For obvious reasons the war in Vietnam had a major impact on both South and North Vietnam. The combination of America’s massive military might and the tactics employed by the NLF all but ensured that the civilian population suffered appalling losses. During the air war, America dropped 8 million ton of bombs between1965 and 1973. The type of bombs used varied and ranged from high explosive bombs used to blanket bomb a target to napalm used on clinical air strikes on a village, for example that were thought to be harbouring the NLF.
The impact of high explosive bombs continued after the war ended as many failed to explode on impact and have caused considerable problems since.
America also dropped anti-personnel mines by the thousands. One plane could drop a thousand of these in one flight. These mines could be made out of either metal or plastic and had the potential to inflict major injuries on anyone who trod on them.
In an effort to take away from the NLF their ground coverage whereby they used the natural vegetation to avoid detection from the air, America used defoliants. The chemical most used for ‘Operation Ranch Hand’ was known as ‘Agent Orange’. In 1969 alone, 1,034,300 hectares of forest was destroyed using ‘Agent Orange’. ‘Agent Blue’ was sprayed on crops in an effort to deprive the North of its food supply. Between 1962 and 1969, 688,000 acres of agricultural land was sprayed – primarily on paddy fields.
The stress of fighting an unseen enemy also took its toll on American troops. They took their anger and frustration out on villages that may or may not have been helping the NLF. The most famous of these took place in an area code-named ‘Pinksville’ where the villages at My Lai were massacred. This massacre was filmed and the US military had little opportunity to cover it up. It is generally accepted that there were other massacres, probably on a smaller scale, but these were never recorded and would have been viewed as what goes on in warfare.
However, villages in South Vietnam were very much vulnerable to NLF atrocities. Any village that did not provide the NLF with shelter or food – in fear of US retaliation – could expect punishment. This could be the arbitrary execution of the village elder and his family, for example.
In the South, the largely peasant population suffered from the military activities of both sides. Caught in between, there was also the real possibility of having to deal with unexploded bombs that had fallen in working areas but had not exploded. ‘Agent Orange’ left its mark on the environment and it also had a serious human impact as it had the potential to damage the chromosomes of a foetus. No one is quite sure how many children were born with physical deformities post-war nor do we know how many infants died prematurely from the impact of ‘Agent Orange’.
In the North, US bombing had to have an impact on the people living there and the basic infrastructure of the North was all but destroyed – however primitive it may have been when compared to the West.