It’s been over three decades now since the United States retreated from Saigon, but the poisonous effects of the Agent Orange toxin the United States used during the Vietnam War continue to maim and kill civilians. During the war, 20.8 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed on the jungles of Vietnam, destroying the rainforest, contaminating the soil and poisoning the food and water supply to this day. The effects of Agent Orange range from fatal cancers to crippling deformities that are even beginning to be passed on to the unborn. Third generation Vietnamese children, like the one pictured above, are increasingly born without eyes, arms or with other deformities as a result of the lingering toxins.
The estimated cost for a comprehensive clean-up of the three toxin hotspots and former US bases is only $60 million. Last year, Congress only pledged $3 million. By comparison, the requested $60 million would only be 3% of the $2 billion we spend on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan every week.
A recent study of Agent Orange levels at one hotspot found toxin levels 300 to 400 times higher than internationally accepted limits. The same study confirmed that rainwater had carried the toxins into city drains and neighboring communities.
Despite the fact that the US Veteran’s Administration officially recognizes 13 medical conditions linked to Agent Orange and provides free medical care to any US solider who can prove his exposure to it, “Washington has adamantly denied all responsibility … for the estimated four million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians who suffered far greater exposure to the [toxin] than the US war veterans.”
It isn’t the money that is causing our government to refuse help.
Why has Washington been so doggedly determined to deny any compensation to Vietnamese victims, even refusing to come up with humanitarian aid? A clue can be found in the intervention of the White House counsel in the Vietnamese lawsuit against the chemical companies. The US government intervened to argue that if the court permitted the case to prosper, it would undermine national security and limit presidential options in a time of war.
In the New York Court Seth Waxman, defence counsel for the chemical companies, argued there was a lack of legal precedent for punishing those who used poisons during warfare, and said US battlefield decisions could be harmed. “This does affect our ongoing diplomacy,” he said, citing the use of depleted uranium shells by US forces in Iraq.
To accept US responsibility for Agent Orange could expose Washington to claims relating to the use of napalm, phosphorous bombs and various My Lai-type massacres.
It’s sad that Washington refuses to take responsibility for this simply because they don’t want restrictions placed on the military and their arsenal of weapons. It’s similar to condoning torture because they don’t want restrictions placed on their methods of interrogation. Perhaps the most sad aspect of all of this is that Vietnamese children will continue to be born to suffer hideous deformities simply because we won’t take responsibility.
Agent of suffering – [Guardian]