Cold Days in Hell: American POWs in Korea (Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series #141) (Hardcover)

Cold Days in Hell: American POWs in Korea (Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series #141) By William Clark Latham, Jr. Cover Image

Cold Days in Hell: American POWs in Korea (Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series #141) (Hardcover)


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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.

WILLIAM C. LATHAM JR. is a course director at the United States Army Logistics University at Fort Lee, Virginia.
Product Details ISBN: 9781603440738
ISBN-10: 1603440739
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
Publication Date: January 31st, 2013
Pages: 336
Language: English
Series: Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series

“ . . . 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

"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
— Proceedings

"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

— Lewis Carlson

"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

— Robert C. Doyle

“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
— G.H. Davis

“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


— William K. Norwood

"William Clark Latham Jr's Cold Days in Hell made me shiver. This book is a solid work of history that fills a gap in the historiography of the Korean War. Latham's quality research documents tales of shameful pandering on the part of certain Americans toward their captors and tells stories of epic courage in the face of brutality and death. Portions of the book possess a page-turning drama until the reader runs into a story of a group of prisoners (or a single prisoner) in which every word has meaning -- for example, the long, cold, forced marches of prisoners as the battle lines surged back and forth. Latham writes a stunning story -- this time, however, of moral failure and cowardice. Latham's book does these men--and the history of the Korean War--a great service. These men are unsung heroes no longer, thanks to Cold Days in Hell."--COL Kevin C. M. Benson, US Army retired
— COL Kevin C. M. Benson

"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


— Steven Casey

"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
— Pacific Historical Review

“Lt. Col. (Ret.) William C. Latham Jr. has written what will undoubtedly constitute the definitive story of the POWs. Exhaustively researched from primary and secondary sources, Cold Days in Hell is well-illustrated with maps and photographs, has endnotes, an index, and contains a comprehensive bibliography. This is essential reading for any Korean war student.”—G. Alan Knight, Journal of America’s Military Past
— G. Alan Knight

“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 in Hell can serve as a useful short history of the war. For its interviews alone, Cold Days in Hell stands as a valuable contribution to Korean War and prisoner-of-war literature.”—Lt. Col. Arthur Bilodeau, USA, Retired, Louisville, Kentucky, Military Review
— Lt. Col. Arthur Bilodeau