The POW Issue

  • Callum A. MacDonald


The POW issue almost destroyed the prospects of an armistice. What had at first seemed a simple matter became entangled in national prestige and ideology. In theory, the question was covered by the Geneva convention of 1949. Although neither Pyongyang nor Beijing were signatories, both declared their intention of observing the Geneva code, North Korea in July 1950, China not until July 1952. Washington, an original signatory, did not ratify the convention until 1955, but announced at the beginning of the war that POW policy would be based on the Geneva rules.1 Article 118 of the convention called for the automatic repatriation of all POWs at the end of hostilities. This uncompromising language was originally endorsed by Washington as a weapon in the cold war. It was intended to embarrass the USSR, which continued to hold large numbers of axis POWs as forced labour for reconstruction after 1945.2 At Panmunjom, however, an ironic reversal of positions occurred. The communists invoked article 118, displaying a legal literalism which was never applied to other sections of the convention, while the US proposed a new principle, ‘non-forcible’ repatriation.


Geneva Convention Chinese Intervention Fait Accompli Soviet Citizen Home Front 
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Notes and References

  1. 5.
    Dept of the Army, The Handling of POWs during the Korean War (hereafter Handling of POWs), Military History Office, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, June 1960, pp. 4–5.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Ibid., pp. 5–10.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
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  4. 14.
    Among many accounts see Robert Leckie, Conflict (New York, 1962) pp. 285–92; Rees, pp. 322–3;Google Scholar
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    Francis S. Jones, No Rice for Rebels (London, 1956) p. 33.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Callum A. MacDonald 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Callum A. MacDonald
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WarwickUK

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