Korean War FAQ
Western sources gave assertions such as "it seems reasonable to assume that China cannot have lost less than half a million men" , "China suffered at least 900,000 casualties", etc. However, such numbers were based on arbitrary estimates which were greatly inflated.
For example, US estimated that in the battle of Chosin reservoir, the Marines air power killed 10,000 Chinese and wounded 5,000, the numbers were artificially high and no evidence could be found to back up these claims. From western combat histories, PVA always cease the fighting at dawn and went to cover, and their white clothing made it very hard to detect even by the Marines at close distance let alone by aircrafts. US estimated that the Marines killed a total of 25,000 PVA troops and wounded 12,500 in the Chosin battle, one has to wonder that if the Marines alone could kill 20% and wound 10% of the entire PVA 9th Army Group, why did the X Corps have to abandon Task Force MacLean and put itself in such a vulnerable situation at the Hungnam beachhead, and then bug out North Korea. For another example, 2d division historian wrote that 2d division alone had "killed more than 65,000 enemy soldiers", this was based on figures from dividual regiments, such as 9th Infantry, which claimed "total enemy casualties to be 16505, of which 2200 were counted". In the "Wonju shoot" of February 14 1951, 2d division claimed killing 5000 PVA troops with artillery alone, and wounded 3 times more. For another example, Van Fleet claimed that UN had inflicted a communist casualty of 234,000 from August to October 1951 during which truce talks were in recess, such an estimate is considered "far too high" by western historians. There are a lot of such cases, when a western historian quoted communist casualty numbers, he had to qualify it with words such as "arbitrary", "far too high", etc.
From the overly inflated numbers, it seems that US generals are not accountable for their battle results, while in PLA, it is a serious misconduct to report false casualty numbers of either side, since such false reports would result in wrong calculations by the nation's leaders. On the US side, American statisticians calculated that in the 8 months ending June 25 1951, PVA suffered a casualty of 600,000 (which would imply that every PVA soldier entered Korea became a casualty), and UN suffered 290,000 (among which 78,800 were American), such gross miscalculations by Washington led to the illusion that US was winning and prolonged the war.
It is understandable that US could not get a accurate estimate of the communist casualties, UN forces were on the run for escape most of the time, they could not have the chance to count their kills.
From official Chinese sources, PVA casualty during the Korean war was 390,000. It breaks down as follows:
From reports published by PVA on August 15 1953, UN suffered a total casualty of 1,093,839, in which 397,543 were Americans, 667293 were ROKs, and 29,003 were others.
PVA's portion of the score was: kill and wound, 671,954; capture, 46088; pursuaded surrender, 435; total 718,477, in which 290,000 were Americans. PV destroyed or damaged 2,006 enemy tanks, 3,165 vehicles, 44 amored vehicles, 10,629 aircrafts, 583 artellery pieces; captured 245 tanks, 5,256 trucks, 51 amored vehicles, 11 aircrafts, 4037 artellery pieces, 73,263 small arms.
From western sources, UN combat casualty totalled 1 million. It breaks as follows: US 144,173, ROK 844,000 (415,000 killed, 429,000 wounded), Commonwealth 6000, others 8,800 (Hastings). US suffered another 20,000 or so fatality. From military history authored by ROK Defense Department, ROK total casualty was actually 984,400.
Detailed US casualty was: KIA 33,629, accidental death 20,600£¬wounded 103,248, captured and repatriated 3,746, MIA 8,142.
The total count from both sources matched very well, some historians acknowledged that PLA was very honest in their statistics. However, PVA counted 220,000 more US casualties, and about 200,000 less ROK. This discrepancy was partly due to the fact that many ROKs were serving as attachments to US armies and they were counted as US force by PVA.
Why did ROK suffer such a greater casualty? One of the reasons was that they were placed on the first line of defense in a lot of the cases, and they suffered the initial blows by PVA. Moreover, ROK had different fighting style: from PVA battle accounts, American usually withdraw all the way down to the foot of the hills after suffering a failed attack, but ROK only retreated to out of fire range to regroup and attack again immediately, which caused great difficulty for PVA, and of course greater casualty on ROK. However, western historians seldom mention ROK's positive contribution to the UN side.
The truce talk began in July 1951 and took two year to conclude in July 1953, during the two years, both sides debated and fought over some wasteland, causing more casualties than the previous two years.
On July 1, 1951, Beijing responded to Ridgway's broadcast message regarding peace talks, Beijing's reply said "we agree to suspend military activities and to hold peace negotiations". China wanted to stop the fighting right there, however, Ridgway believed that the Chinese might play the treachery of using peace talks to buy time, he insisted to JCS that a suspension of hostilities "wholly unacceptable" and would "categorically reject" a cease-fire. For this reason, when JCS send a message to the Chinese to begin talks, it instructed Ridgway to continue the fighting.
From the beginning, Ridgway instructed UN delegates to negotiate in the toughest manner, he wrote to Washington that to deal with the "treacherous savages" as civilized people "is to deride one's own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery." However, such racist attitude reconfirmed the Chinese conviction that US is an imperialist that only understood the use of force, whenever the talks stalled, both sides would engage in meaningless battles only to show each other that no one could gain an upper hand in a positional war.
The first dispute was the truce line. On June 26 1951, Dean Acheson publicly repeated US government's willingness to settle the conflict at the 38th parallel, however, when Chinese and Korean delegates proposed to set the truce line on 38th parallel, they found that Americans had reneged on their earlier public declarations. On July 20, Chinese suggested a recess until July 25, so "each side could reconsider the views presented by the other side." On hearing this, Ridgway got suspicious and ordered an all out bombing of Pyongyang On July 25. On July 27, US delegate offered a truce line with a 20 mile DMZ bordered on the battle line which would gain 12000 square km land from communist control, this renegation on previous US positions shocked the communists delegates, and they reproposed a truce line along the 38th with a 20km DMZ. Both sides deadlocked on the issue, and Ridgway ordered another mass bombing of Pyongyang with 445 planes on July 30. After a series of meetings, the talks suspended and US armies spent 22000 casualties to gain some insignificant hills such as the Heartbreak Ridge. Then, Ridgway insisted to move the negotiation from Kaesong to elsewhere, since Kaesong was in PVA control, JCS agreed with him, fearing that UN delegates might be held hostage, however, the State Department felt Keasong site should be OK, but Ridgway threaten to disobey if he was ordered to return to Kaesong. After all these quarrels, the communists agreed to move the negotiation to Panmunjom. Now, communists gave up their insistence on 38th parallel, but US insisted that they wanted Kaesong (an ancient city) which was controlled by Chinese, the Chinese of course could not yield. After long arguments and simultaneous battles in the fields, US agreed to set the truce line along the battle line, but then both sides argued on whether the DMZ should be 20 miles or 20km wide.
The talks continued. US then aimed to prevent the rehabilitation of North Korea, such as roads, railroads and especially airfields. Truman was particular hard on this issues, but JCS decided that is "impracticable to keep all of Korea in a state of devastation", so US aim changed to forbid rehabilitation of airfields. But Chinese and North Koreans could not agree to such violation of the Korea sovereignty. After heated arguments and battles, US gave in on this issue.
Gaining nothing on key demands, US introduced unprecedented conditions in the exchanges of POWs, which "threw the negotiations into utter turmoil, led to bizarre twists and turns which enormously damaged the United States in the eyes of world, and ultimately prolonged the Korean war for another year and a half". (Blair).
"Western treatment of the Koreans and the Chinese was dictated by a deeply rooted conviction that they were not people like themselves, but near-animals..."( Hastings p307)
Well, let's see what the British say, since they did not guard the POW camps (US did), we can assume that they are more honest on this.
From "The Korean War" by Max Hastings
"Koje-do wasn't managed properly--there were far too many men in one enclosure. There was a lot of bronchitis, pneumonia, dysentery, pinkeye. TB was widespread. There were men with open wounds that were still draining. All of them had lice."
(POW rioted on Feb.18 and March 13, 1952, and UN guards fired into the POWs, killing 89 and wounded 166).
On May 7 1952, the POWs captured the camp commander Brigadier Dodd and tried him for brutality against POWs, and he signed a document that admitted the brutality by US guards, and agreed to cease immediately the "barbarous behaviour, insults, torture...[and] mass murdering" of POWs.
After the Dodd incident, Major D. R. Bancroft reported on Koje-do POW camp situation: "All US troops were apt to regard the PWs as cattle... They...handled them, including cripples who had been badly wounded, extremely roughly". When he questioned the Americans, "Their replay was invariably, 'Well, these people are savages' and on one occasion, 'Congress has never ratified the Geneva Convention anyway'".
In August 1952, British Foreign Office commented on Bancroft's report: "The report confirms other accounts we have had of the 'Hate Asia' attitude so freely displayed by Americans in the Far East. The harm which such behaviour does to our joint cause needs no emphasising."
From "Korea, the war before vietnam" by Callum A. MacDonald
"American medical officers estimated that 50 per cent of the POWs in Pusan were suffering malnutrition in January 1951".
"The POW command instituted a 'shoot to kill' policy. 'POW threw rocks at UNC personnel: POW shot dead', was considered a satisfactory incident report."
"6600 prisoners had died in UN captivity by December 1951".
Contrary to western propaganda of communist brutality, Chinese took the policy of "treating POWs well".
Chinese had the tradition of treating POWs with humanity. 2000 years ago, in its 100 year war (200BC) with the Huns, the government forbid brutality against captives, one Hun captive even became the second highest official in the imperial court, a lot of Huns converted into Chinese. Similar principles were applied in other ancient wars with others. Even after the Sino-Japanese war, China did not use brutality against the Japanese POWs. During the civil war, PLA captured a lot of KMT (Guomingdang) soldiers, and most of them became PLA soldiers and fought against KMT.
From "Korea, the Untold Story of the War" by J. C. Goulden, "...the Chinese showed surprising compassion in their treatment of prisoners, especially the wounded. The Chinese,... in some instances put Americans on litters, carried them to the roadside, and then withdrew and held their fire so that UN medics could remove them."
Let's also quote some text from C. A. MacDonald's book:
The Chinese POW policy (starting quote) "treated POWs as victims of the ruling classes, students who were to be educated and pointed towards the truth. Strict rules were laid down governing the treatment of prisoners. POWs were to be given food and medical treatment. They were to neither robbed nor abused. Instead they were to be led towards an understanding of the true nature of the war and their own societies. After such re-education, prisoners could be either be released at the front to rejoin and demoralise their old units, or held for longer-term indoctrination."
"At the beginning...POWs were given a meal and a political speech, before being released to their own lines. A group of Americans from Almond's X Corps, captured in November, were 'inspected by a Chinese officer who gave them cigarettes, a good meal of chicken, and told them they could rejoin their own forces. Then they were left to their own devices.' Others found themselves greeted by nurses who treated the wounded and distributed gifts of candy...In November/December 1950... Orders [from Pentagon] were issued to evacuate all released POWs through medical channels as quickly as possible."
"Unlike German and Japanese camps of World War Two, these [Chinese POW camps] were relatively open:'There was no barbed wire, no tiger boxes with machine gunes...and only a few guards stationed at strategic points. The Chinese hadn't bothered much about security."
"When repatriation became an issue, POWs were used in another propaganda role. Chinese 'lenient treatment' was contrasted to the brutality of the UN authorities at Koje."
"In February 1953, the [US] State Department noted: 'Defense is particularly concerned lest the Communists release a huge batch of prisoners who...would have to be allowed to go to their widely dispersed home towns, where have been converted, they could do immeasurable harm.'"
"For many returning [American] prisoners, repatriation was to become a 'March to Calumny'".
In MacDonald's book, he implied that Chinese treatment of POWs was 'brainwashing', yes, Chinese were educating the POWs, but the latter had their free mind to discern the truth or falsity in what they heard, what is the problem?
In September 1950, MacArthur issued a directive:"Treatment of POWs shall be directed toward their exploitation for psychological warfare purposes". Indoctrination program were set up in the POWs camps to teach about the evil of communism, and when POWs refused to listen, torture and even murder would befall on them. In the truce talk later, Chinese and North Korean POWs were held hostage by US as the last chance to gain "honor" in the Korean war. Many POWs died in their fight to return home, and many were forced to go elsewhere.