Agent Orange: The Silent Assassin

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About 3 million Americans or more served in the armed forces in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. While under the impression from the U.S. government, many soldiers thought they were "fighting the good fight", but in reality they were "human lab rats" that were being exposed to the silent assassin called Agent Orange.
The mission, known as Operation Ranch Hand, involved spraying 20 million gallons of Agent Orange over roughly 3.6 million acres of Vietnamese land to remove forest cover, destroy crops, and clear vegetation from U.S. army bases (Vietnam War Herbicides).
Operation Ranch Hand lasted from about 1962 to 1971, and used various herbicide mixtures, such as Agent Blue, Agent White, Agent Purple, and Agent Pink to overthrow its prey, the communist North Vietnamese. However, the most legendary herbicide used was called Agent Orange.

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The steel drums in which the herbicide was transported were color-coded with an orange stripe, which lead to its code name Agent Orange. Agent Orange is known to be made of a 50/50 mixture of the chemicals: 2, 4, D and 2, 4, 5T and with kerosene or diesel fuel. The U.S. military disturbed this deadly herbicide by aerial spraying, ground spraying from boats, trucks, and backpacks.
In all, U.S. troops sprayed approximately 19 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides over 4 million acres (Vietnam War Herbicides). Unfortunately, this military scheme is considered to have saved numerous U.S. combat soldiers lives, which have been sent to fight on behalf of the South Vietnamese people.
As a nation at war, the U.S. government forced or obliged several of companies to produce Agent Orange under the Defense Production Act. Companies supplying Agent Orange to the government included The Dow Chemical Company, Monsanto Company, Hercules Inc., Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Company, Uniroyal Inc., Thompson Chemical and T-H Agriculture and Nutrition Company (The DOW Company). Furthermore, this infamous "weed-killer" was only manufactured for distribution by the U.S. government for military use. The product was never manufactured or sold for commercial purposes.
After Agent Orange was manufactured and packaged as ordered by the U.S. government, the U.S. military took immediate and complete control of Agent Orange at the government contractors' manufacturing facilities in the U.S. The U.S. military had sole control and responsibility for the transportation of Agent Orange to Vietnam, and for its storage once the defoliant reached Vietnam. Therefore, the U.S. military controlled how, where, and when Agent Orange would be used (The DOW Company).
The laboratory studies from 1969 found that Agent Orange is thought to be harmful to man. This synopsis was concluded when laboratory animals were tested with the key ingredient inside Agent Orange, TCDD. TCDD has caused a wide variety of diseases, many of them fatal, as well as it is not found in nature. The Agent Orange herbicide used during the Vietnam War was later found to be extremely contaminated with TCDD - Agent Orange exposure could possibly lead to server birth defects (Agent Orange Information).
After finding this out, Agent Orange was removed but not until two years after the Vietnam War. Regrettably, Agent Orange was used to help destroy around 5 million acres of forest, which still remain unrestored today. Therefore, the estimated 2.6 million Vietnam veterans had already underwent exposure to the poisonous herbicide that continues to plague them today (Agent Orange Information).
Correspondingly, most of the Vietnam veterans still suspect that their illnesses are linked somehow to their exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and some of them believe that their children have suffered from Agent Orange diseases relating to birth defects or conditions such as spinal bifida. Veterans who believe that they or their children are suffering from Agent Orange diseases were recently encouraged to apply to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to see if they qualify for benefits/medical treatment related to their Agent Orange diseases (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs).
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are a number of illnesses and conditions that are classified as Agent Orange diseases. Here are some official recognized diseases and conditions linked to Agent Orange by the VA:

• Soft tissue sarcoma
• Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
• Hodgkin's disease
• Chloracne
• Respiratory cancers (including cancers of the lung, larynx, trachea & bronchus)
• Prostate cancer
• Multiple myeloma
• Peripheral neuropathy 
(acute or subacute)
• Spinal bifida
• Porphyria cutanea tarda
• Increased rate of primary liver cancer & oropharynx cancer
• Miscarriage
• Stillbirth
• Premature birth
• Hyditiform mole & choriocarcinoma
• Anencephalia
• Microcephalia
• Hydrocephalia
• Cerebral palsy
• Higher rates of infant mortality
• Contaminated breast milk
• Loss of appetite
• Insomnia
• Weight loss
• Fatigue
• Headache
• Impaired vision & hearing
• Hepatitis
• Liver cirrhosis
• Immune-deficiency: increased rates of infectious diseases & malaria
• Intestinal diseases: gastric ulcers, gastroduodenitis
• Dermatitis
• Hypertension & cerebral circulation disorders

In 1979, the first class action lawsuit was filed because of the Agent Orange side effects. Unfortunately, there was little progress for the Agent Orange side effects sufferers until a judge (Jack Weinstein) assigned to the case in 1983 put it on a fast track to settlement. In 1985, an out of court settlement, between the Vietnam Veterans and the chemical manufactures, created a fund for Agent Orange side effect sufferers (Agent Orange Lawsuits).
However, the $180 million settlement fund was completely depleted by 1994, by only paying out just 50,000 of the 2.4 million peoples exposed and potentially suffering Agent Orange side effects. Since the settlement fund required that there must be Agent Orange side effects shown and "total disability" demonstrated to receive money for each year between 1971 and 1994, many people that suffered Agent Orange side effects after 1994 were not included. In addition, there was a lack of awareness amongst Vietnam veterans that a class action Agent Orange side effects settlement had been formed (Agent Orange Lawsuits).
Thankfully, a tied Supreme Court vote on June 9th of 2003, allowed the Vietnam veterans that have developed Agent Orange illnesses after 1994 to sue the compound's manufacturers despite the 1985 settlement. Even though the Vietnam War was decades ago, some Vietnam veterans are now just beginning to suffer the serious effects of Agent Orange exposure. The 1985 Agent Orange settlement excluded many Vietnam veterans that have suffered, are suffering, and will continue to suffer because of Agent Orange exposure (Agent Orange Lawsuits).
On the flip side, millions of Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange during the war as well, but most Americans' are unaware of it. It is estimated that today approximately a million or more people have disabilities and/or other health problems linked to Agent Orange, according to a number of pilot studies made in Vietnam. These studies estimate that approximately 100,000 of these adversely affected people are disabled children (Fawthrop).
Additionally, based on the high percentage of people in need of assistance and the extremely difficult situation many of them have to face, the Vietnam Red Cross (VNRC) has set up a special fund and taken the lead to mobilize support in order to provide humanitarian assistance. The people affected by Agent Orange are not only suffering from severe disabilities and a multitude of other health problems, but also from the associated effects of not being able to integrate into normal life. Many children cannot go to school and their parents are often unable to work (Fawthrop). Here is a very brief list of some the birth defects caused by Agent Orange continuing in Vietnam today, as follows:
• Large head syndrome
• Retardation
• Severe bone malformation
• Spinal Bifida
• Uncontrollable muscle spasm
• Hydroencephalitis
• Missing vital body parts: arms, legs, eyes, fingers and toes, etc…
• Stillborn deformed fetuses

The consequences of spraying these toxic chemicals continue to have devastating effects on the environment. Millions of liters of Agent Orange caused a great ecological imbalance, destroying timber, wild animals and forest products. Without forest cover to retain water, flooding in the rainy season and drought in the dry season has adversely affected agricultural production. Topsoil is easily washed away, further hindering forest recovery. While the uplands have been and continue to be eroded, the lowlands have become choked with sediment, further increasing the threat of flooding.
Professor Nhan, the former president of the Vietnamese Red Cross, denounced the action as "a massive violation of human rights of the civilian population, and a weapon of mass destruction" (Fawthrop).
Approximately 10,000 or more U.S. war veterans, who were exposed to Agent Orange during the war, receive disability benefits for various types of cancer and other serious health problems that have been linked to Agent Orange. "American victims of Agent Orange will get up to $1500 a month. However most Vietnamese families affected receive around 80,000 Dong a month, just over $5 dollars, in government support for each disabled child," Professor Nhan said (Fawthrop).
While U.S. veterans have won partial compensation for their exposure to the deadly toxin, Vietnamese victims have not received a single cent of compensation or humanitarian aid from the U.S. government or the chemical companies that produced the defoliant, despite their numerous requests for aid.
To sum it all up, in all honesty, the United States should never have been involved in the Vietnam War – this was between them, not us. North Vietnam was battling for ownership of South Vietnam, so that they would be a unified communist nation. So to prevent another domino effect and the further spread of communism, the U.S. became involved in this civil war and stood behind the South Vietnamese leader, Diem
The further and further was engrossed ourselves into the Vietnam War, many American and Vietnamese lives were touched by grief, fear, but most of all anger. The Vietnamese suffered the most, while their children were dying in the street, villages (to this day) remained nothing more than charred ashes, and bombs destroyed thousands of innocent civilians – young and old.
As the emotionally and physically terror of death continues to live as a result from the Vietnam War, no one will never forget the key factor of it all, Agent Orange: The Silent Assassin.

Works Cited List

"Agent Orange." U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 2006. 17 December 2006.


"Agent Orange Information." Agent Orange Lawsuits. 17 December 2006.

"Agent Orange Lawsuits." Agent Orange Lawsuits. 17 December 2006.

"Agent Orange, Operation Ranch Hand: Vietnam War Herbicides." 15th Field Artillery:
Vietnam Artillerymen. 04 December 2006. LANDSCAPER.NET. 17 December 2006.

"Background on Agent Orange." The Dow Chemical Company. 2006. 17 December 2006.


Fawthrop, Tom. "Vietnam's war against Agent Orange." BBC News. 14 June 2004.
17 December 2006.

Rotter, Andrew J. "The Causes of the Vietnam War." Modern American Poetry.
1999. Oxford UP. 17 December 2006.


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