In 1962, the US government launched Operation Ranch Hand, a chemical warfare programme that involved spraying 20 million gallons (76,000 m3) of defoliants and herbicides over rural areas of South Vietnam in order to destroy the Viet Cong’s food supply and its vegetative coverage.
One of the chemicals used in the operation was Agent Orange, an herbicide developed by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical, and manufactured by the US Department of Defense. Exactly 6,542 spraying missions later, the chemical claimed the lives of 400,000 and later caused birth defects in 500,000 children. Those exposed to the chemical suffered almost everything from miscarriages, deformed stillborns, cancer, blindness, mental illnesses, multiple fingers and toes, and much more.
Five decades later the chemical stills affects Vietnamese people all over the world.
Abandoned in a dumpster as a baby, Minh Anh has been living in Ho Chi Minh City’s Tu Du Obstetrics Hospital for more than 11 years.
He is nicknamed “fish” by other children, because Minh Anh suffers from a rare disease that causes his skin to flake. He is bounded in a chair in order to prevent himself from getting hurt, the doctors say.
In the hospital’s special ward, the sins of Agent Orange can be seen through other children, some just being toddlers. A 17-year-old girl has been bound to a bed her entire life.
“The children at the Peace Village have many different problems caused by Agent Orange,” says Tu Du Hospital rehabilitation department chief Dr Nguyen Thi Phuong Tan.
“Some are deaf or blind; others are missing limbs.”
The hospital’s ward is scattered with children suffering multiple diseases and ailments brought on by the legacy of Agent Orange. Children can be seen with skin issues similar to Minh Ahn’s, others are eyeless or suffer from mental disabilities, and some suffer from hydrocephalus, a condition that swells the head to an abnormal state.
But in every case, the cause is the same – an inherited genetic malformation as the children’s ancestors were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Think of the children.