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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 14. July 21, 1971

Almost six million tons of bombs

Almost six million tons of bombs.

The technique of saturation bombing reached its peak in the bombing of Khe San early in 1968; here, into a circle some 5 miles in diameter, 100,000 tons of bombs were dropped in six weeks - 5,000 tons per square mile. On Indochina as a whole, according to Pentagon sources, a total of 5 and three quarter million tons of bombs were dropped from 1965 to March 1971; this was half the ordnance expended. The cessation of the bombing of the North in November 1968 meant no diminution in the destructive onslaught; it merely made it possible to switch the full force of US air power to South Vietnam and Laos and by March 1969 the level of bombardment had reached 130,000 tons a month. By mid-1970 the number of sorties per month over Laos alone had climbed from 20,000 to 27,000 and saturation bombing had been extended to parts of Cambodia. The troops may depart - yet the circle of death continued to widen... March 1971, the last month for which statistics are available, the tonnage dropped was 92,191 equivalent to 1.1 million tons a year.)

The immediate human consequences of this onslaught will be evident from the data given earlier; to these must be added the physical consequences - the destruction of the earth as a habitat for man. And in this context two things must be borne in mind: first, that Vietnamese traditional society was overwhelmingly a peasant society, an "earthbound" society; secondly, that it was also a "hydraulic" society, dependent on an intricate and sophisticated system of irrigation for the production of its staple crop, rice. Saturation bombing has created a lunar landscape over vast areas. In 1967-68 alone three and a half million 500 - to 750-pound bombs were dropped on Vietnam, each creating craters up to 45 feet across and 30 feet deep. This bombing, says Malcolm Somerville, "has amounted to perhaps the most massive excavation project in mankind's history. It dwarfs the Suez Canal and Panama Canal projects, both involving the excavation of about a quarter of a billion cubic yards of earth. The total cratered areain Indochina exceeds the area of the State of Connecticut, 5,000 square miles" (in "Ecocide in Indochina", p.70). Not only has the bombing destroyed the irrigation systems over wide areas, it has also contributed markedly to soil erosion (for the newly exposed soil is highly susceptible to gullying), to the formation of useless rock pavements (laterite) on the dried-out paddy fields, and to the destruction of fragile but potentially rich peat soils such as those of the Ca Mau peninsula. And the water-filled craters form ideal breeding grounds for the malarial mosquito.