Organized Panel Session
The bombing and accompanying devastation associated with latter stages of the Korean War (1952-1953) remain firmly fixed within North Korean memory. In particular, Koreans highlight the deliberate targeting of the nation’s irrigation system, which knocked out several major dams in May 1953, inundating miles of fields and killing thousands of people.
Less explored is the function of these acts of destruction, rhetorically and materially, as a subsequent part of infrastructure plans, both in the south and the north. The theme of destruction introduced a radical contingency that forced planners to anticipate destructive events, resulting in a useful degree of technical flexibility. Moreover, the destruction associated with the war also permitted a high degree of elision, allowing for the creation of “new” Korean infrastructure where in fact there were often Japanese precedents.
Building upon these themes, this paper looks at the planning and construction stages for the North Korean Kumgangsan dam in the 1980s, which caused great concern in the south over the possibility that it was designed with failure in mind, allowing for the release of water into the south at a massive scale. In addition to raising these issues at the diplomatic level, the south responded with its own “Peace Dam,” a built structure to accommodate the expectation of additional input into the Han River.
Functioning symbolically, materially, and ideologically, these competing structures carried out the wartime themes of destruction several decades later, albeit at a remove.