An academic study of the changing nature of war post-1945 in terms of the struggle to claim political recognition of the prisoner of war, specifically within the Korean War.
In this dense and compelling work, Kim (History/New York Univ.) deeply investigates the POW repatriation tactics used as political propaganda on both sides of the Korean War. When the 38th parallel shifted from a temporary border between American and Soviet spheres of military occupation to a sovereign border between the China-bolstered Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the U.S.–occupied Republic of Korea, the POW became the pawn between the two sides; the DPRK insisted on “mandatory” repatriation, while the ROK argued for voluntary. “The figure of the prisoner of war,” writes the author, “was essentially a distillation of the relationship between the state and its subject….Through the [POW], one could challenge both the legitimacy of the enemy state’s governance and the superiority of the enemy state’s conduce of warfare.” Moreover, while the interrogation rooms were flexible in how they manifested—“an idealized site of regulated and willing exchange”—the interrogator and translator on the American side was most often a Japanese-American man who had spent his adolescence incarcerated in U.S. internment camps during World War II; thus, he became an instrument in the U.S. “liberal” state’s efforts at decolonization and state-building. Kim explores how this generation brought its painful former experiences with internment to the interrogation room within the landscape of a former Japanese colony. The author also leads us through the reams of documentation needed to build this new war of bureaucracy and examines troubling instances of “mutiny” and “brainwashing.”
A specific, targeted, and nuanced exploration of how the Korean War and Cold War–era battlefield moved inside and became a new “struggle of political legitimacy waged within human psyches, souls, and desires.”