The use of Agent Orange constitutes a war crime with devastating effects on the people in Vietnam not only during the war but even today. The U.S. military knew that its use of Agent Orange would be damaging, but, as an Air Force scientist wrote to Congress, “because the material was to be used on the enemy, none of us were overly concerned.”
Ecocide was committed when “the U.S. military sprayed 79 million liters of herbicides and defoliants over about one-seventh of the land area of southern Vietnam.” The 2008-2009 President’s Cancer Panel Report found that nearly five million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in “400,000 deaths and disabilities and a half million children born with birth defects.”
No one has been held accountable for this crime. U.S. courts have blocked lawsuits brought by the people of Vietnam, and the United States has never paid adequate war reparations to assist in caring for the victims of Agent Orange or to clean up the environment.
In recent years, however, the U.S. has begun to fund cleanup and treatment programs for Agent Orange victims. The timing of this change in policy comes as the U.S. military has been building a relationship with the Vietnamese military as part of the so-called “Asian Pivot.” Yet this relationship has been impaired by the United States’ failure to properly deal with Agent Orange.
Funding for Agent Orange damages is being used to open the door to greater U.S. military involvement and influence in the region, but it will also allow an expansion of U.S. covert operations in Vietnam that set the stage for the U.S. to install a “friendlier” government, if necessary for U.S. hegemony in the region.