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

Food Security

One of the main concerns of the Việt Minh was the threat of hunger. In 1944-1945, a famine had resulted in the deaths of most likely over one million Vietnamese in the Red River Delta. The French and Japanese were blamed for this famine and the Việt Minh were able to harness popular discontent to gain valuable support in the countryside (Gunn 2014). Note in the following clip from the documentary From the Barrel of a Gun between 1:42 and 1:58, the propaganda film showing Việt Minh's role in liberating rice from Japanese near the end of World War II.

Consider this image of Ho Chi Minh taking part in corn production to encourage people to produce more food. Memories of the famine were still raw in the early 1950s, and the Việt Minh knew that they would lose valuable support and be held at least partially responsible if famines were to strike again (Lentz 2019). Thus they were very concerned when they learned about charges that the US military was releasing crop-destroying insects in North Korea and China as the French might similarly attack rice, corn, and other crops in areas under Việt Minh control. Such actions would weaken their partisans and might encourage them to move to French controlled territory. In this way ensuring adequate food supplies for Việt Minh supporters was seen as part of combating biological warfare and the French.

This image suggests that HCM tried to fashion himself as what type of leader?

Also consider this image of Ho Chi Minh talking with women in what is now Thái Nguyên province. It was taken in 1954 not long after the Việt Minh launched the Land Reform campaign. This image was meant to highlight the role of farmers in the Việt Minh struggles against the French. It emphasizes the importance of food production and highlights the fear of hunger.

Finally, below you can see a bird's eye view of part of northern Vietnam showing the flat Red River Delta and surrounding hills. This map focuses on Bắc Ninh province, one of those reporting potential biological attacks between April 1952 and March 1953 as marked in a Google map showing the reported use of biological weapons. Hanoi and Thái Nguyên city are also visible in this image.

Việt Minh reports note that farmers were initially quite concerned about biological weapons but that after initial exposures that did not result in crop damage or human illness, farmers grew less concerned about these weapons. Thus, Bắc Ninh only lists one reported incident. Other factors that seem to have played a role in number of reported incidents includes degree of French control of the region, with higher control resulting in fewer incidents, as well as strategic importance and accessibility, which resulted in more airplane flights.

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