A MATTER OF POLICIES
The change of voices penetrated the Sergeant’s reverie as a second chinaman took over the lecture. Seeking the reason for the substitution of speakers, Wolfe listened for a moment.
"During the time you have been with us you have had the opportunity to learn many things"
Same old recording from another phonograph. The first speaker had simply run out of gas. This would be the "All Work for Peace" lecture. The Sergeant went back to his thoughts.
Considering the new speaker’s opening statement—a fellow really did stand to learn a lot in a circumstance such as this, providing he didn’t fall prey to the type of learning the communists had in mind. But all prisoners weren’t able to avoid that trap. Many lacked the experience and judgment to defend themselves against the constant pressure of the communists’ psychological attack. Many needed help, and so few received it. Take a young fellow like Frye, sitting only a few feet away. Frye was bubbling with joy, like a small boy going to his first circus, talking excitedly in whispers to those about him, ignoring the stern looks of the several chinamen on the sidelines who were trying to keep order among the prisoners.
To the Sergeant, Frye was a symbol of those who made up a large part of the returning prisoners. A young man just turned twenty-one. Prisoner for two years; he’d been in the army less than one when he was captured. There were many like himdraftees and volunteers. Some of them had even lied about their age in order to get in. You had to do some reminiscing to view their predicament properly. You had to remember, if you could, how the world had looked to yourself at that age. So consider a fellow like that, just out of high school.
Some of them hadn’t even gone to high school. Maybe they just hadn’t wanted to go, and their folks didn’t care. Or maybe the lure of easy money while the big war was going on, when a boy in long trousers could get a man’s wages, was enough to entice them out of school, and their folks went along with the idea.
Then they’d been shoved aside by older men returning after the big war ended. Many of the youngsters had trouble adjusting. They found themselves too old to go back to school and too young to compete for jobs. So they drifted until they got into one of the services. They remembered the hero’s welcome that awaited the men on furlough during the big war. If they expected the same, they were disappointed. The public passion for men in uniform dissipates quickly when the need for them has ended. A little war like this one wasn’t enough to fire it up again. To a career man, it didn’t matter much. But to young men like Frye, public backing was important; and they didn’t get it. Strike one!
If properly trained and indoctrinated in the service, such young men would have had the chance to acquire some of the guidance, experience, and education that hadn’t been given them before. Yes, if properly! But after the big war a committee had been established to revamp the armed forces, to make the military service "democratic." Brought about by do-gooders and doting mothers who couldn’t bear the thought of their sons being sub- jected to the "vile influence" of some rough-talking drill sergeant, the "kid-glove" treatment had been ordered. In the new "demo- cratic" outfit you weren’t to tell a man to do something, you were to ask him: "Private Jones, would you please fire your weapon at that enemy soldier who is preparing to throw a hand-grenade?"
Of course, it hadn’t come to that, but it had brought about things as dangerous to the individual soldier. You couldn’t take a young man out in training, let him grovel in the mud and slime, live off reduced rations for a few days, and sleep in a cramped foxhole like he’d have to do in battle. If you tried that, there’d be a letter from mama’s congressman to the Old Man asking why sweet little Roland Rustbucket was being so persecuted by that sadistic sergeant. No, indeed, you had to see to it that Roland’s feet were dry every night, instead of helping him learn to see to it himself.
So the kid gets to Korea, the Sergeant asked himself, and what happens? His feet get wet when it rains. They got wet in training too, but he knew a shower and towel waited for him before he turned in, so he hadn’t paid much attention when the fellow tried to show him how to make a drier fox-hole. So this time his feet stayed wet; he was lucky if they didn’t freeze. Blame the kids? No. In fact, you couldn’t help admiring the way most of them adjusted. That wasn’t so surprising; it was the first time they had the chance to do anything on their own, and they were eager to go. For years they’d longed for the chance to stand on their own two feet, to prove themselves to themselves. And now, because it was the first time, too often for many of them it was also the last. Strike two!
Really, you could hardly blame the youngsters at all. There hadn’t been much time in training for them. No use in worrying whose fault that might be. A lot of people were so happy to have the big war over they were all for doing away with armies entirely. Dreamers!
There was just enough time to put a rifle in a young man’s hands and show him which was the business end of it. A few funda- mentals, and before you knew it you had to send him up on the line. Perhaps you had time to point out the leaders to the rookies, to tell them to look to their officers and non-corns for direction. All things considered, the youngsters did very well. Partly, that was because they usually had good leaders on the linethey had to be good to stay on the line for long. The youngsters appreciated being treated like men, perhaps for the first time, and encouraged by men they could respect. Learning how good their leaders were, the young men looked more and more to them, for guidance and inspiration as well as for orders. But some of the boys got captured. And for many of thoseStrike three!
The communists had a plan in mind for young fellows like Frye. They called it "education." Essentially it was the same type of education that is given people in communist lands.
At the beginning, however, the communists made a mistake. They had the idea it was only necessary to give these youngsters a few weeks of lectures on the "utopia of communism" and all of them would be sold on it. So in late 1951 a score or more of American prisoners were released after only a couple of months’ "indoctrination." The prisoners had done nothing but sit through the lectures without arguing.
It wasn’t hard to see how the indoctrinators could be so simple-minded, when you knew the magnitude of the Communist Lie. Word came from the bosses in Peking and Moscow to indoctrinate the prisoners. The poor fools who tried to carry out the order were themselves part of that myriad of dupes who, because they had never known anything else, actually believed communism was all it claimed to be. They had been told that American soldiers were poor, oppressed, uneducated fools. They believed it. Since they judged their prisoners’ minds by their own, they expected the Americans to grab eagerly at communism.
But with the help of Americans, the communist bosses recog- nized their mistake quickly. For the release of these first Americans in 1951 made a sensational story: "How We Fooled the Communists." Complete with pictures, frequent reference to the "stupidity of communists," and emphasis on the "superior intelligence of Americans," the article was published. Result? Many magazines were soldsome on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. And because those stupid communists had somehow learned to read English, the next group of indoctrinated American prisoners, in- stead of being sent south across the lines to freedom, were sent north for more education. Yes, thought the Sergeant, the article proved Americans smart indeedat selling magazines!
Thus, the communist strategists were made aware that their indoctrination of American prisoners needed revamping. The bosses realized that even the less educated of the Americans weren’t gullible enough to swallow the communist line readily, if at all. The bosses didn’t tell this to the indoctrinators, though. The poor fools whose task it was to educate the prisoners, were told that Americans had been so completely "brainwashed" by "capitalist warmongers" that it might take months, or even years to teach them "Truth." As simply as that, the communist masters were able to extend the indoctrination period indefinitely and still keep their own dupes convinced.
In the world today one heard reference to the "battle. for the minds of men"; but it was a strange contest of ideologies, thought Wolfe, in which opposing teams were under different rules. For while the free world left minds free to choose, the communist world was hampered by no such scruples. Intellects that failed to see through the falsities of communism were so arrested that they were of only limited use in the totalitarian state. More capable minds might be induced to serve communist aims without for a moment believing and choosing the ideology. So it was with the prisoners. There was no need to convince them communism was better than democracy, or even as good. They had only to be brought to submission, by whatever means seemed easiest. Once "involved" just a little, the prisoner was subject to a simple form of controlthe pressure of compromise.
Consider the ones who had decided to refuse repatriation. The communist papers had set the theme by labeling them "those who chose communism." When the American press took up the theme, as so often it had before, the Kremlin’s plan would have worked completely. By simple assumption and hurried conclusion, America’s free press often fostered the propaganda of its greatest enemy. By the phrase, "those who chose communism rather than return to America" people who knew nothing at all about communism, and others who thought they did, would be led to say naively: "It must have some appeal if any at all of our American boys decided to stay."
Only one simple fact needed to be known to reveal the falsity in such an assumption. The ones who were considering staying were traitorswillful betrayers of fellow-man and countryelecting to stay, not because they preferred communism as a way of life, but simply because they feared for life itself. Because they were fully aware of their treason, they sought to avoid the punishment they knew was justly due.
There was to be an explanation period, during which time each side would have the opportunity to try to induce the reluctant ones to return. Because of the false idea that they had "chosen communism"an idea initiated by the enemy and promoted by Americanssomeone would try to convince the traitors they should return to America. The failure there would serve the Kremlin’s propagandist further.
We admit to having murderers and such in America, mused the Sergeant. What society doesn’t have its criminal element? Why not admit that we have traitors as well? There were too many to be denied. Then it would be just a matter of saying: To hell with the treasonous rats! They’ve convicted, sentenced, and punished themselves by their decision to remainmore decisively, more severely than any court in America ever would. If you felt sorry for the families of those who were staying, you should consider that the families of the men betrayed needed your condolence much more than those who reared the traitors. A lot of men suffered and died—betrayed, dead, and forgotten before they were even knownbecause of "boys" like them.
Those were "progressives." "Pinkies" were different. ‘Pinkies" were the ones who could have been helped, but there was nobody to help them. Perhaps they had learned to respect their officers and non-coms and look to them for guidance; and given time to learn more, they might have been able to carry on alone. But there hadn’t been that much time, and the enemy knew it. As soon as the youngsters were captured, they were removed from the influence of responsible seniors, and the only kind of officer or non-com many young fellows ever saw after that was some weakling or opportunist telling them America was wrong to be in this war at all, or that the UN was using "Germ War." And the youngsters found themselves with a lot of other boys in the same predicament. There’d be some of the "progressives" aroundperhaps designated as squad leaders by the enemywise punks, sadistic opportunists, exploiting their authority for personal gains. There might be a few "hold-outs," defiantly resisting the enemy and the "progressives" for no other reason except it was the proper thing to do; but they couldn’t help a fellow unless he could help himself.
So that’s the way it was with the "pinkies." They didn’t believe in communism, either. Sometimes they were confused kids who didn’t know what to believe, so they just didn’t believe in much of anything. They were "pink" mainly because they needed help and couldn’t get it. They’d still need help when they got back to the other side. But it had to be the right kind of helpnot just forgiveness and sympathy. Sympathy injudiciously applied, was a great promoter of weakness. Understanding they needed, certainly, and some guidance, but most of all, the chance to stand on their own two feet.
Now there was Fryejoking and laughing. He was happy, and with good reason. He was happy because he was alive, because he was going homemaybe because he would be the "talk of the town" for a while. He wasn’t a glory-seeker. He didn’t have a story, making himself out a hero. He was just a kid, with a lot of man developed in him by experience, but still a kid. A happy kid, going home. There would be the neighborhood gals, grown up some in two and a half years, perhaps flirting with him a little. Some of the fellows would be jealous of all the attention he got. He’d like that, too, because they’re the ones he’d always wanted to make jealous and couldn’t before. They’d been the "heroes" in school, playing football and basketball when he couldn’t make the team. They’d had their day; now he’d have his. There’d be other guys, too, real pals of his, crowding around with a thousand questions. Yes, he had many things to be happy aboutso many he didn’t even realize what all of them were. But he might have been a dejected "pinky." People ought to know why he wasn’t. More than just being happy, Frye might well be grateful for the circumstances and other persons who had kept him from being a "pinky" himself.
In cases where it was impossible to separate the young fellows from responsible officers and non-coms, the communists had other ways of preventing youngsters like Frye from benefiting from the wisdom and guidance of older heads. They had a system to create disunity amongst the prisoners which maintained a pretense of being quite democratic. The Sergeant remembered how shrewdly they were introduced to this system, just after they’d arrived at the Chinese prison camp and been formed into a prisoner platoon.
The prison-camp politico first announced that he was "Comrade Lee" and should be addressed by that title. Because the prisoners didn’t like the idea they called him "Konrad." Lee didn’t notice the difference. He told them the camp organization was "democratic," everyone was "hungachi"everybody "same-same."
"You must all know," Konrad announced, "there is no longer rank among you. All are prisoners. No matter what your rank may be when you are captured; now you are prisoner, every one is same-same. Later on we make one of you squad leader, only to give orders we say. Also squad leader will bring request to us. You do not each one ask for things, only you ask squad leader and he ask us.
"By our lenient policy," Konrad continued, "we guarantee all prisoners be treated fairly who abide by rule. To do this we must make certain one prisoner can not take advantage of other because of rank. This is only way we can guarantee fair treatment of all. In our lenient policy, the same as all communism, is true democracy. When you have problem concerning everybody, all will have vote and equal chance to say. Such problem to settle by group discussion and vote. One man cannot decide for all as is capitalist way."
Along with that had been more of carefully chosen propaganda about the "benevolence" and "humanitarian principles" of the "Chinese People’s Volunteers" and communists in general. When the announcement was over there was considerable discussion of it among some of the prisoners.
"Well you gotta give the chinks credit for some things," Hack said. "They got a pretty good deal on this business of everybody gettin’ a chance to decide things." Hack was a corporal. He had variable moods with respect to the authority of those senior to him in either age or rank.
"I don’t know about that," Bowmar observed. "It looks to me like it’s a way of tying the hands of the officers so they can’t do anything for us."
"Humph!" Hack snorted. "These officers here ain’t gonna do nothin’ for us, anyhow."
"Well, I think they’ll do things if they get the chance."
"Yeah," Hack sneered, "like Lieutenant Ruck volunteerin’ to write stuff for the camp paper so he can get cigarettes and things for himself. That’s what these officers do."
"Well, they’re not all like that. You’re bound to have some"
"They’re all about the same," Hack asserted. "All worryin’ just about themselves. Remember I’ been prisoner longer’n you. It’s every man for himself in a prison camp; except where you got a few guys that get along okay together and organize a little clique of their own. That’s the only kinda organization you can have in a place like this."
"But that way you end up with one group fighting another," Bowmar said. "That ain’t right. We should have organization for the whole group. There’s enough good officers to keep somebody like Ruck from taking advantage of his rank."
"Oh, sure, you like that idea ‘cause you’re a sergeant, and I’m only a corporal. That way you’ got more say than I’ got. Well, I don’t think that’s right. I ain’t no ‘pro,’ or nothin’ like that, but I still like this votin’ deal and group discussion."
"Well, Hack, I still think you’re wrong."
"I don’t care what you think. You’re only a buck sergeant, not much higher than me. Maybe I’d be a sergeant too, if I hadn’t been captured before you was. I’ been in the army as long as you have, so I got just as much right to say."
"Now you know I don’t mean" Bowmar began.
"I don’t wanta talk about it with you no more. You’re just sore cause you don’t outrank me here. I ain’t sayin’ I blame you exactly. Maybe I’d feel the same way if I was a sergeant and you was a corporal, but you gotta look at it from us fellas’ angle too, y’know."
The discussion ended there. Bowmar walked away. He wished he could get it across to the others why the setup shouldn’t be the way the enemy was ordering it. He knew it shouldn’t be, and he knew why, but he couldn’t put the words together to explain it to someone like Hack.
Konrad Lee held the first group discussion a couple of days later. "Today is a chance for all to make request to me," he announced, "since we have not yet select squad leader."
Hack was eager, but Lieutenant Shiller beat him to the punch. Shiller was quick at getting things for himself, and if others bene- fited, it was incidental.
"Why do we only get rice and potatoes?" the lieutenant asked. "When we arrived at Pyoktong we had eggs and some green vegetables. We were told we would get such food from now on."
"Our supplies do not arrive at this place yet," the chinaman answered. "Later on there will be other things."
"I saw one of the guards eating meat," Shiller told him.
Konrad was disturbed by that. "When did you see? Where?"
"The day we arrived here," Shiller replied. "Right out in front of our building, eating meat out of a can."
"Oh"Konrad had figured an explanation"then that was his own ration from his pack, not from regular supply. Food will be better when our supplies arrive. Are there other questions?"
"We need somethin’ to do," Hack said. "Ain’tcha got some books or magazines for us to read or somethin’?" It was an innocent question. Hack, thinking of American books and magazines, didn’t realize what he was asking for.
"Books? Yes, we have already order for you, and magazines too. I am very sorry not yet here. When supplies come."
"How about playing-cards?" another prisoner asked. "That would give us something to do to occupy our time."
"I will try to get for you."
"When we gonna get clothes and shoes?" Frye asked. "They told us at Pyoktong we’d get new clothes and shoes."
"It is because supply is slow they are not here yet," Konrad explained.
"Seems like it’s always the supply is slow," someone remarked.
"Ah," the chinaman said, "you must realize it will be slow here. There is not good roads for trucks and maybe not many trucks can be used for supply here. More important things they have to do."
"How about letters?" Hack asked. "They told us at Pyoktong we could write letters."
"Oh, yes. I have paper but forgot to bring. I will bring to you after meeting is ended."
"Will we receive letters, too?" Frye asked, enthused.
The chinaman smiled. "That will depend on your own country. If they permit your families to send letters, we will deliver to you. We cannot control if they do not." Several of the men tightened inside at the shrewd propaganda jibe so expertly woven in. Konrad Lee was no fool. He would be one to watch out for.
But Lee did bring the paper, issuing to each prisoner a sheet folded in such a way that it made its own envelope. Maybe in a few days they could write again, he told them. It was because of supply there was only one for each now.
"What can we write about?" Frye asked.
"Oh, you may write whatever you wish."
"How about that?" Frye said when the chinaman was gone. "He says to write whatever we want to. That means we could write the chow’s no good, or anything."
"Well," Shiller told him, "you know they won’t send it if it has anything bad about them in it."
"And they’re not apt to, even if it doesn’t," Pete added.
"Why not?" Hack asked Pete. "Why would they give us paper to write if they weren’t gonna send ‘em?"
"Any number of reasons."
"Like what, for instance?"
"If you can’t figure it out, you wouldn’t understand if someone told you," Pete replied. "Go ahead and write. They might send it if you put in enough nice things about ‘em."
"Hmph," Hack snorted. To Frye he said, "I don’t see no reason why they won’t send ‘em."
Konrad Lee came back a couple of hours later to ask if they had all finished their letters.
"How do the letters get to America?" Frye asked.
"They go through Hong Kong," Konrad answered. "Our side has tried to make arrangements to exchange mail for prisoners, but your side will not agree. So all mail must go through Hong Kong."
"How do people write to us?" Hack asked.
"Oh, I did not tell how to write your address?" Konrad asked innocently.
"Well then, do it this way," the chinaman told them. "Put your name, your title and serial number and then ‘In care of the Chinese People’s Committee for World Peace against American Aggression, Peking, China."
Frye had written the words down before he realized what they meant. He was seated close to Pete when he made the discovery. "Hey Pete," he whispered. "Did you notice the return address, what it says?"
"What do you think of it?"
"You didn’t like it when I said what I thought about letter writing a while ago," Pete reminded him.
"That wasn’t me, that was Hack," Frye said.
"Well, you and Hack are pretty close. You’re in his ‘clique,’ as he calls it. Why don’t you ask him what he thinks about it?"
"Well, I’d like to know what you think about it too, Pete."
"Okay, but first ask Hack and see what he thinks. Then I’ll give you my opinion, if you still want it."
So Frye asked Hack: "You gonna send yours?"
"Sure, why not?"
"You gonna put that return address he told us?"
"Have to. Shiller says they wouldn’t send it without. Why?"
"Well, I was thinking about that return address," Frye said in worried tone. "What it says"
"What about it?"
"Well, it’s almost like admittin’ we started the war."
"Aw, what of it?" Hack asked. "Nobody back home’s gonna believe that crap. Your folks wouldn’t believe it, would they?"
"No," Frye said hesitantly, "but I still don’t know."
"Who you been talkin' to?" Hack asked. "Peter’
"Yeah. I just asked him what he thought about it."
"What’d he say?" It was more a sneer than a question.
"Well, he didn’t say, but I don’t think he goes along with it."
"That don’t mean nothin’," Hack told him. "You know how he isjust an ol’ sorehead. Him and Wolfe and that Emmett. They’re still sore ‘cause they can’t run the show, ‘cause the Chinese say guys like you an’ me get an equal vote in things."
Frye wasn’t satisfied. Something still seemed wrong to him about it. He didn’t feel the way Hack did about Pete and Wolfe and Emmett, either. But he never disagreed with Hack, because Hack would get mad if he did. Frye went back to see Pete.
"Well, I asked Hack," Frye said to the older man.
"An’ he said go ahead?"
"Yeah. How’d you know?"
"Well, Lieutenant Shiller seems to think it’s all right, too," Frye said.
"Well, he’s an officer" Frye began.
"I thought all the guys in your ‘clique’ had decided being an officer didn’t make any differenceeverybody ‘hungachi’?" Pete taunted.
"Well, this is different," Frye said. "An officer knows more about this kinda stuff than guys like us, just privates and corporals."
"Oh, I see," Pete said. "You’re all for this ‘hungachi’ business, except sometimes. You figure you should have as much say as anyone else whenever you feel like it, but when you get a problem you can’t handle, then you want some officer to make the decision for you and take the responsibility. Is that it?"
"Gosh, Pete, I didn’t think of it that way."
"Maybe you just didn’t think."
"Well, I thought about it, but"
"You didn’t think about it," Pete told him. "You only think what Hack tells you to think. Keep on that way, and you’ll soon be thinkin’ what the chinks tell you, toojust like some of the guys writin’ in that propaganda sheet they call a ‘camp newspaper."
Frye looked down, abashed.
"Think a little on your own for once," Pete went on. "Take a good look at the way Hack does. He’s the big shot in these discussionsall for the ‘hungachi’ business. But when it comes to serious arguing with the chinks, then he wants to know why the officers don’t do something, go and demand things. An’ you pick a helluva one to ask when you ask Shiller. I know him; you don’t."
"Well, it’s a fact there don’t many of the officers speak up during discussions except maybe Shiller. Shiller at least asks the chinks for stuff," Frye said.
"Hack said that, too, didn’t he?" Pete asked.
"Well, yes, he did; but it’s true. You don’t ever speak up during the discussions, Pete. I ain’t never heard you get up and argue with Konrad for anything."
"No, and you probably won’t," Pete told him. "I won’t argue in these discussions because it doesn’t do any good. All the discussions do is create argument amongst ourselves when there’s a chinaman here. That’s exactly what the chinks want. I’ve argued myself blue in the face alone with Konrad, and will continue to do so as long as I think it might do some good. Wolfe, Emmett, and several others have been doing the same thing.
"I’ll certainly agree there are officers here who aren’t setting a good example," Pete continued. "But you know that doesn’t mean they’re all that way. And it’s no excuse for you doing something you know is wrong just because you see someone else doing it even if it’s an officer. You guys better wise up before it’s too late. There’s gonna be more times you’ll want advice from me or Wolfe or some of the officers. We’re damn glad to help if we can, but if you let the chinks suck you in with this ‘hungachi’ idea you’ll have to look to the Lord for all your help because no one else’ll be able to do a damn thing for you.
"Well, I’ve preached long enoughprobably too long," Pete concluded. "May be wastin’ my breath anyhow, but at least I got it out of my system. Think about what I said if you want to. Other- wise just skip it."
"I think you’re right, Pete," Frye said. He got up to go.
"Here, you forgot your letter." Pete handed it to him.
"Oh, thanks," Frye said, as he took it; "but I guess I ain’t gonna give it to Konrad anyhow."
© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.