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History Research Colloquium: Jean Michel Turcotte will give a talk on "In the Spirit of the Geneva Convention: US Military Authorities, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Treatment of Enemy Prisoners of War during the Korean War"

Jun 08, 2020 | 06:15 PM
Jean-Michel Turcotte

Jean-Michel Turcotte


My research project focuses on the relationship between US military policymakers and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regarding the treatment of the 170,000 North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war (POWs) during the Korean War. Between 1950 and 1953, the treatment of communist POWs by US and South Korean military personnel, mainly in Koje-do camp, became a sensitive issue for officers and humanitarian actors. In the context of the ideological warfare of the early Cold War, the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) and the ICRC delegates tried to respect the international humanitarian law to an enemy who did not recognize its legitimacy. Moreover, the work of the ICRC became crucial for both the UNC and the POWs. As the only neutral organization in Korea, the ICRC was the central actor for the humanitarian aid brought to prisoners in South Korea. At the same time, delegates had to negotiate with US military authorities concerning the interpretation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and then, found themselves in the middle of the humanitarian diplomacy. Despite the important historiography of the Korean War, the humanitarian work of the ICRC during this conflict remains somewhat rather unexplored. This project, grounded in primary research in American and ICRC archives, provides a new understanding of the work of the ICRC during the particular violent and complex Korean War by answering central questions: How were the 1949 Geneva Conventions interpreted and applied in Korea? Was role did play the ICRC in the United Nations Command “humanitarian policy”? What relations did the Red Cross delegates have with American military officers in Korea? And how did the relationship between humanitarian and military actors shape the treatment of North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war?

Speaker information:

Jean-Michel Turcotte completed a PhD at Laval University in 2018. His thesis was about the treatment of German POWs in Western Allies’ hands during the Second World War. Further research of his focused on war captivity and international politics during the Korean War. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies in Berlin. Currently, Dr. Turcotte is a postdoctoral fellow at the Chair of War Studies, University of Potsdam. 

The event will take 1 hour: a 30-minute presentation by the speaker and a 30-minute discussion.

Please, register for the event at yulia.maximenkova@fu-berlin.de. The amount of spots is limited!