Real Heroes

An extraordinary tale of Cold War heroism has recently come to light. This is the case of CIA agents Richard Fecteau and John Downey, captured by the Communist Chinese on a mission into southeastern Manchuria during the Korean War. Fecteau was released in 1971 after 19 years’ imprisonment; Downey in 1973, following Richard Nixon’s visit to China. The Downey-Fecteau case has been known in outline for many years, but only recently has a detailed, unclassified account been published in the CIA in-house magazine Studies in Intelligence. After some beatings at the time of their capture, the two men were not physically tortured, but their living conditions were very harsh, and every kind of psychological pressure was used against them. A favorite was what Fecteau called “the whipsaw”: Their captors would improve conditions — providing better food, access to books and magazines, or a luxury such as soap — only to reverse course. There were spells of solitary confinement, one lasting six years. Both men are still alive; both had useful and successful professional lives in the U.S. after their 20-year ordeals. All honor and glory to two American heroes.

From the May 14 Edition of National Review.

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