America’s Scorched Earth Policy in Vietnam: Part II, The Proof

Proof that the U.S. carried out a scorched earth policy in South Vietnam was revealed in American military leaflets. From 1965 onward, U.S. aircraft dropped millions of leaflets across the South Vietnamese countryside. Many of those leaflets warned the South Vietnamese peasantry of the dangers of supporting the Vietcong.

The front of U.S. leaflet number APO-6227 depicted a cartoon image of a shell from a U.S. Navy ship arching through the sky, landing on a thatch-roofed hut, exploding, and then violently throwing a human figure into the air. On the back side of the leaflet were the following words written in Vietnamese: “Artillery from our ships will soon hit your village. You must look for cover immediately. From now on, chase the Vietcong away from your village, so the government [of South Vietnam] won’t have to shell your area again.”[1] The message on this leaflet could hardly be considered a nuanced means of winning the peasantry’s loyalty to the Allied cause. It stated in the simplest terms that the villagers either abandon their allegiance to the Vietcong or the Allies would kill them, or at a minimum, destroy their homes.

Another American leaflet sent a similar message. Leaflet number 244-055-68 read, “If the Vietcong in this area use you or your village for this purpose [to hide], you can expect death from the sky. Do not let the Vietcong be the reason for the death of your loved ones.”[2]

A U.S. Marine Corps pamphlet disseminated to the rural population of Quang Ngai Province stated in Vietnamese, “…many Vietnamese have paid with their lives and their homes have been destroyed because they helped the Vietcong…many hamlets have been destroyed because these villages harbored the Vietcong. The hamlets of Hai Mon, Hai Tan, Sa Binh, Tan Binh, and many others have been destroyed because of this.”[3]

Another Marine pamphlet warned the peasantry, “The U.S. Marines will not hesitate to destroy immediately any village or hamlet harboring the Vietcong….”[4]

Sadly, the majority of South Vietnamese peasants could not read.


[1] Jonathan Schell, The Village of Ben Suc (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967), 13.

[2] Jonathan Schell, The Military Half: An Account of Destruction in Quang Ngai and Quang Tin, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968), 20.

[3] Ibid., 17.

[4] Ibid., 18.

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