On June 23, 1957, 23-year-old Korean War defector David Hawkins appeared on the Mike Wallace Interview television show. Born in Oklahoma City to a overly controlling mother and a father who spent six years in Europe during World War II starting from the time he was age six, David enlisted in the Army when he was 16 years old. He was captured by the North Koreans at age 17, served as a prisoner of war for three years, and chose when the armistice was signed in 1953 to remain in Communist China. Hawkins changed his mind and returned to the United States after he learned of the brutal repression and coverup of the Hungarian Revolution by the communist Soviet Union. During the interview, Wallace forcefully confronted Hawkins with his actions, repeatedly calling him a “turncoat.” Hawkins, for his part, was ready to admit his defection was a mistake and expressed feelings of guilt and shame.
Hawkins disagreed with Wallace that he had come from a good home, that in fact it had felt like a broken home; he had missed his father and his mother had been very rigid and restrictive (which she admitted on his return). Hawkins felt he hadn’t sufficiently understood or appreciated the freedoms available in America and the sacrifices made to preserve them. He had been easily convinced by expert Chinese indoctrinators that Socialism was the best system to improve the lives of the imperially-oppressed Chinese. When Wallace accused him of being an informant against his fellow soldiers, or committing crimes in Korea that prevented him from wanting to return, Hawkins firmly denied both. He had been labeled by his peers as “progressive” for his curiosity about socialism and was an easy target for such allegations. “At the time,” he stressed, he felt that going so far away from home to fight on a “barren rock,” getting involved in another country’s civil war while not knowing what he was fighting for, believing the United States had made a “big mistake,” was a “raw deal”. The military had not prepared him, Hawkins explained, to face interrogation by the Chinese, whom he was told instead were our friends. His three years in China were somewhat sheltered ones, but he liked the Chinese people and felt no reason to doubt that Socialism could work. He was regularly the subject of brainwashing in what the Chinese called “criticism meetings.”
Then the Soviets crushed the Hungarian people as they fought for freedom. Hawkins saw that he had been wrong. He wanted to come home. He arranged without trouble for he and his wife to leave through Hong Kong. He believed now that Communism was truly a threat to world freedom and needed to be stopped. He had two warnings for the viewing audience. He, and his fellow defectors, some of whom still remained in China, had been trained to return to the United States to help in an eventual people’s revolution against the “war-mongering” government. And – ignoring mainland China, a “formidable power” which had made “great strides” to improve the lives of ordinary Chinese, was a mistake on the order of refusing to see the “elephant in the room.”
Wallace summed up the interview thus: David Hawkins was an illustration of the need for “faith and courage” as the ultimate weapons against communism. Because faith and courage “couldn’t be issued by the army,” it was up to homes, schools and churches to instill them. “In that sense,” Wallace said, “David Hawkins’ problem has certainly become our own.”
Image Credit: Harry Ransom Center/The University of Texas at Austin