by Rob Laurie
A JOINT delegation lead by Len Aldis, Secretary of the British Vietnam Friendship Society, which included Dr Madeline Sharp of Medical and Scientific Aid for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia Aid (MSAVLA), recently held talks with the United States Embassy in London to appeal for the United States Government to assist Vietnamese in overcoming a particularly tragic legacy of America’s war in Vietnam.
Unexploded ammunition, in particular landmines are a common hazard in many former war zones. But Vietnam suffers from even graver problems. It is 30 years since American forces were forced out in 1975. In the course of the war over three million Vietnamese people lost their lives. As if the injuries of the survivors were not enough, a new generation is paying the penalty for America’s war of aggression.
During the 21 years of the war the US forces sprayed a total of 82,000,000 litres of the defoliant Agent Orange over vast areas of South Vietnam to deny forest cover to the Vietnamese resistance. The barren hills of southern Vietnam are testimony of the effectiveness of this poison.
Agent Orange has left a dreadful legacy. Environmentalists say that it will take 150 years to even begin to restore the forests, but the human legacy is even more devastating.
Shortly after the war there were many children born with horrific deformities. Today this is being repeated as children born to parents who themselves were not even born during the war have defects. Vietnam has the highest number of conjoined twins in the world today while cancer rates are very high. Medical opinion has not yet established if this is a result of a genetic mutation or if it is caused by Agent Orange entering the food chain. It has been clearly established by many scientists including those in the American National Academy of Sciences that Agent Orange is responsible for such widespread illnesses and defects.
Soldiers and their families from America’s allies in Australia, New Zealand and south Korea have also suffered. Many American veterans including Colin Powell have suffered from the effects of Agent Orange. They have been compensated following the 1996 announcement by President Clinton to pay compensation to the American Vietnam veterans “to ease the suffering our nation unintentionally caused its own sons and daughters by exposing them to Agent Orange in Vietnam”.
It was unfortunate that at the time no mention was made of the sons and daughters of Vietnam exposed to Agent Orange.
While the Vietnamese government and Red Cross do what they can the only overseas support comes for charities such as the MSAVLA and an International Friendship Village in Vietnam founded by an American veteran to provide sheltered accommodation and workshops for victims.
At the London meeting the delegation urged George W Bush, who is visiting Vietnam, to see for himself the consequences of Agent Orange and to provide adequate compensation to the victims. A letter to this effect was handed over to the incoming Ambassador. Anyone wishing to support this campaign can sign the online petition at www.petitiononline.com/AOVN/
This now has 690,000 signatures from across the globe. Labour MP Harry Cohen has put down an Early Day Motion (605) calling for the United Nations to make 10th August, the day Agent Orange was first used an International day for Victims of Chemical Weapons.
* Protesters from the Alliance of Patriots for the Re-foundation of the Congo
(APARECO) and the African Liberation Support Campaign (ALISC) last Wednesday mounted a demonstration outside the heavily fortified United States Embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square. They were protesting against the invasion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire, and earlier the Belgian Congo) by Rwanda. This invasion is effectively supported by George W Bush and his sidekick Tony Blair who are arming Rwanda in order to further their neo-colonialist struggle to secure control of Congo’s huge mineral wealth which includes gold and diamonds.
Over four million people have died in the war in the Congo; this is only one of many proxy wars in Africa by which arms companies in the imperialist countries grow rich by selling weapons to their stooges.