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Agent Orange

History, Science, and the Politics of Uncertainty

Edwin A. Martini

Publication Year: 2012

Taking on what one former U.S. ambassador called “the last ghost of the Vietnam War,” this book examines the far-reaching impact of Agent Orange, the most infamous of the dioxin-contaminated herbicides used by American forces in Southeast Asia. Edwin A. Martini’s aim is not simply to reconstruct the history of the “chemical war” but to investigate the ongoing controversy over the short- and long-term effects of weaponized defoliants on the environment of Vietnam, on the civilian population, and on the troops who fought on both sides. Beginning in the early 1960s, when Agent Orange was first deployed in Vietnam, Martini follows the story across geographical and disciplinary boundaries, looking for answers to a host of still unresolved questions. What did chemical manufacturers and American policymakers know about the effects of dioxin on human beings, and when did they know it? How much do scientists and doctors know even today? Should the use of Agent Orange be considered a form of chemical warfare? What can, and should, be done for U.S. veterans, Vietnamese victims, and others around the world who believe they have medical problems caused by Agent Orange? Martini draws on military records, government reports, scientific research, visits to contaminated sites, and interviews to disentangle conflicting claims and evaluate often ambiguous evidence. He shows that the impact of Agent Orange has been global in its reach affecting individuals and communities in New Zealand, Australia, Korea, and Canada as well as Vietnam and the United States. Yet for all the answers it provides, this book also reveals how much uncertainty—scientific, medical, legal, and political—continues to surround the legacy of Agent Orange.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Series: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

I wake up every day very thankful that I have a job, one that I love, at a great university and in an amazing department. I wake up every day even more grateful for an incredible network of family and friends who not only support me in everything I do but also help keep me very grounded. ...

List of Abbreviations and Acronyms

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pp. xv-xvi

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Introduction: Approaching Agent Orange

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pp. 1-16

In the spring of 1966 a United States Navy electrician was on his way home. Although he had not seen any action in Vietnam, spending less than half a day in Saigon simply to transfer flights, he was anxious to get stateside. Arriving at the airport in Saigon, he “bought a pack of cigarettes and snapped a few photos” ...

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1. Only You Can Prevent Forests: The Chemical War and the Illusion of Control

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pp. 17-52

The planes came to Cat Son a little after six o’clock in the morning. The reconnaissance plane came first, followed by two fighter jets that strafed the village. Then came the big cargo planes, three of them, flying in formation, parallel and low to the ground, and spraying a fine mist that looked to the people below like white smoke. ...

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2. Hearts, Minds, and Herbicides: The Politics of the Chemical War

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pp. 53-96

In the late summer of 1962 Edward R. Murrow was concerned about crop destruction. Writing to National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy in August, Murrow, then serving as the director of the United States Information Agency, expressed his skepticism about the ability of the United States to “persuade the world ...

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3. Incinerating Agent Orange: Dioxin, Disposal, and the Environmental Imaginary

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pp. 97-145

On April 15, 1970, the secretaries of agriculture, interior, and health, education, and welfare announced at a White House press conference that the U.S. government was suspending registration of the herbicide 2,4,5-T. That statement made it effectively illegal to sell or transport products containing the compound for most domestic purposes ...

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4. The Politics of Uncertainty: Science, Policy, and the State

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pp. 146-196

In March 1965, a crucial month in the escalation of the Vietnam War, the United States implemented a series of actions and policies that would forever link the fate of the two nations and shape the future of millions of people around the world. On March 2 the United States formally launched Operation Rolling Thunder, ...

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5. “All Those Others So Unfortunate”: Vietnam and the Global Legacies of the Chemical War

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pp. 197-237

In the absence of tangible forms of documentation and data that might afford the type of certainty, causation, and proof that would satisfy the legal, political, and diplomatic forces ensconced in the politics of uncertainty that continue to play out so unevenly around the world, ...

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Conclusion: Agent Orange and the Limits of Science and History

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pp. 238-248

In the central highlands of Vietnam, near some of the areas most heavily defoliated during the war, a thick, invasive grass thrives along open hills where the trees refuse to return even now, forty years after they were destroyed. They call it American grass. Standing in a gnarled patch in the A Luoi valley is Phung Tuu Boi, ...


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pp. 249-290


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pp. 291-302

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613762202
E-ISBN-10: 1613762208
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499744
Print-ISBN-10: 1558499741

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 14 b&w illus., 1 map
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War
Series Editor Byline: Christian Appy See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 830023872
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Agent Orange

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Subject Headings

  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Chemical warfare.
  • Agent Orange -- War use.
  • Agent Orange -- Toxicology.
  • Agent Orange -- Environmental aspects.
  • Veterans -- Diseases -- United States.
  • Veterans -- Diseases -- Australia.
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