The Vietnam War, which lasted from 1955 to the Fall of Saigon in 1975, was notorious for many things: a long, weary war against Communism that many Americans didn’t support, launching a widespread anti-Vietnam War movement in the United States.
But there were other, more long-lasting effects: atrocities committed against Vietnamese civilians who were killed, abused, or made to serve against their will as Korean comfort women, and- perhaps most horrifying- the use of chemical weapons that are still affecting people to this very day.
Napalm, a jelly-like mixture of gasoline, polystyrene, and hydrocarbon benzene, is a powerful firestarter that U.S. troops used to fight guerrilla fighters by burning down forests and bushes. One Vietnamese survivor of a Napalm attack describes the experience, describing it as,
“… the most terrible pain you can ever imagine. Water boils at 212°F. Napalm generates temperatures 1,500°F to 2,200°F.” (Kim Phuc, survivor and burn victim of Napalm)
Because it is impossible to remove Napalm from human skin, its victims usually were severely burned, or died from asphyxiation. It is estimated that about 388,000 tons of Napalm bombs were dropped in Vietnam during the war.
“US-Huey-helicopter-spraying-Agent-Orange-in-Vietnam” by Originally from U.S. Army Operations in Vietnam R.W. Trewyn, Ph.D. , (11) Huey Defoliation National Archives: 111-CC-59948, originally found in Box 1 Folder 9 of Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. Collection: Agent Orange Subject Files. – Item Number: VA042084. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
But perhaps even worse was Agent Orange, a herbicide initially developed to destroy crops and deprive Vietnamese guerrilla fighters and farmers of food and water. The intensity of the herbicide was unexpected, however- of the 4.8 million Vietnamese exposed to Agent Orange, about 400,000 were maimed or killed, and over 500,000 children were born with birth defects. Another direct result of the herbicide? Skin disease, cancer, digestive problems, and respiratory disorders- among both the Vietnamese it was initially targeted at, and the U.S. soldiers who were exposed to the chemical.
It’s estimated that the United States sprayed 20 million gallons of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, using helicopters or low-flying aircraft. Today, many veterans’ diseases are associated with Agent Orange.