It was as if we were passing through an alien landscape. On each side of the dirt road, for maybe 75 or 80 yards, trees had become ghostly, wooden skeletons and all green undergrowth was gone.
It was the first time I had witnessed the dramatic results of the chemical, dropped by C-123 planes to deny the enemy cover along roads such as this one, places where ambushes, of the very close kind, were denied.
It was only later on, after I returned home, that I learned about what Agent Orange did, beyond the obvious aims of the defoliant. Of course, I was exposed to the chemical, manufactured by Monsanto, a company with a dark history of developing products that have a propensity for killing things or drastically altering the ordinary processes of nature. We now know that tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans and their children are believed to be suffering from the effects of Agent Orange.
After a long and bitter fight by veterans’ organizations, the Veterans Administration has recognized the connection between Agent Orange and the diseases that have stricken veterans and their children. They include birth defects, infantile tumors, Hodgkin’s disease, respiratory cancers, prostate cancer, spina bifida, diabetes and more. The VA has found an unusually high number of birth defects among children born to Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.
Meanwhile, the people of Vietnam suffer to this day. In September 2017, The New York Times focused on the hell we brought to that country in an article, titled, “The Forgotten Victims of Agent Orange.”
It said: “The history of Agent Orange and its effects on the Vietnamese people, as well as American soldiers, should shame Americans. Fifty years ago, in 1967, the United States sprayed 5.1 million gallons of herbicides with the toxic chemical dioxin across Vietnam, a single-year record for the decade-long campaign to defoliate the countryside. It was done without regard to dioxin’s effect on human beings or its virulent and long afterlife.”
And this: “Vietnamese soldiers, from both sides, with perfectly healthy children before going to fight, came home and sired offspring with deformities and horrific illnesses: Villages repeatedly sprayed have exceptionally high birth-deformity rates; and our own Department of Veterans Affairs now lists 14 illnesses presumed to be related to Agent Orange.”
But how is this for irony? President Trump has nominated a woman who is a former executive at Monsanto, the purveyors of death who dreamed up Agent Orange, to lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.