Fred Wilcox, author of two in-depth studies on Agent Orange, Waiting for an Army to Die (1983) and Scorched Earth (2011), estimates that some three million Vietnamese, including 500,000 children, suffered from the effects of toxic chemicals in the aftermath of the war. Cam Nghia, in Quang Tri province, was transformed into a literal village of the damned. Film-maker Masako Sakata and her late husband, Vietnam veteran Greg Davis, found dioxin residues from Agent Orange to have caused terrible disabilities and deformities afflicting 158 children out of a population of 5,673 when they visited in 2003.
The phasing out of the American chemical war in Southeast Asia was the result of an expanding ecological awareness as well as specific studies of chemical agents. The insecticide DDT, which was widely used in American agriculture, was banned in 1972 after a ten-year movement that began with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962. In a similar way, reports of birth defects and other deleterious effects of Agents Orange, Blue, and White in Vietnam led to scientific studies that correlated these effects with toxic ingredients, particularly 2,4,5-T. Scientific experiments produced malformations and stillbirths in mice.
We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum. We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of Orientals. We watched the U.S. falsification of body counts, in fact the glorification of body counts…. Each day … someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say that we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President Nixon won’t be, and these are his words, “the first President to lose a war.” We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
Wilcox’s first book, Waiting for an Army to Die, chronicles the effects of Agent Orange on American veterans. Many became sick or died from diseases that normally do not afflict young men, including rare cancers, while others reported that their children were born with birth defects similar to those seen in the offspring of female laboratory animals exposed to dioxin. The veterans considered themselves to have been guinea pigs in scientific experiments by their own government. They brought a class action lawsuit in 1980 against the government and Monsanto, which was settled out-of-court in 1984 for $180 million dollars.
The Vietnamese people had to suffer from callous injustice and ruthless terror during the war, just because they wanted to have an independent free and unified country. Young men from the United States and other allied countries did not shed their blood in the interest of their own people; indeed, they died fighting against a people that held no enmity whatsoever for their country.
For too long, we have lived with the “Vietnam Syndrome.” Much of that syndrome has been created by the North Vietnamese aggressors who now threaten the peaceful people of Thailand. Over and over they told us for nearly 10 years that we were the aggressors bent on imperialistic conquests…. It is time we recognized that ours was, in truth, a noble cause. A small country newly free from colonial rule sought our help in establishing self-rule and the means of self-defense against a totalitarian neighbor bent on conquest. We dishonor the memory of 50,000 young Americans who died in that cause when we give way to feelings of guilt as if we were doing something shameful, and we have been shabby in our treatment of those who returned…. There is a lesson for all of us in Vietnam. If we are forced to fight, we must have the means and the determination to prevail or we will not have what it takes to secure the peace. And while we are at it, let us tell those who fought in that war that we will never again ask young men to fight and possibly die in a war our government is afraid to let them win.
Twenty-seven months of US bombing of North Vietnam have had remarkably little effect on Hanoi’s over-all strategy in prosecuting the war, on its confident view of long-term Communist prospects, and on its political tactics regarding negotiations. The growing pressure of US air operations has not shaken the North Vietnamese leaders’ conviction that they can withstand the bombing and outlast the US and South Vietnam in a protracted war of attrition. Nor has it caused them to waver in their belief that the outcome of this test of will and endurance will be determined primarily by the course of the conflict on the ground in the South, not by the air war in the North.
Following raids in Dai Lai village in the rural Thai Binh province (southeast of Hanoi) in October 1967, French journalist Gerard Chaliand witnessed men and women weeping as they swept debris from the floors of destroyed homes and recounted how their neighbors had been burned alive by the fires. Bui Van Nguu, age forty-six, told Chaliand that he had been outdoors making brooms for the cooperative when a bomb exploded in his kitchen, burying his three children. The only thing left of them was mangled limbs, shreds of flesh, and the ear of his eldest daughter which was found in a garden seven yards away. Rescue teams in the village dug out many other children who had been buried alive, burned to shreds, or asphyxiated in the bombing massacre that was one of many in the war. A woman who had lost her parents and six siblings in the bombing of Phy Le told visiting peace activist David Dellinger to “ask your president Johnson if our straw huts were made of steel and concrete” (as LBJ claimed) and to ask him if “our Catholic church that was destroyed was a military target….Tell him that we will continue our life and struggle no matter what future bombings there will be because we know that without independence and freedom, nothing is worthwhile.”
Whether or not Captain Herrick knew about the South Vietnamese commando raids, the administration knew very well that the North Vietnamese attack on the Maddox was provoked by these raids. At a National Security Council meeting in which the events of August 2 were reviewed, CIA director John McCone explained that the North Vietnamese “are reacting defensively to our attacks on the off-shore islands. They are responding out of pride and on the basis of defense considerations.” That understanding was never shared with the public. The U.S. had thrown the first punch and North Vietnam had punched back, without effect; but the public was led to believe that North Vietnam had attacked the strongest nation on earth without provocation.
Quoted in George McTurnan Kahin, “Bureaucracy’s Call for U.S. Ground Troops,” in Jeffrey P. Kimball, To Reason Why: The Debate about the Causes of U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War (Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1990), p. 233.
Leonard: This letter is to inform you that because of numerous offenses against the company’s rules and regulations we are terminating your employment with us effective immediately.