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Vietnam War Dictionary

Ranch Hand

Operation Ranch Hand was a defoliation campaign conducted by the U.S. Air Force between January 1962 and January 1971. The missions used low flying C-123 aircraft to spray forests and crops with herbicides, with the aim of depriving the enemy of both jungle cover and access to food. Approximately 19 million gallons of herbicide were sprayed during the lifetime of the operation, 11 million gallons of which were Agent Orange.

Military strategists believed that jungle defoliation prevented ambushes and exposed Viet Cong sanctuaries and that the Agent Blue crop destruction successfully hurt the insurgents. However, civilian studies showed that the crop destruction program was ineffective because the VC merely confiscated food from the rural population in order to make up the shortfalls. Counterinsurgency proponents also argued that crop destruction, even in remote areas, forced people to leave their homes and thus alienated them from the very government that was trying to win their support1. Instead, counterinsurgency experts contended the Viet Cong could be isolated from their source of food and intelligence by denying them access to the population.

1. The Army and Vietnam by Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr. (The Johns Hopkins University Press 1988)



See Pink Rose