How the Pentagon used WMDs in Vietnam
Published Jun 16, 2005 7:45 PM
On April 30, 1975, U.S.
imperialism suffered its sharpest, most stunning defeat of the last century. Its
“advisers” and “diplomats” in Saigon fled in desperation
onto helicopters that took them away to ships waiting in the South China
Between the military reverses of its South Vietnamese puppets and the
fierce and rising resistance at home, the United States had to give up. For the
Vietnamese people, the year 1975 was the end of 35 years of warfare.
this didn’t end the ravages of war for the Vietnamese people. Among the
worst was widespread poisoning by the dioxins included in herbicides.
did it end their struggle to gain resources to combat these ravages. These
efforts have included a lawsuit in U.S. courts for damages from dioxins used
during the war.
The United States had devoted immense financial and human
resources to prosecuting this war against the Vietnamese people. The most
pernicious weapon the Pentagon used in Vietnam was herbicides.
estimates of the number of
people exposed to herbicides in Vietnam between
1961 and 1971 oscillate between 2.1 and 4.8 million, spread over 20,500
The puppet South Vietnamese regime sprayed between 1971, when
the United States was forced to stop, and 1975, when their government collapsed.
This regime kept no records. Approximately 18,000,000 gallons of these poisons
The U.S. Armed Forces used 15.5 million tons of air and ground
munitions in the war. That is about 9 million more tons than it used in World
These munitions left approximately 26 million craters in the soil
of Vietnam, including 21 million in the South. They of course destroyed bridges,
roads, schools, hospitals, dikes and canals, as well as kil ling massive numbers
of civilians and soldiers.
The munitions that didn’t explode on
impact are still killing people, over 30 years since they were
The United States spent roughly $300 billion to $900 billion on
the war, counting all the indirect costs like interest and veteran benefits.
This is about the same as it spent on World War II, which involved dozens of
The United States has provided no recovery aid to Vietnam since
1975. U.S. veteran groups have provided some assistance on a people-to-people
The human costs of the war were very high. Some 2.2 million
Indochinese people died, including over 1.9 million Vietnamese, 200,000
Cambodians and 100,000 Laotians. The war left from 3 to 5 million Indochinese
either wounded or infirm.
Some 58,151 U.S. soldiers died, along with 5,000
soldiers from U.S. allies. (From Indochina Newsletter, Asia Resource Center,
Special Issue 93-97—The ABC’s of the Vietnam
Consequences of chemical warfare
Three generations of
Vietnamese have carried the consequences of chemical warfare—which is what
spraying herbicides really is—in their flesh and genes.
still has hospitals devoted to treating children born without limbs or with
severe neurological impairments.
Most of these children are born in areas
where there was heavy spraying of these herbicides, variously called Agent
Orange, Agent Blue, Agent White, depending on the color of their
The most dangerous component of these herbicides was an
industrial chemical known as dioxin, which is a byproduct of the production of
many chemicals in industrial societies.
More than 20 years ago, U.S.
veterans who were involved in distributing these herbicides sued the
manufacturers of Agent Orange, which settled out of court for $180 million.
Given the magnitude of the suffering and disabilities of these vets, which
ranged from cancer to diabetes, and the number involved, this really
wasn’t much money.
Later, however, Adm. Elmo Zummalt’s son
died of cancer, probably due to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and his
grandson was born with neurological problems. Zumwalt had been chief of naval
operations from 1970 to 1974, after heading U.S. naval forces in Vietnam and
personally ordering the herbicide spraying that afflicted his son.
Zumwalt campaigned to get Congress to investigate the dangers of dioxin,
which led to further funds being released to aid veterans. It did nothing for
the Viet nam ese he poisoned.
Vietnamese begin mass
In 2003, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange
was formed. VAVA began a mass campaign to collect funds and support for a U.S.
lawsuit against the Agent Orange manufacturers. It quickly got over 8 million
signatures and in early 2005 brought its case in a Brooklyn federal
The U.S. government compensates those who develop a number of
specific conditions, including spina bifida in the children of veterans. But in
March, Judge Jack Weinstein ruled that as defense contractors, the Agent Orange
firms could not be held liable for the decision of the U.S. government, which
has sovereign immunity, to use the defoliants.
Weinstein also ruled that
international agreements in force at the time did not cover the herbicides, as
they should not be considered poisons.
Professor Dr. Hoang Dinh Cau,
former chair of the Viet Nam Committee for Inves tigation of the Consequences of
the U.S. Chemical War in Viet Nam, told the Vietnamese News Agency that the
court’s decision had denied scientific evidence that was all too clear
about the consequences of Agent Orange. The United States has turned its back on
the truth in saying that no chemical war happened in Vietnam.
quoted a recent document published by the U.S. Academy of Science that the Ranch
Hand operation—the Penta gon’s name for the spreading of
herbicide— had destroyed some 40 percent of Vietnam’s mangrove
forests, deprived local people of conditions to earn their living, and brought
about drastic changes in coastal areas. He said that even now, 30 years after
the U.S. bombing, what remains in many localities are just bare hills and
VAVA intends to appeal the U.S. court decision, which it
finds faulty on both scientific and legal grounds. The Vietnam Agent Orange
Relief and Responsibility Campaign has announced plans for Fall 2005 to conduct
a U.S. speaking tour of representatives of VAVA and other Agent Orange
When details of the trip are known, they will be announced on
1. A very significant
book, “Agent Orange: Yesterday’s crime, today’s
tragedy,” published in French in February 2005 by the French-Vietnamese
Friendship Association. An English edition is expected.
vned.free.fr/actualites.php?r=0, the French website of “The children of
dioxin in Vietnam,” has a number of reports in English.
http://www.aafv.org/index1.htm, which is part of the French-Vietnamese Friendship
association, has a good list of sites in French, English and Vietnamese on Agent
Orange and a number of other issues.
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