enough to allow the South Koreans to free 27,000 South Korean civilians who had proven their identities and loyalties in June and July of 1952. Another 11,000 South Koreans who had been impressed into North Korean army service went home. The camps came much closer to Geneva Convention and Red Cross standards.
Still, POW resistance did not disappear, because its basic external causes (voluntary repatriation and UN Command coalition politics) had not disappeared. The North Korean political officers at Panmunjo?m had ample reason and opportunity to demand more resistance. President Syngman Rhee of South Korea demanded that Van Fleet release all nonrepatriates, provided South Korean investigators cleared them. Indoctrination program teams and South Korean agents fed the growing anxiety of the “detainees” that they were pawns to the Panmunjo?m talks. They spread the rumor that the UN Command negotiators had promised to return no less than 76,000 POWs. Rhee used the detained anti-Communist Koreans to stop or slow the armistice negotiations, which he opposed.
The British, who regarded the American handling of POWs as dangerously inept, began to criticize UN Command policy, starting with the report of Maj. D.R. Bancroft, the commander of a two-company task force deployed on Koje-do from May 23 to July 10, 1952. These British and Canadian troops were assigned to control Compound 66 (militant North Korean army officers led by Col. Hong Chul) and thought American and South Korean treatment of the Chinese and Koreans beyond contempt. They found the POWs in charge of everything behind the wire. When the British searched a barrack, they found money, escape maps, medical supplies, weapons, and civilian clothes, all provided by Korean guards.
The British stopped the flow of gasoline and nail-studded firewood to the compound and shut down the ordnance factory that had been disguised as a blacksmith shop. Responding to the new media access, the island sprouted protest signs. As the British grasp tightened on 4,000 POWs in four new compounds, they found that strict standards and human decency paid dividends when the Red Cross cited the group for its adherence to the Geneva Convention. Major Bancroft left Koje-do more impressed by the dedication and discipline of the North Koreans than by the Americans and the South Koreans.
His report caused a furor in the British, Canadian, and Australian defense and foreign ministries and made POW management an item of interest for several Commonwealth generals.
Segregating the Chinese POWs on Cheju-do brought the Chinese resisters to life. Relieved from the domination of the nonrepatriate majority and supported by Chinese nationalist agents and indoctrination program personnel, the leaders of the Chinese resisters organized a series of protests that began in August 1952. On October 1, the anniversary of the creation of the People’s Republic of China, the Cheju city compounds turned red with makeshift flags, banners, and decorations.
The American camp commander ordered his guards, MPs, and a battalion of the 35th Infantry to tear down these symbols. The Chinese fought back with spears and gas bombs. In a melee that swept over three compounds, 56 Chinese were killed and 91 more were hospitalized. Nine GIs were wounded.
Internal political struggles within the POW resistance movement probably prolonged the revolt. By autumn 1952, it looked as if there would be an armistice and a POW exchange. The Koreans and the Chinese knew repatriates would have to prove that their capture had been unavoidable and their resistance heroic, up to the highest Communist standards.
In December 1952, the resisters sparked 48 incidents that left 99 POWs dead and 302 wounded. The worst of these occurred on Pongam-do, where Pak still commanded the civilian party faithful. On December 14, 85 resisters died rushing the wire in a breakout attempt, the last such escape effort. Suicidal resistance continued at the POW hospitals at Pusan where, by refusing treatment, resisters were making political statements. Undercover Communist doctors and nurses killed patients they regarded as traitors. Over the winter, as armistice negotiations stalled again, incidents dwindled but for the occasional murder of Koreans and Chinese of suspect loyalty. In the spring of 1953, everyone in custody became ever more anxious about their fates. The Koreans who wanted repatriation numbered 66,754 POWs and civilian internees, and there were 8,840 Chinese POWs. Virtually all the nonrepatriates were former soldiers: 35,597 Koreans and 14,280 Chinese.
In March, Josef Stalin died-the single most critical event leading to the armistice. The Soviet politburo warned Mao Zedong that he could no longer count on military assistance. Syngman Rhee made demands for buying his acceptance of an intolerable peace: a mutual defense agreement with the United States and the promise of over $1 billion in economic and military assistance. As part of his pressure on the United States, Rhee began to threaten to release all the Korean nonrepatriates. This encouraged noncooperation in all the camps, not just those of the repatriates.
On June 13, Korean nonrepatriates beat eight Communist agents, killing one. On June 17-19, the South Korean Counterintelligence Corps and the Military Police Command organized the breakout of 27,000 of the 35,000 Koreans who had refused repatriation. The only Americans who tried to stop the escapees were marines of the 1st Shore Party Battalion, a temporary guard force at a minor compound at Ascom City near Seoul. The marines thought the Koreans had weapons and wanted to fight. They opened fire, killed 44 escapees, and wounded more than 100. At all the other camps, only 17 other escapees died. In the aftermath of the great escape, an additional American infantry regiment joined the guard force, for fear of a Chinese jailbreak at Cheju-do. In all the camps, anti-Americanism became an epidemic.
Operation Little Switch, an agreed-upon exchange of sick and wounded POWs in April, had established the norms of all the subsequent exchanges. The sick and wounded Chinese and Koreans postured and posed, spit and cursed, sang and chanted and, even on stretchers, tried to tear off their prisoner garb. The exchange, conducted before the armistice, did not require further screening, a critical difference from the post-armistice Big Switch. There were 6,670 Chinese and Koreans going north and 684 UN Command personnel (471 South Koreans) returned to allied care.
The POW resistance movement staged its last protests as part of Big Switch, the POW exchange that followed the ceasefire on July 27, 1953. After much acrimonious debate, the Communists accepted the principle of voluntary repatriation, but only if it included rescreening those North Koreans and Chinese POWs who had rejected repatriation: some 14,704 Chinese and 7,900 Koreans. The Communists held 359 prisoners who opposed repatriation, including 335 Koreans.
Article III of the Korean Armistice Agreement established the exchange. The first phase would transfer prisoners who chose repatriation to the neutral territory around Panmunjo?m. The Committee for Repatriation of Prisoners of War, three representatives each from the two belligerent coalitions, supervised the movement. The second phase focused on those captives who rejected repatriation. Within a 60-day period, Red Cross teams would go to all the POW camps, escort the prisoners to Panmunjo?m, and supervise interrogating the nonrepatriates to ensure their decisions were truly voluntary (if that could be determined). The Communist political officers would try to persuade the POWs to change their minds. In addition to the belligerents’ representatives, officer teams from Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, and Czechoslovakia (the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission) would direct activities. Three thousand Indian troops were to arrange required interviews under neutral protection.
Much to the displeasure of the United Nations and the South Korean government, the Communists immediately turned the Indians into impotent onlookers. The Communist delegation demanded that the Indian Custodial Force break up the militant anti-Communist prisoner leadership organization. They published a list of 400 UN Command collaborators and agents among the 22,604 prisoners. The Indians replied that they would not use force to keep order, an invitation for a renewed war behind the wire. With only 1,300 troops to guard 55 compounds over three and a half square miles, the Indians could not stop attacks on waverers. The Indians did shoot and kill two escapees in October, and wounded three demonstrators. The Indians tried to court-martial seven Chinese for murder but witnesses were scarce. On December 12, four Korean bodies were found in a ditch inside the compound.
The Communists harassed interrogators and took names and addresses, giving a strong impression that they would attack the families of any staying behind. The prisoners reacted with suicides and suicide attempts, and sometimes attacked Chinese and Korean officers. Under impossible conditions, the screening teams talked to only about 5,000 POWs before giving up on December 31, without requesting an extension.
The commander of the Custodial Force, Lt. Gen. K.S. Thimayya, reported to the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission that the Communists had turned the process into a show, and 38 POWs had died. Four hundred forty Chinese and 188 Koreans changed their minds and went north 86 others went to India and then scattered around the world. Repatriates and nonrepatriates alike used Panmunjo?m as a final stage for mass demonstrations and gang battles for the members of the media to observe.
Banners flying, marching to songs and chants of protest and revolution, the Communist POWs stripped off their hated UN Command uniforms and marched into an unknown future. The Chinese resisters found themselves pariahs, condemned by their army and the Communist Party for being captured. One-third of the Chinese People’s Volunteers Force captives, dedicated Communists or not, chose repatriation in the face of death, beatings, mutilation by tattooing, and self-hate. They returned to a Communist China that regarded them as traitors for 40 years.
The North Korean soldiers, guerrillas, and party cadremen who returned home had no better luck. Despite leading the resistance, Pak Sang-hyon and Col. Lee Hak-ku were shot for treason (which was also not an isolated event in the post-armistice Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), although they may have been allowed to see their families first. Col. Hong Chul, who may have been a planted POW commissar, simply disappeared.
For UN Command/Far East Command, the challenge of the Communist POW resistance movement produced ample lessons in handling captives who still considered themselves combatants. The lessons faded in the 1950s, marginalized by the rant in the United States over the alleged misbehavior of captive GIs by “brainwashing,” the “war crimes” confessions of American airmen, and the imagined moral corruption of American youths in uniform. The Code of Conduct (1953) applied to American captives, not their Communist counterparts.
The principle of voluntary repatriation influenced the POW exchanges in 1954 in French Indochina, freeing thousands of Viet Minh cadremen, who later subverted Vietnam. Indeed, since the Korean War, the war behind the wire has continued in conflicts throughout the world.
5 more of the most unconquerable countries in the world
The true conquest of a country is more than just invading its land borders. To truly conquer a country, an invader has to subdue its people and end its will to fight.
There are many countries in the world with a lot of experience in this area and there are many more countries who were on the receiving end of some subjugation.
At the end of World War II, the age of colonialism was officially ended for most of these conquerors and what grew from that end was a rebirth of those people and their culture, which just went to show that their people were never really subdued in the first place.
And then there were some countries that either never stopped fighting or have been constantly fighting for their right to exist ever since they won their independence. Some of them overcame great odds and earned the respect of neighbors and former enemies.
The alternative was to allow themselves to be subject to some foreign power just because they didn’t have the latest and greatest in military technologies.
Related: The 5 countries that are most impossible to conquer
In the last installment, we looked at countries whose people, geography, sheer size, populations, and culture would never allow an invader to conquer them. This time, we look at smaller countries who took on great powers as the underdog and came out on top.
The Vietnam War wasn’t some historical undercard match, it was actually a heavyweight championship fight – the United States just didn’t realize it at the time. The history of Vietnam’s formidable people and defenses date well before the Vietnam War and even before World War II.
Vietnam has historically been thought of as one of the most militaristic countries in the region, and for good reason. Vietnam has been kicking invaders out since the 13th century when Mongol hordes tried to move in from China.
While it wasn’t Genghis Khan at the head of the invading army, it wasn’t too far removed the then-dead leader’s time. Kubali Khan’s Yuan Dynasty tried three times to subdue the Vietnamese. In the last invasion, Khan sent 400 ships and 300,000 men to Vietnam, only to see every ship sunk and the army harassed by the Vietnamese all the way back to China.
“Khan? Never heard of her.” – General Tran Hung Dao
Vietnam maintained its independence from China for 900 years after that.
In more modern times, Vietnam was first invaded by the French in force in 1858 and they couldn’t subdue the whole of the country until 1887, 29 years after it first started. It cost thousands of French lives and the French even had to bring in Philippine troops to help. Even then, they won only because of a critical error on the part of Vietnamese emperor Tu Duc, who terribly misjudged how much his people actually cared for his regime.
The Japanese invasion during WWII awakened the Vietnamese resolve toward independence and they immediately started killing Japanese invaders – and not out of love for the French.
They famously gave France the boot, invaded Laos to extend their territory, and then invaded South Vietnam. That’s where the Americans come in.
Cue the music. You know the one.
The American-Vietnam War didn’t go so well for either side, but now-Communist Vietnam’s dense jungle and support from China and the Soviet Union gave the North Vietnamese the military power to match their will to keep fighting, a will which seemed never-ending, no matter which side you’re on. North Vietnam was able to wait out the U.S. and reunite Vietnam, an underdog story that no one believed possible.
Vietnam’s resistance to outsiders doesn’t end there. After Vietnam invaded Chinese-backed Cambodia (and won, by the way), Communist China’s seemingly unstoppable People’s Liberation Army with its seemingly unlimited manpower invaded Vietnam in 1979.
For three weeks, the war ground Vietnamese border villages in a bloody stalemate until the Chinese retreated back across the border, taking an unexpectedly high death toll.
Though not much about early Finnish history is known, there are a few Viking sagas that mention areas of Finland and the people who inhabit those areas. Those sagas usually involve Vikings getting murdered or falling in battle. The same goes for Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, and virtually anyone else who had their eyes set on Finland.
In the intervening years, Finns allowed themselves to be dominated by Sweden and Russia, but after receiving their autonomy in 1917, Finland wasn’t about to give it up. They eventually became a republic and were happy with that situation until around World War II began.
That’s when the Soviet Union invaded.
Bad call here, Uncle Joe.
The invasion of Finland didn’t go well for the USSR. It lasted all of 105 days and the “Winter War,” as it came to be called, was the site of some of the most brutal fighting the world has ever seen to this day. Finns were ruthless and relentless in defending their territory.
For example, the Raatteentie Incident involved a 300-Finn ambush of a 25,000-strong Soviet force – and the Finns destroyed the Russians almost to the last man. The Finnish sniper Simo Hayha killed 505 Russians and never lost a moment’s sleep. When the retreating Finns destroyed anything that might be of use to an invader, it forced Soviet troops to march over frozen lakes.
Frozen Soviet troops were also left out for display by the Finns, just to let the Russians know what fate awaited them.
Lakes that were mined by the Finns and subsequently exploded, downing and freezing thousands of Red Army invaders.
The Winter War is also where Finnish civilians perfected and mass-produced the Molotov Cocktail.
From the British War Office:
The Finns’ policy was to allow the Russian tanks to penetrate their defences, even inducing them to do so by ‘canalising’ them through gaps and concentrating their small arms fire on the infantry following them. The tanks that penetrated were taken on by gun fire in the open and by small parties of men armed with explosive charges and petrol bombs in the forests and villages.
This was the level of resistance from a country of just 3.5 million people. Finns showed up in whatever they were wearing, with whatever weapons they had, men and women alike. In short, Finns are happy to kill any invader and will do it listening to heavy metal music while shouting the battle cry of, “fire at their balls!”
If part of what makes the United States an unconquerable country is every citizen being able to take up arms against an invader, just imagine how effective that makeshift militia force would be if every single citizen was also a trained soldier. That’s Israel, with 1.5 million highly-trained reserve troops.
Also, they’re all insanely attractive.
Israel has had mandatory military service for all its citizens – men and women – since 1949 and for a good reason. Israel is in a tough neighborhood and most of their neighbors don’t want Israel to exist. This means the Jewish state is constantly fighting for survival in some way, shape, or form and they’re incredibly good at it.
In almost 70 years of history, Israel earned a perfect war record. Not bad for any country, let alone one that takes heat for literally anything it does.
Not only will Israel wipe the floor with its enemies, it doesn’t pull punches. That’s why wars against Israel don’t last long, with most lasting less than a year and the shortest lasting just six days. As far as invading Israel goes, the last time an invading Army was in Israel proper, it was during the 1948-49 War of Independence. Since then, the farthest any invader got inside Israel was into areas seized by the Israelis during a previous war.
Now read: The hilarious way an Israeli spy convinced Syria to help Israel
In fact, when an Arab coalition surprised Israel during Yom Kippur in 1973, the Israelis nearly took Cairo and Damascus in just a couple of weeks.
In all your years, you will never look as cool in uniform as Moshe Dayan and his eyepatch.
More than just securing their land borders, Israel keeps a watchful eye on Jewish people worldwide, and doesn’t mind violating another country’s sovereignty to do it. Just ask Uganda, Sudan, Argentina, Germany, Norway, France, Italy, UAE, Tunisia… get the point? If a group of Jewish people are taken hostage or under threat somewhere, the IDF or Mossad will come and get them out.
The Mossad is another story entirely. Chance are good that any country even thinking about invading Israel is probably full of, if not run by, Mossad agents. Israel will get the entire plan of attack in plenty of time to hand an invader their own ass.
Just before the 1967 Six Day War, Mossad agent Eli Cohen became a close advisor to Syria Defense Minister. He actually got the Syrians to plant trees in the Golan Heights to help IDF artillery find the range on their targets.
One of the world’s oldest civilizations, Japan was able to keep its culture and history relatively intact over the centuries because mainland Japan has never been invaded by an outside force.
Contrary to popular belief, the “divine wind” typhoons didn’t destroy the Mongol fleets outright. Mongol invaders were able to land on some of the Japanese islands, but after a few victories and a couple of stunning defeats, the Japanese exhausted the Mongols and they were forced to retreat back to their ships. That’s when the first typhoon hit.
The ultimate in “be careful what you wish for” lessons.
Mongols invaded again less than seven years later with a fleet of 4,400 ships and some 140,000 Mongol, Korean, and Chinese troops. Japanese samurai defending Hakata Bay were not going to wait for the enemy to land and actually boarded Chinese ships to slaughter its mariners.
Since then, the Bushido Code only grew in importance and Japan’s main enemies were – wait for it – the Japanese. But once Japan threw off its feudal system and unified, it became a force to be reckoned with. Japan shattered the notion that an Asian army wasn’t able to defeat a Western army in a real war, soundly defeating the Russians both on land and at sea in 1905, setting the stage for World War II.
Although the attack on Pearl Harbor was not a great idea, the Japanese made sure the Americans knew that any invasion of Japanese territory would cost them dearly – and they made good on the promise, mostly by fighting to the death. The United States got the message, opting to drop nuclear weapons on Japan to force a surrender rather than attempt an invasion. Even though the U.S. got the demanded surrender, Japan was not a conquered country. The United States left Japan after seven years of occupation and the understanding that Communism was worse than petty fighting.
“Bushido” began to take on a different meaning to Japanese people. It wasn’t just one of extreme loyalty to traditions or concepts, or even the state. It morphed throughout Japanese culture until it began to represent a kind of extreme bravery and resistance in the face of adversity. While many in Japan are hesitant to use bushido in relation to the Japanese military, the rise of China is fueling efforts to alter Japan’s pacifist constitution to enable its self-defense forces to take a more aggressive stand in some areas.
Sleep well tonight, China.
Since the end of World War II, Japan has worked not to dominate the region militarily, but economically. Japan’s booming economy has allowed the country to meet the threats raised by Chinese power in the region, boosting military spending by billion and creating the world’s most technologically advanced (and fifth largest) air force, making any approach to the island that much more difficult.
5. The Philippines
The 7,000-plus islands of the Philippines are not a country that any invader should look forward to subduing. The Philippines have been resisting invaders since Filipinos killed Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. For 300-plus years, people of the Philippines were largely not thrilled to be under Spanish rule, which led to a number of insurrections, mutinies, and outright revolts against the Spanish. As a matter of fact, for the entire duration of Spanish colonialism in the Philippines, the Moro on Sulu and Mindinao fought their occupiers. That’s a people who won’t be conquered.
And the Moro fought on.
By the time the people of the Philippines rose up to throw off the chains of Spanish colonizers, there was already a massive plan in place as well as a secret shadow government ready to take power as soon as the Spanish were gone. This revolution continued until the Spanish-American War when the Americans wrested the island nation away, much to the chagrin (and surprise) of the Philippines.
Freedom fighters in the Philippines were so incensed at the American occupation that U.S. troops had to adopt a new sidearm with a larger caliber. Moro fighters shot by the standard-issue Colt .38-caliber M1892 Army-Navy pistol would not stop rushing American troops and the U.S. troops in the Philippines were getting killed by lack of firepower.
Meanwhile, the Philippines created a government anyway and immediately declared war on the United States and, even though it ended with the capture of rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo, American troops would be in the Philippines until 1913, attempting to subdue guerrillas in the jungles and outlying islands. Until, that is, Japan invaded.
If you want to know how well that went for the Japanese, here’s a photo of Filipino freedom fighter Capt. Nieves Fernandez showing a U.S. soldier how she hacks off Japanese heads with her bolo knife.
Fun Fact: She was a schoolteacher before she started collecting heads.
So, even though the actual Armed Forces of the Philippines might be a little aged and weak, anyone trying to invade and subdue the Philippines can pretty much expect the same level of resistance from the locals. Consider hot climate and dense jungles covering 7,000-plus islands, full of Filipinos who are all going to try to kill you eventually — the Philippines will never stop resisting.
Barry L. Brown and Gordon R. Elwell, Crossroads of Conflict: A Guide to Civil War Sites in Georgia (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).
Benjamin G. Cloyd, Haunted by Atrocity: Civil War Prisons in American Memory (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010).
Ovid L. Futch, History of Andersonville Prison (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1968).
Lesley Gordon-Burr, "Storms of Indignation: The Art of Andersonville as Postwar Propaganda," Georgia Historical Quarterly 75 (fall 1991): 587-600.
Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (New York: Pantheon, 1998), chap. 12.
William Marvel, Andersonville: The Last Depot (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994).
German POWs on the American Homefront
In the mid-1940s when Mel Luetchens was a boy on his family’s Murdock, Nebraska, farm where he still lives, he sometimes hung out with his father’s hired hands, “I looked forward to it,” he said. “They played games with us and brought us candy and gum.” The hearty young men who helped his father pick corn or put up hay or build livestock fences were German prisoners of war from a nearby camp. “They were the enemy, of course,” says Luetchens, now 70 and a retired Methodist minister. “But at that age, you don’t know enough to be afraid.”
Since President Obama’s vow to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp erupted into an entrenched debate about where to relocate the prisoners captured in the Afghanistan War, Luetchens has reflected on the “irony and parallel” of World War II POWs and Guantanamo inmates. Recently, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected providing funds to close the U.S. military prison in Cuba, saying that no community in America would want terrorism suspects in its backyard.
But in America’s backyards and farm fields and even dining rooms is where many enemy prisoners landed nearly 70 years ago. As World War II raged, Allies, such as Great Britain, were running short of prison space to house POWs. From 1942 through 1945, more than 400,000 Axis prisoners were shipped to the United States and detained in camps in rural areas across the country. Some 500 POW facilities were built, mainly in the South and Southwest but also in the Great Plains and Midwest.
At the same time that the prison camps were filling up, farms and factories across America were struggling with acute labor shortages. The United States faced a dilemma. According to Geneva Convention protocols, POWs could be forced to work only if they were paid, but authorities were afraid of mass escapes that would endanger the American people. Eventually, they relented and put tens of thousands of enemy prisoners to work, assigning them to canneries and mills, to farms to harvest wheat or pick asparagus, and just about any other place they were needed and could work with minimum security.
About 12,000 POWs were held in camps in Nebraska. “They worked across the road from us, about 10 or 11 in 1943,” recalled Kelly Holthus, 76, of York, Nebraska. “They stacked hay. Worked in the sugar beet fields. Did any chores. There was such a shortage of labor.”
“A lot of them were stone masons,” said Keith Buss, 78, who lives in Kansas and remembers four POWs arriving at his family’s farm in 1943. “They built us a concrete garage. No level, just nail and string to line the building up. It’s still up today.”
Don Kerr, 86, delivered milk to a Kansas camp. “I talked to several of them,” he said. “I thought they were very nice.”
“At first there was a certain amount of apprehension,” said Tom Buecker, the curator of the Fort Robinson Museum, a branch of the Nebraska Historical Society. “People thought of the POWs as Nazis. But half of the prisoners had no inclination to sympathize with the Nazi Party.” Fewer than 10 percent were hard-core ideologues, he added.
Any such anxiety was short-lived at his house, if it existed at all, said Luetchens. His family was of German ancestry and his father spoke fluent German. “Having a chance to be shoulder-to-shoulder with [the prisoners], you got to know them,” Luetchens said. “They were people like us.”
“I had the impression the prisoners were happy to be out of the war,” Holthus said, and Kerr recalled that one prisoner “told me he liked it here because no one was shooting at him.”