It wasn't until December, 1965, that the American public first learned that U.S. planes were deliberately using defoliants and herbicides to destroy rice and other crops in South Vietnam. A New York Times dispatch, which said the programs "began last spring," reported that up to 75,000 crop-producing acres had been sprayed. "Crop destruction missions are aimed only at relatively small areas of major military importance where the guerrillas grow their own food or where the population is willingly committed to their cause." The dispatch said up to 60 to 90 per cent of the crops, once sprayed, were destroyed.
The first official confirmation that the defoliation program was aimed, at least in part, at food-producing areas came in March, 1966, when the State Department announced that about 20,000 acres in South Vietnam, about one-third of 1 percent of the land under cultivation, had been destroyed. The statement was issued in response to questions about the case of Robert B. Nichols, an architect who had written President Johnson asking why the United States would attempt to help the South Vietnamese grow more food and at the same time attempt to destroy their crops. Nichols had gone on a hunger strike when he received what he considered a less than satisfactory response from the White House. As one critic said later, it took the potential starvation of an American citizen to evoke a clarifying statement from the Johnson Administration about its anticrop program.
A New York Times dispatch in July, 1966, noted that the spraying of enemy crops was being stepped up and added: "The spraying, begun in 1962 [my italics], has blighted about 130,000 acres of rice and other food plants." Another Times story, in September, 1966, quoted Washington officials as say-____________________