19 September 2011
The term scorched earth literally means “to burn the surface”. It is a military policy or operating strategy that involves the destruction of resources that can be effectively utilized by enemy combatants. Retreating or advancing armies have practiced this policy in ancient and modern times. This blanket policy can include the destruction of transportation systems, industrial infrastructure, communications and shelter either in enemy territory or home station. Because of the widespread use of this tactic throughout history, the Geneva Conventions established treaties and protocols to define the rights and protections of non-combatants, or civilian populace.
Scorched earth policies can be seen used alongside the “Shock and Awe” strategy, or rapid military dominance. The destruction of enemy resources is done purely to accomplish strategic or operational goals. This coupled with violence of force and dominant military maneuvers can remove the opposition’s will to fight. Removing the will to fight is essential to close any military campaign. Enemies are less likely to resist when they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted.
Scorched earth should not be confused with the slash and burn practice. Although both involve consumption by fire, the reasons behind the method end there. Slash and burn is an agricultural technique that involves clearing and burning grassland or wooded areas to make way for farmland and livestock herding. Historically, this cultivation has been practiced worldwide, as is more common for subsistence and local consumption. Scorched earth is commonly the destruction of agricultural fields and equipment, as to demolish any foodstores or the means to cultivate foods.
The ancient Scythians applied scorched earth principles against an invasion from Persian Darius the Great. As the Scythians retreated into the Steppes of Eurasia, food caches were...