58,148 American soldiers and several million Vietnamese were killed in the "American war".




































"We were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to the future generations to explain why."

Robert S. McNamara, former US Secretary of Defense, in his memoirs "In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam." 

Click here to read what other US Main Players said about the war in Viet Nam. 








A young girl dying from cancer - one of thousands of victims of Agent Orange.


Viet Nam and I go back quite some time. I have come to know and admire this country after dealing with Viet Nam and its people for almost 30 years. The story about one small Dane in this great place takes off in the early 1980'ies, when I was working as 'Nha Bao', as they call journalists here.

As for many others in my generation, it was the prolonged tragedy of the Vietnam War that caught my attention on a country so far away from my own. More specifically it was a legacy of war - so unimaginable in its sheer horror - that brought me to Viet Nam for the first time in 1984. The legacy of 'Agent Orange'.

A legacy that took me on a 2 year journey ranging from the inner workings of scientific warfare and senior policy making in the White House to the victims of maybe the most destructive and meaningless part of what the Vietnamese call the 'American War'. In short: Operation Ranchhand - its official Pentagon codename.

In an increasingly desperate effort to locate and neutralize the hidden bases of their elusive enemy, the US air force sprayed a total of 72 million liters of dioxin contaminated pesticides over the forests and rice fields of Southern and Central Viet Nam.

Thousands of hectares of forest and fields vanished, but the military objectives were never achieved. Operation Ranchhand may have been long forgotten as a waste of effort and funds, if it were not for the harm it did for generations to come.

Walking the rounds with dr. Phuong
I first heard about the Agent Orange issue from a Danish trade union official - who had visited the Tu Du hospital in Ho Chi Minh City in 1982.

He had brought back with him a few amateur photos of poor quality from the hospital ward and the basement collection of abnormal foetus that had been removed from young Vietnamese women that had grown up in the heavily sprayed areas in Southern and Central Viet Nam.

He had a very hard time to control his emotions, when he told me about what he had encountered among the patients of dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong.

A few months later I realized my self that nothing could really prepare the human mind and heart for the experience of walking with dr. Phuong and her fellow doctors on the rounds among the young girls that lay there two-and-two in the hospital beds. Some were dying side by side with others, who desperately clung to the hope for life without pain and fear.

A few girls had a bed of their own - those that were expected to die within hours.

Many other heart breaking scenes followed in hospitals, orphanages and in utterly poor villages, where I collected the facts and figures of a disaster of unbelievable proportions.

My companion, press photographer Ole Johnny Sørensen recorded everything in photos so horrifying, that most of them were considered unfit for publication by our editors.

Among them were the pictures of 4 year old Kim - a little girl in Tay Ninh, who had been born without eyes. Tears were constantly streaming out of her empty eye sockets - due to the agony of a rare liver cancer that was to kill her a few months later.

The terror of war ended 30 April 1975, but Agent Orange is still a killer in the heavily sprayed areas in Southern and Central Viet Nam. The dioxin contaminated pesiticide also takes its toll among American and foreign veterans who fought in the defoliated areas.

Thousands still suffer on three continents
The worst of it all may be that what we encountered more than 25 years ago, is still with Viet Nam today. Even though the last spraying missions by the US air force was carried out in 1972, thousands of people still suffer the consequences even today.

Most of the victims are Vietnamese, but not all. Large numbers of American soldiers and allied troops from Australia and Korea were also exposed to the deadly herbicides.

To this day the price is still being paid by victims across three continents - as vividly described in "Waiting for an army to die" and "Gi Guinea Pigs" - possibly the saddest and angriest books you could read about Agent Orange.

And just for the record - the outcry of the US veterans and their families was sufficiently embarrassing for the producers of Agent Orange to set up a compensation fund of USD one billion more than 20 years ago to assist the US victims with their medical bills.

No compensation has ever been paid to the poor Vietnamese farmers by corporations like DOW Chemicals and Monsanto that made huge profits on wartime deliveries or by the US government, who ordered the deadly chemicals.

For years it was left to the Vietnamese themselves and a handful of NGO's to clean up this mess. Only recently, the US Embassy in Hanoi has approved funding (USD 3 mio) in order to clean up one of the worst 'dioxin hot spots' in Da Nang, where the dioxin levels are still a 100 times higher than the legal limit in the US.

The US Department of Defence has also - belatedly - recognized that there is a direct link between dioxin exposure and a number of serious diseases, found among US veterans, who are now eligible for financial support. No such scheme is available for the thousands of victims in Vietnam.

In December 2009 I visited one of them - 23 year old Tran Thi Hoang - who sent a letter a year ago  directly to president Obama to appeal for assistance to the Agent Orange victims. The US government has yet to reply.

Hoang wrote to Obama from her ward in Thu Do hospital.

Hoang shares her room at the hospital with 12 other victims.


thomasbopedersen © 2013



In those days some of the famous Vietnamese revolutionaries were still around in Ha Noi.

 Ong Pham Van Dong, March 1985

Click here to meet Viet Nam's Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, the Silver Fox and other legends from two generations of war.


Saigon Police Chief  Nguyen Ngoc Loan executes a Viet Cong suspect on the street during the Tet Offensive in 1968.  Click here to see pictures that may tell you how and why the US lost the war in Vietnam.


In 1985 evidence of decades of bloodshed were still everywhere. 10 years after the war, I found this shattered helmet outside a bunker in central Viet Nam. Click here to meet My Lai survivor Pham Tri Thinh, and Nguyen Thi Hoa, the guerrilla woman from Hué.


Helicopter pilot William Robinson was shot down in 1965 in Ha Tinh province. Almost 800 Americans were taken prisoners during the war, most of them after bombing raids over North Vietnam.
Click Here to visit Senator John McCain's prison cell.
Click here to meet US marine Bob Pope, who never really came home.

The Doctor and her dream of peace. Click here to read about the diary of Dang Thuy Tram who laid down her life for Vietnam. Killed at the age of 27.