Most people think we used Agent Orange in Vietnam to defoliate jungle areas to remove hiding places for the Viet Cong. Only about 25% of Agent Orange was used for this purpose. 75% was used to purposely destroy the crops and ability of neutral Vietnamese peasant farmers to ever grow crops there again.
This decision was made at the highest military and executive branch levels. Operation “Ranch Hand” was put in motion in the early 60′s; (although it was not admitted until the late 60′s) for two reasons.
First: The rural villiage peasants were truly innocent, subsistence level, communal farmers; growing crops mainly for their own consumption, with surpluses sold at local markets. However, at cover of night, the VC would enter villages to steal or force villagers to give them provisions; thus enabling them to sustain opposition to the U.S. and SVN.
The “brilliant” idea behind Operation Ranch Hand was that, if we destroyed all villagers’ crops and ability to grow more, there would be nothing for the VC to steal. Never mind that this would and did destroy an economic system which had worked for centuries. It was stated in the Operation Ranch Hand documents that it would probably take the destruction of 50% of the arable land of South Vietnam to do this. 55 years later much of the defolitated areas are still too toxic to safely grow crops. This was not the way to “Win the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people.
Secondly: There were hundreds, if not thousands, of small villages throughout South Vietnam. It was impossible to patrol every village to keep track of what was going on and ferret out VC infiltrators. However, if we destroyed their farm areas, thus their way of living, the peasants would have to relocate to urban areas. This made it less cumbersome and safer to patrol. The urban population grew almost three-fold from the early 60′s to mid 70′s; with a massive number of people living in poverty.
Of course we know the massive toll of horrifying body maiming, cancer, other diseases and next generation birth deformities of an estimated 4 million Vietnamese; and 100′s of thousands of American service men and women as a result of Agent Orange. This writer being one of them.