No. 408
Memorandum Prepared in the Department of Defense for the Operations Coordinating Board1

top secret


  • U.S. Reaction to the Imprisonment of American Prisoners of War in Communist China
The international position of the U.S. vis-à-vis Communist China has been seriously jeopardized by the illegal and amoral action of the Chinese Communist Government in sentencing and in imprisoning U.S. citizens captured by the Chinese Communist armies, incident to the Korean war.
Taken together, the entire matter of the 944 prisoners still unaccounted for by the Chinese Communists, the confessed retention by the Chinese Communists of 13 “political prisoners”) and now the culminating act of the Chinese Communists in sentencing these so-called political prisoners for “espionage” comprise a situation which, it is believed, the Government cannot expect to satisfy by the simple act of expressing yet another protest to the Chinese Communist Government.
There follows therefore a series of possible actions which the U.S. might undertake as a means of applying pressure on the Chinese Communist Government to secure the release of these prisoners and as a means of making it clear that the sovereign rights of this nation and its citizens may not be abused with impunity.
It is recognized that many of the actions listed herein have ramifications beyond the immediate territorial and national aspects of our China policy. Most will occasion reaction from our European allies; some will probably have an adverse effect upon our relations with the neutral nations in Asia. On the other hand, it is believed that a forceful and effective action program will in the long run be more beneficial than harmful to free world interests in the area. Possible courses of action are as follows:
The public announcement of the imposition of a sea blockade on all or several Chinese Communist ports in retaliation for the continued illegal imprisonment of U.S. citizens.
The seizure of one or more Chinese Communist flag vessels and their crews to be held hostage for the return of the Americans illegally imprisoned.
The delivery of a de facto ultimatum that unless these prisoners are returned to U.S. control within a stated period of time, air action against selected Chinese Communist port or industrial facilities will be initiated—not as an act of war but as an act of retaliation.
The immediate initiation within the UN of a censure resolution with provision for the establishment of an investigations commission empowered to enter Chinese Communist territory.
Covert U.S. support for Chinese Nationalist seizure of additional off-shore islands now held by the Chinese Communists as retaliation for the illegal imprisonment of Chinese and American individuals, to be followed by overt U.S. association with the action.
Provision of support for a medium-scale raid on the China mainland by the Nationalists for purposes of seizing hostages followed by open U.S. support of such action.
An announced intention by the U.S. to support the interdiction of the Shanghai-South rail lines of communication.
It is recommended that the Board consider these or other possible courses of action which might be feasible with a view to making recommendations thereon to the National Security Council and the President as a matter of utmost urgency.
  1. The source text is unsigned; it bears the letterhead of the Secretary of Defense. Parts of the memorandum were read by Acting Secretary of Defense Anderson at an informal OCB meeting on Nov. 24; see the memorandum, infra.