Who Are We ???  Why This ???


Agent Orange in Vietnam

By Drew Brown

Sept. 22, 2014

DA NANG, Vietnam – Before coming to Vietnam, I spent several years covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for Knight Ridder Newspapers (now McClatchy Newspapers) and Stars and Stripes, the newspaper for U.S. troops overseas.

As a former war journalist, I’m also interested in what happens in the aftermath of war, particularly the lasting legacies of conflict. When I came to Vietnam, I wanted to do a story about the effects of Agent Orange and other herbicides used by the U.S. military during the war. I also wanted to find out what steps the U.S. government was taking to address the problem, and what help, if any, my government was giving to help the country’s victims.

These are the highlights of what I found during my reporting:

From 1961 to 1971, under a program known as Operation Ranch Hand, the U.S. Air Force sprayed nearly 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides over southern Vietnam and along the borders of Laos and Cambodia.  

These herbicides were used to defoliate the jungle that North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers used for cover and to destroy food crops intended for them. A third objective, which was acknowledged in a 1971 Air Force study on the program’s effectiveness, but not declassified until 2006, was to force civilians into areas controlled by the Saigon government. Agent Orange was the most prevalent of six herbicides used during the war. The others were Agents Pink, Green, Purple, White and Blue. Because of its heavy use, Agent Orange has come to signify all herbicides used during the Ranch Hand program.

Although not intended as weapons, the herbicides were laced with dioxin, a deadly byproduct of the manufacturing process that has been linked to cancer, birth defects and a string of other severe illnesses.

The companies that made Agent Orange, along with military scientists, had known for years about the dangers of dioxin, but they did very little to mitigate its production during the manufacturing process. The high military demand meant that the herbicides had to be made quickly and cheaply. The faster the production process, the more dioxin resulted in the mix. However, as one former Air Force scientist, who went on the record in the 1980s, put it, “because the material was to be used on the ‘enemy,’ none of us were overly concerned.”

 

Roughly 24 percent of what was then South Vietnam was sprayed at least once, and one-third of targeted areas were sprayed at least twice. Approximately 11 percent of these areas were sprayed more than 10 times. According to a 2003 study published in the science journal “Nature,” at least 3,181 villages and hamlets containing anywhere from 2.1 to 4.8 million people — figures based on village census data compiled by South Vietnamese district officials and U.S. advisors — were sprayed directly during the Ranch Hand missions. Another 1,430 villages were also sprayed, but population data for these were not available, the team of Columbia University researchers found.

These are the highlights of what I found during my reporting:

From 1961 to 1971, under a program known as Operation Ranch Hand, the U.S. Air Force sprayed nearly 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides over southern Vietnam and along the borders of Laos and Cambodia.  

These herbicides were used to defoliate the jungle that North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers used for cover and to destroy food crops intended for them. A third objective, which was acknowledged in a 1971 Air Force study on the program’s effectiveness, but not declassified until 2006, was to force civilians into areas controlled by the Saigon government. Agent Orange was the most prevalent of six herbicides used during the war. The others were Agents Pink, Green, Purple, White and Blue. Because of its heavy use, Agent Orange has come to signify all herbicides used during the Ranch Hand program.

Although not intended as weapons, the herbicides were laced with dioxin, a deadly byproduct of the manufacturing process that has been linked to cancer, birth defects and a string of other severe illnesses.

The companies that made Agent Orange, along with military scientists, had known for years about the dangers of dioxin, but they did very little to mitigate its production during the manufacturing process. The high military demand meant that the herbicides had to be made quickly and cheaply. The faster the production process, the more dioxin resulted in the mix. However, as one former Air Force scientist, who went on the record in the 1980s, put it, “because the material was to be used on the ‘enemy,’ none of us were overly concerned.”

Roughly 24 percent of what was then South Vietnam was sprayed at least once, and one-third of targeted areas were sprayed at least twice. Approximately 11 percent of these areas were sprayed more than 10 times. According to a 2003 study published in the science journal “Nature,” at least 3,181 villages and hamlets containing anywhere from 2.1 to 4.8 million people — figures based on village census data compiled by South Vietnamese district officials and U.S. advisors — were sprayed directly during the Ranch Hand missions. Another 1,430 villages were also sprayed, but population data for these were not available, the team of Columbia University researchers found…

 

By Larry Vetter

I lived in Da Nang, Viet Nam from 2012 to 2016.  I spent two and one-half years in the war as a Marine officer – as an Engineering platoon leader,  a Recon patrol leader, and Infantry company commander.  I have written two books about the war and Viet Nam published by a division of Random House.  While there in 2015, the 40th anniversary of “liberation” and the 50th anniversary of the Marines landing at Red Beach in Da Nang, there were a number of news teams and journalists who came by, and I gave them guided tours and introduced them to other old Vets living in the area.   One such journalist was Mike Cerre.  After I returned to the United States in 2016, he reached out to me about making this PBS NewsHour segment regarding the work I was doing for the Vietnamese and that being done by another American I have never met, but someday I hope I will.  I agreed, and I hope that this will help Americans better understand and appreciate Viet Nam and our involvement. 

The plight of about 3,000,000 Vietnamese today, and how many who have died I don’t know, is the result of what might be described as chemical warfare waged with great stupidity on that country by the United States.  We owe them, and it is particularly interesting to note how, in spite of 50-years of war against them, that the majority in that country feel a genuine interest in and respect for Americans.  But many I have spoken with have emphasized the need for help in their fight against Agent Orange diseases.  It is in my prayers that the US Government will find a way to help directly the individuals effected in Viet Nam.  We do owe it to them.  It was our doing.