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Context of '1960-1973: Agent Orange Used in Vietnam'

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1960-1973: Agent Orange Used in Vietnam

In Vietnam, the US military uses about 21 million gallons of Agent Orange to defoliate the jungle in order to deny enemy fighters cover. The defoliant—manufactured primarily by Monsanto and Dow Chemical—gets its name from the 55-gallon drums it is shipped in that are marked with an orange stripe. At least 3,181 villages are sprayed with the highly toxic herbicide, which is comprised of a 50:50 mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T and contaminated with dangerous levels of dioxins. Much of the dioxin is TCDD, which is linked to liver and other cancers, diabetes, spina bifida, immune-deficiency diseases, severe diarrhea, persistent malaria, miscarriages, premature births, and severe birth defects. Between 2.1 and 4.8 million Vietnamese are exposed, as are about 20,000 US soldiers. According to Vietnamese estimates, Agent Orange is responsible for the deaths of 400,000 people. Because there is a continued presence of high dioxin levels in the food chain of several sprayed areas, the health effects of Agent Orange persist to the present day. According to studies by Arnold Schecter of the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas, some Vietnamese have dioxin levels 135 times higher than people living in unsprayed areas. Schecter has called Vietnam “the largest contamination of dioxin in the world.” The Vietnamese believe the herbicide has contributed to birth defects in 500,000 children, many of them second and third generation. Though the US government has accepted responsibility for the health complications in US soldiers that resulted from exposure to Agent Orange (providing up to $1,989 per month for affected vets and more than $5,000 per month for those severely disabled and homebound), the US has refused to compensate Vietnamese victims. To date, no US agency, including the US Agency for International Development, has conducted any program in Vietnam to address the issue of Agent Orange. When asked by Mother Jones magazine in 1999 if the Vietnam government has raised the issue in private talks with the United States, a State Department official responds: “Ohhhh, yes. They have. But for us there is real concern that if we start down the road of research, what does that portend for liability-type issues further on?” [BBC, 11/19/1999; Mother Jones, 1/2000; BBC, 11/15/2000; BBC, 12/30/2001; Associated Press, 4/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Dow Chemical, Monsanto

Timeline Tags: US Military, US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

Dow Chemical, and other companies like United Aircraft Corp. (which produced it for a shorter period of time), produce napalm for the US Army. [Business Week, 2/10/1969; San Francisco Chronicle, 4/1/2001]

Entity Tags: United Aircraft Corp, Dow Chemical

Timeline Tags: US Military

In a 233-page ruling, District Judge Jack B. Weinstein dismisses a lawsuit against US chemical companies that supplied the military with Agent Orange during the ‘60s and ‘70s. The lawsuit was filed by a group of lawyers on behalf of a million or so Vietnamese, seeking compensation for the effects of the toxic defoliant, which was sprayed on at least 3,181 villages during the Vietnam War (see 1960-1973). Agent Orange has been linked to cancer, diabetes and birth defects among Vietnamese soldiers, civilians and American veterans. Lawyers for Monsanto Co., Dow Chemical Co., Hercules Inc., and more than a dozen other companies argued that they were just following the legal orders of the commander-in-chief. “We’ve said all along that any issues regarding wartime activities should be resolved by the US and Vietnamese governments,” Scot Wheeler, a spokesman for Dow Chemical, claimed. “We believe that defoliants saved lives by protecting allied forces from enemy ambush and did not create adverse health effects.” Coming to the defense of the chemical companies, the Justice Department filed a brief asserting that a ruling against the firms could cripple the president’s powers to direct US armed forces in wartime. In his ruling Judge Weinstein concludes that the plaintiffs did not prove that Agent Orange had caused their illnesses. “The fact that diseases were experienced by some people after spraying does not suffice to provide general or specific causation,” Weinstein writes. “There is no basis for any of the claims of plaintiffs under the domestic law of any nation or state or under any form of international law. The case is dismissed.” [BBC, 3/10/2005; Associated Press, 3/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Hercules, Inc., Jack B. Weinstein, Dow Chemical

Timeline Tags: US Military

South Korea’s Supreme Court rules that US chemical corporations Monsanto and Dow Chemical must pay 39 Korean Vietnam War veterans $415,000 in total for skin diseases they suffered when they came into contact with the defoliant Agent Orange. South Korea sent some 300,000 soldiers to fight alongside US and South Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War. The court also sends back for review a 2006 case that ordered the two firms to pay $61 million in compensation to 6,795 South Korean veterans and their families. The lawsuit filed by over 16,000 veterans in 1999 alleged that Agent Orange was responsible for skin diseases such as “chemical acne,” shown to be caused by exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange. Veterans in South Korea estimate the number of Korean victims of Agent Orange at about 150,000. Dow says, in a statement quoted to the Yonhap news agency, that it disagrees with the ruling, and that the verdict was not backed by the available evidence. Dow cited US court rulings which had found in chemical corporations’ favor. The South Korean Supreme Court says in sending back the $61 million ruling case to a lower court, “There is no evidence their diseases were caused by their exposure to the defoliant sprayed during the Vietnam War.” Agent Orange, which contained the lethal chemical dioxin, was used heavily in Vietnam to deprive enemy forces of ground cover in rain forests, and to destroy food crops used by guerrillas and civilians. Vietnam has also asserted claims, saying that millions of its citizens have suffered and some have died due to Agent Orange exposure. The US has consistently refused to accept responsibility for the Vietnamese government’s claim, though it has agreed to be liable for the health complications in US soldiers that resulted from exposure (see 1960-1973). [Birmingham News, 7/12/2013; Agence France-Presse, 7/13/2013]

Entity Tags: South Korea Supreme Court, Monsanto, Dow Chemical

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

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