Hidden History: The 21 Korean War POWs Who Defected to China

 

They Chose China

Directed by Shui-Bo-Wong (2006)

Film Review

This documentary is about 21 US Korean War POWs who chose not to repatriate to the US when the Korean armistice was signed in 1953. Initially there were 23. The first two returned to the US in the early fifties, where they were court martialed and given 10 and 20 year prison sentences.

For the most part, the US media echoed Senator Joseph McCarthy’s view that the 21 who remained in China were Communist traitors. However in a 1954 interview about their reasons for defecting, most cited their opposition to imperialist wars or to McCarthy’s witch hunt against US political dissidents, which they equated with fascism.

The 21 were also clearly influenced by their extremely positive treatment during their three years in captivity. The Chinese who ran the North Korean POW camps allowed them to have American food, as well as encouraging them to organize football, baseball and soccer games.

On arriving in China, they were given a choice between working in a factory, joining a collective farm or attending university. Most would leave China prior to 1966, when Mao launched his brutal Cultural Revolution. In giving their reasons for repatriating, some talked of a changing political climate that was less tolerant of foreigners. Other cited concerns about the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary.

Three of the US defectors are profiled in this film:

Clarence Adams – an African American from Memphis who enlisted in 1947 to escape a gang of white supremacist cops who had targeted him. His main reason for defecting to China was to escape white terrorism, as well as economic opportunities denied to him in the US. After spending several hears at university, he worked as a translator in Beijing and broadcast propaganda speeches directed at Black soldiers in Vietnam.

David Hawkins – in a 1957 60 Minutes interview (following his return to the US), he asserts the US had no business invading a country (Korea) that posed no threat to them militarily.* He also strongly advocates for the US to recognize China (the US officially recognized China in 1972 during Nixon’s first term).

James Veneris – the only defector profiled in the film who remained in China, as a factory worker, until his death in 2004.


*See See Hidden History: The US Wars Against Japan, Korea and Vietnam and The Long US War Against the Third World

This film can be viewed free at https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/they-chose-china/

 

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