February 26, 2017
Week 8 Blog Post
In his book, Scorched Earth, Fred Wilcox analyzes the destruction of Vietnam by United States military forces, primarily through the use of “Agent Orange” weaponry. Wilcox focuses on the justification behind the use of such a weapon, the inadequate safety precautions of the U.S. military around its use, and the effects of the chemical agent on the local population, as well as U.S. troops. The term “Agent Orange” has become synonymous with debilitating conditions in the past few decades. One would be hard-pressed to find an American who does not hold at least some knowledge about the infamous weapon.
Agent Orange was billed as, in short, an herbicide: a killer of vegetation, large and small. The guerilla warfare tactics employed by the North Vietnamese Army were heavily dependent on the dense jungles of Vietnam in order to hide their advances, personnel, supply lines, and military emplacements. And while the United States did not exactly have any qualms about dropping conventional bombs to “neutralize” targets, doing so was only very effective when bombers could actually see the aforementioned targets. Agent Orange was developed to solve this problem of “fog of war”. The U.S. plan for victory in Vietnam involved the destruction of Vietnamese jungle by spraying this “Agent Orange” chemical from aircraft. Unfortunately, however, Agent Orange was not only toxic to trees and plants, but also to humans.
Numerous American soldiers were hospitalized for acute and chronic conditions resulting from exposure to Agent Orange during the period of the war and in the years following it. To this day, many Vietnam veterans suffer from cancers and other chronic ailments resulting from their exposure to this chemical, but it is crucial to remember that any negative effects on American personnel are only the result of non-operation exposure: meaning that the chemical was never used on them in the manner that it would be if they were the enemy. For the people of Vietnam, however, who lived on the land being defiled by this substance, the realities were far harsher. Vietnamese children born during and after the war began exhibiting debilitating birth defects. Children were born without limbs, or the use of them. And skin conditions and cancers were common in communities living on heavily poisoned land.
These effects, however are still being felt today, over 40 years after the last American bomb was dropped on Vietnam. The effects of Agent Orange have been, and are both economic and human. Agent Orange seeped into Vietnam’s groundwater and wells, and poisoned many arable lands, making the growth of crops impossible. It is also estimated that millions of Vietnamese have died since the Vietnam war from Agent Orange-related causes alone. Even more have had their lives destroyed by the debilitating effects of the chemical on their able-bodies. Today, the United States government has officially started a fund to help pay for the care of Agent-Orange affected individuals, as well as the decontamination of Vietnamese soil and water.
The Agent Orange debacle was not the last time, however, that the U.S. military employed a weapon which injured both its own soldiers and the local population in droves. Many of the complaints against Agent Orange have also been leveled against the use of depleted uranium rounds in the Middle East. The use of such rounds against enemy emplacements releases a toxic dust which lingers in the environment for millennia and is shown to adversely affect human organs and development. Birth defects and cancer rates have risen dramatically in regions where depleted uranium rounds were used and many returning American veterans suffered from a multitude of health problems that could not be explained without pinning the blame on a toxic substance.
As technology advances, so too will the weaponry employed by militaries. The goal of such modern weapons, however, should not only focused on target destruction/debilitation, but rather the destruction of a target without harmful effect to any non-targets, including friendly forces and the local civilian population. If the mistakes of the past cannot teach us the error of our ways, then American military might is to remain synonymous with civilian harm, jeopardizing not only American image, but also American security itself.
Question: What should the United States do to alleviate the suffering of civilians caused by its weapons?
Agent Orange being used by the U.S. military in Vietnam.Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/12/us/agent-oranges-long-legacy-for-vietnam-and-veterans.html?_r=0