January 30, 2011
Agent Orange continues to cause suffering
From People's Voice
By Stephen Von Sychowski
The Anti‑Imperialist Court convened on Dec. 19-20 in Tshwane, South Africa, as part of the 17th World Festival of Youth and Students. Witnesses from across the globe told of the horrors inflicted upon their countries by imperialism.
Among these moving presentations was that of the Vietnamese youth, who told of the terrible consequences of the chemical substance Agent Orange, used between 1967 and 1971 by the US military as part of their war of aggression against the national liberation movement in Vietnam.
Agent Orange, code named for the orange barrels in which it was shipped, was used as a herbicide and defoliant. The chemical was used to remove the cover provided by forests to Vietnamese liberation fighters, and to destroy crops in order to force peasants towards the US‑dominated cities. The goal was to deprive the guerilla forces of their base of support and food supplies in the countryside.
The US air force cynically termed this campaign of chemical warfare "Operation Ranch Hand". During this genocidal operation, 6,542 spraying missions occurred, pouring 75 million liters of Agent Orange on South Vietnam. These missions destroyed 10 million hectares of agricultural land. More than 20% of South Vietnam's forest land was sprayed at least once.
This alone would have made the use of Agent Orange a crime against humanity and an act of terrorism, considering the mass, indiscriminate use of dangerous chemicals on civilian populations. But Agent Orange also includes a highly toxic dioxin compound called 2,3,7,8‑Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin.
About 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange. More than 400,000 people were killed, injured, or disabled, and over 500,000 children were born with birth defects due to the exposure of their parents. Some 1.5 million refugees were forced into the slums of Saigon during this period. These numbers include neither the additional use of Agent Orange in Laos and Cambodia, nor its effects on US troops.
Survivors, and their descendants, continue to suffer from birth defects and deformities, high rates of cancer and skin diseases, and other illnesses. Dioxin continues to turn up in the breast milk and blood of South Vietnamese people. Dioxin- contaminated soil continues to menace food and water supplies. The Vietnam Red Cross estimates 3 million Vietnamese people have been affected.
The spraying of forests deeply harmed the ecology of Vietnam. Deforested areas remain difficult, if not impossible, to reforest. Areas subjected to Agent Orange have very low levels of species diversity. Dioxins continue to move through the food web as a result of the ingestion of contaminated plants, animals, and water. Both the US government and the corporations who produced Agent Orange (Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Diamond Shamrock) deny responsibility for the monstrous effects of the chemical warfare unleashed by US imperialism. A class action lawsuit filed by US veterans resulted in compensation which was pitifully inadequate. Meanwhile, compensation to the Vietnamese people has been practically non‑existent.
Vietnamese complaints were ignored until 2002, when the US and Vietnam began joint research and discussions around the health and environmental impacts of Agent Orange. In 2004, Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange filed a class action lawsuit, which was dismissed in the US courts. The US government invoked sovereign immunity, which was also declared applicable to the chemical companies contracted to make Agent Orange. Negotiations broke down in 2005 and joint research was cancelled. An appeal against the dismissal of the class action suit was denied in 2007.
In 2006, George W. Bush promised cooperation with Vietnam on addressing the affects of Agent Orange. But to date only $9 billion has been provided by the US government, while the cost of cleaning up Agent Orange is estimated at around $300 million.
In June 2010, a joint panel of U.S. and Vietnamese policymakers, citizens and scientists released a proposal urging $30 million per year over the next 10 years to clean up dioxin-contaminated sites. To date, the demands of Vietnam, and many others in the international community, have been ignored by the US government.
The use of Agent Orange was a crime against both humanity and the environment. The efforts of US imperialism to use terror, mass murder, economic sabotage, and ecological destruction, did not stop the Vietnamese people from winning their independence. But a third generation of Vietnamese continue to face the tragic consequences of chemical warfare.
Today, the US continues its violent occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, which include the use of such substances as depleted uranium. Israel, a close ally of the US, continues to act as an apartheid state, carrying out genocidal policies against the Palestinian people, and using illegal weapons such as white phosphorus. One can only wonder if today's warmongers have learned nothing from the past. And worse, what price will future generations pay for today's crimes of imperialism?
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