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Be Prepared: The Cold War Scouting Movement and South Korea’s Youth Carceral System 1948-1960
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
James D. Hillmer
University of California, Los Angeles, United States
Hong Chong-sik claimed to have started the world’s first prison-based Boy Scout troop at Inchŏn Juvenile Prison, Republic of (South) Korea just days after the 1953 Armistice Agreement that momentarily paused the Korean War. This paper explores the impact of the Boy Scouts of America expanding youth scouting on juvenile corrections and the discourses of developmentalism and humanism in 1950s South Korea. It presents the boy scout troop as a technology of disciplinary power and the delinquent South Korean youthful body as a crucial site of Cold War contestation. Reformers linked youth incarceration to the global scouting movement and collapsed time and space separating US Cold War rhetoric from its practice. They engaged “Free World” youth in a program of anticommunist propaganda. Global scouting enabled reciprocal mutual aid projects that fostered industriousness and “preparedness.” This paper disentangles overlapping discourses of youth, rehabilitation, and the threat of an internal communist other that converged on the body of the ideal Korean scout: one who had reformed his ways and was prepared to rejoin society, but also fight the lingering communist threat in the impoverished social body. Scouts in Korea and the US were molded to “be prepared” to defend the entire “Free World.” This paper joins the small but growing body of literature on the cultural history of Korea’s Cold War 1950s and takes Korea’s penal scouting movement as a crucial nexus to view the disciplinary logic underpinning strategies of humanitarian aid and Cold War developmentalism still haunting the present.