Another Sorry Episode in American History: Agent Orange

Cycles of atrocities, Cycles of Shame & Regret, and Cycles of more atrocities…

This recent article by Time Magazine on Agent Orange in Vietnam opened up a floodgate of emotions I had thought I had gotten over with a year ago, after my own personal first-hand experiences there. The article was fairly well-written, that is, considering the publication. Here are some excerpts:

This lonely section of the abandoned Danang air base was once crawling with U.S. airmen and machines. It was here where giant orange drums were stored and the herbicides they contained were mixed and loaded onto waiting planes. Whatever sloshed out soaked into the soil and eventually seeped into the water supply. Thirty years later, the rare visitor to the former U.S. air base is provided with rubber boots and protective clothing. Residue from Agent Orange, which was sprayed to deny enemy troops jungle cover, remains so toxic that this patch of land is considered one of the most contaminated pieces of real estate in the country. A recent study indicates that even three decades after the war ended, the cancer-causing dioxins are at levels 300 to 400 times higher than what is deemed to be safe.

After years of meetings, signings and photo ops, the U.S. held another ceremony in Vietnam on Dec. 16 to sign yet another memorandum of understanding as part of the continuing effort to manage Agent Orange's dark legacy. Yet there are grumblings that little — if anything — has been done to clean up the most contaminated sites. Since 2007, Congress has allocated a total of $6 million to help address Agent Orange issues in Vietnam. Not only does the amount not begin to scratch the surface of the problem or get rid of the tons of toxic soil around the nation, but there are questions about how the money is being spent.

Groups caring for children born with horrific deformities from Agent Orange — such as malformed limbs and no eyes — are wondering why they haven't seen any of that money. Bedridden and unable to feed themselves, many patients need round-the-clock care. As they age, and parents die, who is going to look after them? asks Nguyen Thi Hien, director of the Danang Association of Victims of Agent Orange.

You can read the entire article here.

I spent the better part of the year 2008 in Vietnam. I traveled around the country, and was involved in interviewing and recording various children related charities and organizations there. While in the Da Nang area I had an opportunity to visit and interview a family who were victims of Agent Orange - bed-ridden twin men of age 28 and their parents.

The family lived in a village, in a shack, 3.5 miles from the nearest road. I had to walk the entire distance on a very hot and humid day, pass through many rice paddies, and after being chased by an angry water buffalo, I finally made it.

The following 5-minute video includes one of the interview segments I conducted with the parents, and brief footage of the twin’s horrendous condition. Before you watch the video:

 

  • The footage of the Agent Orange victims is very graphic and may be disturbing to some.

  • I apologize for the quality of the video: I had to conduct the interview through my translator and overcome my own shock and emotional response, while recording the victims.

Here is my video, recorded in March 2008, near Da Nang, Vietnam:

 

I want to emphasize these facts from the Time Magazine article:

The U.S. government still spends billions every year on disability payments to those who served in Vietnam — including their children, many of whom are suffering from dioxin-associated cancers and birth defects. Since 2007, Congress has allocated a total of $6 million to help address Agent Orange issues in Vietnam.

And,

Some point out that the U.S. spends only a fraction on Agent Orange cleanup compared to the $50 million it spends every year on searching for the remains of American soldiers missing in action.

And I want to add a few other comparison points:

We spend billions per week on undeclared wars to injure, kill, and destroy. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on fraudulent and wasteful defense contracts. We spend billions on drones and bombs which kill 687 civilians per 14 enemy targets, amounting to a ratio of nearly 50 civilians killed for each undeclared enemy killed…

And when it comes to cleaning up this huge mess we left behind in Vietnam, when it comes to a certain degree of reparation expected from a superpower nation with even a minute amount of moral decency, when it comes to…we go on denying responsibility, arguing irrational technicalities, and do nothing, absolute zilch.

President Gerald Ford had the following to say on February 19, 1976, on the anniversary of the Japanese Internment:

I call upon the American people to affirm with me the unhyphenated American promise that we have learned from the tragedy of that long ago experience-forever to treasure liberty and justice for each individual American and resolve that this kind of error shall never be made again.

Okay, for this post I am not going to dwell upon President Ford’s consciously chosen words to emphasize our responsibility to treasure liberty and justice only for individual Americans, and not for all humanity (Still- I’m grinding my teeth, and holding my tongue). Now, here is my question:

What is it with all these past lessons of tragedies we later come to admit to and regret?! Because we keep doing the same thing over and over again. Because we seem to always turn around afterwards and start the next vicious cycle again. And it seems we have been making the vicious cycles longer and crueler each time: Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram, Extraordinary Renditions …

Perhaps a president or two later, we’ll be hearing regrets along the same lines on all the atrocious acts we’ve been engaged in since 2001, in the name of a war on terror, in the name of national security. Perhaps, we’ll be taking a solemn oath or two to not repeat the same atrocious acts. Perhaps we’ll have a law or two written to emphasize and engrave our regrets and commitment to never do the same again... And then, perhaps, there will come another pretext, or something declared and used as pretext, and we’ll go about forgetting all past regrets, declare our previous oaths nullified, and have the previous laws replaced with the opposite of the original and name them ‘patriotic,’ and …there we’ll go repeating history, only making each cycle bigger and worse than the one before.

Am I just being cynical here? I don’t think so. But, what do you think?

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Comments

  1. You have seen. You have heard. You have a heart. You speak truth to power. This is not cynicism it is heroism. May many others follow your example. Peace.

  2. In Our Reality, We’re Crazy:

    http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=50252305

    Above is a link to a lecture John Trudell gave that describes the nature of our civilization and why what you describe occurs with all too maddening frequency.

    “IT’S A MINING CIVILIZATION!”

    So whether it’s Agent Orange Dioxin in Danang, Oil sump waste in Amazonas, Depleted Uranium in Iraq or Afghanistan or the circuses used to distract the masses here while their quality of life erodes before their very eyes, these are the Poisin and Toxic Wastes that drive out the balance in each one of us. Sometimes the Poet tells the larger truth from the reference of 11,000 years.

  3. Is your hair on fire?

    Does this never end the horror that US military intervention represents?

    We dropped two nukes on two cities killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people and justified that as a acceptable policy in war.

    The US is run by madmen – sadists.

    Don’t forget Hooker Chemical and Love Canal… we do it right here at home.

  4. Cynicle Sibel? I don’t think so. You haven’t even touched on what may be the worst yet – depleted uranium. Not only are we not helping the many victims in Iraq, but we are not even helping the thousands of our own military victims – and their families (including deformed children). Check out Depleted Uranium for Dummies at this address: http://www.notinkansas.us/du_3.html

    There has been a huge number of deaths from DU both here and abroad and the government refuses to admit its a problem. Therefore they don’t have to help the vets. It goes on and on as you said. The numbers of dead and sick are staggering.

    Dennis

  5. This goes back to one of my previous posts about John Pilger’s “Brand Obama” article.

    Recently he was in Washington at the (Smithsonian?) in what’s essentially the National War Wing. (Think the States version of the Imperial War Museum in the U.K.).

    He said the crowd was a mix of famiilies, grandparents, etc. And all of the eshibits were talking about the “brave service” that we did in Vietnam and in other wars.

    Literally nothing about PTSD. Nothing about the military industrial complex. You get the idea.

    I’ve been to the museum in Hiroshima twice. Aside from the obvious, how come millions of Japanese can deal with this. But we can’t be bothered because it’s “too upsetting”?

  6. Another major regret in Ford’s life? That he pardoned Nixon.

  7. I ask you and everybody else on this site: is it possible that these people, with fortunes such as Rockefeller’s 11 trillion working for the fascist and evil status quo in so many insidious ways, will ever be dislodge from power in our lifetime?

    I don’t see the riots on the streets to force any serious change (screw obama).

  8. Something else (off-topic? Maybe).

    Press TV is talking about reports that Isareli doctors harvested organs from dead Palestinians. A Swedish journalist originally broke the story. Then the usual endless Israeli govt. denials.

    And NOW, Israel says it’s true.

    The last time I checked with my medical sources, harvesting organs WITHOUT the consent OR knowledge of the families of the deceased can mean losing your medical license. And going to jail.

    Now, I’d like to think that I’m not totally naive about world politics. But, set that aside for a second. And look at this on a human level.

    If a loved one of yours was subjected to this (without your knowledge or consent), how would you feel? How would feel knowing that NOBODY was going to anything about it. You want to go up against the govt? How much time and money do you have? And, what’s the name of your attorney?

    Next step. Imagine if this happened in the States. I’d like to think that SOMEBODY would pay attention and care. Somebody would get prosecuted. Yet, because it’s Israel, laws don’t apply? **** medical ethics because “that’s a matter for the Israeli govt. to deal with”?

    How much time do you wanna bet that this will get on the MSM? 30 seconds (if any time at all).

  9. It amazes me that this goes on. And Obama can continue to bankroll Israel with a clean conscience.

  10. Steve Hogan says:

    Sibel,

    That is difficult to watch, and I’m not even responsible for it. Maybe Dr. Kissinger should be made to watch the handiwork of his “policy.” It is criminal what our leadership did to these people and thousands like them. They continue to do so today. It’s sickening. I’m embarrassed for my country for inflicting so much pain on innocent people.

    When will sanity prevail?

  11. US foreign policy: poor people don’t matter, especially if they are not white.

    Re. lessons of the past:

    What’s really barbaric is that an horrific action one person labels a “tragedy” is another person’s “good idea”.

  12. JamesLaffrey says:

    Sibel,
    You’ve literally hit home with me again. I had wanted to be a read-only visitor to this site for a while, but —

    As you know or could guess by your site traffic stats, I’m in VietNam. I lived in DaNang for a little more than a year, and my time there perhaps overlapped your visit there. I wish I’d have known. I’m still in VietNam, my temporary home. If you choose to contact me privately, I’d like to discuss an idea.

    So, your post was very powerful for me (not news, but still powerful) until you quoted Pres. Ford. I’m sorry, but using something Ford said, as if it had any integrity, is a waste of time. Ford on the Warren Commission helped cover-up for the CIA’s assassination of JFK. (I refer anyone to Lisa Pease’s work: http://www.realhistoryarchives.com/collections.htm ) The first President Bush had been working with the CIA since the 1950s, then the Bay of Pigs, then the cover-up (if not direct involvement) in the assass of JFK, then head of CIA, and so by the time Ford was president, Ford was nothing but a puppet, a lying puppet. It’d be like using a quote from Obama and gnashing teeth over his doing the opposite of what he says. We KNOW already, so we don’t believe anything he says. We would only quote him to prove his guilt, not to pretend he had any integrity that he was betraying.

    Well, that’s all. If I continue, I’ll just be repeating ideas from my previous comments. Best regards, .

  13. Hi
    what we have done and are doing and will do will catch up with us someday.

    Maybe we can start by helping the afflicted with cancer by passing along this information.

    http://hubpages.com/hub/How-I-Cured-Stage-4-Cancer-in-Two-Weeks-For-Less-Than-The-Cost-Of-A-Night-At-The-Movies

    it’s a good read and should go viral on the net as soon as possible.

    Latr
    Chris

  14. And don’t forget Bhopal which was an industrial disaster from one our friendly transnational corporations who happened to bring their nastiness to India.

    The suffering continues

  15. Determining Communism, a mental illness? A mathematical process lacking emotional engagement? I mean who’d of thunk poison would actually do what the label intended? Agent Orange anonymous, what it seems. Heresy just doesn’t thrill them anymore.

  16. Couldn’t watch all of that…too horrific. Thankyou for helping Americans remember/realize what has done by our so-called leaders.

  17. There is no accountability in America. Justice is only to put the little people through the system. Sad but true. It’s a system to protect property and the status quo.

    Our government is own and run by Wall Street. They call all the shots.

  18. golala.golala says:

    wow sibel, we think we have problems in our lives, then we watch this. my heart goes out to the family and what their lives have been like for the past 28 years. the heartache the parents must feel for the mens futures. to think that anyone has profited from this is sickening. it is criminal that more cannot be done for these people, ($) especially when you see all that is wasted, or pissed away, lost…how can anyone profit from this shit and still consider themselves a member of the human race??

    the following is what the department of defense had to say about DU…
    “Based on data developed to date, the Office of the Special Assistant believes that while DU can pose a chemical toxicity and radiological hazard under specific conditions, the available evidence does not support claims that DU caused or is causing the undiagnosed illnesses some Gulf War veterans are experiencing.”
    is it me, or have others taken notice to all the bald babies that are more and more prevalent?

    how can we allow this?

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