Chemical Warfare: A Lasting Impression

Anh Dung (means heroism, strength)Of all the monuments, memorials, and mementos left from the Vietnam War nothing is more lasting than the effects of Operation Trail Dust.

Trail Dust, Mule Train, and Ranch Hand were the catchy names given the US Government to programs to defoliate Vietnam for purposes of “food denial” and to clear “key routes.”

It was determined that “crop destruction” wouldn’t go down well politically, so the term “food denial” was used instead in the National Security Action Memorandum signed by President Kennedy on November 30, 1961.

We didn’t want to starve anybody, just deny them food.

Agents Pink, Green, Purple, and Orange provided another façade to the poisonous array of chemicals that would be showered upon the Vietnamese, to set them free. The real name for these toxins, phenoxy herbicides, was considerably less appealing and hard for the well-bred member of the Kennedy Administration, their successors, or the public, to digest.

Color coding made the use of 2,4-D (dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) 2,4,5-T (trichlorophenoxyacetic acid) and the combination of the two into Agent Orange, palatable. This not only served to deflect public awareness of our use of chemical warfare in Vietnam, but it also made it easier for the Administration’s perpetrators to rationalize, thus distancing themselves from the insanity of their actions.

Invented during World War II at the War Research Service in Fort Detrick, Maryland, phenoxy herbicides came into commercial use in the early 1940’s. They proved effective in killing broad-leafed plants such as weeds, but not affecting others such as corn. Within a decade concerns began to surface. Botanists and chemists at Dow Chemical, Shell, and others reported problems with contamination and control.

Liberating an oppressed people is serious business, particularly when Marxist-Leninist ideology is in play. The great Liberator would not contemplate questions about the long-term impact of phenoxy herbicides. Neither would its complicit contractors who would play down the concerns of their knowledge workers when enticed by lucrative defense contracts.

Such is the high price one must pay for assuring freedom.

Separated from the “transportation, storage, and use” of its toxins Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Hercules, Diamond Shamrock, Uniroyal, Thompson Chemical and Thompson-Hayward, and other defense contracts were able to distance themselves from the moral implications of their actions.

For those responsible for its use a heavy dose of forgettery was applied. Defense Secretary Robert Strange McNamara, a man renowned for his sharp memory, said that he was never aware of any health concerns associated with the toxins sprayed over Vietnam.

Putting facts in a vacuum is the best way of assuring they’re never exposed as lies. Even brilliant men, like McNamara, were willing to embrace the bliss of ignorance.

Now, imagine being the parent of a daughter born without eyes, or of a son without arms. How great would that heartbreak be, and how long would it endure? Would there be a single moment of respite or a day that passes feeling contentment with the life you have?

An estimated 4.8 million Vietnamese civilians were on the receiving end of Operation Trail Dust. The vast majority had as much to do with the war and communist aggression as oranges in Florida.

Concentration levels of the toxins, as admitted by the Defense Department in 1979, were 12 times that in commercial use. And, to break through Vietnam’s thick canopy of trees, areas were regularly sprayed multiple times.

Unwitting parents, grandparents, and children were caught in the Rainbow Herbicide shower. An itching and burning sensation were the body’s first reaction. Then came acne, later cancer, and finally the persistent curse of birth defects.

Today, an estimated 150,000 Vietnamese children bear the worst effects. Some so disfigured they are abandoned by their parents and placed in poorly funded care facility, twenty to a room. For these wretched infants, there is no life beyond what might exist for an organ tethered to its body. Life is sustained in minimal form, one step removed from death; absent a soul, a purpose, or a future.

American exceptionalism – stronger today than it was during the war in Vietnam – binds our government and private industry to a storyline that maintains no fault.

Others see it differently.

The VIETNAM AGENT ORANGE RELIEF AND RESPONSIBILITY CAMPAIGN is an initiative of U.S. Veterans, Vietnamese Americans, and all concerned about peace and justice. They “insist our government honor its moral and legal responsibility to compensate the Vietnamese victims and all victims, of Agent Orange.”

I support them. We all should.

Go here to donate: http://www.vn-agentorange.org/donate.html.

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