4. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, January 7, 19551


  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Hoover
  • Mr. Murphy
  • Mr. Allen Dulles
  • Mr. Key
  • Mr. Robertson
  • Mr. McCardle
  • Mr. Phleger
  • Mr. MacArthur
  • Mr. Bowie
  • Mr. Popper (UN/P)2
  • Mr. Meeker (L/UNA)3


  • Problem of the Release of U.S. Airmen in Communist China4—Meeting in Secretary’s Office, January 7, 1955, 4:00 p.m.
[Page 7]

The Secretary opened the meeting with Ambassador Lodge’s suggestion that an officer be appointed in the Government to deal with the problem of prisoners in Communist China. This officer would be responsible for coordinating action and public statements on all individual cases. The Secretary noted that Mr. Lodge’s suggestion had been concurred in by Secretary of Defense Wilson who had offered to have the position established in his Department. The Secretary said that the solution might be two “prisoner officers”, one in the State Department to handle the problem of civilian prisoners, and one in the Defense Department for military prisoners. The latter would clear all policy statements with State, through a State Department adviser. Mr. Key agreed to work out with FE, CIA, and Defense a program along these lines.

The Secretary then opened the discussion of what practically can be done in the UN or by the US to bring about the release of the airmen should the Hammarskjold Mission fail. The Secretary suggested that we might get a strong resolution in the UN condemning the Chinese Communists. The Secretary added that formalized sanctions, either by the UN or by the US, would raise the question of “face” for the Chinese Communists and would not be a successful means to gain release of the airmen. He thought that we might instead resort to taking actions that annoy the Chinese without identifying the motive: they would quickly get the point.

There followed a general discussion on the pros and cons of various kinds of aggravating actions which might be taken against the Chinese Communists, including overflights, mining of harbors, and bombing of railroads. The Secretary suggested that junk traffic along the China coast might be intercepted by naval action. Mr. Phleger pointed out that reprisals of this sort might violate international law, as well as the UN Charter. Mr. MacArthur raised the question that [Page 8] the reaction of the Chinese Communists might lead them to use planes and submarines against the intercepting vessels. The Secretary then remarked that he did not think that the Chinese Communists want war. Mr. Phleger said he thought there would be serious doubts of the President’s Constitutional authority to undertake offensive hostile action against the Chinese Communists which might lead into general hostilities with them. Mr. Murphy said that punitive action such as the Secretary suggested had not been resorted to even during the Korean hostilities.

The Secretary reiterated his feeling that the best course might be for the UN to pass a strongly condemnatory resolution against the Chinese Communists and then leave the matter to the governments concerned, since he felt that we could not get a 2/3-vote to favor strong measures by the UN, and that efforts along these lines might break the organization. Mr. Allen Dulles suggested that the crew of the Tuapse5 now held in Formosa might provide a bargaining instrument. Mr. Dulles added that he would check into available intelligence on junk traffic.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.95A241/1–755. Top Secret. Drafted by Robert K. Sherwood of the Executive Secretariat who is not listed among the participants of the meeting. Approved with minor revisions by Secretary Dulles.
  2. David H. Popper, Director of the Office of U.N. Political and Security Affairs.
  3. Leonard C. Meeker, Assistant Legal Adviser for U.N. Affairs.
  4. Fifteen U.S. Air Force personnel were known to be imprisoned in the People’s Republic of China. On November 23, 1954, Peking radio had announced that 11 U.S. airmen and 2 U.S. civilians had been convicted of espionage and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 4 years to life. The 11 airmen were Colonel John K. Arnold, Commander of the 581st Air Resupply and Communications Wing, and his crew whose B–29 had been shot down in January 1953 while they were on a leaflet-dropping mission under the U.N. Command in Korea. The two civilians, John T. Downey and Richard George Fecteau, had been captured in November 1952 while on a mission for the Central Intelligence Agency. In a letter of December 4, 1954, from U.S. Representative at the United Nations Henry Cabot Lodge to U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, the United States had requested U.N. action concerning the 11 airmen. A letter of December 7, 1954, from Lodge to Hammarskjöld had called attention to four additional U.S. airmen who had been shot down between September 1952 and April 1953 while flying missions for the U.N. Command in Korea and were known to be imprisoned in the People’s Republic of China. (U.N. docs. A/2830 and 2843) On December 10, 1954, the General Assembly had adopted U.N. Resolution 906(IX), which requested the Secretary-General to seek the release of the 11 U.N. Command personnel and any other such personnel who where still detained. Hammarskjöld had subsequently arranged to visit Peking for discussions with Chou En-lai, Premier and Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China; he arrived in Peking on January 5. Hammarskjöld’s public statements and further information relating to his mission to Peking are printed in Public Papers of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations, vol. II, Dag Hammarskjöld, 1953–1956, Andrew W. Cordier and Wilder Foote, eds. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), pp. 415–459. Copies of Secretary-General Hammarskjöld’s records of his conversations with Chinese Premier Chou En-lai in Peking, January 6–10, are in the Andrew Cordier Papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University, Box 132.
  5. The Soviet tanker Tuapse and its crew, which had been seized by Republic of China naval forces on June 23, 1954, were still being held in Taiwan; for documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xiv, Part 1, pp. 338 ff.