FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
June 14, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump’s Trade Threats are Really Cold War 2.0
Bruce E. Levine
Tom Paine, Christianity, and Modern Psychiatry
Jason Hirthler
Mainstream 101: Supporting Imperialism, Suppressing Socialism
T.J. Coles
How Much Do Humans Pollute? A Breakdown of Industrial, Vehicular and Household C02 Emissions
Andrew Levine
Whither The Trump Paradox?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of 10,000 Talkers, All With Broken Tongues
Pete Dolack
Look to U.S. Executive Suites, Not Beijing, For Why Production is Moved
Paul Street
It Can’t Happen Here: From Buzz Windrip and Doremus Jessup to Donald Trump and MSNBC
Rob Urie
Capitalism Versus Democracy
Richard Moser
The Climate Counter-Offensive: Secrecy, Deception and Disarming the Green New Deal
Naman Habtom-Desta
Up in the Air: the Fallacy of Aerial Campaigns
Ramzy Baroud
Kushner as a Colonial Administrator: Let’s Talk About the ‘Israeli Model’
Mark Hand
Residents of Toxic W.Va. Town Keep Hope Alive
John Kendall Hawkins
Alias Anything You Please: a Lifetime of Dylan
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigots in Blue: Philadelphia Police Department is a Home For Hate
David Macaray
UAW Faces Its Moment of Truth
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative
Horace G. Campbell
Edward Seaga and the Institutionalization of Thuggery, Violence and Dehumanization in Jamaica
Graham Peebles
Zero Waste: The Global Plastics Crisis
Michael Schwalbe
Oppose Inequality, Not Cops
Ron Jacobs
Scott Noble’s History of Resistance
Olivia Alperstein
The Climate Crisis is Also a Health Emergency
David Rosen
Time to Break Up the 21st Century Tech Trusts
George Wuerthner
The Highest Use of Public Forests: Carbon Storage
Ralph Nader
It is Time to Rediscover Print Newspapers
Nick Licata
How SDS Imploded: an Inside Account
Rachel Smolker – Anne Peterman
The GE American Chestnut: Restoration of a Beloved Species or Trojan Horse for Tree Biotechnology?
Sam Pizzigati
Can Society Survive Without Empathy?
Manuel E. Yepe
China and Russia in Strategic Alliance
Patrick Walker
Green New Deal “Climate Kids” Should Hijack the Impeachment Conversation
Colin Todhunter
Encouraging Illegal Planting of Bt Brinjal in India
Robert Koehler
The Armed Bureaucracy
David Swanson
Anyone Who’d Rather Not be Shot Should Read this Book
Jonathan Power
To St. Petersburg With Love
Marc Levy
How to Tell a Joke in Combat
Thomas Knapp
Pork is Not the Problem
Manuel García, Jr.
Global Warming and Solar Minimum: a Response to Renee Parsons
Jill Richardson
Straight People Don’t Need a Parade
B. R. Gowani
The Indian Subcontinent’s Third Partition
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: The Black Body in LA
Jonah Raskin
‘69 and All That Weird Shit
Michael Doliner
My Surprise Party
Stephen Cooper
The Fullness of Half Pint
Charles R. Larson
Review: Chris Arnade’s “Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America”
David Yearsley
Sword and Sheath Songs
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail