Agent Orange- Vietnam’s wartime nightmare still haunting the nation

As I am touring Vietnam, I visited he Cu Chi tunnels yesterday. During the trip I learnt about the impact of a war time phenomenon, known as Agent Orange. Agent Orange is a toxic chemical (herbicide and defoliant - makes plants shed leaves and even kill them) US army sprayed over Vietnam - not a small area- over 31000 square kilometers or 10% of Vietnam's total geography. Effect of this action sustains even today, some 44 years after the war has ended. Somehow the Agent Orange phenomenon never got world attention, to the extent say nuclear bombs in Japan got. In this post I am explaining the details of Agent Orange issue during Vietnam war, as I saw and learnt about it in Vietnam.
Above: A collage of various photos of victims of Agent orange (photos clicked at War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City)

When the United States decided to enter Vietnam war, its military generals estimated that their soldiers will be able to wipe out enemy (Viet Cong or North Vietnamese army) in 18 months (1.5 years) and return home. However, what actually happened on the ground was totally different. The guerrilla warfare adopted by Vietnamese soldiers was too hot to handle for US army. The war dragged for 15 years and eventually US had to withdraw without a victory. Viet Cong soldiers were super smart in guerrilla warfare- they camouflage well inside the forests, move around quickly, using under ground tunnels, cycles or other means (more on that later) and enjoyed immense local support. Sensing that thick forest covers of Vietnam was a big setback for US troops, the army think tank devised a plan- to develop a deadly chemical that makes trees shed their leaves and spray it on the entire country. This would make the terrain exposed and more convenient for surveillance aircrafts and bombers to locate their targets. Around 30 companies, including DOW Chemicals (who have Bhopal Gas tragedy and few other mishaps worldwide under their belt) and Monsanto manufactured large quantities of this chemical, known as Agent Orange and supplied it to US Army. US Army loaded them on planes and sprayed it all over the thick forests. The chemical made trees shed leaves and die, exposing green cover the soldiers had. Now it was more easy for US bomber planes and fighter planes to spot their ground targets.

Above: A US plane spraying Agent orange over forests in Vietnam
Below: Agent Purple, another lethal chemical being loaded into a tank and on the plane.


Above: Before and after photo of the forests

But the side effect of deadly Agent Orange toxic chemical sustains even to this day. The sad truth about toxic chemicals/weapons is that they doesn’t differentiate between enemy solider/friendly troop/civilian/human/animals or plants. Agent Orange affected 4 million+ people directly- mostly Vietnamese soldiers and civilians and a few thousand US army personnel as well. It killed many but worse, induced irreversible genetic disorders for generations, diseases and ailments that would last several lifetimes. 1 million Vietnam citizens are still living with various Agent Orange induced problems. Agent Orange destroyed farmland, livestock, Soil and water got contaminated, poisoning millions of people who used those farm products or fishes. Children born to affected individuals had various abnormalities and handicap. This is happening even to this day.
Above: One of the victims of Agent Orange, now trying to make a living making hand made souvenirs in a craft factory.
Below: Details of chemicals used by US (pics taken from display at War remnants museum, Ho Chi Minh city
The recent developments related to Agent Orange:
Today the direct impact of Agent Orange is almost nil- nature has done its part to absorb most of the toxicity, but for several thousands of people who have disorders, diseases induced by Agent Orange (and for their families), the life is a big challenge. Many have cancer, genes affected resulting in generations of defective offspring, visual abnormalities on their faces n body and so on. They have to battle their diseases and defects, besides trying to earn something and lead a life in a nation not that strong economically. In a video I saw, a woman was saying “My son was born after the war and knows nothing about it. He is barely able to survive and asks me “why did you bring me to this world”. He thinks it is my fault that he is born with severe health issues”. Many families are choosing to abandon their new born kids who have abnormalities, as the cost of taking care of such children is too much and not affordable for them. There’re few NGOs/hospitals taking care of children affected with agent orange induced defects and health issues, but they are severely short on funds, equipment and other things. Soil from various parts of Vietnam affected by Agent Orange are still being tested periodically in laboratories and are said to have toxic levels 100 times more than acceptable international standards. Scientists have estimated that it will take more than 150 years to effects of Agent Orange and contamination it caused to human genes, soil and vegetation to get lost/recover naturally and the nation will be fully safe & healthy again.

Apparently an organization representing the victims of Agent Orange met manufacturers who made and sold Agent Orange to US army, to make them realize the impact their product is having on people of Vietnam. But the manufacturers reportedly washed off their hands, stating that they made this toxic chemicals on the order of US Government and are not responsible for its usage. Everyone realize that what has happened can’t be undone. The government and organizations are not very keen to make lots of noise on this issue, as they fear it may upset their relationship with the United States. However they are trying to get some compensation for the victims of Agent Orange from US government, but with little success till date. Apparently US Govt has only given a token 10 million compensation so far, which was largely used to clear the landmines from the war times. (this is as told to me by our tour guide, couldn't be independently verified. Please use your discretion)

You can read more about Agent Orange here . Watch the video here n here (there're lots more, you can google)
We visited a crafts centre enourte to Cu Chi tunnels where Agent Orange victims are working and producing some amazing souvenirs. More on that in a separate post.

India had a similar issue in Kerala and some part of Karnataka- Endo Sulphan.

Update: I learnt more about Agent Orange at the War Renmants Museum, Ho Chi Minh city. Have updated the post with some photos and additional details

Whoever believes “Everything is fair in love and war” please reconsider.

2 comments:

  1. Such a brutal warfare. It is true that not many people know about this as Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is really sad they are still under pressure of US.

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