Talk Title: "From Supply Lines to Supply Chains: The U.S. Military, Infrastructural Development, and the Origins of South Korea’s Export Boom"
Speaker: Patrick Chung, Assistant Professor of History, University of Maryland
This paper examines the U.S. military’s development of the South Korean port city of Busan. The city would become the center of UN military logistical operations during the Korean War, as massive quantities of soldiers and supplies flowed through its port to counter the outbreak of the hostilities on June 25, 1950. Over the course of the war, U.S. Military planners and engineers undertook wide-scale development projects to modernize Busan’s transportation and shipping infrastructure. U.S. troops oversaw the expansion of piers and wharves, the updating of roads and rail lines, the construction of warehousing and storage facilities, and the laying of pipelines. By the war’s end, the city had emerged as the world’s busiest military port; it processed nearly double the cargo of its nearest competitor—New York City. In tracing the impact of this development, this paper argues the U.S. military played a crucial role in South Korea’s postwar “economic miracle” by facilitating the creation of both the physical structures and transnational corporate partnerships that fueled the rapid growth of South Korean export industries. In other words, it shows how wartime military supply lines laid the foundation for the postwar supply chains employed by South Korean corporations like Hyundai and Hanjin. In telling this story, this paper more broadly highlights the significant but easily overlooked role of the U.S. military in shaping the postwar global economy.