The Geneva Agreement of 1954 ended the French colonial rule of
Vietnam. However, the Eisenhower administration subverted the idea of a
united and independent Vietnam. It funded a puppet government in Saigon
to resist Hanoi, thus precipitating a twenty-year American War in
In 1961, president John Kennedy approved the use of herbicides to
defoliate the dense jungles of Vietnam. This decision turned a bitterly
fought war into an illegal, immoral, and humiliating contest for the
United States and an ecological catastrophe for Vietnam.
The Americans sprayed the forests and rice fields of Vietnam with
Agent Orange, a concoction of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, two exceedingly toxic
weed killers. One of them, 2,4,5-T, was contaminated by TCDD-dioxin, the
most potent molecule in the industrial world's chemical arsenal. The
chemical warfare lasted until 1970 when president Richard Nixon
renounced the first use of "incapacitating chemical weapons" and "any
use of biological and toxin weapons."
In 1977, the Linnean Society of London published a study on the "Ecological Effects of Pesticides."
Arthur H. Westing, a dioxin expert working for the Stockholm
International Peace Research Institute, authored a chapter about the
"Ecological effects of the military use of herbicides."
Westing theorized that it would take centuries to undo the ecological
damage the Agent Orange inflicted on Vietnam. He suggested that more
than 200 pounds of TCDD-dioxin "was injected into the South Vietnamese
environment as a concomitant of the military spraying."