The issue of Chinese treatment of UN prisoners of war is controversial. Cold war attitudes were often reflected in early reports which had limited actual data.

On occasion, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army was reported to provide emergency medical treatment for seriously-wounded UN soldiers and leave them for rescue as they departed the area. In contrast, many reports indicated murder and brutal treatment of POWs by the North Korean People’s Army.

December 4, 1950 – China released wounded American prisoners of war and allowed them to return to their retreating convoy, although they kept several officers of the same units, claiming that they would “buy them tickets from Shanghai to San Francisco”. Two trucks brought the men to the American lines, and the men were told “Go back where you belong.” A U.S. Army major commented, “It’s pure propaganda, of course. But we got back 27 of our men.”Chicago Daily Tribune

After the Korean war, some investigations reported that several thousand American prisoners died or were executed in POW camps, and many were tortured. Throughout the conflict, reports indicated that the Communists were subjecting American POWs to a re-education process popularly described as “brainwashing.” But it also became clear that such re-education was largely ineffective. Nevertheless, 21 prisoners chose not to return home. 


The conclusions of professional and semi-professional scholars and writers about American POW behavior are mixed. First, never before Korea were American POWs confronted by a captor who worked hard to change their ideological persuasion. Second, never before had the American public been so gullible as to believe that such a chimera as the enemy’s self-proclaimed “lenient policy” was, in fact, lenient. And, finally, for the first time, the public seemed to assume that such selfish, undisciplined behavior as existed among the POWs was something new in American military experience and that it was a direct consequence of a characterological deterioration in the nation itself.

Whether or not such a deterioration has been taking place in American society, from the advent of the New Deal and the impact of progressive education as the critics strongly imply, is not under contention here. What is being contended, rather, is that if one really believes this and wants evidence to prove it, one will have to find examples other than among those Americans who died and those who survived in the prison camps of North Korea, 1950-53.

Source: American Quarterly , Spring, 1970, Vol. 22, No. 1 

The total number of Korean War MIAS/remains not recovered was 8,154.