Report on Chemical Warfare in Vietnam

Combat gases in Vietnam

What is the real effect of gas on those who have had to suffer from it? A well-known case is the death of Corporal Botwell.
     The National Guardian of 22 January 1966 reported that in an incident that might revive the world-wide outcry against US gas warfare in the Vietnam war, `non-lethal' gas killed Australian Corporal Robert William Botwell, twenty-four, of Casula, New South Wales, during `Operation Crimp' in Haunghia Province. Botwell was killed by a combination of gas and smoke despite the protection of a gas mask. The Brisbane Courier Mail (13 January) reported that Botwell `died of asphyxiation' when he became trapped in a tunnel into which the Australian forces had thrown `tear-gas' grenades and smoke bombs in an effort to destroy NLF guerrillas.

Two other Australian soldiers were overcome by the gas when they attempted to rescue Botwell and were rushed to a hospital; four Australian engineers were overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning during the same operation. Army dogs brought in to help in the tunnel were also overcome.
     Le Monde (14 January 1966) reported operations with Marines (AP, Peter Arnett):
Trung Lap, 13 January 1966. It was a long and bloody kilometre we covered on Wednesday. Gas filtered down from the trees and burned our skin. The wounded writhed in the sun, looking like monsters with their grotesque gas masks. Then came helicopters dropping gas on Liberation Front positions. When the Commander saw the strike coming towards us, the order was `gas masks on'...
     The Commander called to the medics `keep the wounded covered, get them dressed, the gas will burn them'. In any case, the gas was catching bare arms and the exposed neck area, leaving men with the same pain as when burned.
     The New York Times of 24 March 1965 commented as follows {203} upon the three types of gas which the United States admit having employed: `Even this kind of gas can be fatal to the very young, the very old and those ill with heart and lung ailments.'
     The New York Times of 26 March 1965 published a letter to the Editor from David Hilding, MD, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, written on 23 March 1965:
Can anyone imagine any greater bitterness than that of the parents of little children choking away their last few moments of life after being poisoned by `humane nauseating' gas spread by our military leaders?
     The weakest, young and old, will be the ones unable to withstand the shock of this supposedly humane weapon. They will writhe in horrible cramps until their babies' strength is unequal to the stress and they turn blue and black and die. This may be a more humane weapon than shells and napalm, but its legacy of bitterness will be even more lasting.
     It seems that Vietnam has been a problem too great for even the finest of our military thinkers to solve, and they have resorted to tactics devoid of any hope for anything but hatred. The same revulsion which many of us felt towards Senator Goldwater's belligerent attitude has suddenly been earned by the actions of the Administration.
     Horrible drugs, such as these that we are turning over to the Vietnamese Air Force to spray from helicopters wherever they decide, probably produce the designed effect in a few persons of the proper weight, height and general condition; but the dosage for others will be wrong. Those of us with experience with these dangerous substances know that lethal consequences result from haphazard administration.
     There is absolutely no possibility that everyone sprayed with the poison gas in the civilian villages of Vietnam escaped permanent harm. Even the smog of Los Angeles affects a few of the helpless.

Defoliation and crop destruction

As an article published in Le Monde on 10 November 1965 pointed out, no one can possibly ignore the use made of chemical agents in Vietnam for the purpose of destroying forest, jungle and food crops, a use which has been frequently and vigorously denounced {204} by American scientists. Although confirmation of the aerial dispersal of toxic compounds in Vietnam can hardly be said to have provoked a unanimous outcry in the United States, a considerable number of petitions have been addressed both to President Johnson and to the Administration, in an attempt to put an end to this new form of warfare which `of all war crimes, constitutes the most cruel and the most inhuman'.1
     Following an article by Charles Mohr, published in the New York Times on 21 December 1965, `US Spray Destroys Rice in Vietcong Territory', twenty-nine scientists from Harvard University, MIT and other Massachusetts institutions signed a declaration urging President Johnson to prohibit the use of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) by the American army and to oppose their use by the South Vietnamese and their allies.2
     At roughly the same time, the Rev. Peter J. Riga sent a letter, published on 27 December 1965, to the Editor of the New York Times, stating:

There are certain actions which are so criminal in intent and execution that one simply cannot remain a Christian and not protest with one's whole soul. The spraying of the rice crops by United States planes is exactly one of these crimes....
     ... It is an indiscriminate act of total war....
     ... It is not `by accident' that food is destroyed, with the result that thousands of the innocent must suffer and die...
     ... Far better a prison where we can live with our Christian consciences than the silence of Christian betrayal.3

R. B. Fosdick also wrote to the Editor of the New York Times on 25 December 1965, saying that the article on CBW was the saddest Christmas story he had ever read, and deeply ironical, since these military operations were being carried out in the name of peace.
     Early in 1967 (on 18 February), 5,000 scientists, including {205} seventeen Nobel Prize-winners, sent a letter to President Johnson, asking for a public declaration about the government's policy with regard to CBW and its control. They draw particular attention to the relatively low cost of this type of warfare, consequently accessible to the nations which do not possess nuclear arms. They also pointed out that federal expenditure on CBW was now seven times higher than in the late 1950s.4
     An article published in Scientific Research reported an acute shortage of defoliants.5 The army alone could make use of four times as much as was available at that moment. President Johnson therefore issued an order to his `Office of Emergency Planning' to ensure that the military orders for 2,4,5,T were fully met. At the same time, he said that he appreciated the petitioners' concern and was deeply impressed by their prestige and knowledge. Meanwhile, the Pentagon decided to intensify the defoliation of Vietnamese jungles. The military increased the dose of herbicides to be used during that fiscal year to five million gallons (costing $32 million), and announced6 their intention of spending $57,690,000 more for that purpose during the fiscal year beginning 1 July 1967 (for the fiscal year 1966, the bill amounted to $10 million). The following companies: Dow Chemical, Diamond Alkali, Uniroyal Chemical, Thompson Chemical, Hercules, Monsanto, Ahsul and Thompson Hayward, agreed to provide the required defoliants.
     This intensification of crop-destroying by CBW is to take place during the year in which the `civilized' nations have decided to launch the `Freedom from Hunger Campaign'. A great many authorities concerned by this campaign have pointed out the far-reaching and inevitable effects of defoliation.
     The purpose of this report is to summarize the articles already published on CBW, adding more recent information when necessary.{206}

The following are the recognized aims of defoliation

1. Guarantee the safety of the zones in the vicinity of roads, and prevent Viet Cong movements from central to South Vietnam;
2. Prevent the Viet Cong from using foliage as cover;
3. Reduce the Viet Cong (guerrillas and friendly civilians) to starvation - what is termed the `food denial programme'.
     Defoliation carried out by the American army is therefore openly recognized by the government,7 and certain officers, for example Brigadier-General J. H. Rothschild, go so far as to recommend it.8
     The results of this defoliation programme aroused such animosity that Truong Dihn Dzu, the civilian candidate for the South Vietnam presidency, who gathered the most votes, thought of including in his electoral programme a promise that he would intercede in favour of the interruption of American defoliation missions.

Organization of research aiming at the intensification of CBW

In 1964, the author of Tomorrow's Weapons stated8 that a number of the chemical agents available at that period required too much time to produce results, and were unsatisfactory from a tactical standpoint. Moreover, certain agents proved ill-adapted for use in tropical regions. Brigadier-General Rothschild went on to say that an energetic research programme could provide anti-guerrilla forces with a number of defoliants which would be effective, regardless of climate conditions. The government, with this aim in view, proposed subjects for research (classified research) which many American and foreign laboratories under contract to the government found themselves compelled to accept. As the results achieved are not made public, it is difficult to discover what exactly these research programmes consisted of. American scientific circles only became aware of the existence of {207} these programmes when the suspicion of several people was sufficiently aroused to lead them to ask a few indiscreet questions.9 When it was no longer possible to harbour any doubts about what these programmes were aiming at, conflicts broke out between university administrations and certain perspicacious members of various faculties. Early in September 1966, the President of Pennsylvania University, G. P. Harnwell, announced that an advisory committee would be set up to help the university steer clear of future contracts (for which a grant of a million dollars a year is provided) in which there would be a ban on publishing research results. Twenty-four hours later, Professors G. Kolko (History), R. Rutman (Chemistry), E. S. Herman (Finance) and A. S. Milvan (Medicine) announced that the following principle had to be discussed: should universities be involved in research, whether classified or not, concerned with the development of CBW.
     Several other universities raised the same problem. Cornell University (Ithaca), a sub-contractor to Pennsylvania University for the `Summit' (contract with the Army) and `Spicerack' (contract with the air force) projects, carried out under the control of the Institute for Cooperative Research, found themselves faced with the decision of whether or not to publish the results. While both Professor Kolko and President 0. P. Harnwell himself hold that the results may be published, Dr Knut Krieger, in charge of those projects, begs to differ: `My findings are not of general interest, they are highly specialized. And, in the second place, I don't think it's the kind of work that ought to be published. It's a matter of national security.' It should be added that Dr Krieger receives information directly from Vietnam, and can therefore test the efficiency of new defoliants very quickly.
     As the CBW programme had acquired a bad name for Pennsylvania University, and been the occasion of dissension between the various faculties, students and the Administration, the latter attempted to have the laboratories working under government control transferred to another Philadelphia research centre, where there would be sufficient room to house them (University City Science Center). The trouble was that the Quaker members of this {208} group of colleges refused to have anything to do with the CBW programme.
     The decision to encourage research on CBW was taken in late 195010 and research under contract has been going on now for about twelve years. In addition to determining the most efficient manner of carrying out CBW on subsistence crops, including rice, these programmes study the repercussions of CBW on the economy of developing countries, and on the political and social climate in Asia. A large-scale CBW research centre has been built for this purpose at Fort Detrick providing, as the reporters said, excellent working conditions for research into herbicides and defoliants. This research centre, situated in Utah, and occupying a surface greater than that of Rhode Island, employs more than 900 scientists. In the United States, the budget for CBW rose from $36.3 million in 1959 to $170 million in 1964 (Le Monde, March 1967).
     In addition to specialized American research groups, foreign laboratories are also actively involved in CBW, probably on behalf of the Department of Defense. An article in Le Monde, published on 27 April 1966, reported a resolution adopted by the Japanese Council of Sciences calling upon all the Academies of Sciences throughout the world to oppose the use of Japanese defoliants in Vietnam. Dr Funazaki energetically denounced the collusion existing between the Japanese and American governments.
     At the present moment, there is good reason to believe that the herbicides used in Vietnam are rapidly effective in all seasons, even if the results obtained are not quite as spectacular as those hoped for. The doses of defoliant spray for an acre are much stronger than that recommended by the herbicide manufacturers.11 The most recent information provided by the Pentagon reveals that, in 1966, more than 500,000 acres of jungle and bush land and more than 150,000 acres of harvest were `treated with herbicides' (New York Times, 25 July 1966). The Pentagon considers, however, that this represents only a negligible fraction of Vietnam's arable land, and that the scope of the programme should be tripled.12 {209}

The type of agents used

Chemical agents arE frequently used to keep fields clear of weeds, provoke the fall of cotton leaves, rendering a harvest by mechanical means possible, or again, to destroy old or contaminated crops.
     At the beginning of the century, the only agents known were Bordeaux mixture and sulphuric acid. But when the problem of the selective destruction of the broad-leaved plants (dicotyledons), which grow among cereals, arose, it became necessary to use dinitrophenols.
     During the Second World War, the United States and Great Britain set out to discover agents which would destroy the Japanese rice-plantations and thus reduce the population to starvation, but the A-bomb put an end to the research on chemical agents just when the laboratories had succeeded in producing substances with very high biological efficacy. A large budget was granted for the first synthesis in the USA of 2,4D (2,4 dichlorophenoxyacetic acid). MCPA (2 methyl, 4 chlorophenoxyacetic acid) was prepared in England under similar conditions.
     The number of herbicides then increased with great rapidity. Herbicides are of mineral or organic origin. The mineral substances penetrate the plant, mainly during the period of active vegetation (this is probably one of the reasons which led Brigadier-General Rothschild to believe that herbicides cease to be effective during the dry season). Organic herbicides of the 2.4D, MCPA, or 2,4,5T (2,4,5 trichlorophenoxyacetic acid) type, have taken the place of the aforementioned without, however, eliminating them. Research carried out both in the United States and in Great Britain has made it possible to provide synthetic substances with the properties of naturally occurring hormones13 found in plants - the auxins - the most important of which is IAA (indol 3 acetic acid). Auxins which normally exist in plants at minute concentration promote cell division and elongation, and partly control cell differentiation. An infinitesimal dose of auxins prevents leaf fall. But synthetic substances which imitate the effect of auxins become harmful because they are employed at higher concentrations. {210}
     They then produce leaf fall. To give an example, at the concentration 10-8 to 10-6 M, the 2,4D stimulates the cell-division of vegetable tissue cultures. At the concentration 10-4 M, it becomes highly toxic. Herbicides are generally used in a solution at 0.1 per cent, and 2,000 litres are required per acre.
     Certain herbicides are absorbed by the roots; for example, carbamates, triazines and substituted ureas. Others only become effective after absorption by the foliage and translation with the assimilated stream. In this case, spraying may take place after dissolving the herbicide in water, gas or mineral oil, with or without a detergent agent. Spraying can also be carried out without previously diluting the volatile esters. The defoliants absorbed by the leaves do not result in the total intoxication of the plant, since they are not translocated. Growth may continue, if the recommended dosage is respected. The plant suffers, since defoliation prevents it from achieving the synthesis of its reserve substances. The aerial structures are destroyed, but the rhizome plants begin to grow again after a variable length of time. The most commonly used are the dipyridyl compounds (diquat and paraquat provoke the defoliation of lucerne before the grain harvest, and endothol, the defoliation of cotton before mechanical picking). Other substances such as the natural hormone, whose circulation eliminates the effect of auxins, provoke leaf fall (abscission). The production of abscisin (or dormin) is also antagonistic to the action of the hormones which stimulate flowering in plants. Certain synthetic abscisins are being tested at the present moment.
     At the period when the American army began to spray herbicides over Vietnam in accordance with the Stayley-Taylor plan, i.e. in 1961, a long list of effective agents had already been established, as we can gather from the one to be found at the end of this paper.14 Considering the well-known activity and efficiency of American laboratories, there can be no doubt that the present list of herbicides is rapidly becoming longer and longer.15 Although the authors will restrict the possibility of their being widely used, it is unlikely that the Joint Chiefs of Staff would refuse on this {211} ground to try out any one of the agents considered more `completely successful' than those employed until now. A considerable number of new agents are being tested daily in control laboratories. Not all of them; basamid, herban, benzomarc, methoxymarc, cotoran, carbetamide, casoron, amethyne, norfamquat, tordon (4 amino, 3,5,6 trichloropicolinic acid, which is ten times more effective than 2,4D) are put on the agricultural market, but certain have already been tested in Vietnam.

What becomes of herbicides when they are sprayed on plants

Certain herbicides applied in a given molecular form become active in another chemical form. Others are absorbed, translocated and accumulated in the same molecular form.16 Most of these substances are translocated,17 and rapidly metabolized, and this process transforms a relatively harmless molecule into a herbicidally active molecule. Certain herbicides accumulate in the leaves and inhibit photosynthesis. The plant dies of starvation, since it is no longer able to fix carbonic anhydride.18 Some compounds move with the stream provoked by photosynthesis and assimilation; they therefore become widely distributed throughout the plant and generally accumulate in young expanding tissues. In that case their toxicity could be caused by the synthesis of another volatile hormone, ethylene, which provokes a considerable increase in respiration.19

Effectiveness and tonnage of the agents sprayed

Herbicides do not always produce immediate results. In some cases, the characteristic distortions are only visible the following year.20 The arsenites, arsenates, dinitrophenol, dinitrocresol and all the other chemical agents which are translocated, cause leaf fall because they kill the plants.21 {212}
     The presence of active agents has been found to continue to exist in soil where plants have been treated. If the variety of crops grown is changed, the new variety may well have a more violent reaction to the agents, and this sometimes results in considerable damage.22
     In spite of the tons of herbicides sprayed over Vietnam by squadrons of B-52s or C-123s, defoliation of the jungle continues to be a problem. Certain plants are affected by the defoliants, but others resist. Although it would appear that the military have not achieved their acknowledged aim, the haphazard spraying of toxic substances which are not entirely destroyed by micro-organisms undoubtedly contributes largely to the destruction of subsistence crops, even if this is not the primary aim of defoliation missions. Toxic agents, carried by running water, poison crops situated at a certain distance from where the spraying actually takes place. The wind scatters volatile defoliants and makes them effective at more than six miles from the point of spraying. From January to September 1966, the 12th Air Command Squadron defoliated 1,000 square miles (UPI, Newhaven Register, 18 December 1966). Early in 1967, the 309th Air Command Squadron carried out operations in the demilitarized zone of the 17th parallel, and on the borders of Laos and Cambodia. Each plane carried roughly 1,000 gallons of herbicide, spraying approximately three gallons per acre. The spraying took place very early in the morning (National Observer, 28 February 1966). The target was sprayed for about five minutes. If it proved necessary, the 1,000 gallons stored in the tanks could be sprayed in thirty seconds. According to the New York Times of 10 September 1966, there were in:

1961: sixty defoliation missions (rice, sugar-cane and vegetables were included in the spraying);
1962: 107 missions to defoliate canals and rice plantations in the Mekong Delta and in the Central Highlands;
1966: 1,324,430 gallons of herbicide were sprayed on half a million acres.
1967: it is recommended that missions should be carried out by eighteen planes; the targets are chosen by American and Vietnamese officers. {213}
From Vietnamese sources 320,000 acres of crops are said to have been destroyed in 1953, 500,000 acres in 1964 and 700,000 in 1965.
     Sometimes F-100 planes drop down until they are just above the trees (at a height of 150 feet). Their speed is then 110 miles per hour. The tail of the plane releases a fine blue mist which has a strange smell reminding one of hospitals (ether). This spraying seems too slight to cause serious harm to the vegetation, but if one flies over the treated region a week after the spraying, one can observe the first changes, and the first signs of an autumn artificially produced.
     Three months later, there is nothing left of the country but a dried up stretch of land, which is to all intents and purposes lost. Each plane only requires four minutes to destroy 300 acres of forest.
     The herbicides are contained in barrels painted dark red, and the planes which carry them are nicknamed `Purple Hearts'. Each member of the crew who has been shot at from the ground is decorated with the order of the `Purple People Eater' - a medal which is worn with great pride.
     A series of reports of USOM Agriculture23 and of the South Vietnamese Administration concerning the defoliation situation in the Bien Hoa area has shown that, when the damage done to the farmers is officially estimated, compensation has to be paid. It is, however, difficult to appreciate the damage in a serious way because the farmers are afraid to sow and because they harvest before maturation for fear of indiscriminate sprayings. The compensation procedure is long and complicated and often, especially for rapidly growing crops, estimates are quite impossible.

Defoliation of the hevea plantations

After repeated requests from planters, worried because they had noticed that the appearance of hevea foliage had been abnormal for some time, a survey was carried out in order to define the scale and the initial causes of this phenomenon. It is possible to draw the following conclusions.
     The occurrence of foliage poisoning is exceptionally serious, {214} affecting a rectangular band running north-west to south-east of more than 130 by 40 kilometres and involving more than 25,000 hectares of heveas. The latex plants (heveas, jacquiers, kainitiers and papayas) are the most seriously affected, as they react more violently to the defoliant than forest species. The toxic activity of the substances could be manifest on every tree, although it does not appear in a spectacular manner on all leaves. This could explain the considerable drop in production observed during 1965-6 which cannot be accounted for by mere defoliation.
     For a while it was thought that the problem was an especially heavy attack of the oidium on the hevea. Yet this disease is seen in general on adult or ageing trees; and the symptoms described by the Vietnamese concerned not only the latter but above all the young trees, one or two years old, which are often completely defoliated. If it were a question of cryptogamic disease, the symptoms described would not be noticeable; the petiole would stay on the terminal stem and, moreover, new leaves would appear after two or three weeks...
     At the present moment, it is necessary to leave the defoliated trees alone until they recover. However, the renewed application of defoliants will in all likelihood threaten the very existence of hevea culture in Vietnam.
     After spraying, harmful substances are taken by the wind and contaminate plantings far away from the originally sprayed zone (ten kilometres in some cases). This is, probably, the result of pulverization of a mixture of paraquat, in a concentration five times higher than that recommended for the destruction of weeds, and of 2,4D plus 2,4,5T. In this case, defoliation is almost complete. The defoliant is translocated rapidly bringing on latex coagulation on a belt 4.5 to fifteen feet high, always on the prevailing winds. Latex trees are hit the hardest when the defoliation is diffuse, whereas bamboos, coffee and tea plants are hit later.
     The defoliation of hevea plantings creates economic and social problems. For the period from April to June 1967, the latex production decreased by about thirty per cent, and the drop of rubber production affects a population of around 100,000 people (including workers and families). Even if the planters continued to pay half salary and half rice to the personnel, it would be necessary {215} to exact compensation for the loss in earnings that the workers had suffered.

The equilibrium of the human environment destroyed

Our attention has frequently been drawn to the fact that woodland has a regulating influence on the pedological and hydrographical equilibrium of human environment, and Dr M. Sakka states that `in a given region one cannot modify without danger one element of nature without serious consequences for the other elements which live there.'24
     Professor G. Lhoste25 gave several examples of the modification of flora. When herbicides are employed to clear rivers, the immediate results are positive, but, generally, the following year, another type of flora appears, and eventually completely blocks the river.

Crop destruction: nutritional and social aspects. Repercussions of a state of famine

In a series of articles which have appeared recently26 Dr Jean Mayer, Professor of Nutrition at Harvard University, and Dr Victor W. Sidel, chief of the preventive medicine unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, point out that the destruction of crops began in the spring of 1966 (spraying of 2,4,D and 2,4,5T). The spraying operations were carried out from C- 123 transport planes ironically called `Providers'. The soldiers discovered that rice is one of the most maddeningly difficult substances to destroy; using thermite metal grenades it is almost impossible to make it burn and, even if one succeeds in scattering the rice, this does not stop it being harvested by patient men. And so it is easier to use herbicides since defoliation before the rice is ripe means a 60-90 per cent loss of the harvest (New York Times, {216} 21 December 1965). And yet it would appear that even these substances are not the ideal solution, for recently they have started drowning the rice harvest in the rivers. New methods are being employed to bring about the rapid destruction of subsistence crops. The spraying of toxic substances now consists in dropping barrels of herbicides which empty themselves into the water of the rice paddies (this was first observed in the province of Vinh Long in December 1966). This type of attack is quite different from the spraying of forests. The air force also drops something in the form of a coloured bladder on subsistence crops. On reaching the ground, this bursts and releases the herbicides (Can Tho province, December 1966).
     Without debating the moral issues of using chemical products in time of war, it seems obvious that the present situation in Vietnam caused by the destruction of crops and food supplies poses a very real human problem. The aim is to starve the Viet Cong by destroying the fields which provide food for the guerrillas. As a nutritionist who has studied the effects of famine on three continents, Professor Jean Mayer states flatly that there has never been a famine which has not first and foremost affected small children and old people. Pregnant women abort and lactating mothers can no longer feed their babies. children under five years are the most vulnerable and in Vietnam are always on the verge of kwashiorkor (a protein deficiency syndrome) or marasmus (a combination of deficiency of calories and of protein). Another result of famine is that people leave home and go in search of food elsewhere. Families are split up, children are lost and in all probability die. Adolescents fall ill with tuberculosis but none the less go on to form marauding bands, which only add to the general state of disruption. It is difficult to eradicate a habit of banditry. Adults have been more resistant to famine, although its effects on them can also be very spectacular. The first noticeable effect is the wasting away of adipose tissues, then internal organs are affected: the size of the liver diminishes, the intestinal lining becomes thin and ineffective, food is absorbed with ever-increasing difficulty and diarrhoea results. Starvation is a self-accelerating process (especially in children). In extreme cases diarrhoea does not respond to medical treatment, cardiovascular collapse occurs and infections set in. {217}
     Plague and malaria are endemic in south-east Asia but these diseases seem to have been on the increase recently. Moreover, a new form of malaria which does not respond readily to traditional drugs has appeared. cholera and smallpox have always followed in the wake of Asian famines, as have influenza and relapsing fever.
     In time of famine the fighting forces consider that they have a perfect right to seize whatever food remains in order to continue the struggle. The destruction of foodstuffs has never hampered military operations but it does victimize great numbers of children.27 And Professor Mayer is extremely alarmed at what must be a steadily developing famine in Vietnam since the efforts towards crop destruction are being increased.

Toxicity of herbicides for man, livestock, game, fish, insects and micro-organisms

According to the State Department (9 March 1965) the herbicides are not toxic, especially since the `innocent' populations are warned before spraying takes place. They are advised to leave the district encouraged by promises of food in plenty if they agree to regroup themselves in refugee villages (New York Times, 21 December 1965). Without querying the very definition of the term, one cannot but wonder how innocent persons can be effectively warned before the spraying of herbicides in regions where there are neither telephones, newspapers, radio nor television, and, even if such warning were possible, one wonders where these peasants, whose only means of subsistence has been this one piece of land, could possibly go?28
     Moreover, the chemical substances poured over Vietnam are far from being harmless.29 A glance at the instructions for the use of weed-killers sold by the Dow chemical Company is enough to convince one. The suppliers warn potential users of Esteron 245 GS (2,4,5T):

... even small quantities of 2,4,5T can cause serious damage to plants which are to be preserved, both in dormant periods and periods of growth. {218}
     ... in hot water the product volatilises and can contaminate neighbouring plants.
     ... care must be taken not to contaminate drinking water or irrigation ditches.
     ... keep out of the reach of children; the agent can cause skin or eye irritation.
     The speciality sold under the name of Formula 40 (2,4D) has such a high toxicity that one is advised not to go on wearing shoes contaminated by the product.
     When it is known that cacodylic acid (dimethylarsenic acid) has fifty-four per cent arsenic in it and when one reads in the New York Times (10 September 1966) that this product is being used on elephant grass and rice it becomes evident that there may be serious risks of toxicity. In 1953 the Stationery Office published for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries a recapitulative table showing the residues of herbicides present in plants.30 The concentration of 2,4D can be considerable in cereal straw, especially in maize and sorgho,31 and when this fodder is given to cattle there is a risk of 2,4D being secreted in the milk.
     Numerous experiments have been carried out on laboratory animals to determine the toxicity of herbicides. Thus32 the LD5O (dose necessary to kill fifty per cent of the experimental batch) of 2,4D is:
375 mg./kg. for mice,
666 mg./kg. for rats,
800 mg./kg. for rabbits,
1000 mg./kg. for guinea pigs,
100 mg./kg. for dogs.
     The doses then vary with the species and also with the herbicides. Professor R. Truhaut33 stresses the mitotic poison characteristic of maleic hydrazide (dihydro 1,2 pyridazinedione 3,6) with the risk of chromosomic aberrations. ATA (3 amino, 12,2,4 triazole) {219} is a thyroid inhibitor;34 it is secreted slowly from the organism where it persists as long as two days after ingestion.35 Dipyridil compounds are easily absorbed by soils to maximum CAF (capacity absorption force).
     Micro-organisms apparently destroy diquat and paraquat completely. It would appear that not the slightest accumulation of these products has ever been discovered in any alimentary canal.36 However, the toxicity of paraquat has been well described.37 For the laboratory rat the dose of paraquat is lethal at a level of 0.25 per cent in the diet. At necropsy, pulmonary lesions are found to exist with cellular proliferation. Such a proliferative process has been observed after an administration of carcinogenic hydrocarbons.38 Similarly in human poisoning by the accidental ingestion of paraquat (the lethal dose is probably some several mg. per kilo), one can observe all the symptoms of the condition of `fibrosing pneumonitis' described in dogs.39
     The effects of paraquat after daily application to the skin of the rabbit are the secretion of a brownish saliva, and loss of appetite followed by death in a state of cachexia with pulmonary lesions. Applied to the skin paraquat forms a reservoir for oral contamination of the animal through grooming, hence the symptoms observed, since a dose of 286 ppm. (parts per million) of the substance makes drinking water poisonous.
     There have been many known cases of poisoning from herbicides (suicides or accidents). The following table shows that synthetic hormones are extremely poisonous.40 The symptoms described are an acute and extremely rapid ataxia, neuromuscular irritations, convulsions and renal and hepatic damage. No
Substance Approx. dose mg. /kg. Age Sex Approx. time between
ingestion and death (hrs.)
Ethyl,1,2,4D 500 49 F 54
MCPA 400 32 M 20
(verdone) 250 65 M 20
2,4D(herbatox) 80 23 M found dead

{220} antidote exists. Hydrocortisone can have a comparatively beneficial effect. The carcinogenic properties of maleic hydrazide have been described many times. Quite recently41 a series of experiments on mice has clearly shown that this herbicide provokes a high incidence of hepatomas as well as various other tumours. A simple calculation of the amount of herbicide ingested per annum from potatoes suggests that `normal' human ingestion of maleic hydrazide is quite comparable to that which is carcinogenic for mice.
     The Swiss National Committee for Aid to Vietnam asked four doctors to collect documents about CBW. They state that the effects of certain weapons in authorized use are the irremediable destruction of plants and the poisoning of animals. If man is exposed to these substances he runs the risk of pulmonary oedema and digestive disturbances. Chemical substances used in agriculture which, unlike medicines and products for veterinary use, are not subject to a strict sanitary control, sometimes possess an acute toxicity. Further proof of this has been provided after the accident in France which cost several technicians their lives (from inhaling hexafluorodichlorobutene because they had been wearing inadequate masks). The autopsy revealed pulmonary lesions similar to those described previously (Le Monde, 19 September 1967).
     Faced with such a picture, it is not surprising that the Commission on War Crimes has issued a list of damage suffered in 1965 in South Vietnam by the local populations and their livestock after the spraying of chemical products.42 And the Vietnamese {221} newspaper Sang Kum must be congratulated for having thought of publishing (August 1967) a set of rules to be observed in case of contamination by the defoliants. Doctors Tran Ky and Keo Sang Kim recommend urgent treatment in such cases.
     Herbicides are not only dangerous to man and his surroundings but also to livestock (Le Monde, 23 April 1966, reports that 50-60 per cent of bovines are affected), sheep,43 game, fish, insects and micro-organisms.
     Dr R. Verheyen44 points out that certain birds abandon their eggs if contaminated by phytohormones. The hatching rate is, incidentally, considerably reduced since herbicides are poisonous to the embryo in infinitesimal doses (5-7.5 mg. per hen's egg). Paraquat would appear to be the most dangerous of all the herbicides tested45 since it causes the death of the embryo when injected into the egg at concentration lower than 0.15 ppm.
     The effects of herbicides on fish cannot be deduced from their effects on animals. Monuron, for example, is mildly toxic for rats LD5O=3,500); whereas it is dangerous for fish in dilutions weaker than 1.2 ppm.46 After being exposed for thirty days to the effects of dipyridyle compounds or of sodium arsenite the herbicide residues to be found in freshwater fish are as follows:
Species Herbicide Locality Amount in water ppm. Amount of residue
in animal, ppm.
Rainbow trout Paraquat Denver (Col.) 1 0.11
Green sunfish " " 1 0.05
Bluegill " " 1 1.21
Channel catfish " " 1 0.37
Bluegill Na arsenic La Crosse (Wis.) 0.23 0.40
Bluegill Diquat " 1 0.09

The effects of 2,4D on fish are the following: hepatic glycogen is no longer to be found. Brain vessels are congested. Embolisms occur, and lesions in the liver and testicles are noted. In four {222} days casoron causes intense vascular disturbances around the gills; and fusion of the lamellae occurs.47
     The toxicity of herbicides for daphnia, small freshwater crustacea on which fish feed, is higher than one would think, according to experiments on laboratory specimens.48
     All insects are affected by herbicides.49 Fortunately, bees have a strong repulsion for these substances and usually stop gathering honey from flowers in fields which have been treated. Their `pastures' are thus reduced.50 Direct contact kills them more or less rapidly. The symptoms are not always evident immediately after returning to the hive and sometimes a whole week goes by before death occurs.51 During the 1950 summer season in Denmark and Sweden the poisoning by herbicides of an important bee population was noted after dandelions and mustard had been treated.52
     Normally the destruction of chlorophenoxyacetic derivatives by micro-organisms takes approximately two to fifteen weeks for one application of herbicide although some derivatives persist for more than one year (2,4,5T is more resistant than 2,4D). Phenolic compounds poisonous both to plants and micro-organisms of the soil are to be found as end products of this process. Now, the activity of micro-organisms is of primary importance for the preservation of tropical soils. Moreover, the toxicity of herbicides is much higher in tropical temperatures than in temperate climates; according to Cope53 it is approximately 130 times higher at 29°C than at 7°C. {223}


So, despite the denials of General J. P. O'Connel, Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, in Washington on 3 February last, before the Senate, there can be no doubt that defoliation of the forests, the jungle and the bush is already having dangerous repercussions on the human environment. In fact in Vietnam, it is a question of something much more pernicious than defoliation in the strict sense of the term, since the chemical substances which merely cause the leaves to fall without damaging the rest of the vegetative cycle are still at an experimental stage at the present time. This term, therefore, cannot be applied to operations which consist in pouring tons of herbicides and arboricides over forests and crops. `Defoliation' is but a euphemism for destruction of the vegetation.
     Although the Political Committee of the UN has refused to condemn the United States, the use of chemical weapons is liable to provoke, in the very near future, biological effects that are wholly unpredictable.
     In the absence of information about the repercussions on civilians (Dean Rusk assures Senator Pell that it is not possible to assess them at the moment), Dr Mayer, Professor at Harvard, recalls the effects of earlier famines: `My point is not just that innocent bystanders are hurt by such measures. My point is that only bystanders will be hurt. The primary US aim - to disable the Viet Cong - is not achieved. Our proclaimed secondary aim - to win over the civilian population - is made a hollow mockery.'54
     At the present time the Pentagon no longer knows how many times, nor for what reason, the air force has carried out this kind of operation. It denies the danger of escalation in the field of food destruction. And yet what was once unthinkable sometimes becomes policy.55 It can now be feared that bacteriological agents may be directed against the vegetation in Vietnam if such is not already the case.
     To quote Professor Mayer once more,56 `If crop destruction efforts are successful, they constitute a war measure primarily, if {224} not exclusively, directed at children, the elderly, and pregnant and lactating women. ...' The rice crop destruction programme is a blot on our national honour and should be stopped immediately. Those who destroy forests calm their conscience when they get back to the USA by collecting money in certain parishes in order to buy fruit trees which are then sent to South Vietnamese villages. The results of this `Programme of Civic Action' are, according to the Air Force Public Relations Office, very positive, since fruit trees rapidly became a source of profit to the civilian population and replace the jungle. Commander Dennis (from Yakima, Wash.) expresses satisfaction at the fact that `defoliation' is not an entirely destructive process. `I like to feel,' he said, `that someday, we will have made farm land out of what once was jungle..
     Even now there are some benefits; in some places they've started a charcoal industry using the trees we've killed.'
     According to Mike McGrady, `defoliation is just one small aspect of this dirty war. Whether people are killed directly or simply starved off their farm, whether animals are slaughtered or simply forced to leave their natural habitat - the final results are roughly the same. ... We can buy $492 worth of fruit trees, but that's not even down payment on conscience money. We can hang up signs that say "Remember, only you can prevent forests", but the joke is a bad one.'57

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1. Le Monde, 23 April 1966; Agence France Presse, Hanoi, 22 March 1966.Back
2. Petition printed in Science, 21 January 1966, p.309.Back
3. Protest of Rev. Peter J. Riga, Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame, Indiana; New York Times, letter to Editor, 21 December 1965.Back
4. Petition of 5,000 Scientists, United Press International, Washington, 18 February 1967.Back
5. Scientific Research, 2, 39, 1967.Back
6. Washington, 11 July 1967; Le Monde, 12 July 1967; Science, 1967.Back
7. Dixon Donnelly, Assistant Secretary, Department of State, 28 September 1966.Back
8. Brig.-Gen. J. H. Rothschild, Tomorrow's Weapons (McGraw-Hill, 1964).Back
9. Scientific Research, 1, 11 and 17, 1966; Science, 155, 1967, 174, 177,299.Back
10. Science, 155, 1967, 174.Back
11. W. Pruden, Jr., National Observer, 28 February 1966.Back
12. Science, 155, 1967, 299.Back
13. A. C. Leopold, Plant Growth and Development (McGraw-Hill, 1965).Back
14. P. E. Pilet, Les Phytohormones de Croissance (Masson, 1961).Back
15. D. E. Morland, American Review of Plant Physiology, 1967, 18.Back
16. J. L. Hilton and L. L. Jansen, American Review of Plant Physiology, 14, 353, 1964.Back
17. M. H. M. Goldsmith, Science, 1156,661, 1967.Back
18. E. A. Davis, Weeds, 14, 10,1966.Back
19. S. P. Burg and E. A. Burg, Proc. Nat. Acad. Science, 55, 262, 1966.Back
20. Morland, op. cit.Back
21. Heller, La Défoliation et ses Conséquences, Colloquium, Association Amitié Franco-Vietnamienne, 19 November 1966.Back
22. Morland, op. cit.Back
23. 14 April 1965, 4 May 1965, 15 January 1966.Back
24. M. Sakka, Vietnam, Guerre Chimique et Biologique (Paris, Éditions Sociales, 1967).Back
25. G. Lhoste, 30ème Sem. Sociale Universitaire (Université Libre, Bruxelles, 1963), p.78.Back
26. J. Mayer, Science, 15 April 1966; J. Mayer and V. W. Sidel, The Christian Century, 20 June 1966; J. Mayer, Ramparts, 5-10 and 50, 1967.Back
27. Madeleine Riffaud, Dans les Maquis du Vietcong (Paris, 1965).Back
28. Mayer and Sidel, op. cit.Back
29. R. Truhaut, `Journee Inf. Subst. Croiss., Fed. Nle. Group Project', Culture, Paris, 30 May 1967.Back
30. `Toxic Chemicals in Agriculture' (London, 1953).Back
31. A. Bevenue, G. Zweig and N. L. Nash, Journal American Oils and Chemical Society, 1962, 42, 99.Back
32. V. A. Drill and T. Hirastzka (?), Arch. Industr. Hyg., 1953, 7, 61.Back
33. R. Fabre and R. Truhaut, Toxicité des Produits Phytopharmaceutiques (Paris, 1954).Back
34. T. H. Jukes and C. B. Shaffer, Science, 132, 4322, 1960.Back
35. S. C. Fang, S. Khanna and A. V. Rao, Agr. Food Chem., 14, 262, 1966.Back
36. W. R. Boon, Endeavour, 1967, p.27.Back
37. D. G. Clark, T. F. McElligott and E. W. Hurst, British Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1966, 23, 126.Back
38. L. V. Ackerman and J. A. Regato, Cancer, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prognosis, 2nd edition (St Louis, 1954).Back
39. C. M. Bullivant, Brit. Med. Journal, 1967, 1,1272; C. Almog and E. Tal, Brit. Med. Journal, 2,721.Back
40. D. I. R. Jones, A. G. Knight and A. J. Smith, Arch. Environ. Health, 1967, 14, 363.Back
41. S. S. Epstein, J. Andrea, H. Jaffee, S. Joshi, H. Falk and N. Mantel, Nature, 1967,215,1388.Back
42. US Imperialists' Crimes in South Vietnam; incomplete Data About the US Use of Noxious Chemicals and Poison Gas in 1965, Hanoi, 1966.Back
43. J. B. Jackson, Amer. Journal Veterinary Research, 1966, 27 (118) 82.Back
44. La Presse Médicale, Paris, 1957,65, 1352.Back
45. J. F. Dunachie and W. W. Fletcher, Nature, 1967, 215, 1406.Back
46. G. Lhoste, Phytoma, 1959, 11,13.Back
47. O. B. Cope, Journal of Applied Ecology, 196.Back
48. D. G. Crosby and K. R. Tucker, Science, 1966, 154, 289.Back
49. A. Gall and J. R. Dogger, Journal of Economic Entomology, 1967, 60.Back
50. T. Palmer-Jones and I. W. Forster, New Zealand Journal Agri. Res., 1958, 1, 620; T. Palmer-Jones, New Zealand Journal Agri. Res., 1960, 3, 485.Back
51. C. C. King, Gleanings in Bee Culture, 1964, 92,230.Back
52. E. E. Leppik, American Bee Journal, 1951, 91,462.Back
53. O. B. Cope, Proc. 18th Ann. Meeting Southern Weed Conference, 1965, 439.Back
54. Mayer, Science, 15 April 1966.Back
55. Science, 155, 1967, 299.Back
56. Mayer, Science, 15 April 1966.Back
57. M. McGrady, San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle, 30 July 1967.Back

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