The Guardian August 9, 2000


US Agent Orange:
30-year poisoning of Vietnam

by Barb Neth

Some 30 years after the US military was forced to stop poisoning Vietnam 
with Agent Orange, three generations of Vietnamese and their country 
continue to experience its toxic affects.

Agent Orange  so-called because of the orange-striped drums it was 
shipped in  was a chemical defoliant that was used extensively in Vietnam 
from 1962 to 1970. The Pentagon named this malicious campaign "Operation 
Ranch Hand".

Unable to quell the Vietnamese struggle for self-determination using the 
Pentagon's enormous arsenal of weapons, the US military sought instead to 
strip Vietnam of all vegetation, to deny food and cover to the Vietnamese 
revolutionaries.

Air Force planes and US soldiers on trucks, boats and foot with hand-held 
sprayers pumped out clouds of lethal toxin, killing all flora in their path 
and creating criss-crossed patterns of thousands of intersecting swathes 
that blackened province after province.

All told, 11.2 million gallons (42.4 million litres) of deadly poison 
decimated hardwood forests, dense mangrove jungles, and vast expanses of 
cropland throughout the southern half of Vietnam.

Water supplies, the air, the soil, and crops were all contaminated with 
Agent Orange. It affected everyone in the areas surrounding the spraying. 
This meant Vietnamese combatants and non-combatants, as well as US (and 
Australian) soldiers were contaminated.

Agent Orange was a potent brew of two powerful chemicals. One chemical 
contained an unavoidable by product called 2,3,7,TCDD, an especially 
dangerous form of dioxin. Dioxin, a carcinogenic, has been called the most 
toxic molecule ever synthesised by humans.

There is no question that the US military had ample warning regarding the 
potential danger Agent Orange posed to human life and the environment.

Seventeen Nobel laureate scientists, the Federation of American Scientists, 
and the American Association for the Advancement of Science all called for 
a halt to the murderous campaign. They branded it "barbarous" and a 
dangerous precedent for chemical and biological warfare.

But the Pentagon had already tested Agent Orange's effectiveness as a 
herbicide in the Florida Everglades and Puerto Rico. The brass ignored the 
concerns and the possible danger. The generals considered the risk of 
poisoning "their own" soldiers and an entire country unimportant if this 
weapon could help achieve their ultimate objective  complete subjugation 
of Vietnam to US corporate interests.

The chief architect of "Operation Ranch Hand", Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, even 
indicated in his memoirs that "knowing what I know now, I still would have 
ordered the defoliation to achieve the objectives it did."

Zumwalt died on January 2 from cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange. 
His son, Elmo Zumwalt Jr., an officer who was also in Vietnam, died from 
cancer in 1988  also caused by exposure to Agent Orange. And Zumwalt 
Jr.'s son was born with a severe disability  because of his father's 
exposure to Agent Orange.

Why they sprayed

What "objectives" did the spraying of a deadly herbicide over half of a 
country achieve? It certainly didn't prevent the Vietnamese from kicking 
the US military out of their country. Nor were US soldiers' lives saved.

Over 270,000 US veterans and their families, have suffered disease, 
disability, and death because of the Pentagons' deliberate use of this 
lethal toxin.

What the spraying  coupled with more than a decade of Pentagon bombings 
and warfare  did accomplish was widespread devastation of Vietnam's 
environment.

Millions of gallons of toxic herbicide soaked the southern half of Vietnam 
during the 1960s. 

These poisons eventually killed or injured 400,000 people, and contributed 
to birth defects in 500,000 children. This legacy of destruction has placed 
an enormous burden on the heroic revolutionary spirit of the Vietnamese 
people.

The costs of environmental clean-up, research, and health care have meant 
hardship for a revolutionary Vietnam struggling to rebuild on socialist 
foundations.

Yet despite these difficulties  and in spite of the US Government's 
continued hostility, attempts at subversion and refusal to make reparations 
for the damage it caused  the Vietnamese people continue to persevere.

Even the US veterans the Pentagon poisoned with Agent Orange in Vietnam 
were only able to wrench a modicum of compensation from the US Government 
for the health problem they and their families suffered. And that was only 
after a long, hard and bitter battle with the Pentagon establishment.

Only a similar struggle can force the militarists in the Pentagon to admit 
their culpability for the devastation wrecked on Vietnam. Such an admission 
would imply they should accept responsibility for all of the other 
destruction they have caused, and continue to cause, around the globe.

* * *
Workers' World (US)

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