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The secret history of Monsanto, Agent Orange and the mutilation of innocent Vietnamese

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by: Daniel Erickson

We still find it difficult to completely forget one of the uglier and far-reaching atrocities of the Vietnam War -- the dissemination of a deadly herbicide, Agent Orange. But where we only have movies like Apocalypse Now and a host of war novels to remind us of the majority of the unpalatable actions that took place in the 60s, the repercussions of Agent Orange are still rising and expanding -- through the world and media.

No matter how difficult it is to stop and listen to the stories of US military veterans who served in Vietnam, we cannot discount the myriad of first-person accounts of the damage that was caused and the cover-ups that have taken place since.

One recent story was unveiled earlier this year by KPHO, a news station in Phoenix, which showcased a number of Vietnam veterans who suggested the US military had ordered them to bury barrels upon barrels of Agent Orange in Camp Carroll, an army base in South Korea. Veteran Steve House, who continues to suffer from a number of the diseases that have been commonly linked to Agent Orange exposure, describes digging a two-acre ditch and then filling it with barrels fitting the description of those containing Agent Orange.

House suffers from Neuropathy, a fairly uncommon disease for anyone to develop without the help of poison or sustained use of the affected nerve group. Carpal Tunnel is one of the more commonly known, and minor, types of neuropathy. The disease occurs when damage is done to a group of nerve cells, resulting in loss of sensation, tingling or burning sensations in the affected nerve group, weakness, or even paralysis in extreme cases.


A fellow soldier who served with House, Robert Travis, has corroborated the story: "There was approximately 25 drums, all OD green... On the barrels it said 'chemicals type Agent Orange.' It had a stripe around the barrel dated 1967 for the Republic of Vietnam." Travis currently experiences extreme weakness in his hands and feet, as well as arthritis in his neck and back.

A number of US military personnel who traversed territory that had been bombed with Agent Orange reported severe neuropathy in their feet in the weeks following. They had been walking all over the herbicide for a relatively brief period, and to this day, the compound has been raging through their bodies, since, still limiting their ability to function.

The majority of Vietnam veterans suffering from exposure to Agent Orange are given federal aid to contend with the consequences of exposure. To sufferers of ailments commonly associated with the noxious herbicide, the US government is projected to mete out up to $67 billion over the next 10 years.

As veterans in the US still combat and fall to the effects of the herbicide, children with genetic defects continue to remind Vietnamese citizens of the potency and far-reaching effects of the chemical of this terrifying poison, which has affected three generations of offspring, so far. The US has spent $43 million on these affected populations, to date, or under one-tenth what they have spent on veterans.

But Agent Orange hotspots in Vietnam must be cleaned up if they are to stop causing more diseases and genetic defects. In 2010, a 10-year plan was proposed to clear the Agent Orange hotspots in Vietnam, the areas that still contain hazardous levels of the compound.

The $300 million plan has yet to be fully funded by the US; however, it has found a number of valuable contributors, which has helped provide some more necessary momentum. Having already spent $37 million on cleaning efforts, the US has shown some amount of responsibility for its actions of the past, but it has yet to deal with the full extent of the damage, at the source.

When Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, visited Vietnam late last year, she connected the project to heal some of the worst damage done to Vietnam to the strengthening of an alliance between Vietnam and the US, referring to the compound still prevalent in the ground as: "... a legacy of the painful past we share, but the project we will undertake here, as our two nations work hand-in-hand to clean up this site, is a sign of the hopeful future we are building together." Meanwhile, the herbicide continues to produce untreatable deformities in Vietnamese youth.

Yet, despite these obvious and disturbing signs that herbicides can be extremely harmful and difficult to dislodge, the companies that produced Agent Orange still grow and develop, increasing their product lines, their bottom lines, and revenue, not only in the US but across the world. A quick glance on the Monsanto web page on June 20 of 2011 portrays the company has grown by over 8% per year, on average, since 2007. Monsanto, along with Dow Chemicals, were the two companies, which produced the approximately 12 million gallons of Agent Orange that the US military used to destroy about 14% of Vietnam's natural environment.

The companies have easily batted away all protests and claims against them, passing the buck to the US government as the culprit. Perhaps they are well within their legal rights. After all, they simply filled the orders given them, much like a firearms producer. Can we blame them for how the US military dispersed their product?

Perhaps not. However, there is still plenty of room for suspicion of foul play. If Monsanto and Dow Chemicals knew exactly how dangerous their product was, then it would have been their responsibility to inform the government of the long-term and catastrophic effects of mass dissemination. If they did not know these basic facts about the dangers of their own product, then it is a case of rampant negligence, the kind of which they can only be expected to reproduce, without significant consequences for their irresponsibility.

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