The Hijacked War
The Story of Chinese POWs in the Korean War
David Cheng Chang


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

The Introduction establishes the centrality of the Chinese prisoners in the second half of the war and suggests a new periodization highlighting the war over prisoners. The Korean War was in fact two wars: the first was fought over territory from June 1950 to June 1951; the second was fought over prisoners from late 1951 to July 1953. While the first war restored the territorial status quo ante bellum, the second war's only visible outcome was the "defection" of some fourteen thousand Chinese prisoners to Taiwan and seven thousand North Korean prisoners to South Korea—nearly doubling the length of the war and inflicting numerous casualties on all sides, including 12,300 American deaths in the last two years. The war was hijacked by misguided US policies and a core of Chinese anti-Communist prisoners. This chapter suggests that this surprise outcome was one reason the war became America's "forgotten war."

1 Fleeing or Embracing the Communists in the Chinese Civil War
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This chapter traces the divergent Civil War experiences of several future POWs: a Nationalist paratrooper, a Nationalist-turned-Communist doctor, three Taiwanese teenagers who joined the Nationalist army and fought on the mainland, a Tsinghua University student-turned-Communist underground agent, two Whampoa Military Academy cadets fleeing Manchuria, a forcibly conscripted Sichuanese turned a proud PLA soldier, and several idealistic students. While the Communists' ruthless persecution of the rich horrified some young people, their vastly superior discipline, vigor, and purposefulness—in contrast to the Nationalists—held powerful political and emotional appeal, especially for young people who had been neglected or oppressed under the Nationalist regime.

2 Reforming Former Nationalists
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This chapter examines the thought reform experiences of Nationalist officers, Whampoa cadets, and enlisted men in the Communist army in 1950, some of whom later became defectors and anti-Communist prisoner leaders and activists in Korea. Meticulously planned, thoroughly implemented, and backed by the threat of violence, Communist thought reform combined intense indoctrination with mandatory participation and performance. By the end of 1950, after a year-long indoctrination, or "thought reform," ex-Nationalist personnel—"liberated soldiers"—seemed to have completely surrendered to their captors, physically, emotionally, and sometimes intellectually as well. While the Communist ideology and methods won some converts, others remained unconvinced. To survive, however, these dissenters had to hide their resentment under the guise of complete submission. Thanks to their extensive and painful experiences under the Communists, ex-Nationalists acquired the essential Communist techniques: relentless indoctrination with mandatory participation and performance and iron discipline reinforced by mutual surveillance.

3 Desperados and Volunteers
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The Chinese People's Volunteer Army (CPV) was a misnomer artfully chosen to camouflage China's strategic intentions and lure the Americans into underestimating China's commitment and strength in Korea. It was made up of PLA units with the same designation; more than 60 to 70 percent of its troops consisted of former Nationalists. New recruits were also added. While some were drafted by local government using hoaxes, others volunteered for the army in a desperate move to escape local persecution during the "Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries"—the "bloody honeymoon" in the first year of the People's Republic. Going to war in Korea gave those disaffected young men their final opportunity to escape Communist China.

4 Chiang, MacArthur, Truman, and NSC-81/1
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This chapter first shifts the focus to Taiwan, where Chiang Kai-shek fled and made his final stand, fearing an imminent Communist invasion in spring 1950. With the outbreak of the Korean War, Washington reversed its hands-off policy and committed to deny Taiwan to the Communists. General MacArthur's visit to Taiwan from July 31 to August 1, 1950, gave Chiang's regime a morale boost and opened the door to future intelligence collaboration. President Truman and General MacArthur met on Wake Island on October 15. Crossing the 38th parallel had been a foregone conclusion, as Truman had signed NSC-81/1 four days before the Inchon landing, authorizing a rollback in North Korea. Contrary to the popular belief that they focused on China's possible intervention, their main discussion item was the postwar rehabilitation of the entire Korean peninsula, including the reorientation or reindoctrination of POWs—another mandate of NSC-81/1.

5 Defectors and Prisoners in the First Three Chinese Offensives
chapter abstract

This chapter covers the first three Chinese offensives from late October 1950 to early January 1951, during which the CPV achieved near complete surprise and decisively defeated the UN Command (UNC) troops in a series of epic battles, including the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Despite the UNC's utter defeat and hasty retreat, 1,245 Chinese prisoners were captured by the end of December 1950. This chapter sketches the experiences of several defectors, who risked their lives to cross the lines to surrender and provided valuable intelligence that might have saved American lives. Some of them later became anti-Communist prisoner leaders in POW camps.

6 Ridgway's Turnaround, MacArthur's Exit, and Taiwan's Entry
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This chapter studies the critical period from January to April 1951, when General Matthew Ridgway, the new Eighth Army commander, successfully turned around the war in Korea. The UNC repelled the Chinese Fourth Offensive and launched a counteroffensive. During the intense fighting, more Chinese prisoners were captured. Taking great risks, defectors escaped and surrendered to the UNC, including some of the future anti-Communist POW leaders. Even though MacArthur was dismissed by President Truman in April, he left a little-known but highly consequential legacy: the hiring of more than seventy interpreters from Taiwan, some of whom would play an instrumental role in the rise of anti-Communist POWs. In addition, Washington authorized the expansion of the prisoner indoctrination program to include Chinese POWs.

7 The Fifth Offensive Debacle
chapter abstract

This chapter dissects the Chinese Fifth Offensive (Spring Offensive) debacle, especially the destruction of the CPV 180th Division—one of the most humiliating defeats in Chinese Communist military history. Over three months, 15,510 CPV soldiers were captured—more than 70 percent of the 21,074 Chinese prisoners captured in the entire war. Drawing on both Chinese and American military sources, this chapter reconstructs the Chinese offensive and UNC counteroffensive and siege. It shows Chinese military leadership at all levels—from General Peng Dehuai's general headquarters, to the III Army Group, and to the 60th Army and the 180th Division—was arbitrary, careless, and disorderly. In the final stage of its siege, the 180th Division's commanders made the decision to "disperse and escape"—a code word for abandoning their troops. Using oral history and prisoner interrogation reports, this chapter also traces CPV soldiers' battle experiences and defectors' escapes in intimate detail.

8 Civil War in the POW Camps
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This chapter investigates the rise of Chinese anti-Communist prisoners in UNC prison camps in Pusan and on Koje Island, where more than 150,000 Chinese and North Korean POWs were held. Unlike the North Korean prisoners, whose military organization remained largely intact, the Chinese Communist officers sought to hide their identities to avoid interrogation by G-2 and persecution by the US Army. Chinese defectors served as trusties, cooperating with G-2 to identify Communist officers for interrogation and helping prison authorities arrest Communist "troublemakers." As mandated by Washington, the Civil Information and Education program began its reindoctrination project in August 1952, relying on educated anti-Communist prisoners as instructors. Chinese anti-Communist POWs combined Communist methods of thought control and mandatory participation with Nationalist methods of physical punishment. They established control over the two largest Chinese compounds, 72 and 86, with a combined population of more than sixteen thousand.

9 The Debate over Prisoner Repatriation in Washington, Panmunjom, and Taipei
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Chapter 9 delineates the origin and evolution of Washington's policy on prisoner repatriation, which unexpectedly became the main stumbling block in armistice negotiations in Panmunjom. While Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai took the negotiations extremely seriously and assembled China's first team of negotiators, President Truman and Secretary of State Acheson paid scant attention, leaving the talks in the hands of military officers without assistance from diplomats and China experts. Voluntary repatriation was first introduced as a bargaining position; but once it was publicized, the United States found it impossible to retreat from this moralistic position. As top officials withheld unsavory facts and vexing complexities, Truman made the final decision to uphold voluntary repatriation. "The Chinese have influenced the course of events in Koje-do and at Panmunjom," lamented the US ambassador.

10 Screening: "Voluntary Repatriation" Turns Violent
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In early April 1952, Communist negotiators acquiesced to the UNC's proposal to screen prisoners in order to determine a "round number" of prisoners wishing to return. While the screening process itself was free, horrific violence had occurred on the eve of the screening. This chapter documents the widespread torture and several cases of murder of pro-Communist prisoners by anti-Communist trusties, who succeeded in intimating fellow prisoners from choosing repatriation. In anti-Communist-controlled Compounds 72 and 86, more than 85 percent of the sixteen thousand prisoners refused repatriation. Just as the armistice line of 1953 changed little from the battle line of summer 1951, it is no exaggeration to say that the final breakdown of repatriation choices had been determined in the months leading up to April 1952.

11 General Dodd's Kidnapping and General Boatner's Crackdown
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This chapter narrates Koje prison commandant General Francis Dodd's kidnapping by North Korean prisoners and his successor Haydon Boatner's crackdown on North Korean and Chinese Communist prisoners, who had been separated from the anti-Communists. With methodical planning and a firm hand, "Old China Hand" Boatner tamed the newly formed Chinese Communist Compound 602. He also broke up North Korean Compound 76, whose prisoners had kidnapped Dodd, and restored order on Koje Island. But his success was short-lived, as he was soon promoted and headed stateside.

12 China Hands on Koje and Cheju
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This chapter examines the roles played by several low-ranking "Old China Hands" on Koje and Cheju island. Philip Manhard, a junior Foreign Service officer who began learning Chinese in 1948, was posted on Koje per Acheson's instructions. He authored several reports highly critical of the UNC prison authorities and anti-Communist trusties. The openly anti-Communist Catholic Chaplain Thomas O'Sullivan also served as an interpreter and became involved in the death of a Communist prisoner. MP Captain Joseph Brooks, who claimed that his Chinese wife and child had been killed by the Communists, became increasingly hostile toward Chinese Communist prisoners. Trouble was brewing on Cheju Island.

13 October 1 Massacre on Cheju
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Chapter 13 investigates the deadly incident on October 1, 1952, that resulted in the deaths of fifty-six Chinese pro-Communist prisoners. US internal investigation reports and interviews with several Chinese witnesses and an American soldier who fired into the crowd debunk the US official claim of a mass prison break. In the lead-up to the incident, there had been a period of high-octane confrontation and mutual insults. The prison authorities had ordered guards to "shoot to kill" prisoners for any and all aggressive actions. The military police unit was led by the openly hostile Captain Brooks; Communist prisoners were commanded by equally bellicose leaders, who secretly ordered the assassination of Brooks. A clash was all but inevitable.

14 Exchanges and "Explanation"
chapter abstract

Chapter 14 examines the repatriation of pro-Communist prisoners in August and September 1953 and the subsequent 90-day "Explanation" for the anti-Communists and their eventual release to Taiwan in January 1954. This chapter also turns to the story of the twelve Chinese and seventy-six Korean prisoners who chose neutral nations and went to India. It highlights the roles played by the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC) and the Custodial Forces of India, which administered the anti-Communist prisoners at Panmunjom. The prisoners' experiences are told through oral histories, including those of China- and Taiwan-bound prisoners, and two neutral-nation-bound prisoners, a Chinese and a North Korean, who chose neutral nations and are now living in Argentina.

15 Prisoner-Agents of Unit 8240
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Chapter 15 uncovers the hitherto unknown history of prisoner-turned-agents. Between late 1951 and early 1954, several hundred Chinese prisoners disappeared from prison camps and were declared to have "escaped." They were drafted by a US military intelligence unit—the Far East Command Liaison Detachment (Korea), the 8240th Army Unit. After some crude training, they infiltrated into North Korea by air, by sea, or by land, and had to return to the UNC side on foot. More than half of these prisoner-agents—probably more than two hundred—were killed or captured during missions, and some of the captured were executed by the PRC. The program practically destroyed the best educated and most committed Chinese anti-Communist prisoners. This chapter draws on interviews with several of the seventy survivors who went to Taiwan, detailing their narrow escape from death and the loss of their comrades.

16 Aftermath
chapter abstract

This chapter sketches prisoners' postwar lives in Taiwan, the PRC, and India, and subsequently Latin America. None of the 7,110 POWs who were repatriated to China between April 1953 and January 1954 went home directly, as they were subjected to a yearlong investigation that resulted in the expulsion of 91.8 percent of the 2,900 Communist members from the CCP, dishonorable discharge of 4,600 repatriates from the PLA counting from the date of their capture, the expulsion of some 700 men from the PLA, and the arrest of a small number of traitors and spy suspects. No one was allowed to rejoin the PLA. What followed was lifetime stigma and persecution. In contrast, few of the 14,000 Taiwan-bound prisoners were allowed to quit the military, where they were closely monitored. While some prisoners became victims of the White Terror, others found opportunities in Taiwan's increasingly free and prosperous society.

chapter abstract

Voluntary repatriation and prisoner reindoctrination, the twin US policies in the second half of the Korean War—the war over the prisoners—were major failures, as they achieved none of their original objectives and denied the rights of the majority of prisoners while protecting only a minority. No one had anticipated the price for paying lip service to fighting the Chinese Communists—with propaganda and psychological warfare—could be so dear. The United States had paid a punishing price for its arrogance toward the Chinese and its ignorance about the Chinese Communists in the Korean War, but few understand why the war was fought for three years instead of one. It is a lesson that remains to be learned.