Steven C. Levi
21 min readFeb 27, 2020



“The Chinks hit about six o’clock that night. They broke through Item Company and began to surround them. We were sent up on the line as reinforcements and told to hold at all costs. There was one hell of a fight. The Chinks were all around us. Our artillery was landing as close as ten yards in front of us. It just seemed that the more damn Chinks we killed, the more kept coming. We’d kill one and two would take his place.”

. . . Reactionary!, Arley Pate

With the flurry of celebration over Desert Storm and the ongoing “re-discovery” of the Vietnam War, it will not be long before Americans unearth the Korean War. But with the Korean War, patriotic Americans will once again come face-to-face with a relic of the Cold War: brainwashing.

While psychologists in the 90s consider brainwashing an antediluvian concept, fear of the practice has spawned more than its fair share of books and moves. In 1951, Paul Gallico’s TRIAL BY TERROR was released to a public fearful of the impact of brainwashing. Nine years later, another chilling account of brainwashing was published. Entitled THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE it left an even deeper scar on the American psyche when it was made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra. The movie caused ripples of anxiety through America’s right wing. The tale centered on a handful of American GIs who had been captured by the Red Chinese and brainwashed to respond to the orders of their captors. The Red Chinese plot was to have one of the men assassinate a candidate for President of the United States so that the candidate for Vice President — another of their pawns — could be swept into office at the crest of a tidal wave of sympathy votes. This work was hardly the effort of a second-rate writer. It was written by Richard Condon, author of such as PRIZZI’S HONOR, INFINITY OF MIRRORS and WINTER KILLS.

The concept that brainwashing as a viable science has not completely died either. Charles Bronson starred in Telefon, produced in l977, a movie which told the quasi-believable story of American citizens brainwashed decades earlier by the Russians who could be activated to blow up American military installations at the mere mention of a line of translated Russian poetry — proof positive that Russian poetry is dangerous to more than a GPA.

In reality, the concept of brainwashing came from a hand full of real-life examples. It began on July 17, l953, when United Nations forces in Korea signed an armistice ending the Korean Conflict — called a “conflict” because no declaration of war, or peace, had been issued. North and South Korea signed the armistice as did the United Nations and Red China. With the end of hostilities, the last major problem was the exchange of prisoners. It was made difficult by the fact that more 47,000 North Koreans and Red Chinese POWs elected to stay in South Korea.

Though the fighting stopped, the propaganda war continued to rage. It was a publicity blow to the North Koreans to have more than 47,000 of their soldiers refuse repatriation. Publicity being what it is, the North Koreans had a coup of their own. When the deadline for exchange passed, 21 Americans and l British soldier decided to remain with the North Korean. They were:

Cpl. Albert C. Belhomme of Ashland, Pennsylvania

Cpl. Scott Leonard Rush of Akron, Ohio

Pfc. William C. White of Plummerville, Arkansas

Marine Andrew W. Condron of Bathgate, Scotland

Pvt. James G. Veneris of Vandergrift, Pennsylvania

Pfc. William A. Cowart of Dalton, Georgia

Cpl. Andrew Fortuna of Detroit, Michigan

Cpl. Harold H. Webb of Jacksonville, Florida

Cpl. Howard Gayle Adams of Corsicana, Texas

Pfc. Morris R. Wills of West Fort Ann, New York

Pfc. Samuel David Hawkins of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Pfc. Aaron P. Wilson of Urania, Louisiana

Pfc. Lewis W. Griggs of Neches, Texas

Cpl. LaRance Sullivan of Santa Barabara, California

Pfc. Clarence Adams of Memphis, Tennessee

Pfc. Arlie H. Pate of East Carondelet, Illinois

Sgt. Richard G. Corden of Providence, Rhode Island

Pfc. Lowell Denver Skinner of Akron, Ohio

Pfc. John R. Dunn of Baltimore, Maryland

Pfc. Otho G. Bell of Hillsboro, Mississippi

Pvt. Richard R. Tenneson of Alden, Minnesota

Cpl. Rufus Elbert Douglas of Texon, Texas

Americans were stunned! How could anyone turn their back on such a great country like the United States? This, after all, was the land of the free and the home of the brave, the last-best hope for mankind. This was the land of opportunity, from sea to shining sea, a Republic of reasoning men and women, where anyone would be president even if they were born in a log cabin. To forsake The United States of America for, of all places, Red China was unthinkable!

It was so unthinkable that Americans believed that the men must have been brainwashed. Perhaps some mind-altering drugs had been slipped into their POW gruel. Or some mystical Oriental powder had been mixed with their drinking water. Maybe they had been given an injection that pinched the convolutions of their brain shut. It was hard to believe that 21 Americans would gladly exchange the freedom and opportunity to live in Red China.

But it was true. There were 21 who stayed. These men, now called “turncoats,” even became the subject of a book the next year, l955. Entitled, naturally, 22 Stayed, the book explored the background of each of the so-called turncoats looking for a common thread that would shed a bit of light on why these men had refused to return to the United States. Paisley interviewed teachers and friends of the turncoats and examined their personal background for clues to their behavior.

In her book, Paisley was quick to note that the 22 men out of the 2.5 million hardly comprised a meaningful statistic. Also meaningless were other tidbits of information:

3 were black, l9 were white

4 were Roman Catholic, l6 were Protestant

l was Greek Orthodox

all but one were native born Americans

2 won the Bronze Medal for Heroism

5 were veterans of World War II

Only l came from a metropolitan area

As for a common thread that linked all of the men, there was none. There were some characteristics which many men shared, but these are more puzzling than informative:

20 men had never heard of Communism except as a dirty word

20 had no idea what they were fighting for in Korea

20 were regular Army volunteers

19 were the oldest or only boy in the family

18 came from poor families or worse

19 were considered under-educated by their teachers no matter what grade they had reached in

school — even the two who were college educated

l9 felt unloved or unwanted by fathers or stepfathers.

Overall, the conclusion that Paisley draws is a that the 21 Americans were a collection of immature, lonely, angry young men who had inadequate clothing for the severe cold, were often placed in solitary confinement, underwent endless interrogation and suffered horrible physical depravations. In the end, for a variety of reasons, they chose to remain with the Red Chinese.

The 2l Americans who remained created a legal quandary for the United States military. Since they were not within the reach of military authorities, they could hardly be hustled to trial for treason. Further, since they had not taken up arms against the United States and had not given any more aid and comfort to the enemy than many of the other American POWs, they would probably not be found guilty of treason even if tried. The military resolved its problem the only way it could: it gave the men dishonorable discharges and insinuated a legal holocaust should any of the men return.

But the 21 men were just the granules of ice on the tip of an iceberg. The mental condition of returning POWs shocked even the most hard-boiled of American military professionals. What the United States was getting back were simply shells of the men who were captured. Major William E. Mayer, an Army psychiatrist who worked on brainwashing research after the Korean War, remarked that the change in the men was clear the moment they entered the hospital. The former POWs, he noted in a speech shortly after the Korean War, “would sit on the ward in the Tokyo Hospital — 80 men, 80 [men] who had spent three years in community captivity who knew each other intimately: you could walk on that ward any time of the day or night and it was silent. They just weren’t talking to one another.”

As the horror stories of captivity were slowly revealed, military professionals could not believe what they were hearing. Unlike any other war in American history, the military saw a complete breakdown of military discipline and respect for even the most basic component of the military system: the buddy system. Worse yet, there had been widespread collaboration. Informing on fellow Americans had become a way of life. Prisoners were so suspicious that when two GIs were tossed out of their mud hut by another prisoner in subzero weather — where they subsequently froze to death — none of the other prisoners in the hut felt it was ‘any of their business.’ [The United States Army did, however, feel that this was ‘their business’ and the former prisoner who had committed the deed was charged, tried and convicted of murder.]

Even more surprising was the absolute lack of ambition of American POWs to escape. In spite of the fact that 38 percent of the men died in captivity — the highest mortality rate for POWs in American history — and those that survived lived in deplorable conditions, there had not been a successful escape from a POW camp. Yet camps holding five or six hundred Americans were sometimes guarded by as few as six armed guards. Six! These six guards, incidentally, did not sit in machine gun towers or patrol with guard dogs. There were no electric fences or searchlights — yet no one escaped.

Perhaps most shocking was the mortality from what was called “give-up-itis.” “Hundreds of Americans,” Major Mayer noted, would “crawl off into a corner [of a mud hut] by himself, pull his blanket over his head, and in 48 hours he would be dead. Dead — not starved to death, no physical disease present, just dead.”

What had happened? What had the Chinese done to these American prisoners of war that had stripped them of their will to live? Worse yet, what was in store for the world in the future? Was brainwashing the wave of the future or simply an aberration of the present? Most important, what as the obligation of the American prisoner of war in the future when faced with the realistic possibility of brainwashing? Just giving the enemy only your name, rank and serial number was no longer reasonable advice.

In the analysis of what had happened, the military learned that the first action the Chinese had taken after the men had been placed in a camp was to remove the leaders. Officers were placed in their own special “reactionary” camp and noncoms who showed leadership potential were removed as well. [These people, the Chinese communists stated, suffered from “poisonous individualism.] After this five percent of all men were removed, those that were left proved psychologically malleable.

Once segregated, the men that were left were broken down psychologically. They were subjected to a routine of what is now called “re-education.” The prisoners went to lectures — very long lectures — where the dark side of American history was revealed: race riots, violent union strikes, killing of innocent people for economic reasons. Since many of the prisoners were not well-educated, this was a new view of America.

Men were also forced to talk about themselves in front of other prisoners with every man being forced to discuss the intimacies of his life. The superficiality of the ‘confessions’ wore thin quickly and soon men were releasing very private, personal information to hundreds of men they barely knew. This made every man vulnerable and served to isolate him from his buddies.

Resistance was further reduced by encouraging informing. The Chinese made it very clear that informing was not only expected but encouraged. So Americans informed on their buddies. So many prisoners were informing that the United States Army estimated that one in every ten prisoners was an informer. There were so many informers that no one knew who to trust. Since no one knew who to trust, they trusted no one. This further heightened the isolation within the camps.

The Chinese Communists also did everything they could to worsen the psychological climate. Letters from home were selectively distributed. Correspondence that said things like ‘we’re fine here in Ohio, we love you and are waiting for you to come home’ took months to get delivered. But divorce notices, “Dear John” letters, and collection summons that managed to slip into the military mailing system, were delivered as soon as possible.

It was not until the late l950s that the United States Army developed what became known as the Code of Conduct, 246 words which contain the conduct for prisoners of war, included at the end of this article. It’s basic points are designed, secondarily, to fight brainwashing. Primarily this code was designed to give prisoners rules around which each soldier could order his or her own psychological life in captivity.

It didn’t take long for the undercurrent of fear of brainwashing to find a national audience. It was not only a focus of controversy in the national press, it served as a catalyst to the further estrangement of the East and West. The rift between the United States and Red China was widened further by the Cold War.

A chill fell across the United States as well. The communists were everywhere, was the common assumption, and they are trying to take this country by subversion. Senator Joe McCarthy and Representative Richard M. Nixon made headlines with their charges of communist infiltration and subsequent televised hearings kept the ice box door open to keep the chill of the era cold. J. Edgar Hoover did his share as well — eventually writing a book on communist spies in the United States entitled MASTERS OF DECEIPT — and the American press, as interested in selling papers as reporting the truth, infiltrated meaningless concepts into the American vocabulary such as “fellow traveler” and “pink,” both terms identifying roughly the same type of individual: someone who was a communist but didn’t know it. Sensationalized cases, such as the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss, were banner headlines which kept Americans hot and our foreign relations cold.

It didn’t take long for the luster of the era to wear thin. The McCarthy hearings exposed Joe McCarthy for what he was. The Cold War 50s broke into the Social Unrest 60s and America forgot the 21 was stayed.

Though America may have forgotten the turncoats, the turncoats had not forgotten America. Conditions being what they were in Red China, it didn’t take long for some of the turncoats to reconsider their choice. Even the possibility of being tried as traitors and executed was a better alternative than continuing to live in Red China. On July 10, l955, three of the 21 crossed into Hong Kong. Declaring that “death is better than communism,” William A. Cowart, Lewis W. Griggs and Otho G. Bell faced newsmen in Hong Kong. Asked if they were aware of what probably faced them, Bell said “We may go to prison, yes. If we do we deserve it — we deserve it. If we can tell the people [of the United States] what we feel and what we know about [Chinese] society that’s also good too.”

Griggs stated that he had decided not to come back because he was afraid he would have been charged with a “case of forgering,” of which he was not guilty, with regard to an article that appeared in a magazine called Peace.

In response to why he decided to come home, Cowart noted that “a child decided not to come home, a man decided to come home.” Communism was worse than Hitler, he said “Hitler destroyed the body, communism destroys the soul.”

With regard to those Americans who remained, Cowart stated that ll had gone to school in Peiping, six to a factory in Shantung and five to a state farm in Honan. Griggs, Cowart and Bell had been assigned to the farm, a choice that had not suited Cowart. “I am not a farmer and . . . I don’t like farms of any nature.”

The arrival of the three turncoats once again opened the controversy as to their status: military and legal. The case dragged on for months, usually covered in the back section of newspapers, and it was eventually ruled that the military had no legal grounds for prosecution since the men had been discharged. Griggs, Cowart and Bell opened a legal battle for back pay, which outraged many Americans, and eventually they were given only that portion of backpay which would have accumulated between their capture and refusal of repatriation.

Year by year, the number of those who returned grew. One by one they returned, often with the same criticism of their host country. To date, only two remain in China — perhaps. The rest have returned to the United States or have gone to other countries in Europe. Other than Cowart, Griggs and Bell, the other l8 include:

Adams, Clarence C.

On May 26, l966, Adams crossed into Hong Kong with his Chinese wife and two children. He stated that he had wanted to return to see his mother in Memphis. He had last seen her in l950, before he went overseas to fight in the Korean War. Interestingly, in l965, Adams acted as the ‘Voice’ of Hanoi during the Vietnam War. With programs aimed at the American black in the field, Adams began his program with “Hi, fellows. Let’s have a heart to heart talk.”

Adams, Howard Gayle.

In November of l98l, Adams was still in China. At that time he was working with James Veneris in a paper factory in Jinan. His job was that of a chemist.

Belhomme, Albert

On August 30, l963, the Sacramento Bee reported that Albert Belhomme, 34, “another United States Army turncoat in the Korean War, came out of Red China today, disillusioned with Communism.” A former sergeant from Ashland, Pennsylvania, Belhomme arrived in Hong Kong with his Chinese wife, Hsio Ying, 28, and three sons ranging from l to 6 years of age. Belhomme, a native of Belgium, stated he planned to return to Belgium. Asked why he had left, Belhomme replied “I was burned politically. I was politically disillusioned.”

Bell, Otho G.

When Bell returned with William A. Cowart and Lewis W. Griggs in l955, there was serious consideration in dealing with him harshly because, it was alleged, that he had “mistreated fellow prisoners.”

Condron, Andrew.

Condron, a former British Marine, 34, left China for Moscow on October 12, l962 with his Chinese French wife and 2-year-old son. Asked of the other turncoats, Condron replied that he believed “a few might be planning to go home.” As to how the turncoats were living, Condron replied, “By Chinese standards they were living remarkably well — by Western standards not so good.” Condron was the only British soldier to choose to remain behind.

Corden, Richard C.

On January 20, l959, Corden, 31, arrived in San Francisco. The l0th turncoat to return, Corden had an impromptu news conference with reporters on the American President Liner Cleveland in which he stated he was returning to the United States because “I just got homesick.” He denied being a communist but stated he was “impressed” with socialism.

Cowart, William A.

In July of l955, William A. Cowart, Lewis W. Griggs and Ortho G. Bell crossed into Hong Kong. At first the United States military seriously considered court marshaling the men for treason but the United States Supreme Court ruled that since the men had been separated by the military after they refused to return to the United States. In essence, they were civilians and, as such, could not be tried by the military for treason. In May of l96l, however, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the men were entitled to back pay for that time between their capture and their dishonorable discharge. Shortly thereafter the three pressed to have the United States military give them back pay and allowances. The court rejected their plea.

Douglas, Rufus E.

In June of l954, Douglas died in a Chinese hospital of “a rheumatic heart with complications.”

Dunn, John R.

In August of l963, the New York Times reported that John R. Dunn had left China for Czechoslovakia with his Czechoslovakian wife.

Fortuna, Andrew.

On June l5, l957, Andrew Fortuna arrived in Hong Kong. When asked by reporters why he had gone to China, Fortuna replied that he had been brought in a poverty-stricken area of Detroit. “We often did not have enough food in the house and I saw breadlines in the streets. In the prison camp where I had time to think I wondered and puzzled what had caused all that. Marxist philosophy solved my basic problems.”

Griggs, Lewis W.

See “Cowart, William A.

Hawkins, Samuel David.

On February 28, l957, Hawkins, 23, the youngest of the turncoats crossed the border into Hong Kong. The 7th to return, he stated that he was disillusioned with communism and his main reason to deciding to return home was the “wanton killing by Soviet troops in Hungary.” Asked by reporters why he had decided to go to China in the first place, Hawkins responded “I half-way believed what I was told — we were brainwashed and I was afraid.” Hawkins was a student for a while at Peiping University and later worked as a driver and mechanic in Peiping and Wuhan.

Pate, Lloyd W.

On December 3, l956, Pate, 25, walked into Hong Kong with another turncoat, Aaron Wilson, 24, “wearing cheap Western-style blue suits and carrying brown suitcases,” stated the New York Times. At a news conference, Pate stated that “I went to China because I wanted peace. I didn’t find it there and will now go back to lead a peaceful life with my family.” The taciturn Wilson just nodded in agreement. As to his life in China, Pate stated “You can’t consider me a worker because I was handicapped by the language. In the paper factory at Tsinan where I was a third-grade lathe operator. The Chinese did most of the heavy work while I watched. At night I ran around and went to dances and movies having a good time. I didn’t bother to listen to newscasts or the radio from the Voice of America or read Chinese Communist news sheets. I just went to dances.” Pate also wrote a book entitled Reactionary!, “as told to B. J. Butler” (Harper’s, l956). The work centers on a “young American soldier who lived through the hell of captivity in the hands of the Chinese Reds.” Liberally spiced with the terms “Gooks” and “Chinks,” the autobiographical novel does not give any hint as to why Pate decided to remain with the Chinese rather than be repatriated to the United States.

Rush, Scott L.

On September l6, l963, Scott L. Rush, 3l, stepped off a plane in Tucson, Arizona and into the arms of his mother. “I’ll never leave you again. I’ll say it a thousand times,” he stated. Mrs. Rush brought a rag doll for her granddaughter and welcomed her Chinese daughter-in-law to the United States. He called all of the Chinese indoctrination as a “cock and bull story” and stated that conditions in China were “much worse [in l963] than when I went in.” When asked about China and why he left, Rush replied “I just got fed up. I wanted to see [China] out of curiosity. I’ve seen it. It was a complete waste except for my wife and daughter.”

Skinner, Lowell D.

On August l6, l963, the Sacramento Bee reported that Lowell D. Skinner, 32, returned to his home in Akron, Ohio. Talking freely with reporters about his life in China he stated “No, I don’t feel bad about it. It was entirely up to me and I did what I wanted to do. I was responsible for my actions and no one else.”

Sullivan, LaRance.

On March 30, l958, Sullivan, 27, crossed the border to Hong Kong. When he crossed the border, the New York Times reported, Chinese Communist guards handed him “a bunch of bananas and a cardboard box.” The eighth to return, Sullivan had been a lathe operator in Hankow.

Tenneson, Richard R.

On December 12, l955, Richard Tenneson crossed into Hong Kong. During an interview with reporters, the New York Times reported that Tenneson “made comments and gestures that stamped him as a well-indoctrinated victim of the communist propaganda machine.”

Veneris, James

On March 20, l989, the Associated Press reported that James George Veneris, 67, was alive but not well in Jinan, China. Suffering from a mild heart condition he was interviewed in his hospital bed. The son of a coal miner, Veneris was raised in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania. He fought in the Pacific during the Second World War and rejoined the military to fight in Korea. He was taken prisoner on November 28, l950, only 27 days after he had arrived in Korea. Veneris stated he had no plans for returning permanently to the United States. Though he had returned several times over the years, once in l976 to join in the Bicentennial Celebration, Veneris found the United States strange place. The only things he misses, he confessed, were “strong, non-filter cigarettes and good ice cream.” In a conversation liberally splashed with Maoist adages, Veneris stated that he was happy in China where he works as a teacher and lives with his third wife. When asked how he felt about his decision to stay in China, he replied, “I just did what Nixon did, that’s all. Only I did it 22 years earlier.”

Webb, Harold H.

On November 2, l986, the Los Angeles Times reported that Webb, 55, then a Polish citizen, was petitioning the United States State Department to return to the United States. At that time, the State Department had rejected his application because Webb had become a citizen of Poland in l970. Visiting relatives in Louisville, Kentucky, Webb was quoted as saying “I’ve always had [returning to the United States] in my mind. I’ve always had [it] deep down inside me — I’m an American.” Webb claimed he had been brainwashed. In November of l986, Webb was working at a gas station and Chinese restaurant while he waited to regain his American citizenship.

White, William C.

On August l8, l965, the New York Times International Edition reported that White, 34, had entered Hong Kong with his Chinese wife and two children. A black from Plummerville, Arkansas, White expressed a desire to live a “peaceful, ordinary life” in the United States. White was 20 years old when he was captured, the sole survivor of a company wiped out in heavy fighting, and claimed he had gone to China out of “curiosity.” He worked as a translator in China for a number of years and took a degree in law at the Chinese People’s University of Peking.

Wills, Morris R.

On October l9, l965, Wills, 32, crossed the border into Hong Kong with his Cantonese wife and l5 month-old daughter. In comments to newsmen made two days later Wills stated that the United States could improve relations with Communist China by “trying for some relaxation of tension.” He did not consider himself a traitor, he said, but he admitted there were times when he felt some shame about refusing repatriation. When asked why he had chosen to come back, Wills waved off questions and announced that he was express himself in a forthcoming book. That book, Turncoat, An America’s 12 Years in Communist China, (as told to Robert Moskins) appeared in l966. In the book Wills notes “I was terribly disillusioned with China and its methods; the objectives that communism has for a person’s life, or the life of the family looked good — on paper.” As an interesting, at 6' 2", Wills was, understandably, a basketball star when he attended Peiping University.

Wilson, Aaron.

See Pate, Arley.

Odd it is that the fear these 21 generated, the concept of brainwashing by Red Chinese faded as quickly as it began. Simply a by-product of the Cold War era, today brainwashing is specifically associated with cults. In fact, a quick view of the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature shows that over the last half-decade there have been no articles on brainwashing in national publications which deal with the Korean War. The dozen articles on brainwashing deal with cults and de-programming, a far cry from give-up-itis.

Very few reputable scientists, biologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, or sociologists feel that brainwashing is a legitimate science. While brainwashing in any form, may work for the short term, these professional are skeptical about the long term. In l989, the proof of the failure of brainwashing comes in two forms. First, of the 21 Americans who went to Red China — only two remain. Second, one million people in Tiananmen Square in Peking are proving that even under the most ideal conditions, brainwashing is not a viable science.


Article I

I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

Article II

I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender my men while they still have the means to resist.

Article III

If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.

Article IV

If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.

Article V

When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.

Article VI

I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

[Steven Levi’s mysteries can be found at His other books are available from Kindle and ACX.]