WAGING ENVIRONMENTAL WAR IS NOT NEW

Saddam Hussein is hardly the first military man to attack the environment as a means of gaining the tactical or strategic upper hand. The Romans sowed salt on Carthage in 146 BC.

Medieval attackers hurled dead animals over the walls of besieged castles as an early form of biological warfare.

In the last world war, the Chinese bombed dikes to cause flooding when the Japanese invaded, and Dutch resisters inundated low-lying farmland with salty seawater to slow down attacking Germans.

Because of the potential for unacceptably high civilian casualties, United States commanders decided not to bomb the dikes around Hanoi during the Vietnam War. But they did spray millions of gallons of the herbicide Agent Orange to deny Communist troops their jungle hiding places and force ``friendly'' Vietnamese into controllable villages. The high incidence of birth defects and other illnesses among Vietnamese people - and US soldiers - is believed to be a legacy.

Even when attacks on the environment are not intended as such, the consequences to nature of combat can remain for long periods. The tracks of Rommel's tanks in North Africa - and Patton's in the troop training areas of southern California - are visible 45 years after World War II.

Many Iraqi officers received training in the Soviet Union, where references to ``ecological weapons'' show up in military manuals, according to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times. In a Russian-language textbook titled ``Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction,'' this report states, there are references to ``flooding and pollution to disrupt navigation and disable irrigation and other hydrostructures and create obstructions in rivers, canals, and other bodies of water.''

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