No nation faces development problems quite like those of Vietnam. The agricultural basis of the country's way of life has been massively disrupted, and the scars will remain long after the last American soldier has withdrawn from what is left of Vietnamese soil.
The indiscriminate use of toxic defoliants has rendered large areas uninhabitable. In wide tracts of hitherto teeming mangrove swamp no wild life can exist. Stilled lifeless wastes bear testimony to man's misuse of his technology.
1,200,000 acres of land are totally devastated and 741,000 acres of crops have been sprayed - including vast acreages of the food-scarce Central Highlands where 100,000 Montagnards, the long-established farmers of that area, have already died. 30 years supply of timber has been destroyed. In one twenty-day period the 984th Land-Clearing Company scraped 6,037 acres of woodland clean of life.
One indicator of the overall effect is that South Vietnam now has to import 90% of its rice requirement. Ten years ago it grew enough rice to meet all its own needs and export half a million tons a year.
This 'war on the countryside' has taken place in a predominantly agricultural nation and resulted in fundamental disruption for millions of people who have had to leave the land or starve.
Thousands of rural families who lived a self-reliant and dignified way of life in the agricultural areas have been forced into overcrowded cities. They live in makeshift homes, under scavenged scraps of tarpaulin, or squat in squalor in the streets of Saigon, dependent on charity or on the spill-over from the wealth of the American army. Saigon is now the most overcrowded city in the world, comparable to Calcutta in its legions of homeless and degraded people.
Peace will not automatically reverse this migration from rural to urban areas in South Vietnam. Many of the 7,822,000 ‘displaced persons' will not be able to return to their villages. Movement is highly restricted. Millions who might wish to return are deterred by the insecurity, the unexploded bombs, and by the denuded and hardened soil which in many places is incapable of being successfully cultivated for many years to come.