During the Vietnam War, 25,000 barrels of Agent Orange were stored on Okinawa, according to a recently uncovered U.S. army report.1 The barrels, containing over 1.4 million gallons (5.2 million liters) of the toxic defoliant, had been brought to Okinawa from Vietnam before being taken to Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean where the US military incinerated its stocks of Agent Orange in 1977.
The army report is the first time the U.S. military has acknowledged the presence of these poisons on Okinawa – and it contradicts repeated denials from the Pentagon that Agent Orange was ever on the island. At the same time that the document was revealed, a series of photographs was also uncovered apparently showing the 25,000 barrels in storage on Okinawa’s Camp Kinser near Naha City.
The army report, published in 2003, is titled “An Ecological Assessment of Johnston Atoll”. Outlining the military’s efforts to clean up the tiny island that the U.S. used throughout the Cold War to store and dispose of its stockpiles of biochemical weapons, the report states, “In 1972, the U.S. Air Force brought about 25,000 55-gallon (208 liter) drums of the chemical Herbicide Orange (HO) to Johnston Island that originated from Vietnam and was stored on Okinawa.”
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This is a revised and expanded version of an article that appeared in The Japan Times on August 7, 2012.
Jon Mitchell teaches at Tokyo Institute of Technology and is an Asia-Pacific Journal associate. In September 2012, “Defoliated Island”, a TV documentary based upon his research, was awarded a commendation for excellence by Japan’s National Association of Commercial Broadcasters. An English version of the program is currently in production in order to assist U.S. veterans exposed to military defoliants on Okinawa. Updates on the issue can be found here –
1. The full document, “An Ecological Assessment of Johnston Atoll”, can be accessed from the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity homepage here
2. For a concise overview of the campaign to ban Agent Orange see Philip Jones Griffiths, “Agent Orange – ‘Collateral Damage in Viet Nam”, Trolley Ltd., London, 2003
3. For a more detailed explanation of Operation Red Hat, see: Jon Mitchell, “Military defoliants on Okinawa: Agent Orange”, The Asia-Pacific Journal, September 12, 2011
4. The full text of the V.A. ruling is available here
5. From interviews with author conducted Summer 2012 see also
6. For an account of Okinawan NGO Citizens’ Network for Biodiversity’s June 2012 meeting with Okinawa Prefecture see here
7. See for example Fred Wilcox, Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam, Seven Stories Press, New York, 2011.
8. See Jon Mitchell. “U.S. Veteran Exposes Pentagon’s Denials of Agent Orange Use on Okinawa,” The Asia- Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 17, No. 2.
9. See for example: Jon Mitchell, ‘Agent Orange on Okinawa – New Evidence,’ The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 48 No
10. See Okinawa NGO discusses with Okinawa Prefecture over Agent Orange: