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In Session: Governing Bloods: Science, Religion, and Race in Making Cold War South Korea
1: Suffering Flesh, Blood of Christ(ians): The Religious-Political Conversion of North Korean POWs in the Korean War
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
Sandra H. Park
University of Chicago, United States
In this paper, I trace a “Eucharistic” mode of Cold War citizenship by examining body politics and blood politics in the passage of North Korean prisoners of war from Communist enemies to South Korean citizens during the Korean War (1950–53), when the issue of POW repatriation consumed armistice talks. As North Korean POWs under American custody formed regimes of control, discipline, and terror between “pro-repatriates” and “anti-repatriates,” many anti-repatriate POWs appealed to Christian ideas of belonging to be recognized as genuine petitioners for South Korean citizenship. By examining blood-stained documents, objects, missionary chaplains’ records, and US military reports, I show that many North Korean POWs articulated and performed their desire to enter the South Korean political body by transforming their bodies and blood as spectacular sites of religious-political conversion. For these POWs, the intercessory power of Christ(ian) blood could transform a Communist “fanatic” into a liberal Christian subject, and their sufferings under Communist torment became bodily performances of devotion to the anti-Communist regime. Moving through and beyond the camps, I also trace the transpacific circulation of the North Korean POWs’ narratives of conversion and suffering—some written in blood—from the camps to the White House and pews of white American churches, with evangelists like Billy Graham as couriers. With Christianity playing a gatekeeping role for North Korean migrants in South Korea today, this paper finds urgency in understanding Christianity’s historical relationship to citizenship-making—one that emerged during the Korean War.