The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War: The Untold History

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The Interrogation Rooms of the Korean War: The Untold History
By Monica Kim
Princeton University Press, 2019
492 pp.

During the Korean War, the United States seemed to strike a blow for individual liberty when it insisted on offering Chinese and North Korean prisoners of war the opportunity to stay in South Korea rather than return home after the war was over. But the result was to import the ideological Cold War into POW camps. Anticommunist North Koreans tattooed themselves and wrote petitions in blood demanding to be released to fight against their former comrades. Meanwhile, the majority of North Korean prisoners saw the U.S.-led forces as colonialists and anyone who refused repatriation as a traitor, so they protested the voluntary repatriation policy by demonstrating, singing songs, getting into shouting matches with the guards, going on hunger strikes, and, in one famous incident, kidnapping a U.S. camp commander. American POWs in Chinese and North Korean camps formed groups of self-described “reactionaries,” including one that called itself the Ku Klux Klan, to punish anyone who seemed to accept the communists’ criticisms of the United States. When 21 American POWs decided to go to China instead of returning home, Americans panicked over “brainwashing.” Partly as a result of the panic, even American POWs who came home were suspected of communist contamination.

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