Gianluca Costantini
Political Comics

The Legal Battle Against Agent Orange

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Trân Tô Nga vs. U.S. Chemical Companies

From generation to generation, Agent Orange condemns entire families to extermination.

Trân Tô Nga

Trân Tô Nga’s story epitomizes courage and determination against the injustices perpetrated by war and industry. In a struggle embracing self-determination, justice, and environmental consciousness, this Vietnamese woman is pursuing a cause touching the lives of millions and the fates of over twenty US chemical companies.

In the southern suburb of Paris, Evry, an unprecedented trial is unfolding, one that could mark a turning point for Agent Orange victims and global environmental consciousness. Trân Tô Nga, a school principal, communist guerrilla, and unwavering activist, is confronting more than twenty chemical companies for their involvement in producing this potent herbicide and defoliant used during the Vietnam War.

Named for the color of the drums it was stored in, Agent Orange was sprayed over vast areas of Vietnam as part of the Ranch Hand operation conducted by US forces. This chemical cocktail, produced by giants like Monsanto and Dow Chemical, caused environmental devastation and poisoned millions, resulting in illnesses, deformities, and deaths that have persisted for generations.

Trân Tô Nga is not just fighting for herself but for all Agent Orange victims and for the recognition of a chemical war crime that has indelibly marked Vietnam’s history and humanity. Her determination, channeled through a civil lawsuit filed in France, represents a hope for justice for those neglected by US courts.

Her autobiography, titled “My Poisoned Land,” paints a poignant picture of her experience and her relentless struggle for truth and justice. Through the pages of this book emerges the courage of a woman who has endured the horrors of war and now confronts the powerful lobbying of the chemical industry with determination and resolve.

The trial unfolding in Evry is not just a legal battle but a crucial moment in the history of environmental justice and human rights. Trân Tô Nga and her supporters, including French MP Marie Toussaint and jurist Valérie Cabanes, are laying the groundwork for a possible condemnation of the responsible chemical companies and for global recognition of the crime of “ecocide.”

However, the road to justice is fraught with challenges and obstacles. The chemical companies staunchly defend their actions, while the US federal government has so far shielded itself from criminal action. But Trân Tô Nga does not give up, and her determination is a beacon of hope for all Agent Orange victims and for those fighting for a fairer and more sustainable world.

The ongoing trial in Evry is a testament to the power of individual and collective resistance against the injustices perpetrated by war and industry. Trân Tô Nga’s story is a warning against impunity and a call to the accountability of large companies and governments that prioritize profit over human lives and the environment.

At a time when environmental consciousness is more important than ever, Trân Tô Nga’s case assumes global relevance. Her battle for justice and truth is a challenge for all of us to take a stand against injustices and to defend human and environmental rights worldwide.

  1. What is Agent Orange?
    It is an herbicide developed by the US military in the 1940s. It was the most widely used herbicide by the US military during the Vietnam War. The herbicides were used to defoliate forests (to prevent the Vietnamese guerrilla from hiding), clear military installations, and destroy enemy crops. Agent Orange is actually reddish-brown. It owes its name to the orange-colored bands on the barrels in which it was stored. Similarly named were Agents White, Blue, Pink, Green, and Purple.
  2. Why is Agent Orange dangerous?
    65% of the herbicides used during the Vietnam War, notably Agent Orange, contained 2,4,5-T acid for its defoliation capabilities. However, the industrial manufacturing processes of this acid resulted in contamination with varying levels of an extremely toxic substance: 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin (TCDD).
  3. How much dioxin was sprayed in Vietnam?
    The amount of dioxin varied among herbicides. According to the latest estimates*, between 1961 and 1971, the US military alone would have sprayed tens of millions of liters of herbicides containing more than 300 kilograms of TCDD dioxin, over hundreds of thousands of hectares, primarily in southern and central Vietnam, but also in Laos and Cambodia. However, international standards set thresholds for dioxin not to exceed in millionths of a millionth of a gram.
  4. What are the effects of dioxin?
    Dioxin is a carcinogenic and teratogenic substance (causing malformations in newborns). It causes skin diseases and affects the immune, reproductive, and nervous systems.
  5. How many people were affected by herbicides in Vietnam?
    According to the latest estimates*, between 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to herbicides between 1961 and 1971, to which must be added an unknown number of Cambodians, Laotians, American civilians and military personnel, and their various allies from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Korea. But the total number of victims is likely to be higher because dioxin is transmitted through contamination of the food chain: breast milk, cow’s milk, consumption of contaminated meats or fish.
  6. What is Operation Hades?
    This is the original name of the American operation of aerial defoliation in southern Vietnam, which was ordered by the Kennedy administration in 1961 and ended in 1971. As the name Hades was too “explicit” (Hades, god of the dead), it was changed shortly after to Ranch Hand.
  7. Have the United States admitted their responsibility?
    No, they still refute any responsibility for the damages caused by herbicides and have never paid a cent to Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian victims of Agent Orange and other defoliants.
  8. Have Agent Orange victims filed lawsuits?
    American veterans who were victims of Agent Orange have sued the manufacturers of Agent Orange because they were not allowed to sue the US government. In 1984, these manufacturers signed an out-of-court settlement with veterans’ associations: in exchange for the cessation of all lawsuits, the manufacturers paid $180 million to a compensation fund for American veterans victimized by Agent Orange. In early 2004, the Vietnamese Association of Agent Orange/Dioxin Victims filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of Agent Orange. The two main accused manufacturers are Monsanto and Dow Chemical. In France, a trial is ongoing against the manufacturers including Monsanto, brought by Mrs. Tran To Nga, a French victim of Agent Orange/Dioxin.
  9. And today?
    Sixty years later, symptoms related to dioxin are still present in Vietnam. It is now apparent that there is still a significant amount of dioxin in certain highly localized areas. Three generations of Vietnamese are affected by herbicides. Malformations, hyperencephalies, skin diseases, cancers, nervous system or cerebral deficiencies are some of the ailments suffered by victims.
  10. Dioxin, a global issue?
    Dioxin is not just a problem in Vietnam. Indeed, several common industrial activities inadvertently produce dioxin, including the combustion of household waste and the bleaching of paper pulp. The industrial accident in Seveso, Italy (1976), can testify to the dangers of dioxin worldwide.

*J.M. Stellman, S.D. Stellman, R. Christian, T. Weber, and C. Tomasallo, “The extent and patterns of usage of Agent Orange and other herbicides in Vietnam,” Nature, Volume 422, April 2003.

France / Vietnam / United States

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