first published on May 27, 2018 by Josh
Agent Orange was an equal mixture of two phenoxy herbicides – 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) – in iso-octyl ester form, which contained traces of the dioxin 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). It was used as an herbicide and defoliant throughout Vietnam by American forces in order to eliminate dense vegetation that allowed North Vietnamese forces the freedom and ability to ambush American forces in the dense jungle terrain. The operation it was used in was titled “Operation Ranch Hand,” and it lasted for 9 years, gaining inspiration from the British during the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s.
Veterans of the Vietnam War were told during service not to be concerned about Agent Orange or its effects. As a result of this nonchalance by higher echelons of command, many service members who were involved with the storage, distribution, transportation, and use of the chemicals never handled the substance with any protective equipment. After returning home from the war, the symptoms of the chemical became apparent, with many veterans reporting their wives having miscarriages or children born with birth defects. Today veterans that have been exposed to Agent Orange have increased rates of cancer, nerve, digestive, skin, and respiratory disorders.
The country of Vietnam has also seen the long lasting effects of Operation Ranch Hand, and the use of Agent Orange. Roughly 18% of the forested area of Vietnam was sprayed with Agent Orange, which drastically disrupted the ecological equilibrium of the country. Many of the deforested areas were quickly taken over by invasive species of plants like bamboo and cogon grass making reforestation of the areas near impossible in the future. Also, the government of Vietnam says that over 4 million of the nation’s people were exposed to Agent Orange during the war, with another 3 million of those people reporting some sort of serious illness as a direct result.
The video below shows the use of Agent Orange on the banks of the Saigon River. Members of the U.S. Army transport 55-gallon drums of the chemical by boat, while tapping into it with hoses and spraying the banks. Out of all of the Soldiers present in the video, not a single piece of protective equipment is seen. In contrast to how something like this would be handled today, service members actually stand in the open shirtless, and in shorts, while spraying the harmful chemical from their boat. I imagine the discussion with the Sergeant went something like this. “Hey Sergeant, isn’t this stuff a dangerous chemical?” – “Are you a plant?” – “No Sergeant.” – “Then shut up and spray the stuff Jones.”