“Mapping Invasion” considers a micro-history of a (non) event, namely the potential use of biological weapons in Northern Vietnam. Like the trains in Qing print culture examined by Nathaniel Isaacson, Việt Minh authors drew on material elements of biological warfare and imaginary geographies of imperialism to inform audiences and motivate actions. During the First Indochina War, the Việt Minh created cartographies of exposure and attempted to place bodies, chemicals, and microbes not only in space but in time. Focusing on Vietnamese responses to biological warfare reveals that mapping and mobilities (of the geobody and body) were key to this warfare and local responses to it.
After the end of the First Indochina War, the Việt Minh for the most part dropped discussion of biological warfare until the 1960s, when South Vietnamese and United States actions revived fears of biological and chemical warfare. During what is known among most Americans as the Vietnam War, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the US military (verifiably) employed tear gas, herbicides, and other chemicals against communist insurgents and the general population of the Republic of Vietnam. While looking back we can be fairly certain that biological weapons (strictly defined) were not used, either during the First or Second Indochina Wars, this was by no means evident at the time. Việt Minh leaders took the threat of biological weapons very seriously and were not merely faking charges for propaganda purposes.
Path A explores charges of biological warfare leveled during the Korean War. Such charges provided a model for those formulated by the Việt Minh against the French. This path also considers what various cartographic representations of Northern Vietnam have to say about the geographical imaginations that were available to Vietnamese intellectuals and political leaders. Path B encourages users to construct an understanding of biological warfare in Northern Vietnam during the First Indochina War. While looking back we can be fairly certain that biological warfare did not take place, it was not clear that this was the case at the time. I want to unsettle module viewers and convince them that at the very least Việt Minh leaders, including Tôn Thất Tùng, took the threat of biological weapons seriously and were not merely faking charges for propaganda purposes. Path C encourages users to explore the fears surrounding biological warfare that helped motivate resistance. This path finally reviews a pamphlet that presents a history of Japanese and American imperialist's use of biological weapons and the Chinese patriotic hygiene movement launched in response.
Finally, a note on historiography. Some historians have begun to reflect on such Cold War histories of environmental warfare. Jim Fleming's Fixing the Sky has considered the history of weather modification techniques, including those used in the skies over Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s. In addition, there has been much scholarship on the American and South Vietnamese use of herbicides, including books by Ed Martini and David Zierler. David Biggs's recent Footprints of War has considered how the landscapes of central Vietnam have been shaped during decades of war. Yet, there has been little work done on the local perspectives on, and experience of, environmental warfare. This includes the fear of biological weapons, and environmental warfare more generally, explored in this module. For more on environmental warfare during the twentieth century, you can see a list of references and websites cited in this module.