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Salt the Earth

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"Your world will burn until its surface is but glass."

"We will fill their wells. We will burn their fields. We will destroy their trees. WE WILL TURN THEIR LAND BROWN!"
Marshal Graziani, Lion of the Desert (1981)

Salting the earth is an act to curse the land and render fields incapable of crop growth, often used in ancient times as a symbolic act on top of various other scorched earth tactics to indicate the desire of the victor to completely eradicate the enemies' ability to reconstruct themselves after the war, or by those being forced into retreat to ensure that their would-be conquerors would have to put more effort into rehabilitating the land if they won.

So as a trope, characters will often have an analogous action, sometimes literally salting the earth, which performs as a symbolic act to indicate their embrace of scorched earth tactics and the increase of hostilities beyond it. The act can be a movement across the Moral or Despair Event Horizons, increasing the threat of a character, making the stakes truly a matter of survival and making the lack of forgiveness or remorse clear. So it is that the act can occur at a pivotal moment in the middle of a war or as the final blow at the end of one.

The action was common in the ancient Middle East and extended to the Middle Ages. The thing to note, though, is that salt was costly then. Wars and revolutions started because of it. Heck, even now a bad winter can give us difficulty in getting salt supplies out to spread on the roads. So in these tales, look at salt as not just something bad for the crops but also as something with attributed mystical powers and that you probably aren't going to spread over an entire field, leaving just the corner of some garden being ploughed for the symbolism of it. They knew their tropes, even then.

Enough salt will decrease the fertility of the land. This was discovered first in Mesopotamia, when salts left from irrigation reduced fertility enough that whole civilizations collapsed. Unlike the symbolic versions practiced by the Romans, this involved centuries of salt deposits building up.

In works set in the modern era, the equivalent is intentionally spreading radioactive material to render an area uninhabitable. The sci-fi version is "glassing" a planet, raining down enough Death from Above that there's nothing left of the surface but scorched glass.

Related to Kill It with Fire and Death from Above. Compare There Is No Kill Like Overkill. Subtrope of Salt Solution.


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    Comic Books 
  • In Batman: No Man's Land, Bane plans to blow up Gotham's Hall of Records with low-yield nuclear bombs. He compares it to Rome's tactics, not only destroying the structure but poisoning the ground too. He did all this for Lex Luthor, to make it easier for him to acquire buildings when he has Gotham rebuilt.
  • In the first Tim Drake Robin miniseries, King Snake is convinced that when Hong Kong goes from British control to China (this was 1991) the Chinese will completely ruin the city. He thus decides to unleash a long-missing Nazi bio-weapon to wipe out Hong Kong and "spare" it Chinese rule.
  • Operation: Cinder, seen first in Star Wars: Shattered Empire then later in Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) was an attempt at this by Palpatine to his own empire. Operating on the logic of "If I can't rule the galaxy, no one can", imperial officers were given instructions by specially constructed messenger droids after the Emperor's death. Using various superweapons, they would render worlds throughout the Empire completely uninhabitable, ostensibly as a show of force. This wasn't just done to rebellious worlds, either. Two notable targets were Vardos, known for churning out loyal Imperial officers, and Naboo, Palpatine's home planet.

    Fan Works 
  • In Worldwar: War of Equals, the scorched earth tactic proves popular with the Italian military as they fall back from overrun areas. The Ukrainians later start utilizing the tactic as they retreat from Kiev.
  • In The Dragon King's Temple, Toph briefly mentions a time Aang put out a burning village with a flood of ocean water. The villagers chewed him out because the salt water ruined their crops.
  • In the backstory for Star Wars vs Warhammer 40K, the Imperium of Man was forced to evacuate the entire Xek-Tek Sector in anticipation of an incoming Tyranid Hivefleet tendril and an upcoming slave raid by Drukhari pirates. After they were finished evacuating the populations of each world, the Imperials razed every planet they had in the sector to deny the enemy whatever resources remained.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Cobalt bombs (see the Real Life section below) were popularized in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove. The element added to the bombs is referred to in the film as "cobalt-thorium G".
  • In Idiocracy, this trope is not the result of malice, but stupidity. This happened because, at some point, a Gatorade ersatz called "Brawndo" got a law passed to replace all water with their sports drink under the reasoning that it has "electrolytes", which is "what plants crave". Since the electrolytes in sports drinks are dissolved salt, this has naturally led to a food crisis. It's likely that they would've starved to death if Joe hadn't come around and suggested they use water ("You mean from the toilet?"). On that note, Joe himself doesn't know what electrolytes are either: the film's narrator explains it to the audience.
  • In The Ruins, the people guarding the titular ruins do in fact salt the earth around the pyramid. Very, very heavily, and for excellent reasons. Namely that the ruins hold man-eating vines, so they salt the earth around the pyramid in an attempt to keep the vines from spreading. It's unfortunate that they can't explain them.
  • In the backstory of TRON: Legacy, Clu poisoned the Simulation Sea to stop any new Isos from coming to life. Then he started his campaign of genocide against the rest.
  • In Shakespeare in Love, when the Rose is closed for having a woman onstage, Wessex threatens to have it dismantled stone by stone and the place where it was sown with quicklime.
  • In Pacific Rim: Uprising, this is the Big Bad's goal: Kaiju blood reacts violently with rare earth elements, and if a Kaiju can throw itself into an active volcano rich in such elements (namely Mount Fuji), the reaction will blanket the earth in toxic fumes that would wipe out all life on the planet.

  • Book of the Dead (2021): When the Steelarms go after Mayor Janry's farm, in revenge for ordering them to hunt down Tyron, they don't just tear down the buildings until not a brick is left stacked on another; they also burn the fields until the ground itself is scorched, shatter the wells, kill all the animals, and carve up the soil "as if a giant ripped it up with his bare hands." They don't harm the people, though.
  • Neville Shute's 1957 novel, and subsequent 1959 movie, On the Beach, features the cobalt bomb (see below).
  • In the novel The Crash of '79 by Paul Erdman, the Israelis use cobalt bombs on Saudi Arabia's oil fields to make them "off limits" to humanity for at least 30 years and end the Arab power over oil.
  • The Pak in Larry Niven's Protector are a human forerunner whose third stage of life is a superhuman keyed to protect its own as identified by scent, and so they're at war whenever one of them can see an advantage to their family. To protect the central Library that contains all the knowledge the families are willing to share, (and is tended by protectors who have lost their families) the land around it is seeded with radiocobalt to make the area undesirable.
  • In the Wing Commander novel Fleet Action, the Kilrathi build a fleet of super carriers and begin a seemingly inexorable push into human space. Along the way they bombard any human planets with Strontium-90 clad thermonuclear weapons that ensure that the planets will be uninhabitable. Even if the Kilrathi had succeeded, they would have gained little because they would have had no use for the conquered territory. Of course, this was precisely the point, and was the cause of an Enemy Civil War among the Kilrathi that ultimately prevented Earth from being obliterated.
  • Mentioned in passing in The Eagle of the Ninth, and downplayed a bit. The protagonist reflects that the arable land that has been ploughed with salt in reprisal for an attack on the local garrison will be useable again within a few years, but nothing can replace the dozens of young men killed in the fighting.
  • A Star Trek novelization set in an AU where Earth has made itself reviled and loathed by the rest of the Galaxy has the Klingons doing this to an entire planet in vengeance and to make an emphatic point to humanity. As it necessarily takes time to do this to a whole planet note  the surviving human population has a traumatic and unpleasant lingering death.
  • In the Star Wars Legends continuity, Tatooine was supposedly once a green and fertile planet, until its native population helped lead a Slave Revolt against the Rakatan Infinite Empire. In response, the Rakata bombarded the planet until its entire surface was glassed and its oceans boiled away. Over several millennia, the glass gradually broke down into sand, turning Tatooine into the desert world it is now.
  • The Duchess intends to do this to parts of Lancre in Wyrd Sisters, seemingly For the Evulz.
  • Oscar Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" describes how when a murderer was buried in the prison yard, the body was covered with lime and nothing was allowed to grow over his grave:
    For three long years they will not sow
    Or root or seedling there:
    For three long years the unblessed spot
    Will sterile be and bare,
    And look upon the wondering sky
    With unreproachful stare.

    They think a murderer's heart would taint
    Each simple seed they sow.
    It is not true! God's kindly earth
    Is kindlier than men know,
    And the red rose would but blow more red,
    The white rose whiter blow.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Upon hearing Daenerys Targaryen's march to Meereen, the Great Masters salt the earth around the city to starve her army even if their conquest is successful. This ends up being the least of her problems, though, as she soon faces active rebellion from the former slave masters, a siege from Yunkai, and a dysentery plague.
  • In Gate, after the Empire's disastrous and humiliating defeat against the JSDF in episode 2, where they lost over a hundred and twenty thousand men in a matter of days, the Emperor orders the regions surrounding their capital burned down to deny the JSDF resources and supplies they could gain from the regions. This tactic doesn't do anything to slow down the JSDF; since their control over the Gate allows them to have their own supplies shipped directly from Ginzanote  to the frontline, and that the JSDF can mobilize their forces more quickly due to their vehicles allowing them to travel faster through the damaged regions. All that the Emperor did was just make the peasants and surrounding townships hate the Empire even more for destroying their crops.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Brown Lands, a withered expanse between Mordor and Mirkwood, had formerly been the richly cultivated abode of the Entwives. Sauron subjected them to a scorched earth campaign thousands of years ago in anticipation of the Last Alliance moving through the area on its way to invade his own realm, and they still haven't recovered.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Sue Sylvester on Glee: "I sold my house to a nice young couple and salted the earth in the backyard so that nothing could grow there for 100 years. Know why I did that? Because they tried to get me to pay their closing costs..."
  • The government's final disposition of The Initiative, in season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ironically a later episode shows the base is still intact albeit abandoned, so for some reason the order was never carried out.
    Mr. Ward: Burn it down, gentlemen. Burn it down and salt the earth.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • When the Federation is unable to hold the titular station against the Dominion and Cardassian forces, they evacuate it. As soon as they're gone, Kira Nerys activates a special program left by Sisko that destroys the station's computer systems, effectively crippling it for weeks. This denies the Dominion any intel, forces them to repair the station before taking down the mine field, and lets them flip off Dukat (arguably the most important reason to do so).
      Kira Nerys: Dukat wanted the station back? He can have it!
    • The Cardassians trashed the station on their way out just before the beginning of the series, but didn't do nearly as thorough a job. They also exploited Bajoran resources extensively enough that there was famine when they left due to ruined potential farmland (probably on purpose). It's explicitly mentioned that they turned an entire peninsula (once the most fertile region on the planet) into a barren wasteland.
    • In "For the Uniform", during the Maquis/Cardassian conflict, the Maquis decide to deal with the problem with a bioweapon that renders the target world unlivable for Cardassians, but fine for humans. Sisko responds by threatening to do the opposite to the Maquis-held worlds, and does so.
    • In "What You Leave Behind", after the Cardassians pull a Heel–Race Turn in the Final Battle, the Female Changeling orders the extermination of the Cardassian species. This is stopped before being completed, but leaves Cardassia Prime devastated, just as they left Bajor.
  • The crew of Moya do something analogous in the season 1 finale of Farscape: exploding a ship in the atmosphere of a Peacekeeper moon, which ignites the moon's entire atmosphere.
    "Hey, you bastards... John Crichton was here!"
  • The theme song to Firefly uses it as a form of defiance. Their enemies can "burn the land and boil the sea," but they'll still have the sky. Mal's home planet, Shadow, was bombarded from space by The Alliance so badly that it was rendered completely uninhabitable.
  • Babylon 5:
  • Game of Thrones. Lannister forces Rape, Pillage, and Burn the Riverlands in retaliation for their rebellion against King Joffrey. We get a close look at what's left afterward in Season 4 when Sandor Clegane and Arya Stark trek through it on their way to the Vale.
  • Person of Interest: In the final three episodes, Finch steals and modifies a powerful computer virus in order to destroy Samaritan, but The Machine warns him about the devastating consequences its use will cause. Finch goes ahead with it, anyway. It's soon revealed that the virus will destroy The Machine as well as Samaritan. On top of that, once it actually launches, it winds up causing general global devastation that takes a full week to contain.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In order to avoid getting involved in the Trojan War, Odysseus faked being insane and demonstrated this by tilling the land with salt. Palamedes then put Odysseus' son Telemachus in front of the plough and Odysseus stopped, ruining the ruse.
  • The Bible contains one of the first recorded laws of war that prohibit this. Specifically, it outlaws the then common practice of destroying forests and orchards to wreck the enemy's economy.
    Deuteronomy 20:19 (New Century Version): If you surround and attack a city for a long time, trying to capture it, do not destroy its trees with an ax. You can eat the fruit from the trees, but do not cut them down. These trees are not the enemy, so don't make war against them.
    • A specific recorded instance of this tactic is featured in Judges 9:45 — Abimelech conquered the city of Shechem and sowed it with salt. NIV translation: "All that day Abimelech pressed his attack against the city until he had captured it and killed its people. Then he destroyed the city and scattered salt over it."
  • Islam also has rules about not destroying orchards or fields and not poisoning wells.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Magic: The Gathering card Rain of Salt.
  • In the backstory of Vampire: The Masquerade, the vampires of Rome had the lands of Carthage salted to trap their enemies, who have become one with the earth to hide.
  • In the history of the High Elves of Warhammer, there was a civil war that split the nation. The point of no return when two different races would form came when a king whose family had been killed by the enemy moved to scorched earth tactics and would salt the fields of their lands on the continent, driving them onto a completely different land.
  • Several Death Worlds in Warhammer 40,000, most notably the homeworld of the the Death Korps of Krieg, gained their Death World status thanks to liberal use of nuclear weapons.
    • An extreme example would be Inquisitor Kryptman's strategy against Hive Fleet Leviathan. Since the Tyranids consume the bio-mass of any world they conquer to increase the size of their swarm, Kryptman ordered Exterminatus on the planets in the Hive Fleet's path, reducing them to lifeless husks. This succeeded in slowing the Tyranids' advance, but killed billions which had a disastrous effect on battlefield morale but more importantly cost the Imperium several inhabitable worlds, which are a lot harder to come by than a few million soldiers, and saw the Inquisitor excommunicated for his excesses.
    • One strategy for starving out the Tyranid Hive Fleets involves letting them make planetfall and start eating everything... and then Exterminatus-ing the planet from orbit, killing everything on it. This works better than the aforementioned strategy of burning the planets before the Hive Fleet gets there, since the Tyranids have to expend some energy to attack the planet and they lose the forces they landed. Unfortunately, the predicted size of the Tyranid swarm is so huge that even if the Imperium did this to literally every planet in their domain, it wouldn't be enough to completely defeat the Tyranids.
      • This is only to be expected, when you take in the fact that the only sounds the Astropaths can hear when listening to outside of our galaxy, is Tyranid chittering on the left side, and continuous WAAAAAAAAAGH on the other side. Thus outside of our galaxy, most likely only Orks and Tyranids are running rampant, both infamous for their generation of units out of almost nothing.
    • In the Horus Heresy tabletop, the Dark Angels and Death Guard are both masters of the trope. The Dark Angels have the Dreadwing, a division of the legion that specializes in scorched-earth tactics. This is represented in-game by a Rite of War called the Eskaton Imperative that allows them to spam units with radiation grenades, phosphex bombs, flamethrowers with alchemical munitions, and plasma weapons (it even comes with a special rule called "Salt the Earth and Burn the Sky"). The Death Guard have all of those things turned up to 11, since chemical warfare is their specialty. The fluff specifically notes that both legions tend to leave a lot of scorched, dead worlds behind them.
  • The Word of Blake in BattleTech would saturate planets were they were defeated with nuclear weapons. Several of them ended up becoming uninhabitable. And civilian populations paid for it with their lives.

  • This is the main goal of the Bohrok in BIONICLE: smash the island of Mata Nui down to the bedrock, and then keep going from there. This goes well beyond simply targeting life forms; they will go so far as to hammer down natural features of the land, such as mountains and rivers. The only survivors are those they can control with their krana, who then join the swarm in its relentless march. Their signature phrase is "Clean it all, it must be cleaned." As it turns out, they're a rare example of a benign case of this: they exist as part of a procedure where Mata Nui, a gigantic machine, generates a camouflage over his body consisting of dirt, stone, and plant life. When he needs to leave, the Bohrok destroy said camouflage and "evacuate" any who are still living on it by force.

    Video Games 
  • In the Fallout: New Vegas DLC Honest Hearts, this is where the villain Salt-Upon-Wounds gets his name. Unsurprisingly, he was taught this tactic by Ulysses, a member of the Roman-inspired Caesar's Legion and Big Bad of the Lonesome Road DLC, who himself plans to nuke both NCR and Legion territory with the Divide's missiles.
    • Dead Money's Big Bad, Father Elijah, plans to use the Cloud to render the Mojave uninhabitable.
    • In the main game, one sidequest involves trying to stop a radiation leak that's poisoning a sharecropping operation. You can choose between stopping the leak but dooming the survivors of the vault it's coming from, or letting it remain while allowing the survivors to escape.
  • As shown in the page image, the Covenant of Halo bombard human planets with plasma weaponry until the surface is fused into a glass-like mineral, hence the term "glassing".
  • An viable and evil tactic to use in the strategy game Lords of the Realm II. Destroy the fields of your enemy own land and since reclaiming it takes forever, the peasants will usually start an uprising before the enemy can recover. This is assuming of course, you don't need said land.
  • Discussed in Ahzirr Traajijazeri, the manifesto of a group of Khajiit revolutionaries.
    "Let us not forget our purpose. We are thieves and thugs, smugglers and saboteurs. If we cannot take a farm, we burn it to the ground. If the Imperials garrisoned in a glorious ancient stronghold, beloved by our ancestors, will not yield, we tear the structure apart. If the only way to rescue the land from the Leyawiin misappropriation is to make it uninhabitable by all, so be it."
  • First Strike (the mobile/PC RTS about nuclear warfare) has this as a possibility in totality with the radium bomb, which makes a territory uninhabitable forever. However, regular nuclear bombardments reduce the rocket capacity of an area, and so continuous bombardment of an area gives a limiting effect to the victim.
  • A tactic in Spore to destroy or capture an enemy colony is to use terraforming tools to reduce it to a lower T score. You can glass a planet if you really work at it.
  • A common tactic in turn-based strategy games like Civilization is to send small armies to pillage improvements like farms and mines around the enemy cities, if you aren't strong enough or interested in actually capturing the territory. Not only does this put a dent in your enemy's production, but your citizens won't care what your army is doing, while the enemy's citizens will be angry with them, not you.
  • The Novalith Cannon and Heavy Fallout siege tactic in Sins of a Solar Empire both reduce the population growth of enemy worlds. Not to be used when you plan to re-colonize those worlds immediately afterwards, of course...
    • Also in Sins of a Solar Empire, the Vasari Loyalist faction can survive without the need for planets as long as their rulership is intact; to that end, they have the ability to utterly annihilate planets that they colonize, rendering them virtually worthless for others to colonize long after they're gone.
  • In Ancient Empires, Catapults can destroy houses, turning them into ruins. Ruined houses still give defense bonuses to units on them, but won't restore HP or produce gold. This fits the trope when a player does this to their own houses in advance of an enemy invasion. Enemy soldiers can capture houses for their own side, but if a house is destroyed they'll need to spend a turn repairing it first.
  • This is a legitimate strategy in the Total War series. In the course of your imperial campaign, it's likely that you will come into the possession of cities that don't make strategic sense to hold, usually due to them being the fringes of your territory where corruption and unrest are the highest, requiring massive economic resources to upgrade, and/or requiring massive troop resources to defend. So once you've captured it, you can exterminate the populace, demolish all of the buildings, and even send in a plague-infected character to drive the population even further down. Then abandon it and allow it to rebel. It can provide a good buffer against enemy forces who, even if they capture it, won't get much use of out it.
  • In Total War: Warhammer this is the specialty of the Beastmen faction, who despise civilization. When they raze a city they can raise a crude monolith called a herdstone in its ruins. On top of pumping out chaos corruption to poison nearby lands it's impossible to resettle any ruins in the area until the herdstone is destroyed. A fully developed herdstone is the closest thing beastmen have to a city, a handful of tall stones infused with potent dark magic surrounded by hordes of mutants, at the center of an uninhabitable wasteland that sickens those who travel through it.
  • From the Trails Series is the Salt Pale disaster that ravaged the nation of North Ambria, which is a literal example of this trope. However, unlike most of these examples, this was a supernatural incident rather than the actions of a malicious person. Decades before the main plot begins, a giant pillar of salt descended from the skies, turning anything it touched into salt. This salt contaminated the soil of North Ambria, and also transformed any people it touched into salt. At the end of the three day disaster caused by the Salt Pale, a third of the country's population was killed, and the country's farmland was rendered useless, driving the country into perpetual poverty. In order to provide money for the people, the country's army converted into a jaeger corps, which are elite mercenaries in this world.
  • This is usually the result of an Alpha Strike attack in Iji, where thousands of ships bombard the planet with laser bolts. Low-powered Strikes like the one in the intro can leave a planet habitable (albeit with difficulty), but normal Alpha Strikes will destroy the biosphere of any planet they're performed on. This happens to Earth if Iji kills General Tor when prompted to.
  • Knights of the Old Republic: Darth Malak launches an Orbital Bombardment of Taris, initially hoping to kill Jedi Knight Bastila Shan. It quickly stops being just about Bastila. Star Wars: The Old Republic has the Republic attempt to terraform and resettle Taris, only for the Sith to swoop in and poison the place even further and drive the Republic out just to piss them off.
  • In Triangle Strategy, the Falkes demesne has bountiful farmland... that the local lord, Landroi, burns to the ground so Aesfrost cannot make any use of it after their invasion. The burned-out farms can still be seen from the world map for the rest of the game.

  • In Three Panel Soul Matt drops a match and some salt-shaker salt as he quits. It's done more in the spirit of the idea.
    Todd: That's not quite burning and salting the ground as you leave.
    Matt: I'm not really that mad anymore.
  • Schlock Mercenary: It's mentioned that this is a common side effect, both intentional and not, of nanny attacks. The nanites disassemble anything that comes into the area in order to make more nanites. It's common enough that it's specifically pointed out when this doesn't happen; Bunny deduces that a new type of nanites has hard-coded limits on lifespan and replication because the makers wanted a horrific anti-infantry weapon, not something that permanently denies the territory to everyone.

    Web Videos 
  • The Cry of Mann: Courtney claims that she wants to destroy the house piece-by-piece, and then literally salt the ground so that nothing can ever grow on the land again, simply out of pure hatred for being there.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: When Homer Simpson needed flowers for a parade float he took all of the ones from the Flanders garden. Flanders didn't really have a problem with this, but questioned the point of salting the soil so nothing would grow again.
    Ned: Uh, excuse me neighbor, I couldn't help but notice you picked pretty much all of my flowers.
    Homer: Can't make a float without flowers!
    Ned: Oh, sure enough, but did you have to salt the earth so nothing will ever grow again?
    Homer: Heh heh... yeah...
  • This is essentially Fire Lord Ozai's plan during Sozin's Comet in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Tired of the Earth Kingdom not being oppressed enough, he intends to have a fleet of dirigibles carrying comet-enhanced firebenders burn the entire kingdom to the ground. Then again, given that he is insane, and his sadistic daughter gave him the idea, it's likely less "salt the Earth" and more "kill them all."
  • In the Captain Planet and the Planeteers episode "Scorched Earth", the evil spirit Zarm possesses a dictator and implements a "Scorched Earth" policy against the rebels by blowing up oil refineries, which make flames that are almost impossible to put out and release toxic smoke. His general protests that the nearly irreversible damage to the environment is not worth it, but Zarm threatens to execute him for treason if he doesn't help. Zarm doesn't really care if his side wins; he just wants to cause as much suffering and destruction as possible. Fortunately, Captain Planet was able to put the flames out.
  • Steven Universe: It's eventually revealed that the monsters the Crystal Gems are always fighting are actually their fellow Gems who were corrupted/mutated when the Diamond Authority did this. When it became clear that the war for Earth was lost, the Diamonds decided to just evacuate and then deploy a horrific sound-based Fantastic Nuke that warped the minds and bodies of any Gem caught in its range. Pearl, Garnet, Rose, and Bismuth are the only Crystal Gems who escaped this, as the former three were under a shield and the latter was in a Pocket Dimension (Amethyst was still in the ground and didn't emerge until later). In this case the native lifeforms and the planet itself were unharmed, but the basic intent was the same; the Diamonds felt that if they couldn't have Earth, than no one could.
  • Invader Zim: The Irkens employ a procedure called "Organic Sweep" in already conquered planets. It consists of their entire fleet bombarding the surface of the planet with everything they've got in order to destroy anything/anyone that might have survived the previous conquering. This leaves the empire's newest acquisition ready to be retrofitted as the Almighty Tallest see fit.

    Real Life 
  • In the China-Vietnam War of 1979, the Chinese army salted Vietnamese farmlands along the border to prevent future border disputes. The Vietnamese army planted landmines in the same regions after the war.
  • The Cobalt bomb is a type of "salted bomb" (a bomb intended to contaminate an area by radioactive material, with relatively little blast) originally proposed by physicist Leo Szilard, who suggested that it would be capable of destroying all life on Earth.
  • More generally with nuclear weapons, the term "glassing" came to be because it was discovered that the high temperatures produced by nuclear explosions creates glass deposits in soil which are laced with any remaining radioactive material. American versions are termed "trinitite", from where such glass residue was first found, the Trinity test site, where the first nuclear explosion occurred. The Russian version is "kharitonchiki" (a suitable English version would be "kharitonite"), named after one of the Soviet nuclear scientists that helped assemble Russia's first atomic bomb, Yulii Khariton.
  • Nearly all the land between Berlin and Stalingrad was scorched and salted in World War II, either by the Soviet Communists, the Germans and their allies, or both, as both sides tried to deny the enemy the resources of the land. Naturally, this resulted in a humanitarian disaster and the deaths of millions of people of all nationalities.
  • The city of Palestrina in the Papal States (now in Italy) revolted in the 1290s. When Pope Boniface VIII's forces defeated the rebellion, he ordered the city symbolically plowed and salted. This is one of several reasons Dante put Boniface in Hell.
  • The Tavora noble family in Portugal was convicted in 1759 of an attempted assassination of the king (Joseph I) the previous year. They were executed, their palace in Lisbon was destroyed and the land where it had stood was salted.
  • Similarly, when a Brazilian revolutionary plot against Portugal's command over the then-colony was put down, the leader, Tiradentes (who is now in republican times considered a national hero), was sentenced to death, his blood used to write a document saying how terrible the thing he did was, his body quartered and pieces of it displayed all over several cities to make an example out of him, his house torn down and the land where it stood salted.
  • The Romans were terribly fond of this. The most famous example was their treatment of Carthage, with whom the Romans fought numerous wars before emerging victorious. They destroyed Carthage and were said to have salted the earth to make sure nothing could ever grow in its place, though this theory likely started in the 19th Century. Literally salting the soil of Carthage to the extent that nothing would grow there again would've required more salt than actually existed in the entire Roman Republic. Julius Caesar later founded a new Carthage on the same spot, mainly to prove that he could. This was a metaphor for Rome's destruction of the city, and even then wasn't thought up until much later. Most of the farmland surrounding Carthage was actually given to Roman veterans of the Punic Wars as a retirement pension.note 
  • When the Mongols sacked Baghdad, it's said that a year later you could gallop a horse across where the city had been, for no stone lay atop another. Similarly, the destruction of the city's libraries (it had been a center of learning with great universities) supposedly turned the Euphrates River black with ink. (To put this in perspective, a thousand years after the Mongols sacked Baghdad, the city still hasn't recovered.)
    • The Mongols did this a lot. Not just by sacking cities, but also by importing nomadic herding tribes into areas that had previous been devoted to settled agriculture dependent on extensive and maintenance-intensive irrigation systems. The result? Massive deurbanization and desertification due to overgrazing across Central Asia, the effects of which are still felt today. Afghanistan, for example, had a greater share of its population in cities before the Mongols showed up than they do now.
  • A predecessor to modern "scorched earth" policies is the French concept of the chevauchée, which involved burning and pillaging an area instead of facing defending armies head-on, so they could affect an area's productivity. It was particularly popular with England during The Hundred Years War, who conducted several in the first half of the war. King Edward III, his son Edward the Black Prince (Prince of Wales and Aquitaine),note  and King Henry V all made effective use of the strategy, though it died out after the war. Even before that, William the Conqueror likely used this tactic against rebels in Northumbria during the "Harrying of the North" in 1069 and 1070, though in that case it was because the rebels refused to face him in battle. This practice reached its logical (and horrifying) conclusion in the Thirty Years' War where this kind of Rape, Pillage, and Burn mentality combined with advances in warfare technology fueled a war that literally lasted 30 years note  and killed off around a third note  of the Holy Roman Empire. For comparison, one of the region hit the worst by World War II was Belarus, at one quarter dead.
  • The infamous Hama massacre of 1982, where the Syrian army besieged the city for 3 weeks, killing somewhere between 17,000 and 40,000 people. It's widely considered the Moral Event Horizon for the Ba'ath Party and Hafez al-Assad.
  • Israel dropped some 4.5 million cluster munitions in Lebanon during the last days of its military offensive on the country in 2006. Eight years after the 2006 war, Lebanon has not yet finished clearing the cluster munitions and landmines in the south, with Israel refusing to provide UN authorities with maps of the locations of the munitions it dropped until three years after the war.
  • During The American Civil War, Major General William Sherman (Trope Namer of War Is Hell) marched from the freshly-captured city of Atlanta, Georgia to the port city of Savannah, Georgia from November 15th to December 16th, 1864. Along the way, his forces destroyed not just military targets, but anything else that could have been useful to the Confederate war effort. This included everything from railroads, to plantations, to civilian farms, destroying or consuming everything they could and leaving only the very bare minimum for civilian survival (although it's estimated around 20 000 civilians and slaves died because of this). Anything of even indirect military value that Sherman's army couldn't take with them was burned to the ground. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research estimated that areas Sherman destroyed were still in worse shape than before as late as 1920. "Sherman's March to the Sea", as it was famously called, is now considered a remarkable military achievement, a textbook example of "scorched earth" tactics and a very bitter memory amongst Southerners that endures to this day. Sherman himself (who wasn't a particularly cruel man) justified his campaign as bringing the suffering of the war right to the people of the South, and that by destroying their property, he might avoid having to destroy their men and he was crippling the Confederacy's ability to wage the war, bringing the end of the war faster and minimizing deaths note . This kind of tactic was the forerunner to "Total War" and "Shock and Awe" tactics later used on Germany, Japan, North Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and finally Aghanistan and Iraq (again), where the idea is to use a combination of overwhelming force and utterly destroying the enemy's ability to wage war.
  • After he had been fired by Harry S. Truman for his arrogant and insubordinate antics, Douglas MacArthur devised a plan that he said could win the Korean War. It involved first delivering an ultimatum to the Soviet Union that China must cease hostilities in Korea note  or the United States would destroy China's capacity to make war note  and sow radioactive material in the north of Korea to impede further moves by the Chinese and Korean Communist forces. Both Truman and his successor thought this proposal was horrifying and dismissed it out of hand out of fear of escalating the conflict into World War III (which would have spilled in Western Europe) and possibly nuclear war.
  • This was Russia's defensive strategy during several major invasions throughout history, be it Charles XII's breach, or Napoleon's Grande Armée. The country largely scorches their farmland and villages to ensure that nothing could be plundered to resupply the invaders when the territory was overrun; this, in turn, slowed the invaders down until winter struck, and the casualties began mounting heavily due to attrition. This is such a common tactic that peasantry were more or less completely fine with it, as by the time of the Napoleonic Wars, they leaped at the opportunity.
  • Not literal salt, but the results are the same: the Rainbow Pesticides used by the U.S. during The Vietnam War, most notably Agent Orange. It was intended to kill existing plant life (which was being effectively used by the Viet Cong as cover for guerrilla warfare), and prevent growth of flora. It has since led to devastating environmental effects (destruction of the ecosystem, soil erosion, etc.) and medical issues such as cancer and other fatal conditions in veterans (on both sides), as well as birth defects ranging from physical to mental in children born during and after the war. Vast areas were rendered uninhabitable and unfarmable.
  • This also happens in the business world. As a last-ditch effort to stave off a hostile takeover, a company may sabotage itself to become less valuable by selling off its assets or buying out itself.
  • A Downplayed example would be landmines; relatively easy to lay, don't have a timed lifespan beyond that of their components — with the bottleneck often being the metal of the detonator rather than the explosives themselves, they are nearly undetectable, and any land they are planted on becomes nigh-worthless to those wanting to use it because even with extensive de-mining, which is a lot harder than it is to lay a minefield, you can't be sure if you got them all.