We Weren't Soldiers.
Innocent Vietnamese children continue to suffer from American military us of Agent Orange.
(View my documentary images).

Though the American war on Viêt Nam has been over for almost 40 years, hundreds of thousands of innocent children still suffer horrific, painfully sad birth deformities and other illnesses, as the effects of Agent Orange defoliant used by Americans enters a third generation.

Between 1962 and 1971, the
US employed chemical weapons by spraying more than 75 million litres of defoliants, containing almost 375 pounds of dioxin - the most dangerous chemical known to man - over massive areas of southern Viêt Nam. The chemical defoliant's main purpose was to destroy Viêt Nam's dense tropical foliage and mountain jungles that served as excellent cover for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viêt Cong. It was also used to clear L.Z.'s (helicopter landing zones) and to push back concealing foliage around air bases, army posts, roads, as well as to destroy croplands potentially used by enemy forces, thus compelling farmers to leave their homes for pacified areas controlled by US or South Vietnamese forces. (A highly controversial US military approach targeting Vietnamese civilians).

Along with other chemical weapons - including Agent Green, Agent Purple, Agent White, Agent Blue and Agent Pink, Agent Orange and Agent Super Orange were extremely successful in turning lush tropical forests into barren wastelands that are today still believed to be irreversibly altered. Agent Orange accounted for approximately 60% of all defoliants used, which in total destroyed 50% of Viêt
Nam's mangrove forests and had serious effects on wildlife populations.

The contamination of Viêt
Nam with dioxin, had it's beginnings during WWII in the laboratory of Professor E. J. Kraus - of the University of Chicago's botany department. Kraus had contacted the War Department with the discovery of specific plant hormones that regulate growth. Although military testing began immediately on the hormone scientifically named 2,4-dichorophenoxyacetic (2,4-D ) - which in heavy doses killed broadleaf plants endemic to the tropics - WWII ended before any real combat applications were possible.

Testing continued after the war, and different versions of the herbicide appeared in commercial use for lawn care and other applications including railroad track maintenance. Meanwhile, army scientists had further developed the discovery into a potent mixture of 2,4-D and the closely related 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyaxetic, ( 2,4,5-T ) which contained as a by-product of the manufacturing process, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin. By 1961
America's new weapon was considered ready for use in antiguerrilla warfare. While Canada officially posed as a neutral peacemaker, it secretly backed the US war against Viêt Nam in numerous ways, including the allowance of Agent Orange testing in New Brunswick, and carpet bombing practise in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Canadian companies sold more than $2.5 billion of war materials to the US, and an additional $10 billion in food, clothing and metals used for weapons and armour plating. During this time, Canada experienced record low unemployment levels and its gross domestic product grew by about 6% annually.

The Kennedy administration's military establishment was eager to field test Agent Orange in Viêt
Nam, and in 1962 Operation Hades - aka Ranch Hand, whose odious motto became, " Only You Can Prevent Forests " - began it's massive defoliation program. By 1971 - with the discontinuance of the spraying operation - US forces destroyed about one-tenth of southern Viêt Nam, by dumping on it a total of more than 75,000,000 litres of dioxin laced chemical herbicides.

Forty years later these ecosystems and populated areas are still considered highly toxic by Vietnamese authorities and other western scientists. It is believed that Agent Orange is responsible for more than 150,000 cases of varying birth deformities and about 1,000,000 other major health maladies including respiratory cancer, skin disease, heart disease and diabetes.

Leading researchers in the field of environmental contamination have evidence that the dioxin from Agent Orange has moved through the food chain into people living in contaminated areas. They also know that NVA soldiers who served in southern battlefields were contaminated in a number of different ways including through direct exposure. However, with a still developing economy the Vietnamese government has lacked sufficient funds to fully study the effects of the dioxin - and limited domestic funds are directed for medical care.

Organizations including - but not limited to - the Vietnam Red Cross, Tu Du Hospital,
FriendshipVillage (operated by the Vietnam Veterans Association), ThanhXuan-PeaceVillage and the Centre of Thai Binh Social Sponsoring all do miraculous work in caring for children suffering from Agent Orange related illnesses who to some degree can care for themselves. Vocational training plays an important part with capable children, who learn skills that allow them to integrate into society regardless of their disabilities. Unfortunately, Viêt Nam's financial and medical resources are not able to cope with the extremely ill and disabled who need constant daily care, and sadly thousands of disenfranchised children live in pained obscurity never receiving vital medical care.

The most comprehensive study done to date on Agent Orange, is by
Vancouver based Hatfield Consultants Ltd. - which specializes in providing environmental impact assessment services to a wide range of clients. HCL has been studying the effects of Agent Orange dioxin in The Aluoi Valley, Viêt Nam - 65 km west of Hue - since 1994 and their report confirms high dioxin contamination of human blood, breast milk, pond sediment, fish and soil in this area.

Studying the effects of pollutants or toxins on human health are extremely difficult, timely and costly to conduct, and largely conclude with the necessity for more research. Skeptics pose the following questions, how can you prove a person's exposure or contact with the toxin, the degree of exposure received, and the possible effects of exposure. In determining health outcomes scientists look for "cause and effect". For example, as it is widely accepted that lung cancer may be caused by cigarette smoking, you can account for the disease in an individual who smokes, but how do you account for lung cancer in someone who does not smoke, or an individual who smokes and never gets the disease?

As any acknowledgement by the
US, of Agent Orange health related diseases, would open it to tens of thousands of Vietnamese lawsuits, the US refuses to recognize any study on the effects of Agent Orange in Viêt Nam as definitive. Washington's official stance on this issue has always been to dispute all research as insufficient and inconclusive. A complete contradiction if one considers that in 1979 the US passed law to permit studies into the effects of Agent Orange exposure on its servicemen. After four years of government inaction, US veterans filed a class action lawsuit against seven major Agent Orange manufacturers. In 1984, the US Federal High Court confirmed that $180 million would be indemnified to the 15,000 war veteran claimants - with health problems considered caused by Agent Orange - although eventually 250,000 claims would be filed.

Can the
US continue to morally deny that given the facts about dioxin and Agent Orange use in Viêt Nam, a real possibility does exist that there are Vietnamese victims of dioxin contamination - and that appropriate aide reaches those that need it.

Finally, during March 2002, a three day conference took place in Ha Nôi between American and Vietnamese scientists, to arrive at a definitive conclusion regarding the consequences of its chemical warfare program in Viêt
Nam. The joint effort was to include studies on the effects on human health as well as environmental impact. By 2005 nothing had been accomplished as research protocol could not be agreed upon, and the project was cancelled. Although since then, the US has reportedly allocated funds to study cleaning up hot spots at former US military bases, Vietnamese victims continue to suffer and financial compensation is far from the table.

However, determining dioxin poisoning in Viêt
Nam is easy given the amount of overwhelming evidence available, and historical fact regarding American use of Agent Orange and other defoliants. The Agent Orange used during American spraying operations in southern Viêt Nam, was reported to be contaminated with dioxin levels between 0.05 parts per million to almost 50 parts per million - the mean contamination was considered to be between 0.50 - 2.0 parts per million. We also know that the dioxin levels in domestic preparations of 2,4,5-T were present in much lower concentrations around 0.05 ppm, which made the stock shipped to Viêt Nam as much as 1,000 times more lethal.

It is scientifically proven that only micrograms of dioxin are extremely toxic, and that in total an estimated 375 pounds of dioxin were sprayed over Viêt
Nam. In total, there are currently more than thirty discovered hot spots in Viêt Nam - areas known to have received concentrated spraying - including the AluoiValley and Bien Hoa where birth defects and other health maladies are reported to be more than four times higher than non sprayed areas. Another consideration is that while the Agent Orange dioxin poisoning of American and Australian soldiers has received much attention, it should be noted that most served one year tours that limited their possible exposure. For the Vietnamese there was, and is no escape from the dioxin and it's horrendous effects as it has conclusively entered the food chain in certain populated and non-populated areas.

Regardless of any definitive conclusions put forth by the joint research teams, and until the
US decides whether or not to provide aide financially or otherwise to Viêt Nam, the suffering and tragedy for Viêt Nam's war victims and disabled children like the ones in these photographs is real.

Estimated US defoliant use in litres.
1962 - 65,000; 1963 - 283,000; 1964 - 1,066,000; 1965 - 2,516,000; 1966 - 9,599,000; 1967 - 19,394,000; 1968 - 19,264,000; 1969 - 17,257,000;
1970 - 2,873,000.


1,588 words.
Copyright by British photographer, Adrian Brown.
This is an updated version of my original 2002 article.
Different edits of my article were published in the UK, in the Ecologist magazine, in the USA, in Oneworld Magazine and elsewhere.

Donations for Agent Orange victim relief can be made to the Vietnam Red Cross.

Informative websites.

Hatfield Consultants Ltd.

Agent Orange Record.

The Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The Environmental Protection Agency.

Congressman Bernie Sanders - Independent Representative for Vermont.

International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Veterans of the Vietnam War Inc.