Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Allison) to the Secretary of State 1

top secret


  • Joint State–Defense Committee Concerning Prisoners of War in Korea

There is attached a proposed reply from you2 to the Secretary of Defense to a letter from Mr. Lovett of January 19, 19533 concerning the handling of the problem of the prisoners of war in Korea.

As pointed out in a memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense enclosed with Mr. Lovett’s letter, the measures taken to regain control of the pro-Communist prisoners of war following [Page 727] the Koje-do incident of last May are proving inadequate on a long-term basis. There continue to be numerous incidents of violence in the camps, the last major incident being that on Pongam-do, December 14, 1952, in which approximately 82 prisoners were killed and 120 wounded by rifle and machine gun fire from American guards. These incidents are fomented by the Communists who utilize them to the maximum for propaganda and to shake the confidence of our Allies in our handling of POWs. Unless additional measures are taken, it appears that similar incidents can be expected in the future.

It seems clear that we must recognize that handling of particularly the pro-Communist POWs is probably going to be a long-term problem constituting a major factor in the entire Korean situation and that we must devise more effective methods for handling the problem than has heretofore been the case. Mr. Matthews and Mr. Johnson discussed the problem on January 6 with General Bradley, who fully appreciated its importance and stated that, after discussion with other members of the JCS, State would be consulted. Mr. Lovett’s letter of January 19 apparently resulted from that discussion.

The Department of Defense contemplates that an interdepartmental committee be established to work on this problem. It is our view and apparently that of the Department of Defense that the committee would primarily concern itself with the problem of handling the pro-Communist POWs, which constitute the major problem in discipline, control and propaganda. It would be expected that the disposition of POWs not desiring repatriation, which was the subject of my memorandum to you of January 23,4 would be handled by the usual channels of communication between State and Defense. However, if it appeared desirable that the Committee also concern itself with this problem, I would perceive no objection thereto.

Recommendation: It is recommended that you approve and sign the attached letter to the Secretary of Defense.5

  1. This memorandum was drafted by Johnson. As of Jan. 21, 1953, John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State.
  2. In the attached letter to Secretary of Defense Wilson, which is not printed, Dulles entirely concurred with Lovett’s proposal for a committee made up of representatives of the Departments of State and Defense to develop a policy covering the POW problem in Korea. Johnson was to represent the Department of State. (695A.0024/1–1953)
  3. Supra .
  4. Infra .
  5. Marginal notation on the source text indicated that Dulles signed the attached letter on Jan. 28, 1953.