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Australian War Memorial: Commission a new account of the Vietnam war's Agent Orange controversy.

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                          (The full story at: )

From 1962 to 1972, Australia, with the United States, was involved in a war in Vietnam.

There is a wound from that war still unhealed. It is the account of the Agent Orange controversy in Australia’s Official War History. It insults worthy Vietnam veterans and gets the story oh so wrong.

But we should start from the beginning.

The US Air Force wanted to unleash its massive firepower but the enemy was hidden under the dense canopy of the Vietnamese jungles. To the US Air Force the solution was simple; defoliate the jungles by the aerial spraying millions of litres of herbicides, especially Agent Orange. Australian and US troops as well as the local population suffered exposure to this deluge of Agent Orange through its pollution of the waterways, foliage and the ground as well as directly from the air.

After the war, evidence emerged from the US that exposure to Agent Orange might cause certain cancers and other problems. The evidence, however, was contested; some experts arguing one way, some the other. But the law applying to war veterans gave them the benefit of any doubt raised by this clash of expert opinion.

This concession for war veterans was not new. Since the First World War, Federal Parliaments had passed legislation making special provision for dealing with war caused injury and illness.

So Vietnam veterans were confident their claims for medical treatment and compensation for cancer linked with exposure to Agent Orange would succeed.

But their hopes were dashed; the Department of Veterans Affairs denied any link.

So Vietnam veterans organized and successfully campaigned for a Royal Commission, the only way, they realized, to get to the truth.

While the Royal Commission was sitting the Federal Parliament amended Veterans’ law to make it harder for their claims to succeed. Even so, the Royal Commission found that, under veterans’ law, Vietnam veterans’ exposure to Agent Orange could be linked with two categories of cancer: Soft Tissue Sarcoma (with its very many varieties) and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

The Royal Commission also found that the Department of Veterans Affairs was guilty of systematically flouting the ‘benefit of the doubt’ law.

After the Royal Commission reported, the campaigning veterans expected the Department to admit its wrong doing and to acknowledge Agent Orange’s link with the two cancers.

The Department did neither.

The disappointed veterans then turned to the appeals tribunals where, over time, they won case after case.

Astonishingly, the Official War History’s account of the Agent Orange controversy fails to mention these two Royal Commission findings. In a breathtaking denial of these findings, the Official History disparages the campaigning veterans’ case and accuses the veterans of displaying ‘the worst aspects of Australian behaviour in the 1980s’ including greed and dishonesty.

Of course, nothing was further from the truth. The Royal Commission had vindicated the veterans’ campaign, and their behaviour, far from being bad, reflected the best aspects of the ANZAC tradition.


The Official History’s account is a travesty of the truth. We are asking the Australian War Memorial to commission a new and true account of the Agent Orange controversy.

                       (The full story at:

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