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Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange touring U.S.

Published Nov 26, 2005 10:08 PM

In mid-November a delegation from the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin arrived in the United States, beginning a 10-city tour with meetings and press events in New York City.

Dang Thi Hong Nhut

Theirs is a powerful story of continued suffering by the people of Vietnam, including two members of the delegation, caused by exposure to Agent Orange/Dioxin.

The Paris Peace Accords signed in 1973 by the Nixon Administration contained a provision for the United States to contribute $3 billion toward healing the wounds of war and to the post-war reconstruction of Vietnam. Although this provision gave the Vietnamese the legal right to restitution, the U.S. government has never taken any legal or moral responsibility to aid the peoples of Vietnam and neighboring countries in restoring their lands that were poisoned by chemical weapons.

Ho Sy Hai

VAVA is appealing for support from people in the United States for its lawsuit to achieve justice and compensation directly from the U.S. corporations that manufactured the deadly herbicides. The delegation’s visit is organized by Veterans for Peace and the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign (See www.vn-agentorange.org for details.)

Dr. Nguyen Trong Nhan, a former president of the Vietnam Red Cross and now a director of the VAVA, heads the delegation. The other members are military veterans Dang Thi Hong Nhut and Ho Sy Hai.

Dr. Nguyen Trong Nhan

The U.S. government denied a visa to a fourth member, Nguyen Muoi, the 22-year-old son of a veteran from the South Vietnam army (ARVN) who had been exposed to dioxin. Born after the war, Muoi suffers from spina bifida, a neural disorder common among children of dioxin-exposed males.

Hong Nhut was a member of the “long-haired army”—women who fought to liberate Vietnam. She was captured, tortured and imprisoned for seven years, one of which was spent in the notorious underground “tiger cages.” She lived in areas subjected to defoliation and had several miscarriages after this exposure. Hong’s contribution to the program was to perform a beautiful Vietnamese song about the victims of Agent Orange.

At a Nov. 16 meeting at the Community Church in New York, Dave Kline, national president of Veterans for Peace, welcomed the delegation. Kline described Vietnam veterans’ gradual realization that they had been poisoned by something terribly toxic in Vietnam. He described the years of struggle to force the U.S. government to admit what had been done and to get some restitution for the affected veterans.

Kline recognized the human cost to Vietnam, calling on all people of conscience to demand that the United States stop using weapons of mass destruction. He linked the people of Vietnam with the U.S. veterans, demanding, “Justice for all Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange,” and, “Justice for all Agent Orange victims.”

Ravages of dioxin

A videotape, “Agent Orange/Dioxin and the Right to Life,” presented evidence of the ravages of dioxin poisoning. Even audience members familiar with the chemical’s effects were shocked and angered at these images. Most victims shown were children born decades after the end of the war. The video, showing clearly the horror of this legacy of war, will be made available for distribution in the United States.

Dr. Nhan, who works with Agent Orange victims in his country, reported on their hardship and suffering. He pointed to Washington’s dual standard. The U.S. government recognizes 13 medical conditions stemming from exposure to Agent Orange/Dioxin affecting U.S. veterans. But Washington denies any connection or culpability with regard to the millions of Vietnamese who were “the direct targets of the spraying, and who are living in areas that were sprayed and are eating the food from the sprayed land.”

Even though the war ended 30 years ago in a Vietnamese victory, “the war hasn’t ended in the bodies of the victims in Vietnam,” he said. The Vietnamese aspired for peace and a cooperative resolution to the problem of Agent Orange, he explained, but the goodwill of the Vietnamese people was not met.

“Tens of thousands of victims have died. Tens of thousands of others are dying. There was no choice but to file a lawsuit against the U.S. chemical companies.”

Dr. Nhan said that he believes the American people love justice. “I will never forget images of anti-war demonstrations, of veterans throwing back medals and ribbons,” he said. He recognized that “Americans have feelings for justice and fairness in the U.S. and other countries.”

He spoke of his hope that “you will give support to us” and that the Court of Appeals will give justice to Vietnamese victims when the lawsuit appeal is heard in the spring of 2006.

From 1966 to 1969, Ho Sy Hai lived and drove along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He told how the Trail was a favorite target of the U.S. Air Force because soldiers and supplies moved on the Trail to the southern part of the country.

On the Ho Chi Minh Trail

“Airplanes sprayed some substance to destroy the leaves of the forest and to destroy villages,” he said. “I had to live in those conditions, eating vegetables, fish, and animals that were sprayed.”

After the war Hai returned to his village, married, and tried to start a family. His wife had several miscarriages. Of the babies she bore, one died at age 5 from cancer, two are deaf and unable to speak, and one has a mental disorder. Hai also spoke for the many victims with similar problems, including diabetes, skin rashes, prostate cancer, and disorders of the digestive system, including the liver and intestines. He called for support for the lawsuit against the chemical manufacturers.

Jonathan Moore, one of the lawyers in the lawsuit against the chemical companies including Dow, Monsanto, Union Carbide and Diamond Shamrock, spoke of “a scandal of incredible proportions — that this country has forgotten what happened in Vietnam. This campaign has to bring to the attention of all Americans the unfinished business in Vietnam, the millions harmed by dioxin, exposed by companies who, knowing it was lethal and a carcinogen, sold it” for use in defoliating populated areas.

According to Moore, over a period of 10 years the U.S. military sprayed 47 million liters of Agent Orange and other defoliants. The spraying contaminated 12 percent of the surface of Vietnam, an area the size of New Jersey in a country about the size of Texas plus Oklahoma.

There are still “hot spots” with such high levels of dioxin that people cannot live there.

Jose Vasquez of Iraq Veterans Against the War spoke as an active-duty military resister. His father is a Vietnam veteran suffering from Agent-Orange-related health problems. Vasquez refuses assignment to Iraq because of the human-rights violations there, specifically the U.S. use of white phosphorous and depleted uranium.

Bring the tour to your city
or campus

The Campaign has some flexibility in its scheduling. Cities it will travel to after Nov. 25 include Raleigh/Durham, N.C., Chicago, Milwaukee, Sante Fe, N.M., Portland, Ore., Seattle, and the San Francisco Bay Area. The delegation will leave for Vietnam on Dec. 13. Those able to arrange public meetings or media interviews to spread this important information are invited to contact the organizers at [email protected].