Tag Archives: children

Spirit of Play

I was absolutely taken with this albumen image as I reviewed the “From Atlanta [,] Georgia to Mammoth Cave [,] Kentucky, November 1895” photograph album prior to my cataloging it. The children are laughing and making faces, perhaps interrupted in a game of “cops and robbers,” since many of the boys are holding guns or rifles. Their sense of fun is infectious and it reminded me of the neighborhood games groups of us played during my childhood. Yet I was surprised that such a large interracial group would have been playing together at this time. Is this a late-nineteenth-century South I never dared imagine?


Post contributed by Alice Poffinberger, Original Cataloger in the Technical Services Department.

North Korean Propaganda in the Selig Harrison Papers

The Selig Harrison Papers is a recent accession to the Center for International Policy (CIP) Records. Selig Harrison, the director of the CIP’s Asia Project, has specialized in South Asia and East Asia for fifty years as a journalist and scholar. These papers comprise a broad survey of the political and economic relations throughout Asia and between the U.S. and Asia, providing the birds-eye view from which Harrison’s research was conducted. They are concerned with public men and women – leaders and governments, the structures and organizations that most visibly influence the course of history. Likewise, these papers are very much bound up in the problem of representation, not only because they examine the institutions that are most often represented in the media and in political discourse, but because the project of the Center for International Policy is to shape the way such institutions get represented in the media and in political discourse. The Selig Harrison Papers offer a sense of the high stakes of the practice of representation, and at stake for Harrison is international policy and the course of history itself.  Thus, one aspect of these papers that struck me was the degree to which Harrison was and is invested in anticipating the behavior of political actors and the consequences of that behavior so as to affect it. Some of his original files were even labeled as questions (e.g. “Should Pakistan survive?” or “Is Musharraf backing down?”).

The Selig Harrison Papers most heavily focus on the Korean Peninsula, especially North Korea. The majority of these papers are dated from within the last 20 years, though the series contains a few documents as early as 1960. Particularly notable are some North Korean materials from 1965-1972 on women and children (see “Women and children in the DPRK” folder in the Geographic Subseries) and two North Korean children’s books from 1987 (see “Children’s tales – Pyongyang” folder in the Geographic Subseries).

“Statue of Premier Kim Il Sung,” from a North Korean pamphlet in the Selig Harrison Papers, Center for International Policy Records.

The material on women and children includes some fascinating propaganda from 1965, promoting Kim Il Sung’s affinity for and fostering of North Korea’s children. Kim Il Sung saw in children the continuance of revolutionary politics given that they were raised as revolutionaries (hence the importance of women in the DPRK).  The particular chapter, called “Give the Children the Best,” from this 1965 text begins,  “Children, to Comrade Kim Il Sung, are irreplaceable objects of love, for whom it is his basic and inviolable principle that they must have the best. His warm heart and deep care for the children are unlimited.” The sentimental language of love and the valorization of a particular politics of care that is often seen as distinguishing of communist governments (which should be further distinguished from communism as a political theory) is manifest in this passage and throughout the text. The child is representative because it comes to stand for the general relationship of the government to its people. This text asks us to think of love not as a private emotion but as a political concept, as an essential element for transforming the objectified child into a fully formed political subject, which is to say, a subject educated in the “revolutionary ideology and the indomitable fighting spirit of the working class.”

This propaganda reveals, more specifically, the orphan to be the national symbol of North Korea, the figure, it seems, most capable of being revolutionary.  After all, just as the orphan is a broken link in a chain, so revolutions seek to create a radical break with history. “None can call them orphans any longer,” the text reads. “Comrade Kim Il Sung is in truth a father to all those children who have lost their fathers and mothers.”

Children’s Palace and School, Pyongyang, from a North Korean pamphlet in the Selig Harrison Papers, Center for International Policy Records.

Kim Il Sung named the child “king of the land” and in 1963 built the Children’s Palace and School in Pyongyang. The Palace offers, according to the pamphlet from which the above photographs were borrowed, an education that incorporates the arts and crafts, such as sculpture, embroidery and drawing, history (according to the ideology of the Worker’s Party) and the sciences, as well as and perhaps most importantly engineering for the production of a population capable of (re)building a nation.

Reading about the palace in Pyongyang raised a few questions for me – what work is the language of sovereignty (the children as kings who attend school in a palace) doing within a communist regime devoted to the Workers’ Party? In other words, what valences does such language have within this seemingly counter ideology? The language of sovereignty seems as if it should be opposed to, not aligned with, the way the text writes of the child as not yet fully formed subjects but rather as objects of love and care. Instead, it is as if the language of the sovereign, here, is meant to denote the potential itself for a being objectified by care to become revolutionary and to care, finally not as kings but as political subjects, in turn.

Image from North Korean children’s book in the Selig Harrison Papers, Center for International Policy Records.

A second and related set of materials are the two childrens’ books, published by the Foreign Languages Publishing House in Pyongyang in 1989, titled A Tale of Two Generals and A Winged Horse. These books, fairy tales “told by the great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung,” are illustrated and were translated from North Korean. Both of these fairy tales are stories of militarization about defending the land from foreign invaders. Indeed, within both of these books there exists a constant threat of the foreign. The lessons of these books are consistent with those expressed in Kim Il Sung’s vision of the Children’s Palace and School – strength and courage for one’s country only bear value if matched by intelligence and a sentimental identification with the land. In A Winged Horse, the youngest son who has cultivated himself most roundly is the only son able to ride the winged horse that allows him to save his village from foreign invaders.

There isn’t anything exceptional in these lessons themselves; they are similar to the lessons many of us were given as children. But what interests me in both the propaganda material and the children’s stories is, first, that they are all highly invested in the problem and, more importantly, the stakes of self-representation, which seems to be essentially what Selig Harrison studies as a journalist and scholar.  Second, in both sets of materials the pervasive devastation of North Korea during the Korean War always shadows the representational figure of the child – the redeemer. Because the child is conceived of as the one who can redeem North Korea, Kim Il Sung wanted to call attention to his investments in children’s schools even in the midst of the wreckage of the Fatherland Liberation War (Korean War). These materials thus juxtapose the reality of famine and large-scale devastation with what is rendered as the comfort and even the luxuries provided to North Korean children as the nation anticipates the time of reconstruction.

Post contributed by Clare Callahan, graduate student assistant in Rubenstein Technical Services and the Human Rights Archive.

Haitian Children in Guantanamo

Boy with fish in Guantanamo Camp #9, ca. 1994-95. From the Americans for Immigrant Justice Records.

We recently completed processing the Americans for Immigrant Justice (AIJ) Records. Formerly the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC), AIJ is a not-for profit legal organization that advocates on behalf of immigrants and refugees, including those being held at various detention centers, such as Guantanamo, Krome and Turner Guilford Knight. The majority of the material in this collection deals with the Haitian refugee population in Florida. Two aspects of this collection struck me. First, while this collection contains material that addresses the Haitian refugee crises from a broader political and historical perspective, it is notable for the quantity of material it contains that focuses on the stories and testimonies of individual refugees, in their own words, in documents such as affidavits and correspondence.

The second aspect of this collection that struck me as particularly interesting is the amount of material it contains on children – child refugees and detainees, children seeking asylum, children stranded in Haiti, and especially unaccompanied minors. As I became more familiar with this collection, I became especially interested in the detained child as both a fact and an idea. Sifting through accounts both by and about children of their emotional, mental, and physical experiences in detention, I began to wonder how the search for asylum and subsequent detention is conceived of by children.

The reason why this subject fascinated me is because of the strong incongruity in the idea of the child, on the one hand, and the idea of imprisonment of any kind, on the other, an incongruity that suggested to me that accounts of children in detention might uniquely illuminate how we think about detention and refuge. We often associate children with places of refuge, with a powerful need for and unique faculty to find or construct places of refuge. One example of this faculty is play. As I looked through photographs of and read testimony by children detained at Guantanamo, I began to wonder what place “play” has in detention, in homelessness, and in lack of refuge.

Boy holding guitar in Guantanamo Camp #9, ca. 1994-95. From the Americans for Immigrant Justice Records.

The subset of documents about which I am writing are dated from around the early and mid-1990s, during and following the campaign of terror against Aristide supporters. One must bear in mind that the majority of Haitian refugees held at Guantanamo at this time were forcibly returned to Haiti where their lives were imperiled (5,000 Aristide supporters were estimated to be killed in 1993). In fact, many of the children detained at Guantanamo were unaccompanied for precisely this reason – their parents or caretakers had been killed in Haiti during this period. As the AIJ Records reveal, many of these children, upon repatriation, were thus compelled to eke out a living on the streets.

So, how does the child reconfigure the way we conceive of detention? Three photographs from the Photographic Materials Series caught my attention. After I selected them, I asked myself why I had been drawn to them, and I realized that in each, a child or children were holding some kind of object – a fish, makeshift drums, a guitar.

I considered these photographs against the written testimony about and by children detained at Guantanamo (information packets, emergency action requests related to medical conditions, correspondence, affidavits, reports, etc.). The written documentation described abuses, including rape, that were committed at Guantanamo against women and children. Child detainees, not surprisingly, wrote of their desperation and depression (their own words), and observers of these children offered similar accounts. Yet, these children not only subsist at Guantanamo but also, as the photographs above communicate, find ways to play. It is not difficult to perceive a form of resistance in their play, in their insistence upon occupying places that we cannot envision as inhabitable. I was likewise captivated by the photographs in which children are holding objects because they seem to me to manifest the construction of places of refuge within displacement and dispossession. The subjects in these photographs seek asylum in the objects themselves. There is something about gripping an object, possessing that object, that also solidifies the reality of oneself – and this in a place in which that very reality is relentlessly objected to – in abuse, obscurity, neglect, remaining unheard.

Boys playing drums in Guantanamo Camp #9, ca. 1994-95. From the Americans for Immigrant Justice Records.

Post contributed by Clare Callahan, graduate student assistant in Rubenstein Technical Services and the Human Rights Archive.