FE files, lot 55 D 128

Memorandum by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (Phillips) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews)

top secret


  • Disposition of Anti-Communist POWs

In considering the memorandum under this title by Mr. Stelle dated December 16,1 the following points are worth keeping in mind:

Domestic reaction to such a move would be conditioned to a great extent by the threat or fact of retaliation against American POWs. No public opinion surveys and very little editorial opinion has yet faced squarely up to this eventuality. Editorial opinion has been almost unanimously in favor of the UN position. However, there has been a constant under-current of privately circulated petitions demanding the return of our prisoners as a first concern. One such petition, started some months ago by the parents of a prisoner and with no known Communist inspiration, is believed to have gathered about 250,000 signatures. At present the Department has received about 12,000 petitions or form messages calling for a cease-fire and a large proportion of them demanding the return of our prisoners. Most of these are addressed to the President and forwarded to the Department by the White House.
Public opinion strongly backed the Korean trip of General Eisenhower. Although opinion was less certain that any decisive results would come of the trip, there is no question but that any final disposition of anti-Communist POWs by this Administration which did not have the open backing of the new Administration would be open to very severe public criticism.
Obviously the prospect of unfavorable domestic reaction to the contemplated move would be lessened if it were taken in conjunction with increased military activities no matter which side initiated them.
As an argument in the other direction, our position on POWs in Korea and on defectors in Europe are both under pressure at this time. Having publicly attached a great deal of importance to the moral principles involved, great benefit probably would be achieved in the long run by positive action showing that we will not waive from the established principles.

In the light of the above it is evident that such a move would run the risk of an overwhelmingly unfavorable domestic reaction unless it had the open support of the new Administration or unless it were taken in conjunction with a military offensive.