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Effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam and its People Examined in New Book by Ithaca College Professor

 ITHACA, NY — Nearly three decades after writing about the effects Agent Orange had on the soldiers who used it in Vietnam War, Fred Wilcox has returned to the topic of chemical exposure — this time chronicling its tragic consequences on the health of the Vietnamese people and their environment. An associate professor of writing at Ithaca College, Wilcox is the author of “Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam,” published by Seven Stories Press.

Weaving first-person accounts with original research, Wilcox’s latest book examines the legacy of Agent Orange/dioxin in Vietnam, where more than 3 million people — including 500,000 children — are sick or dying from birth defects, cancer and other illnesses that can be directly traced to the chemicals used by American forces to defoliate the jungle during the war.

In “Scorched Earth,” Wilcox calls for the U.S. government to finally admit its role in chemical warfare in Vietnam, demands that the manufacturers of Agent Orange compensate the victims, and warns that unless we stop poisoning our air, food and water supplies, the cancer epidemic in the United States and other countries will only worsen.

Wilcox has scheduled several upcoming public readings and book signings:

  • Saturday, Oct. 8, at 3 p.m. at Buffalo Street Books, DeWitt Mall, Ithaca.
  • Monday, Oct. 17, at 2 p.m. at Loose Cannons, 471 West End Ave., and at 4 p.m. at the Housing Works Thrift Store, 2569 Broadway, both in New York City. Wilcox will be joined by fellow author and activist Noam Chomsky.
  • Monday, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m. at ArtRage Gallery, 505 Hawley Ave., Syracuse.

Seven Stories Press has also released a new edition of Wilcox’s 1983 book “Waiting For an Army To Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange,” which told the individual stories of soldiers who suffered from the side effects of Agent Orange and the terrible treatment they received as veterans. “Scorched Earth” fills in the recent history of the struggle by American veterans’ families to obtain benefits for their exposure-related illnesses and birth defects, and describes in heart-rending detail the efforts by Vietnamese Agent Orange victims to gain the same recognition and assistance.

In an interview with the Center for Media and Democracy, Wilcox said he hopes that both books will “open a conversation about war, about what we should never do in war, about our environment, about cancer, and about how we as a nation can commit these crimes and then claim we’re not responsible.”

A longtime peace activist, Wilcox has been researching, writing and teaching courses on the Vietnam War for over 30 years and is recognized as a trusted authority among veterans and academics alike on the war and its aftereffects.

His other books include “Uncommon Martyrs: How the Berrigans and Others Are Turning Swords Into Plowshares,” “Fighting the Lamb’s War: The Autobiography of Philip Berrigan” and “Chasing Shadows: Memoirs of a Sixties Survivor.” He researched and wrote one chapter of a national curriculum, “The Lessons of the Vietnam War,” for the Center for Social Studies Education.

For more information, contact Fred Wilcox at (607) 274-3571 or


Readers with an interest in Vietnamese issues may wish to visit the ‘Agent Orange Action Group’ website at and also the excellent piece below. Be sure to scroll down and read the comments following the article! Justice for the Victims of Agent Orange!

I would love to hear Prof Wilcox explain how it is that the 1200+ men who handled and sprayed the herbicides and whose blood levels of dioxin are far higher than than any other vets and any Vietnamese have health histories no different from the general population, with the exception of a slightly higher Type II diabetes incidence. Or how so many Vietnamese in the North, where there never was any spraying, are claimed by Hanoi to have herbicide related illnesses. Wilcox has a long history of being antiwar, and is hardly an unbiased researcher.

Here's an excellent piece just published on Fred's book.

To answer Del Vecchio question of why so many Vietnamese in the North of the country are affected is simple.
The people of Vietnam including those who lived in the North came down to the Southern part of their country to defend it from the US forces and their allies, as a result they were also affected by the 80 million litres of Agent Orange sprayed over Southern Vietnam during the ten-year period from 1961-1971.
Those that managed to live through the war then returned home to the North and other parts of the country, not knowing that in their bodies was the dioxn.

Not only did the Vietnamese lose over four million in the struggle to defeat the US and its allies, they also lost many hundreds of thousands through unborn children dying in the wombs of their mothers and abnormal births.

TGoday Vietnam has four million affected by Agent Orange, and it has now gone into the fourth generation, that's the legacy the US and the chemical companies headed by Monsanto has left to the people and land of Vietnam.

I have visited Vietnam each year since 1989 and travelled to many of it provinces througout the country, on each of the visits, have met and spoken to many of these tragic people who deserve and need our support.

Perhaps Del Vecchion might like to ask Obama and Monsanto etc what have they dome to help the Vietnamese affected by Agent Orange.

Nice try, Mr Aldiss, but the spraying stopped years before the great majority of the surviving NVA got to the South, so they could not have been exposed to the dioxin, which by then only remained in any concentration in the very limited areas of the four former US airfields. The molecule breaks down when exposed to air and sunlight, so only the tiny fraction of the spraying that got to the ground and soaked in could survive.
And in the March of Dimes worldwide survey of birth defects, Viet Nam's occurrence falls squarely in the center of the distribution, far lower than neighboring Cambodia, so there is no actual evidence of any effect on Vietnamese births.
Having personally visited several orphanages in Viet Nam, and been told by the staff that virtually every child there was an AO victim, regardless of what their affliction was, I know what game Hanoi is playing. It's simple, just laying on a super guilt trip to Americans to extract as many billions as they can, to prop up their supposedly socialist health care system. (Which isn't very socialist, if you can't pay for your care, you don't get very much of it.)
BTW, Hanoi also claims AO has devastated their forest, including ones in the North where there never was any spraying-- but there HAS been clear cutting to yield timber to sell for foreign exchange. Viet Nam was just cited again as one of the most corrupt countries in Asia, due to being governed by what is essentially an oligarchy of families from the upper ranks of the Communist Party. So deception and manipulation are an integral part of how they work.

Appears Mr. Del Vecchio is whistling 'Dixie', this interview provides a few solid clues to his logic...

MSGT LEROY FOSTER, USAF, RETIRED from Westfield, new york

Those folks, and even most people who are not in those groups, “know” that Agent Orange is a poison that has hurt hundreds of thousands if not millions of people.

No, it hasn’t. It never hurt anyone.

How could that be?

It is an herbicide. People are not herbs.

But everybody says...

Not everybody, just political activists and ignorant laypersons

My reply Mr Vecchio was not to try to confuse you but to explain some of the history of the Vietnam War and the effects that the use of Agent Orange has had on the people and land of Vietnam.

Let me answer some of the points you raise;
"the spraying stopped years before the great majority of the surviving NVA got to the South, so they could not have been exposed to the dioxin, which by then only remained in any concentration in very limited areas of the four former US airfields."

Well that is some statement. So tell me Mr Vecchio before the Majority of the NVA came to the south, who were the US and its allies fighting? On who were they spraying 80 million litres of AO, not forgetting Napalm? And the B52s with their massive bombing of areas of the south including Khe Sanh, and the millions of cluster weapons, on who Mr Vecchio?

It is on record that the spraying began in August 1961 and continued for ten-years bringing that to 1971. The US withdrew two years later in 1973. During those ten-years 80 million litres of AO were sprayed over areas of Southern Vietnam, including the forests, crops, hamlets and the surrounding areas of the US bases. The Stellman research showed where the spraying took place from the logbooks of the pilots.

If you have been to the Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, you would have seen the many of the babies that died in the wombs of their mothers due to AO, you would have also seen the young children with their deformities being cared for by the staff.

To deny the four million Vietnamese many born long after the war and spraying ended is also to deny the US, Australian, New Zealand, South Korean veterans and their children suffering from the effects of AO.

For the Vietnamese the effects have gone into the fourth generation.

I cannot let you get away with your remark of the claims by Hanoi on the forests in the Northern Vietnam being devastated by AO. No such claim has been made, but let me remind you of the heavy and massive bombing of Northern Vietnam by the B52s, it was that crime that played a part in the destruction of the forests.

Finally, when you write of the "supposedly socialist health care system". I believe that it is the US that has over 58 million of its people denied health care, 56 million living below the poverty line, 55 million without a job.

There is a saying "People who live in glass houses, should not throw stones."

First, thanks to Mark London in the UK for digging up the interview I gave years ago about the war and my work in providing accurate information about some of its myths. He seems to think it reflects badly on me somehow, but I don't see how, it's my honest answers to questions and I certainly invite anyone to examine it if they wish.
As far as the claim of MSgt Foster, he could not have had more exposure than the Ranch Hand personnel in Viet Nam, 1200+ men whose health histories were followed for 20 years, with almost no differences at all from an unexposed control group. People get sick, their children and grandchildren get sick, what matters are the hard statistics, and they don't show the Ranch Hand group, the most exposed people in the world other than the Italians at Serveso, to be different. Neither were the Italians different in health history, and their government has followed that group for decades.
And now for Mr. Aldis, who seems to have start putting an edge on his comments.
In 1960 the majority of those fighting the Saigon government were native VV, but Northeners started infiltrating even then. After 1968 the great majority of communist fighters were NVA, since the VC were nearly wiped out in the Tet battles. However, the fraction of those who came south from '65 to '71 who survived and returned north was tiny. Hence the common tatoo on NVA coming down the HCM Trail, which said "Born in the North to Die in the South". I interviewed an NVA Chieu Hoi, who, after six months in the South, only knew fewer than ten survivors of his original unit of 200 that had started down theh Trail.
Hanoi admits to losing 1.4 million men in the war, which tells you how deadly it was for them. The Northern survivors who'd been in the South were mainly from the Easter Invasion of '72 and the final invasion of '75, plus the years inbetween. Again, after the spraying was over.
I already mentioned the visits to orphanages I've made in Viet Nam, plus the War Remnants museum in Saigon where they have most of one long wall devoted to their claims of AO effects, including many glass containers of deformed fetuses.
Again, the hard statistics- birth defect incidence in Viet Nam does not stand out at all among nations. If herbicides really affected people the way Hanoi claims, the birth defect level in the South from at least 1965 through 1975 and after would have been horrendous, and the UN health organizations and others would have taken note of it. That did not happen.
The entire AO topic has become highly politicized in the US, Australia, and South Korea. I've read some of the studies "proving" the effects exist, and they are always biased and often psuedoscience. (I should mention having degrees in Chemistry, a minor in Bio, and being a user and teacher of Statistics.)
You may not have found it, but there have been some silly claims of AO affecting the northern forests. In any case, the bombing of the North was subject to incredible controls and limits, and certainly no bombs were wasted on jungle areas there. The only massive bombing occasion was the Christmas bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong, in which a tremendous tonnage of bombs were dropped with such precision that just over 1500 people were killed. Every death being a tragedy of war, of course, but a fraction of the tonnage was dropped on Dresden and killed well over 30,000 people. This tells you how precise the bombing was, how carefully residential areas were avoided.
In terms of the other comments, the unemployment rate in Viet Nam is way up in double digits, and by Western standards the bulk of the population lives below the poverty line. And I don't know where Mr. Aldis lives, but anyone walking into an American hospital sick or bleeding will get care in this country. People may not have insurance, but very few people actually die in the street. It's better to not quote general statistics blindly when you don't understand them.
I appreciate the desire to not confuse me, but given my decades of study before, during, and after the war, and my visits to the country in recent years, my interviews with Vietnamese ranging from very old VC survivors to Boat People to survivors of "re-education" to young VN immigrants who were raised under the communist system, I am reasonably OK with what I know of the war and its aftermath.

I'd like to ask Mr. Del Vecchio if he's visited the 'Agent Orange Action Group' ( and if so his humble opinion on the topic?

Yes, Mr. London, I have visited the AOAG site. It's a nicely organized site, based on the classic idea that dioxin is, as one of the articles presently featured says, one of the most lethal and durable poisons ever made. Given that even when an enormous dose was slipped into the soup of a Georgian politician, precipitating the very rapid onset of chloracne, the gentleman did not die, and recovered fully within a couple of weeks, claims of its toxicity are clearly vastly overdone. As to permanence, the molecule breaks down rapidly when exposed to sunlight and moisture, so only that fraction of it that soaks into the ground survives any length of time. There are four "hotspots" in Viet Nam, all limited areas on what were wartime airbases where the material was handled in bulk for years.
Dioxins (there are more than one kind) are generated naturally when garbage is burned or there is a forest fire, so in very low levels they are often part of the background environment. People all across the world tend to have up to 8 parts per trillion in their body fluids.
I do not doubt the sincerity and good intentions of many of the people who are anti-AO activists. But they have bought into poor science and biased studies.
If the dioxin were as active and lasting a poison as is believed, the rate of birth defects in many areas of South Vietnam would have skyrocketed from at least 1968 for another decade, and it would have been so dramatic an event that WHO would have gotten involved and investigated. That didn't happen, and as already mentioned, the birth defect rate in Viet Nam is right in the middle of the distribution of all countries.
The issue has become both highly politicized and deeply emotional, so no amount of discussion or referral to a body of facts will change the minds of those who see it as some horrific event. I merely feel it important for at least some alternate view to be presented.

Mr. Del Vecchio makes about as much sense as this man!

What is agent orange, used in Vietnam?

soldiers dressed up like giant oranges to frighten the viet cong. asians are afraid of oranges.