[Talk] The Nearest Faraway Place: Military Medicine, Civic Action Campaigns, and the South Korean Medical Legacy in Vietnam, 1964-1973

The Nearest Faraway Place: Military Medicine, Civic Action Campaigns, and the South Korean Medical Legacy in Vietnam, 1964-1973

with Dr. John DiMoia
Associate Professor, Department of History
National University of Singapore

When South Korean troops arrived in late 1964 as part of an initial placement to Vietnam, they could not have anticipated that they would remain for nearly a decade, with their numbers increasing dramatically. Nor could they know that medicine would come to play a prominent role associated with the Korean presence, both for military and civilian purposes. Scarcely a decade removed from the Korean War (1950-1953), Korean doctors rapidly moved to the Vietnam context, helping to serve another nation, where only recently they had rebuilt their own (1954-1960).

This talk uses a range of visual materials (propaganda posters, official pictures, and film clips) to understand how the Koreans acted, and how they perceived their medical mission in Vietnam, beginning with the first medical site at Vung Tau in September 1964. From here, we will look at the civic action campaigns, and how these formed a type of outreach designed to win over Vietnamese populations. Finally, there is the role of Vietnam as an “experimental” or developmental site, and indeed, the Koreans often saw Vietnam in these terms. Campaigns directed against diseases such as malaria offered a chance to study outbreaks and exposure under field conditions, with the acquired knowledge returning to South Korea in the form of domestic public health campaigns in the 1970s.

This talk is organised in conjunction with the exhibitions “Who wants to remember a war?” and LINES: War Drawings and Posters from the Ambassador Dato’ N. Parameswaran Collection, which features posters, woodcuts and drawings from the French phase of the Indochina war of resistance against the Americans, and drawings and sketches of life and people at the frontlines.
For more information on these exhibitions, please click here.

About the speaker
Dr. John DiMoia is an Associate Professor of History at the National University of Singapore, where he is also affiliated with the Science, Technology, and Society (STS) research cluster. He holds a Ph.D. in the history of science from Princeton University (2007), with a dissertation focusing on the origins of South Korea’s state science institutions. Before coming to the university in 2008, he taught previously in the United States, Japan, and South Korea. Currently, he teaches modules related to the history of medicine (18th-20th centuries), the history of technology, and the history of Modern Korea (19th century-present). His first book, Reconstructing Bodies: Biomedicine, Health and Nation-Building in South Korea since 1945 was published by Stanford University Press in April 2013. He is currently working on two other projects: the first, Engineering Asia, an edited volume along with Hiromi Mizuno (University of Minnesota) and Aaron S Moore (Arizona State University) looks at the reinvention of Japan's techno-scientific empire after 1945; and the second, which is tentatively titled Korea's Nuclear Century.

Image credit: Lee, Chan-Shik, and Sae-ho Lee. “Korean soldiers in Vietnam are so kind that they cut the hair of the Vietnamese people. Wherever they go they win friendship.” Korean Forces in Vietnam: Six Years for Peace and Construction. Seoul, South Korea: HQs ROKF-V, 1971.

Wed Nov 16, 2016
7:00 PM - 8:00 PM SGT
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NUS Museum
[Talk] The Nearest Faraway Place (Wed, 16 Nov, 7pm) FULL
Venue Address
50 Kent Ridge Crescent, S119279 Singapore
1. Car/taxi: By Clementi Road, first entrance from the highway. The museum is right after UCC. 2. Kent Ridge MRT: Internal Shuttle Bus D2. 3. Clementi MRT: Svc 96. 4. Kent Ridge Terminal: Svc 151.
NUS Museum