Abstract

During the early cold war, the Truman administration fabricated a new legal status that helped consolidate the cold war border between east and westÑ"slave world" and "free"-by the act of transgressing it. This unique "person" was the escapee. Over the cold war's forty-five year duration, eastern bloc exiles achieved considerable prominence in the United States, whether as dancers, chess players, writers, or physicists. Yet the legal and intellectual ingenuity required to produce the escapee, and the complications this endeavor encountered, have evaded scholarly scrutiny. In the main, scholars have conflated this category with the refugee, commonly asserting that Washington not only molded international conventions to its own ends but reconfigured domestic immigration policy in the interests of opening U.S. borders to symbolically-freighted entrants from the eastern bloc. But on closer inspection, assumptions about the ease with which Washington manipulated cold war escapology appear unwarranted. Focusing on the United States Escapee Program (launched in 1952), this essay highlights the international and internecine conflicts that surrounded the orchestration of cross-border flight, the fabrication of a unique legal subject, "the escapee," and the production of meaning from this phenomenon. The exhortation to flight, delineation of a specific escapee identity, and disposal of its incumbents were processes simultaneously enabled and constrained by law. To encourage foreign nationals' exodus was a profoundly unorthodox practice of statecraft, destabilizing sovereign norms in its assault on territorial boundaries. Whether Washington wished to encourage a mass exodus of Soviet bloc citizens, or engage in a more restricted policy of encouraging elite defections, wavered in the balance. The most contentious question, however, remained how to employ, and where to resettle, individuals whose symbolic significance exceeded their desirability as putative citizens. The early 1950s constituted a moment when anti-communism and nativism found common cause. Thus for all that the escapee appears a privileged recipient of cold war patronage, reading the cultural narratives spun from escape against the conflicted circumstances of escapees' lives suggests something different. The intimation of inclusion extended by a "nation of escapees" often proved chimerical. Encamped between camps, suspended in both space and time, those who breached the iron curtain existed in precarious limboÑcaught between the administration's desire to promote escape and powerful legislators' disinclination to accommodate those who did so within the United States. Summoned to both defy and define cold war borders, escapees were commonly relegated to the shadowy interstices of sovereign space: the borderland where east and west, foreign and domestic, symbolic and material awkwardly overlapped.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6490
Print ISSN
0003-0678
Pages
pp. 911-942
Launched on MUSE
2005-10-10
Open Access
No
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