Philip Jones Griffiths

The logic was simple. If the enemy uses the terrain to hide while living off the land, spraying herbicide over trees and crops can deny him each of these advantages.

The destruction of trees that had hidden ambush parties, in locales such as the banks of the Mekong River delta, proved a tactical success in keeping patrolling sailors of America’s Brown Water Navy (the service branch that fights on inland waterways) out of harm’s way. But the program failed strategically. The enemy forces regrouped to deal with the new environment, but for the peasants whose allegiance we sought, there could be no such regrouping.

This intentional defoliation of the jungle cover and destruction of cropland, whose effects the Vietnamese still experience, was caused by the herbicidal action of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T within two to three weeks of each spray run, with the chemicals themselves degrading and disappearing from the environment not long afterwards. These compounds seem to have had little direct impact on humans even while extant, saving their destructive power for plant life.

However, the dioxin contaminate in the herbicide 2,4,5-T, which seems to have had little impact on plant life while devastating in its human impacts, is very stable. Its half-life is extremely long, varying according to the type of soil or sediment in which it is found and deeply it is buried. In the sediments of lakes, for instance, the half-life of dioxin can be as long as a century.
The way it was: Dalai Forest, 1950.

The effect of the dioxin on people has already been addressed. Within the context of the impact Agent Orange on the environment of Vietnam, we will examine the effort to cleanse the dioxin from Vietnam’s land and water.

Even though Operation Ranch Hand ended nearly 40 years ago, it has continued to have ongoing environmental impacts not only in Vietnam but in other areas around the world where the herbicides were used, tested, stored or manufactured: from Da Nang, Vietnam, to Gulfport, MS; and from Midland, MI, to New Brunswick, Canada. In Vietnam, the impacts on the ecosystem are still visible, especially in the heavily sprayed mountainous regions along where the Ho Chi Minh trail was located. In addition, high levels of TCDD dioxin from the 2,4,5-T can still be found in the areas that were frequently sprayed, where the herbicides were stored and loaded onto planes, where large spills took place or where the manufacturing process resulted in dioxin leaching into the surrounding areas and transported downstream.


The natural environment.

While considering the entire impact of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese environment, one can recall Senator Robert Kennedy’s warning about the Johnson Administration's requested troop surge following the 1968 Tet Offensive. “At the end of it all,” the Senator famously foretold, “…they may say, as Tacitus said of Rome: ‘They made a desert, and called it peace.’

“Solitudinem faciunt,
pacem appelant.”

– Tacitus, “De vita et moribus iulii Agricolae,” ca. 98.

Jungle removal.

Agent Orange in the Viet Nam War: History and Consquences

by Prof. Dr. Le Cao Dai
(published in Vietnam - not currently available)