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Agent Orange

Agent Orange: History, Science, and the Politics of Uncertainty

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Agent Orange
    Book Description:

    Taking on what one former U.S. ambassador called “the last ghost of the Vietnam War,” this book examines the farreaching impact of Agent Orange, the most infamous of the dioxincontaminated herbicides used by American forces in Southeast Asia. Edwin A. Martini’s aim is not simply to reconstruct the history of the “chemical war” but to investigate the ongoing controversy over the short and longterm effects of weaponized defoliants on the environment of Vietnam, on the civilian population, and on the troops who fought on both sides. Beginning in the early 1960s, when Agent Orange was first deployed in Vietnam, Martini follows the story across geographical and disciplinary boundaries, looking for answers to a host of still unresolved questions. What did chemical manufacturers and American policymakers know about the effects of dioxin on human beings, and when did they know it? How much do scientists and doctors know even today? Should the use of Agent Orange be considered a form of chemical warfare? What can, and should, be done for U.S. veterans, Vietnamese victims, and others around the world who believe they have medical problems caused by Agent Orange? Martini draws on military records, government reports, scientific research, visits to contaminated sites, and interviews to disentangle conflicting claims and evaluate often ambiguous evidence. He shows that the impact of Agent Orange has been global in its reach affecting individuals and communities in New Zealand, Australia, Korea, and Canada as well as Vietnam and the United States. Yet for all the answers it provides, this book also reveals how much uncertainty—scientific, medical, legal, and political—continues to surround the legacy of Agent Orange.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-220-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. List of Abbreviations and Acronyms
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    (pp. 1-16)

    In the spring of 1966 a United States Navy electrician was on his way home. Although he had not seen any action in Vietnam, spending less than half a day in Saigon simply to transfer flights, he was anxious to get stateside. Arriving at the airport in Saigon, he “bought a pack of cigarettes and snapped a few photos” before leaving on the flight that would take him back to the States. Decades later this American veteran developed Type 2 diabetes. Under regulations adopted by the Veterans Administration (VA) in 2010, he was now eligible for a service-related disability claim...

  6. CHAPTER ONE ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT FORESTS: The Chemical War and the Illusion of Control
    (pp. 17-52)

    The planes came to Cat Son a little after six o’clock in the morning. The reconnaissance plane came first, followed by two fighter jets that strafed the village. Then came the big cargo planes, three of them, flying in formation, parallel and low to the ground, and spraying a fine mist that looked to the people below like white smoke. The planes sprayed the trees and fields surrounding Cat Son, including the villagers’ fruit trees and rice paddies. Upon surveying the damage three days after this mission in October 1965, one eyewitness to the attacks, a member of the main...

  7. CHAPTER TWO HEARTS, MINDS, AND HERBICIDES: The Politics of the Chemical War
    (pp. 53-96)

    In the late summer of 1962 Edward R. Murrow was concerned about crop destruction. Writing to National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy in August, Murrow, then serving as the director of the United States Information Agency, expressed his skepticism about the ability of the United States to “persuade the world—particularly that large part of it which does not get enough to eat—that defoliation ‘is good for you.’ ” Among the many issues Murrow raised in his memo was that theNew Yorkermagazine had just run a series of pieces that called attention to the ecological consequences of insecticides....

  8. CHAPTER THREE INCINERATING AGENT ORANGE: Dioxin, Disposal, and the Environmental Imaginary
    (pp. 97-145)

    On April 15, 1970, the secretaries of agriculture, interior, and health, education, and welfare announced at a White House press conference that the U.S. government was suspending registration of the herbicide 2,4,5-T. That statement made it effectively illegal to sell or transport products containing the compound for most domestic purposes while continuing to allow them to be sprayed along roadsides and on nonagricultural ranchlands. Although known by few Americans at the time, 2,4,5-T was a common ingredient in many commercial grade and household weedkillers. It was also one-half of the chemical mixture constituting Agent Orange. In a separate press conference...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR THE POLITICS OF UNCERTAINTY: Science, Policy, and the State
    (pp. 146-196)

    In March 1965, a crucial month in the escalation of the Vietnam War, the United States implemented a series of actions and policies that would forever link the fate of the two nations and shape the future of millions of people around the world. On March 2 the United States formally launched Operation Rolling Thunder, a sustained bombing campaign against the revolutionary forces of Vietnam. Over the next three years the campaign would drop a greater tonnage of bombs on northern Vietnam than were dropped throughout the entire Pacific theater during the Second World War. On March 8 two Marine...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE “ALL THOSE OTHERS SO UNFORTUNATE”: Vietnam and the Global Legacies of the Chemical War
    (pp. 197-237)

    In the absence of tangible forms of documentation and data that might afford the type of certainty, causation, and proof that would satisfy the legal, political, and diplomatic forces ensconced in the politics of uncertainty that continue to play out so unevenly around the world, the bodies of Agent Orange victims themselves have become, in the twenty-first century, contested evidence of the long legacies of herbicidal warfare. In Vietnam the bodies of children and the preserved fetuses of the unborn are regularly put on display in the service of drawing attention to the unsettled legal and economic legacies of Agent...

    (pp. 238-248)

    In the central highlands of Vietnam, near some of the areas most heavily defoliated during the war, a thick, invasive grass thrives along open hills where the trees refuse to return even now, forty years after they were destroyed. They call it American grass. Standing in a gnarled patch in the A Luoi valley is Phung Tuu Boi, who, at barely five feet tall, seems as though he will be overtaken by the renegade growth. Since the war ended in 1975 Boi has waged a battle to regrow Vietnam’s lush forests. He has worked with Australian colleagues to plant acres...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 249-290)
  13. Index
    (pp. 291-303)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 304-304)