Apprehending Enemy Prisoners of War in Korea

Cold War Geographical Imaginaries and the Making of the UN Camps

To be presented at the 16th International Conference of Historical Geographers

In this paper I describe the spatial and technological practices used by US and United Nations Command forces to capture, evacuate, and detain enemy populations in the Korean War. Through critical engagement with archival documents, military doctrine, and technical manuals I argue that the way that prisoner bodies were imagined, apprehended, and distributed on the Korean peninsula offers a unique frame through which to explore the spaces between the dominant historical narrative of a bipolar Cold War battlefield and an often-overlooked landscape made through the messy politics of decolonization. The complications that emerged at the limits of these geographic imaginaries shaped the contours of a landscape in which the lines dividing internal and external war were fluid, and the very idea of the enemy was frequently unintelligible and in a near constant state of flux. The processes of prisoner capture, evacuation, and sequestration would subsequently come to be seen as ones that required governance, social scientific expertise, and a host of techniques of truth production that aimed to turn the illegible detainee body into a technical object that could be effectively classified and managed by US and UN forces.