Chemical Warfare during the Vietnam War: Riot Control Agents in Combat

Chemical Warfare during the Vietnam War: Riot Control Agents in Combat

Chemical Warfare during the Vietnam War: Riot Control Agents in Combat

Chemical Warfare during the Vietnam War: Riot Control Agents in Combat

Synopsis

Chemical Warfare during the Vietnam War documents the use of antipersonnel chemical weapons throughout the Vietnam War, and explores their effectiveness under the wide variety of circumstances in which they were employed. The short, readable account follows the US program as it progressed from a focus on the humanitarian aspects of non-lethal weapons to their use as a means of augmenting and enhancing the lethality of traditional munitions. It also presents the efforts of the North Vietnamese to both counter US chemical operations and to develop a chemical capability of their own.

Chemical Warfare during the Vietnam War is a comprehensive and thoroughly fascinating examination of riot-control agents during the Vietnam War.

Excerpt

Since the end of the war, the Vietnam-era chemical warfare program has been in and out of the news. Initially, concern focused on the potential long- term environmental damage from spraying herbicides on large sections of virgin jungle. It soon shifted to the toxic legacy left behind by dioxin, a minor but potent impurity in one of the herbicides. Because the principal ingredients in Agent Orange – a mixture of the butyl esters of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T – were commercially available and considered non-toxic, there was little effort to prevent or even limit exposure during the war. As the world began to comprehend the extent of the damage, the impact to soldiers, civilians and now the next generation of Vietnamese children has been the topic of numerous medical studies, litigations and books. Dioxin’s notoriety has in turn raised public awareness of military defoliant operations during the war.

There was another facet of the chemical program that remains unconnected to any toxic legacy and has largely been overlooked by the general public. Riotcontrol agents were used routinely during combat operations for a variety of tactical reasons and the lessons learned from these operations are still having an impact on US Military planning and policy today. An examination of this aspect of the program can provide insight into the development of current US military doctrine and the drive to make these weapons available to soldiers. As recently as the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon pushed for authorization to use non-lethal chemicals. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told Congress on February 5, 2003 that, in his opinion, it would be “perfectly appropriate” to use riot- control agents in some situations that soldiers would likely face. He used examples of enemy forces hiding in caves, barricaded in buildings, or intermixed with non- combatants. “You would prefer to get at [the soldiers] without also getting at women and children, or non- combatants,” he explained.

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