FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Agent Orange on Okinawa

A single sentence buried among 7000 pages of documents recently released by the Pentagon might well be the needle in the haystack that conclusively proves the U.S. military stored toxic herbicides, including Agent Orange, on Okinawa during the Vietnam War. American veterans have long claimed that large volumes of these chemicals were present on the island and hundreds of them are suffering from serious illnesses they believe were triggered by their exposure. But the U.S. government has repeatedly denied their allegations by insisting it has no records related to the issue.

Now it seems the Pentagon’s denials might not have been entirely correct.

In September 1971, U.S. Army Fort Detrick, Maryland, the center for the Pentagon’s bio-chemical weapons research, produced a report titled “Historical, logistical, political and technical aspects of the herbicide/defoliant program.” The document summarized the military’s usage of these chemicals during the Vietnam War and among the locations cited is a reference to “Herbicide stockpiles elsewhere in PACOM-US (Pacific Command) government restricted materials Thailand and Okinawa (Kadena).”

The U.S. government already admits that it stored military herbicides in Thailand during the Vietnam War but it denies their presence on Okinawa. At the time, Kadena Air Base (located near present-day Okinawa City) served as the Pentagon’s key supply hub through which weapons and ammunition were flown to the conflict in Southeast Asia.

The Fort Detrick report was among a cache of U.S. Army documents declassified in October 2012 under the Freedom of Information Act at the request of Steve House, one of the veterans at the center of the 2011 investigation into the burial of Agent Orange in South Korea. House discovered the reference to Kadena along with Michelle Gatz, a Minnesota-based veterans services officer who has been researching herbicide usage on Okinawa.

“While I am sure the U.S. government will try to discredit the report, it will help to prove veterans’ claims that they were exposed to herbicides on Okinawa,” Gatz said. “It might even be enough proof for them to receive government benefits for the health problems they’re suffering.”

Fort Detrick drew up the report in response to a 1970 Washington ban on the military’s usage of Agent Orange due to evidence that the defoliants the Air Force had been spraying in Vietnam for almost a decade caused birth defects. The Fort Detrick report chronicles the military’s confusion as to how best to dispose of its surplus stocks of millions of liters of herbicides following their prohibition. Some of the proposals floated in the report include using the toxic defoliants in “undeveloped nations” under the auspices of U.S. aid programs or “burial in soil pits or settling ponds.” The latter suggestion will be of particular concern to Okinawa residents since U.S. veterans stationed on the island have claimed such burials of unwanted herbicides took place on Futenma Air Station and on former military land in Chatan Town.

According to experts, the dioxins contained in the U.S. military’s herbicides can contaminate the ground for decades and cause serious harm to people living nearby. In Vietnam, the land where the U.S. military stored Agent Orange during the war remains dangerously polluted and the Vietnamese Red Cross estimates that approximately 3 million people are suffering from the effects of exposure to these chemicals.

The discovery of the Fort Detrick document comes soon after the release of another American military report implicating the Air Force in the storage of Agent Orange on Okinawa. “An Ecological Assessment of Johnston Atoll”, revealed in The Japan Times in August 2012 stated the U.S. Air Force transported 25,000 barrels of Agent Orange from Okinawa to Johnston Island in the North Pacific for disposal in 1972.

When confronted with the Johnston Island report in September 2012, Washington was quick to distance itself from the contents. It told the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs that it had reinvestigated its own records and come to the conclusion that “the description that ‘[Herbicide Orange] was stored in Okinawa’ is inaccurate and contradicts with the facts that the U.S. government acknowledges.” In reply, the Japanese government stated it believed the U.S. explanation and it has been reluctant to pursue the matter further.

Masami Kawamura, Environmental Justice Director of Citizens’ Network for Biodiversity in Okinawa, the NGO calling for a full investigation into Agent Orange usage on the island, is unconvinced by Washington’s reply to Tokyo.

“For many years, the U.S. government had been saying there were no documents related to herbicides on Okinawa. But in August the Johnston Island ecological assessment turned up and their reaction was to call it inaccurate. Now this new report has been uncovered. Will they try to say it is inaccurate, too?” Kawamura said.

When asked for comment for this article, Lieutenant Colonel David Honchul, Director of Public Affairs at United States Forces Japan reiterated the Department of Defense’s commitment to investigate allegations of Agent Orange on Okinawa.

As to the latest Kadena allegations, he declined to comment in detail about the Fort Detrick report but concluded, “It doesn’t change our position that there is no documentary evidence that Agent Orange or similar herbicides were ever used in, stored on, or shipped through Okinawa.”

Kadena Air Base remains the largest U.S. Air Force installation in the Pacific – home to approximately 22,000 service members, their families and civilian contractors. 180,000 people live in the surrounding municipalities of Chatan, Kadena and Okinawa City.

Jon Mitchell is a Welsh-born writer based in Japan. In November 2012, “Defoliated Island”, a TV documentary based upon his research into the U.S. military’s usage of Agent Orange on Okinawa was awarded a commendation for excellence by Japan’s National Association of Commercial Broadcasters.

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail