A war too long : the USAF in Southeast Asia, 1961-1975

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The total destruction of vegetation and the laying bare of the soil were achieved by other means, such as fire and bulldozers, which appeared in the US-South Vietnamese arsenal at the end of All of them were a priori added onto the original source map. The bases of the Special Forces, which neither of the sources noted, were added. They formed craters and mutilated and destroyed the surrounding trees. Nevertheless, the destruction of trees was limited. A larger area could be affected in the case of incendiary — for example, napalm — bombs.

The meaning of the line crossing Laos remains unknown. Because of their military practices, these fighters could alter the landscapes and cause destruction. One reason for the lack of records could be that the Vietnamese military archives are still inaccessible.

It was a large network of many roads and trails fig. Their construction destroyed vegetation and levelled the relief Robert, , from gathered photos.

These tools used at the beginning were subsequently perfected. The adversary has apparently given us explosives for road building. The materials, taken from plants, were collected on the spot Robert, Even if it was rudimentary, it still caused deforestation and alterations. Besides this deforestation, we should consider the impoverishment that occurred near these spots due to the collection of firewood and wood used for the construction of facilities, shelters or other infrastructures.

The relief played the same — perhaps a greater 1 — role. There, the forests were dense and wider than in the other landscape units Robert, The US-South Vietnamese camp thus conducted war against this environment, of which the enemy took advantage by targeting the forests in particular.

The military practices of both camps thus had direct consequences on the landscapes, but they also had indirect impacts. But to what extent were they factors of landscape dynamics during the war?

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What was their share of the responsibility? Was the forest decline the result of these practices and of these practices alone? To answer these questions, it is necessary to reconstruct the pre- and post-war landscapes and to study the civilian practices, their development and their impacts during the conflict.

They indeed destroyed the vegetation, with reservations for herbicides: As we have already mentioned, forest regression only occurred when sprayings were repeated. It is challenging to identify the impact of each practice because neither the effects of each one on its own nor those of all of them combined can be precisely localized. Only the overall impact of the conflict can be assessed, at least in certain parts. Like the satellite image of , these sources were selected because they are original and are thus a priori unbiased. This criterion is all the more important because the topic is controversial.

These sources were also the only ones that were available to form an idea of the state of the landscapes at the time. In this case, the reason is probably that they did not distinguish forests from shrub savannahs. According to these iconographic sources, the forests were wider than on the plain Robert, But they disappeared in the valleys, on the less steep grounds, and gave way to shrub, herbaceous and bush savannahs and agricultural lands: Some of these ones were cultivated, and others were abandoned, left to be colonised by spontaneous vegetation fig.

For the localisation of the transect, see Figure 4. For the localisation of the transect, see figures 4 or 8. In the south, the dynamic was identical for the forests near the river. Beyond, on the higher reliefs where the forests extended farther in , the regression was only partial. The regressive dynamics did not end up only with the disappearance of forests: They also concerned the savannahs, in a limited area, especially in the north of the map — towards the bare soil stage or, for the shrub savannahs, towards the herbaceous and bush stage. Some remained at the same stage.

To the north of the A Sap River, it was above all the savannahs that remained fig. In the south, especially on the higher reliefs, it was the forests. However, these ones could also suffer disturbances. Indeed, all disturbances do not lead to the disappearance of forests: Some led to bifurcations.

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In this case, the regressive dynamic do not mean a return to a non-forest stage. But it could not be checked with the classes, which were selected here according to the identification possibilities that the sources provided. However, some progressive dynamics were perceptible.


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This spread would have occurred at the expense of the herbaceous, bush and shrub savannahs. But this is doubtful given the time required for the progression from a herbaceous and bush savannah to a moderately dense forest. The change of the savannahs into pre-forest formations is more plausible. It could be observed in limited areas to the north of the A Sap River, and in wider areas in the south. The savannahs also progressed from the herbaceous and bush to the shrub stage, especially in the north.

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Military practices weakened the sylvosystems and caused them to regress, but the war had other consequences, too: It altered civilian practices. These peoples practised slash-and-burn cultivation, which explains the fragmentation of the landscape in , as was previously noted.

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The lands were cultivated for one to three years. They then lay fallow and were progressively colonised by the forest, before being again cultivated. The mountains-dwellers were clustered in villages. They lived in osmosis with the forests, which provided them with all the resources they needed ibid. Even so, the fighting already had an impact on the civilian practices of the mountains-dwellers, like the accounts given in situ made clear.

Herbicide sprayings and bombings sometimes destroyed the cultivated lands, and thus the villagers worked in vain. Consequently, they reduced the cultivated area ever more because they were scared for their lives. The forest products were also collected from shorter distances. The villages were deserted, and the land was no longer cultivated.


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The spontaneous vegetation once again colonised these spaces, which explains the progressive dynamic that we noted for some sylvosystems during the war. The military practices forced the mountains-dwellers to alter their practices then to flee. They were thus indirectly the cause of the progression of some sylvosystems.

However, this one went along with some regressions for other sylvosystems. In fact, in the refuge areas, smaller new lands were being cultivated. The villagers also built rudimentary shelters using materials available on the spot. The fires that were set in order to cultivate or cook were limited to avoid being located and targeted by the US-South Vietnamese attacks.

Not all the mountain-dwellers ended up fleeing: Some stayed behind while others, including those who had lived elsewhere before the war, even went into the valley to fight alongside the North Vietnamese Army. They also adapted their practices to the new context of war.

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They sought shelter in tunnels and lived on products they gathered from the forest. During the flight of civilians, no land was cultivated in the main valley. Others followed, such as those whose villages before the war were in secondary valley and less easily reachable from the plain. From a hostile environment, the forest even transformed into a protective refuge, whither the soldiers withdrew when they felt threatened Robert, But North Vietnam continued moving heavy weapons into Laos to support the communist rebel Pathet Lao.