Agent Orange in Vietnam

Letter to the editor
Copyright 1998 Los Angeles Times
October 6, 1998

"Vietnam Ends Silence on Issue of Wartime Exposure to Agent Orange" (Sept. 26) describes the misfortunes of the My family. My, a former colonel in the North Vietnamese army, died at 62, and two of his five children were born with serious birth defects. Why would anyone accept My's announcement that Agent Orange was the cause of his fatal disease without some sort of scientific information to back it up? Well, the article doesn't accept it, but merely reports that My's wife believes it, and somehow that's to convince us it's true.

Birth defects are common. According to a U.S. Air Force study, one of every five children born to Air Force veterans who had sprayed Agent Orange had a minor or serious birth defect. The birth defects weren't caused by Agent Orange. The same rate of birth defects was observed in men who had never sprayed Agent Orange.

It makes far more sense to treat illnesses and birth defects in Vietnam as they are treated in other countries. To spend money on efforts to link Agent Orange with common diseases that have many known causes is to squander funds that can treat suffering people. To barrack and parade deformed children in "Peace Villages" may elicit sympathy, but it's certainly degrading to children who already have burdens to bear. Richer countries have spent billions investigating possible links between diseases and birth defects and Agent Orange and the dioxin in it. They have found nothing convincing.

Science and Risk Studies
Cato Institute, Washington

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