Chemical Warfare in Vietnam Essay

Submitted By jimdicks
Words: 1612
Pages: 7

Chemical use in weapons could be tracked back as far as the late Stone Age with hunters using poison-tipped arrows to kill their prey, using poison from various sources such as snakes and plants. From then on, chemical warfare evolved, becoming more potent and exponentially deadly. From the first uses of Greek Fire to wide spread mustard gas use in World War I to nerve agents used in the modern day wars. Although most of these chemicals used were for anti-personnel purposes, chemicals used during the Vietnam War era perhaps had the most horrific effects, then and even still today. These chemicals were extensively used during the war effort by the United States military as defoliants but the effects on the civilian population of Vietnam grossly outweighed any possible good the chemicals could have done. 72 million liters. This was the amount of chemicals sprayed over Vietnam during the war. Of those 72 million liters, 66% was comprised of the infamous Agent Orange. Many Chemicals used during the war, Agent Orange included, were defoliants, or chemicals that cause foliage to lose their leaves. These chemicals were classified as Rainbow Herbicides hence they were all given a color as a name. The main Rainbow Herbicides were Agent Pink, Agent Green, Agent Purple, Agent Blue, Agent White, and of course, Agent Orange1. The United States military employed the herbicide spraying, code-named Operation Ranch Hand, so as to give the Viet Cong less cover in dense forests and fields. The Viet Cong was large guerilla force that typically set traps and hid in spider holes in forests in preparation for an ambush. As the Viet Cong were fighting in their homeland, they knew the terrain very well and as the Americans were the attacking force unfamiliar with the land, they were at a great disadvantage. For this reason, Agent Orange alone was used over a large area of Vietnam, “…during the war, about 10% of Vietnam was intensively sprayed with 72 million litres of chemicals, of which 66% was Agent Orange”2. Agent Orange performed well in action. It killed much vegetation allowing U.S. troops to easily infiltrate what used to be dense terrain. What many didn’t know, though, was that Agent Orange contained a highly toxic chemical that caused unimaginable damage to human bodies. This so-called super toxin was called 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or TCCD for short. A small dosage of this toxin is enough to kill a human, but its extensive usage in Agent Orange is definitely regrettable, “[Agent Orange] contains 80g of TCCD, just enough…to fill a child-size talcum powder container. If dropped into the water supply of a city the size of New York, it would kill the entire population. Ground-breaking research by Dr Arthur H Westing…reveals that the US sprayed 170kg of it over Vietnam”3. 170 kilograms is equal to 170,000 grams. That’s 2,215 times more TCCD than the 80g need to wipe out New York City. 2,215 times more. This ridiculously extensive usage resulted in many Vietnamese civilians to develop illness that affected their everyday life, but that was not the extent of the damage.
Many of those who were exposed went on to have children at some point in their lives. The damage to their DNA was passed on to their offspring and the effects were multiplied. All over Vietnam, even to this day, children were born with grotesque birth defects and many died at a young age. Just like the radioactivity that remains a real threat today in the areas in and for kilometers around Pripyat and Chernobyl in the Ukraine, soil remains poisoned with TCCD where Agent Orange was sprayed in Vietnam. What does this mean for the people there? It means that they cannot farm this soil, for if they do and consume whatever crops grow, they ingest the toxin and continue to poison themselves and their offspring. Not only did the toxin find its way into the soil from being sprayed, it also got into freshwater sources via dumping of leftover herbicide, “…one pilot,