Agent Orange: Slow Death From The Sky

By Richard Deats

Richard Deats, a lifelong peace activist in the Fellowship of Reconciliation and author of many peace books, writes to warn us of the great threats tour environment which are around the corner if not already upon us. This particularly relevant to us here in the Philippines where attempts are being made to introduce genetically engineered plants as the Philippine Government is considered to be a soft target by the companies who want to do this. Richard Deats is a longtime friend of the editor of Misyon.

I lived in the Philippines from 1959 to 1972 and was part of an antiwar group there that called itself American for Peace in Indochina. We did research, we wrote open letters, we talked to members of the U.S. Armed Forces coming to the islands for rest and recreation, we met with the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, and we picketed the U.S. Embassy on Roxas Boulevard in Manila every month. With our homemade signs, my wife, Jan, and I, and our two young sons, Mark and Stephen, joined twenty or so others in vigils to stop the war in Vietnam. Thich Nhat Hanh, exiled Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, stayed in our home during his Manila visit, and I organized speaking engagements for him, as well as a press conference.

Agent Orange

Thousands of other Americans, at home and abroad, were engaged in similar activities. The growing movement against the war finally became a critical mass strong enough to bring it to an end.

But the legacy of the war continues today. And a particularly horrible part of that legacy is the continuing impact of Agent Orange on the land and water of Vietnam, as well as upon the Vietnamese and Americans who were exposed to this poisonous chemical.

Chemical Warfare

In the course of fighting the war in jungle and mountainous terrain, the U.S. decided to defoliate the landscape in order to better locate the well-hidden Viet Cong. From 1962 to 1970 the U.S. Air force sprayed millions of gallons of herbicides, including Agent Orange, over the country, destroying all vegetation below. Farmland was sprayed too in order to destroy food sources for “the enemy”. The herbicides were then sprayed from boats and trucks to complete the job. This diabolical use of biological and chemical warfare was pursued despite the objections of members of the scientific community, including many Nobel laureates. The Pentagon rejected all concerns about the harmful environmental and health effects of such widespread use of highly toxic chemicals.

President Nixon finally called for a halt to the use of Agent Orange in 1970. By then the damage had been done. Its extent is still being discovered a quarter of a century later.

Deadly Consequences

Tens of thousands of U.S. veterans have contracted a host of Agent Orange-related illnesses, such as various forms of cancer and Hodgkin’s disease. The impact has been far more devastating in Vietnam itself, where the populace has had to live on lethally contaminated land – land where crops and all life forms have buried within them the time bombs of deadly chemicals. Although the passage of years has lessened the contamination, the many thousands affected, along with many of their damaged offspring, are an enormous burden.

Herein lies a grim reminder of the diabolical and lunatic nature of warfare heightened by our sophisticated technology and scientific wizardry. We waged war on the land and the people of Vietnam. Affected American veterans of the war won a class-action lawsuit to finally get compensation for what they suffered.

But the U.S. has turned a deaf ear to the legacy of Agent Orange’s impact on Vietnam, which has suffered most of all.

Against Mother Nature

Seemingly impervious to the tragic lessons of history, we continue to wage war on the earth and her people. We only need to look at the massive military operations in Iraq, Serbia, and Kosovo, where the U.S. used deleted uranium to achieve “victory”. Long after these wars, depleted uranium remains in soil and water to do its deadly work, a silent weapon of mass destruction.

Need for vigilance

The U.S. stands almost alone among the nations of the world in its refusal to sign the treaty banning landmines. Our revival of the discredited Star Wars boondoggle and our refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are jarring indications of our continued embrace of policies that endanger the whole web of life. The need for bold and vigorous peace and environmental movements that will put these issues on the national agenda has never been clearer.

The Great Law of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy states: “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” In this, let’s inject “seventh generation thinking” into our national deliberations.