Academic journal article Military Review

Cold Days in Hell: American POWs in Korea

Academic journal article Military Review

Cold Days in Hell: American POWs in Korea

Article excerpt

COLD DAYS IN HELL: American POWs in Korea, William Clark Latham, Texas A&M University ]Press, College Station, 301 pages, $30.00


ON A STAFF ride in Korea years ago, I found myself standing on Gloster Hill, a jagged hump just south of the Imjin River and north of Seoul. There, on 25 April 1951, 400 battle-weary men of the 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, made their last stand against elements of three attacking Chinese divisions. By mid-morning, out of bullets and surrounded, the surviving Gloucestershires attempted to break out. Only 39 made it; the rest were captured.

I'd always wondered what happened to the Gloucestershires and to the thousands of other UN troops taken prisoner by the Chinese and North Koreans between 1950 and 1953. Now, thanks to William Latham's fine new book, Cold Days in Hell, I have a good idea.

Blending solid scholarship with smooth style, Latham takes us deftly through the war's major movements, from the early debacles to the eventual stalemate. He includes an informative chapter on the air war, too, and covers the MacArthur-Truman sideshow efficiently. This is necessary background for understanding the prisoner-of-war narrative. All is rendered vividly and with such good judgment that Cold Days can serve as a useful short history of the war.

Amid the military and political maneuvering, the appalling prisoner-of-war story comes to life. Thanks to Cold War fears and McCarthyism, the usual narrative--well documented here--revolves around the supposed Communist brainwashing of morally weak GIs. According to Cold Days, Communist brutality--the Tiger death march, summary executions, beatings, and especially the captors' feckless attitude toward their prisoners' maintenance--dominated the story. …

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