Ernest Urvater: Examines Agent Orange tragedy in Vietnam 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Examines Agent Orange tragedy in Vietnam

Two recent articles in the Gazette, one by John Paradis (“Agent Orange catches up with Vietnam vets,” April 14), and the other by Lisa Spear (“Agent Orange aftermath,” April 18), have brought attention to the tragic consequences of the use of chemical weapons by the United States during the Vietnam War.

“During the war, the U.S. military sprayed close to 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam,” Spear wrote. Both writers then go on to describe the life-threatening physical problems that continue to plague our war veterans right here in our own back yard, and the difficulties these veterans have suffered and continue to suffer as they deal with the consequences of having been exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. This is indeed a tragedy.

However, to get a more complete picture of the devastation caused by the U.S. military’s defoliation campaign in Vietnam, it is also useful to look beyond our local neighborhood. In the United States alone, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says that all 2.8 million Americans who served in Vietnam from 1962 to 1975 were exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides.

In addition to our troops, the Vietnam Red Cross estimates that Agent Orange has affected 3 million people, spanning three generations, including at least 150,000 children (as of 2014) born with severe birth defects since the war ended in 1975. Pictures of these children are gut-wrenching to look at.

Hoping to obtain a modicum of compensation, a group of Vietnamese victims sued Dow Chemical and Monsanto (the manufacturers of Agent Orange) for $197 million in damages, but in 1975 a federal judge dismissed their case, saying the companies were immune because they were following government orders. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in 2009.

Ernest Urvater