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Fighting War, Fighting Epidemics in Korea
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
The University of Sydney, Australia
This presentation examines the fight against contagious diseases during the Korean War. One of the major challenges that Koreans, Chinese, and Americans faced in the war was the spread of epidemics such as tuberculosis, cholera, smallpox, typhus, and pest. Some of the diseases erupted as a result of war-induced environmental catastrophes, while others were linked to cross-regional migrations and unsanitary living conditions. The war displaced millions of civilians, whose concentration in urban areas resulted in the shortage of resources, pollution, famine, and the outbreak of diseases. The military conflict also involved chemical contamination that threatened public health. At the height of the war, the debate over the origins of rare epidemics escalated into germ warfare allegations, which continue to be a controversial, but unresolved issue. This presentation investigates the phenomenon of wartime epidemics through the lens of politics, violent warfare, environmental destruction, and public health crisis. In doing so, it looks the ways in which such diverse factors were interconnected and could reorient the nature of the conflict. Indeed, all parties in the war were engaged in aggressive anti-epidemic campaigns and tried to promote public health, sanitization, and immunization. This presentation looks at the cultural manifestation of such campaigns as well as the drawbacks of extreme anti-epidemic measures. It also reflects on the ways in which the wartime experience influenced postwar Korea’s approach to public health.