Orange Haze: Decade of Defoliation

Orange Haze: Decade of Defoliation

Sean Foley

All Along the Watchtower…

Its 1963. Imagine going off to fight a war in a foreign land, and being exposed to harmful chemicals intentionally dispersed by the invading country. American soldiers came home from the war, wanting to resume a ‘normal’ life. Many soldiers wanted to start a family.  Consequently after the war, many infants were born with serious birth defects. The US National Academy of Sciences released data that showed a direct correlation between Agent Orange and birth defects. Sprayed extensively by the US military in Vietnam, Agent Orange contained a dioxin contaminant later found to be toxic to humans. In 1996, the US National Academy of Sciences reported that there was evidence that suggested dioxin and Agent Orange exposure caused spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal cord develops improperly. The US Department of Veterans Affairs’ subsequent provision of disability compensation for spina bifida-affected children marked the US government’s first official acknowledgement of a link between Agent Orange and birth defects. More recently by 2017, spina bifida and related neural tube defects were the only birth defects associated with Agent Orange.[1] Many might ask how this could happen to seemingly two healthy parents. When soldiers returned from Vietnam they were not the same people and wondered if those harmful chemicals had something to do with the health problems of their children.

The Vietnam War was a controversial period that consumed American society during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It has been noted that, “The Vietnam War wasn’t some historical undercard match, it was actually a heavyweight championship fight; the United States just didn’t realize it at the time.”[2] For centuries the Vietnamese had fought to defend their homeland from foreign invaders. Whether it was the Mongol invaders led by Kublai Khan in the 13th century, Imperial Japanese during WWII, the French colonizers post-WWII, or the US which realized that if the French would no longer be able to maintain control, or impose its hegemony on the revolutionary Ho Chi Minh and the uprising Vietnamese they would soon fall to Communist control. After years of defending from invasions Vietnamese grew tired of constant invasion and strove for independence, and so many nationalistic countrymen and women got involved whether they wanted to or not. In 1954 Vietnamese fought and won their independence against the French at Dien Bien Phu, then proceeded to invade Laos and South Vietnam. However, these victories would set off an unprovoked chain reaction from unlikely enemies. From the beginning of the Vietnam War, the U.S. had exacerbated tensions in Indochina. The United States falsely adhered to the paradox of “nation-building” (the creation or development of a nation, especially one that has recently become independent)[3] and the “domino theory” (the theory that a political event in one country will cause similar events in neighboring countries, like a falling domino causing an entire row of upended dominoes to fall.)[4]. Operation Ranch Hand, a defoliation mission implemented under the Kennedy administration, consisted of planes being sent on said missions throughout Southeast Asia. The Air Force set out to destroy any foliage cover for the Viet Cong or National Liberation Front (NLF). By doing so, they sprayed the ‘rainbow herbicides’ labeled as such because of the colorful barrels in which they were shipped and stored. Agent Orange, or 2,4,5-T otherwise known as dioxin was the most harmful herbicide dispersed which led to untold detrimental health effects upon the environment as well as to humans. This paper will address and evaluate the use of Agent Orange and its effects specifically asking, how did the use of dioxin in Agent Orange affect U.S. veterans and their families, as well as those living in Vietnam? This is important because of the countless sacrifices and tragedies that occurred. This story is worth being told because it is not a mainstream narrative. Future generations need to understand what went on during the darker periods of US history. Controversial elements came about as a result of this war such as a severely damaged economy and extremely low morale of the US. Agent Orange was an unconventional toxic chemical that the U.S. used for nearly a decade during the Vietnam War throughout Indochina, and made it harder for US veterans to assimilate back into civilian life.

The Vietnam Veterans

The veterans that served in the Vietnam War are often portrayed by the American public as rag-tag individuals who fit the ‘Rambo’ trope during the war effort. However, through research and extensive interest, reconsideration of the typical Vietnam veteran has sparked an enlightening reality check. Most American soldiers who returned home from WWII were acknowledged as war heroes in the US. The homecoming was very different for most Vietnam veterans. They came back to find the US torn apart by debate over the Vietnam war. There were no victory parades or welcome-home rallies. Most Vietnam veterans returned to a society that did not seem to care about them, or that seemed to view them with distrust and anger.[5]

During the course of this process, I interviewed a Vietnam veteran Sgt. Jim McGinnis. He indicated to me that the average age of the Vietnam enlisted soldier was nineteen years old. Socioeconomically, most came from lower to middle class working families. The majority of this cohort of soldiers often saw action. There were no differences among racial or ethnic groups that were found for either service in the Vietnam theater or exposure to combat. However, those who served in Vietnam with less than a high school education at the time of entry into military service were three times as likely to see heavy combat as those with college educations. And those who were less than twenty years of age at the time they went to Vietnam were twice as likely to be exposed to heavy combat as compared to those aged thirty-five years or older.[6]

Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian Americans were all races that were represented within the U.S. Armed Forces. An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 women served in Vietnam. [7] “Approximately 80 to 85 percent of male Vietnam veterans were white, 10 to 12 percent black, and the remaining Hispanic or other. Of those surveys that provided comparison groups, there were no differences in the racial composition of Vietnam era veterans compared to those who did not serve in Vietnam during the Vietnam era.”[8] Those lucky enough to return home were not given the warm hero’s welcome they had hoped. Rising inflation from war costs caused a whole plethora of domestic issues. This divided the nation with public distrust towards the government especially in light of the 1971 exposure of the declassified Pentagon papers from New York Times journalist Daniel Ellsberg, a whistleblower. These harsh realities were a wake-up call for many Vietnam veterans and American citizens who had been caught up in the theater of war, or were exposed to the bitter truth.

The soldiers were stuck between anti-communist sentiment and toxic nationalism in the highest regard. Many soldiers were misguided being bamboozled with propaganda. This false sense of security believing that they were fighting a winnable war, and the illusion of control echoed throughout the highest command. Barry Weisberg earned a Juris Doctorate and a Ph.D. He passed away in August, and was known as an activist, teacher, and scholar. Weisberg states, “This racism- anti-Black, anti-Asiatic, anti-Mexican- is a basic American attitude with deep historical roots and which existed, latently and overtly, well before the Vietnamese conflict.”  Being that the United States government refused to ratify the Genocide Convention is proof of this notion. American soldiers use torture on the Vietnamese. One such torture was the “field telephone treatment”[9], they shoot unarmed women for nothing more than target practice, they kick wounded Vietnamese in the genitals, they cut ears off dead men to take home for trophies. “In the confused minds of the American soldiers, “Viet Cong” and “Vietnamese” tend increasingly to blend into one another. They often say to themselves, “The only good Vietnamese is a dead Vietnamese,” or what amounts to the same thing, “A dead Vietnamese is a Viet Cong.”[10]. Clearly, there was racism in the ranks of the soldiers. This caused indifference to who or what was the enemy in Vietnam. This deeply rooted racism stood at the foothills of most American conflicts. Agent Orange is a prime example of the complete disregard for human life and the ecosystem, and the soldiers fighting this unpopular war will only feel that hate and distrust when they come back home as enemies rather than heroes.

More than Scars & Trauma

The veterans brought home more than just physical scars and psychological trauma. Many male soldiers discuss the hardships especially those affected by Agent Orange and their faulty reproductive capabilities. Reagan states, “When male veterans took biological responsibility for their children’s birth defects, they shifted the blame that mothers had traditionally endured, first to themselves and then to the US government and chemical corporations. For men to claim publicly their biological responsibility for birth defects and for pregnancy loss, and to express guilt was unprecedented.” Historically, children born with birth defects had long been regarded as the fault of the mothers who gave birth to them. However, the roles were reversed after the war. “Male veterans, American and Vietnamese alike, insisted that they, as fathers, were responsible for the malformation of their children’s bodies. Male biological responsibility could be traced back to the herbicides that had been sprayed upon them as soldiers; and that they had splashed through, breathed, eaten and drunk from creeks and rivers. In claiming reproductive responsibility, they broke gender norms that blamed women and required men to hide their own grief about both war and children.”[11] This was a big step for breaking traditional gender norms often thought of as the stereotypical scapegoats that women had endured for years prior. After the war male’s assumed responsibility for exposure to Agent Orange and resulting birth defects.

 The assimilation back into civilian life became more difficult for the American veterans due to the painful effects of the Agent Orange symptoms. “The extent to which these herbicides affect their unintended target is unknown. But the indications are that virtually every aspect of the organic fabric is affected in some way.” Weisberg claimed that herbicides can affect people through eating contaminated foods, drinking poisoned water, breathing contaminated air or by direct skin contact. “The results have been described by a Vietnamese: Those who were in the sprayed area found it difficult to breathe, stay awake, got fevers and became thirsty. These symptoms occurred mostly in older people and pregnant women. Many vomited and had colic type pains. Others had muscle paralysis and became numb around the hands and feet.” There were other symptoms such as the loss of hair, pains in the heart area, pains in the back, and bleeding in the esophagus reported by Vietnamese. “Those who were directly exposed to the poisonous chemicals had red rashes and blistering skin. Women’s menstrual cycles have been effected and many cases of miscarriage have been reported.”[12] These described side effects were troubling and a cause for concern in various local Vietnamese communities.

Many Vietnam veterans were exposed to Agent Orange. There was consensus from the American public that these veterans had been unfairly treated and neglected. Agent Orange contained a group of chemically-related compounds that are persistent environmental pollutants made up of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and chlorine atoms that poisoned US troops as well as Vietnamese people and the land. “The attention brought some scrutiny to such crucial issues as the massive use by U.S. forces of Agent Orange, a dioxin with extraordinary levels of toxicity that poisoned thousands of American veterans along with the land and people of Vietnam. There was also some recognition of the inadequacy of medical, psychological, and educational benefits for veterans. Then, too, as posttraumatic stress disorder entered the nation’s vocabulary, people began to associate it with a list of very real and disturbing symptoms- depression, flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, extreme mood swings, anger, paranoia, emotional numbing, and so on.” [13] Soldiers with PTSD brought attention to the effects of Agent Orange use during the war.

Personal narratives demonstrate the impact of Agent Orange and Dr. Le Cao Dai’s perspective is illuminating. Dr. Dai was a Vietnamese doctor who conducted research on the medical effects of exposure to Agent Orange in the Vietnamese population. He worked at the Red Cross office in Hanoi where he ran the Agent Orange Victims Fund. Appy fully captures firsthand accounts of the war in Vietnam from multiple perspectives and angles, giving a detailed overall chronicling of the war. Dr. Dai’s intentions were to find out more of the effects of the herbicide, however it was extremely expensive to actually test for dioxin levels in patients. Dr. Dai died in 2002, a year before Appy published his book. Another primary source in Patriots reveals the experience of Jayne Stancavage, the daughter of a U.S. 48 year old sailor in the Navy who died in Vietnam. One of the doctors “off the record” explained that his death had been partly due to exposure to Agent Orange. The family took part in the class-action suit against Dow Chemical and other manufacturers of Agent Orange. Jayne describes her childhood with her father being mostly absent, or haunted from the atrocities experienced in war. “He tried to stay, but he would just hide on the back porch because he was afraid that they were going to get him. He never explained who “they” were. He said once, “the little people.” I’d never seen him afraid of anything before. He was just a shadow of himself. It was as though someone else had replaced my dad, as though a cog wasn’t catching right in a chain, just slipping and slipping.” The mental strain manifested into physical problems. He had become terminally ill with cancer. While in the veterans’ hospital he was being treated by a Vietnamese-American doctor which terrified him. “He tried to get out of the bed and hide. I just want to know what happened, what really happened, and feel like it isn’t going to happen again so blindly. The government figures their responsibility ends when they hand you the folded-up flag.”[14] Narratives such as these delve into the hardships that made it almost impossible to assimilate into civilian life.

The strategic hamlets many Vietnamese were subjected to were less than ideal and segregated families as well as tore their culture to shreds. “We know about these camps from numerous witnesses. They are fenced in by barbed wire. Even the most elementary needs are denied: there is malnutrition and a total lack of hygiene. The prisoners are heaped together in small tents or sheds. The social structure is destroyed. Husbands are separated from their wives, mothers from their children; family life, so important to the Vietnamese, no longer exists.” As a result of families being torn apart, the birth rate drops; any likelihood of religious or cultural life is subdued. People were denied the opportunity to work to remain independent. “These unfortunate people are not even slaves; they are reduced to a living heap of vegetable existence. When, sometimes, a fragmented family group is freed- children with an elder sister or a young mother- it goes to swell the ranks of the subproletariat in the big cities; reaching the last stage of her degradation in prostituting herself to the GIs.”[15] Most Vietnamese were backed into a corner with very little option to make a living when their homes were destroyed or they were forced into the strategic hamlets.

Agent Orange: Herbicidal Warfare

The United States government authorized the use of Agent Orange in 1961. The president at the time was John F. Kennedy, and he understood what the soldiers were facing in terms of guerilla warfare. Initially, he limited the troops to Special Forces trained in guerilla warfare. However, those troops were still overwhelmed and unprepared to deal with the Vietnamese. The President approved the National Security Action Memorandum No. 115, Defoliant Operations in Vietnam in which states, “The President has approved the recommendation of the Secretary of State and the Deputy Secretary of Defense to participate in a selective and carefully controlled joint program of defoliant operations in Vietnam starting with the clearance of key routes and proceeding thereafter to food denial only if the most careful basis of resettlement and alternative food supply has been created.”[16] Historians often portray Kennedy and his cabinet as rational and level headed administrators, but the administration promoted the adoption of a weapon that ultimately proved militarily ineffective and politically disastrous. Agent Orange was the most commonly used herbicide sprayed under Operation Ranch Hand by the US military. “Operation Ranch Hand had two primary objectives: defoliation of trees and plants to improve visibility for military operations, and destruction of essential enemy food supplies.” It is important to understand that Agent Orange was used to poison the Vietnamese food supply. This action not only impacted the enemy but the civilian population as well. “Targets for defoliation by Ranch Hand included base camps and fire support bases (specifically constructed sites for storage of artillery in support of combat operations), lines of communication, enemy infiltration routes, and enemy base camps. Clearance of these areas improved aerial observation, opened roads to free travel, and hindered enemy ambush.”[17] The war was fought in dense jungles that allowed the VC to ambush and then hide. The thick vegetation enabled the VC to hide in underground tunnels so that they could attack at will. Unfortunately many veterans were exposed to the carcinogenic effects of Agent Orange, and the harmful effects of Agent Orange made it difficult for veterans to revert back to civilian life.

For nearly a decade the US military began initializing defoliation spraying missions to use their superior technology to combat the dense jungles of Southeast Asia. “Twelve million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed on Vietnam; five million acres of forest killed. At the time, Vietnamese doctors and newspapers reported an unusual number of malformed stillborn babies, but the US government dismissed these reports as communist propaganda and reiterated that the herbicides were harmless.”. Veterans worldwide soon suspected that Agent Orange caused not only chloracne – the rashes and open sores – but also their cancers, respiratory diseases, early deaths and painful reproductive experiences. [18]

There were dichotomous viewpoints that contradicted much of the US policymakers decisions. “The first two represent a failure by war planners to grapple with the political and military realities of their counterinsurgency efforts in Vietnam. The last, however, is more complicated. In hindsight, it seems absurd to believe that policymakers could separate the “physical person” of the enemy or, for that matter, of civilians from the physical environment in which they lived. How could the sprays being used to defoliate forests and destroy rice crops and fruit trees be considered any more separable than civilians and combatants in a guerilla war?”[19] Vietnamese livelihood largely depended on agriculture and farming. To separate and destroy civilians’ livelihood and land genuinely believing that Operation Ranch Hand will win over the ‘hearts and minds’ of Vietnamese seemed irrational and counterproductive.

Military advisers closely worked with top scientists to develop ground clearing formulas. As historian David Zierler identifies, this latter issue marked a paradigm shift about the use of chemicals in a military context: “Whereas early research in plant growth manipulation required a cognitive leap to shift the field from growth promotion to weed killing, the idea that herbicides could become a military weapon necessitated a similar reorientation of the social function of plant physiology in a time of total war. Just as the idea to favor herbicides over growth promoters required new ways to unlock the potential of biochemistry, so did the notion of herbicidal warfare require innovative thinking about national security and the environmental dimensions of battle.” There was no distinction between military and civilian herbicides. Chemical companies worked closely with scientists and the military. This collaboration of research allowed for the development, and testing of a variety of chemicals that had potential military uses.[20] These innovative approaches inspired many in Washington to reconsider traditional viewpoints of warfare. The mindset of these policymakers and military officials forced many to reassess the particular parameters of warfare. The use of herbicides was a rather new biological aspect of unorthodox warfare.

After the US realized that these chemicals had harmful effects on the environment and humans those in Washington needed to cover their tracks. “In October 1969, the Department of Defense restricted the use of Agent Orange to areas remote from populations. This action was prompted by a National Institutes of Health report that 2,4,5-T could cause malformations and stillbirths in mice.” By the end of the 1960’s the US government became aware of the harmful effects of dioxin. The US accumulated scientific data proving Agent Orange caused birth defects in newborns of Vietnam War veterans. “In December 1969, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) declared that recent research showing that 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T could cause birth deformities in experimental animals supported the conclusion that 2,4,5-T posed a probable health threat to humans.”[21] It was not until the early 1970’s that the US banned the use of herbicides. At this point, the damage was far reaching and impacting a generation on those who unknowingly participated in the Vietnam theater. “According to DOD records, on February 12, 1971, MACV further announced that herbicides would no longer be used for crop destruction in Vietnam, and the last fixed-wing herbicide-dispensing aircraft was flown. […] The last U.S.-authorized helicopter herbicide operation was flown on October 31, 1971. (NAS, 1974).”[22]

Near the end of the war the US had a huge stockpile of rainbow herbicides that needed to be disposed of. “In September 1971, the Department of Defense directed that all surplus Agent Orange in South Vietnam be removed and that the entire 2.2 million gallons be disposed of by an environmentally acceptable method. The 1.37 million gallons in South Vietnam was moved to Johnston Island, in the Pacific Ocean, for storage.” The US Air Force researched how to properly dispose of the stockpile of Agent Orange. Some of the ideas for this disposal included incineration and burial. [23]

Agent Orange was also dispersed using backpacks and sprayers on a small-scale. In these areas no records were maintained by the military on its use. “According to official documents, the “small-scale use of herbicides, for example around friendly base perimeters, were at the discretion of area commanders. Such uses seemed so obvious and so uncontroversial at the time that little thought was given to any detailed or permanent record of the uses or results” (U.S. Army, 1972).” The Department of Defense used the same precautions that were used at the domestic level prior to the war. However, the DOD considered troop exposure to Agent Orange to be a low health hazard. [24] Agent Orange may have been discontinued before the war ended, however its lingering effects on Southeast Asia and veterans still remain.

Class Action Case: The Fight for Accountability

The veterans and their affected families filed a class action lawsuit against Dow, Monsanto and other chemical companies that produced the defoliant and sold it to the government. The families became involved whether they wanted to or not as many children of veterans were born with birth defects or underlying medical conditions due to their parent’s tainted reproductive capabilities. “Their children, especially those who used wheelchairs or had ‘skeletal deformities’, had political value. If they gained attention and provoked pity, they might win the needed action. When the class-action lawsuit against Dow, Monsanto and the other chemical companies that produced Agent Orange for the US military began in 1979, one newspaper reported that, ‘the spectators’ gallery of the nondescript federal courtroom was jammed yesterday with playfully squirming children – one with a cleft lip, another with a misshapen hip and another with a congenital heart defect’.” Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a non-profit organization assembled in Washington, DC in 1982, several hundred people rallied outside the White House to hear the speeches of mothers and wives of Agent Orange victims. “They then marched in a silent picket line and left photographs of American and Vietnamese children affected by Agent Orange for President Ronald Reagan. They wanted ‘to remind him not only of what has happened in the past but what his policies can mean for the future.’” [25] The children affected by Agent Orange due to their parent’s service could win hearts and minds by pity from politicians and the media as well as the American public five years after the war ended. This resulted in a plethora of unwanted flashbacks filled with grief and regret. The children affected were a constant reminder of the impacts of war which made it harder to assimilate back into civilian lives.

There was a lack of data showing that these chemical companies were responsible for the birth defects related to Agent Orange. “George Wald has suggested in this connection that companies such as Dow Chemical are in some sense as responsible for War Crimes as is the Military.” [26] The accountability from chemical companies had been nonexistent until the veterans and their families started putting serious pressure on them. The veterans and the chemical companies ended up settling out of court on a $180 million settlement fund established for those affected by the herbicides. The Vietnamese would never see a penny of that settlement compensation. Years later, the Vietnamese worked with the US and several other countries to fund the clean up of hotspots where dioxin levels were highly concentrated such as Da Nang airport.

The Agent Orange Working Group was established in the 1980s by a group of international non-governmental organizations to support and research victims and veterans affected by the herbicide. In a memorandum to Secretary of Defense, Health and Human Services, Director of Management and Budget, as well as the administrator of Veterans Affairs stating, “Since 1981, the Agent Orange Working Group of the Cabinet Council on Human Resources has served to coordinate federal government activities concerning Agent Orange, a herbicide used in Southeast Asia. This group has now presented a status report to the Domestic Policy Council, describing some 155 studies which have been done, at a cost of $150 million, and a dozen other studies to be completed in the 1988-1989 period. It is important that the Administration continue the commitment to a full investigation of the effects of Agent Orange.” [27] Veteran activists and the Agent Orange Working Group are prime examples of community members coming together to advocate for those who have sacrificed their lives and well-being for their country. This is a result of these groups coming together to advocate and aiming to resolve the legacy of Agent Orange and provide humanitarian assistance to Vietnamese war victims.

Ecocide in Indochina: Only we can Prevent Forests

The Ecocide in Indochina was an overshadowed controversy of outrage over the My Lai Massacre, the anti-war protests at home, and the war itself. Defoliation was a newly adopted method of warfare by the U.S. deemed effective for deforestation of the thick jungles of Southeast Asia, however Weisberg indicated that the defoliation spraying missions was going on before the US officially enacted the program.

Birth defects were beginning to correlate to the large amounts of herbicides being dropped in Southeast Asia. “Many international agreements seem applicable to Americans’ involvement in Indochina. But the US still refrains from ratifying most of them, such as the 1925 Geneva Protocol against “asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases…” To date, some 84 nations have ratified that Protocol. And although the World Health Organization has condemned the use of herbicides and tear gas in warfare, as well as suggesting that 2,4,5-T was a “possible cause of birth defects in children,” the United States continues to employ 2,4,5-T in Vietnam in complete disdain for possible pathological consequences, even when officially banned from use in Vietnam by Secretary of Defense David Packard on April 15, 1970: … in a quarter of a century since the Department of Defense first developed the biological warfare uses of this material (2,4,5-T) it has not completed a single series of formal teratological tests on pregnant animals to determine whether it has an effect on their unborn offspring.” [28] These untested and unregulated chemicals were an indication that the military was not using traditional modes of warfare. By not conforming to global norms, the US was able to get away with a lot of heinous acts that were often considered chemical warfare also known as ecocide. Ecocide, a term that Weisberg coined when discussing herbicides effects on the ecosystem. The government’s lack of transparency was evident throughout the Vietnam conflict. As a result, it made it harder for soldiers to buy into the system in which they served.

The ecological ramifications were not unforeseen during the decade of defoliants sprayed. The application of herbicides and other chemicals in Southeast Asia caused permanent environmental damage. This destruction also triggered changes in ecology that, many scientists believe, may irreparably reduce the once-fertile fields in Vietnam to dust bowls. “Lateralization, a process which occurs in tropical regions when the organic material and chemicals that normally enrich the soil are washed away because of lack of protective growth, thus resulting in a reddish soil which hardens irreversibility into a brick-like consistency upon exposure to sunlight, has begun in some areas in Vietnam.” [29] This depletion of soil made it much harder for Vietnamese to cultivate the land, and return to an agrarian society.

War has featured growth in scope and scale as well as made communication more efficient. As early as WWI, war could no longer be contained to one area. It had to spread globally. Weisberg stated, “In 1967, this process was intensified. The ties of the “One World,” on which the US wants to impose its hegemony, have grown tighter and tighter. For this reason, as the American government very well knows, the current genocide is conceived as an answer to people’s war and perpetrated in Vietnam not against the Vietnamese alone, but against humanity.” [30] The war displaced an entire ethnic group as a result making it nearly impossible to go back home and restart their lives.

Many years have passed since the Vietnam War ended. However, the residual effects of Agent Orange remain. “There is some evidence that even if the spraying were to be stopped now, the process of lateralization would likely continue for some time in the future. Fred H. Tschirley, assistant chief of the Crops Protection Research Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and former adviser to the U.S. The Department of State in an article entitled “Defoliation in Vietnam” in the February 21 issue of Science, wrote: Strips of mangroves on both sides of the Ong Doc River, sprayed with Orange in 1962, were of particular interest. The treated strips were still plainly visible. Thus, one must assume that the trees were not simply defoliated, but were killed… 20 years may be a reasonable estimate of the time needed for this forest to return to its original condition.” [31] Today there is not a lot of evidence to support that the Ong Doc river has recovered almost 60 years later. 

Conclusion: Uncertain Horizons…

In conclusion, this tumultuous period of US history is a reminder of what happens when the government puts policies over people. Not thought out policies and harmful effects from Agent Orange left a fragmented history and relationship with the US and its citizens as well as Vietnamese. American and Vietnamese soldiers had a much harder time reintegrating within their respective societies and cultures. This was partially due to Agent Orange’s carcinogenic effects. Some of these effects left the soldiers on both sides with health issues that manifested itself and their children. Agent Orange remained as a reflection of the war crimes committed in Southeast Asia as a painful reminder of what the US and its allies did to a developing region of the world. Through dropping millions of dioxin chemicals otherwise known as rainbow herbicides in the forests of Vietnam, it impacted untold numbers of Vietnamese and U.S. Vietnam War veterans along with some of their children being born with birth defects or disabilities.

Ultimately the uses made by the U.S. were intended to destroy the thick vegetation of the jungle so the North Vietnamese and allied forces would not be able to use it any longer for cover and guerilla warfare tactics as well as to cut off their food supply. However, this not only diminished the forest, but any animals that came in contact were dead within days, and many of the Vietnamese who were exposed by it developed serious illnesses even years after the war, and some of their children inherited adverse health defects. However, not until decades after the war did the U.S. even acknowledge its actions and was held accountable for war crimes and ecocide in Southeast Asia resulting in several class-action court cases on the manufacturers of Agent Orange settlements and liability fees. For many Vietnamese and U.S. veterans the damage is already done, and no amount of money or chance of redemption will ever reconcile or redeem the war crimes and genocide committed.


Primary Sources:

336th Aviation Company Sprays a Defoliation Agent on a Jungle in the Mekong Delta- 7/26/1969

Agent Orange Working Group Memorandum

Appy, Christian G. Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides. London, UK: Penguin Books, 2004. Pgs. 138-141 & 532-33

National Security Action Memorandum No. 115 Defoliant Operations in Vietnam- 11/30/1961

Weisberg, Barry. Ecocide in Indochina; the Ecology of War. San Francisco, CA: Canfield Press, 1970.

Secondary Sources:

Reagan, Leslie J. “‘My Daughter Was Genetically Drafted with Me’: US-Vietnam War Veterans, Disabilities and Gender.” Gender & History 28, no. 3 (November 2016): 833–53. doi:10.1111/1468-0424.12252/ 

Frey, R. Scott. “Agent Orange and America at War in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.” Human Ecology Review 20, no. 1 (2013): 1–10.

Martini, Edwin A. Agent Orange : History, Science, and the Politics of Uncertainty. Culture, Politics, and the Cold War. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012.

Gammeltoft, Tine M. “Potentiality and Human Temporality: Haunting Futures in Vietnamese Pregnancy Care.” Current Anthropology 54, no. S7 (2013): S159–71.

Appy, Christian G. Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam. United States, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. London, UK: 4th Estate, 2019.

Chou, Cecilia. “The Embryo Project Encyclopedia.” Agent Orange as a Cause of Spina Bifida | The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, March 9, 2017.

Home : Oxford English Dictionary. Accessed November 15, 2021.

Stilwell, Blake. “5 More of the Most Unconquerable Countries in the World.” We Are The Mighty. We Are The Mighty, May 8, 2021.

Bookshelf Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides, “History of the Controversy over the Use of Herbicides,” Veterans and Agent Orange: Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam. (U.S. National Library of Medicine, January 1, 1994),

“Agent Orange/Dioxin History,” The Aspen Institute, accessed December 7, 2021,

Stapleton, John., Stapleton, William John. Agent Orange: The Cleanup Begins. UK:, 2013.

[1] Chou, Cecilia. “The Embryo Project Encyclopedia.” Agent Orange as a Cause of Spina Bifida | The Embryo Project Encyclopedia, March 9, 2017.

[2] Blake Stilwell, “5 More of the Most Unconquerable Countries in the World,” We Are The Mighty (We Are The Mighty, May 8, 2021).

[3] Oxford English Dictionary

[4] Oxford English Dictionary

[5] Christian Appy. Working Class War. Pg. 15

[6] NCBI Bookshelf. Demographics. Pg. 6

[7] NCBI Bookshelf. Demographics. Pg. 6

[8] NCBI Bookshelf. Demographics. Pg. 5

[9] The portable generator for a field telephone is used as an instrument for interrogation by hitching the two lead wires to the victim’s genitals and turning the handle. (author’s note.)

[10] Barry Weisberg. Ecocide in Indochina. Pg. 43

[11] Leslie Reagan. ‘My Daughter was Genetically Drafted with me’: U.S. Vietnam War Veterans, Disabilities, and Gender. Pg. 834

[12] Barry Weisberg. Ecocide in Indochina. Pgs. 19-20

[13] Christian Appy. Working Class War. Pg. 320

[14] Christian Appy. Patriots The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides. Pgs. 532-533

[15] Barry Weisberg. Ecocide in Indochina. Pg. 41

[16] DocTeach. National Security Action Memorandum No. 115 Defoliant Operations in Vietnam. 11/30/1961

[17] NCBI Bookshelf. The U.S. Military and the Herbicide Program in Vietnam- Veterans and Agent Orange. Pg. 8

[18] Leslie Reagan. ‘My Daughter Was Genetically Drafted with Me’: US-Vietnam War Veterans, Disabilities and Gender. Pg. 833

[19] Edwin Martini. Agent Orange: History, Science, and the Politics of Uncertainty. Pg. 61

[20] Edwin Martini. Agent Orange: History, Science, and the Politics of Uncertainty. Pg. 22

[21] NCBI Bookshelf. The U.S. Military and the Herbicide Program in Vietnam- Veterans and Agent Orange. Pg. 13

[22] Ibid. Pg. 13

[23] Ibid. Pg. 13

[24] NCBI Bookshelf. The U.S. Military and the Herbicide Program in Vietnam- Veterans and Agent Orange. Pg. 15

[25] Leslie Reagan. ‘My Daughter was Genetically Drafted with me’: U.S. Vietnam War Veterans, Disabilities, and Gender. Pg. 841

[26] Barry Weisberg. Ecocide in Indochina. Pg. 6

[27] Edwin Meese. Agent Orange Working Group. Library of Congress

[28] Barry Weisberg. Ecocide in Indochina. Pgs. 2-3

[29] Ibid. Pg. 62

[30] Ibid. Pg. 45

[31] Barry Weisberg. Ecocide in Indochina. Pg. 62

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