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VIEWS AND VOICES
Suffering effects of U.S. chemical war on Vietnam
Justice for the victims!

January 13, 2006 | Page 8

THE 10-city tour of the Vietnam Agent Orange Justice Tour kicked off late last year at a meeting in New York City. The call for the tour states, "Wars do not end when the bombs stop falling and the fighting ceases. The devastation continues long after, in the land and in the minds and bodies of the affected population."

The United States dropped 7 million tons of bombs--that's 1,000 pounds of explosives for every human being in Vietnam--and millions of gallons of defoliants, like the pesticide Agent Orange, in its failed attempt to bring Vietnam to its knees. But that tiny peasant country with a revolutionary national movement, the National Liberation Front--outgunned and outmanned in every way by the U.S.--nevertheless managed to deal the U.S. its most decisive and stunning defeat.

Although Vietnam "won" the war, the land and its people still suffer enormously--more than 30 years later--from the lingering damage of that war. Generations of Agent Orange-deformed children still cannot get any compensation from the U.S.

David Cline, a national leader of Vietnam for Peace and a major organizer of the tour, opened the event by referencing the powerful recent revelations that the United States dropped massive quantities of white phosphorus on the Iraqi city of Falluja during its attack on November 2004. Cline argued that weapons of mass destruction are being used in Iraq, as they were in Vietnam, and the U.S. armed forces are the ones using them.

A delegation of four Vietnamese was invited to speak in the U.S. by veterans of the war in Vietnam and peace activists. Only three were granted visas.

The fourth, 22-year-old Nguyen Muoi, was denied a visa. He is the son of a veteran of the former U.S.-allied Army of the Republic of Vietnam from Hue, and he has spina bifida as a result of his 59-year-old father's exposure to Agent Orange in 1970.

Another member of the delegation, 68-year-old Dang Thi Hong Nhut from Ho Chí Minh City spoke of her multiple miscarriages between 1973 and 1980 after exposure to Agent Orange around May 1965.

The U.S. war in Vietnam devastated the country through the most massive armed assault in history. And although the peace accords that formally ended the war required the U.S. pay reparations for the massive destruction and loss of life, no aid or payments by the U.S. were made.

At a March 24, 1977, news conference, then-President Jimmy Carter was asked if he thought the U.S. ought to help rebuild Vietnam. He responded: We have no obligation because "the destruction was mutual." Nor do we "owe a debt," he said. Shockingly, this same man would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002!

The U.S. armed forces embarked on a course of vast defoliation and crop devastation to deprive the Vietnamese fighters of cover and food. Bombing raids decimated forests, fields, and villages. They left over 20 million craters in South Vietnam alone.

As the war continued, the U.S. forces found these methods of deforestation alone to be inadequate. They began to use mainly two other chemical methods. One was napalm. The other was variations of a pesticide, known by innocuous sounding color-coded names like Agent Orange and Agent White.

Napalm is a sticky substance that was dispersed onto vegetation and then ignited. It burned similarly to gasoline, and quickly destroyed all surrounding vegetation. Napalm was responsible for the destruction of much of the Vietnamese landscape, not to mention any people who happened to be living in that landscape. Chemical defoliation damaged the ecosystem in unimaginable ways, but the U.S. government considered it necessary to defeat the enemy.

John Pilger, who reported for 10 years from Vietnam, wrote after a visit in the late 1970s that "much of North Vietnam is a moonscape from which visible signs of life--houses, factories, schools, hospitals, pagodas, churches--have been obliterated. In some forests, there are no longer birds and animals; and there are lorry drivers who will not respond to the hooting of a horn because they are deaf from the incessant sound of bombs."

The overarching plan to deforest Vietnam and leave the NLF forces exposed was called Operation RANCH HAND (its original name, Operation Hades, was perhaps too grim). It had a very truthful motto: "Only we can prevent forests." The goals were to poison food crops and defoliate areas where guerillas were supposedly active.

Beginning missions in 1962 and over the next decade, Ranch Hand pilots sprayed about 19 million gallons of herbicide. Eleven million gallons of this total was Agent Orange.

Shipped in orange-striped barrels, Agent Orange was a reddish-brown liquid containing four chemicals: 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), cacodylic acid and picloram. One of the byproducts in the manufacturing process was the poison dioxin.

These poisons dropped by U.S. forces during the war left a long-lasting and damaging legacy. New research shows that the pesticides are still creating environmental chaos by poisoning the food chain, with serious concern over its effects on human health.

In the fall of 1969 a study presented evidence that 2, 4, 5-T, a component of Agent Orange, could, in relatively high doses, cause malformed offspring as well as stillbirths in mice. But it still took several more years until Operation Ranch Hand ended.

Dr. Nguyen Trong Nhân, the former president of Vietnam Red Cross who represents the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA), talked at the meeting of the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, who number well over 3 million. At least 1 million suffer serious health problems today.

Ho Sy Hai, a former army truck driver from Thái Bình, detailed his chronic hepatitis, gastro-duodenal ulcer, enterolitis and enlargement of prostate as a result of his exposure in Quang Tri between 1965 and 1973. Quang Tri province was one of the most heavily sprayed areas in Vietnam.

According to the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam, the following diseases are now on the Veteran Administration's (VA) Agent Orange list: Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx, and trachea), soft-tissue sarcoma, and prostate cancer. In addition, health care and rehabilitation services are provided to Vietnam veterans' offspring with spina bifida. The VA presumes that all military personnel who served in Vietnam and who have one of the listed diseases were exposed to Agent Orange.

In March 2004, a U.S. federal court in New York dismissed a legal action brought by Vietnamese plaintiffs over the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Judge Jack Weinstein ruled there was no legal basis for claims against the companies Dow and Monsanto, which produced the product.

The companies argued that the U.S. government that sprayed the chemicals was responsible--they just made them. Although technically accurate, the attempt to deflect responsibility is obvious.

Veterans of the war in Vietnam who handled Agent Orange can claim compensation (albeit limited) for a whole range of diseases recognized as being associated with Agent Orange. But the U.S. still refuses to hear the claims of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese victims because, as Judge Weinstein tellingly put it, there's "no proof, and this is all just propaganda." Dr. Nguyen wonders if Judge Weinstein "thinks dioxin somehow only affects Americans."

The Agent Orange Justice Tour aims to reignite the discussion about U.S. war crimes in Vietnam--and will inevitably raise questions about the current war crimes in Iraq.
Dao Tran, New York City

For more information about the tour, visit www.vn-agentorange.org on the Web.

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