Prisoners suffer in every conflict, but American servicemen captured during the Korean War faced a unique ordeal. Like prisoners in other wars, these men endured harsh conditions and brutal mistreatment at the hands of their captors.
In Korea, however, they faced something new: a deliberate enemy program of indoctrination and coercion designed to manipulate them for propaganda purposes. Most Americans rejected their captors’ promise of a Marxist paradise, yet after the cease fire in 1953, American prisoners came home to face a second wave of attacks. Exploiting popular American fears of communist infiltration, critics portrayed the returning prisoners as weak-willed pawns who had been “brainwashed” into betraying their country.
The truth was far more complicated. Following the North Korean assault on the Republic of Korea in June of 1950, the invaders captured more than a thousand American soldiers and brutally executed hundreds more. American prisoners who survived their initial moments of captivity faced months of neglect, starvation, and brutal treatment as their captors marched them north toward prison camps in the Yalu River Valley.
Counterattacks by United Nations forces soon drove the North Koreans back across the 38th Parallel, but the unexpected intervention of Communist Chinese forces in November of 1950 led to the capture of several thousand more American prisoners. Neither the North Koreans nor their Chinese allies were prepared to house or feed the thousands of prisoners in their custody, and half of the Americans captured that winter perished for lack of food, shelter, and medicine. Subsequent communist efforts to indoctrinate and coerce propaganda statements from their prisoners sowed suspicion and doubt among those who survived.
Relying on memoirs, trial transcripts, debriefings, declassified government reports, published analysis, and media coverage, plus conversations, interviews, and correspondence with several dozen former prisoners, William Clark Latham Jr. seeks to correct misperceptions that still linger, six decades after the prisoners came home. Through careful research and solid historical narrative, Cold Days in Hell provides a detailed account of their captivity and offers valuable insights into an ongoing issue: the conduct of prisoners in the hands of enemy captors and the rules that should govern their treatment.
What Readers Are Saying:
"William C. Latham has produced a superb monograph on the Korean War and the treatment of American servicemen who were captured by North Korean and Chinese armies. For too long, the Korean War in general and its POWs in particular have received scant attention from scholars, the media, and the general public, and what has emerged has commonly distorted the experience of American POWs, often for political reasons. In recent years, this has begun to change, and Latham’s A Cold Day in Hell will lead among those attempting to square the record."--Lewis H. Carlson, author, Remembered Prisoners of a Forgotten War
"This well-written book is a welcome addition to POW studies and does much to dispel misconceptions about the US prisoners of war held by the communist side during the Korean War."--Proceedings
"The writing is outstanding in form and content. When he describes battles, captures, long marches, prison camps, it feels as if I was actually there . . . reads more like a work of literature than a work of history . . . exciting from beginning to end . . . superbly researched . . . pristine . . . the author did a wonderful job . . . excellent primary and secondary sources . . . stunning in its breadth and clarity . . . worthy of the highest praise . . . it's really a wonderful contribution to American military history in general and to Korean War POW studies in particular"--Robert C. Doyle, leading expert on the treatment of enemy combatants and prisoners of war, past and present; professor of history, Franciscan University of Steubenville
“Latham blends military doctrine, propaganda methodology, social-political analysis, and common sense to present new insights into Korean War history and subsequent redefinitions of soldiers’ continuing duties when captured.”—Choice
“With a strong determination to live, I managed to survive two and one-half years at the hands of that brutal enemy. I have read other books in which the author attempted to describe the conditions and treatment of prisoners of war in Korea, but none compare with the accuracy written in the subject book. In reading the pages I almost felt that I was back in that miserable place. I commend the author for all the research he did in compiling the facts instead of relying and publishing ‘hear say’ information.”—William K. Norwood, President, Korean War Ex-POW Association
"One of the book's great strengths is its highly readable sections that recount the war's central battles. . . tells this distressing story with verve, passion, and empathy. Intelligently conceived and exhaustively researched, it is an important and interesting addition to the field." --Journal of Military History
"Latham's book is a thorough and nuanced examination of the complicated experiences of American prisoners of war in Korea and is based on the author's exhaustive study of archival sources, oral history interviews, memoirs, and important secondary works, in addition to many other sources. . . In his deftly written narrative, Latham combines his discussion of the POW experience with a succinct and useful overview of the war's conduct at the operational and strategic levels. . . The author expertly describes the conditions prevailing in the camps, including the utter lack of medical attention and dishearteningly meager rations available to the prisoners. . . his vivid writing style takes the reader through this terrible ordeal in graphic, but important, detail. Cold Days in Hell is destined to become a classic on this difficult topic."--Pacific Historical Review