Able to Spot Their Priests

Remind everyone to submit to leaders and those in authority, to be obedient, and ready to do whatever is good.  

Titus 3:1         


The silence was eerie.  After the Korean War, about eighty American prisoners of war were recovering at the army hospital in Tokyo. The former POWs would talk to the doctors, but even though these soldiers had spent three years together in prison and knew each other intimately, they wouldn't talk with each other.   


The treatment of POWs by the communist Koreans was insidiously effective. The prison camps had no guard towers, no electric fences, no search lights or guard dogs. A prison camp holding between 500 to 600 American prisoners was guarded by a mere half dozen guards. Yet, not one American soldier ever escaped.  

The North Korean's strategy was to demoralize their prisoners, and to accomplish their objective, they began by isolating the leaders. Officers were removed from their men and put in "reactionary camps." After the officers were segregated, they kept a keen eye out for anyone assuming a leadership role and removed them.   

Once the leaders were gone, they created distrust among everyone else. Informants who reported the misdeeds of fellow prisoners were rewarded with cigarettes, candy, or special privileges. But those who were tattled on were never punished. Everyone seemed to profit.  

Soon, however, everyone became psychologically isolated. No one trusted anyone else.  

The communists knew well what Americans can easily forget: the loss of leadership can devastate a group. When no one exists to encourage, inspire, and maintain a spirit of unity, group members attack each other and look to their own self-interests. 

Almost forty percent of the American POWs died in prison -- the highest death rate of American prisoners in any war since the American Revolution. The reason for the high mortality rate was neither torture nor malnutrition, but a lack of morale. The prisoners called it "Give-up-itis." Without leadership, no one chose to resist the enemy. No one worked together. No one took responsibility for his comrade.  After their release, they wouldn't even talk to each other. 


Fighting alongside the U.S. in the Korean War were the Turks. They, too, had many POWs. They, too, had their officers isolated. Yet, none of them died of natural causes. As soon as one leader was taken to a "reactionary camp," another soldier filled his position of leadership. The leaders held the troops together.  As a result, they shared their rations, cared for their sick, and remained loyal to each other.   


Years ago, Christians in Uganda were being purged. A missionary society in England asked an Episcopal bishop in Uganda what they could do to help. Did they need food? Medicine?  

The bishop replied that they didn't need food or medicine; they needed 250 clerical collars. "You must understand," he said, "when our people are being rounded up to be shot, they must be able to spot their priests."  


(copyright 2012 by Marty Kaarre)