Pentagon Ignored Agent Orange Warnings in the 1960s
Agent Orange was criminal.
I am writing to add a bit of information about our government’s decision to use Agent Orange and the subsequent cover-up. In his recent letter, Mr. Meinhold documents that our Department of Defense knew they were spraying dioxin, a very, very powerful carcinogen, citing specifics from Admiral Zumwalt’s 1990 report to the VA.
In the mid-1960s, I was a support member to a team, led by a company president and comprised of scientists and lawyers, whose sole purpose was to convince the Department of Defense that spraying Agent Orange in areas that might be inhabited by humans would be criminal, a crime against humanity. We believed that dioxin was among the most hazardous substances known to man and that if “they” understood, they would abandon this idea. After several presentations at the Pentagon detailing the hazards, the team failed to convince and, shockingly, the decision was made to spray in even higher, more toxic concentrations.
I can remember vividly sitting in a final debriefing meeting and witnessing the dismay, disbelief, revulsion from these senior executives that our government would take this decision. The company president decided to make one last stand, deciding to refuse to produce a component required in Agent Orange manufacture. Within days, he was told that unless he complied with the DOD’s directive to produce, he would be charged and tried for treason. An act of conscience would make a respected executive, a community leader, into a war criminal. The rest is history and, as Mr. Meinhold states, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, and our soldiers contracted a variety of dioxin-caused cancers.
The late 1960s were complex years. Watching LBJ talk about great societies on TV at night, while responding to the DOD’s demand for ever-increasing production of poison during the day was an eye opener to the art of duplicity. Watching the news touting the millions of acres being sprayed with Orange was a nightmare. You might call it the education of a 26-year-old. I concluded at the time that wars can make good people do bad things.
But even though our government knew there was a clear causation of cancer from exposure, in the years that followed our government denied benefits to our soldiers who contracted these illnesses because they could not prove they were caused by Agent Orange. Government lawyers would state there was no evidence of cause and effect. It was only 20 years after the war that Admiral Zumwalt revealed the truth, but those details were sealed for another 20 years. Doing something bad and spending 30 years lying about it is shameful.
The writer is a Portsmouth resident and former city councilor.