How effective was Agent Orange

Forty years after the end of the Vietnam War, many of the victims are still waiting for compensation. The negative consequences of the massive use of the defoliant Agent Orange can still be felt today in the Southeast Asian country. "This is a current problem, not a thing of the past," emphasizes Charles Bailey from the American Aspen Institute, which analyzes the consequences of the war. "4.5 million Vietnamese were exposed to the poison, it will work for decades," he said on Monday at a conference on Agent Orange in the Evangelical Academy in Tutzing, Bavaria.

Agent Orange has become synonymous with a merciless war that was not only directed against the population but also consciously against the environment. "America was at war with nature here," says Bailey. Until then, defoliants were only used in agriculture and forestry. But the US government under John F. Kennedy commissioned a product in the early 1960s that was to serve as a highly effective weapon of war. The aim was to defoliate impenetrable jungle and destroy the crops in the fields. The result was Agent Orange.

The problem was well known in the White House: an unwanted by-product in the manufacture of Agent Orange is dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals, highly carcinogenic and the cause of many diseases and deformities in newborns. The American soldiers who came into contact with Agent Orange during the Vietnam War did not know how toxic the drug was. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and thousands of former US soldiers are still suffering from the consequences to this day. The perfidious thing is that it would have been technically possible to remove dioxin from Agent Orange. But the US government didn't seem interested.

When the war ended in 1975, according to the Aspen Institute, the Americans had turned over 21,000 square kilometers into deserted areas with the help of Agent Orange and contaminated them with dioxin. The US Air Force sprayed 80 million liters of dioxin-containing herbicides. The amount of dioxin it contains is put at 600 kilograms, a billionth of a gram is considered carcinogenic.

Nevertheless, for most of the victims it is almost impossible to date to prove Agent Orange as the cause of the disease. "That is only possible if it can be explicitly proven in each individual case, but that is almost impossible," said Kenneth Feinberg, one of the most well-known lawyers for damages in the USA. Clear scientific evidence is difficult or impossible to come by. Feinberg successfully fought for American veterans in the Agent Orange case and manages, among other things, the fund for the victims of the 9/11 attacks and the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Feinberg estimates that the chances that the US government will ever be ready to pay damages to Vietnam are very slim. "It's a political and not a legal question, but I can hardly imagine it. The American government doesn't even want to pay compensation to its own soldiers."

The manufacturers paid damages to the victims - but Vietnam has so far received nothing

More recently, the United States has pushed itself to at least one other form of redress. She provided $ 136 million in aid, according to the Aspen Institute. Of this, $ 105.5 million is earmarked for the remediation of contaminated soils. Another 30.5 million should flow into health projects, 31 million dollars would come from private donors in the USA.

The legal processing of the Vietnam War and the question of compensation is far from over and extremely complicated. Because the US government cannot be sued when it comes to decisions in the event of war - including the use of Agent Orange - the victims have to stick to the manufacturers. The fact that only they are held accountable, however, meets with criticism from lawyers. "Although it is actually clear that from a legal point of view, the American government is responsible for the use of Agent Orange and not the manufacturer," said Harald Koch, a lawyer at Humboldt University in Berlin. In court, however, the doctrine still often applies that the king cannot do anything wrong.

While the US government has not paid any damages to date, manufacturers have now transferred about $ 215 million to the victims and their associations. Most of it came from the largest manufacturers, US corporations Dow Chemical and Monsanto, the rest from a number of smaller chemical companies. The money was given to war veterans from the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Vietnamese plaintiffs, on the other hand, received nothing. US courts rejected their procedural motions.