Orange Death: The Tragic Legacy of Chemical Warfare in Southeast Asia
Over the course of the Vietnam War, American forces sprayed more than twenty million gallons of various herbicides in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. In Vietnam alone, around thirteen million gallons were used over an area of land spanning nearly five million acres in order to destroy the forest cover and crops used by enemy North Vietnamese and Viet Cong Troops. Of these herbicides, the infamous substance codenamed: “Agent Orange” was the most commonly used . According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Agent Orange contains a highly poisonous substance named dioxin. Even in the case of small exposure, dioxin can lead to severe health problems on an intergenerational basis, as the toxin is linked to cancers, severe psychological and neurological problems, and birth defects.
From 1969 to 1971, more than four million Vietnamese citizens were exposed to Agent Orange. Vietnam itself has estimated that some 400,000 people were killed or maimed as a result of herbicides, such as Agent Orange, during the war. The Vietnamese government also claims that at least half a million children have been born with serious birth defects, while “as many as two million Vietnamese are suffering from cancer or other illnesses caused by Agent Orange.” The use of Agent Orange still impacts not only those in Southeast Asia, but also in the United States. Today, thousands of the more than 2,800,000 American veterans of the Vietnam conflict attribute their health problems and the congenital problems facing many of their children and grandchildren to their contact with Agent Orange while fighting overseas.
Thankfully, the United States has taken measures to help lessen dioxin’s environmental impact by cleaning up three confirmed residual ‘hot spots’ of the chemical in Vietnam. However, the lasting impact of Agent Orange use in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and the United States remains. It is imperative that the United States act in accordance with other impacted countries to locate unknown hot stops, treat current victims of Agent Orange, and take further measures to prevent any damage done to future generations. The use of such chemical warfare on the part of the United States was clearly wrong. Now, the United States government must listen to its own veterans, along with those impacted by Agent Orange on a global scale, to provide restitution for the suffering it caused, and to move forward as a force for good in the world.