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Friday, 17 August 2012

America's Toxic Legacy in Vietnam

US President Lyndon Johnson's stated wish to leave in Vietnam the "footprints of America", monuments of American generosity and power, have left a toxic legacy, the clear up of which has hardly begun, as America celebrates its contribution to detoxification at one air base, 50 years since 20,000,000 gallons of deadly Agent Orange were poured over South Vietmnam.

University of East Anglia's Dr. David Milne, able biographer of one of the architects of US aggression in Vietnam, Walt Rostow, understates the case when he suggests that "As it turned out, America's footprint on Vietnam's topography often took the more distinguishable form of bomb craters and torched villages..." Of course craters and villages razed to the ground were a feature of America's attempts to "save" the Vietnamese people from communism and attempts to chart their own future within their own borders, a basic democratic right. There are 20 million bomb craters still there, filled with stagnant water, infested with malaria and dengue fever-carryng mosquitoes.

More ordnance was dropped on Vietnam by the Americans' military juggernaut than over Europe as a whole during the Second World War. Indeed, bombing Vietnam "back to the stone age" was one possible scenario envisaged by US Air Force cheif of staff, Curtis LeMay.

The legacy of Agent Orange, however, has proved longer lasting than ordnance and scorched earth policies. 20 million gallons of the deadliest toxin developed by science was used to defoliate forest and agricultural field to deny communists food and shelter in the countryside and to drive peasants off the land and into US dominated cities. Communists were considered infiltartors from North Vietnam fomenting rebellion against the corrupt US-installed puppet regime of Ngo Diem, among others. In fact, South Vietnam was a state entirely sustained by US power and collapsed within a month of their departure in 1973, so illegitimate was it in the eys of ordinary Vietnamese people.

Agent Orange led to ca 400,000 deaths and severe casualties, in addition to ca 500,000 children born with birth defects.

By 1971: 12% of the total area of South Vietnam sprayed with defoliating chemicals, at an average concentration of 13 times the recommended USDA application rate for domestic use.

In South Vietnam alone, an estimated 10 million hectares of agricultural land were ultimately destroyed.

Destroyed 5 million acres (20,000 km2) of upland and mangrove forests and millions of acres of crops.

Overall, more than 20% of South Vietnam's forests were sprayed at least once over a nine year period

Children in the areas where Agent Orange used: multiple health problems, including cleft palate, mental disabilities, hernias

Contaminated soil and sediment continue to affect the citizens of Vietnam, poisoning their food chain and causing illnesses, serious skin diseases and a variety of cancers in the lungs, larynx, and prostate.

About 17.8% (3,100,000 ha) of the total forested area of Vietnam was sprayed during the war; persistent nature of dioxins, erosion caused by loss of protective tree cover, and loss of seeding forest stock, meant reforestation was difficult or impossible in many areas

Dioxins from Agent Orange have persisted in the Vietnamese environment since the war, settling in the soil and sediment and entering into food chain through the animals and fish that feed in the contaminated areas.

And now the US is paying towards detoxification of the US air base at Da Nang, probably part of an attempt to woo Vietnam into closer US cooperation to contain or encircle China. 

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