Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

A History of American Biological Warfare

The images in the gallery above, also from the Việt Minh pamphlet, depict well-known aspects of the American biological weapons program. Jacob Hamblin's Arming Mother Nature recounts the history of American and British interest in environmental modification and the role biological, chemical, and radiological weapons played in the arsenals of these countries' militaries. As Hamblin shows, by the early 1940s high-level US officials were keenly interested in biological weapons but were unsure of how they would be used in warfare. At the end of World War II, the US government had access to the captured documents of both the German and Japanese biological warfare programs. The Vietnamese pamphlet assumes a close collaboration between fellow imperialist nations, even if the United States and Germany and Japan had only just been at war. The natural result of this collaboration was the continued use of biological weapons over North Korea during the Korean War.

As image four in the gallery above suggests, airplanes were key vectors for biological weapons. Airplanes and microbes resulted in compounding mobilities—mobilities whose velocity and outcomes were augmented, unpredictable, and threatening. In French Indochina, airplanes were a source of mobility, and terror and they were used for example to map as well as to rain bombs down on those protesting colonial injustice. During the 1940s, airplanes in Asia were vectors that transported deadly bombs as well as potentially deadly microbes. During the First Indochina War, the French used US airplanes, a sign of the absent American empire. Moreover, an American air company called the Civil Air Transport (CAT), later renamed Air America, ran supplies for the French. Although leaders of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam initially hoped to develop their own air force, they never succeeded and eventually focused their energy on anti-aircraft techniques.

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