The U.S. Army understood Asians imperfectly, and Communists not at all

Thursday, January 28th, 2021

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachWhen the Korean War began, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the United States had no experience handling hostile prisoners of war:

It had developed no real doctrine; it had trained no personnel. And worse, the United States Army understood Asians imperfectly, and Communists not at all.

When the thousands began to flow into the POW cages in Korea, U.S. authorities were certain of only one thing: they did not want to bring almost 100,000 Orientals to the homeland for detention. The prisoner-of-war compounds on Koje-do were born of expediency. And like so many measures so adopted in the modern age, the temporary solution became permanent. Once rid of the POW’s, General Ridgway, and his successor, Van Fleet, never wanted them back.


Cold, hungry, and apathetic, the POW’s sat in the fields, and waited. They gave no trouble. They expected to be badly used, after the way of all captives in the Orient. At the best, they expected to wear their lives away in labor battalions, slaving for their captors. At the worst, they expected to be shot.


The inescapable Anglo-Saxon sensitivity to race — all the captives belonged to the colored races — tended toward a certain overcompensation on the part of the American guards. It was not enough to stress that the POW’s were human beings, to which there could be no argument; it must be brought out that they were fully equal human beings, which was debatable.


Nobody asked Colonel Fitzgerald, however, the approved method by which democracy was taught, which was probably just as well. As it turned out, the method seemed to consist in giving the POW’s anything they wanted. As Bill Gregory put it: “We told ’em we’re here to serve you. If you want anything, you let us know, boy. We’re going to show you what democracy means. You’re all damn fools to be Communists — you do the way we do, and you’ll be living on top of the world.”


The POW’s were furnished books on democracy, and copies of the United States Constitution. That took care of the theory, for those who could read.

For the rest of it, tons of athletic equipment, much of it abandoned by U.S. units in Pusan, were shipped in. A new hospital was built, with sick call daily. North Korean and Chinese doctors treated the POW’s; these men were allowed all the drugs and medicines they desired.

Mess halls were constructed. The POW’s own cooks worked in stone and baked clay kitchens, with new Korean utensils. They were given more rice, fish, and vegetables than nine-tenths of them had seen in their lifetime.

They were inspected for cleanliness and health by a special Medical Sanitation Company.

They were given new clothing, some of which, like socks, they didn’t know how to use.

Because most of the U.S. supply of fatigue uniforms had been diverted to surplus sales and relief work around the world and now with a new war were scarce, the POW’s were issued new officers’ pinks and greens, straight from QM depots. Each man received new boots and a clean mattress cover.

Major Gregory saw many men inside the barbed wire walking about in better uniforms than he owned. American officers had to pay for their uniforms, and Bill Gregory had a family in the States.


  1. Altitude Zero says:

    “it must be brought out that they were fully equal human beings, which was debatable.”

    Even if you don’t agree with Fehrenbach (and I don’t completely) he’s worth reading for the sheer political incorrectness of his views, by modern standards. This is true of a lot of literature from the day before yesterday (prior to about 1970 or so…).

  2. Bomag says:

    “The inescapable Anglo-Saxon sensitivity to race… tended toward a certain overcompensation on the part of the American guards”

    Hmmm… I can’t say Anglos are any more sensitive to race than anyone else: Scandinavians? Japanese? Bantus? Various Sub-Continentals?

    They’ve generated plenty of leisure and wealth; while channeling it toward vanity civil wars; and giving everyone welfare and a lawsuit.

  3. Altitude Zero says:


    When Feherenbach mentioned “sensitivity” to race with regard to Anglo-Saxons, I read it as him referring to what we would today call “white guilt”. Do you think that he meant something different?

Leave a Reply