Reading injustice in the archive: the persistence of expectation for civilians affected by war during WWII

Authors: Margo Kleinfeld*, University of Wisconsin - Whitewater
Topics: Historical Geography, Legal Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: archive, justice, legal geographies, International Humanitarian Law, expectation
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 37
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Toward the end of the World War II, civilians affected by Allied bombing sent letters to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) requesting the creation of security zones and other spatial protections. Descriptions within the letters describe the consequences of ordinary places being bombed and the expectation that humanitarian law should protect inhabited, peopled places from the spaces of war. In this paper, I describe the ICRC archive, which contains these letters, the ICRC response to civilian complaints, and the occasional belligerent government reaction. Using a legal geographies approach, I argue that this archival conversation reveals a mismatch between the lived and material dimensions of places and the ideological, territorial, and strategic qualities of spaces of armed conflict. Despite the lack of rights and relative powerlessness of citizens vis a vis states—whose response to complaints was respectful but ultimately dismissive of humanitarian protections—the archive is a testament to the persistence of civilian expectation, the failure of humanitarian law, and ultimately, to the reproduction of injustice during war time.

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