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  • Writer's pictureAanya M.

Agent Orange: One of the worst war crimes committed in U.S. history

Between 1961 and 1971, American forces sprayed a variety of color-coded herbicides across rural Vietnam in Laos and Cambodia in order to harm food crops and defoliate trees and shrubs that were serving as shelter and a source of food for the opposing forces. One of these herbicides was Agent Orange. 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, two herbicides, were blended 50/50. It was hazardous for only a few days or weeks before degrading, but it had a poisonous byproduct called dioxin that did not break down as quickly and is still causing health problems in Vietnam. Dioxins' chemical name is 2,3,7,8-tetrachloro-dibenzo-para-dioxin, or TCDD.

Up to 20 times the authorized dose by the manufacturers for destroying plants, Agent Orange was sprayed. Millions of acres of crops and woodlands were defoliated. Even now, substantial portions of that area are unusable and damaged. After being used in the 1960s, the United States banned Agent Orange in 1971. The remaining supplies were transported from Vietnam and the United States to Johnston Atoll, a U.S.-controlled island about 700 miles southeast of Hawaii, where they were destroyed in 1978. Today, not in Vietnam nor anyplace else, is there any "Agent Orange."

Exposure to Agent Orange is blamed for an abnormally high frequency of miscarriages, skin conditions, malignancies, birth deformities, and congenital anomalies (sometimes dramatic and grotesque) among Vietnamese people that dates back to the 1970s. It is estimated that over 400,000 Vietnamese people have suffered from the effects of Agent Orange, and that as many as 2 million people may have been exposed to the toxic chemical. About three-fourths of the 517 cases of birth defects and impairments that the War Legacies Project has so far recorded in Laos are apparent to the untrained eye as disorders of the kinds now associated with exposure to Agent Orange, such as deformed limbs.

Numerous troops from the United States, Australia, and New Zealand who were exposed to Agent Orange for an extended period of time in Vietnam ultimately acquired various malignancies and other health issues.

Despite the widespread use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, it was not until many years later that the full extent of its effects became known. In the decades since the war, the US government has been criticized for its handling of the aftermath of the use of Agent Orange, particularly with regard to the lack of support and compensation for those who have suffered from its effects. America has never taken responsibility for spraying the herbicide over Laos during the Vietnam War. But generations of ethnic minorities have endured the consequences. Something never talked about in history classrooms, and briefly mentioned in military reports Agent Orange is one of the untold stories of the Vietnam War, due to its gruesome effects.

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