Into the Wind: The Kennedy Administration and the Use of Herbicides in South Vietnam
Krache Morris, Evelyn
This study investigates the origins of Operation Ranch Hand, the United States' aerial defoliation and crop destruction program in South Vietnam. Although Agent Orange is the best-known of the formulas employed, the decision to use chemicals in South Vietnam preceded Agent Orange's 1965 debut by several years. President John F. Kennedy authorized defoliation missions in November 1961. At the behest of the United States military, the Ambassador to South Vietnam, and South Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diệm, Ranch Hand expanded in 1962 to include crop destruction.The purpose of this research is to explore why the administration chose to use an untried and possibly illegal weapon in an undeclared war. The need for certainties in an increasingly ambiguous and frustrating conflict contributed to the belief that Ranch Hand was more practical and effective than it was. Even as Ranch Hand's shortfalls became apparent, the administration adhered more and more closely to the agendas of the military and of Diệm who, for different reasons, promoted Ranch Hand as reassuringly successful.The chemicals most commonly deployed in Ranch Hand, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), were widely used domestically during the 1950s and 1960s. The persistent questions among scientists about how the chemicals worked and the continued difficulties in controlling their effects contrasted sharply with the beliefs held by the administration. The conflict between the administration's idealization of science and the uncertainties and contingencies of the scientific process itself was never resolved and is a major theme of this research.Historians have frequently portrayed the Kennedy Administration as rational and unemotional, but the fears that ran through it promoted the adoption of a weapon that ultimately proved both militarily ineffective and politically disastrous. In their efforts not to `lose' Vietnam, the administration embarked on a course that would help ensure that Vietnam was lost. The repercussions of chemical herbicide used during the Vietnam War, an effort launched by Kennedy, still reverberate in both the United States and in Vietnam.
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Unknown author (Institute of Medicine [IOM] (United States). Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides Staff, 1993)