This article examines the struggle over sovereignty on the Korean peninsula from the US occupation through the Korean War not over the usual stakes of geopolitical territory but, rather, over the politics of recognition surrounding the capacity of the individual postcolonial subject. By beginning with a set of archives that has been foundational for much of the historiography around the Korean War—the documents of US military intelligence—this essay proposes a disruptive reading of the practices, assumptions, and structures of US military interrogation. During the state of emergency declared by US General Douglas MacArthur at the beginning of the occupation in 1945, the Korean person was neither a “citizen,” since Korea was not yet a recognized state, nor a colonized subject, since Korea had been liberated from Japanese colonial rule. This sustained suspension was legitimated by the “rule of law” inscribed by the US Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC). In order to undermine the Koreans’ insistent claims to self-governance, the US Counter Intelligence Corps ultimately made “acts of language”—such as slander or rumors—punishable by death by the US military. According to the CIC, the Korean’s inability to discern or narrate a coherent truth in the interrogation room proved the Korean’s incapacity for self-governance. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the global war met this continued state of emergency on the ground, where the question of human subjectivity, and not only territorial borders, was at stake in the conflict.
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