Saturday, October 12, 2019

Agent Orange :: Vietnam War Essays

Agent Orange In 1961, the United States began spraying herbicides in its military campaign to defoliate the jungles of southern Vietnam. Mimicking Smokey Bear, American pilots chuckled "Remember! Only you can prevent forests," as they dropped weed killers over target sites. But as research progressed, the true nature of the chemicals which they were spraying came to light. It is certainly no longer a laughing matter when it is realized that Agent Orange, a major herbicide used, could be as deadly to humans as it is to plants. The military research of herbicides dates back to World War II (1). Ineffectiveness prevented them from being used in the war. By the late 1950’s, however, herbicides developed could defoliate a large variety of plants. Naturally, they were thought to be a great weapon in combating jungle warfare. Applied to the Vietnam War, herbicides were used to defoliate the jungle and to destroy crops. Defoliation stripped the jungle of vegetation. Left barren, it no longer provided camouflage for the Viet Cong, their supply routes and base camps which would be more prone to aerial attacks. Crop destruction denied the communists of local food sources. This forced them to divert more resources to provide and transport foods other regions. But just as important, crop destruction also weakened enemy morale and forced villagers to move to cities where they could be more easily controlled. The program for spraying herbicides over Vietnam was code named Operation Trail Dust. It began in 1961 and peaked from 1967 to 1969 (2). Various methods were employed to systematically spray these chemicals. On ground, they were used by soldiers to clear the perimeters of their base camps. Riverboats were used to spray the riverbanks. Most damage to the jungle was done by air. The Air Force Operation Ranch Hand, as it was called, used C-123 cargo aircrafts and helicopters to drop the majority of the herbicides used. There were many types of herbicides used by the United States in Vietnam. Each was named after the color of the 4-inch band painted around the 55-gallon drums in which it was contained: Agent White, Purple, Blue, Green, Pink and Orange. In all, 19.4 million gallons of herbicides were used, 60% of which were Agent Orange (2). The effects of the sprayings on the jungle were immediately recognizable. Estimates show that six million acres or twenty percent of the entire land area of the Republic of South Viet Nam was covered with chemical poisons (3).

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