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Cowboys vs. Indians: Racial Stereotyping and Agent Orange


At the time of the first Earth Day, in the spring of 1970, the United States was pouring dioxin (as an active ingredient of Agent Orange) on the jungles of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, in an attempt to defoliate the jungles and deny Viet Cong insurgents places to hide from aerial bombing. The guerillas were said to be “fish” in a “sea” of rural peoples that would be stripped bare of vegetative cover by defoliants. Between 1962 and 1971, at least 12 per cent of southern Vietnam’s land area was doused liberally with nearly 18 million gallons of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, the most potent of dioxin’s many varieties. As pilots joked that they were “Cowboys” to the Vietnamese “Indians, “United States armed forces dropped more bombs (measured by weight) on Vietnam than it dropped in the entire Pacific Theater during World War II. By 1971, more than 600 pounds of bombs per person had been rained on Vietnam. Between 12 per cent (U.S. figure) and 43 per cent (a National Liberation Front figure) of South Vietnam’s land area was sprayed at least once with defoliants, usually Agent Orange. Before it was called Operation Ranch Hand, the dioxin-spraying campaign had been known as Operation Hades.

Bruce E Johansen

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