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Constructing conspiracy in US Cold War travel policy: passport denial, area restrictions & blacklists

Authors: Catriona Gold*, University College London
Topics: Political Geography, Historical Geography, United States
Keywords: conspiracy, Cold War, travel, security
Session Type: Paper
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In the aftermath of WWII, the travel of US citizens assumed a hitherto unprecedented political significance. The Cold War struggle for economic and cultural dominance combined with post-war American prosperity and rapid developments in transportation technology to thrust tourism and cultural exchange into the political spotlight. Actors across the political spectrum rushed to construct travel as a matter of national security, with the American traveller emerging as a figure of both threat and opportunity — and, crucially, a subject in need of governance. While some policymakers sought to consolidate American economic and cultural might by producing and facilitating the travel of ‘desirable’ Americans, others were concerned with curtailing the travel of Americans deemed ‘subversive'.

This paper considers the role of conspiracy thinking within a broader genealogical account of the securitization of the American traveller. Drawing on detailed archival work at the US National Archives and the Library of Congress, I trace the contours of conspiracist thinking in American travel policy, from early 20th century passport denials through to the eventual removal of area restrictions in 1977. I show how the American traveller emerged as a figure of both threat and opportunity, with the former constructed in terms of foreign threats displaying coherence and design. I consider how these conspiracist geopolitics underwrote American governmentalities of travel, from passport denial to area restrictions and surveillance of travellers. I conclude with a discussion of the way in which popular opposition to restrictions itself deployed tropes of conspiracy to challenge official governmentalities of travel.

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