AGENT ORANGE AND THE LEGACY OF THE VIETNAM WAR TO THE VIETNAMESE

LEGACY OF THE VIETNAM WAR TO THE VIETNAMESE

When the Vietnam War ended with the fall of Saigon in April 1975, nearly thirty years had passed since Ho Chi Minh first declared Vietnam's independence as a unified nation in September 1945. In the interim, an entire generation of Vietnamese had endured a divided Vietnam, knowing only continuous warfare. The events of April 1975 not only abruptly concluded the war but also prepared the way for the official reunification of the country the following year, when the Vietnamese people were brought together under one independent government for the first time in more than a century. *

Vietnam is now a country full of young people who have no direct memory of the war, which ended in 1975 and killed an estimated 58,000 Americans and 3 million Vietnamese. But the war's legacy persists in the minds of combat veterans who still are processing the events and traumas they witnessed in their youth.

The Vietnamese divide almost everything into two eras: "before 75" and "after 75." In Vietnam, there was no debate about the war, in North Vietnam anyway. It was regarded as war of liberation to throw out the Americans not a civil war between north and south. People grieved over the lost of loved ones but questioning the legitimacy of the war—even in respect to the tough years that followed the war because of the government’s policy— was considered heresy.

Pham Thi Hoai wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "But with the "liberation" of Buon Ma Thuot by the North Vietnamese army in mid-March 1975, the war did finally begin to wind down. Starting that day, our morning lessons in the North began with a student affixing a small red flag with a single yellow star to the map of our country, right at the spot of the most recent liberation. Hue: March 26; Da Nang: March 29; Xuan Loc: April 21. The color of red was overwhelming; it swept through the South so quickly that I worried I would not get my turn. But I did. On April 27, holding a paper-and-toothpick flag poised over Ba Ria, I cried like everyone else. But mine were not tears of victory; they were tears of farewell. The war had known me. Now it was my turn to get used to its departure. What would replace it? What would remain after the war? [Source: Pham Thi Hoai, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2005. Pham Thi Hoai, born in Vietnam's Thanh Hoa province in 1960, is the author of the novel "The Crystal Messenger" (1991) and a collection of short stories, "Menu de Dimanche" (1997). This article, translated by Nguyen Nguyet Cam and Peter Zinoman, and appears in a longer form at www.openDemocracy.net ==]

The North Vietnamese that died were praised as heros while the South Vietnamese who died were either forgotten or reviled or described as puppets. Only former North Vietnamese soldiers and their families received pensions. The younger generation does not seem so preoccupied with legacy of the war. They care more about how the soccer team is doing, getting a new motorcycle or going to the beach. More than 70 percent of Vietnamese were born after the war the ended.

One North Vietnamese veteran who fought for six years told Stanley Karnow: "I would surely have been killed if the fighting had gone on. It depresses me to think about our losses. We had to win, but we should not look back on it as heroic or on ourselves as superhuman." One former South Vietnamese soldier told Kathy Wilhelm of AP in 1995, "To his day, I'm still angry with the Americans. I'm angry because I think the American people didn't keep their promise. When they saw there weren't any benefits for them, they ran away." Another man, who unit was on the Ho Chi Minh trail during a B-52 bombing raid told the Washington Post in 1994, "I'm 57, I look healthy, but sometimes I felt heavy in my head...My head hit a rock, and I was buried with dirt when a bomb fell close to me. My men had to dig me out."

In a statement directed at the American audience, Ho Chi Minh said in the mid-1960s: "We will spread a red carpet for you to leave Vietnam. And when the war is over, you are welcome to come back because you have technology and we will need your help."

Today most Vietnamese, on the surface anyway, don't think about the war; they are thinking more about the present and the future. Open discussion on the war is still a taboo topic.

Vietnam War: a Mandate of Heaven for the Vietnamese Communist Party?

Pham Thi Hoai wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "The Vietnam War was a complete victory for the communists. The war was the mother's milk, the school and the testing ground of Vietnamese communism. It provided historical justification for the leadership of the Communist Party, endowing it with the "Mandate of Heaven." To this day, the legitimacy earned 30 years ago is constantly reiterated, reaffirmed, validated and deified. War-era heroes continue to monopolize peacetime authority; war-era military leadership has been reborn as totalitarian control. The party knows that although many things can change, the myth of its "Mandate of Heaven" must remain intact because every other element of its ideology has been betrayed or revealed as bankrupt. [Source: Pham Thi Hoai, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2005. Pham Thi Hoai, born in Vietnam's Thanh Hoa province in 1960, is the author of the novel "The Crystal Messenger" (1991) and a collection of short stories, "Menu de Dimanche" (1997). This article, translated by Nguyen Nguyet Cam and Peter Zinoman, and appears in a longer form at www.openDemocracy.net ==]

"Thirty years after the war, all of our foundational cultural values have lost their validity, and the noblest ideas of communist ideology have become a joke. No space has emerged for basic Western democratic values or for the positive dimensions of modern globalization. Instead, we face corruption, violation of the rule of law, perversion of morality and dignity, the collapse of our medical and educational systems, dizzyingly rapid increases in social inequality, the time bomb of ethnic and religious conflict, a destroyed and polluted environment, the impoverishment of spiritual life, a crisis of belief and of hope. Vietnam's totalitarian system long ago showed that it does not have the authority to solve these problems. It is easy to say that the war wound has begun to heal, but it is not a wound. It is a tumor for which time is not a cure. ==

War Seems Like Distant History in Modern Vietnam

It has been a long time since the fall of Saigon in 1975. While still firmly a communist nation, Vietnam now had a flourishing economy, social freedom and deep ties with the U.S. David Lamb wrote in Smithsonian magazine, "Two-thirds of Vietnam's 85 million people were born since 1975. For them, the war is ancient history. But for their parents, the trail and its rebirth as a highway are potent symbols of sacrifice and loss, of endurance and patience—a symbol as enduring as the beaches of Normandy are to Allied veterans of World War II. [Source: David Lamb, Smithsonian magazine, March 2008]

Lamb wrote in the Los Angeles Times to Vietnam’s younger generation "Saigon's fall to communist forces on April 30, 1975, is ancient history. Some Americans may still grapple with its legacy, but the Vietnamese have moved on, seldom speaking of what they call the American War. For them, there is only one focus now: national development." The older generation "has forgiven, if not forgotten, following Vietnam's long tradition of repairing relations with former foes and extracting lessons from the past. After defeating China in 1426, Vietnam provided it with boats and horses to carry its vanquished army home. [Source: David Lamb, Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2005 <=>]

"Ironically, if you took away the still-ruling Communist Party and discounted the perilous decade after the war, the Vietnam of today is not much different from the country U.S. policymakers wanted to create in the 1960s. It is a peaceful, stable presence in the Pacific Basin, with an army that has been whittled down to 484,000 troops. Its economy, a mix of Karl Marx and Adam Smith, has the highest growth rate in Southeast Asia. Private enterprise is flourishing, a middle class is growing, poverty rates are falling. The United States is a major trading partner, and Americans are welcomed with a warmth that belies the two countries' history. Urban youth have opportunities undreamed of in their parents' time. Many are studying English -- their grandparents learned French and their parents Russian or German -- and flocking to colleges, generally indifferent to the Communist Party unless they want a government job. <=>

Michael Mann, who came to Vietnam in 1984 as a young diplomat from Australia, told Los Angeles Times the country at that time was so poor and famished that he brought rice to ensure he would have something to eat. "I looked around then and said: 'There's no way these people can catch up. They're too far behind,' " said Mann, a former ambassador to Vietnam. "Today I believe they can. Vietnam deserves good marks for its development efforts in the last decade, and the students are very sharp, very eager to learn. They have the freedom to do just about anything they want except promote political change, and they don't appear interested in that." <=>

Vietnam Celebrates 30th Anniversary of the End of the War

In April 2005, Associated Press reported: " With parades, fireworks and other festivities, Vietnam marked the 30th anniversary of the end of its bitter and devastating conflict with the Marching troops paraded down the same route taken by North Vietnamese tanks when they rolled into the city 30 years ago, as Vietnam yesterday celebrated the communist victory over a US-backed government.Watched by the country's top leaders and legendary figures such as war hero General Vo Nguyen Giap, soldiers, government workers and performers marched with red flags waving toward the palace gates. Hundreds of aging veterans, their chests decked with medals, watched from the sidelines. Giant billboards of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam's revolutionary leader, dominated the parade ground and adjoining streets, which had been blocked off to the public due to security concerns. [Source: AP. April 30, 2005:::]

"After 30 years we have rebuilt our country. Our land is safe and secure and I think the future will be better for my children," said To Thanh Nghia, 51, a government worker marching in the parade. The atmosphere in the country three decades later has been mostly festive, focusing on Vietnam's recent economic rejuvenation. Memories of the war and its aftermath are little more than anecdotes in history books for most Vietnamese who were born after it ended. "My father and grandfather fought in the war but I was too young. I think my future will be good because they created opportunities for my generation," said Nguyen Thanh Tung, an 18-year-old student. :::

"Down the grand boulevard where communist tanks once rolled, capitalism has taken solid root. Some parade floats, sponsored by Vietnamese banks, sported the logo of US credit card companies. One float featured women pushing shopping carts loaded with supermarket goods. "Through our two resistance [wars] against foreign aggressors, the historical clashes in Saigon will always be in the forefront," said President Tran Duc Luong to cheers from the crowd. :::

Vietnamese Vet Reunited with Arm Amputated by American Doctor

Mike Ives of Associated Press wrote: An American doctor arrived in Vietnam carrying an unlikely piece of luggage: the bones of an arm he amputated in 1966. Dr. Sam Axelrad brought the skeletal keepsake home to Texas as a reminder that when a badly injured North Vietnamese soldier was brought to him, he did the right thing and fixed him up. The bones sat in a closet for decades, and when the Houston urologist finally pulled them out two years ago, he wondered about their true owner, Nguyen Quang Hung. The men were reunited at Hung's home in central Vietnam. Hung was stunned that someone had kept his bones for so long, but happy that when the time comes, they will be buried with him. [Source: Mike Ives, Associated Press, July 1, 2013]

"I'm very glad to see him again and have that part of my body back after nearly half a century," Hung said by telephone Monday after meeting Axelrad. "I'm proud to have shed my blood for my country's reunification, and I consider myself very lucky compared with many of my comrades who were killed or remain unaccounted for." Hung, said American troops shot him in the arm in October 1966 during an ambush about 75 kilometers (46 miles) from An Khe, the town where he now lives. After floating down a stream to escape a firefight and then sheltering in a rice warehouse for three days, he was evacuated by a U.S. helicopter to a no-frills military hospital in Phu Cat, in central Binh Dinh province. "When I was captured by the American forces, I was like a fish on a chopping-board," Hung said last week. "They could have either killed or spared me."

When Hung got to Axelrad, then a 27-year-old military doctor, his right forearm was the color of an eggplant. To keep the infection from killing his patient, Axelrad amputated the arm above the elbow. After the surgery, Hung spent eight months recovering and another six assisting American military doctors, Hung said. He spent the rest of the war offering private medical services in the town, and later served in local government for a decade before retiring on his rice farm. "He probably thought we were going to put him in some prisoner-of-war camp," Axelrad said. "Surely he was totally surprised when we just took care of him."

As for the arm, Axelrad said his medic colleagues boiled off the flesh, reconstructed the arm bones and gave them to him. It was hardly common practice, but he said it was a reminder of a good deed performed. The bones sat in a military bag in Axelrad's closet for decades, along with other things from the war that he didn't want look at because he didn't want to relive those experiences.

It had taken a little luck for Axelrad to reunite Hung with his amputated arm. He traveled to Vietnam on an earlier trip. He said he wasn't sure Hung was still alive, or where to begin looking for him. Axelrad visited An Khe but didn't ask for him there because he assumed Hung would be living in northern Vietnam, where he grew up. By chance, Axelrad toured the old Vietnam War bunker at the Metropole Hotel in downtown Hanoi. His tour guide was Tran Quynh Hoa, a Vietnamese journalist who took a keen interest in his war stories. Hoa later wrote an article in a widely read Vietnamese newspaper about Axelrad's quest to return the bones to their owner. Hung said his brother-in-law in Ho Chi Minh City read the article and contacted the newspaper's editors. Hoa, now a communications officer for the International Labour Organization, arranged reunion in An Khe, and served as an interpreter for the veterans.

Hung was surprised to be reunited with his lost limb, to say the least. "I can't believe that an American doctor took my infected arm, got rid of the flesh, dried it, took it home and kept it for more than 40 years," he said. "I don't think it's the kind of keepsake that most people would want to own. But I look forward to seeing him again and getting my arm bones back."

Jungle Men Found Hiding Four Decades After the Vietnam War

In August 2013, two 'Jungle Men' were found hiding from the horrors of the Vietnam War four decades after their family were wiped out by mine explosion. Rob Williams wrote in The Independent: “A father and son who fled their Vietnam village during the war with the United States 40 years ago have reportedly been discovered living in a tree house deep in the jungle. Ho Van Thanh left his village along with his baby son Ho Van Lang in 1971 after a mine blast killed his wife and two of his children. According to reports Thanh made a den in the trees and survived by growing corn and foraging for fruit and vegetables, it is claimed that he and his son have not had contact with anyone since they moved out of their village. [Source: Rob Williams, The Independent, August 10, 2013 ~~]

“Vietnamese authorities were alerted to the existence of the pair when locals searching for firewood spotted them in the forest in Quang Ngai province's Tay Tra district. The father, now aged 82, and the son aged 41, were found by a search team who spent five hours combing the dense forest. Ho Van Thanh was too weak to walk when the search team located them. He had to be carried from the forest on a stretcher. The father was able to speak a few words of the region's language but the son was unable to communicate at all. ~~

“The pair have since been checked by doctors and a decision is now being made on how the father and son should be integrated back into society. Inside the home of the father and son, which was five metres in the air, the pair kept arrows for hunting and knives for killing animals. According to reports there were also a number of objects that served as poignant mementos of their previous life. The father had kept the trousers he wore as a soldier along with the small red coat his son had been wearing when they left society. Authorities have confirmed that the pair once lived an ordinary life within the commune and that they probably fled after the shock of the mine explosion wiping out the rest of their family. ~~

Harriet Alexander wrote in The Telegraph, “Ho Van Lang, 42, and his 82-year-old father had reportedly shunned contact with the outside world after his wife and mother of his two children was killed by a landmine A local newspaper reported that they wore loincloths made of bark and used a homemade axe to chop down trees for firewood. They survived on corn that they had grown, plus fruits and cassava roots from the jungle. Photos published on a Vietnamese website showed the elderly Mr Ho being carried out of the forest on a stretcher, surrounded by curious villagers. [Source: Harriet Alexander. The Telegraph, August 8, 2013 ++]

“Vietnamese media tracked down another son of Mr Ho senior – a man named Ho Van Tri, who said that he discovered his father and brother 20 years ago, but had not been able to persuade them to return to modern society. He said he brought more people to see them in the jungle to help bring them home – but they would hide quickly whenever they saw anyone approaching. ++

“The pair were said to be barely able to communicate with outsiders, with Mr Ho junior only knowing a few words of the local dialect of the Cor ethnic minority group, while his father had fallen out of the habit of speech. They were discovered by a party of local people who were travelling through deep forest in Tay Tra district of Quang Ngai province, in central Vietnam.” ++

Amerasians and Habits Picked Up the Vietnamese During the War

'Amerasians' are the product of unions between American servicemen and Vietnamese women. They generally have noticeably black or Caucasian features. It is estimated that there are about 50,000 of them. Many have never met their father or don’t know who he is. Some of the most unfortunate ones were abandoned out of shame by their mothers ane became street children. Some of the lucky ones got child support from their overseas fathers. Most 'Amerasians are now in their 40s. They have traditionally been ostracized by most Vietnamese because they are considered half-breeds.

During the Vietnam War, tribesman often used grenades for fishing. The exploding grenades, which were tossed underwater, usually didn't kill the fish but stunned them long enough so that they could be gathered up by hand. Entire villages would sometimes assemble around a river to collect the fish before they were swept away by the current. And, some tribesmen held fish in their mouth so their hands were free to catch more fish.

During the war metal scavenged from the wrecks of helicopters and planes was valuable. It could either be sold as is or hammered into cooking pots.

LEGACY OF AGENT ORANGE

Around 72 million liters of defoliates were sprayed on Vietnam in 9,000 sorties flown by the U.S. Air Force. Around 16 percent of Vietnam's land area (including 10 percent of the inland forests and 36 percent of the mangrove forests) was sprayed with Agent Orange, Agent White and Agent Blue. In addition 28 hot spots where Agent Orange had been used or stored have to be properly decontaminated. Agent Orange was also used — mostly in secret — over parts of Cambodia.

Marianne Brown wrote in The Guardian, "For 10 years during the Vietnam war, US troops sprayed over 11 million tonnes of the herbicide Agent Orange on central and southern Vietnam to clear foliage that was providing cover for enemy soldiers. It contained the dioxin TCDD, which has persisted in the environment and in the food chain. A list of health problems has been linked to the dioxin and some experts say its impact on genetic material causes birth defects. The Vietnamese Red Cross says around 150,000 children suffered birth defects linked to the chemical. [Source: Marianne Brown, The Guardian, April 11, 2013]

Agent Orange has been a sticking point in the development of better relations between Washington and Hanoi. The United States has expressed an interest in helping out but is worried about compensation demands. Although it seems clear that Agent Orange has damaged the environment and the health of a large number of people it is difficult to determine exactly how much damage has been caused and how many people have been affected.

In 2003, a study by Columbia University found that Agent Orange had two to four times the previously reported levels of dioxin, that 3,181 villages were sprayed with the defoliate. and between 2.1 million and 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to the poison. Dioxins have been found to last a long time in the environment.

In 2007, Time magazine reported: " In low-lying Quang Ngai province, south of Da Nang, where the spraying of Agent Orange was especially heavy, there are almost 15,000 residents officially classified by the Vietnamese government as dioxin victims. We also went to Thai Binh province, along the northern coast. Although it is far from the sprayed areas, a large proportion of its male population fought in the war, and there is a high incidence of birth defects in subsequent generations there. [Source: Walter Isaacson, Time, February 13, 2007]

Environmental Effects of Agent Orange

Agent Orange did terrible environmental damage. It nearly made some animals extinct. Even today, large area that were sprayed with the defoliate are unable to grow anything other than grass that animals can't digest, know locally as American grass. There is evidence that Agent Orange has entered the food chain and this means that it can harm people far away from where the defoliate was used. The evidence is based on the fact that large number of people born after the war have high-levels of Agent Orange in their blood and there is no way it could have gotten there other than from food.

Studies have revealed high levels of dioxin in everything: in the soil, in the rice and fish people eat, in children's blood. A study in one area sprayed with Agent Orange found dioxin levels of dioxin to be "alarmingly high"—135 times higher than residents of Hanoi. But despite all this direct causal links between these problems and Agent Orange are difficult to prove.

AFP reported that the Danang Airport—the site of a former American air base— "is one of three ‘dioxin hotspots’ where concentrations of extremely toxic contaminants from Agent Orange are nearly 400 times the globally accepted maximum standard." Until the area was sealed off five years ago, locals still used water and fished in Danang, causing horrific health issues even in people who weren’t exposed at the time. The Washington Post reported that testing of the soil near Da Nang's airport, where farmers say they have been unable to grow rice or fruit trees for decades, by Vietnamese and U.S. officials, showed dioxin levels there as much as 100 times above acceptable international standards. [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, November 13, 2006]

Health Effects of Agent Orange

Agent Orange, which contains a compound called dioxin, has been linked to cancer and severe birth defects. Up to three million Vietnamese people were exposed to the chemical and at least 150,000 children born with birth defects may linked to the defoliate. According to a 1997 report released by the Vietnam News Agency, 2 million Vietnamese (including 50,000 children born with deformities) were affected by Agent Orange and as many as 600,000 people may had they health seriously affected in some way.

In some areas, where Agent Orange was heavily used, almost every family has experienced a deformed child, repeated miscarriages, chronic disease, a wide range of cancers and premature deaths. People who have eaten food, particularly carp raised in ponds made from bomb craters, that had been sprayed with Agent Orange lost use of their limbs and were partly paralyzed. American health officials assert the there is no conclusive evidence these problems were caused by Agent Orange; that they could have caused by something else.

Washington Post correspondent Tim Larmier met the 8- and 10-year old daughter of a North Vietnamese soldier exposed to Agent Orange. Both were barely three feet tall. New York Times reporter Rajiv Chandrsekaran met one man who drank water contaminated with Agent Orange. His daughter is mentally retarded and has no legs, only two feet with seven toes that are attached to her hip.

There were also a significant number of American soldiers who were exposed to Agent Orange who complain about health problems. One GI suffered a collapsed lung and rashes all over his chest when he returned home after the war. Twenty years later he was stricken with prostrate cancer. Studies have shown that children of soldiers are exposed to Agent Orange are more likely to have leukemia than those who didn’t. Some American Vietnam veterans have elevated risks of certain kinds of cancer and other diseases.

One woman told the BBC the herbicide had caused a skin disease which gave her "great suffering". Another man said his legs have "wasted away" as a result of Agent Orange. He said, "Now I always get severe headaches. My first child has just died - he had physical deformities. The second one is having headaches like me." [Source: BBC, April 29, 2005]

Deformed Children Linked to Agent Orange

Children born to parents who were exposed to Agent Orange have suffered from numerous birth defeats including stunted growth, club feet, cleft palates, brain damage, extra fingers and toes and badly malformed heads. In the village of Cam Nighia one out of very 10 children suffers from a serious birth defects, including missing or malformed limbs, mental retardation, spinal bifida and cerebral palsy. In Quang Tri Province one child was born without arms and another was born with two heads. Another has black, scaly skin that hangs loosely from his body and has to be tied down so he doesn’t bang his head constantly against a wall.

In 2006, the Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola wrote about Van, a 5-year-old who has an, "oversize head and a severely deformed mouth, and her upper body is covered in a rash so severe her skin appears to have been boiled." Then there’s Duc Nguyen, who was born in the early 80s in a town that was heavily sprayed with Agent Orange during the war, and began life as a conjoined twin. "These days, Duc Nguyen, who has one leg and severe bone distortions...spends his days in an office one floor below his noncognitive brother, who is kept tied to a bed most of the time, unable to move his stump-like body and reflexively gargling on his own saliva," Faiola wrote. [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, November 13, 2006 \^/]

Faiola wrote that neither of Van’s parents was exposed to the Agent Orange sprayed by U.S. forces from 1962 to 1971, officials here say they believe the couple genetically passed on dioxin's side effects after eating fish from contaminated canals. Because Vietnam lacked the resources to conduct its own environmental cleanup, dioxin-related birth defects have been diagnosed in thousands of children whose parents were not exposed during the war. Duc Nguyen was born in the south-central town of Sathay, an area heavily sprayed by Agent Orange during the war. A 2004 study by the Vietnamese government indicated that birth defects in Sathay were 10 to 20 times more common than the national average.

"In a country where birth defects are considered by some an embarrassing reflection of the ill deeds of ancestors, many of the children born with the most severe defects end up abandoned or living in squalid conditions with families too poor to pay for adequate care. The lucky ones end up in the Peace Village ward for Agent Orange victims at a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. In rooms filled with stricken children, nurses tend to patients including a 2-year-old boy born without eyes and a 14-year-old girl whose head has grown bigger than her torso. Many of the 60 young patients have severely limited mental faculties, but existence appears tougher for those who are still alert. " \^/

The BBC reported: "A disproportionately large number of children in the areas affected are born with defects, both mental and physical. Many are highly susceptible to cancers and disease. And Vietnamese doctors are convinced Agent Orange is to blame. "This is due to the US sprayings," said Dr Hong Tien Dong, village doctor who has lived in the area all his life. "Before, in this area, the environment was quite clean. "Now it has become like this." [Source: BBC, April 29, 2005]

Agent Orange Studies

Scientists have not been able to prove a direct link between Agent Orange and the disabilities, and attempts by American and Vietnamese officials to come to a consensus have not succeeded. The Vietnamese say the dioxin is responsible for such disabilities as muscular and skeletal disorders and such birth defects as mental retardation. Studies at the University of Hanoi indicate a higher incidence of these problems among people who were exposed to dioxin. "At least three studies have pointed to possible link between a father's exposure to Agent Orange and acute myeloid leukemia in his children," according to the American Cancer Society. [Source: AP, July 29, 2006 <<<<]

In 2006, Associated Press reported: "New Zealand troops exposed to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War suffered significant genetic damage, according to a study by university molecular scientists The New Zealand study investigated the rate of "sister chromatid exchange" in veterans' cells, a test that analyses the way chromosomes self-replicate. A comparatively higher level of sister chromatid exchange identified in the study indicated genetic damage, according to Massey University researcher Al Rowland, although he said more extensive study is needed. <<<<

"The study of 25 veterans was compared with a control group of former servicemen who did not serve in Vietnam. Rowland said the impact of smoking, alcohol consumption and the use of medical X-rays was taken into account. "We don't know what causes the results that we see but all we know is that this group went to Vietnam and something happened," he said. <<<<

The BBC reported: "In the late 1990s, a Canadian study tested soil, pond water, fish and duck tissue, as well as human blood samples, and found dangerously high levels of dioxin travelling up the food chain to humans. Dioxin concentrations have been found to be 13 times higher than average in the soil of affected areas, and, in human fat tissue, 20 times as high. A Japanese study, comparing areas sprayed with those that were not, found children were three times more likely to be born with cleft palates, or extra fingers and toes. There are eight times as many hernias in such children, and three times as many born with mental disabilities. In 2001, scientists found that people living in an Agent Orange "hotspot" at Binh-Hoa near Ho Chi Minh City have 200 times the background amount of dioxin in their bloodstreams. [Source: BBC, April 29, 2005]

Adm. Zumwalt and the Legacy of Agent Orange

Adm. Elmo Zumwalt—who authorized use of Agent Orange as commander of U.S. naval forces from 1968 to 1970, to deprive the Communists of their dense vegetation cover—lost his eldest son, Elmo Zumwalt III to cancer the admiral believes was caused by Agent Orange. The younger Zumwalt was the commander of a patrol boat in 1969 and 1970 in the Mekong Delta, where Agent Orange was heavily used. The younger Zumwalt's son also has learning disabilities which may be linked to Agent Orange. Zumwalt Jr. and his son described their tragedy in a 60 minutes report and wrote about it in a best selling book.

Adm. Zumwalt told Tim Larimer of the Washington Post, "I absolutely believe, there's no doubt in my mind, that Elmo's cancer had to be the result of exposure to Agent Orange." Still, he said, "It's the kind of tragic decision that has to be made in warfare. We desperately needed something to reduce the casualties. We used to Agent Orange to save lives."

Adm. Zumwalt told the Washington Post in 1995 he did not know at the time that Agent Orange was carcinogenic. It's most toxic ingredient is dioxin, a chlorine isomer that is extremely dangerous at very low levels of exposure. But even if he knew, he said: "Under the same circumstance, with no other alternatives, yes, I would do the same."

Lawsuits and Compensation for Agent Orange Victims

What many Vietnamese are waiting for is direct compensation for victims of Agent Orange as well as an unambiguous admission of responsibility from the U.S. government. Anthony Faiola wrote in the Washington Post, "The more politically sensitive issues of responsibility and direct compensation for victims remain unresolved. Although medical authorities here estimate that there are more than 4 million suspected dioxin victims in Vietnam, the United States maintains that there are no conclusive scientific links between Agent Orange and the severe health problems and birth defects that the Vietnamese attribute to dioxin...U.S. officials have argued that Vietnam has exaggerated the extent of Agent Orange's effect, blaming the herbicide for birth defects that may have other genetic or environmental roots. [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, November 13, 2006 \^/]

"In 1991, Congress authorized assistance for American veterans believed to be suffering from dioxin side effects, but at the same time, the legislation noted that conclusive links between illnesses and the herbicide remained "presumptive." That allowed U.S. officials to effectively sidestep a de facto admission of guilt in Vietnam and avoid offering compensation to Vietnamese victims. At least one group of victims has already made a formal push for compensation, filing a lawsuit in New York against the chemical companies that produced Agent Orange, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto. In the late 1970s, U.S. veterans filed a similar case and settled out of court in 1984 for a $180 million payment. The chemical companies however, did not admit any wrongdoing. The Vietnamese case was dismissed in 2005. \^/

On the lawsuit, the New York Times reported: "The civil suit, filed on behalf of millions of Vietnamese, sought what could have been billions of dollars in damages and the environmental cleanup of Vietnam. The suit, the first attempt by Vietnamese plaintiffs to seek compensation for the effects of Agent Orange, drew international attention for its claims about the herbicide. The judge, Jack Weinstein, of U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, sided with the chemical companies and the Justice Department, which argued that supplying the defoliant did not amount to a war crime. "We are disappointed," said Nguyen Trong Nhan, vice president of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange. "Weinstein has turned a blind eye before the obvious truth. It's a shame for him to put out that decision. We just want justice, nothing more." [Source: New York Times, March 12, 2005 \=/]

"The suit claimed that the defoliant, which contained the highly toxic substance dioxin, had left a legacy of poison in Vietnam that had caused birth defects, cancer and other health problems, and had amounted to a violation of international law. In 1975, the U.S. Senate ratified an international Geneva accord dating from 1925, which outlawed the use of poisonous gases during war. But Weinstein concluded in a 233-page decision that even if the United States had been a Geneva signatory during the Vietnam War, the accord would not have banned the use of Agent Orange. Seven American chemical companies settled the veterans' cases for $180 million in 1984. The same chemical companies, including Dow, Monsanto, and Hercules, were sued in the Vietnamese case. Spokesmen for some of the companies applauded the decision. "We believe the defoliant saved lives by protecting allied forces from enemy ambush and did not create adverse health affects," said Scot Wheeler, a spokesman for the Dow Chemical Co. He added that, "Any issues regarding wartime activities should be resolved by the U.S. and Vietnamese governments." Because of its sovereign immunity, the government was not sued. \=/

Nguyen Trong Nhan, from the Vietnam Association Of Victims Of Agent Orange and a former president of Vietnamese Red Cross, told the BBC he believes the use of Agent Orange was a "war crime". He told BBC World Service's One Planet programme that Vietnam's poverty was a direct result of the use of Agent Orange. "They are the poorest and the most vulnerable people - and that is why Vietnam is a very poor country," he said. "We help the people who are victims of the Agent Orange and the dioxins, but the capacity of our government is very limited." [Source: BBC, April 29, 2005]

Cleaning Up Agent Orange in Vietnam

In August 2012, Reuters reported: "The United States and Vietnam began cleaning up the toxic chemical defoliant Agent Orange on part of Danang International Airport, marking the first time Washington has been involved in cleaning up Agent Orange in Vietnam. "We are both moving earth and taking the first steps to bury the legacies of our past," U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear said at a ceremony at Danang airport. The U.S. government is providing $41 million to the project which will reduce the contamination level in 73,000 cubic meters of soil by late 2016, the ruling Vietnam Communist Party's mouthpiece Nhan Dan daily said. [Source: Reuters, August 9 2012 \*/]

" Danang in Vietnam's central region is a popular tourist destination. During the Vietnam War, that ended in 1975, the beach city was used as a recreational spot for U.S. soldiers.Agent Orange was stored at Danang airbase and sprayed from U.S. warplanes to expose northern communist troops and destroy their supplies in jungles along the border with Laos. The United States and Vietnam were looking at a second cleanup site, Bien Hoa, in the southern province of Dong Nai, said Shear. The Bien Hoa airport is regarded as another 'hotspot' for dioxin contamination, along with Phu Cat airport in the central province of Binh Dinh. The contamination level at Bien Hoa airport is higher than Danang airport, but only a small area of Bien Hoa has been buried to prevent the toxic waste spreading, the Ho Chi Minh City Law newspaper said. \*/

Olga Khazan wrote in the Washington Post: "The United States and Vietnam began a clean-up of the remnants of Agent Orange that had been stalled for years. In 2007, Vietnamese authorities, with help from the U.S. government and grant-making bodies, poured a concrete slab on the contaminated area, but this is the U.S.’ first direct involvement in eliminating the herbicide from the soil. The effort is expected to take four years, and workers will heat the contaminated soil to 335 degrees in order to break down the chemical. In 2011, the U.S. and Vietnam began the detection and removal of unexploded ordnance in Danang, which they called "a key first step" in the removal of Agent Orange. [Source: Olga Khazan, Washington Post , August 9, 2012]

In 2006, Anthony Faiola wrote in the Washington Post, "The United States is planning to co-fund a project to remove massive amounts of the chemical from the soil. Vietnamese officials estimate the cost of cleaning up the country's three worst hot spots -- including the area near the old U.S. military base in Da Nang that is now the city's main airport -- will be as much as $60 million. Before year's end, they hope to launch the first phase, the development of a plan for cleanup and land use in the city, with an initial contribution of about $300,000 from the U.S. government. [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, November 13, 2006]

In May 2009, the United States government doubled its funding for dealing with the environmental and health consequences of Agent Orange. Associated Press reported: "President Barack Obama recently signed a bill increasing the funding from $3 million to $6 million, embassy officials said. Most of the money is being used in Danang. Vietnam believes as many as 4 million people have suffered serious health problems from the herbicide, such as cancer, spina bifida and other birth defects. The U.S. says the actual number is probably far lower and that further scientific study is needed to understand the health impact. The U.S. and Vietnam only began working together in 2007 to address the consequences of Agent Orange after years of disagreement. [Source: Ben Stocking, Associated Press, May 28, 2009 +++]

"The embassy said in a statement that one third of the $6 million is being used for health programs to serve people in the Danang area. The rest will be used to remove dioxin from the soil and sediment near Danang airport. The first $3 million in U.S. funds was allocated during the administration of George W. Bush. Some of that money was used to contain dioxin at the Danang site to prevent it getting into the water supply.Friday's People's Army newspaper quoted Lai Minh Hien, a Vietnamese environmental official in charge of Agent Orange issues, as saying that Vietnam needs additional 1 trillion dong ($57 million) to clean up dioxin in Danang as well as at former U.S. air bases in Bien Hoa and Phu Cat. +++

Agent Orange Fears Among in Vietnam's Pregnant Women

Concern about birth defects associated with Agent Orange has brought a surge in ultrasound checks.Marianne Brown wrote in The Guardian, "In the waiting room of a maternity hospital in Hanoi, pregnant women sit anxiously until their names are called. Many have been here numerous times to get an ultrasound scan. Dung, 28, from a village on the outskirts of Vietnam's capital, is seven months pregnant. "Every month I come here for regular check-ups and an ultrasound," she says. "If you don't know you are pregnant and you take the wrong medication, birth defects can easily occur in the first three months of pregnancy." "I'm afraid of my child's health, that's why I come for regular visits," says 30-year-old Nhung. "There are risks from birth defects mainly from the environment, and infectious diseases passed from mother to child." [Source: Marianne Brown, The Guardian, April 11, 2013]

In Vietnam the marketing and use of obstetric ultrasound is spreading, according to anthropologist and Vietnam researcher Tine Gammeltoft from the University of Copenhagen. In a highly patriarchal society, many seek scans to determine the sex of their baby, but this is only necessary once or twice and repeated scans are due primarily to a fear of birth defects. Gammeltoft says that, on average, a woman in Hanoi will have 6.7 scans during pregnancy – and some have more than 30. The motivations of service providers play a part, but fear of birth defects is deeply rooted in the country's recent history.

"After the war we started to notice many couples were giving birth to deformed babies, [and] we were really afraid," says Hoang Xuan Thanh, 70, a retired journalist who lived in a dioxin hotspot, Quang Nam province, during the war. In the years after the war people were too busy rebuilding their lives to think about Agent Orange, he says. Public discussion didn't gather momentum until 2004 when the Vietnamese Association for Victims of Agent Orange (Vava) filed a lawsuit against US companies for liability in causing personal injury by producing the herbicide. The case was dismissed a year later.

The practical risks of being exposed to the dioxin today are very small. The Vietnam association for public health has spent years publicising the risks of consuming potentially contaminated food and water, and teaching people how to stay safe, says Charles Bailey, director of the Washington-based Aspen Institute's Agent Orange programme in Vietnam. "This has been their consistent message over the years: don't get upset, don't be fearful, just be smart, be careful," he says.

Activists say the proliferation of certain images to highlight Agent Orange helps raise awareness of people with disabilities. However, the fear of children being born with disabilities still plagues women, Gammeltoft says, even if they know their family was not exposed to the dioxin. Vietnam has a disability rate of 6.3 percent, about 5.3 million people. The World Health Organization estimates that about 15 percent of the world's population lives with some form of disability. "Even though they know the risks of having a deformed child are low, they are still disturbed by the images. Even though most know this is not me, these images still create anxiety," she says. The ministry of health needs to issue guidelines on pregnancy to lessen the stress for pregnant mothers, Gammeltoft adds.

Unexploded Bombs and Mines in Vietnam

See See Separate Article Under Military

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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