August 10 marked the dark anniversary of the first US spraying of Vietnam with Agent Orange, containing the carcinogen dioxin, a defoliant that fell on millions of human beings, including American soldiers, causing a legacy of cancers and birth defects.
When I visited an Agent Orange conference in Hanoi in 2008, it was stunning to meet professionally attired, suitcase-carrying Vietnamese experts on Agent Orange who were themselves deformed by the effects of the carcinogen. With conspicuous dignity, they represented the cause of disability rights in their own country while demanding reparations for obvious crimes of war from the United States. For decades, the US has refused to recognize the health and environmental impacts of the spraying, while spending billions on health care and disability costs for former American soldiers harmed by the herbicide.
The US has since broke new ground by commencing a modest $43 million clean up of dioxin at one site near Da Nang, a fraction of the 5.5 million acres destroyed by the spraying during the war.
The Peace and Justice Resource Center asked Bob Mulholland, a Vietnam veteran who was immersed in Agent Orange during his service in Vietnam, to reflect on the continuing legacy. He wrote:
"For over a decade in the war in Southeast Asia, the US sprayed (over 6,500 plane sprayings) Agent Orange (manufactured by Monsanto & Dow Chemical) to destroy forests, rice fields and brush along canals and rivers.
"The troops were told it was safe for humans, even though it was extremely toxic dioxin that ended up in concentrations in water & soil, hundreds of times greater than the US stated was safe. Today tens of thousands of US Vietnam veterans suffer 15 or more diseases attributed to Agent Orange, leading many to an early death such as from cancer. The area around the former US Marine base of Da Nang has the highest concentration of Agent Orange, even today and thousands of Vietnamese are born with very serious birth defects, primarily in southern Vietnam, where the spraying took place.
“Americans troops in the 1950s were told to watch atomic bomb explosions in Nevada and they were told it would cause them no harm, other than cancer, etc leading to many illnesses. So then the new troops arrived in Vietnam and this time it was Agent Orange Spraying. The manufacturers in the 1990s without admitting what they knew or caused created a fund in a legal suit of tens of millions of dollars to help veterans of the war in SE Asia."
For more information, please see the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign (VAORRC).