Memorandum for the Record, by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Johnson)

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  • Position on POWs in Korean Armistice Negotiations
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  • Memorandum for the Record, February 4, 1952, on Foregoing Subject1

The memorandum2 mentioned in the last paragraph of the foregoing memorandum was prepared by Mr. Johnson and was discussed with Mr. Nash and Mr. Foster of Defense on February 2. The final draft was approved by the Secretary on February 4 and transmitted to Mr. Nash on the same day.

On February 5 Mr. Nash informed Mr. Johnson that the memorandum had been shown to and discussed by Mr. Lovett, Mr. Foster and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of whom agreed that it accurately reflected the discussions and decisions taken at the meeting of February 1. However, in studying the matter in “black and white”, Mr. Lovett had serious doubts concerning the position and questioned whether our “Yankee ingenuity” in finding better solutions had been exhausted. Admiral Fechteler stated that he entirely withdrew his previous concurrence with the position set forth in the memorandum. General Vandenberg, who was not present at the meeting of February 1, expressed his firm oppostion to the entire position. Mr. Lovett and Mr. Foster decided that another meeting between State and Defense should be held as quickly as possible.

The matter was discussed with the Secretary the evening of February 5 at a meeting attended by Mr. Matthews, Mr. Bohlen, Mr. Nitze, Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Johnson. The decision was reached that there would be no substantive change in the Department’s position, that emphasis should be placed upon reaching a decision upon the principle of no forced repatriation, the details of implementation of that decision being left for later determination. It was also decided to express our willingness to meet with Defense as quickly as possible in order that a decision on the question could be reached with the least delay.

Mr. Johnson informed Mr. Nash of this decision the evening of February 5. It was determined that because of the necessity of Mr. Lovett testifying in Congress on February 6 it would be impossible to arrange a meeting for that day. The meeting was accordingly set for 3:00 p.m., February 7.

In the meanwhile, it was learned that a considerable group of Senators had expressed concurrence with a proposed Senate resolution initiated by Senator Jenner calling for an inflexible U.S. position on voluntary repatriation and that Mr. Lovett had contacted several Senators with regard to the matter.3

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On the morning of February 7, Mr. Nash called and asked that the meeting set for 3:00 p.m. that day be moved up to 10:30 a.m. in order that it might also consider the attitude to be taken by Mr. Lovett in discussing the above-mentioned resolution with a group of Senators that afternoon.

The meeting was accordingly held at the Pentagon at 10:30 a.m. at which Mr. Lovett, Mr. Foster, Mr. Nash, Mr. Alexander, Mr. Finletter, Mr. Kimball, General Bradley, Admiral Fechteler, General Vandenberg and General Hull were present for Defense, and Mr. Acheson, Mr. Matthews, Mr. Bohlen, Mr. Nitze and Mr. Johnson for State.

The whole Senate resolution was discussed and it was decided that in view of its content, particularly with respect to matters concerning our Allies in the UN, Mr. Lovett would take the position that it was inopportune and that in any event it stated no more with regard to prisoners than was the present position being taken in the negotiations at Panmunjom. Mr. Lovett was not to indicate in any way that any change in the Executive position on this question was under consideration, as possible leaks would seriously jeopardize General Ridgway’s negotiating position.

The question of forcible repatriation was then thoroughly discussed, each person present being called upon and being given full opportunity to express their views. On the Defense side, with the exception of Mr. Lovett, Mr. Foster, and Mr. Finletter, who were seriously doubtful as to the final position to be taken, there was a clear disposition to agree to return all prisoners of war held by the UNC, including even, if necessary, the 44,000 ROK personnel who had been reclassified to civilian internee status, to achieve an armistice. The Department of State representatives remained firmly opposed to this view.4 No decisions in this regard were reached at the meeting.

Following the meeting, a memorandum to the President for the Secretary’s signature was prepared, setting forth the views of the Department of State.5 This memorandum was approved by the Secretary, transmitted to Mr. Lovett with the suggestion that he either join in the memorandum or set forth the Defense position in a separate memorandum and that he and Mr. Acheson discuss the matter with the President following the Cabinet meeting on February 8.

On the morning of February 8, Mr. Nash informed Mr. Johnson that while Mr. Lovett was not joining in the proposed memorandum to the President, he would not oppose it and would be prepared to discuss the matter with the President and Mr. Acheson following the Cabinet meeting. Mr. Nash also informed Mr. Johnson that as a result of Mr. [Page 43] Lovett’s meeting the preceding afternoon with a group of Senators interested in the proposed resolution, the Senators had decided not to go forward with the resolution. He stated that Mr. Lovett had assured the group that they would be informed if there were any change in the U.S. Government position on repatriation of POWs.

  1. Ante, p. 32.
  2. The memorandum under reference was the draft memorandum for the President, Feb. 4, p. 35.
  3. Senator Jenner’s resolution was never introduced. Secretary Acheson also made reference to it and Secretary Lovett’s intervention in Present at the Creation, p. 653.
  4. For Secretary Acheson’s account of the differences between the Departments of State and Defense on voluntary repatriation, see Acheson, Present at the Creation, p. 653.
  5. Dated Feb. 8, p. 44.