The Use of Agent Orange and Its Effects on the Vietnamese

Paper Info
Page count 9
Word count 2614
Read time 10 min
Subject History
Type Essay
Language 🇺🇸 US


A chemical weapon used during the Vietnam War created a long-lasting and detrimental impact on the Vietnamese people’s lives until this day, far beyond any scientist could have predicted. The Vietnam War started on November 1, 1955 and ended with Saigon’s fall on April 30, 1975. However, did the war end? During the Vietnam War, the American army started to use herbicides, each identified by a code name (Burrage-Goodwin 60). The code names given to each chemical were arbitrarily based on colors: orange, blue, purple, pink, white, and green. One of the herbicides, made of 2,4-D and 3,4,5-T, was named Agent Orange.

Despite its high toxicity, it was used in the 1940s by farmers and foresters in the United States to destroy unwanted vegetation. The United States military began using Agent Orange in Vietnam to achieve two goals: destroy crops, consequently starving the enemy and clear forests that had provided hideouts and shelter for the Vietnam troops. The plan was successful, but it came with side effects. Despite being used 46 years ago, Agent Orange seeped into the water supply and continues to harm and impact Vietnamese health, ecology, and socio-political life.

Health Effects

The health side effects are the most illustrative impacts of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese people. Though the Americans argue that Agent Orange had undergone thorough certification on its harmlessness on human beings, research has proved that the Agent’s composition consisted of dangerous compounds such as Dioxin. Dioxin in the form of TCDD caused immediate and long-term impacts (Stellman Mager, and Steven Stellman 726). The health effects result from both the Agent’s actual inhaling and consumption of contaminated foods such as animal products and crops.

Studies done to assess Dioxin’s toxicity level have shown that it is carcinogenic and highly toxic even in a small amount. The vast number of Vietnamese exposed were vulnerable to cancer. Cancer cases in the southern parts of Vietnam increased to alarming rates affecting the veterans. Dioxin accumulates in the blood and adipose tissues and is genetically inheritable. Because of the inheritance aspect Agent Orange has caused devastating repercussions on the genetic lineages (Mager and Stellman 727). Most Vietnam veterans of the war who were contaminated developed carcinogenic conditions that resulted in their deaths.

The most common diseases included Leukemia, soft-tissue carcinoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, chloracne, and Hodgkin’s disease. The immediate contact with Dioxin caused the Vietnamese darkening of the skin due to Dioxin accumulation (Mager and Stellman 727). Subjection to Dioxin caused an impairment of the liver’s normal functioning as Agent Orange destroyed liver cells. The Dioxin compound also caused chloracne skin infection characterized by severe acne. Additionally, this herbicide is connected with type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Agent Orange also exposed the Vietnam veterans and citizens to opportunistic diseases as it caused immune system dysfunction, making their immune system too weak to fight infections. The Agent also affected the body’s nervous system causing nerve disorders to worsen to cause paralysis (Young Alvin and Kristian Young 10). The body growth and development of Vietnamese citizens are impaired due to the hormonal disruptions caused by Dioxin. Moreover, the Vietnamese suffered heart and musculoskeletal conditions because of Agent Orange effects that caused heart disease and muscular dysfunction.

The Dioxin genetic inheritance route correlates paternally. It is clear that the developing fetus was and still to date incompatible with dioxin compound causing many miscarriages. The Agent also caused spina bifida, fetal brain problems, and also impairment of the fetus’s nervous system. Infants born of infected mothers suffered the risk of being disabled because of Dioxin’s effect on the pregnancy (Alvin and Young 15). Cumulatively the results of the health effects of Agent Orange on the Vietnam veterans and citizens was often death. Many Vietnamese died of the great harm caused to their health due to Dioxin, a constituent of Agent Orange.

Environmental Effects

After using Agent Orange, the U.S. military tried to find ways of getting rid of its hazardous wastes. The process of how and where to dispose without pausing any danger was a worry that took close to five years to solve. With permission from the Environment Protection Agency, the waste was incinerated. Incineration, though presumed as the safest way, caused the release of Dioxin into the atmosphere. Dioxin levels in the environment caused havoc on the Vietnamese ecology (Biggs 20). The lands were no longer productive, the wildlife was greatly affected, the lifeless decaying bodies polluted the water system, and the giant forests were destroyed.

The United States military sprayed many chemical defoliants to destroy the Vietcong guerrillas’ jungle hideouts, causing devastating effects on wild animals. Natural habitats that hosted the wild animals were destroyed, leaving the animals with displacement; wildlife was also affected by great hunger resulting from the effects of Agent Orange on the crops and vegetation (Biggs 18). Inhalation of the Dioxin from the atmosphere impacted the animals, just like humans, causing the animals’ deaths in large numbers.

Deforestation is the most devastating consequence of the use of Agent Orange on the Vietnam ecology. The United States military explicitly released the chemical to destroy forests presumed to host troops. The beauty of the mangrove forest in the southern Vietnam jungles remains a thing of the past because of the Agent’s effect (Young 104). The total biomass of the forest vegetation suffered an overall reduction. The growth of new plants was also disrupted, resulting in vegetation annihilation.

The repercussions of Agent Orange warfare waged on both the Vietnam crops and soils are still ravaging. Dioxin from the sprays infiltrated the grounds and water system, resulting in the wipeout of plants, fish, and other water animals. Dioxin levels in soil and water have entered the human food chain due to its accumulation in growing crops and fishes. When humans consume these products, they also take in the Dioxin (Young 105). The Vietnam government was forced to cease fishing in some lakes and farming in more affected regions. The ecosystem is still being destroyed by Dioxin transportation through soil and water. The impacts of Dioxin on the environment have caused some lands to be declared agriculture wastelands.

Socio-political Effects

The injustices caused by Agent Orange also affected the social-political life of the Vietnamese. The judicial and civic inequities persist despite the long period since the use of Agent Orange. Organizations that query the ethics behind the use of the chemical on humanity have paused antagonist-focused arguments on the subject (Burrage-Goodwin 55). Scientific communities, university students, and other governments fought against the use of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese people and the effects it caused on them.

The usage of Agent Orange resulted in unrest and protests across the United States and Vietnam. Scientific communities who were aware of the toxicity of Agent Orange protested against its use. The scientific federation condemned the use of bio-chemicals and petitioned against its use in the Vietnam war (Burrage-Goodwin 64). Photos of young Vietnamese children affected by Dioxin caused unrest among university students in the United States. The students rioted opposing Agent Orange warfare and its production.

The use of Agent Orange has led to issues of government accountability. The question is who is to be held responsible for the Agent’s release on Vietnam despite knowing that it constituted Dioxin, which was very harmful to humanity and the environment. After discussions, nations gathered and settled on working together to combat the use of biochemical weapons. Consequently, there was a ban on using any chemical or biochemical weapons again by any country. To promote the chemical usage ban, various activists have provided remediation policies to ensure accountability (Burrage-Goodwin 57). Multiple institutions have also tried to solve the effect by plotting plans that will call upon both the United States government and the Vietnamese government to help purify the ecosystem.

The Dioxin effects led to increasing lawsuits as the U.S. war veterans, and victims who suffered from Dioxin’s frustrating effects sought justice. The courts of law have condemned and ruled against chemical warfare in Vietnam. Reparations have also been recommended as an alternative to reconcile the harm (Burrage-Goodwin 67). The United States and Vietnam citizens have teamed up with policymakers to seek a legal venue to solve the legacy of Agent Orange. The courts, too, have reviewed the litigation processes to enhance accountability.

Economic effects

Economically the damage Agent Orange caused on the Vietnamese is unspeakable. The families were damaged, resulting in both economical and psychological effects. The American Army targeted their agricultural fields and forests and consequently destroyed crops and vegetation. The destruction of their farms made them lose their means of production. Low-class Vietnamese who depended on their small plots lost them to the defoliation, causing many people to agonize in poverty. Production of other products that required farm and tree products was stopped because of lacking raw materials.

The effect of Agent Orange immensely impacted the Vietnamese workforce. Most of the young, energetic people who would work for production were recruited into the military. Many recruits and civilians were killed at war, and others were disabled, making them unproductive. The remaining few capable of working were forced to take care of the sick and children in the households. Incomes of everyone were minimized, and they had to struggle economically to survive and meet their medical care expenses (Fitzgerald 340). Studies done by historians reveal that approximately 60 percent of the population was compelled to live in refugee camps.

To date, the economic impairment caused by Agent Orange warfare is ravaging Vietnam. The vast population killed and handicapped by Dioxin caused a reduction in wealth creation, causing a drop in the country’s gross domestic product. Because of the reduction in production, the capacity of manufacturing industries is still affected, which has reduced the ability of Vietnam to compete fairly in foreign markets. Food and fish export is inhibited because of the contamination caused by Dioxin to the soil and water.

About 24 percent of Vietnam’s land cannot be utilized because of the effects of Dioxin on the soil. The unused land is an economic loss to the country. The government has been forced to cut the country’s economic sector budget to create funds to cater to the country’s refugees (Reyes 534). Large amounts of money that would have been used alternatively to improve the country’s economy have been used to meet the medical expenses of Dioxin-infected citizens.

Demographic effects

Together with the United States Army, a large population of Vietnamese civilians and soldiers were exposed to Dioxin. Agent Orange impacted the demographic structure of the country and its population. Studies done by the Vietnam Central Census Steering Committee of the Vietnam General Statistical Office reveal the demographic impact of the war. Data obtained evaluates the Vietnamese population in the aftermath effects of Dioxin exposure. The studies show a ratio imbalance in the male to female ratio. After the war, the ratio of females to males was higher. The Vietnam population consisted of more females than males ten years after the war. This is because more males were exposed to Dioxin than ladies causing a large number of male deaths.

Despite the raving effects of Agent Orange warfare, it was noted that the mortality rate increased during the period of war from 1960 to 1980. The increase in birth rates was caused by the need to increase the workforce to help combat poverty. During the war, Vietnamese citizens lacked knowledge of family planning methods. The war Also restructured the age structure of the regions affected. The population of the reproductive age group increased compared to the aged people. Aged people were vulnerable during the period of war, resulting in high deaths.

The total population of Vietnam was immensely reduced as a result of Agent Orange warfare. The effects of Dioxin on people’s health led to increased cancer cases led to many deaths (Gordon 120). Destruction of the Vietnamese ecology made most lands unproductive. The civilians were forced to starve to death as the farms were destroyed. The reduced immunity leading to the rise of opportunistic diseases also increased the death toll. Immigration from the affected regions increased as people tried to help themselves by moving to safer grounds. Because of immigration and the increased death rate, the population of Vietnam was reduced.

United States- Vietnam Relations

It is estimated that by 1975 when the Vietnam war ended, the American Army had sprayed between eleven to twelve gallons of Agent Orange. Further research approximates that about the four million eight thousand Vietnamese had been in contact with Dioxin. Activists have become more concerned about the effects of Dioxin on the Vietnamese (Gibson 1834). They claim about three million people are suffering from the health side effects of the chemical. This ravaging effects of Dioxin on the Vietnamese and Vietnam ecology had caused significant differences between the two countries.

Though the tension between the two States had reduced over time, it is evident that the Vietnamese are still furious, and the grudge will continue. The Vietnamese people continue to complain and claim compensation for the effects caused by Agent Orange from the United States government (Tran 80). The American government was blamed for using the chemical and mandated a moral obligation to the Vietnamese. On the other hand, American blames Vietnamese for the war and are demanding for the accountability of their soldiers termed as “Missing in action.” (Tran 80). These differences have caused a poor relationship between the two countries though there are strategies to help improve the relations.


Agent Orange caused devastating effects on the ecology, health, and psychology of the veterans and civilians. Jim Smith was one of those on the ammunition ship Butte. According to Smith, when Agent Orange was being sprayed, he presumed it to be harmless. He reported that he had no idea of the effects it would cause on the soil and water. Jim, who believes he was exposed to Dioxin, claims that their governments betrayed them (Vlieg 4). Together with other navy officers, they drank seawater, not knowing the waters were already contaminated, and most of them died.

Bill Ehrhart, an American veteran, reported that he only accepted to take part in the Vietnam war for adventure. Bill was astonished when the war turned to be severe. He suffers psychological trauma when he remembers the damage caused to the Vietnamese (Vlieg 7). After the war, he turned to teaching, where he encounters poems illustrating the initial beauty of Vietnam and the ravages left behind after the war. The memories of the experiences of the war still haunt him.

Craig Venter was the first to understand the Agent Orange human genome. He explains his experience at war as the worst in his life. The devastating impact it caused on the health of those exposed inspired him to study more on human medicine to understand how the genome was affected (Reardon 30). John McCain reports having suffered both physical and mental trauma due to his experience at war as a navy member.


Agent Orange’s effects on the citizens of Vietnam not only implied the effects of Dioxin on life but the effects of warfare. To date, the war’s impact is still ravaging Vietnam, though the war ended almost 46 years ago during the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. Dioxin is still being monitored, and its effects have called for the need to cleanse the ecosystem and get rid of the Dioxin. The war devastated human health, causing various health conditions leading to increased mortality. The environment was also disrupted, causing climate effects and farming at large. The misuse of Agent Orange resulted in social-political actions trying to solve the effects and seeking justice for the Vietnamese and the cessation of biochemical warfare.

Works Cited

Biggs, David. “Following dioxin’s drift: Agent Orange Stories and the Challenge of Metabolic History.” International Review of Environmental History, vol. 4, no.1, 2018, p 7-31.

Burrage-Goodwin, Miranda. “An Unending War: The Legacy of Agent Orange.” University of Massachusetts Undergraduate History Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, 2017, pp 52-68.

Fitzgerald, David, David Ryan, and John M. Thompson, eds. Not Even Past: How the United States Ends Wars. Berghahn Books, vol. 30, no. 1, 2020, pp 319-350.

Gibson, Bryan R. “Austin Carson. Secret Wars: Covert Conflict in International Politics.” 2020, pp 1834-1835.

Gordon, Suzanne. Wounds of War: How the VA Delivers Health, Healing, and Hope to the Nation’s Veterans. Cornell University Press, 2018, pp 117-129

Reardon, Jenny. “2. The Information of Life or the Life of Information?” The Postgenomic Condition. University of Chicago Press, 2017, pp 25-45.

Reyes, Victoria. “Returns of War: South Vietnam and the Price of Refugee Memory. ” The Journal of Asian Studies,” vol. 79, no. 2, 2020, pp 533-535.

Stellman, Jeanne Mager, and Steven D. Stellman. “Agent Orange During the Vietnam War: The lingering issue of its civilian and military health impact,” Web.

Tran, Bich T. “From’Rebalance to Asia’to’Free and Open Indo-Pacific’: The Development of the US-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership.” 2019, pp 67-112

Vlieg, Heather. “Were They Spat On? Understanding the Homecoming Experience of Vietnam Veterans.” Grand Valley Journal of History vol. 7, no. 1, 2019, pp3-10.

Young, Alvin L. “Agent Orange: A Controversy Without End.” Environ Pollute Protect, vol. 3, no. 4, 2018, pp 100-108.

Young, Alvin L., and Kristian L. Young. “Agent Orange Use in Vietnam and Alleged Health Impacts: a review.” Medical Research Archives, vol. 5, no. 10, 2017, pp 1-20.

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EduRaven. (2022, June 14). The Use of Agent Orange and Its Effects on the Vietnamese. Retrieved from


EduRaven. (2022, June 14). The Use of Agent Orange and Its Effects on the Vietnamese.

Work Cited

"The Use of Agent Orange and Its Effects on the Vietnamese." EduRaven, 14 June 2022,


EduRaven. (2022) 'The Use of Agent Orange and Its Effects on the Vietnamese'. 14 June.


EduRaven. 2022. "The Use of Agent Orange and Its Effects on the Vietnamese." June 14, 2022.

1. EduRaven. "The Use of Agent Orange and Its Effects on the Vietnamese." June 14, 2022.


EduRaven. "The Use of Agent Orange and Its Effects on the Vietnamese." June 14, 2022.


EduRaven. 2022. "The Use of Agent Orange and Its Effects on the Vietnamese." June 14, 2022.

1. EduRaven. "The Use of Agent Orange and Its Effects on the Vietnamese." June 14, 2022.


EduRaven. "The Use of Agent Orange and Its Effects on the Vietnamese." June 14, 2022.