The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Agent Orange:
Millions of Victims … and One Trial

Feb 1, 2021

Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

On January 25, a lawsuit began in France against 14 giants of the chemical industry, including Bayer-Monsanto and Dow Chemical. These two made the sinister “Agent Orange” widely used by American planes and helicopters in aerial bombing between 1961 and 1971 during the Vietnam War.

Tran To Nga, a 79-year-old Vietnamese veteran now living in France, was exposed twice to this poison. Now she is bravely trying to have these firms charged for the devastating consequences of that chemical warfare.

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy had barely taken office when he chose to intensify the Vietnam War. He launched Operation Ranch Hand, using defoliants to destroy the farmlands and jungles where Vietnamese fighters were hiding.

Over a decade, more than 21 million gallons of toxic defoliants, including 12 million gallons of Agent Orange containing dioxin, were dropped on 7,700 square miles of Vietnamese jungles. Between two and five million people and thousands of villages were exposed. This poison caused the proliferation of cancers, not only in those directly exposed, but also in their descendants. Women pass dioxin stored in fat to their children while pregnant and while breastfeeding. Dioxin soaked the soil and contaminated all food grown on it, sowing death and disease for generations. The number of miscarriages in the contaminated areas has exploded from then on.

Today—the fourth generation—many infants are still born with deformations. Some have no arms, are hydrocephalic, or have serious physical or mental problems. Three million people still suffer these consequences, “the most miserable among the most miserable,” as Tran To Nga explains. No one can say when this ordeal will end for Vietnamese families.

The Vietnamese population was not informed until much later of the association between their illnesses and Agent Orange—not until the 1990s. Some had been shamefully hiding their disabled children. But the U.S. government and the chemical companies had launched their chemical war knowingly, and they kept a report listing the deformations and pathologies caused by dioxin classified as secret for 35 years.

The U.S. government exonerated itself legally by declaring its immunity for any act committed in wartime. In the 1970s, U.S. veterans suffering from the effects of Agent Orange launched a class action lawsuit against six firms. The companies paid a paltry “amicable” amount to avoid prosecution. But nothing was obtained for the Vietnamese victims. The U.S. justice system cleared the firms in 2004.

Whatever the outcome of this new lawsuit in France, the trial has the merit of calling public attention to the crimes committed by imperialism in its attempts to secure domination.