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Agent Orange and the Continuing Vietnam War

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(NNPA) In a 2009 visit to Vietnam I asked a retired colonel in the Vietnam People’s Army about the notorious toxin “Agent Orange.” The colonel, who was also a former leader in a Vietnamese advocacy group for Agent Orange’s victims, spoke fluent English and was a veteran of the war with the United States. I asked him when had the Vietnamese realized the long-term dangers associated with the Agent Orange herbicide used by the U.S.A. His answer was as simple as it was heart-wrenching: ”When the children were born,” was his response.

In an effort to defeat the National Liberation Front and North Vietnamese Army (the Vietnam People’s Army), the U.S. concocted the idea that if it destroyed the forests and jungles that there would be nowhere for the guerrillas to hide. They, thus, unleashed a massive defoliation campaign, the results of which exist with us to this day. Approximately 19 million gallons of herbicides were used during the war, affecting between 2 million and 4.8 million Vietnamese, along with thousands of US military personnel. Additionally, Laos and Cambodia were exposed to Agent Orange by the USA in the larger Indochina War.

Despite the original public relations associated with the use of Agent Orange aimed at making it appear safe and humane, it was chemical warfare and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that it was genocidal. The cancers promoted by Agent Orange (affecting the Vietnamese colonel I interviewed, as a matter of fact) along with the catastrophic rise in birth defects, have not only haunted the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, but also the United States. Those in the US military involved in the dispersal of Agent Orange, and those who were simply exposed to it, brought the curse home.

The United States government has refused to take responsibility for the war of aggression it waged against the Vietnamese. This includes a failure to acknowledge the extent of the devastation wrought by Agent Orange. Ironically, it has also failed to assume responsibility for the totality of the horror as it affected U.S. veterans, thus leaving the veterans and their families to too often fight this demon alone.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee recently introduced House Resolution 2519, “To direct the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide assistance for individuals affected by exposure to Agent Orange, and for other purposes.” In many respects, this bill is about settling some of the accounts associated with the war against Vietnam. The U.S.] reneged on reparations that it promised to Vietnam and to this day there remain those in the media and government who wish to whitewash this horrendous war of aggression as if it were some sort of misconstrued moral crusade.

HR 2519 takes us one step towards accepting responsibility for a war crime that was perpetrated against the Vietnamese and that, literally and figuratively, blew back in our faces as our government desperately tried to crush an opponent it should never have first been fighting. For that reason, we need Congress to pass and fund HR 2519. HR 2519 should be understood as a down payment on a much larger bill owed to the peoples of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and to the US veterans sent into hell.

[For more information on HR 2519 and the issue of Agent Orange, contact the "Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign" at www.vn-agentorange.org.]

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and national board member of the “Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign.” Follow him on Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com.

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0 # Sgt. Severson 2013-08-22 16:32
I was in the delta the DMZ and Cambodia , walking point chopping down brush and other jungle junk with a machete, probably exposed firs kid still born,I have hives from nerves chew nails, I am lucky because other 3 kids are normal. I feel sorry for my fellow vets with some of the sad heartbreaking stories I hear. We need to take care of them, Before we need to worry about people that wouldn't fight for their own country, and sympathized withe the Cong and sold us out and switched sides after dark. We have brought enough of them over here to the welfare line, and no taxes for 7 years for. The ones that work. I don't think we owe them anything!
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0 # paul dickson 2013-08-22 02:03
i was in Vietnam 67/68~i am not proud of my service~in fact i am ashamed of almost every thing i did there~so punish me~but my children are innocent~my first was stillborn~my second has painful tumors on his spine~my youngest son was born with hip dysplasia~my daughter was riddled with birth defects from her head to her toes~she fought for every breath~she didn't deserve what she endured~no one else in my family has anything like this~their mother cried agent orange from the beginning~for whatever reason i never made the connection until recently~what support is available to them and what can i do to support efforts to address this problem?~
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0 # Dixie Miller 2013-08-22 18:36
This is what I'm talking about, "OUR CHILDREN', who nobody either is aware of, or simply don't care. And don't be ashamed of your service for Gods sake. You were a person in a war. Your punishment if you feel you need to be punished, is your memories and your children enduring disabilites as a result of our government spraying the troops, jungles, waterways, etc. I am the widow of a Vietnam veterans who came ill and suffered everyday until he died over twenty years ago, and bore an ill child. Please, don't punish yourself.
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-1 # Dixie Miller 2013-08-21 16:47
Our children need to be taken care of first and it won't happen. So the pentance sent to Vietnam and the work being done to clear the dumpsites is just that, a pentance for your sufferings because nothing will completely ever be done. There is no scientific proof all of the children born in Vietnam have birth defects as a result of the chemicals used during the Vietnam war, or as they call it, the "American war". There are still political differences, and we still have bones of our troops over there. So don't plan on getting much help from the United States anytime soon; or much more help, I should say.
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0 # lewis powell 2013-08-21 07:30
i have a lot of nightmares.
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0 # lewis powell 2013-08-21 07:27
i have nightmares all the time.
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0 # lewis powell 2013-08-21 07:26
I was in Cambodia in some of my time serve in Vietnam and I was with the e forth divison infartry.
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0 # Dixie Miller 2013-08-22 18:37
My husband was with the 4th ID also but he was in the central highlands at Camp Enari in Pleiku.
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