State–JCS Meetings, lot 61 D 417

Memorandum of the Substance of Discussion at a Department of State–Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting1

top secret

Mr. Bohlen: We thought it would be useful to discuss this draft of a suggested message to Clark asking for his views on action we might take to deal with those Prisoners of War who have said they did not want to be repatriated. The main point of such action would be to clearly remove the POW’s from the field of negotiations.

General Bradley: We haven’t yet had a chance to discuss that question here. The point on POW’s that we wanted to bring up is related to Clark’s strong recommendation2 that he now be permitted to establish a commission to try POW’s for war crimes. In looking into this, our information is that when we last discussed the question of POW’s it was decided that we would have a committee look into it. Perhaps Frank Nash can tell us what stage the discussions are in.

Mr. Nash: We have passed on to the State Department the views of the JCS expressed in your memorandum of January 9.3 We thought that a departmental committee should be set up which should include a representative from Justice. Clark’s latest message which you have mentioned really deals with only one piece of the general problem. Your January 9 memorandum asks for a study of the whole question of dealing with POW’s.

General Bradley: Your question on the reclassification of POW’s who don’t want to go back is also one part of the general problem.

Mr. Bohlen: Which points would you care to discuss first?

Mr. Nash: I think it would be useful to discuss Clark’s last message. I believe that the State Department views which I have heard from various officers should be known to the Chiefs and might be helpful.

Mr. Johnson: Our view is that the central question is how much of a deterrent to further disorders a formal commission and trial of POW’s for war crimes would present. We have some question as to how much formal trials would aid in the way of a deterrent. It seemed to us that there were three distinct categories of difficulties with POW’s. The first was the pre-Chejudo riots, which primarily arose from a lack of firm control over the prison camps. The second was the post-Chejudo riots where it seemed to us Clark’s main problem was in identifying the leaders of the riots. The third category was the recent incidents in which [Page 738] American and other U.N. guards have been attacked. As we understand it, if Clark is able to identify the criminals, he now has authority to remove them and confine them. The additional authority which he would secure by his requested authorization would presumably be that of execution. We have some question as to whether this additional authority would be a major deterrent to further disturbances.

General Vandenberg: It would certainly help to raise the morale of the guards if they knew that drastic action was going to be taken against any POW who attacked them.

General Collins: Even though Clark now has authority to isolate the criminals, the real question is what do you do to those that are isolated. It is not just a question of prisoners who have killed guards, there is this recent case in the prison hospital where a South Korean guard was severely mauled.

Mr. Johnson: Have you considered the possibility of reprisals against our own prisoners if we should undertake trials for war crimes.

General Bradley: Yes we have, and we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t keep the Communists from doing whatever they wanted to with our prisoners.

Mr. Bohlen: It seems to me that the Communists from their point of view have whatever material they might think they needed for reprisals and that our action would not really add greatly in the way of a provocation. As long as setting up trials for crimes is fully consistent with international law, as I understand it is, and as long as this is a measure which seems to be necessary to assist in protecting our guards and maintaining order, I don’t think we should shy away from it on the grounds of possible adverse propaganda.

Mr. Johnson: Can we separate out the different categories?

General Collins: Yes, we can and I think we should. I am personally quite leery about having trials for pre-Chejudo offenses, but I do think we ought to authorize Clark to take action against the attacks on U.S. or U.N. guards.

General Bradley: I think that would be the best course to follow, just to authorize Clark to take this specific kind of action against this one category of attack against U.N. guards and tell him that other questions will be considered by the committtee on the general problem.

General Collins: Then why don’t we get together with Johnson and get up a draft telegram agreeable to both of us.4

General Bradley: Should we discuss this other question of reclassifying POW’s?

Mr. Bohlen: It should be clear that there has been no decision in our Department on this question. The possibility has been presented to the Secretary and he has authorized us to discuss it with you, but no Departmental [Page 739] position has been established. It would seem to us, however, that Vishinsky in his statement in the U.N. has made it very clear that the Russians will not be willing to accept the principle of non-forcible repatriation and that, therefore, it it highly probable that we just will not get Chinese Communist acceptance of this principle as a basis for an armistice. The thought is that possibly if we should reclassify the non-repatriates and then disband them and physically remove them from UNC control, that we would, in fact, remove the issue. The Communists would of course yell about our action, but we could then say, and quite accurately, that these people were no longer under our control, that there was just no point in negotiating about them any further and that we would be willing to reach an agreement on the basis of an all for all exchange of prisoners.

General Vandenberg: Surely if we are going to do it this is the time to do it, before any resumption of armistice talks.

Mr. Bohlen: There is one point of timing and that is that it probably would not be a good thing to try this before the General Assembly opened.

Mr. Hickerson: We would have to talk with some of our Allies and this might take a matter of 30 to 60 days. With the Assembly opening the 24th of February, we don’t think it is practicable or advisable.

Mr. Bohlen: In addition to the difficulty of carrying out consultations with our Allies before the General Assembly opens, there is the added difficulty that if we should start talking with them before the Assembly opens and if, as is quite possible, there should be a leak, we might stir up just the kind of action on Korea in the General Assembly which we now hope to avoid. There is the further question of reprisals. We are keenly conscious of the danger that, if we undertook this action, there would be a possibility that the Communists might suddenly announce that they have received petitions signed by 3,000 American prisoners, saying that these prisoners did not want to return to U.S. control. It would obviously be a phony, but the Communists would be quite capable of doing it and of running it through their propaganda mill. We realize that the worst situation would be for us to take the action of reclassifying the POW’s and then to have the Communists take a similar action in reprisal and end up in a further deadlock.

General Vandenberg: Can’t we do it under some sort of neutral supervision?

General Bradley: I should think that it might be useful if we asked the ICRC or some neutrals to participate in screening the POW’s to demonstrate that their choice is really voluntary.

General Collins: If in view of the timing of the General Assembly we don’t want to take this action for five or six weeks, it seems to me dangerous to send this message out now. I would be very much worried about a leak.

[Page 740]

Mr. Bohlen: I think Collins has a point. We have been very much concerned about secrecy on this, particularly since if there should be a leak before we actually take the action the Commies might well, in reaction to the leak, get frozen on a position which they would find it impossible to abandon.

Mr. Johnson: How long would it actually take Clark to carry out such a reclassification?

General Collins: It would depend on the type of screening and whether shipping was available for the Chinese and on whether arrangements had been made for reception centers. The Koreans might not present such a problem and Clark might be able to handle them in two or three weeks.

Mr. Bohlen: As far as the armistice negotiations go, we will really have made our point merely by the announcement that these people are no longer POW’s and the question of the time it might take to physically remove them doesn’t seem to me to be particularly relevant.

General Bradley: If there is a security danger in this message going out now, shouldn’t we leave this question for the committee that we talked about to consider?

Mr. Bohlen: When the question is considered on the top level, wouldn’t the President and his advisors want Clark’s views?

General Bradley: I am sure they would.

General Collins: Perhaps the best thing to do would be to have one member of the committee go out and talk with Clark when the time is ripe.

Mr. Bohlen: I think that might be the best way to handle it and I think we should have a special injunction of secrecy on this question.

General Collins: There is one other point that we wanted to discuss. Clark is very concerned about the piecemeal shifting of the Korean Capital from Pusan to Seoul and wonders if you cannot give us some help in combatting it.

Mr. Johnson: Has Clark discussed with Rhee the military inadvisability of attracting enemy attack on Seoul by moving the capital?

General Lemnitzer: Yes, he has and Rhee does not seem to be in any way moved by this argument.

Mr. Johnson: Holding up our rehabilitation on Seoul has not proved to be persuasive or useful.

Mr. Allison: There is no question we are all agreed that it is a bad thing for the Koreans to move to Seoul. The question is what can we do to stop it.

Mr. Bohlen: Isn’t the real question what methods of persuasion can we devise.

Mr. Allison: Is this the kind of thing that is important enough to bring the President into?

[Page 741]

Mr. Bohlen: I think we would want to think it over very carefully and see what might usefully be done.

[Here follows a brief discussion on increased aid to France for Indochina]

  1. A note on the title page read: “State Draft. Not cleared with any of the participants.”

    All of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—Generals Bradley, Vandenberg, and Collins; Admiral Fechteler; plus Commandant of the Marine Corps Shepherd—attended this meeting. Bohlen headed the Department of State contingent, Gleason represented the NSC, and Nash the Department of Defense. In all 21 persons attended.

  2. See telegram CX 61135, Clark to Department of the Army, Feb. 4, p. 732.
  3. For a text of the JCS memorandum of Jan. 9, see p. 725.
  4. The draft was transmitted as JCS 931969 to Clark, Feb. 20, p. 790.