Agent Orange in Vietnam

American C-123 spraying chemical defoliant, Agent Orange, on a dense Vietnamese jungle
American C-123 spraying chemical defoliant, Agent Orange, on a dense Vietnamese jungle

Historical Context

During the Vietnam War the US Air Force engaged in a program of herbicidal warfare known as 'Operation Ranch Hand'. For ten years the Air Force sprayed forests in South Vietnam, affecting some 5 million acres of forest, or some 20% of all the forests in South Vietnam.

There were several chemicals used, but the most famous was Agent Orange (There were also Agents Green, Pink, Purple, Blue and White). The idea behind using the chemicals was to destroy foliage acting as a potential cover for the Viet Cong insurgents, who used trails through the forest for supply lines and camps.

The impacts on the Vietnamese people and ecosystem were devastating. It is estimated by the Vietnamese Red Cross (although these figures are disputed) that as many as 3 million Vietnamese suffered illness due to the chemicals, and around 1 million people are disabled as a result of it. Many children were born with deformities as a result of prenatal exposure to Agent Orange.

Photo Info


Photographer: United States Air Force
Location taken: South Vietnam

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Events

  • 1962-01-12 Operation Ranch Hand begins, a US Air Force operation to spray South Vietnamese forests with defoliants such as Agent Orange
  • 1979-11-24 US government admits troops in Vietnam were exposed to the toxic chemical defoliant Agent Orange
  • 1984-05-07 $180m out-of-court settlement reached in Agent Orange suit


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