Why The Victims Of Agent Orange Are Still Suffering To This Day

Published April 16, 2023
Updated June 7, 2023

From 1961 to 1971, the U.S. used the herbicide and defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam, leaving behind millions of victims with deadly diseases and birth defects.

For ten years in Vietnam, it rained a chemical mist. It was the height of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, and planes and helicopters flew above the country’s fields, spraying a toxic chemical called Agent Orange.

A potent herbicide mixture deployed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, Agent Orange devastated both the country’s landscape and the health of those exposed. More than 3 million people became victims of Agent Orange in the aftermath of its use between 1961 and 1971 — and many of them suffered unimaginable torment.

Operation Ranch Hand Planes
Agent Orange Victims Eyes
Agent Orange Defoliation Effects
Atv Spraying Agent Orange
Why The Victims Of Agent Orange Are Still Suffering To This Day
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Why The U.S. Military Used Agent Orange During The Vietnam War

The plan was to wipe out the enemy's food supply. Agent Orange was an incredibly potent herbicide made even stronger in the hands of the U.S. and South Vietnamese Air Forces, who mixed it to 13 times its usual strength. It could obliterate whole farms and wipe out entire forests with nothing more than a gentle mist. Their plan was to leave the Viet Cong exposed and hungry — but they couldn't have imagined the full impact that this plan would ultimately have.

The plan worked, in a sense. From 1961 to 1971, 5 million acres of forests and millions more of farmland were destroyed by Agent Orange. These were farms that the U.S. and South Vietnamese thought were being used to feed the Viet Cong's guerrilla army – but in reality, most were feeding civilians. People across the country starved.

The real impact of Agent Orange, though, took years to come out: 4 million people had been exposed to a chemical that could wipe out any form of plant life it touched. Despite what the chemical's producers had promised, it wasn't harmless.

The Horrors Suffered By The Victims Of Agent Orange

Victims Of Agent Orange

HOANG DINH NAM/AFP via Getty ImagesAgent Orange victims Van Long (right) and Nguyen Thi Bich Phuong attend an international conference on the effects of this toxic defoliant in Hanoi on March 28, 2006.

Agent Orange caused health problems in the people who'd breathed it in, and even worse ones in their children. Babies across Vietnam started being born with horrible mutations – some with physical and mental defects, others with extra fingers and limbs, and some without eyes.

A whole generation of Agent Orange victims was born plagued with mental and physical problems that made it impossible for them to have normal lives. Today, many of these Agent Orange victims live in Peace Villages, where workers care for them and try to give them a normal life – but the mutations caused by Agent Orange still affect the people and the children of Vietnam, even today.

The ones who can live in a Peace Village are luckier than some of their siblings. Some Agent Orange victims are born too horribly deformed to even survive childbirth. "There is a room at the hospital which contains the preserved bodies of about 150 hideously deformed babies, born dead to their mothers," one charity worker has said. "Some have two heads; some have unbelievably deformed bodies and twisted limbs. They are kept as a record of the terrible consequences of chemical weaponry."

The American soldiers who sprayed the fields were promised that the chemicals would only be hurting plants, not people — but these soldiers didn't come home any better off than those they sprayed. Vietnam Vets came home reporting unusual rates of lymphoma, leukemia, and cancer — especially those who had worked with Agent Orange.

The Vietnam War has been over for more than 40 years, but because of Agent Orange, it's still tearing people apart.

After this look at Agent Orange victims, find out the stories behind the Vietnam War's iconic Napalm Girl photograph and Saigon execution photograph. Then, read up on some of the worst war crimes in history.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer and teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.