Prisoners of Pavlov

Susan L. Carruthers

in Cold War Captives

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780520257306
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520944794 | DOI:
Prisoners of Pavlov

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This chapter focuses on the American prisoners who chose not to accept repatriation after the Korean War. Overlooking a long history of unredeemed captives refusing to rejoin their Euro-American communities, commentators in the 1950s repeatedly stressed that never before in history had Americans elected to remain with their captors. No wonder, then, that a story burdened with such radical implications sustained attention throughout the 1950s and beyond, inspiring press reports, scholarly analysis, novels, teleplays, and movies. Yet the rapid gyrations of judgment that saw these men deemed successively (or simultaneously) victims, invalids, dupes, “rats,” and “cheese-eaters” also track larger anxieties generated by America's first mass experience of communist captivity. What the unredeemed captives experienced with particular force, three thousand other returning prisoners would encounter with varying degrees of intensity as their individual records were appraised, then collectively reevaluated. Their captivity came to function as something akin to a Rorschach test for social commentators in the 1950s. The shapes Americans discerned there mapped an intricate set of Cold War anxieties over gender roles, sexuality, parenting, class, and race, concerns anticipated in constructions of the nonrepatriates' characterological deficiencies.

Keywords: prisoners of war; soldiers; brainwashing; American psyche; communism; communist captivity

Chapter.  18471 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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