The 20th century was witness to the most destructive wars in all history. Technological progress in weaponry as well as innovation in their manufacture made it possible to destroy lives and property on an unprecedented scale. What is less clear, though, is whether the unrivaled destructiveness of modern warfare has had enduring consequences on economic capacity.
While bombing left many Japanese and German cities in utter ruin after World War II, the aerial assault in Vietnam was actually more intense. Indeed, Vietnam experienced the densest bombing in history.
The military historian Michael Clodfelter calculated that the 7.6 million tons of bombs dropped on Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) by the American armed forces was more than triple the tonnage of munitions consumed by the American military in all of World War II, and 15 times the tonnage it used in Korea.
Bombers dumped more than 200 pounds of high explosives per citizen on that hapless nation. And common sense suggests that if there is a country where war’s impact would endure, it is Vietnam.