Agent Orange and the conscience of the USA

Dernier ajout : 10 décembre 2008.

 Agent Orange and the conscience of the USA

(Intervention at the annual conference of ASA in Albuquerque 10/2008)

 Professor Dr. Nguyen Trong Nhan

Vice President of the Vietnam Association for victims of Agent Orange / Dioxin

I knew about America when I was a little boy. At that time, like any other little boy, I was not interested in politics, but enjoyed watching American movies like the cartoon The Snow White and seven dwarfs, Pinocchio and cowboy films. We enjoyed American movies not because of the scenes of riding and shooting, but their happy endings, which mean “the good defeats the evil”. And I longed naively to see America ! But how America has treated Vietnam ?

After the August revolution in Vietnam (1945) America agreed to the French invasion of Vietnam, though at the time, Vietnam was in co-operation with America and the Allies. That’s why Patty, a spy officer, showed his surprise in his book “Why Vietnam ?” and was disappointed to see the US government’s U-turn on Vietnamese people, their sincere ally.

After the Geneva Agreement (1954), America gradually replaced France in its suppression of the struggle for freedom and independence of Vietnamese people. My boyish naive hope was completely broken when the American Air Forces bombed the North of Vietnam threatening to ‘bring it back to the Stone Age’. During the war on behalf of the free world, America waged the biggest chemical warfare in the history of mankind. It was published in the Nature magazine on April 17th 2003 by the American scientists (J. M. Stellman and her collaborators) of the University of Columbia in New York that about 80 million litters of chemicals containing nearly 400 kilograms of dioxin had been sprayed on the land of the South of Vietnam. But the American politicians and the judges insisted that these chemicals were normal and harmless herbicides and defoliants. In fact, these chemicals destroyed more than three million hectares of forest causing ecological unbalance. As a consequence, erosion, floods and droughts seriously damaged the agriculture – the main means of existence of the majority of the Vietnamese people.

While scientists all over the world consider dioxin the most dangerous man-made toxic chemical (1), in the 1980s, the American Academy of Sciences declared that Dioxin was not harmful to human’s health. In response to the objections of public opinion, this prestigious Academy and its Institute of Medicine had proclaimed a list of dioxin related diseases. Up to now, the US Vietnam-War veterans, who were affected by Agent Orange and their families have still been doubtful of the honesty of the American scientists in this field.

If those chemicals were harmless, why authentic American scientists were against their use in Vietnam (2) ? Many American and international organizations have exposed the harmfulness of the chemicals used in Vietnam. The chemicals 2,4,5-T were banned in America from April 1970 because it had been proved to cause fetus malformation.

Several American politicians and scientists disapproved Vietnam’s studies and required more research in an attempt to evade their criminal proofs with the time. Is it true that they do not know the findings by many Vietnamese and American scientists (such as Professor A.H.Westing,Professor J.D.Constable of Havard University, Professor A. Schecter of University of Texas, Dr. R. Baughmann, Dr. of genetics Matthew S.Meselson of Harvard University, …), by scientists in Germany (O.Paepke), in Canada (Hatfield Consultants), in Japan and by World Health Organization, which all confirm that :

- The amount of Dioxin in the blood and in the fatty tissue of Vietnamese victims is much higher than that of ordinary Vietnamese people and that of people in other countries (3).

- The Agent Orange victims in Vietnam were affected by many dangerous diseases such as cancer and immune deficiency (that‘s why some scientists consider it as dangerous as AIDS but the causing agent is not HIV but Dioxin). These victims suffer from more diseases than those were in the American list of dioxin related diseases because they were object and directly sprayed with Dioxin and have long been living in their severely contaminated homeland.

- Many vietnamese women/victims experienced disorders and complications during pregnancy including miscarriages, still births, premature births, and severe fetal malformations (4). These reproductive problems have deprived many women of their right to be a mother.

The very high concentration of Dioxin in the blood and milk of women/AO victims is harmful to the fetus and after birth to the newborn in the first years of breast-feeding (5).

- The most painful fact is that Dioxin affects some generations. The rate of children who have congenital malformations in Vietnam is higher than that in other countries, even 30 years after the war ended (6). The congenital malformation rates of the AO victims’ children (2,95%) and grandchildren (2,69%) are four and three times respectively higher than that of the children (0,74%) and grandchildren (0,82%) of the non-affected people .

After the war, with a sense of tolerance - a tradition valued by many Americans, Vietnam advocated a policy of “putting the past behind, eliminating hatred and heading the future”. More than once we suggested that America should have humanitarian activities helping the Agent Orange victims, just like Vietnam helping America looking for MIAs.

Vietnam showed its goodwill but America didn’t. After decades of waiting for the response of America, in early 2004 the Agent Orange victims of Vietnam had no choice but to file a lawsuit (in accordance with The Alien Tort Claim Act of America) against the U.S chemical companies that supplied the US Army with very toxic chemicals for use in Vietnam against the international law.

It’s a pity that American judges have dismissed the claims of Vietnamese Agent Orange victims with very unconvincing reasons. In fact, they don’t respect the truth and justice. Even American people know that this is nonsense and put it as “justice delayed”. And that’s why the Asian - Pacific and the Global Environment Subcommittee of the US House of Common Committee for Foreign Affairs recently, on May 15th , held a hearing entitled “Our forgotten responsibility : What can we do to help victims of Agent Orange ?”

People with conscience and self-respect can’t understand the US government’s attitude when they spent only 3 million US$ for cleaning the environment in ‘the hot spot’ of Dioxin-contaminated Da Nang and they know the following facts far too well :

The lawsuit against the American chemical companies by Vietnam veterans of Brooklyn, America in 1984 was so arranged by the Federal Court that these companies set up a benefit fund of US$180 million for the victims.

Every year the US government spends a large amount of money as benefit for Vietnam veterans who suffer from Dioxin – related diseases as listed by the American Institute of Medicine.

Some years ago Korean Court claimed a compensation of US$ 62 million from American chemical companies for about 7000 victims of Agent Orange in Korea.

After many years denying their responsibilities, the government of New Zealand has made a public apology to their Vietnam veterans for sending them to join the war, which was why they are affected by Dioxin – related diseases. It is informed that the New Zealand’s veterans intend to file a lawsuit against the US chemical companies claiming a compensation of US$ 3 billions.

In his speech at the White House on May 28th 1996, President Bill Clinton admitted that the US government didn’t pay attention to the opinion of the Vietnam veterans/Agent Orange victims. Here are his original words “Today we are showing that America can listen and act. Our country can face up to the consequences of our actions... We will bear the responsibility for the harm we do, even when the harm is unintended… Nothing we can do will ever repay the Vietnam veterans for all they gave and all they lost, particularly those who have been damaged by Agent Orange.”

How eloquent the speech was ! But now, the Vietnam veterans/Agent Orange victims and their families are still anxious and doubtful of the US government’s policies dealing with them and their children. Some victims / veterans are continuing to sue the American chemical companies !

What about the 3 million Agent Orange victims in Vietnam ?

. Tens of thousands of victims have died in sufferings, poverty and resentment. At the same time there have been new victims who are the children and grandchildren of those directly exposed to Agent Orange. In June 2008, the two victims, Qui and Hong died of cancer some weeks after returning from the USA, where they joined the oral argument at the second circuit US court in New York. Although before leaving for the USA, they knew that they were seriously ill and might suffer from terrible pains, they might even die far away from home ; they were determined to get to the USA to face the American Court of Justice hoping to enlighten the conscience of America.

The courageous struggle of the Agent Orange victims in Vietnam and their lawsuit are not only for the sake of their own and their children, but also for the legitimate benefit of the Agent Orange victims in other countries such as America, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This struggle is also against mass killing weapons, for world peace protection, for happiness of the future generations.

Then, are there justice and conscience in the USA ? And who are the people that really respect justice and conscience ?


1- It has been well known that only 80 grams of Dioxin dissolved in the water supply systems may eliminate an entire city with 8 million inhabitants.

2- In 1966, Arthur Galston, Professor of biology of Yale University and in 1967, Dr. John Edsall of Havard University and more than 5000 scientists (17 among them are Nobel Prize winners and 129 among them are Academicians) had signed a letter of objections to President Johnson.

3- The amount of Dioxin in the blood and in the fatty tissue of Vietnamese victims (19.24 ppt (part per trillion) is much higher than that found in non-affected people in Vietnam, Japan, Canada, the United States and other countries (1.38 ; 6 ; 7 ; 7.2 ppt respectively).




Abortion, premature birth
3 – 7 %
8 – 16.7 %

Interrupted Pregnancy
0.35 %
3.04 %

Molia Pregnancy
0.6 – 0.9 %
7– 37 %

5-American researchers from Harvard University (Baughmann,M.S. Meselson) had already found the following harmful effect of toxic herbicides :

- In 1970 : a very high level Dioxin in Vietnamese mothers’ milk (average 484 ppt /gram of milk, highest figure is 1450 ppt).

- In February 1988, the World Health Organization announced the results of its research on Dioxin level in mothers’ milk as follows :

*Hanoi (VN) 2.2ppt *India 1ppt *United States 3.1-3.5ppt .

*Song Be (VN) 17ppt *Japan 1.8-2.4ppt *Canada 2.2-2.8ppt .

*Can Gio (VN) 9ppt *Thailand <1ppt *Great Britain 1.4ppt

6- For example, in Song Be and Dong Thap provinces (South Vietnam), Japanese scientists (Maharaja and Makita) identified 69 cases of anencephaly out of 10,000 births (Japan 8 ; North Ireland 20), 103 cases of harelip (cleft lip) and upper-jaw-openness (cleft palate) out of 10,000 births (Japan 10 ; Malaysia 15 ; North Ireland 12).


1-Le Cao Dai : Agent Orange in the Vietnam War .History and Consequences-2000

2-Stellman J.M., coll. : The extent and pattern of usage of Agent Orange and other herbicides in Vietnam-Nature, vol.422 p.681-687.

3- Open letter to the American people-VAVA-2004.

4-Westing A.H. : Herbicides in War-The long-term ecological and human consequences-1984.

5-Griffiths P.:Vietnam Inc. -2001.

6-Phung Tuu Boi and coll. : Effects of chemical warfare upon Vietnamese forest resources-2002.

7-Schecter A., Le Cao Dai, coll. :”Agent Orange and the Vietnamese : the persistence of elevated dioxin level in human tissues-American Journal of Public Health, vol. 85, p.516-522.

8-World Health Organization report on analytical and field study of human breast milk PCDD/Fs and PCB 1988.

9-Statements of VAVA 2005 and 2008.

10-Appeal of International conference of victims of Agent Orange-2006

11-Resolution of American of Public Health Association : Agent Orange-2007.

12-Remarks by President Bill Clinton at the White House, May 28, 1996.