Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs (Hickerson) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews)
I refer to the proposed memorandum for the President on Prisoners of War.1
Since we are now at the point of final decision on our position, it seems appropriate that I record the views which I gave orally to you and on a separate occasion to the Secretary. My view is that in the final analysis we would not be justified, because of the danger of reprisals against U.S. and UN troops, in allowing the armistice negotiations to fail solely because of our refusal to return all Communist prisoners of war.
I feel that we should maintain the present position on this point for some time longer and give every indication that we will not yield on it. We might well make use of an apparent fait accompli device, as outlined in Mr. Johnson’s draft memorandum but my own view is that we should not allow the Communists who do not wish to return to pass irretrievably out of our hands until we know for sure whether the Chinese and North Koreans will take reprisals against American and other UN prisoners of war. To forestall such reprisals I would favor handing over the Communist prisoners of war who, as Mr. Johnson’s memorandum recognizes, would still be fighting UN Forces except for the accident of capture.
I recognize the very strong arguments against the principle of forced repatriation. I further recognize that the stand one takes on this must necessarily be a matter of individual judgment since there are about as many arguments on one side as the other.
I feel strongly that the Secretary’s memorandum to the President should recommend that we take adequately into account the views of our UN allies who have troops fighting alongside ours in Korea after [Page 39] the President decides what he thinks is the right thing to do in this matter.