JULY 20, 1955
HYDE PARK—In the past two weeks many of us have given a great deal of thought to the question of the return of prisoners of war. The fact that three who had decided to remain in the Communist world and later changed their minds and are now returning to the U.S. has added to our interest. One of these, Otho Bell, has stated that the 18 others who had elected to stay in the Communist world would come home if it were not for fear.
A book on the background of the 21 has been published and I think it should be required reading for all Americans, especially those who are in charge of decisions as to how those who have returned should be treated. Educators certainly should read that book and those who are in charge of Army training should read it. It is unfair to expect that the Army will accomplish what a man's family and his education have not accomplished, but it is not unfair to expect the Army to supplement with special instruction the training that should have been given by the family and the school.
An article in last Sunday's This Week magazine gives the Army's point of view and is the first answer it has made to criticisms of two long-term imprisonments given to two returned prisoners of war.
In this article the Army explains that it promised that no man returning would be prosecuted for desertion, so the mere decision to go behind the Iron Curtain will not be a cause for court-martial. However, it never promised, the Army contends, that a soldier who went back on his duty as a soldier would not be punished. The method of punishment and the length of it are, of course, matters for discussion.
Is there any hope of changing the character of the man who has apparently failed in loyalty to his country and to his fellow soldiers? That, I think, is a question that should in each case receive very careful consideration. If a man is ever to return to society, then we want him to return a better citizen and better able to cope with the problems of life in the United States.
Certainly, the 21 have nothing in their backgrounds that made them really understand the value of America and their reasons for loyalty. The Army states that no prisoner of war was brainwashed or endured unusual torture, so in considering these men we must consider them as being subjected to the more-or-less usual treatment that any prisoner might expect.
If a man is in battle, he risks his life; while he is in prison, his life is in jeopardy. That fact we should have made him understand beforehand. It is probably easier to be in battle—you are with others and it is easier to act as part of a group. As a prisoner of war you may be isolated, and it is hard to have "faith and courage."
I should like to go a little further into this subject and in a later column shall deal with the two recent statements made by Rear Admiral D.V. Gallery and General Lemuel C. Shepherd.