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“Complacency or Complicity?: Reconsidering the UN Command’s Role in Syngman Rhee’s Release of North Korean POWs”

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Under cover of night, on 18 June 1953, South Korean President Syngman Rhee released nearly 25,000 “non-repatriate” North Korean prisoners of war (POWs). The event occurred just as United Nations Command (UNC), Chinese, and North Korean negotiators were preparing to sign a hard-fought armistice agreement at P’anmunjŏm that long had been delayed on the question of voluntary repatriation of POWs. UNC officials articulated an enduring tale of surprise and betrayal, one that persists in Korean War histories to this day. However, this article, after an examination of UNC POW camp records, is able to look beyond their outrage to discover that the U.S. Army, in fact, formulated a deliberate strategy of restraint for a likely prisoner release. This plan grew out of UNC Commander General Mark W. Clark’s sympathy for anti-Communist POWs and a sense of anxiety regarding the future of U.S. relations with the Republic of Korea (ROK). Although no evidence exists to support a claim that U.S. officials formally colluded with the ROK government, the U.S. military played a complicit role in Rhee’s POW release.

Affiliations: 1: Independent Scholar


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