This story from a local Chicago TV station does an excellent job of documenting the chemical weapons dropped on Vietnam by the United States in the 1960s, the effects they still have on Vietnam, and the Americans who handled these so called “defoliants”.
During the eight years of the Vietnam War that the U.S. Military dusted the Vietnamese landscape with Agent Orange, it was only intended to kill vegetation. It was a combination of two herbicides 2,4D and 2,4,5T mixed together into the most potent plant killer ever made. It was spread over 3 1/2 million acres of forests and crops to kill the trees and vegetation so the United States troops could see the enemy. The Armed Forces were told it was harmless. But in March 1978, Bill Kurtis broke the story on CBS 2 that American veterans of Vietnam who had been exposed to Agent Orange were complaining of illnesses, birth defects among their children, skin rashes, cancer, nervous problems and respiratory problems.
People tend to blame dioxins for all the health effects. But 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, constituents of Agent Orange, are no spring chickens. Exposure during spraying, especially of the grossly excessive amounts that rained down upon Vietnam, can cause various health effects as well, not to mention long-term devastation of entire ecosystems.
Side note: New Zealand, in 2004, apologized to New Zealand’s “veterans” for their exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam war. Not a word to the Vietnamese, of course.
Side note 2: A US Federal court, in 2005, dismissed the first claims brought by Vietnamese plaintiffs against Dow Chemicals and Monsanto, here was the government’s reasoning:
In a brief filed in January, it said opening the courts to cases brought by former enemies would be a dangerous threat to presidential powers to wage war.
Translation: We reserve the right to drop chemical weapons on our “enemies”, and doing anything to abrogate this right is “dangerous”.
Image courtesy of Reuters shows a Vietnamese child, one of many with birth defects associated with Agent Orange exposure.