North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with South Korean President Moon-Jae-in on April 27 for diplomatic talks. Pundits are speculating on what will happen between the two nations, and if North Korea will abandon its nuclear weapons. But as all this occurs, it’s important to remember that the U.S. has unfinished business of its own with the communist country: making North Korea answer for the way it treated U.S. prisoners during the Korean War.
Regardless of what happens between the two countries, North Korea will continue posing strategic threats to the U.S. Its knowledge of nuclear weapons will be one such threat. And the way it treated U.S. prisoners during the Korean War will be another one.
America is still trying to account for all its troops who were taken prisoner of war, or who went missing in action, while fighting the communists in the 1950s war. U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Harry E. Harkness is the latest troop America has recovered.
On March 9, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency issued a funeral announcement for Sgt. 1st Class Harkness, noting that he was “recently accounted-for from the Korean War” and was “being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.”
The announcement reported that he died while a prisoner of war.
Following the war, during an operation known as “Operation Big Switch,” when prisoners of war were returned, returning Americans from Pyoktong Camp 5 reported that Harkness had been captured and died while at POW Camp 5 sometime between January and April 1951.
The announcement, understandably, did not provide details on his death; did not explain how the North Koreans treated him.
But there is an official record of how the North Koreans treated U.S. prisoners of war in general.
In 1953, the U.S. House of Representatives held hearings on Korean War atrocities committed against U.S. troops. An investigative report followed in 1954, which detailed the atrocities and provided photographic evidence of them as well. Page three of the report (Adobe page six) summarizes some of what the House investigation found.
The evidence before the subcommittee conclusively proves that American prisoners of war who were not deliberately murdered at the time of capture or shortly after capture, were beaten, wounded, starved, and tortured; molested, displayed, and humiliated before the civilian populace and/or forced to march long distances without benefit of adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, or medical care to Communist prison camps, and there to experience further acts of human indignities.
Communist massacres and the wholesale extermination of their victims is a calculated part of Communist psychological warfare. The atrocities perpetrated in Korea against the United Nations troops by Chinese and North Korean Communists are not unique in Communist history, nor can they be explained away on the grounds that inhumanity is often associated with so-called civilized warfare.
A nation that does not make its enemies respect its troops when they are taken prisoner of war is a nation that gives its enemy a strategic advantage. It reveals it will allow its enemies to abuse and humiliate its servicemen for the purpose of boosting enemy morale and providing propaganda to its entire nation.
The U.S. has ceded the North Koreans this strategic advantage for nearly 70 years. And leaders across the world know it. They know it is quite possible that they can get away with abusing, torturing, and even murdering captured U.S. troops with little or no consequences for them.
So as everyone else focuses on what, if any, long-term significant changes will come from the current meeting between the North Korean and South Korean leaders, don’t forget the unfinished business the U.S. has with the communist nation. Will the U.S. finally hold North Korea accountable for the way it treated U.S. troops? Will it tell the world that it will no longer accept the torture and murder of U.S. prisoners of war?