85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History
Landscapes of War and Peace
April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky
Title: Poster - Voices Ignored: The Failure of Korean War Prisoners of War (POW)/Missing in Action (MIA) Activism in the 1950s and 1960s
Abstract: The Korean War resulted in over 8000 American soldiers unaccounted for, many of which were inaccessible to the U.S. government after armistice because of their remains were located north of the DMZ in Korea. Although the total number is about four times as the number of missing soldiers from the Vietnam War, the families of Korean War MIAs were unable to generate influence on either military POW/MIA policies or public opinion compared to that after the Vietnam War. The effort of families to prevent the Korean War POW/MIA's from being erased from the country's memory has received little scholarly attention. The link between the two wars' POW/MIA activism also remains elusive. This study examines two important POW/MIA activist groups organized during the Korean War---Fighting Homefolks of Fighting Men and Save Our Sons Committee---from late 1950 to the mid-1960s. By analyzing their newsletters, petitions to authorities, and federal investigation of their activities, I will demonstrate how these groups attempted to mobilize POW/MIA families across the country and evoke public attention to the POW/MIA issue. I will also show that these organizations capitalized on their status of relatives of the missing to advance political agendas that stretched far beyond the MIA issues. The strategies of these groups will be compared with the tactics later employed by the Vietnam War POW/MIA activists. I argue that the anti-government stance of these two organizations alienated the authorities and many non-affiliated families of missing soldiers. Save Our Sons Committee faded out of public sight after being targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956. Public apathy to the war, limitations in communication methods, and demography of the unreturned soldiers further curtailed the influence of the Fighting Homefolks of Fighting Men. However, some of its tactics and political tones survived among Vietnam War POW/MIA activist groups.
Zhaokun Liu, Carnegie Mellon University