Promoting Morale: Prisoner of War Legislation and the Problem of Surrender in the US Military, 1943–53

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:00 AM
Room 401 (Colorado Convention Center)
Elena Friot, University of New Mexico
In October 1943, Senator Dennis Chavez (D-NM) proposed legislation for the promotion of "certain prisoners of war." S. 1324 called for servicemen in the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps to be advanced one pay grade per year, dating from 8 December 1941, for each year they were imprisoned by the Japanese in the Pacific. Secretary of War Henry Stimson responded negatively to this legislation, claiming there was no way to distinguish between those who "might be deserving" and those who could have "continued to resist." In 1946 President Truman vetoed a similar bill, largely attributing his decision to the exclusion of Army personnel from the bill and the "expenditure of large and indefinite sums of money" required by the passage of such a law. The problem of surrender is bound up with these issues of promotion, reasonable resistance, and looming government expenditures. This paper uses Congressional records, letters, newspaper articles, military regulations, and documents of the Secretaries of War and the Navy to interrogate the meaning of surrender within political, military, and popular circles, and argues promotion of prisoners of war was not simply a matter of the inability of servicemen to "accept" promotions or pass requisite physical examinations; instead, the protracted debate over promotions reveals persistent concerns about the impact of surrender on U.S. military forces, the commitment of captured personnel to the defense of the nation, the importance of morale as a "cost" of war, and the parity between America's armed service branches.
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