Willem Malten / truthout & Petronella Ytsma / truthout – 2007-06-15 00:42:13
The Case Against Agent Orange and All Mutagenic Weapons
Willem Malten / t r u t h o u t
(14 June 2007) — I hadn’t thought about Agent Orange for 34 years – until recently.
I met with a group of Vietnamese citizens, led by Dr. Nguyen Trong Nhan, bearing witness to the plight of millions of Vietnamese people affected by Agent Orange. Now 77 years old, Dr. Nhan is one of Vietnam’s foremost ophthalmologists.
He was Vietnam’s minister of health from 1992 to 1995, and recently he served as president of the Vietnam Red Cross. Today he is vice president of the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange – VAVA.
Professor Nhan is sadly disappointed by the US lack of response to calls to help Vietnamese sufferers, and by the outcome of a lawsuit against the chemical companies — including Monsanto, Dow, Union Carbide and Diamond Shamrock that produced Agent Orange.
“Vietnam can’t solve the problem on its own,” Dr. Nhan says. “Hanoi helped the US military track down remains of US servicemen missing in action, and we asked them to reciprocate with humanitarian aid for victims of Agent Orange.”
Around 10,000 US war veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange receive disability benefits for various types of cancer and other serious health problems that have been linked to dioxin. “American victims of Agent Orange will get up to $1,500 a month. However, most Vietnamese families affected receive around 80,000 dong a month – just over $5 – in government support for each disabled child,” says Professor Nhan.
When former US President Bill Clinton visited Hanoi five years ago, Vietnamese President Tran Duc Long made an appeal to the US “to acknowledge its responsibility to de-mine and detoxify former military bases and provide assistance to Agent Orange victims.” But Washington offered nothing beyond funding scientific conferences and further research. Apparently, in both the Clinton White House and the Bush White House, the thinking has been that increased trade agreements will wash away all sins.
Agent Orange, named after the color of its containers and billed as a defoliant herbicide to remove the jungle cover in order to better spot the enemy, had been sprayed over large swaths of land – over 3 million acres – during the Vietnam War. The use of Agent Orange from 1961 to 1971, perpetrated on the Vietnamese people, was the longest sustained chemical warfare in history.
More than 80 million liters of Agent Orange were dispensed during that time, containing about 800 pounds of dioxin – one of the most toxic substances known to mankind. Over 3,000 villages were sprayed directly, and between 2 and 5 million people are estimated to have been directly exposed to the chemicals.
After the end of the Vietnam War in 1972, the Agent Orange story seemed to end also. Concentrations of Agent Orange seemed to quickly dwindle in the monsoon rains of Vietnam, and that was that.
Then in 1984, the story of Agent Orange resurfaced when several chemical companies settled a lawsuit in the amount of $180 million with US Vietnam veterans who complained that their health and that of their families had been affected by their handling of Agent Orange in Vietnam. It seemed that some genetic defects were related to Agent Orange exposure.
On January 31, 2004 the VAVA filed a class action lawsuit in a US district court in Brooklyn, New York, against several US companies, claiming liability in causing personal injury by developing and producing the chemical. Dow Chemical and Monsanto were the two largest producers of Agent Orange for the US military, and they were named in the suit along with eight other companies. These are the same companies that spray toxic chemicals over large swaths of land in the US and elsewhere, peddling genetically deformed crops as a business in the form of genetically modified (GM) seeds, threatening the genetic inheritance of us all.
On March 10, 2005 the district court judge dismissed the suit, ruling that there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs’ claims. The judge, Jack B. Weinstein, concluded that Agent Orange was not considered a poison under international law at the time of its use; that the US was not prohibited from using it as an herbicide; and that the companies which produced the substance were not liable for the method of its use by the government.
The US government, which has sovereign immunity, had not been a target of the lawsuit. Even so, The National Toxicology Program has now classified 2,3,7,8-TCDD, the dioxin in Agent Orange, to be a known human carcinogen, frequently associated with soft-tissue sarcoma, Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Hodgkins disease and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Its use has been banned by the Geneva Convention on Chemical Weapons.
Though concentrations in the open have dropped, Agent Orange binds to fatty acids (much like DDT) and has worked its way up the food chain, causing a proliferation of birth defects and genetic abnormalities affecting many children in Vietnam. Cleft palates, mental retardation, abnormal or missing hands, feet, limbs and fingers missing or added are quite common.
During the VAVA presentation in the US, a 15-minute video was shown, exposing the suffering of an estimated 13 to 17 million Vietnamese, many born decades after warfare had ceased. Perhaps the most disturbing was footage of many preserved fetuses, one after another exposing the most grotesque deformities.
To retroactively classify Agent Orange as an herbicide and, solely because of that classification, deny any justice to the Vietnamese and Cambodian victims of its use is immoral and unethical.
Any kind of war is horrific, and Agent Orange is an illustration of the horror of chemical warfare. Used as a chemical weapon, it inflicts damage genetically, through generations. The unborn and innocent are targeted. Most of those affected by Agent Orange were born long after the Vietnam War ended.
Whether genetic abnormalities are caused by bombs in Hiroshima, Agent Orange in Vietnam or depleted uranium in Iraq, the use of all chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons is intolerable – a crime against humanity – and should be reclassified under one banner as “Mutagenic Weapons, illegal under international law.”
Henry Kissinger promised reparations to Vietnam when the Vietnam peace accord was signed. The US government must take responsibility for having waged illegal chemical warfare. We must act now to support and join the efforts of our Vietnamese brothers and sisters to hold these companies and the US government responsible. If we do not, white phosphorus and depleted uranium will continue to rain on civilian populations in other areas of the world, whether in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Lebanon or Iraq. In the drug war, watered-down variations of Agent Orange will continue to be sprayed on the South American rainforest, causing much the same childhood defects as seen in Vietnam.
We must stand against “Mutagenic Weapons,” just as we stand against “torture.” If we don’t, we will condemn ourselves to lives of mourning, helpless and unable to prevent genetically degenerate hordes being born to future generations.
Willem Malten is a baker, filmmaker and community activist in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He owns and runs Cloud Cliff Bakery, Cafe and Artspace in Santa Fe. As a baker, he is active in supporting the re-emergence of native and organic wheat farming in New Mexico. Together with Amy Goodman, Martin Sheen, Greg Mello, Corbin Harney and others, Willem Malten directed Cry at the End of the 20th Century, a documentary about the role of Los Alamos and civil disobedience. Recently he has been filming and researching the Shipibo people in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest. He has a masters in anthropology from his native Netherlands. He is a long-term member of the lasg.org Los Alamos Study Group and writes an occasional blog called “Shaman Politics.”
Grandchildren of Vietnam War Generation Exposed to Agent Orange
Petronella Ytsma / t r u t h o u t
(14 June 2007) — From August 1961 to November 1971, the United States government waged the most extensive chemical warfare in the history of mankind.
Herbicides were used to defoliate the land and jungles of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, much of it done in secret, with full denial, and with no thought to the long-term consequences to the troops, the local populations or the environment. Agent Orange, containing dioxin, was the most toxic of these chemicals. Upon admission of use, the military increased the intensity and extent of use for another six years.
Ten to 20 percent of the land was repeatedly sprayed or doused, with 4.8 million people affected during the Vietnam, or, as they say in Vietnam, the American War. To date, there are estimates of 13 to 17 million people affected.
No less than 35 diseases and disorders are clearly connected to dioxin from generational birth deformities, chloracne, blindness, diabetes, mental retardation, and a number of cancers. Binding with protein molecules and not being water soluble, dioxin now sits deep in the soil, continually wreaking havoc on the environment and the populace, settling into the gene pool.
My recent trip to Vietnam was inspired by the death of my friend, John, a Vietnam veteran, whose cancers and death were directly related to Agent Orange exposure. I spent one month researching and documenting issues surrounding Agent Orange/dioxin. I spent time in the “hot spots,” interviewing government officials, NGO workers, veterans and families. I visited places which specialize in the care and education of victims, as well as military sites where still not a plant can grow.
The US continues to maintain that links to Agent Orange are presumptive and inconclusive. After his visit to Vietnam in late 2006, President Bush recommended $300,000 for the further research into possible links and initial cleanup of one “hot spot.”
The effects became especially poignant when I visited the Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon.) I took photographs of the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the war generation. They are a mere glimpse of the legacy we left.
That I find this abominable is an understatement and barely touches the utter grief I feel over what was and continues to be done in my name as an American citizen. That the chemical giants, together with our government, continue refusal of reparation and responsibility becomes unbearable when coming face to face with the evidence.
Petronella Ytsma is an independent fine art photographer based in St. Paul, Minnesota. She currently is working on documenting the intergenerational effects of warmaking.
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