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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
In 1952, after United States troops had been fighting and dying in Korea for nearly two years, Newsweek magazine conducted a reader poll on current events. One of the questions was: "Korea is: (a) What you do after graduation (b) A peninsula off the North China coast (c) A brand of toothpaste." Fifty-three percent of the respondents thought Korea was a brand of toothpaste. Technically a "police action" by the United Nations, in response to a 1950 plea from the government of South Korea to repel invading troops from Communist North Korea, it was for us a three-year war -- never declared by Congress -- in which 36,940 Americans died, including 2,701 of the 7,140 U.S. military and civilian personnel taken prisoner by the North Koreans -- a nearly 40 percent death rate for POWs. Yet the first perceptions one encounters when American POWs from the Korean conflict are mentioned are "brainwashing" and "collaboration" -- not the Tiger Death March, an unjustly neglected ordeal that should rank in our collective consciousness with the Bataan Death March of World War II.
In Remembered Prisoners of a Forgotten War: An Oral History of Korean War POWs, Lewis H. Carlson uses the most powerful narratives: recollections of former prisoners who endured starvation, freezing temperatures, constant interrogations, and the experience of burying comrades in shallow graves. On their release, they endured more interrogations, indifferent treatment at veterans hospitals, and the unearned stigma of suspected collaboration with the enemy.
Carlson effectively counters this latter charge in the ex-POWs' own words. The author interviewed some 50 Korean War POWs; he lets their plain, direct remembrances show us why their experience should be honored, not demeaned. The shame lies with our government, not with the ex-POWs. One said: "Those Americans interviewing us after we were liberated never seemed to be that interested in our wounds or diseases. They really weren't interested in a damn thing except: did we collaborate?"
Carlson concludes: "There is no satisfactory way to end these stories, because the men themselves have seldom achieved closure." Perhaps those still surviving will find some measure of satisfaction in knowing that a new generation, untainted by McCarthyism, will read their stories now and give them the respect and honor they deserve. (Linda Goetz Holmes)
Linda Goetz Holmes, a Pacific War historian, has written two books about prisoners of the Japanese during World War II. The second, Unjust Enrichment: How Japan's Companies Built Postwar Fortunes Using American POWs, was published by Stackpole Books in 2001.