Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

The Toxic Legacy of Agent Orange

by Carol Miller

On Aug. 10, 1961, the United States began spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam, in a campaign called “Operation Ranch Hand.” The spraying lasted nearly 10 years and resulted in death and disability for more than 3 million Vietnamese, including the children and grandchildren of those directly exposed.

In addition this deadly defoliant seriously damaged the environment of Vietnam. An area of 7.5 million acres were sprayed affecting nearly 26,000 villages and hamlets. Large areas still contain hot spots of contamination. (Source: Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/ Dioxin)

What was our government thinking?

Agent Orange (AO) is a weapon that wounded both sides in the American War, as the Vietnamese call it. After years of struggle, many surviving American veterans finally receive care and compensation for Agent Orange exposure.

The U.S. Veterans Administration continues to add new diseases to the list of those they now admit were caused by exposure to Agent Orange, and its deadliest component, dioxin. Among the most recent additions are Parkinson’s disease and Type 2 diabetes. Despite many illnesses among the children and grandchildren of affected vet erans, Congress and the VA only recognize spina bifida, a very rare birth defect. In Vietnam, the govern ment’s efforts to deal with the toxic legacy of Agent Orange are very visible. Collection boxes for donations are out side of restaurants, museums, train stations; they are every­where.

Schools and job training programs are available for some of the more highly functioning affected children and young adults. There is a serious shortage of these schools. The more seriously affected victims need care 24 hours a day.

Most of the help to Agent Orange victims in Vietnam has been provided from Europe, Japan and Canada. U.S. veterans, both as individuals and through various organizations, also provide help to Vietnam.

Canadian scientists have been working with the Vietnamese to identify hot spots and determine where food can safely be grown today. Some fields have recently been approved for quick  growing crops such as leafy greens, but even in these areas, meat and fish remain too toxic to eat.

The U.S. Congress has done very little to address the legacy of Agent Orange spraying in Vietnam. A new bill could change this. HR 2634, the ‘Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2011’ was introduced by Congressman Bob Filner of California in July. If passed, this law will be a significant first step to helping victims of Agent Orange in both the U.S. and Vietnam.

The beginning of August every year is a time of reflection about war here in New Mexico. There are a range of remembrances, as varied as prayer vigils to movies to debates and arguments over the atomic bombs dropped Aug. 6 in Hiroshima and Aug. 9 in Nagasaki. This year, the ongoing nuclear disaster in Fukushima brought even more passionate protests against both nuclear power and nucle ar weapons and warfare.

And now there is Aug. 10, a date to reflect on the first use of chemical warfare on Vietnam by the U.S. On a human rights delegation to Vietnam, I attended a public health presentation in the Vietnamese Central Highlands, the area that was most heavily sprayed with Agent Orange.

The speaker opened his pre sentation saying, “Vietnam is the size of the state of New Mexico and more bombs were dropped here than all the bombs dropped in World War II everywhere.”

I am still haunted by that comparison that inextricably links my home, New Mexico, with the incredible destruction imposed on Vietnam.

It is important to remem ber what the government has done in our name, includ ing the use of technological weapons that have changed the very DNA each of us has in every cell of our body. We still do not know how many future generations will suffer from wars fought decades before they were born. But we can say “enough!”

The U.S. government must help countries recover from the destruction we have caused through warfare. It is the right thing to do and our national security depends upon it.

Carol Miller is a resident of Ojo Sarco.

Carol Miller is an Independent unable to vote in the New Mexico primary. She has been working on electoral reform and creating a more democratic electoral system since the 1990’s. Miller recommends that people newly awakened to the unfairness of the electoral system support Ballot Access News (, Coalition for Free and Open Elections (, and Fair Vote (

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017