NY Times Covers Up Washington’s Monstrous Evil April 10, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, History, Imperialism, Laos, Media, Water.
Tags: agent orange, dave lindorff, history, ho chi minh trail, Khamvongas, laos, laos bombing, laos war, Media, new york times, pathet lao, plain of jars, roger hollander, unexploded bombs, Vietnam War
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Roger’s note: There are so many war crimes to report, going back to the days of Manifest Destiny. Here is another one, in our time, all the more pernicious for its killing and maiming of children. Every bomb that goes off in Laos represented a financial benefit for the war profiteer who produced it. The real unindicted criminals, of course, are the Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon and the those around them who made it all possible. And the rest who knew better and went along.
The NY Times on Monday ran a lengthy piece (“One Woman’s Mission to Free Laos from Millions of Unexploded Bombs”) on Channapha Khamvongas, a 42-year-old Laotian-American woman on a mission to get the US to help Laos clean up the countless unexploded anti-personnel “bombis” that it dropped, which are still killing peasants — especially children — half a century after the so-called “Secret War” by the US against Laos ended.
The article explained that Khamvongas, as a young adult in Virginia, had read a book by anti-war activist Fred Branfman, Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War (originally published in 1972 and reissued in 2013), which featured accounts and hand drawings by refugees from that war of the deadly US aerial attacks and bombings of their farms and villages. It was a book that sparked revulsion in the US over the saturation bombing of Southeast Asia’s smallest and least developed country — a nation of under six million people.
While the Times article mentioned that the secret air war, launched by Lyndon Johnson against Laos in 1964 and continued by Richard Nixon through 1973, was “one of the most intensive air campaigns in the history of warfare,” and that it had made Laos, a country the size of Great Britain with a population of only a few million peasants, into “one of the most heavily bombed places on earth.” What it did not make clear was that this bombing and strafing campaign, which Branfman’s research showed was so intense that US jets were even killing individual water buffalo, and so continuous that any Lao person, including children, who dared to venture out from underground shelters during the daytime, was targeted.
Instead, Times reporter Thomas Fuller simply parrots the official US line about the Laos air war, which was kept secret from the American public at the time, writing that the campaign’s “targets were North Vietnamese troops — especially along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a large part of which passed through Laos — as well as North Vietnam’s Laotian Communist allies,” the Pathet Lao.
This is a patent falsehood.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail ran through Laos but along its lengthy eastern boarder with Vietnam. The bombing of Laos, though, was extensive, covering the whole country, and especially the large region of Northern Laos known as the Plain of Jars — an agricultural region in the center of Northern Laos (named for the many neolithic jars found there) that was so heavily bombed that it resembled the surface of the moon (today the circular craters that dot the place are now mostly ponds and breeding grounds for mosquitos). And the goal of the country-wide bombing campaign, as Branfman’s interviews of its refugee survivors made clear, was to disrupt agriculture and kill anything that moved in the country, in hopes of defeating the Pathet Lao insurgency.
Not once in the article is the term “war crime” mentioned, though clearly what the US did to Laos in its Secret War against the people of Laos was a war crime of almost unrivaled horror. (During the war, the Pathet Lao forces, at their greatest, numbered about 35,000, yet the US bombing is estimated to have killed over 100,000 Laotians, which would be about 1.5 percent of the country’s population. The equivalent today in the US would be if some country bombed and killed 3.2 million Americans.)
Not only was this little country bombed. It was littered with anti-personnel bombs that spread tennis-ball sized shrapnel-producing “bombis,” only some 70% of which exploded as intended. The rest remain buried in the soft earth, where they can explode decades later if struck by a plow, or found by a too curious child.
I visited Laos in 1995 as a journalist, and witnessed the continuing horror of this US war crime. Though the Secret War had ended more than 20 years earlier, I kept seeking young kids hobbling along on crutches, with stump legs, or missing hands, some missing both legs. Asking about this, I was told they had been blown up by bombis left over from the war.
Visiting the US Embassy in Laos, which at the time, at least, featured on a flagpole both the US flag and the black-and-white POW/MIA flag of the right-wing pro-war National League of Families, I asked the Press and Cultural Affairs attache about the plague of left-over bombis in the country, and why the US was doing nothing to help clear them away. He said Congress had blocked any such humanitarian action because of pressure from the National League of Families, which was pushing its absurd claim that Communist Laos, two decades after the war ended, was still secretly holding US POWs and MIAs, and was not accounting for America’s dead. He acknowledged off the record that the whole idea of impoverished Laos still holding US prisoners of war was ridiculous, and agreed that Laos — a heavily jungled and sparsely populated country — had not accounted for many of its own MIAs, much less missing Americans who had died or been killed. But he claimed there was nothing that could be done until that issue was resolved.
Of course there is a second matter. Just as the US has done nothing to help Vietnam clean up the massive amount of bombs and the carcinogenic Agent Orange herbicide that was spread across their land by US forces during the war, and has done nothing to help the post-war victims of US anti-personnel weapons and of Agent Orange in that country, not wanting to admit to its war crimes, it has also been loath to assume responsibility for cleaning up the anti-personnel weapons legacy in Laos for the same reason.
It appears that Ms. Khamvongas and her organization, Legacies of War, are finally having some success now at getting the US to belatedly start providing at least some of that assistance — reportedly about $14 million last year. It’s a drop in the bucket considering some 580,000 bombing missions were flown during the air campaign, dropping 270 million bombs. And nearly a third of that ordinance — an estimated 80 million bombs and bombis — are still out there, unexploded, waiting to be disturbed so they can complete their deadly missions.
Some 20,000 Laotians have been killed by unexploding bombs — 40% of them children — mostly by the fragmentation bombis, subsequent to the end of the war in 1973. Far more have been maimed and permanently injured.
Khamvongas doesn’t talk about blame, and that may be understandable for someone who is simply trying to get the US to pony up the money to help get the job done. (A number of countries that are blameless, including Ireland, Japan, Norway and Switzerland, as well as one that shares some of the blame, Australia, are contributing another $25 million a year to the bomb-removal effort.)
But the fact tht Khamvongas doesn’t want to focus on blame doesn’t excuse the Times from having to be honest about what actually happened to Laos and its people, and about America’s criminality in blanketing the country with anti-personnel weapons whose main victims, by design, were and sadly still are civilians, including a disproportionate number of children.
At a time when the US is running a new kind of air war, one involving the use of attack drones, a war which is reportedly also killing primarily civilians, and which is similarly operating in secret from the American people in numerous countries of the world, it is critical that news organizations like the Times, which are always quick to parrot US government calls for war crimes prosecutions of other countries like Syria, Serbia, ISIS or the breakaway Donbass Republics, also call out the war crimes of the United States.
Silence on such grave matters is not just reprehensible journalism; it is a case of aiding and abetting America’s crimes.
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press) and author of Killing Time: an Investigation Into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu Jamal.
Ten Chemical Weapons Attacks Washington Doesn’t Want You to Talk About September 5, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Chemical Biological Weapons, History, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Japan, Nuclear weapons/power, Occupy Wall Street Movement, Vietnam.
Tags: #occupy movement, agent orange, atomic bomb, chemical weapons, depleted uranium, gaza, hiroshima, history, Iraq war, israel attack, kurds, Middle East, nagasaki, napalm, roger hollander, saddam hussden, Syria, syria war, tear gas, Vietnam War, waco massacre, War Crimes, wesley messamore, white phosphorous
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Washington doesn’t merely lack the legal authority for a military intervention in Syria.
It lacks the moral authority. We’re talking about a government with a history of using chemical weapons against innocent people far more prolific and deadly than the mere accusations Assad faces from a trigger-happy Western military-industrial complex, bent on stifling further investigation before striking.
Here is a list of 10 chemical weapons attacks carried out by the U.S. government or its allies against civilians..
1. The U.S. Military Dumped 20 Million Gallons of Chemicals on Vietnam from 1962 – 1971
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed 20 million gallons of chemicals, including the very toxic Agent Orange, on the forests and farmlands of Vietnam and neighboring countries, deliberately destroying food supplies, shattering the jungle ecology, and ravaging the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Vietnam estimates that as a result of the decade-long chemical attack, 400,000 people were killed or maimed, 500,000 babies have been born with birth defects, and 2 million have suffered from cancer or other illnesses. In 2012, the Red Cross estimated that one million people in Vietnam have disabilities or health problems related to Agent Orange.
White phosphorus is a horrific incendiary chemical weapon that melts human flesh right down to the bone.
In 2009, multiple human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Red Cross reported that the Israeli government was attacking civilians in their own country with chemical weapons. An Amnesty International team claimed to find “indisputable evidence of the widespread use of white phosphorus” as a weapon in densely-populated civilian areas. The Israeli military denied the allegations at first, but eventually admitted they were true.
After the string of allegations by these NGOs, the Israeli military even hit a UN headquarters(!) in Gaza with a chemical attack. How do you think all this evidence compares to the case against Syria? Why didn’t Obama try to bomb Israel?
In 2004, journalists embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq began reporting the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah against Iraqi insurgents. First the military lied and said that it was only using white phosphorus to create smokescreens or illuminate targets. Then it admitted to using the volatile chemical as an incendiary weapon. At the time, Italian television broadcaster RAI aired a documentary entitled, “Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre,” including grim video footage and photographs, as well as eyewitness interviews with Fallujah residents and U.S. soldiers revealing how the U.S. government indiscriminately rained white chemical fire down on the Iraqi city and melted women and children to death.
CIA records now prove that Washington knew Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons (including sarin, nerve gas, and mustard gas) in the Iran-Iraq War, yet continued to pour intelligence into the hands of the Iraqi military, informing Hussein of Iranian troop movements while knowing that he would be using the information to launch chemical attacks. At one point in early 1988, Washington warned Hussein of an Iranian troop movement that would have ended the war in a decisive defeat for the Iraqi government. By March an emboldened Hussein with new friends in Washington struck a Kurdish village occupied by Iranian troops with multiple chemical agents, killing as many as 5,000 people and injuring as many as 10,000 more, most of them civilians. Thousands more died in the following years from complications, diseases, and birth defects.
5. The Army Tested Chemicals on Residents of Poor, Black St. Louis Neighborhoods in The 1950s
In the early 1950s, the Army set up motorized blowers on top of residential high-rises in low-income, mostly black St. Louis neighborhoods, including areas where as much as 70% of the residents were children under 12. The government told residents that it was experimenting with a smokescreen to protect the city from Russian attacks, but it was actually pumping the air full of hundreds of pounds of finely powdered zinc cadmium sulfide. The government admits that there was a second ingredient in the chemical powder, but whether or not that ingredient was radioactive remains classified. Of course it does. Since the tests, an alarming number of the area’s residents have developed cancer. In 1955, Doris Spates was born in one of the buildings the Army used to fill the air with chemicals from 1953 – 1954. Her father died inexplicably that same year, she has seen four siblings die from cancer, and Doris herself is a survivor of cervical cancer.
The savage violence of the police against Occupy protesters in 2011 was well documented, and included the use of tear gas and other chemical irritants. Tear gas is prohibited for use against enemy soldiers in battle by the Chemical Weapons Convention. Can’t police give civilian protesters in Oakland, California the same courtesy and protection that international law requires for enemy soldiers on a battlefield?
7. The FBI Attacked Men, Women, and Children With Tear Gas in Waco in 1993
At the infamous Waco siege of a peaceful community of Seventh Day Adventists, the FBI pumped tear gas into buildings knowing that women, children, and babies were inside. The tear gas was highly flammable and ignited, engulfing the buildings in flames and killing 49 men and women, and 27 children, including babies and toddlers. Remember, attacking an armed enemy soldier on a battlefield with tear gas is a war crime. What kind of crime is attacking a baby with tear gas?
In Iraq, the U.S. military has littered the environment with thousands of tons of munitions made from depleted uranium, a toxic and radioactive nuclear waste product. As a result, more than half of babies born in Fallujah from 2007 – 2010 were born with birth defects. Some of these defects have never been seen before outside of textbooks with photos of babies born near nuclear tests in the Pacific. Cancer and infant mortality have also seen a dramatic rise in Iraq. According to Christopher Busby, the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, “These are weapons which have absolutely destroyed the genetic integrity of the population of Iraq.” After authoring two of four reports published in 2012 on the health crisis in Iraq, Busby described Fallujah as having, “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied.”
9. The U.S. Military Killed Hundreds of Thousands of Japanese Civilians with Napalm from 1944 – 1945
Napalm is a sticky and highly flammable gel which has been used as a weapon of terror by the U.S. military. In 1980, the UN declared the use of napalm on swaths of civilian population a war crime. That’s exactly what the U.S. military did in World War II, dropping enough napalm in one bombing raid on Tokyo to burn 100,000 people to death, injure a million more, and leave a million without homes in the single deadliest air raid of World War II.
Although nuclear bombs may not be considered chemical weapons, I believe we can agree they belong to the same category. They certainly disperse an awful lot of deadly radioactive chemicals. They are every bit as horrifying as chemical weapons if not more, and by their very nature, suitable for only one purpose: wiping out an entire city full of civilians. It seems odd that the only regime to ever use one of these weapons of terror on other human beings has busied itself with the pretense of keeping the world safe from dangerous weapons in the hands of dangerous governments.
Dow and Monsanto Join Forces to Poison America’s Heartland February 24, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Environment, Health.
Tags: 2.4-d, agent orange, agrochemicals, dow chemical, environment, food, genetic engineering, genetically modified, genetically mofified corn, herbicide, monsanto, pesticedes, richard schiffman, roger hollander, usda
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In a match that some would say was made in hell, the nation’s two leading producers of agrochemicals have joined forces in a partnership to reintroduce the use of the herbicide 2,4-D, one half of the infamous defoliant Agent Orange, which was used by American forces to clear jungle during the Vietnam War. These two biotech giants have developed a weed management program that, if successful, would go a long way toward a predicted doubling of harmful herbicide use in America’s corn belt during the next decade.
The problem for corn farmers is that “superweeds” have been developing resistance to America’s best-selling herbicide Roundup, which is being sprayed on millions of acres in the Midwest and elsewhere. Dow Agrosciences has developed a strain of corn that it says will solve the problem. The new genetically modified variety can tolerate 2,4-D, which will kill off the Roundup-resistant weeds, but leave the corn standing. Farmers who opt into this system will be required to double-dose their fields with a deadly cocktail of Roundup plus 2,4-D, both of which are manufactured by Monsanto.
But this plan has alarmed environmentalists and also many farmers, who are reluctant to reintroduce a chemical whose toxicity has been well established. The use of 2,4-D is banned in several European countries and provinces of Canada. The substance is a suspected carcinogen, which has been shown to double the incidence of birth defects in the children of pesticide applicators in a study conducted by University of Minnesota pathologist Vincent Garry.
Researchers say that the effect of 2,4-D on human health is still not fully understood. But it may be a risk factor for conditions like Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and certain leukemias, which were often found in Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that the chemical could have “endocrine disruption potential” and interfere with the human hormonal system. It may prove toxic to honeybees, birds and fish, according to research conducted by the US Forest Service and others. In 2004, a coalition of groups spearheaded by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network, wrote a letter to the EPA taking it to task for underestimating the health and environmental impacts of 2,4-D.
Large-scale industrial farming has grown dependent on ever-increasing applications of agrochemicals. Some have compared this to a drug addict who requires larger and larger fixes to stay high. Herbicide use has increased steadily over time as weeds develop resistance and need to be doused with more and deadlier chemicals to kill them. This, in turn. requires more aggressive genetic engineering of crops that can withstand the escalating chemical assault.
Many agricultural scientists warn that this growing addiction to agrochemicals is unsustainable in the long run. The fertility of the soil decreases as earthworms and vital microorganisms are killed off by pesticides and herbicides. They also pollute the groundwater and compromise the health of farm animals that are fed with the chemical-infused grain.
These impacts are poised to grow. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures reveal that herbicide use rose by 383 million pounds from 1996 to 2008. Significantly, nearly half of this increase (46 percent) took place between 2007 and 2008 as a result of the hawking of new herbicide-resistant crops like the new corn hybrid developed by Dow.
Nobody knows what effect introducing this hybrid would have on the health of American consumers. Corn laced with high levels of 2,4-D could taint everything from breakfast cereals to the beef of cattle, which concentrate the toxin in their flesh. Given that corn and high-fructose corn syrup are key elements in so many processed foods, some public health experts warn that all Americans will soon be guinea pigs in an ill-conceived mass experiment with one of the staples of our food supply. America’s agriculture department, the USDA is considering deregulating Monsanto’s new genetically modified corn variety (the one which will be used in conjunction with the 2,4-D) and is accepting final public comments on the matter until the 27th of this month.
Until recently, herbicide-resistant crops were popular with farmers who benefited from higher yields and nearly effortless management of weeds. But now that the weed problem is coming back with a vengeance, some are reconsidering the wisdom of this chemical-intensive mode of farming. Dow biotech corn costs nearly three times more than conventional seed. And the projected doubling of pesticide use in the years ahead will be expensive, as well as destructive to farmland and ecosystems.
There are viable alternatives to chemical-intensive farming, time-tested methods like crop rotation, use of cover crops, and other practices which allow farmers to compete naturally with weeds. The time has come for farmers to revive the knowledge of their ancestors in this regard.
Some agricultural scientists advocate developing a system of integrated weed management to replace the unsustainable use of chemicals. But the big agrochemical companies have no interest in supporting the sustainable agriculture that would put them out of business. So long as there are billions of dollars to be made in selling herbicide and herbicide-resistant genetically modified seed, there won’t be much research money available to explore the natural alternatives to the destruction of our nation’s heartland.
Monsanto, Agent Orange Creator, Returns To Vietnam February 8, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Health, History, Vietnam, War.
Tags: agent orange, environment, genetically modified, gmo, history, monsanto, roger hollander, vietnam, vietnam history, Vietnam War
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Monsanto ready to sell GM crops and weed-killing chemicals in Vietnam; Many outraged
Multinational agricultural biotech corporation Monsanto, known as the creator of chemical weapon Agent Orange, is attempting to infiltrate Vietnam once again — this time as GMO dealer.
Agent Orange, used for chemical warfare in the Vietnam War, is estimated to have killed 400,000, deformed 500,000 and sickened another 2 million.
“BA VI, VIETNAM: Handicapped orphans are fed by the medical staff at the Ba Vi orphanage. These young children represent the 3rd generation of Agent Orange victims more than 30 years after the war in Vietnam, where a battle is still being fought to help people suffering from the effects of the deadly chemical.” – Global Post (Photo Paula Bronstein / AFP/Getty Images)
“Between 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals that have been linked to cancers, birth defects, and other chronic diseases during the war that ended in 1975, according to the Vietnam Red Cross,” Thanh Nienn News writes.
30 years after the war, three generations have suffered from the effects of Agent Orange.
Now, as Monsanto seeks to reap profits in Vietnam once again, this time through agribusiness, many are speaking out against the corporation as well as the potential effects of the GM seeds and herbicides that Monsanto seeks to sell.
* * *
Thanh Nienn News in Ho Chi Minh City reports:
No biotech company has yet got the official green light for selling genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but it does not assuage the fears that Vietnam could end up with another tragic legacy from a company that once caused many deaths in the country, environmental activists say.
It would be ironic if Vietnam becomes a willing party to a “lethal” product made by the same US company that manufactured Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War.It would be ironic if Vietnam becomes a willing party to a “lethal” product made by the same US company that manufactured Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War, they pointed out. […]
In 2006 the government approved a blueprint that envisaged covering between 30 percent and half of the country’s agriculture lands with the controversial gene-altered crops by 2020.
Only three companies – Monsanto, Syngenta, and Pioneer – have been licensed to carry out lab research and tests in Vietnam, the minister’s statement said.
Monsanto accounts for almost one-quarter (23 percent) of the global proprietary seed market.
[Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Rinh, former deputy defense minister, chairman of the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange] is also worried about the weedkiller Roundup Monsanto plugs for use along with its crops.
“By introducing [GMOs] paired with toxic weed killers, the tragic legacy of Agent Orange might repeat itself,” he warned. […]
The U.S. Airforce spraying ‘Agent Orange’ defoliant over the countryside of Vietnam. Originally termed “Operation Hades,” the spraying program was renamed “Operation Ranch Hand” to improve public relations.
Jeffrey Smith, author of the bestseller Seeds of Deception and founder and executive director of the California, US-based NGO Institute for Responsible Technology, said: “It is not inconsequential that a new genetically modified corn up for review is designed to be tolerant to the herbicide 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange.
“This means that much higher amounts of toxic 2,4-D will drench the agricultural lands where this new crop is planted.
“It would be a harsh and ironic consequence if Vietnamese people suffer from birth defects from both of these Monsanto products, Roundup and Agent Orange.”
* * *
The Global Post reports:
Monsanto is, of course, highly aware of Agent Orange’s reputation and has fought numerous lawsuits filed by chemical’s victims both Vietnamese and American. The chemical, commissioned by the U.S. military, was dumped over jungles to kill vegetation and rout communist forces.
In Monsanto’s own primer on the Agent Orange era, it casts the chemical as patriotic — it was meant “to save the lives of U.S. and allied soldiers,” Monsanto says — and contends that the matter “should be resolved by the governments that were involved.”
Keeping Monsanto out of Vietnam already appears to be an uphill fight.
A Vietnamese legislator and former deputy defense minister has, according to Thanh Nien, faced evasion when he tried to raise the issue with the [government].
Agent Orange in Vietnam: Ignoring the Crimes Before Our Eyes October 17, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Media, Vietnam, War.
Tags: agent orange, chemical warfare, dave lindorff, dioxin, dow chemical, geneva conventions, james dao, monsanto, new yori times, roger hollander, vietnam, vietnam defoliation, vietnam veterans, Vietnam War, War Crimes
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On Oct. 13, the New York Times ran a news story headlined “Door Opens to Health Claims Tied to Agent Orange,” which was sure to be good news to many American veterans of the Indochina War. It reported that 38 years after the Pentagon ceased spreading the deadly dioxin-laced herbicide/defoliant over much of South Vietnam, it was acknowledging what veterans have long claimed: in addition to 13 ailments already traced to exposure to the chemical, it was also responsible for three more dread diseases-Parkinson’s, ischemic heart disease and hairy-cell leukemia.
Under a new policy adopted by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the VA will now start providing free care to any of the 2.1 million Vietnam-era veterans who can show that they might have been hurt by exposure to Agent Orange.
This is another belated step forward in the decades-long struggle by Vietnam War veterans to get the Defense Department and the VA to acknowledge the American government’s responsibility for poisoning them and causing permanent damage to them and often to their children and grandchildren. Dioxin, one of the most poisonous substances known to man, is known to cause many serious systemic diseases, autoimmune illnesses, cancers and birth defects. (It is also a warning about the general Pentagon and government approach to other hazards caused by its battlefield use of toxins-most significantly the increasingly common use of depleted uranium projectiles in bombs, shells and bullets-an approach which features lack of concern about health effects on troops and civilians, denial of information to troops, and denial of care to eventual victims.)
Missing from the Times article, written by military affairs reporter James Dao, which did include mention of the obstructionist role the government has played through this whole sorry saga, was a single mention of the far larger number of victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam-the people on whose heads and lands the toxic chemical was actually dropped, or of the adamant refusal by the US government to accept any responsibility for what it did to them.
According to the article, the VA estimates that there may be as many as 200,000 US veterans who are suffering from Agent Orange-related illnesses. But according to a court case brought on behalf of Vietnamese victims, which was dismissed by a US Federal District Judge who ruled that there was “no basis for the claims,” there are at least three million Vietnamese, and possibly as many as 4.8 million, who are suffering the same Agent Orange-related illnesses as American veterans and their children. It is estimated that as many as 800,000 Vietnamese in the country’s south currently suffer from chronic health problems due to Agent Orange exposure, either to themselves, or to a parent or grandparent. Most of these victims, some of whom are retarded, and others of whom cannot walk or have no use of their arms, need constant care.
Veterans for Peace, an organization whose membership includes a large number of Vietnam War veterans, has issued a call for the US to provide funds for health care, education, vocational education, chronic care, home care and equipment to clean up hotspots of dioxin in Vietnam-a call which Congress and the White House have consistently ignored. Tests have found dioxin levels around the sites of the three main former US bases in what was South Vietnam to be 300-400 times recognized safe levels. The US dumped huge amounts of Agent Orange for miles around those bases to kill off jungle cover that Vietnamese fighters could use to approach the bases, but it was never cleaned up when the US pulled out.
One organization that includes a number of American veterans of the way, including former military doctors or soldiers who later became physicians, is the Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA Inc., which raises funds to help establish communities in Vietnam to care for the victims of Agent Orange.
It may seem a pathetic stab at principle given America’s use of two nuclear weapons against civilian targets in Japan a few years later, but back in World War II, in the midst of the most brutal island-to-island fighting during the Pacific War, a US Judge Advocate General in the Pentagon ruled that a military request for permission to use herbicides against the Japanese on Pacific islands would be illegal under the Hague Convention (forerunner of what are now called the Geneva Conventions). He ruled that trying to destroy the crops of civilians on those islands to deny food to the Japanese troops would be a war crime. The US went ahead and used the herbicides anyway, arguing that even though it was illegal, the US was free to go ahead, since the Japanese had already broken the laws of war by using strychnine to kill military guard dogs in Siberia. Under the rules of war, if one side breaks a rule, the other side is no longer bound by it.
But the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese never used toxic materials against US forces or against South Vietnamese forces. And the Pentagon in the Vietnam War never even considered whether spraying a highly toxic herbicide over 1.4 million hectares-12% of the total land area of Vietnam and almost 25% of the southern half of the country-might be a war crime.
Moreover, the Pentagon knew, before it began its massive defoliation campaign, about studies showing that Agent Orange was heavily laced with deadly dioxin, but covered up those studies, some by the chemical’s makers, Dow Chemical and Monsanto, and never even warned the troops who handled the material daily, or who were sent out to fight in areas that had been heavily sprayed.
The ongoing medical disaster in Vietnam caused by America’s criminal use of Agent Orange to defoliate a nation would be a good place for President Obama to start earning his just-awarded Nobel Peace Prize. He could kick off his peace campaign by finally honoring President Richard Nixon’s immediately broken promise to provide several billion dollars in reconstruction aid to Vietnam at the conclusion of peace talks at the end of the war. Not a dollar of such aid was ever given.
Dao says he didn’t mention significance for Vietnamese dioxin victims of the VA’s decision to recognize three new diseases as being Agent Orange-linked, because “my beat is veterans,” and because he only had 800 words in which to cover his story. That may be true (though surely the Vietnamese at least deserved a one-sentence mention). But back on July 25, when the Times ran a story (by Janie Lorber, not by Dao) about the finding by an expert panel of the National Institute of Medicine linking Parkinsons, ischemic heart disease and leukemia to Agent Orange, upon which the latest VA decision was based, it also failed to mention the Vietnamese victims. In that case, the lapse was simply journalistically inexcuseable, since it was about a new medical finding, not a policy decision regarding the treatment of veterans.
At this point, the only way the New York Times can salvage a bit of its journalistic reputation on this topic would be by having Dao, Lorber or some other reporter write a piece about the impact of America’s Agent Orange use on the people of Vietnam. They could start by calling a veteran at Veterans for Peace or the Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA.
Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net