United States Role in the Vietnam War

A few days ago we visited the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I’ve been wanting to post about it but between travel and the heavy emotions surrounding it, I haven’t been able to until now.
You all have undoubtedly heard of the Vietnam War, the heroic battle against the communists, the protests of the sixties. We hear stories of troops, war heroes, veterans, and bravery. The thing no one talks about, however, is the Vietnamese.
Trust me, I’ve been there. Fairly clueless, with the knowledge that the war happened but not much outside of the few details we learned in school.
Nothing quite smacks the reality into you like the War Remnants Museum. It is the war told from the opposite perspective.
Outside the museum there were planes and tanks and I ran all over, entranced by them. I’ve always been fascinated by planes with the great power they hold and the triumph of man over gravity. But planes (and men) can do terrible things.
As soon as I stepped inside the museum, I saw a pile of bodies.

The casualties of the Vietnam War were high, that much I knew.

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Most were women and babies. It looked as if they tried to get away.

What I had never been told was that of the three million Vietnamese killed during the war,  two million were civilians: women, children, elders, and unarmed alike. Innocent civilians and soldiers were tortured just the same. In many places a “Kill Anything that Moves” policy was put in place using bombs, landmines, massacres, and Agent Orange.
No one talks about the experimentation the United States conducted in Vietnam. We tested a multitude of weapons for our own gain (bombs, guns, planes, and more) but none as horrific as Agent Orange.
I had no clue what Agent Orange was. It is a chemical compound of dioxin, which of course means nothing until you put it into context: eight grams can kill an entire city, and we used it in far larger quantities. The USA sprayed an estimated 12.1 million gallons over ten percent of Vietnam’s land (www.agentorangerecord.com/in_vietnam/). While the devastation caused then is already horrifying to think about, it gets worse. Agent Orange stays around for years, affecting multiple generations to come. It is highly carcinogenic and causes the most debilitating and horrendous birth defects, long after its initial use.

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Nguyen Thi Men is 21 years old and lives in Vu Thu district, Thai Binh province. Tragically, she must remain in a cage-like enclosure all her life. All day long, Men attempts to chew anything within her grasp. Suddenly, as she recognizes her father, she extends her hands through her enclosure, reaching for him. Her father, Nguyen van Hang spent fighting in the Truong Son Mountains he was contaminated by Agent Orange.
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She wants to touch a flower. Nguyen Hoai Thuong (born in 2008), whose mother is Tran Thi Cam Giang living in Tan An Hoi Ward - Cu Chi District - Ho Chi Minh City, is both armless and legless. How will she enter life?
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Dear President Barack Obama!

My name is Trần Thị Hoan, 23, born in Đức Linh District, Bình Thuận Province, Việt Nam. I am a second generation victim of Agent Orange, one among the plaintiffs, representing millions of Agent Orange victims, in a lawsuit against 37 U.S. chemical manufacturers in the U.S. Federal Court, two richest of which are Dow and Monsanto. They manufactured deadly defoliants sprayed in the Vietnam wars containing dioxin—it has not only killed living people during the war, but gradually kills their children generations, like me, and goes on to kill the next ones. It damages my country and other nations beyond imagination.

I have read your letter to your beloved daughters, especially this excerpt: “These are the things I want for you—to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure.” I was deeply moved by the love you have for your daughters and the dreams you have for children of other countries, and I dream that certainly you meant also for Vietnam. I dream that when you were on the campaign trail, and when you were writing those lines, you had some ideas about Agent Orange and its devastating effects on human and environment. I dream when you wrote “And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have” you were actually thinking about innocent children slowly killed by dioxin, and their sufferings, their education in a very poor country like Vietnam will be the same as your daughters in the U.S. I dream you had in mind what to do to help every child to have the same chances to learn and to dream and grow and thrive like your daughters’.

May I say something about myself: when I was in junior high school, I studied hard to become a doctor to help people in my home town because they were so poor. But this dream was taken from me. I was suggested in college not to follow medicine because I was born with no legs and no left hand. My parents were consumed with grief when I was born and when I started school. I was suggested not to dream about raising a family for fear that my children would be born deformed like me, and the poison might even take their lives. You may have guessed from my personal story, one among three million victim stories, what happen to other parents victims of Agent Orange.

You are a father of two beautiful daughters, and you know how parents love their children. As you might have known, the U.S. Vietnam veterans, sick from Agent Orange, have gotten remediation for their illnesses, but their children have not. How do their children live a decent life like your daughters? In the case of my poor country, veterans of the U.S. war and their children and grandchildren have not received any justice from the U.S. courts: they refused to hear our case against the U.S. chemical companies without explanations. This denial of justice may have rendered void your dream for every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive. When I toured the U.S. cities last October, I found the American people deeply concerned about the problems of Agent Orange, including lawyers. I was totally disappointed with the U.S. Supreme Court running away from this question of justice.

I understand that you are very busy with the urgent matters that face your country, I hope that you would consider the poison from Agent Orange and the lives of its victims with as much a matter of urgency because what they mean to the future of humanity. I hope that you, a symbol of hope not only for the United States, but also for the world, a father who love his children dearly, and a man of humanity, spare a little time to resolve this forgotten problem.

Thank you!

Trần Thị Hoan

Even though effects of Agent Orange are still rampant, tragically the United States has gotten off with very few consequences for their part in the war crimes experienced in Vietnam. We withdrew from Vietnam. Some (but few)  Army Officials were convicted for their use of torture and massacre. The USA has paid some reparation costs, including some to families affected by Agent Orange. However, the overwhelming damage that we inflicted on the country of Vietnam is nowhere near compensated for.
Most importantly, however, it is important to discuss the role of the USA in foreign relations both positive AND negative. We are still using measure such as these in other places today, including bombing of civilians in the hunt for terrorist leaders. We so often see the United States as a world leader and a hero nation, but it is crucial to the wellbeing of other countries to acknowledge our shortcomings and work to prevent such heinous doings in the future.

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Love, Shaepable

Hi everyone,

Thank you all so much for your love and support with this blog. So many of you have talked to me about it and encouraged me not only in my writing, but in my life as well. I cannot tell you how much these words of kindness mean to me. I am grateful for every single one of you.

As many of you know, I’m about to head off to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam for a month. I will be taking a break from my regularly scheduled Blog Tuesdays, and switching over to a more sporadic schedule until I get home. Make sure to follow me or sign up for the email list to be notified when I post!

I’ll see you when I get home.

Love, Shaepable