In Vietnam, the US conducted the largest chemical warfare campaign in history. Between 1961 and 1971, US military forces dropped more than 19 million gallons of herbicidal agents on the Republic of Vietnam, including more than 12 million gallons of dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange. (The purpose was to destroy trees and other plants providing impenetrable cover for Vietnamese fighting against the USA.)

Vietnam. Poisoned by Agent Orange Photo Simon Norfolk

For a long time, the United States was reluctant to acknowledge any connection between chronic illnesses among its veterans and its use of the herbicide. However, in 1988 and under pressure, the Pentagon compiled a classified report linking Agent Orange to 28 life-threatening conditions. These include birth defects, skin disorders, neurological defects and almost every cancer known to medical science.

But the US government has shown little interest in the Vietnamese also afflicted, and has offered them no compensation.

The effects on the health of Vietnamese and US veterans and their families remain devastating. Birth defects resulting from contamination by the chemical herbicide still persist in three generations born since the war.

An estimated 650,000 people are suffering from chronic illnesses in Vietnam alone. Another 500,000 have already died from the results of contamination.

Research on dioxin levels from wartime herbicides has found that Agent Orange, instead of naturally dispersing, has remained in the ground in concentrations more than 100 times the safe levels for farmland.

The military initially denied knowing about the terrible effects these herbicides have on human beings, but in 1988 military scientist Dr James Clary admitted the truth. ‘When we initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide,’ Clary wrote in a letter to a member of Congress investigating Agent Orange. ‘However, because the material was to be used on the enemy, none of us were overly concerned.’

Agent Orange victims and their families have fought for compensation since the 1970s. Some claims have resulted in out-of-court settlements after court proceedings and negotiations that dragged on for years. So far, the US government has given no indication that it will aid Vietnamese victims and their families, who have been exposed to dioxin residues ever since the war.

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