Monica Kim

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20122013 Forum on Peripheries

Monica Kim


Ph.D., University of Michigan

Humanity Interrogated: The Wars over War in the Interrogation Room, 1942-1960

In this book manuscript, "Humanity Interrogated," I examine the relation between two global phenomena that have critically marked the twentieth century, international warfare and formal decolonization, looking at both through the prism of the military interrogation rooms of the Korean War. During the Korean War, the interrogation room became the most relied-upon tool of the U.S. military for constructing a key figure of the “laws of war”: the prisoner of war. At the armistice meetings of the war, the most protracted controversy revolved around the issue of POW repatriation. I argue that the debate heralded a crisis in the “laws of war” as they faced formal decolonization. The POW, previously conceptualized as simply atemporary wartime status of personhood, had become a contested political subject on the world stage. At stake in this conflict over the figure of the POW was the question of who defined war, and who would then determine the issue of political recognition in the face of formal decolonization and a rapidly changing global order. Prior studies of Cold War decolonization have characterized the rise of the twentieth-century nation-state system as a geopolitical shift in notions of “periphery and center,” where the consolidation of nationalism and the formation of the state form the twinned telos for decolonization. "Humanity Interrogated" challenges this limited understanding of formal decolonization by presenting a more multi-dimensional structuring of the post-1945 world system, one that occurred along the lines of determining the proper relationships between the newly formed international community, the emerging states of former colonies and colonial powers, and the individual human subject. The U.S. military interrogation room, I argue, has historically played a critical role in the project of universalizing the vision of a U.S. liberal geopolitical order not through the production of information, but rather through the production of subjects.