Regarding Jon Mitchell’s Aug. 24 article “Okinawa vet blames cancer on defoliant“: The Japan Times journalists working on this very controversial story should be considered eligible for a Pulitzer Prize. I don’t know of any newspaper in the United States that is reporting on this story. There are probably Pentagon officials at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo who are absolutely livid over revelations that the U.S. military used Agent Orange on Okinawa in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Having spent much of my childhood living on air force bases around the U.S., I’m wondering whether the Pentagon allowed even more widespread use of this “defoliant.” It has been reported here in the U.S. that some veterans claim to have been exposed to Agent Orange on a military base in Florida.
I wonder if the reasoning for using the chemical on Okinawa was that the semitropical climate and atmospheric conditions there, along with the vegetation, somewhat resembled Vietnam’s environment and thus created a good setting for field tests before it was used full scale over vast regions of South Vietnam. Or, was it just that some U.S. military officer decided that using Agent Orange for garden-variety weed control around his base in Okinawa was more economical and convenient than going out to buy less dangerous weedkillers from a local hardware store?
I expect that the brass in Washington will keep on denying ever having authorized the use of the defoliant anywhere near Okinawa. After all, they want to continue warm, smiling relations with the residents of Okinawa. But I don’t think that any of the American veterans now suffering ill health after their exposure to Agent Orange decades ago are smiling.
Caethe Goetz (subject of the Aug. 24 article), along with other American veterans who have stepped forward and discussed their medical conditions and their exposure to Agent Orange while stationed in Okinawa, must be deeply grateful to The Japan Times for having brought her plight to the world’s attention.
Now, will local civilian doctors in Okinawa report on any patients who they suspect might have been exposed to Agent Orange? If there is enough such testimony, the Pentagon might just crack and admit the truth. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.