Arby has been a professional writer and researcher for over 10 years, and her areas of interest are shamefully diverse.
What Is Agent Orange?
Agent Orange was the code-name given to a chemical defoliant used in mass-quantities during the Vietnam war. Its purpose was to kill off the dense jungle greenery that aided Viet Cong soldiers and hindered U.S. troops.
The VC were adept at using the jungles to hide in. It was their home turf and it was painfully obvious that their familiarity with the geography of the land served to their tactical advantage time and again. U.S. forces thought it made sense to dust the embattled jungles repeatedly with the chemical agent, stripping plant life to bare stalks and exposing the VC encampments.
Millions and millions of gallons of the stuff were blanketed across South Vietnam and a shroud still hangs, unshakable, on the shoulders of the country today. Horrific after-effects of exposure to AO cast a long-running plague on the people there, and it followed many American soldiers home.
My Personal Agent Orange Story
It's not quite fair to call it my story. It is the story of one man out of many who came home from the war only to die because of it years later. It is a story that belongs to his wife and his daughters.
I knew him as Uncle Pete. He wasn't my relation in the usual sense, but he was one of those family friends who was close enough that it just seemed perfectly normal to refer to him as "uncle." I was just a kid - probably around ten years old - when he died. The gravity of it was not fully known to me at the time, as my parents would keep those certain unspeakable details from me whenever possible. Details about what happens to a body losing a battle with a particularly nasty and prolific cancer.
Pete had served in Vietnam. I don't think he was in support of the war from a political standpoint, but he was drafted and he went. He did his time in the jungles alongside so many other men, many of whom fell and died there. Pete made it through his tour seemingly unscathed, and returned home ready to pick his life back up where he'd left it.
Pete started a family, and became the father of two sweet little girls. They were just a bit younger than me when he died. I don't know if it's better to lose someone suddenly, far away - or to watch them die slowly right before your eyes. I just remember that everyone knew it was coming; he was at the hospital 24/7 at the very end.
We drifted apart, I suppose, from Pete's family after his death. I would hear adults in my family talk about it from time to time. As I got older, I came to understand the sum of all the snippets of conversation I had heard through the years. They were certain the cancer that had ravaged the body of their good friend was caused by exposure to Agent Orange. He was a casualty of war as much as anyone who had died in battle.
Why Are People Still Dying From Agent Orange?
The problem with Agent Orange is that its ingredients form what is known as a dioxin. This is an umbrella term for a group of the worst environmental pollutants known to mankind. The first concrete information correlating this particular dioxin with detrimental health effects came for America in 1980 from a team of New Jersey medical researchers seeking answers for the epidemic of certain cancers rampant in Vietnam war veterans.
A few years later, some of these affected men and their families participated in a class action lawsuit against the makers of Agent Orange, including chemical giants Dow and Monsanto. The suit was settled out of court for around $180 million. Keep in mind that individual plaintiffs saw very small percentages of that amount.
The Passage of the Agent Orange Act
Within a couple years of my Uncle Pete's death, amid still-growing outrage from vets and their loved ones, congress passed the Agent Orange Act. This gave the Bureau of Veterans Affairs the ability to deem certain cases of cancer as being related to the patient's contact with the defoliant, giving such patients the right to receive some monetary compensation.
The Lasting Effects of Agent Orange
The Act also allowed for continued research into the problem. Through the years, the findings grew. And they were ugly. Scientists working on the project steadily came up with more and more diseases and conditions they believed to be directly related to AO exposure in Vietnam. Among them were a host of cancers including melanoma, lymphoma, prostate and respiratory cancers, sarcoma, and leukemia. More studies pointed toward the chemical having caused neurological conditions in some soldiers. Worse, the research found that these exposures seemed to be affecting the next generation; Agent Orange was making these soldiers' children sick, too.
An unusually high number of birth defects, predominantly spina bifida, was occurring among the children born to certain groups of Vietnam vets. Research teams reported to the government that they believed the jungle-dusting across the ocean in the 60s was causing grave birth defects in U.S. children born decades later.
Another lawsuit was taken up on behalf of American soldiers exposed to Agent Orange, which garnered a substantially more sizable—and ongoing—form of compensation from the chemical manufacturers. Still, how does one become compensated for a life?
The US Government's Position on Agent Orange
The US government's position has been that while they acknowledge that Agent Orange has had negative health effects, this was something that came to light after the fact. Had they known that Agent Orange was, in fact, a dioxin back in the 1960s certainly they would not have administered it so liberally in Vietnam.
But whistle blowers have produced credible claims that government and military officials knew exactly what they were exposing their young men to. Did multi-million dollar contracts with colossal chemical corporations provide justification enough in some men's hearts to poison their own people?
The idea of ignoring human health and safety hazards so as not to hinder profit is nothing abnormal when it comes to chemical manufacturing giants, say some. Several former employees of the aforementioned companies have brought forth claims that they were unknowingly exposed to high levels of dioxin at work. One woman says that her child was born with heart abnormalities from her own contact with airborne toxins in her workplace. Her employer, at present, claims that any levels she might have been exposed to would have been so minute that they could not have caused her (or her baby) any harm. What do you think?
Unfortunately, it's no big surprise that the United States government may have put shady business deals above the well-being of its daughters & sons. Even now, with nothing about the Agent Orange mess resolved, a newer controversy brews over the use of depleted uranium in Iraq.
Gulf Vets Speak Out About Depleted Uranium
Other AO Devastations
The regions most affected by the United States' use of Agent Orange in Vietnam are toxified, ruined, dead. The people who live there still reap the unimaginable harvest of these events which unfolded so many years ago.
Entire villages exist where nearly every child born suffers birth defects the likes of which most westerners have never even imagined. Women whose fathers were directly exposed to the chemical now give birth to children who are severely deformed, deemed to be medical "monsters" by science. They suffer genetic mutations that exist outside of current understanding, the very code of life inside their little bodies jumbled past recognition by dioxin exposure.
It's not something anybody wants to think about. The truth remains that at this very moment, children suffering the ugliest ravages of AO are being born to mothers who themselves were not yet born during the time of the Vietnam war. How can this happen?
Like many environmental contaminants, dioxin continues to do its dirty work long after its initial application. Entire ecosystems in South Vietnam were decimated and are still far too polluted for new plant life to grow. The land is poisoned. The dioxin permeated everything; the soil, the water, the blood of the people.
Recently, tests were run on the breast milk of young mothers in these heavily affected areas. Over 1,000 PPT (parts per trillion) of dioxin was found in most of it. The World Health Organization tells us that it takes only 1 to 4 PPT to cause drastic deformities and fatality in infants. Mothers are feeding their children the poisoned milk borne of their own tainted blood. It is a human rights violation of a most severe degree.
And we have all but turned a blind eye.
Way back in the early seventies, President Nixon promised billions in aid to the victims of Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. This was never followed through on.
Many sufferers and advocates have valiantly fought to help these victims of such unimaginable atrocity. Relief houses have been set up, and doctors have volunteered their time but it is not enough. Grand-scale effort must be taken to even begin to repair what has been done here. What is still happening.
The following photos are heart breaking, but they are real. These children are casualties of their grandfathers' war.
I'm not including any images of the children who continue to be born with devastating birth defect in Vietnam. Not because there aren't any. A quick Google search will reveal plenty of visual evidence of the continued destruction wrought by Agent Orange.
Losing one's child, at any point in life and from any cause, is horrendous beyond my comprehension. For entire families and villages to lose child after child at the hands of something so unfortunate - so unjust - is that horror quantified.
That is all I will say about those dear souls as the point here is not to be gratuitous, but to bring attention to them for the sake of moving forward in some good way.
There are groups who are trying to help, providing advocacy or funding for treatment, research, and environmental cleanup. These things are heartening, and should be celebrated and supported where possible so as not to dwell in the negative.
Just don't forget them, the children, the soldiers - everyone affected by Agent Orange. Keep them in your thoughts, pray for them if you believe in prayer. Any good intention directed their way may generate ideas, which can lead to real change.
People Who Are Helping
- Advocacy and Exchange Program on Agent Orange | The Aspen Institute
The Aspen Institute facilitates communication and resolution and have helped advocate for victims.
- Vietnam Agent Orange Campaign | Home
Today, three million Vietnamese suffer the effects of chemical defoliants used by the United States during the Vietnam War. The deadliest, Agent Orange, disabled and sickened soldiers, civilians and several generations of their offspring on two conti
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2009 Arby Bourne
Kenna McHugh from Northern California on August 27, 2018:
I've known quite a few soldiers who were fortunate enough to find successful treatment and remove the deadly toxins from their bodies. It's called the Purification Rundown. A close friend of my helped many of these heroes living healthy and rewarding lives.
LongTimeMother from Australia on February 05, 2013:
Your hub is just as relevant today as it was when you wrote it three years ago. I hope more people read it. I voted it up. Good on you for having a healthy social conscience, RooBee.
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on February 04, 2013:
LongTimeMother, I appreciate you reading and commenting so very much. Thank you for standing up for others and for speaking the truth. We need more like you in the world, and I agree with everything you've said.
LongTimeMother from Australia on January 26, 2013:
Even when it was happening it was obvious that governments knew the potential damage that agent orange would cause. Long before the internet and social media and other technology used today, word of mouth was sufficient to spread the horror stories and the danger. I was one of the protesters against the Vietnam War and the use of AO when I was just a teenager. I always felt sorry for people like your Uncle Pete and others who served. Our protests weren't intended to make soldiers feel unappreciated although I know some took it that way, but we hoped to stop the madness. Agent Orange was always dangerous. Politicians of that era should be ashamed of themselves. Their pensions should have been donated to vets who were incapable of ever having a comfortable 'retirement' and the victims and families of everyone whose lives were ruined by AO. History books are too kind to politicians who turned a blind eye or were actively involved in those decisions.
antonrosa from USA on May 22, 2012:
Good for everyone to know..
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on July 19, 2011:
Thank you very much for your comments, mquee -- and I'm sorry to hear of the tragedy in your own life because of this poison.
jamesmatthews, I am sorry to hear this - and that I am so late in replying. Offhand, I don't know much, but will check around and contact you with any information I find. Best to you!
m.campbell, thank you for commenting. I really appreciate it. It saddens me to hear of your situation. While I'm looking around for jamesmatthews, I will see what I can dig up in regard to lawyers who could possibly help...Best wishes to you & I will be in touch. Apologies to you, as well, for the slow reply. I was on a HubPages hiatus for a while.
m.campbell on April 18, 2011:
I have a sezure disorder its not control'ed by meds it started in 1985 i filed for disabilty and the board said it started more then two years after i got out of the army so i gave up!Im now 59 unemployable on ssd and will prob die from this or worse my mind isn't working any more i have short term memory loss i use to be great with names now i cant remember simp things or names
jamesmatthews on April 14, 2011:
I need help, does anyone know how to start a lawsuit, my dad died 01-01-09 from cancer due to agent orange, i am having problems finding ans.
mquee from Columbia, SC on March 21, 2011:
Very thorough and well written. Of course the manufacturers and the government knew about the dangers that Agent Orange posed to human life. Several of my friends were taken because of having contacted this herbicide. They died terribly painful deaths. Even now, some veterans' claims are being denied by the VA. Thanks for sharing.
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on March 10, 2011:
Salt, glad to have you here. To have known, that is of course the worst part - and many hands were dirty. It is one of those things that cannot be truly understood by the good heart. It is unfathomable, truly, to me.
Thank YOU, gguy, for reading. I really do appreciate it.
Robert, thank you. For your comment, and much more importantly for your service and sacrifices. Not a lot really can be said about this -- nothing that can soothe any of the pain or give back what was lost, anyway. As I wrote, I kept wondering why I was doing it because I didn't want to minimize anything or make any of these circumstances into some bit of entertainment. I have gotten comments from people who have never heard of any of this - and because of that I am glad to be able to at least spread awareness. And I honestly feel honored when a veteran such as yourself takes the time to read & comment. Thank you.
gguy from new jersey usa on March 09, 2011:
Great hub!! Thank You!!!!
Robert on July 22, 2010:
Nam was a hell hole for all of us who served there. So many life's were lost. The real loss was for veterans who came home feeling guilty for not dying there instead of there comrades. So much pain was felt for many of us, then to find out that we were infected with agent orange. So many years passed before we new that our life's would be destroyed because of agent orange. Our family suffered to a bigger degree, they new nothing of this agent orange and why our health was going down hill. It took so many years and so many who died before they new why this happened. I know for myself that my life was just about destroyed from living a normal life. Yes we as soldiers are proud to have served our country. And yet the Viet Nam soldier was abandoned by our country for so many years. What do you say to the wife or the children who had to live with these issues for so many years and the pain that was brought home to them from Nam veterans who all they tried to do was serve the country they loved and still do. Don't let this be forgotten and support our soldiers in any war.
salt from australia on July 15, 2010:
My father worked for the australian government and one of the ombudsmen offices, he came home one night and said " they knew, they knew about agent orange...." This was in the late 80's. What he was saying was that they knew at the time of Vietnam the effects of agent orange. If the australian government knew, then there is no way the american govt couldn't have known.
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on July 07, 2010:
Thanks for reading and commenting. That's always the long and short of things like this, isn't it? Thanks, also for your bravery in serving.
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on July 07, 2010:
Sadly true and not surprising, Laurie Favelle. I do sincerely appreciate your comments.
My dear frogdropping - sorry I have not responded to your (or anyone's) comments for so long. I agree completely with your assessment of the situation. So good to see a comment from you!
Thank you bladesofgrass, for your concern and for your sincere comments.
GNelson from Florida on July 05, 2010:
It was in Vietnam that I realized that some of us are expendeable. For the government to say that they didn't know is a lie. Corporations make huge profits from war. They know what they did. They made money so it was justified.
bladesofgrass from The Fields of Iowa on June 17, 2010:
I had no idea that people were still being affected by AO still today. I remember reading about it in history but like you, it gets filed to the back, until something is mentioned of it again. (Like finding this Hub) My heart goes out to those that the gov't has conveniently forgotten about. They always say they will rectify the problem and always fall short of doing so. Thank you for a great read. :)
Andria on September 22, 2009:
Wow RooBs - I never saw this one. Took me a while to read through it. I'm not shocked to be honest. This is just another example of how little our governments care about the little people - us.
I'll never be convinced that they didn't know back then about how toxic AO was. Why else whould they have used it? They knew damn well it killed everything it touched - and anything it was aimed at was organic ... so saying if it can wipe out foliage and wildlife then of course it's going to affect humans. Pure math.
Extremely interesting hub RooBs - and wonderfully written.
Laurie Favelle from Canberra, Australia on August 22, 2009:
An informative article with some great comments following on. AO was fairly well talked about in Australia during the Vietnam War. I guess the same story has played out here as it has in the US. Sadly, I have quite recently heard that the Indonesians have used some form of defoliant in East Timor during their occupation of that small country. I guess that would have been during the 1980's & 90's and for the same reasons as the US and allies did in the 60's & 70's. Unsurprisingly, no one is talking much about the impacts on East Timor, apart from the consequences for agriculture. Things don't seem to change much.
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on August 14, 2009:
Hi KStyle, sorry to hear about your brother having to suffer the effects of AO exposure. I wish the best for him and your family. I appreciate your comments and am so glad you found & read my hub! Thanks sincerely.
KStyle on August 09, 2009:
so very true, one of my brothers is dealing with the effects of it as we speak. Thankyou for hubbing on this
subject that was hidden for so long.
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on August 04, 2009:
Plants & Oils, it truly is. I appreciate your taking time to read this hub and to comment! Thank you.
Thank you, evanescent, yes - sadly some token effort is made only to try and quiet the masses and not to effect any real change on the part of our govt. If there was regret and a true desire to make things right, we sure as heck wouldn't be using depleted uranium in Iraq right now which the govt is fully aware causes terrible health conditions.
Alekhouse, as always, I appreciate your comments. Yeah, I believe that too. When I write something like this, it usually starts out really scathing toward those who allow such things to happen for monetary gain.. and then I tone it down several notches to allow for some objectivity so as not to just rant. But it's hard. Thanks, again.
Hello, Sabu. When, indeed. Seems like that's what we're supposed to "get" on our journey in these human bodies but somehow the lessons just aren't seeming to stick! If money weren't involved, we'd have outlawed such deadly substances in a hot second many years ago. So terribly sad. Thanks so much for your time.
shibashake, my dear, I agree wholeheartedly with you. It has always amazed me - that strange and backward mentality that seems to be so popular. It works out well for those few who make a lot of money from war. They've got a whole following who will help to suppress dissenters, whistle blowers, and the like by painting them into that 'unpatriotic' corner. Great comment, very well said.
Damaged Genes, your story breaks my heart and I know that it is not an uncommon one. You are absolutely right, IMHO. Yes, North America at present sees the least of the suffering but as you know all to well, our hens come home to roost eventually. You and others like you have had to inherit a terribly dark legacy that the gov't would love for you to keep quiet about until you are gone from this earth. Keep speaking up as you are! There are others who know these truths or who would be open to hearing them. Not everyone has their hands over their ears and their eyes too glued to Fox news to see reality. I thank you sincerely for sharing here and for your intelligent input. I would love to hear back from you anytime. Best to you in all your pursuits.
Damaged Genes on August 02, 2009:
My Father is completely disabled due to Agent Orange and I have no idea what sort of genetic time bombs have been passed on to me. Medical care and treatment is reserved for a privileged class in America so as stated above, the working class that really make this country go are left to return to dust and be swept away in the wind along with any evidence of just how long standing the permanent damage is in the families of Vietnam Veterans.
You can absolutely count on there having been a closed door big money deal made with Dow/Monsanto and the Government. We still live in an ancient and archaic system of human made scarcity called the monetary system and in this system anything regarding humans is put far, far behind the value and lust for money. The very core of this system is dishonesty, treachery, immoral and unethical behavior, brutality, aggression and greed.
We will learn to not kill each other when you move into the age of Civilization and the first step in that direction is to shed the ancient shackles of long unnecessary and crippling systems of co-existence such as the monetary system. In the meantime, countless numbers may continue to suffer (around the globe, not just in North America) the legacy of this primitive and unsustainable mode of behavior despite our species having the resources and technology to undo these wrongs right NOW.
shibashake on July 30, 2009:
War brings out the worst in us as you so accurately pointed out with our more recent undertakings. And yet there are people who shout for war - even now. It is sad when diplomacy is seen as weakness and killing others is touted as patriotism.
sabu singh on July 30, 2009:
So tragic really. When will we learn not to kill each other?
Alekhouse on July 29, 2009:
I haven't thought about Agent Orange in a long time, but I definitely remember all the talk and media focus surrounding it after the Viet Nam war. I am one who believes that the United States government has many times put closed-door big money agreements on these sorts of issues and events. Good hub....thanks
evanescent813 from Kennesaw, GA on July 28, 2009:
wow what a great hub. i knew about AO and knew it had gruesome affects. its great that they're finally doing something about it... too bad they didn't test it a little longer before they used it. thanks for putting this out there. i love supporting causes like this. :)
Plants and Oils from England on July 28, 2009:
I didn't know much about this, what a horrendous substance.
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on July 28, 2009:
AsherKade, sorry to hear that your father is affected by AO. Has he received acknowledgment/compensation from the govt. or one of these chem companies, IF you don't mind my asking?
Ralph, thanks for coming by. Sadly, that story is all too common just about everywhere now. The old NA proverb comes to mind...something about 'only when the last river is poisoned will you realize money cannot be eaten.'
Thanks, Erin, your comments always encourage me. I don't set out to write about this stuff, but get inspired to do so and it just spills out. Usually the first draft is a bit heavier and I lighten it up so as not to be so gloomy - I appreciate your taking time to read even though it isn't pleasant subject matter.
Haha, Kelly, I doubt that it was your orating that garnered the boos. Thanks a ton for reading & for the compliments!! *holds up two fingers*
wesleycox, indeed - and to say the least. Thanks sincerely for reading and commenting. I appreciate it.
shamelabboush, nice to see you. I know. It is horrible, really, and you can't paint it any other way. I am pleased that you took the time to read and comment on this unpleasant subject.
Pete, that is an awful thing & I'm sorry for you, your friend, and his family. Thanks for reading & sharing - means a lot.
Pete Maida on July 28, 2009:
A childhood friend of mine was slowly killed by that stuff. Of course the government danced around and a working guy barely making ends meet has no chance at fair compensation. He died and the government was off the hook.
shamelabboush on July 28, 2009:
Oh, this is so horrible! God!
wesleycox from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012 on July 27, 2009:
Kelly Contrary from Kansas--if evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve on July 27, 2009:
Great hub. I did a speech in junior high on Agent Orange and it was so close to the end of the war that I was nearly booed. Or, perhaps I suck as a speaker. Anyway, thanks for reminding us of the high, never-ending cost of war. Peace.
erin boote from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania on July 27, 2009:
Wow, this is certainly a lot to absorb and I applaud you for writing on this topic. Another well done hub, thanks from many of us.
Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on July 27, 2009:
I passed another of Dow Chemical's plants last week on a trip up the St. Clair River. This Ontario plant dumped mercury in the St.Clair River for years. That's why they recommend not to eat fish from Lake St. Clair or Lake Erie very often.
AsherKade from Texas on July 27, 2009:
my dad has ILD ( a lung disease) because of agent orange....
dohn121 from Hudson Valley, New York on July 27, 2009:
Hi RooBee. Thanks for joining me on Twitter (I'm very much a beginner there). Those pictures pretty much sum it up. You may have heard the statement, "War is Hell," and that just about proves it. As Cindyvine pointed out about war crimes, I really don't think there is such a thing. The United Nations is not the organization many make it out to be (you'll be shocked at what you'll find). However, thank you for sharing.
Arby Bourne (author) from USA on July 27, 2009:
Hi lxxy, glad to see you. You said it, my interstellar brother!
Hello, cindyvine, it is shameful - to put it lightly - the horrific crimes that have been committed under the guise of promoting democracy. Many people are only too happy to be ignorant of such things. A lot of them hold some disconnected illusion that Uncle Sam has always acted with integrity, and transgressions against others were only made unintentionally or based on necessity. I figured out what a bunch of hogwash that was by the time I was twelve.
Thanks very much for commenting.
Cindy Vine from Cape Town on July 27, 2009:
Roobee, two years ago I visited Vietnam on holiday and went to the War crimes museum in Ho Chi Min City. What the Americans did in that war was shocking and I can't believe that the UN never set up a war crimes tribunal and tried them as war criminals. I saw the bottles of deformed baby fetuses and couldn't believe that The Americans thought nothing of dropping Agent Orange on the Korean and Australian soldiers who were supposed to be their allies! I walked away proud that I was not an American.
lxxy from Beneath, Between, Beyond on July 27, 2009:
It's sad...your species has so many beautiful abilities, and yet...you've used much of it to kill each other.