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Agent Orange never hurt anyone

Posted by John T. Reed on

Copyright John T. Reed

Need for demons

Political groups need demons. Each has its own demonology. A chemical which has at times been called Agent Orange has long been a demon of the political groups who could fairly be described as anti-war, anti-corporation, and anti-chemical.

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.

I was inspired to write this by a column by Walter Isaacson in the 3/12/07 Time magazine. The first phrase in the second paragraph in the second column confirms the title of this Web article you’re reading quite plainly,

Scientists have not been able to prove a direct link between Agent Orange and the disabilities…

I love the way he phrases that. He blames the lousy scientists for failing to prove what everybody knows: Agent Orange harms humans big time. He seems to be admonishing the scientists to get their acts together at long last. And he seems to be saying that they will do so any day now.

What the terminally-biased Mr. Isaacson would have said were he guided by logic and facts is,

Scientists have found no link between Agent Orange and the human illnesses often attributed to it.

Stolen Valor

The first time I learned that Agent Orange was not harmful to humans was in the book Stolen Valor by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. That book was written to refute the numerous lies about the Vietnam War and its vets including:

  • that most Vietnam vets are baby-killing, wife-beating, drug addicts who cannot adjust to society
  • that blacks served and died disproportionately in Vietnam
  • that many who claim to be Vietnam vets were never in the military or were never in Vietnam or, if they were in Vietnam, they exaggerate their combat experience and heroism
  • that military personnel in Vietnam committed widespread atrocities
  • that so-called post-traumatic stress disorder is as extensive and as widespread as depicted by those who purport to suffer from it and by anti-war activists
  • that Vietnam vets commit suicide in disproportionate numbers and do so because they served in Vietnam
  • that Vietnam vets are disproportionately homeless and that the cause is their service in Vietnam

You may assume Stolen Valor is merely a screed by a rabid Vietnam vet. Nope. It is a very reasonable, extremely well-documented analysis that cites chapter and verse of pertinent statistics and studies and names names. I have spoken to co-author B.G. Burkett several times by phone. I highly recommend the book to anyone who really wants to know the true story of the service of Vietnam vets and the non-service of Vietnam vet imposters and exaggerators.

‘The Myth of Agent Orange’

Chapter 22 of Stolen Valor is titled “The Myth of Agent Orange.” Its points include:

Agent Orange was first demonized by Maude DeVictor, a VA Benefits Division employee and black-power movement member who was an anti-war activist turned veterans advocate, not a doctor, scientist, other other type of trained medical person Turning from anti-war activist to veterans advocate was not a change of mind, rather, it was a way to keep self-righteously complaining about the war after it ended. TV Reporter Bill Kurtis took DeVictor’s claims and turned them into a program titled, “Agent Orange: the Deadly Fog.”

Journalist Jon Franklin, who admitted being biased against the military and in favor of finding that Agent Orange caused health problems, did an extensive investigative report with another investigative reporter, Alan Doelp. Bias notwithstanding, the two found that they could not substantiate any of the charges made against Agent Orange. In some cases, their findings were comical.

‘Orange powder or mist’

For example, some veterans reported that while they were on patrol in Vietnam one day, an “orange powder” sprayed out of a plane descended upon them. Others described it as an “orange mist.”

Folks, Agent Orange ain’t orange.

It is a colorless liquid. It was called Agent Orange because they painted a orange stripe around the 55-gallon drums of it so they could quickly identify them. Also sprayed in Vietnam were Agent Purple, Agent Pink, Agent Green, Agent White, and Agent Blue as well as a bunch of other herbicides that did not have a colored stripe around their barrels. Apparently, the anti-war, anti-corporation, anti-chemical crowd glommed onto Agent Orange, rather that any of the 14 other herbicides used in Vietnam solely because its name resembles the dark Stanley Kubrick 1971 film Clockwork Orange.


‘And occasional lower back pain’

Another comical aspect was the symptoms attributed to Agent Orange. The VA only compensates Vietnam vets for three illnesses supposedly related to exposure to Agent Orange: non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, and chloracne. And it appears that these are compensated solely for political, not scientific, reasons. But vets who claim to have been harmed by Agent Orange describe every physical and mental illness symptom known to man. They sound like comedian Richard Jeni in one of whose routines he speaks as a chemical plant employee who suffered from,

A string of suspicious health maladies. In one month I got heart disease, bone disease, brain disease, water on the knee, water on the floor, water on the couch, pneumonia, old monia, ammonia, rocking pneumonia and the boogy woogie blues. I got diarrhea, pyorrhea, gonorrhea, Rhea Perlman, yellow fever, scarlet fever, pink eye, blue balls. I got leprosy, pleurisy, jealousy, misery, envy, athletes foot fungus with tough-actin’ Tenactin. I got PMS, TMJ, HBO, Nick at Night, Showtime, ESPN, the Discovery Channel—and occasional lower back pain.

These vets and their advocates claim Agent Orange causes every human ailment and causes them to commit many forms of criminal behavior. In fact, no substance or organism does that. Each substance or organism that does cause human illness causes one or a discrete number of symptoms.

Delayed reaction

Yet another comical aspect is the number of years after exposure that vets claim the symptoms first appeared. Both common sense and science tell us that the symptoms of exposure to any harmful substance peak immediately after exposure and that the more time that transpires between exposure and symptoms, the greater the probability some other source is responsible. Most likely, the delayed “onset” of Agent Orange symptoms is caused by the vet in question reading or hearing through the vet grapevine that you can get tax-free money from the VA if you claim illness attributable to Agent Orange.

Those guys who demolish buildings with explosives send a letter to all neighbors warning them of the coming blast, its date and time, and offering to compensate the nearby residents for any damage resulting from the blast. Once, they had to postpone the blast to another day. But after the originally scheduled time for the blast passed, dozens of people showed up at their temporary office wanting compensation for the damage they had suffered—from the blast that had not yet occurred!

When they get paid to do so, people get all sorts of symptoms.

Although reporters contacted by Franklin and Doelp always referred to “studies” that said Agent Orange caused illnesses, no one could ever specify the exact study. They all claimed to have heard it from someone else. They concluded it was a sort of rumor or what is often called an “urban legend.”

Meet dioxin

Dioxin was not an active or intended ingredient of Agent Orange. It was only present in Agent Orange as a contaminant in quantities of around five parts per billion or less. After being sprayed, the concentration of dioxin on the sprayed areas was diluted to a few parts per quadrillion. Your body contains three to five parts per trillion of dioxin, a higher concentration than was on the ground in Vietnam. You are more dangerous as a dioxin source than Agent Orange was in Vietnam the day it hit the ground.

Dioxin also degrades in sunlight within 48 to 72 hours. Dioxin is a naturally-occurring chemical which was on the earth before humans. It is a by-product of combustion and the action of enzymes in the soil.

Sides of the roads in Vietnam

When I was in Vietnam, I remember driving on roads that had been cleared on either side for about 300 yards. 300 yards is the effective range of the AK-47. I assume Agent Orange or one of the other defoliants had been sprayed there, then Army Engineers using Rome Plows had pushed the debris away from the roads. There was nothing left but flat, bare dirt like the infield of a Major League Baseball park. No place for the enemy to hide. I recall being extremely grateful to the defoliant sprayers and the Engineers for the clearing.

Even critics of Vietnam defoliation admit it saved many U.S. lives. In fact, not only did it save many U.S. lives, it hurt no one.

Dioxin is not an herbicide or an ingredient of Agent Orange

Dioxin apparently doesn’t hurt plants. If it did, the enzymes in the soil that make it naturally would defoliate all such soil.

Activists describe Agent Orange as a “powerful herbicide,” which it is, but then they point to dioxin in Agent Orange as the “ingredient” that causes illness. The Agent Orange ingredients that kill plants are 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. The corporation that made Agent Orange, Dow Chemical, did not want dioxin in Agent Orange nor did they deliberately put it there. Rather, they did not remove it because the concentrations are so infinitessimal and harmless that there is no need to remove it.

Since the dioxin has nothing to do with killing plants, describing Agent Orange as a powerful herbicide in the context of a human illness discussion is dishonest. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average American has four to seven parts per trillion dioxin in his or her blood and that dioxin comes from natural sources and combustion, not Vietnam.

The Agent Orange spray rate in Vietnam was three gallons per acre.

Federally-funded scientists are afraid to speak out about Agent Orange

Scientists are afraid to confirm that Agent Orange was not linked to disease because it is a political hot potato and they do not want to lose federal funding for other research by being labeled as an Agent Orange denier. We have since seen this repeated in Climate Change scientists.

Veterans tried to blame lung cancer among them on Agent Orange. In fact, the increased incidence of lung cancer among Vietnam veterans compared to the general population was explained entirely by the fact that Vietnam vets were more inclined to smoke than the general population.

‘Ranch Hands’

Agent Orange was sprayed in Operation Ranch Hand, by an Air Force unit that had 1,265 members over the course of the Vietnam War. Extensive studies of the health of those men revealed no elevated incidence of any disease in spite of the fact that they were covered in Agent Orange on a daily basis.

Whenever a new man arrived in the Ranch Hand unit, all members including the new guy, would drink a glass of the stuff. Some report that they consumed a gallon of it over time. That sophomoric stunt was not the brightest thing in the world to do, but again, those Ranch Hands have been extensively studied by medical personnel and no increased incidence of any disease has been found among them. One study even found a slightly lower mortality rate among the Ranch Hands than among a control group of similar age men!

Agent Orange was used routinely all over the world

The herbicides used in Vietnam were standard herbicides that had been used by highway maintenance crews and others around the world for decades before they were used in Vietnam.

‘We can’t stand the political heat. Here’s your compensation’

Governmental and lawsuit settlements that suggest Agent Orange culpability appear to be universally motivated by politics or irrational fear of chemicals, rather than scientific evidence.

A study by the Institute of Medicine is at Although it may seem to a casual reader to link Agent Orange to human illness, what it says if you read it carefully is that there appear to be some links between chemicals in a number of herbicides, namely dioxin, and some human illnesses. The IOM study essentially calls for more studies of whether there is a link between Agent Orange and human illness. The study is worded in a weasely manner, apparently spun to appease the political groups that hate Agent Orange.

The study seems to say that high exposure to dioxin would be necessary to cause illness, like working with the herbicide daily for an extended period as opposed to merely traveling through an area where it were sprayed once. Although the study was done to investigate the effects of Agent Orange per se, it quickly abandons the phrase “Agent Orange” and thereafter refers repeatedly to phrases like “chemicals used in herbicides in the Vietnam War,” “herbicides,” and “dioxin.”

That Web site identifies 15 herbicides that were used in Vietnam. Two of them were called Agent Orange and Agent Orange II.

The fact that dioxin is linked to human illness, which it is, does not mean that Agent Orange is linked to human illness. Everything is a poison in high enough doses. Almost nothing is in low enough doses. Dioxin is, by definition, 100% strength dioxin. Agent Orange contains only infinitessimal traces of dioxin.

Herbicide versus pesticide

Humans consume on a daily basis small quantities of chemicals, including dioxin, that would cause ill health if consumed in larger quantities. For example, page 2 of John Stossel’s book Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity says the notion that “Pesticide residues in foods cause cancer and other diseases is a myth.” The truth, according to Stossel and his scientific sources, is,

The residues are largely harmless.

You are exposed to dioxin daily from fires including vehicle exhaust as well as from exposure to dirt and in foods and beverages that you consume.

Humans and insects are animals. Herbicides are designed to kill plants, not animals. Plants have a radically different biology than animals. If insecticide does not adversely affect humans, it is extremely unlikely and even more unlikely that herbicides would.

I am not an apologist for the military

Some readers may figure I excuse and explain everything the military does. Hardly. Read the other articles that are linked to ( As you will see, my various articles about the military are generally highly critical of it.

This article does not happen to be critical of the military because what I oppose is not the military. I oppose bullshit. Bullshit is exactly what the military spouts in great quantities in many cases, but not about Agent Orange. When it comes to Agent Orange, it is the anti-war, anti-corporation, anti-chemical crowd who are spouting bullshit.

Logic and facts say that Agent Orange has not hurt anyone and was never likely to hurt anyone. It is a regular old herbicide and is no more dangerous than any other herbicide. The outcry against Agent Orange comes from people with hidden agendas like hatred of the military, hatred of the Vietnam war, hatred of corporations like Dow Chemical which made Agent Orange and napalm, hatred of chemicals, vote-seeking politicians, attention-seeking journalists, and vets who want war-related sympathy and tax-free compensation for illnesses that deserve neither.

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  • John, it looks like you copied/pasted your Agent Orange article rather than the one regarding Airborne.

    Eric on
  • Airborne School is, was, and always shall be an unnecessary, ridiculous waste of soldiers’ time and taxpayer money. I remember thinking every day of that school in 1992, “what a colossal joke!” The skills could be learned in a few hours or days at most. Most of the graduates will never use the skills again in their lives. The instruction is imparted by foul-mouthed NCOs delivering insults and physical abuse from start to finish each day. The standards are ludicrously low and as long as you don’t get fed up with being treated like crap and mouth off to a Black Hat, you will graduate. And NEVER USE THE TRAINING AGAIN FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

    My attendance did not, as promised by the Army, make me a better man or a stronger leader. All it really did was waste my time between academic years at West Point and give hundreds of people (support unit) Federal employment. The money used to feed me and my compatriots in the Army Mess Halls could have been used for myriad other purposes. If Airborne Units serve any practical purpose in today’s world, let the Airborne units train their own folks and keep them current. If not, shut down the school and save the American taxpayers millions of wasted dollars each year.

    Jeff on

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