Ecological Warfare in Vietnam

by Elizabeth S. Helfman

Taken from Elizabeth S Helfman, Our Fragile Earth, US edition pubd Lothrop, Lee and Shepard; UK edition first pubd Ronald Stacy, London, 1973. (This latter appears to have been a small company which no longer exists. Later assigned to Jupiter Books.) Copyright permission from E Helfman - Rae West

      Starving the enemy is still a weapon in war, but to-day there are ways of doing this that earlier people never dreamed of. The United States Army has systematically destroyed the vegetation on millions of acres of land in South Vietnam, far across the Pacific Ocean in south east Asia. The purpose was to destroy food the enemy might eat and to deprive him of a place to hide.
      Herbicides, green-killing chemicals that kill every plant they touch, have been sprayed over 5 million acres in South Vietnam by the United States Army. The amount of herbicides used comes to about six pounds for every man, woman, and child in the country. Enough food to feed 600,000 people for a year has been destroyed.

Caption: Air view of damage caused by bombers and 'Rome Ploughs' to woods near Saigon, South Vietnam.
Photo by E.W.Pfeiffer

      Whole forests have been killed. The trees that have been destroyed would have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars as lumber. One-seventh of the whole country has been defoliated. It is hard to imagine what this means. People without food. Lifeless swamps where mangrove forests grew. It is as if the Florida Everglades in this country suddenly died, or the Blue Hills of Virginia turned brown and bare.
      In the spring of 1971 the American army stopped its use of herbicides, because of the probability that it was directly harmful to people. It might cause babies to be born deformed.
      There are other ways of destroying a country, however. Enormous bulldozers called 'Rome Ploughs' (because the blades were made in Rome, Georgia) tear up the earth. People who have seen these at work call them 'Jungle Eaters'. Twenty in a row they crash through the forest, stripping off everything that grows and the topsoil with it. Only lifeless grey subsoil is left, and that washes into streams in the heavy rains. Animals, birds, and insects that lived in these forests have disappeared.
      The United States Air Force has its own way of destroying the land. Tremendous bombs have been dropped, making huge craters. The countryside then looks like the surface of the moon. One bomb can clear an area the size of a football field so helicopters can land. Everything dies, even the worms in the ground. Scientists say that a cratered area may take a hundred years to recover.
      Modern machines and chemicals can do things that were never possible in earlier times. They are effective weapons in war. But many people wonder if the way to save the Vietnamese people is to destroy the land on which they live.

© E S Helfman


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