Vietnam has a rich and evocative history with a civilization as sophisticated as its northerly neighbor, China, from where it drew many of its influences under a 1000 year occupation. The USA was simply the last of a long line of invaders. No matter what was required or how long it took, they too would be vanquished. If only the US had paid more attention to the history of this proud nation, the trauma and tragedy of a long war might have been avoided.
Early Vietnam. The sophisticated kingdom of Funan flourished from the 1st to the 6th centuries AD in the Mekong Delta region. It traded with China, India, Persia, and even the Mediterranean. From the mid 6th to the 9th century, the Funan empire was absorbed by the Khmer kingdom of Chenla. In central Vietnam, the Hindu kingdom of Champa emerged in the 2nd century and like Funan, adopted Sanskrit. They warred constantly with the Vietnamese to the north and the Kmers to the south.
Chinese Occupation. The Chinese conquered the Red River Delta in the 2nd century BC. The Vietnamese were subjected to tyranny, forced labor and insatiable demands for tribute but all rebellions were defeated. From the Chinese they learned advanced irrigation for rice cultivation, medicine, and Confucianism, Taoism and Mayayana Buddhism. In AD 938, Ngo Wuyen won independence from the Chinese signalling the start of a dynastic tradition. During subsequent centuries the Vietnamese repulsed foreign invaders, including the Mongols, and absorbed the kingdom of Champa in 1471 as they expanded south.
Contact with the West. In 1838 a joint military force from France and the Spanish colony of the Philippines, eventually siezed Saigon, and by 1883 the French imposed a Treaty of Protectorate on Vietnam. French rule was cruel and arbitrary. Ultimately, the most successful resistance came from the communists organized by Ho Chi Minh in 1925. Ho Chi Minh was born in 1890 to a fiercely nationalistic father, and traveled to North America, Africa and Europe, and odd-jobbed in England and France as a young man. In Paris, he mastered French, English, German and Mandarin, becoming a founding member of the French Communist Pary in 1920. He returned to Vietnam in 1941 and established the Viet Minh whose goal was independence from France. After Japan surrendered, his forces established control over much of Vietnam. He led Vietnam after independence in 1954 until his death in 1969. Father of the nation, his image dominates contemporary Vietnam. He is affectionately referred to as Uncle Ho. An excellent biography, Ho Chi Minh, was written by William J Duiker.
In WWII, the only group that significantly resisted the Japanese was the communist-dominated Viet Minh. When the war ended, Ho Chi Minh declared independence leading to full scale war. In May, 1954, the French were overran. The Geneva Accords of 1954 provided for the division of Vietnam at the Ben Hai River. When Ngo Donh Diem, the anti-communist Catholic leader of the southern zone, refused to hold the 1956 elections, that line became the border between North and South Vietnam.
The War in Vietnam. In 1960, the Hanoi government changed its policy of opposition to the Diem regime from one of political struggle to armed struggle. The National Liberation Front (NFL), a communist guerrilla group better known as the Viet Cong (VC), was founded to fight against Diem. An unpopular leader, Diem was assassinated in 1963 by his own troops. North Vietnam infiltrated South Vietnam in 1964, the situation for the south became deparate. In 1965 the USA committed its first combat troops, and was soon joined by South Korea, Australia, Thailand and New Zealand. In 1968, the VC launched a surprise attack, known as the Tet Offensive, marking a turning point in the war. With the US now losing ground, American citizens started demanding a negotiated end to the war. The Paris Agreements, signed in 1973, provided for a ceasefire, withdrawal of US forces and the release of American prisoners of war.
Reunification. South Vietnam surrended to North Vietnam on April 30, 1975 ending more than a century of colonial oppression. Internal repression resulted in hundreds of thousands of southerners fled Vietnam that continued for 15 years. Vietnam’s campaign of repression of ethnic Chinese, plus the invasion of Cambodia at the end of 1978, prompted China to attack Vietnam in 1979, but the war lasted only 17 days. Chinese-Vietnamese mistrust laster for over a decade.
Post-Cold War. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Vietnam and Western nations sought rapprochement bringing foreign investment and Association of Asian Nations (ASEAN) membership. The US established diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1995, and both Bill Clinton and George W Bush visited Hanoi. Vietnam joined the World Trade Organisation in 2007. Relations had also improved with China resulting in trade and tourism booming.
Vietnam Today. Once one of the poorest, war wounded corners of the globe, Vietnam has transformed itself into a stable, propering nation through industriousness, ingenuity and ambition. Education and healthcare have greatly improved (life expectancy is 69 for men and 75 for women and the adult literacy rate is 94%. Blue chip finance has flooded into a red-flag communist society with entrepreneurs common.
Double digit growth has faltered with the 2009 world economic crisis. Corruption is systemic – it is rated 116 out of 182 on Transparency Internationals global index. Vietnamese have to pay bakeesh for everything and corrupt politicians demand millions to fascilitate infrastructure projects.
Herbicides, or weed-killing chemicals, had long been used in American agriculture. After World War I, the military of various nations realized their potential for war and developed techniques to use them. Although the Italians had used lethal chemicals delivered from the air in Abyssinia in 1936, the Allies and Axis in World War II abstained from using the weapon either because of legal restrictions, or to avoid retaliation in kind. During the early 1950s, the British on a limited basis employed herbicides to destroy the crops of communist insurgents in Malaya. In 1961, President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam asked the United States to conduct aerial herbicide spraying in his country. In August of that year, the South Vietnamese Air Force initiated herbicide operations with American help. But Diem’s request launched a policy debate in the White House and the State and Defense Departments.
Chemically, Agent Orange is an approximately 1:1 mixture of two phenoxyl herbicides – 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) – in iso-octyl ester form. Agent Orange was manufactured for the U.S. Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical. It was given its name from the color of the orange-striped barrels in which it was shipped, and was by far the most widely used of the so-called “Rainbow Herbicides”.
The 2,4,5-T used to produce Agent Orange was contaminated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), an extremely toxic dioxin compound. In some areas, TCDD concentrations in soil and water were hundreds of times greater than the levels considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects as a result of the use of contaminated batches of the herbicide. The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to 1 million people are disabled or have health problems due to contaminated Agent Orange. The United States government has challenged these figures as being unreliable and unrealistically high.
Numerous studies have examined health effects linked to Agent Orange, its component compounds, and its manufacturing byproducts.
Prior to the controversy surrounding Agent Orange, there was already a large body of scientific evidence linking 2,4,5-T to serious negative health effects and ecological damage. But in 1969, it was revealed to the public that the 2,4,5-T was contaminated with a dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), and that the TCDD was causing many of the previously unexplained adverse health effects which were correlated with Agent Orange exposure. TCDD has been described as “perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man”. Internal memoranda revealed that Monsanto (a major manufacturer of 2,4,5-T) had informed the U.S. government in 1952 that its 2,4,5-T was contaminated. In the manufacture of 2,4,5-T, accidental overheating of the reaction mixture easily causes the product to condense into the toxic self-condensation product TCDD. At the time, precautions were not taken against this unintended side reaction, which also caused the Seveso disaster in Italy in 1976.
In 1979, the Yale biologist Arthur Galston, who specialized in herbicide research, published a review of what was known at the time about the toxicity of TCDD. Even “vanishingly small” quantities of dioxin in the diet caused adverse health effects when tested on animals. Since then, TCDD has been comprehensively studied. It has been associated with increased neoplasms in every animal bioassay reported in the scientific literature. The National Toxicology Program has classified TCDD as “known to be a human carcinogen”, frequently associated with soft-tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
Of the two herbicides that make up Agent Orange, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, the latter is considered to be less biodegradable. While degradation of 2,4,5-T with a half-life on a scale of days can be achieved by adding bacteria of a special strain, “no substantial degradation” was observed in the same soil without addition of bacteria. The half-life of dioxins in soil is more than 10 years, and that of TCDD in human fat tissue is about 7 years.
A 1969 report authored by K. Diane Courtney and others found 2,4,5-T could cause birth defects and stillbirths in mice. Several studies have shown an increased rate of cancer mortality for workers exposed to 2,4,5-T. In one such study, from Hamburg, Germany, the risk of cancer mortality increased by 170% after working for 10 years at the 2,4,5-T-producing section of a Hamburg manufacturing plant. Three studies have suggested prior exposure to Agent Orange poses an increased risk of acute myelogenous leukemia in the children of Vietnam veterans.
It has often been claimed that the contamination with dioxin was discovered only later. However, prior to Operation Ranch Hand (1962-1971), health-risks had become apparent, from several accidents in 2,4,5-T-production in the U.S. and in Europe. The causes had been investigated, and results published in 1957, specifically stating “tetrachlordibenzodioxine proved very active.” Additionally “Boehringer, which used the relative safer low-temperature-process since 1957, in the same year warned the other producers of 2,4,5-TCP, which were using the high-t-process, pointing out the risk and providing suggestions how to avoid them.” Furthermore, Dr. James R. Clary (a former government scientist with the Chemical Weapons Branch) has stated that “When we (military scientists) initiated the herbicide program in the 1960’s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. We were even aware that the ‘military’ formulation had a higher dioxin concentration than the ‘civilian’ version due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. However, because the material was to be used on the ‘enemy’, none of us were overly concerned.”
Starting in 1991, the US Congress asked the Institute of Medicine to review the scientific literature on Agent Orange and the other herbicides used in Vietnam, including their active ingredients and the dioxin contaminant. The IOM found an association between dioxin exposure and diabetes.
Use in the Vietnam War
During the Vietnam War, between 1962 and 1971, the United States military sprayed nearly 20,000,000 US gallons (75,700,000 l) of chemical herbicides and defoliants in Vietnam, eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia, as part of the aerial defoliation program known as Operation Ranch Hand. The goal was to defoliate rural/forested land, depriving guerrillas of food and cover and clearing sensitive areas such as around base perimeters. The program was also a part of a general policy of forced draft urbanization, which aimed to destroy the ability of peasants to support themselves in the countryside, forcing them to flee to the U.S. dominated cities, depriving the guerrillas of their rural support base.
Spraying was usually done either from helicopters or from low-flying C-123 Provider aircraft, fitted with sprayers and “MC-1 Hourglass” pump systems and 1,000 US gal (3,800 L) chemical tanks. Spray runs were also conducted from trucks, boats, and backpack sprayers.
The first batch of herbicides was unloaded at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam, on January 9, 1962. Air Force records show at least 6,542 spraying missions took place over the course of Operation Ranch Hand. By 1971, 12 percent of the total area of South Vietnam had been sprayed with defoliating chemicals, at an average concentration of 13 times the recommended USDA application rate for domestic use. In South Vietnam alone, an estimated 10 million hectares of agricultural land were ultimately destroyed. In some areas, TCDD concentrations in soil and water were hundreds of times greater than the levels considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The campaign destroyed 5 million acres (20,000 km2) of upland and mangrove forests and millions of acres of crops. Overall, more than 20% of South Vietnam’s forests were sprayed at least once over a nine-year period.
In 1965, members of the U.S. Congress were told “crop destruction is understood to be the more important purpose … but the emphasis is usually given to the jungle defoliation in public mention of the program.” Soldiers were told they were destroying crops because they were going to be used to feed guerrillas. They later discovered nearly all of the food they had been destroying was not being produced for guerrillas; it was, in reality, only being grown to support the local civilian population. For example, in Quang Ngai province, 85% of the crop lands were scheduled to be destroyed in 1970 alone. This contributed to widespread famine, leaving hundreds of thousands of people malnourished or starving.
The U.S. military began targeting food crops in October 1962, primarily using Agent Blue; the American public was not made aware of the crop destruction programs until 1965 (and it was then believed that crop spraying had begun that spring). In 1965, 42 percent of all herbicide spraying was dedicated to food crops.
Many experts at the time, including Arthur Galston, the biologist who developed and intensively studied 2,4,5-T and TCDD, opposed herbicidal warfare, due to concerns about the side effects to humans and the environment by indiscriminately spraying the chemical over a wide area. As early as 1966, resolutions were introduced to the United Nations charging that the U.S. was violating the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which regulated the use of chemical and biological weapons.
Effects on the Vietnamese people
The Vietnam Red Cross reported as many as 3 million Vietnamese people have been affected by Agent Orange, including at least 150,000 children born with birth defects. According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 people being killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects. Women had higher rates of miscarriage and stillbirths, as did livestock such as cattle, water buffalo, and pigs.
Children in the areas where Agent Orange was used have been affected and have multiple health problems, including cleft palate, mental disabilities, hernias, and extra fingers and toes. In the 1970s, high levels of dioxin were found in the breast milk of South Vietnamese women, and in the blood of U.S. soldiers who had served in Vietnam. The most affected zones are the mountainous area along Truong Son (Long Mountains) and the border between Vietnam and Cambodia. The affected residents are living in substandard conditions with many genetic diseases.
About 28 of the former US military bases in Vietnam where the herbicides were stored and loaded onto airplanes may still have high level of dioxins in the soil, posing a health threat to the surrounding communities. Extensive testing for dioxin contamination has been conducted at the former US airbases in Da Nang, Phu Cat and Bien Hoa. Some of the soil and sediment on the bases have extremely high levels of dioxin requiring remediation. The Da Nang Airbase has dioxin contamination up to 350 times higher than international recommendations for action. The contaminated soil and sediment continue to affect the citizens of Vietnam, poisoning their food chain and causing illnesses, serious skin diseases and a variety of cancers in the lungs, larynx, and prostate.
About 17.8% (3,100,000 ha) of the total forested area of Vietnam was sprayed during the war, which dramatically disrupted ecological equilibrium. Furthermore, the persistent nature of dioxins, erosion caused by loss of protective tree cover, and loss of seeding forest stock, meant reforestation was difficult or impossible in many areas. Many defoliated forest areas were quickly invaded by aggressive pioneer species, such as bamboo and cogon grass, which make it unlikely the forests will be able to regenerate. Animal species diversity was also significantly impacted: in one study, a Harvard biologist found 24 species of birds and 5 species of mammals in a sprayed forest, while in two adjacent sections of unsprayed forest there were 145 and 170 species of birds and 30 and 55 species of mammals.
Dioxins from Agent Orange have persisted in the Vietnamese environment since the war, settling in the soil and sediment and entering into food chain through the animals and fish that feed in the contaminated areas. Movement of dioxins through the food web has resulted in bioconcentration and biomagnification. The areas most heavily contaminated with dioxins are the sites of former U.S. air bases.
The RAND Corporation’s Memorandum 5446-ISA/ARPA states: “the fact that the VC obtain most of their food from the neutral rural population dictates the destruction of civilian crops … if they (the VC) are to be hampered by the crop destruction program, it will be necessary to destroy large portions of the rural economy – probably 50% or more”.
Rural-to-urban migration rates dramatically increased in South Vietnam, as peasants escaped the war in the countryside by fleeing to the cities. The urban population in South Vietnam nearly tripled, growing from 2.8 million people in 1958 to 8 million by 1971. The rapid flow of people led to a fast-paced and uncontrolled urbanization; an estimated 1.5 million people were living in Saigon slums.
Effects on U.S. Veterans
Some studies showed that veterans who served in the South during the war have increased rates of cancer, and nerve, digestive, skin and respiratory disorders. Veterans from the south had higher rates of throat cancer, acute/chronic leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, soft tissue sarcoma and liver cancer. With the exception of liver cancer, these are the same conditions the US Veterans Administration has determined may be associated with exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, and are on the list of conditions eligible for compensation and treatment.
Military personnel who loaded airplanes and helicopters used in Ranch Hand probably sustained some of the heaviest exposures. Members of the Army Chemical Corps, who stored and mixed herbicides and defoliated the perimeters of military bases, and mechanics who worked on the helicopters and planes, are also thought to have had some of the heaviest exposures. However, this same group of individuals has not shown remarkably higher incidences of the associated diseases. Others with potentially heavy exposures included members of U.S. Army Special Forces units who defoliated remote campsites, and members of U.S. Navy river units who cleared base perimeters. Military members who served on Okinawa also claim to have been exposed to the chemical but there is no verifiable evidence to corroborate these claims.
While in Vietnam, the veterans were told not to worry, and were persuaded the chemical was harmless. After returning home, Vietnam veterans began to suspect their ill health or the instances of their wives having miscarriages or children born with birth defects might be related to Agent Orange and the other toxic herbicides to which they were exposed in Vietnam. Veterans began to file claims in 1977 to the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability payments for health care for conditions they believed were associated with exposure to Agent Orange, or more specifically, dioxin, but their claims were denied unless they could prove the condition began when they were in the service or within one year of their discharge.
By April 1993, the Department of Veterans Affairs had only compensated 486 victims, although it had received disability claims from 39,419 soldiers who had been exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.
Legal and diplomatic proceedings
US veterans class action lawsuit against manufacturers
Since at least 1978, several lawsuits have been filed against the companies which produced Agent Orange, among them Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and Diamond Shamrock.
The chemical companies involved denied that there was a link between Agent Orange and the veterans’ medical problems. However, on May 7, 1984, seven chemical companies settled the class-action suit out of court just hours before jury selection was to begin. The companies agreed to pay $180 million as compensation if the veterans dropped all claims against them. Slightly over 45% of the sum was ordered to be paid by Monsanto alone. Many veterans who were victims of Agent Orange exposure were outraged the case had been settled instead of going to court, and felt they had been betrayed by the lawyers. Federal Judge Julius Weinstein refused the appeals, claiming the settlement was “fair and just”. By 1989, the veterans’ fears were confirmed when it was decided how the money from the settlement would be paid out. A totally disabled Vietnam veteran would receive a maximum of $12,000 spread out over the course of 10 years. Furthermore, by accepting the settlement payments, disabled veterans would become ineligible for many state benefits that provided far more monetary support than the settlement, such as food stamps, public assistance, and government pensions. A widow of a Vietnam veteran who died of Agent Orange exposure would only receive $3700.
In 2004, Monsanto spokesman Jill Montgomery said Monsanto should not be liable at all for injuries or deaths caused by Agent Orange, saying: “We are sympathetic with people who believe they have been injured and understand their concern to find the cause, but reliable scientific evidence indicates that Agent Orange is not the cause of serious long-term health effects.”
In 1991, the US Congress enacted the Agent Orange Act, giving the Department of Veterans Affairs the authority to declare certain conditions ‘presumptive’ to exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, making these veterans who served in Vietnam eligible to receive treatment and compensation for these conditions. Through this process, the list of ‘presumptive’ conditions has grown since 1991, and currently the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has listed prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma, type II diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, peripheral neuropathy, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and spina bifida in children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange as conditions associated with exposure to the herbicide. This list now includes B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia, Parkinson’s disease and ischemic heart disease, these last three having been added on August 31, 2010. Several highly placed individuals in government are voicing concerns about whether some of the diseases on the list should, in fact, actually have been included.
U.S.–Vietnamese government negotiations.
A breakthrough in the diplomatic stalemate on this issue occurred as a result of United States President George W. Bush’s state visit to Vietnam in November 2006. In the joint statement, President Bush and President Triet agreed “further joint efforts to address the environmental contamination near former dioxin storage sites would make a valuable contribution to the continued development of their bilateral relationship.”
In late May 2007, President Bush signed into law a supplemental spending bill for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan that included an earmark of $3 million specifically for funding for programs for the remediation of dioxin ‘hotspots’ on former US military bases, and for public health programs for the surrounding communities; some authors consider this to be completely inadequate, pointing out that the U.S. airbase in Da Nang, alone, will cost $14 million to clean up, and that three others are estimated to require $60 million for cleanup. The appropriation was renewed in the fiscal year 2009 and again in FY 2010. An additional $12 million was appropriated in the fiscal year 2010 in the Supplemental Appropriations Act and a total of $18.5 million appropriated for fiscal year 2011.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated during a visit to Hanoi in October 2010 that the US government would begin work on the clean-up of dioxin contamination at the Da Nang airbase.
In June 2011 a ceremony was held at Da Nang airport to mark the start of US-funded decontamination of dioxin hotspots in Vietnam. $32m has so far been allocated by the US congress to fund the program.
A $43 million project began in the summer of 2012, as Vietnam and the U.S. forge closer ties to boost trade and counter China’s rising influence in the disputed South China Sea.
Vietnamese victims class action lawsuit in U.S. courts
On January 31, 2004, a victim’s rights group, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin (VAVA), filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, against several U.S. companies for liability in causing personal injury, by developing, and producing the chemical, and claimed that the use of Agent Orange violated the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare, 1925 Geneva Protocol, and the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Dow Chemical and Monsanto were the two largest producers of Agent Orange for the U.S. military, and were named in the suit, along with the dozens of other companies (Diamond Shamrock, Uniroyal, Thompson Chemicals, Hercules, etc.). On March 10, 2005, Judge Jack B. Weinstein of the Eastern District – who had presided over the 1984 US veterans class-action lawsuit – dismissed the lawsuit, ruling there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs’ claims. He concluded Agent Orange was not considered a poison under international law at the time of its use by the U.S.; the U.S. was not prohibited from using it as a herbicide; and the companies which produced the substance were not liable for the method of its use by the government. The U.S. government was not a party in the lawsuit, due to sovereign immunity, and the court ruled the chemical companies, as contractors of the US government, shared the same immunity. The case was appealed and heard by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on June 18, 2007. The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the case, stating the herbicides used during the war were not intended to be used to poison humans and therefore did not violate international law. The US Supreme Court declined to consider the case.
Three judges on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan heard the appeal on June 18, 2007. They upheld Weinstein’s ruling to dismiss the case. They ruled that, though the herbicides contained a dioxin (a known poison), they were not intended to be used as a poison on humans. Therefore, they were not considered a chemical weapon and thus not a violation of international law. A further review of the case by the whole panel of judges of the Court of Appeals also confirmed this decision. The lawyers for the Vietnamese filed a petition to the US Supreme Court to hear the case. On March 2, 2009, the Supreme Court denied certiorari and refused to reconsider the ruling of the Court of Appeals.
In a November 2004 Zogby International poll of 987 people, 79% of respondents thought the US chemical companies which produced Agent Orange defoliant should compensate US soldiers who were affected by the toxic chemical used during the war in Vietnam. Also, 51% said they supported compensation for Vietnamese Agent Orange victims.
Help for those affected in Vietnam
To assist those who have been affected by Agent Orange/dioxin, the Vietnamese have established “peace villages”, which each host between 50 and 100 victims, giving them medical and psychological help. As of 2006, there were 11 such villages, thus granting some social protection to fewer than a thousand victims. U.S. veterans of the war in Vietnam and individuals who are aware and sympathetic to the impacts of Agent Orange have supported these programs in Vietnam.
The center provides medical care, rehabilitation and vocational training for children and veterans from Vietnam who have been affected by Agent Orange.
The Vietnamese government provides small monthly stipends to more than 200,000 Vietnamese believed affected by the herbicides; this totaled $40.8 million in 2008 alone. The Vietnam Red Cross has raised more than $22 million to assist the ill or disabled, and several U.S. foundations, United Nations agencies, European governments and nongovernmental organizations have given a total of about $23 million for site cleanup, reforestation, health care and other services to those in need.
Vuong Mo of the Vietnam News Agency described one of centers: “May is 13, but she knows nothing, is unable to talk fluently, nor walk with ease due to for her bandy legs. Her father is dead and she has four elder brothers, all mentally retarded … The students are all disabled, retarded and of different ages. Teaching them is a hard job. They are of the 3rd grade but many of them find it hard to do the reading. Only a few of them can. Their pronunciation is distorted due to their twisted lips and their memory is quite short. They easily forget what they’ve learned … In the Village, it is quite hard to tell the kids’ exact ages. Some in their twenties have a physical statures as small as the 7- or 8-years-old. They find it difficult to feed themselves, much less have mental ability or physical capacity for work. No one can hold back the tears when seeing the heads turning round unconsciously, the bandy arms managing to push the spoon of food into the mouths with awful difficulty … Yet they still keep smiling, singing in their great innocence, at the presence of some visitors, craving for something beautiful.”
Use outside Vietnam
While ‘Agent Orange’ was only used between 1965 and 1970, 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T and other herbicides were used by the US military from the late 1940s through the 1970s. There is, however, no scientific evidence that these herbicides contained the same levels of dioxin as those used in Vietnam.
Queensland, Australia. In 2008, Australian researcher Jean Williams claimed that cancer rates in the town of Innisfail, Queensland were 10 times higher than the state average due to secret testing of Agent Orange by the Australian military scientists during the Vietnam War. The Queensland health department determined that cancer rates in Innisfail were no higher than those in other parts of the state.
Brazil. The Brazilian government used herbicides to defoliate a large section of the Amazon rainforest so that Alcoa could build the Tucuruí dam to power mining operations. Large areas of rainforest were destroyed, along with the homes and livelihoods of thousands of rural peasants and indigenous tribes.
New Brunswick, Canada. The U.S. military, with the permission of the Canadian government, tested herbicides, including Agent Orange, in the forests near the Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick for three days in 1966 and four days in 1967. Soldiers working on the base at that time were advised that the chemicals would have no harmful effects on them, to the point they would spray each other with the chemical to cool off. This information was incorrect and was the reason so many people were fighting for compensation for medical bills. On September 12, 2007, Greg Thompson, Minister of Veterans Affairs, announced that the government of Canada was offering a one-time ex gratia payment of $20,000 as the compensation package for Agent Orange exposure at CFB Gagetown. On July 12, 2005, Merchant Law Group LLP on behalf of over 1,100 Canadian veterans and civilians who were living in and around the CFB Gagetown filed a lawsuit to pursue class action litigation concerning Agent Orange and Agent Purple with the Federal Court of Canada. On August 4, 2009, the case was rejected by the court due to lack of evidence. The ruling was appealed.
In 2007 the Canadian government announced that a research and fact-finding program initiated in 2005 had found the base was safe.
British Columbia. Records show tens of thousands of gallons of the toxic mixture were applied to clear brush near highways and along power lines in the late 1960s and early 1970s – and in some cases the substance was sprayed next to homes. In B.C., the mix of 2-4-D and 2-4-5-T was called “Type B Weed and Brush Killer”. In total, about 26,000 gallons of Type B Weed and Brush Killer were ordered between 1965 and 1972. About 10,000 gallons of Type C Weed and Brush Killer were ordered in the same time period. The barrels were shipped to all four of the regions of B.C. as designated by the Ministry of Highways: Kamloops, Nelson, Prince George and Vancouver. In 1976, documents from BC Hydro show 2-4-5-T and 2-4-D was sprayed along Hydro lines Vernon-Monashee and Nicola-Brenda circuits. The documents also say “brushkiller” was sprayed in Pemberton and Daisy Lake.
Guam. An analysis of chemicals present in the island’s soil together with resolutions passed by Guam’s legislature suggest that Agent Orange was among the herbicides routinely used on and around Anderson Air Force Base. Despite the evidence, the Department of Defense continues to deny that Agent Orange was ever stored or used on Guam. Several Guam veterans have collected an enormous amount of evidence to assist in their disability claims for direct exposure to dioxin containing herbicides such as 2,4,5-T which are similar to the illness associations and disability coverage that has become standard for those who were harmed by the same chemical contaminant of Agent Orange used in Vietnam.
Korea. Agent Orange was used in Korea in the late 1960s. Republic of Korea troops were the only personnel involved in the spraying, which occurred along the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Citing declassified U.S. Department of Defense documents, Korean officials fear thousands of its soldiers may have come into contact with the herbicide in the late 1960s and early 1970s. According to one top government official, as many as ‘30,000 Korean veterans are suffering from illness related to their exposure’. The exact number of GIs who may have been exposed is unknown. In 1999, about 20,000 South Koreans filed two separated lawsuits against U.S. companies, seeking more than $5 billion in damages. After losing a decision in 2002, they filed an appeal. In January 2006, the South Korean Appeals Court ordered Dow Chemical and Monsanto to pay $62 million in compensation to about 6,800 people. The ruling acknowledged that “the defendants failed to ensure safety as the defoliants manufactured by the defendants had higher levels of dioxins than standard”, and, quoting the U.S. National Academy of Science report, declared that there was a “causal relationship” between Agent Orange and 11 diseases, including cancers of the lung, larynx and prostate. The judges failed to acknowledge “the relationship between the chemical and peripheral neuropathy, the disease most widespread among Agent Orange victims” according to the Mercury News.
New Zealand. The use of Agent Orange has been controversial in New Zealand, because of the exposure of New Zealand troops in Vietnam and because of the production of Agent Orange for Vietnam and other users at an Ivon Watkins-Dow chemical plant in Paritutu, New Plymouth. There have been continuing claims, as yet unproven, that the suburb of Paritutu has also been polluted. There are cases of New Zealand soldiers developing cancers such as bone cancer but none have been scientifically connected to exposure to herbicides.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that 1,800,000 gallons of Herbicide Orange was stored at Johnson Island in the Pacific and 480,000 gallons at Gulfport, Mississippi.
Research and studies were initiated to find a safe method to destroy the materials and it was discovered they could be incinerated safely under special conditions of temperature and dwell time.
From July to September 1977 during Operation Pacer HO (Herbicide Orange), the entire stock of Herbicide Orange from both storage sites at Gulfport, Mississippi and Johnston Atoll was subsequently incinerated in four separate burns in the vicinity of Johnson Island aboard the Dutch-owned waste incineration ship MT Vulcanus
Thailand. Agent Orange was tested by the United States in Thailand during the war in Southeast Asia. Buried drums were uncovered and confirmed to be Agent Orange in 1999. Workers who uncovered the drums fell ill while upgrading the airport near Hua Hin, 100 km south of Bangkok
United States. The University of Hawaii has acknowledged extensive testing of Agent Orange on behalf of the United States Department of Defense in Hawaii along with mixtures of Agent Orange on Kaua’i Island in 1967-68 and on Hawaii Island in 1966. In 1994, testing by the Air Force identified some former spray aircraft as “heavily contaminated” with dioxin residue. Inquiries by aircrew veterans in 2011 brought a decision by the US Department of Veterans Affairs opining that not enough dioxin residue remained to injure these post-Vietnam War veterans.
In 1978, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suspended spraying of Agent Orange in National Forests.
The People. Life revolves around the family and often several generations live under one roof. As the agarian society transitions to an industrial one, people have moved to the cities and the family unit has changed. Despite making up 52% of the workforce, women are not well represented in postions of power.
With a population of 95 million, 84% are ethnic Vietnamese, 2% Chinese and the rest Khmers, Chams or members of more than 50 ethnic groups, most living in the highlands.
Religion. Confuscionism, Taoism and Buddhism fused with animism to form Triple Religion (Tam Glao), the actual belief system, but if asked, most would say they are Buddhist. 5-10% are Catholic. Cao Daism is a unique Vietnamese sect founded in 1920 combining secular and religious philosphies of the west and east. It is based on seance messages revealed to the group’s founder, Ngo Minh Chieu. Muslimes number 60,000 and Hindus 50,000.
Architecture. They are not great builders and early structures were made of wood and don’t exist today. The exception are the towers built by the ancient Cham culture (best seen in My Son).
Politics. The Communist Party is the sole source of power. The National Assembly is a tool for the party, elections are carefully controlled and 90% of its delegates are Communist Party members. Rather than Marxist-orientated socialism, it is closer to socially responsible capitalism. Foreign investment and capitalism is thriving with a dynamic private sector. Democratic change is a long way off, the media is tightly controlled and critics of the Pary are silenced.
Environment. Environmental consciousness is low with deforestation and pollution major problems. Unsustainable logging, along with the US extensive spraying of defoliants durint the war has relulted in significant loss of biodiversity.
The Land. Vietnam stretches 1600 km along the the east coast of the Indochina coastline. The land area is slightly larger than Italy and a bit smaller than Japan. It is shaped with two large areas at each end, the rice-growing regions of the Red Rivern the north and the Mekong Delta in the by the narrow central area. The north has a spectacular karst area around Halong Bay in the north.
Wildlife is threatened by habitat loss, water pollution and illegal hunting to supply exotic animals for traditional medicine. The last Java rhino was killed for its horn in 2010. Caged animals have poor conditions. There are 30 national parks comprising 3% of the land area.
Visas are valid for 30 days and most countries (except Scandinavian ones must apply before hitting the border. Cost is $45 + $15 processing fee. Another $10 will get same day processing in Phnom Penh. It is another full page visa with a relatively large stamp.
Safe travel. Vietnam is extremely safe but there may be more scams in Hanoi and Nha Thang. Since 1975, thousands of Vietnamese have been maimed by landmines and unexploded ordinance.