War has always brought out the worst in people. One such case was the atomic bombs deployed by the United States during World War II in Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing thousands of people in 1945. The effects of the bombs are still being felt today. Several years later, between 1961 and 1975, the United States was involved in the Vietnam War. The United States supported South Vietnam against North Vietnam. One of the challenges faced by the United States troops was the forests where enemy troops took cover limiting the attack. In response the United States deployed Agent Orange to ensure the defoliation of trees to expose the enemy troops and to increase the visibility of bombing targets (J. M. Stellman & Stellman, 2018). Agent Orange was also sprayed on crops in enemy territory a strategy to reduce the food supplies. The strategy to use Agent Orange at the time seemed like a brilliant idea as it helped the United States troops make incursions in Vietnam. However, the lasting effects of the chemicals in Agent Orange have left devastating effects to date. Although Agent Orange then believed to be nontoxic was a brilliant military strategy to help win the Vietnam War, its long-term effects have been criticized forcing the United States to compensate the victims and families of those affected.
Exposure, Signs, and Symptoms of Effects of Agent Orange
Agent Orange was sprayed on trees, crops, and directly on people. In 1977 the Veterans Administration received reports of health problems experienced by veterans (Gough, 2013). The effects of Agent Orange were first brought to light by media in 1978 when the Colombia Broadcasting System compiled a documentary showing the plight of Vietnam veterans (Gough, 2013). This documentary prompted 17 major studies to determine whether the chemical substance dioxin present in Agent Orange was responsible for the reported effects. None of the studies was able to link the health problems with dioxin. However, animal studies revealed that dioxin was toxic to certain species, thus leading to conclusions that dioxin was responsible for the health-related effects. Some of the reported effects of dioxin were congenital disabilities, asthma, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers. Other signs and symptoms include vomiting, skin rashes, and liver damage (Banout et al., 2014). Sediments of Agent Orange were reportedly found in wildlife, fish, soil, and crops. This meant that people who consumed these foods or animals would be contaminated by dioxins. Components of Agent Orange are reported to have spread as they were washed away by rain and deposited into, streams, lakes thus contaminating the sources of water in Vietnam.
Locality and Sociological Impacts
According to a study done where surveys were conducted and experiments done 3181 small settlements referred to as hamlets were sprayed directly by Agent Orange which are believed to have had an estimate of up to 4.8 million people (J.A. Stellman, Stellman, Christian, Weber, & Tomasallo, 2003). Some of the hotspots of Agent Orange include Bien Hoa Airbase which was used by the spraying missions. Danang Airport is another hotspot which was used for the Operation Ranch Hand (Martin, 2015). Other areas include Laos and Cambodia where Operation Ranch Hand concentrated most of its operations.
The areas most affected by the spraying of Agent Orange have had lasting effects that have adversely affected the communities. The contamination of foods and sources of water have affected the economic sustainability of these areas. The children born in these areas are born with disabilities. Fishing in some areas has been stopped due to the contamination of fish with dioxin. For people whom fishing was the major source of income, they have been affected. These areas have become hazardous where people tend to avoid for fear of contracting diseases.
After the veterans made reports of health problems and studies were done showing the long term effects of dioxin, the United States government accepted liability for some of the effects. The government, through talks with Vietnam have found ways to compensate the affected individuals and to reverse the effects of the spraying on the environment. The Danang Airport is currently being decontaminated with plans to have Bien Hoa Airbase decontaminated (Martin, 2015). The United States Congress provided funds to USAID, which it has used to set up disability programs to help individuals living with disability in Vietnam. The Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act enacted in 2015 has also enabled individuals who were affected to be compensated by providing medical care, employment training and provision of specialized equipment if needed (Martin, 2015).
Agent Orange in the United States was a mere weed killer. When the United States troops were using it in Vietnam, they were intent on defoliating the trees to boost their chances of winning the war. Its adverse and longterm effects had not been considered. It, therefore, came as a shock years later when veterans started developing complications. Scientific tests though some have been inconclusive have shown that chemical dioxin is harmful. The United States has done the ethical and noble thing by accepting its mistake and putting measures to compensate victims and reduce the long-term effects of Agent Orange. However, this should serve as a lesson in future wars before using weapons to ensure the safety of the environment and people.
Banout, J., Urban, O., Musil, V., Szakova, J., & Balik, J. (2014). Agent Orange footprint still visible in rural areas of central Vietnam. Journal of environmental and public health, 2014, 1-10.
Gough, M. (2013). Dioxin, Agent Orange: The facts. Springer.
Stellman, J. M., & Stellman, S. D. (2018). Agent Orange during the Vietnam War: the lingering issue of its civilian and military health impact. American Journal of Public Health, 108(6), 726-728.
Stellman, J. M., Stellman, S. D., Christian, R., Weber, T., & Tomasallo, C. (2003). The extent and patterns of usage of Agent Orange and other herbicides in Vietnam. Nature, 422(6933), 681.
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