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

The Committee to Prevent Germs

The Việt Minh were deeply concerned that the French and by extension the Americans would use biological weapons in Northern Vietnam. But they hesitated to make these charges until they had enough evidence. The summary of the third meeting of the Committee to Prevent Germs (Ban Chống Trùng), which took place from March 8 to 10, 1953, noted the difficult situation.

Reflecting concerns about both human health and agriculture, this meeting was headed by the minister of health, Hoàng Tích Trý (1903-1958), and the deputy minister of agriculture, Nghiêm Xuân Yêm (1913-2001). At this meeting the committee reviewed the material that had been gathered in China. It was beyond doubt, in the committee's eyes, that the Americans had used biological weapons and that North Korean and Chinese actions had prevented them from being effective. The committee saw germ warfare as part and parcel of imperialism, concluding that “as long there’s imperialism, there’s still war, and there’s still germ warfare” (NAV3 PTT ML2 2290).

Yet, the question of biological warfare in North Vietnam was more complex than this slogan would suggest. In order to determine when, where, and how attacks had occurred, the Việt Minh had to gather information from the countryside. Citing Charles Rosenburg, James Dunk and Warwick Anderson note that work in medicine and public health can be divided into thinking about “configuration,” or systemic factors that lead to ill health such as structural inequality, and “contamination,” or the effects of pathogens on individuals (Dunk and Anderson 2020, 20). Such was the case with Việt Minh biomedical experts who thought about both bodies and structures when trying to figure out biological warfare.

You can continue on to view the surveys used to learn about the countryside. Or, you can skip ahead to consider the life and work of one of the Committee's leaders, Tôn Thất Tùng.

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