Skip to main content Skip to navigation

5: Prisoner politics, repatriation, and cold war origins

Seminar slides.

One of this module's central motifs is that of 'home'. During the war, millions of people-- civilians and soldiers alike-- were in motion, many of them desperately longing to get back home. But getting home, and being at home, were often not simple propositions. This cluster of seminars (until the end of Term 1) explore the problematics of homecoming from a variety of vantage points, beginning with the experience of prisoners of war and the arguments that swirled around their treatment and timing of their postwar release.

This seminar has a number of interrelated goals. First, it highlights the complex international politics that surrounded POWs and their repatriation. Second, it explores the way in which POW politics contributed to a rapid deterioration of relations between the USSR and the other 'western' allies, contributing to the protracted stalemate of the Cold War. And third, it offers an opportunity to think about the 'history of emotions,' and what this relatively new approach can contribute to such a complex and multifaceted historiographical issue as the origins of the Cold War.

Seminar questions

  • drawing on the Yalta and Potsdam diplomatic documents, what do we learn about the location of POW issues within the larger matrix of problems that the wartime allies confronted as the war drew to an end?
  • why and how did emotions impinge on POW politics (drawing on the Costigliola essay)?
  • George Kennan is often considered a pivotal character in the 'realist' school of US foreign policy (as both practitioner and analyst). Yet a reading of his 'Long Telegram' suggests a highly emotional response to the USSR. In what ways do emotions colour Kennan's interpretations of, and predictions about, Soviet behaviour in the postwar world?
  • why was the 'Long Telegram' such an influential intervention in US foreign policy at the time Kennan wrote it, and why has it remained such an important document for historians studying the origins of the Cold War?

Required reading:

Primary sources:

The Yalta Conference, February 1945

Agreement Relating to Prisoners of War and Civilians Liberated by Forces Operating Under Soviet Command and Forces Operating Under United States of America Command; February 11, 1945

Protocol of Proceedings of Crimea Conference

The Potsdam Conference, Protocol of the Proceedings, August 1, 1945

George Kennan: The 'Long Telegram,' February 22, 1946

Frank Costigliola, '"Like Animals or Worse": Narratives of Culture and Emotion by US and British POWs and Airmen Behind Soviet Lines, 1944-45', Diplomatic History, 28, v (Nov. 2004): 749-80

Supplementary reading:

Frank Biess, '"Prisoners of a New Germany:” Returning POWs and the Making of East and West German Citizens,’ Central European History, 32 (1999): 143-80

Frank Biess and Robert Moeller (eds), Histories of the aftermath : the legacies of the Second World War in Europe (Berghahn Books, 2010)

Susan L. Carruthers, Cold War Captives: Imprisonment, Escape, Brainwashing (University of California Press, 2009) chapters 1 & 2, e-book

Frank Costigliola, Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War (Princeton University Press, 2012) e-book

George Ginsburgs, 'The Soviet Union and the Problem of Refugees and Displaced Persons, 1917-1956', American Journal of International Law, 51, ii (1957): 325-61

Cathal Nolan, "Americans in the Gulag: Detention of US Citizens by Russia and the Onset of the Cold War, 1944-49," Journal of Contemporary History, 25 (1990): 523-45

Yokote Shinji, "Soviet Repatriation Policy, US Occupation Authorities, and Japan's Entry into the Cold War," Journal of Cold War Studies, 15, ii (Spring 2013): 30-50

Further reading on the history of emotions:

Frank Biess, 'Feelings in the Aftermath: Toward a History of Postwar Emotions' in Frank Biess & Robert Moeller (eds), Histories of the Aftermath: The Legacies of the Second World War in Europe (Berghahn Books, 2010) e-book

Frank Biess and Daniel M Gross (eds) Science and Emotions after 1945: A Transatlantic Perspective (Chicago University Press, 2014) e-book

Jan Plamper, The History of Emotions: An Introduction (OUP, 2015)

Barbara H Rosenwein, 'Worrying about Emotions in History', American Historical Review 107, 3 (2002): 821-45