Agent Orange and broken promises

Published 9:19 pm Saturday, October 12, 2013

By Ed Fancher

Agent Orange is a chemical that was used in Vietnam to defoliate the jungle, thus denying cover to Vietcong guerillas. It contained one of the most virulent poisons known to man, a strain of dioxin called TCDD.

Millions of gallons of Agent Orange soaked the southern half of Vietnam. It killed the foliage, stripping much of the jungle bare. Unfortunately, unsuspecting Vietnam combatants were at the same time breathing it, without even knowing it.


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Since that time, studies have shown the dioxins were a clear and present danger to human health, leading to a variety of forms of cancer. Many of the cancers, such as respiratory and prostate cancer, took 20 to 30 years to develop.

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. veterans who served in Vietnam have complained of illnesses traced to exposure to Agent Orange. The list is growing and — not surprisingly — Vietnam veterans are passing away at an alarming rate. Of the 2,709,918 who served there, it is estimated that only about 850,000 are still alive.

Was the U.S. government aware of the possible health risks from spraying Agent Orange? I am of the opinion officials were absolutely aware of it. Vietnam was a war started by politicians, and it was fought to a standstill in the jungles, mountains and rice paddies by America’s youth.

After 10 years, the war ended, and politicians at that time simply turned their backs on what they agreed to do after the pull-out. It seems they were more concerned about their jobs than what they promised. Sound familiar?

Not only was this a slap in the face to all the veterans who fought there, but it was a catalyst for years of torture and mass murder of South Vietnamese, who were left to face the communists from the North.

To put it a different way, the military won the battles and the politicians lost the war. Vietnam was lost due to lack of political will.

So who were the winners in Vietnam? The private contractors who made Agent Orange probably did pretty well, and no doubt there were some politicians who did pretty well, too. Seems like the veterans got the short end of it. Sound familiar?

I hope one day the American public will learn the whole truth about what really happened in Vietnam. Perhaps just as important is that our leaders in Washington learn from these mistakes. They must not be so quick to spirit our young men and women off to fight these foreign wars without making the public understand why more American lives must be risked.

So many times, Washington tries to force the American way of thinking on a people who simply do not think like us. Will we ever learn? Politicians do not fight battles; they just make speeches on television and then send our young men and women to do the hard part.

Billions are spent and sometimes squandered on foreign wars, and young Americans are killed or disabled. Then when our military warriors return after multiple tours in the Middle East, they have to fight again just to get the help they need after their continual exposure to combat. When will it stop?

Smarten up Washington. Stop the lies and the blunders. Bring our military home to protect our own borders, and find the many enemies among us right here on American soil.

I write this in memory of Joseph Sidney Taylor, my combat brother and trusted friend during some dark times in Vietnam. I thank God I was able to visit Sid before the good Lord came and took him home.

Sid was diagnosed with cancer caused by Agent Orange, and passed away in his hometown of Harrisville, R.I., in 2005.

I think of him often. He will never be forgotten.

Ed Fancher is a Suffolk resident who served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1972. Email him at