Occasionally the guards would find a corpse in the latrine

Saturday, January 30th, 2021

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachInside the U.S. POW camps, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), Communists and non-Communists jostled for control, so they were separated:

But the screening did have one result. The worst Communists, officers and men alike, were segregated into compounds like the soon-to-be-notorious 76. The segregation did not have the desired result; instead, it concentrated Communist talent.


When the Americans told the prisoners to elect representatives from each compound, Lee and Hong were ready. The campaign was brief, violent, and secretly bloody.


Occasionally, the guards would find a corpse in the latrine, or a body stuffed down the sewer line. Now and then a roll call turned up someone short, and the POW’s would seem to be uneasy, talking and muttering in small groups.


The new chief honchos, or head knockers, met daily with the guards, and began to demand things.

To their delight, they were never disappointed.

They asked for whitewash, and got it. Soon, pretty rock designs of Chinese, Korean, and U.S. flags adorned the compound yards. They asked for record players, paper, ink, mimeograph machines, and work tools.

Because the U.N. Commission felt it was good therapy to let them work, they got everything they asked for, at U.S. expense.

There was no appropriation for extra barbed wire, or for more compounds to case the crucial housing shortage, which made the existing compounds so large as to be almost unmanageable. But there was money for sheet metal, saws, hammers, and nails for the prisoners, who went studiously to work, making things. Some of the items they made they buried underneath the floors of their huts before the Americans had a chance to admire them.


During this period, Major Gregory noticed that the population of Koje-do, aside from the POW’s, was increasing. More and more Koreans showed up, to get jobs as servants, houseboys, laundrymen, barbers. The U.S. payroll, after the manner of such rolls, continued to increase geometrically each month. In Colonel Fitzgerald’s HQ there were more Koreans than GI’s.


The POW press turned out more and more newssheets, flooding the island. Many began to turn up in Pusan, as the paper ration was increased. One evening Major Gregory found one in his quarters. He asked his houseboy what it said.

He was told, “Oh, the Communists are telling the people what fools the Americans are.”


  1. Xcuri says:

    If I remember correctly, there was an incredible amount of death and destruction wrought by the USAF on a country that then had a rather small population (especially the part that became the DPRK). Events that people remember more than the “benefits” provided at the POW camp.

  2. Ezra says:

    They were fools, weren’t they? No good deed goes unpunished. That POW treatment, the velvet glove, did work with the Germans and Italians in WW2. But not among the Asians.

  3. Harry Jones says:

    In a world of nasty, evil people, trying to win over your enemies with kindness is a chump strategy. It only works when there is a bare minimum of decency in the recipient.

    Absent that, it will backfire badly. If you try too hard to love your enemies you will end up betraying your friends and yourself. Love those who deserve love, hate those who deserve hate and be moderately kind where you’re not sure.

    And don’t go all the way across the planet to make an enemy. Here’s an alternate history for you: suppose the United States had adhered to a policy of never fighting a war anywhere except the North American continent, and fighting any war on the continent with unflinching resolve and brutality? Let Europe sort itself out. Should they fail, let the Wehrmacht be butchered in eastern Canada.

  4. Sam J. says:

    “…suppose the United States had adhered to a policy of never fighting a war anywhere except the North American continent…”

    I’m not sure that would have worked during the cold war. Not saying it wouldn’t but look how aggressive the commies were. The US has done a lot of horrible things during the cold war but we don’t come close to the brutality of the commies.

    At some point if they ruled enough of the earth there would have been no defending the Americas.

    On the other hand our cold war involvement has a direct line to our present degraded position from the corrupt institutions we created to fight the the commies however we could without regard to morality.

  5. Harry Jones says:

    Sam, I’m thinking that against a powerful and ruthless enemy, the best defense is an ambush. Lure them into your territory, at the end of a long supply line, then use your superior knowledge of the terrain to gang up on them by surprise.

    Bonus: you get to claim the moral high ground, whatever you do, because they invaded.

    Most of this is out the window if they successfully infiltrate and bide their time. But they would be trying to do that anyway, so it’s best considered as a separate problem.

    Oh, and of course we can infiltrate, sabotage and undermine a potential enemy on the other side of the planet. Just don’t be so reckless as to try to invade.

    In this world, there’s no need to go out of your way looking for a fight. The fight will come to you.

  6. Got to read between the lines here guys. They weren’t exactly fools.

    “Because the U.N. Commission felt it was good therapy to let them work, they got everything they asked for, at U.S. expense.”

    They were on the receiving end of a secret alliance between the American communists running the UN commission and the communists in the camps. Put it this way, if you asked the UN commission what purpose the “good therapy” had they’d say something the military wanted to hear about making it easier to keep the prisoners under control or some such but if you performed an experiment and allowed one group the therapeutic labor of running their own factories and the other not, which camp would have better results? What would the UN Commission say if you proposed running that experiment? They wouldn’t say “oh great, we’re anxious to have our ideas tested” would they? No, they’d say something in 50s psych talk about authoritarian personalities — in the 2020s they’d talk about systemic racism — just verbal weapons to break down the ability to see things as they are — that the commission is working against the interests of the US military.

    Similar to the advocates for social workers being sent to crimes instead of cops. They say it’s aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the justice system and reducing crime, but what do the results show? What does it say when no one actually checks those results when assessing the success of the program?

    If they were fools, it was for not realizing that their enemies were operating in every control structure above them that they couldn’t look at and for not realizing that they had men with guns who obeyed them and could solve that problem without too much trouble.

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