Aletho News


The Enduring Crime of ‘Agent Orange’

By Gary G. Kohls | Consortium News | November 14, 2015

Fifty years ago next month (December 1965), with the urging of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the rubber stamp approval of President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the United States Air Force started secretly spraying the forests of Laos with a deadly herbicide that was known as Agent Orange.

Operation Ranch Hand, whose motto was “Only We Can Prevent Forests” (a shameful takeoff of Smokey the Bear’s admonition), was a desperate, costly and ultimately futile effort to make it a little harder for the National Liberation Front soldiers from North Vietnam to join and supply their comrades-in-arms in the south.

Both the guerrilla fighters in the south and the NLF army had been fighting to liberate Vietnam from the exploitive colonial domination from foreign nations such as imperial France (that began colonizing Vietnam in 1874), then Japan (during World War II), then the United States (since France’s expulsion after their huge military defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954) and then against its own nation’s U.S.-backed fascist/military regime in South Vietnam that was headed by the brutal and corrupt President Ngo Dinh Diem.

(Incidentally, the nepotism in Diem’s iron-fisted rule was almost laughable, with one brother being the Catholic Archbishop of Vietnam, a second brother being in charge of the Hue district, and a third brother being the co-founder of the only legal political party in South Vietnam as well as Diem’s principal adviser. True democracies do not criminalize political parties.)

The aim of the National Liberation Front was to unite the north and the south portions of the country and free it from the influence and occupation of foreign invaders. The leader of the liberation movement since its beginning was Ho Chi Minh, who had made sincere appeals to both President Woodrow Wilson (after World War I had weakened France’s colonial system) and President Harry Truman (after the Japanese had taken over Vietnam during World War II and then surrendered to the U.S. in 1945).

Each appeal asked for America’s help to liberate Vietnam from their French colonial oppressors and each one fell on deaf ears, even though Ho Chi Minh had frequently incorporated the wording and spirit of America’s Declaration of Independence in his continuous efforts to achieve justice for his suffering people.

Agent Orange’s Ecological Devastation

Operation Ranch Hand had actually been in operation since 1961, mainly spraying its poisons on Vietnam’s forests and crop land. The purpose of the operation was to defoliate trees and shrubs and kill food crops that were providing cover and food for the “enemy.”

Operation Ranch Hand consisted of spraying a variety of highly toxic polychlorinated herbicide solutions that contained a variety of chemicals that are known to be (in addition to killing plant life) human and animal mitochondrial toxins, immunotoxins, hormone disrupters, genotoxins, mutagens, teratogens, diabetogens and carcinogens that were manufactured by such amoral multinational corporate chemical giants like Monsanto, Dow Chemical, DuPont and Diamond Shamrock (now Valero Energy).

All were eager war profiteers whose CEOs and share-holders somehow have always benefitted financially from America’s wars. Such non-human entities as Monsanto and the weapons manufacturers don’t care if the wars that they can profit from are illegal or not, war crimes or not; if they can make money they will be there at the trough.

They are however, expert at duping the Pentagon into paying exorbitantly high prices for inferior, unnecessary or dangerous war materiel. One only needs to recall Vice President Dick Cheney’s Halliburton Corporation and that company’s no-bid multibillion dollar contracts that underserved U.S. soldiers during the past three wars, but enriched any number of One Percenters.

Agent Orange was the most commonly used of a handful of color-coded herbicidal poisons that the USAF sprayed (and frequently re-sprayed) over rural Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It was also used heavily over the perimeters of many of the U.S. military bases, the toxic carcinogenic and disease-inducing chemicals often splashing directly upon American soldiers. (But “stuff happens” as Donald Rumsfeld would say).

The soil in and around some of the U.S. and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam) military bases continue to have extremely high levels of dioxin. The U.S. military bases where the barrels of Agent Orange were off-loaded, stored and then pumped into the spray planes or “brown water” swift boats are especially contaminated, as were those guinea pig “atomic soldiers” who handled the chemicals.

The Da Nang airbase today has dioxin contamination levels over 300 times higher than that which international agencies would recommend remediation. (Guess which guilty nation is doing nothing about Agent Orange contamination of the sovereign nation of Vietnam?)

It is fair to speculate that any American GI who spent any time at bases such as Da Nang, Phu Cat and Bien Hoa in the 1960s and 1970s may have been exposed. U.S. Navy swift boat crews that sprayed Agent Orange on the shores of the bushy rivers that they patrolled were often soaked by the oily chemicals that were sprayed from the hoses. Secretary of State Kerry, who commanded a swift boat as a U.S. Navy lieutenant, are you listening?

The poisonous spraying continued for a decade until it was stopped in 1971. The South Vietnamese air force, that had started spraying Agent Orange before the U.S. did, continued the program beyond 1971.

Chemical That Never Stops Poisoning

Agent Orange was a 50/50 mixture of two herbicides: 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) and 2,4,5-T (2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid). Other herbicide agents were mixtures of other equally toxic polychlorinated compounds, but every barrel was contaminated by substantial amounts of dioxin, one of the most toxic industry-made chemicals known to man.

The toxicity of the herbicidal chemicals known as “dioxins” or “dioxin-like compounds” is due to the chlorine atoms and the benzene molecules (or phenyl groups) in the compound to which they are attached.

Dioxins have very long half-lives and are thus very poisonous to the liver’s detoxifying enzymes that humans and animals rely on to degrade synthetic chemicals that get into the blood stream. The fatty tissues of exposed Vietnam vets, even decades after exposure, continue to have measureable levels of dioxins.  …

According to Wikipedia, “War crimes have been broadly defined by the Nuremberg Principles as ‘violations of the laws or customs of war,’ which includes massacres, bombings of civilian targets, terrorism, mutilation, torture and the murder of detainees and prisoners of war (realities that abounded at places like My Lai and other massacre sites).  Additional common crimes include theft, arson, and the destruction of property not warranted by military necessity.”

According to that definition, anybody with a smidgen of awareness of what really happens in any combat zone would have to conclude that every war that the U.S. military has ordered its young soldiers to go off and fight and kill in, especially the many corporate-endorsed, Wall Street wars, was laden with war crimes.

Four million innocent Vietnamese civilians were exposed to Agent Orange, and as many as 3 million have suffered diagnosable illnesses because of it, including the progeny of people who were exposed to it, approximating the number of innocent Vietnamese civilians that were killed in the war.

The Red Cross of Vietnam says that up to 1 million people are disabled with Agent Orange-induced illnesses. There has been an epidemic of birth defects, chronic illnesses, fetal anomalies and neurological and mental illnesses since the “American War.”

Most thinking humans would agree that destroying the health and livelihoods of innocent farmers, women, children, babies and old people by poisoning their forests, farms, food and water supplies qualifies as a war crime.

Disrespecting Sickened Veterans

According to Wikipedia, the chemical companies accused in an Agent Orange Vietnam veterans’ class action lawsuit in 1984 (against seven chemical companies that got Agent Orange contracts from the Pentagon) denied that there was a link between their poisons and the veterans’ health problems.

On May 7, 1984, as is usual for Big Corporations that know when they are losing, the seven chemical companies settled out of court for $180 million just hours before jury selection was to begin. The companies agreed to pay the $180 million as compensation if the veterans dropped all claims against them, with 45 percent of the sum to be paid by Monsanto.

Many veterans were outraged, feeling that they had been betrayed by the lawyers. Fairness Hearings were held in five major American cities, where veterans and their families discussed their reactions to the settlement, and condemned the actions of the lawyers and courts, demanding the case be heard before a jury of their peers. The federal judge 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 corporate-friendly maximum of $12,000 spread out over the course of 10 years. By accepting the settlement payments, disabled veterans would become ineligible for many state benefits such as food stamps, public assistance and government pensions. A widow of a veteran who died because of Agent Orange would only receive $3,700.

According to Wikipedia, “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.’”

Talk about governmental and corporate disrespect for military veterans who have been sickened by military toxins or physically or psychologically wounded in battle! Such shabby treatment of returning veterans has been the norm after every war, including the “bonus army” revolt of the 1930s when thousands of poor, disabled and/or unemployed World War I vets marched on Washington, DC, demanding the bonus that had been promised them in the 1920s. Rather than receiving justice, Generals Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower ordered their troops to burn the bonus army’s temporary villages and disperse the vets empty-handed. …

I conclude this essay by listing the currently-accepted list of diseases that the Veteran Administration acknowledges can be caused by exposure to Agent Orange. This applies to American veterans, but one can be certain that the consequences are a hundred times worse for the Vietnamese people who were sprayed and who are still being exposed to it in the soil for the last 50 years.

The VA says that certain cancers and other health problems can be caused by exposure to Agent Orange and the other herbicides during their military service. Veterans and their survivors may be eligible for benefits if they have one of these diagnoses:

Amyloidosis, Chronic B-cell Leukemias, Chloracne, Type II Diabetes Mellitus, Hodgkins Disease, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Ischemic Heart Disease, Multiple Myeloma, Parkinson’s Disease, Peripheral Neuropathy, Porphyria Cutanea Tarda, Prostate Cancer, Respiratory Cancers (including lung cancer), Hairy Cell Leukemia, Soft Tissue Sarcomas and spina bifida in infants of Agent Orange exposed Vietnam veterans.

Gary G. Kohls is a retired physician who practiced holistic, non-drug, mental health care for the last decade of his family practice career. He now writes a weekly column for the Reader Weekly, an alternative newsweekly published in Duluth, Minnesota, USA. Many of Dr. Kohls’ columns are archived at

November 14, 2015 Posted by | Environmentalism, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Death by defoilant, US war on the environment

Vietnamese victims of toxic herbicide Agent Orange used by the US during the Vietnam War
By Yuram Abdullah Weiler | Press TV | December 27, 2012

“Not only crop destruction, but US policies of extensive bombing, defoliation, and relocation of people from the countryside seem clearly to fall within the definition of crimes against humanity and war crimes,” wrote the Stanford Biology Group in a report entitled The Destruction of Indochina.

As part of a deliberate campaign of environmental destruction during its war against Vietnam, the US sprayed the countryside with herbicides containing carcinogenic chemicals to destroy tropical forest foliage and agricultural crops. The objectives of this diabolical program, which perhaps should be called “death by defoliant,” were threefold: first, to deprive the Vietnamese resistance fighters of the National Liberation Front (NLF) of hiding places and cover; second, to starve them into surrender by wiping out their food supply; and third, to drive rural peasants to urban areas controlled by the US-backed regime in an attempt to decimate popular support for the NLF.

Code-named Operation Hades and later Ranch Hand, the aerial application of the defoliant known as Agent Orange, which was manufactured by Dow Chemical and Monsanto, extended from August 1961 until August 1970, before being suspended by Deputy US Secretary of Defense David Packard. Some 49 million liters of the lethal herbicide were sprayed over 12 percent of the land area of Vietnam using average application rates 13 times higher than those recommended by the US Department of Agriculture for domestic weed control.

Agent Orange, so called because of the herbicide’s orange striped container, is a mixture of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), and n-butyl-2,3,4-trichlorophenoxyacetate (2,4,5-T), both of which are likely carcinogens according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is affiliated with the World Health Organization (WHO).

Over 18 million kilograms of 2,4,5-T, which constitutes 50 percent of Agent Orange, were sprayed on Vietnam as part of the fiendish US war crimes there.

By 1966, 2,4,5-T had been shown to cause greatly increased rates of birth defects, a fact which was suppressed by the US Government but confirmed by news reports from Saigon of increased birth deformities. The 2,4,5-T was also found to have been contaminated with TCDD (2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin), a known carcinogen described as “perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man.” That the executives at Dow Chemical were well aware of the toxicity of the dioxin-contaminated 2,4,5-T was confirmed by an intra-company memo dated 22 February 1965.

As a result of the immoral and irresponsible herbicide spraying by the US under Operation Ranch Hand, it is estimated: 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange; 800,000 people suffer serious health problems and require constant medical attention; and 50,000 deformed children were born to parents who were either directly sprayed with defoliant or were exposed through consumption of contaminated food and water.

In 1990, in order to keep the Agent Orange atrocities under wraps, the White House under President Ronald Reagan ordered the cancellation of a 1987 Center for Disease Control study, which had concluded that Vietnam veterans ran a 50-percent increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), a type of blood cancer, as compared to veterans who had been stationed elsewhere. Today, the US Veterans’ Administration assumes that all military personnel who served in Vietnam from 1962 to 1975 were exposed to Agent Orange.

Since then, research has linked Agent Orange exposure to the following cancers: Soft tissue sarcoma; NHL; Hodgkin’s disease; and Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), including hairy cell leukemia and other chronic B-cell leukemias. Evidence also suggests a link between Agent Orange exposure and respiratory cancers, prostate cancer and multiple myeloma. Also, sufficient evidence exists suggesting Agent Orange exposure is linked to Chloracne, Amyloidosis, Transient peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, Porphyria cutanea tarda, High blood pressure, Ischemic heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and Spina bifida in children of those exposed.

In addition, exposure to the dioxin-laden chemical has been shown to be a risk factor in a number of cancers, diseases and other conditions, including: immune deficiency; reproductive and developmental abnormalities; central and peripheral nervous system pathology; endocrine disruption; diabetes; decreased pulmonary functions and bronchitis; eyelid pathology; altered serum testosterone levels; skin rashes; and thyroid disorders.

And the remnants of Agent Orange from the US war against Vietnam continue the legacy of death by defoliant:

The environment around many former US military bases is still contaminated,

Heavily sprayed areas remain a source of dioxin contamination,

Dioxin levels around Da Nang are 300 to 400 times higher than internationally accepted limits,

Over a million hectares of forests have been destroyed, causing a loss of ecological equilibrium,

Birds and animals have been destroyed along with forests either by direct spraying or as a result of destruction of food sources,

Barren, dry lands still exist in provinces in southern Vietnam where nothing grows,

And higher rates of birth defects exist among residents of sprayed regions and among families of veterans who fought in the south.

Agent Orange defoliation operations by the US were not limited to Vietnam, either, but were also conducted in Korea in the demilitarized zone (DMZ). From 1968 to 1969, over 220,000 liters of Agent Orange were sprayed over some 8,500 hectares of Korean land near the DMZ, affecting an estimated 4,000 US and 30,000 Korean soldiers. Others claim that the deadly defoliant was used there as far back as the late 1950s. According to a US Veterans’ Administration press release, “VA will presume herbicide exposure for any Veteran who served between April 1, 1968, and Aug. 31, 1971, in a unit determined by VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to have operated in an area in or near the Korean DMZ in which herbicides were applied.”

The use of Agent Orange in Korea is particularly relevant to the writer, since I served in the US Army from August 1969 to August 1970 as a driver with the 2nd Supply and Transport Battalion at Camp Jessup, Munson, Korea located a few kilometers south of the DMZ. I was shocked to learn that I, too, must have been exposed to Agent Orange while carrying out my driving duties all around the region. Perhaps exposure to Agent Orange caused my thyroid problems or my children’s developmental disorders; lacking clear evidence, I don’t know for certain. But I would find comfort in knowing the truth – as no doubt would every victim of this horrific herbicide – even 40+ years after the fact.

Veteran Chuck Searcy, who returned to Vietnam to help with humanitarian programs for disabled children, said, “For me, the evidence is clear. I know it’s difficult to say 100 percent that this is the result of Agent Orange, but if you can find no other reason, then I agree with these families who believe the problem is the result of Agent Orange.”

In a February 2008 decision, the US second circuit Court of Appeals dimmed Agent Orange victims’ hopes of bringing to justice the criminal US government and complicit chemical companies responsible for Agent Orange. The Vietnamese plaintiffs then appealed to the US Supreme Court, which on 2 March 2009 refused to hear the case, bringing an end to litigation, but not the decree on the victims of death by defoliant.

Thus, almost 40 years have passed since the end of the US war against Vietnam, but for over 4 million Vietnamese and other victims of exposure who suffer profoundly both mentally and physically each day, this crime against humanity remains unpunished.


Yuram Abdullah Weiler is a freelance writer and political critic who has written dozens of articles on the Middle East and US policy. A former engineer with a background in mathematics and a convert to Islam, he currently writes perspectives on Islam, social justice, economics and politics from the viewpoint of an American convert to Shia Islam, focusing on the deleterious role played by the US in the Middle East and elsewhere.

December 28, 2012 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , | Leave a comment



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