Hearts and Minds: American Re-education in Prisoner of War Camps During the Korean War

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Jin, Yo Han
Asian History; Diplomatic History; Military History; United States History
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There is only little known about the psychological warfare and propaganda tactics used by the United States military and South Korean government during and after the Korean War. The Korean War presented the U.S. military the rare chance to communicate with Chinese and North Korean communists, which had become more difficult after the start of the Cold War. In 1950, the United States began a re-education program with South Korean assistance for North Korean and Chinese Prisoners of War (POWs). The United States tried to influence Chinese and North Korean POWs through psychological rehabilitative re-education and potentially hoped to spread liberalism and capitalism to communist Korea and China. The National Security Council’s document, NSC-81/1 of 1950, posited that the United States must make full use of all its propaganda in squelching Korean people’s hatred of the United States and rousing the flames of hostility and acrimony against Communism. The re-education program used in the Korean War can be considered the most significant and fruitful psychological warfare conducted by the United States military during the Cold War. The United States conducted the re-education program so effectively that it won the hearts and minds of the people it targeted. Despite this success, the United States tried similar methods in Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan to reduce the instability of these nations, but similar programs failed miserably. This presentation analyzes why the NSC-81/1 doctrine and its re-education methodology was so effective in winning the hearts and minds of South Koreans; in all, of the 170,000 POWs screened by U.N. forces, approximately 100,000 communist soldiers refused to be repatriated and hoped to become citizens of a democratic society.