‘Partnership’ With Vietnam
August 15, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "
- America’s war on Vietnam may have officially
ended 40 years ago, but the Southeast Asian country is still
battling with the horrific legacy that the US military bequeathed.
Yet last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry, while in Hanoi,
eulogised about how the two countries are «healing» and forging a
speaking on the 20th anniversary of «normalising ties» between
the US and Vietnam that began in August 1995, more than 20 years
after the war’s end.
«It took us 20 more
years to move from healing to building. Think of what we can
accomplish in the 20 years to come», said Kerry.
diplomat’s blithe account of «healing to building» belies the
ongoing horror for some three million Vietnamese who live with the
poisonous legacy of US war on that country. That number is about the
same as the total of Vietnamese who died during the war from
American saturation bombing and ground war.
Between 1961 and
1972 – three years before the war ended – the US military dropped a
total of 20 million gallons of highly toxic herbicides on what was
then South Vietnam. The New York Times reported the
affected area was «about the size of Massachusetts» or some 27,300
square kilometres. That equates to over 15 per cent of the total
territory of what was then South Vietnam.
The most well known of
these defoliating chemicals was Agent Orange, which the Americans
sprayed on forests and croplands from aircrafts and river navy
boats, with the alleged purpose of denying tree cover and food
supplies to the South Vietnamese insurgents of the Vietcong.
According to the Vietnamese
Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA): «More than 3 million
people in Vietnam still suffer from the after-effects of the
defoliant. In 2012, a baby was reported to have suffered health
problems related to the defoliant, meaning a fourth generation of
victims had emerged.»
VAVA’s vice president
Tran Xuan Thu says that as long as victims continue to suffer and
new cases emerge then, «The war has still not ended».
The health impacts
from the US chemical spraying across southern Vietnam include a
litany of cancers, tumours, neoplasms, skin diseases and congenital
Tran Thi Le Huyen, who
is now 29, was born more than 10 years after the war’s end in 1975.
She lives near Da Nang in central Vietnam from where the US military
ran its main Agent Orange flights, known as Operation Ranch Hand.
Tran has been bedridden since birth crippled from her twisted,
emaciated legs. Her mother said: «We have visited various hospitals,
but there was no place that offered any treatment».
Danish citizen Bente
Peterson, who directed VAVA detoxification projects for nearly 10
years up to 2013, recalled to this author innumerable cases of whole
families destroyed by poisoning from Agent Orange. She remembered
one tragic Vietnamese war veteran in particular who raised three
sons only to watch all of them die from different cancers.
population, the number of Agent Orange victims in Vietnam today
would be the equivalent of some 10 million Americans suffering from
similar life-threatening diseases. While thousands of US military
veterans who also succumbed to Agent Orange toxicity have received
chemical companies (Monsanto, Dow) that manufactured the herbicide,
the Vietnamese people have never obtained any reparation from
Washington. Class-action suits brought by Vietnamese victims have
repeatedly been rejected in US courts, the latest being in 2009 by
the US Supreme Court, even though these same courts ruled in favour
of American veterans receiving compensation as far back as 1984.
that its use of herbicides in Vietnam were not knowingly targeting
civilian populations. Therefore, it claims, Agent Orange was not
used as a chemical weapon. But that seems like cynical word play
when millions of acres of crops and forests were indiscriminately
sprayed, with the full knowledge that the wider population would be
contaminated. Also, industrial analysis showed as
far back as 1957 that the herbicides used by the American military
in Vietnam contained traces of highly toxic and carcinogenic dioxin.
Under public pressure over the health dangers voiced by US
scientists and the citizens’ anti-war movement, the Agent Orange
operation was officially cancelled in 1972.
In 2012, the US
earmarked some $40 million for cleaning up toxic areas in
Vietnam. Whether the full money is actually delivered is another
point. A more realistic financial cost for the clean-up across
Vietnam would be in the billions – and that is not including the
billions more that would be required for proper medical treatment of
victims. So far, the former US air base at Da Nang has undergone
partial detoxification of its soil and nearby waterways. But there
are dozens of other so-called dioxin «hot spots» scattered across
southern Vietnam and adjacent to the borders with Cambodia and Laos.
Phung Tuu Boi of the
Vietnam Forestry Science and Technology Association, which has been
involved in replanting mangroves and upland areas destroyed by the
American defoliation, says: «Centuries will be needed to restore the
Forty years after
devastating Vietnam, its people and environment, Washington’s
«clean-up» assistance appears like a mere drop in the 55-gallon
drums it used to drop Agent Orange on that country. It is woefully
inadequate reparation for the millions of victims and generations of
suffering children to come.
A closer reading of
the Vietnamese press
reports on John Kerry’s visit last week reveals the bigger US
concern. Kerry might have talked about «healing» but he reportedly
said very little about the plight of war victims or what Washington
should provide in direct medical aid. Of more importance to the US
secretary of state was apparently the desire to implement the
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 other Southeast Asian
nations. Vietnam is seen as key to the US cementing the TPP, which
pointedly excludes China from the trade pact.
Kerry also told
Vietnamese political leaders that Washington was moving towards
lifting restrictions on arms exports to Vietnam, and he emphatically
reiterated America’s support for the country in its territorial
maritime disputes with China.
The belated American
moves to help detoxify its legacy in Vietnam first began in 2011
when Hillary Clinton was the US Secretary of State. That move also
coincided with the «Pivot to Asia» policy under President Obama when
Washington signalled that it would henceforth be targeting China as
a top geopolitical rival. Since then, tensions between Washington
and Beijing have steadily escalated.
So, when Kerry talks
about how Vietnam and the US need to quickly move from «healing to
building partnership» we can safely deduce that America’s real
objective is to enlist Vietnam in its geopolitical calculations
may be flattered by preferential trade concessions and supply of US
warships. But, just as the millions of Agent Orange victims testify,
the purported partnership with Washington will prove to be a toxic