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

top secret


  • Disposition of Anti-Communist POWs
[Page 728]


To determine U.S. policy concerning the disposition of those Chinese and North Korean POWs held by the UNC who have indicated that they would forcibly resist repatriation to Communist control (non-repatriates).


At the time the decision was reached to insist upon the principle of non-forcible repatriation of POWs held by UNC in the Korean armistice negotiations, it was fully recognized that the chances of Communist agreement to this principle were not good. However, apart from other considerations it was considered important to do all possible to obtain Communist agreement in order to reduce the possibilities of retaliation against UNC prisoners held by the Communists. Nevertheless it was also recognized that once the prisoners held by the UNC had been screened to determine their attitudes toward repatriation, failing Communist agreement to the principle, whatever possibilities existed of obtaining an armistice would probably be increased if the UNC were unilaterally to release those POWs who had indicated they would oppose repatriation, thus facing the Communists with a fait accompli. This would face the Communists with a situation in which there was clearly no possibility of negotiation, and which would enable the Communists to agree to an armistice without the necessity of agreeing to the principle of non-forcible repatriation. It would in effect be a maximum negotiating tactic.
It has now been clearly demonstrated that further search for a formula, mutually agreeable to the enemy and ourselves, for the disposition of non-repatriates, is hopeless. FE considers that the Indian resolution, passed by the General Assembly, constitutes the furthest that this Government could go in the way of a compromise on the mechanics of a settlement of the POW issue consistent with the principle of non-forcible repatriation. The rejection of the resolution, and the terms in which those rejections were expressed, makes it clear that there is no possibility that the USSR and the Chinese Communists will, under present circumstances, agree to any formula consistent with the principle of non-forcible repatriation. This fact is now at the point of maximum clarity to world opinion, and free world opinion is probably at its maximum point of unity on the question. Therefore, the next few weeks probably represent the optimum period in which to obtain Allied agreement to, and announce the decision to carry out a unilateral release of non-repatriates. If such an announcement cannot be made prior to the reconvening of the General Assembly, it may be desirable that it be postponed until the Assembly has adjourned.
While it would require at least a month or two to complete the release in an orderly manner and with due regard for security considerations, it would be desirable to make a public statement with regard thereto as soon as the process was initiated. The number of non-repatriates involved is in the order of 34,000 Koreans and 14,000 Chinese. The ROK Government has indicated its willingness to accept the Koreans, and the Chinese Nationalist Government the Chinese, subject to security screening.
I would suggest that as the first step in reaching a decision on this matter it would be desirable to consult with General Clark and the JCS concerning the military aspects, whereupon definitive recommendations would be made to you and be submitted to the President for his approval. It would thereupon be necessary to consult with our Allies to obtain their concurrence or acquiescence. Congressional consultation would also be desirable. In the meanwhile, considerable planning and preparations in the field would be required to carry out the operation and at an appropriate time consultation with the ROK and Chinese National Governments would also be required.


It is recommended that you approve the undertaking of preliminary discussions with the JCS and consultation with General Clark along the foregoing lines.2 Upon the completion of such discussions, definitive recommendations will be submitted to you.

  1. This memorandum was drafted by Johnson.
  2. A memorandum from Dulles to Allison returning this memorandum read as follows: “This idea has merit and I think deserves exploration. The principal danger is the possibility of reprisals against United States and ROK prisoners of war.”