This is my annual reminder that wars never end. How quickly a year rolls around.
I began posting this annually on the anniversary of my 2010 visit to the Thanhxuan Peace Village, or Lang Hoa Binh Than Xuan, an orphanage, school and clinic on the fringes of Hanoi that was set up specifically for victims of Agent Orange.
October also marks the anniversary of when U.S. forces first began dropping Agent Orange on southern Vietnam. That was 55 years ago; ultimately, what was wryly known as “Operation Ranch Hand” left nearly five million people infected with the especially virulent strain of dioxin. Estimates vary, but on the conservative side of things, some 150,000 Vietnamese children today live with the fallout.
The visit to Thanhxuan introduced me to dioxin’s third generation, children and young adults much like the boy in the photo above. I hope he and his classmates I met that day, and even led in a “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” singalong, are doing well.
Fifty-five years is a long time, long enough for man-made tragedies like this to find themselves on that precipice between memory and history, so this brief précis from the original post summarizing my visit:
Fifty years ago this month U.S. forces began dropping Dioxin on Vietnam, a milestone that passed without much fanfare. I mentioned the jubilee anniversary to a colleague. Jaded by a job that forces him to live in an ever-changing 24-hour news cycle, he simply said, “That’s old news.”
This too, I suppose, is old news: wars never end. They leave stories of the dead and legacies for the survivors and maimed. In Vietnam, some of those legacies take on the chilling form of children born with twisted, disfigured limbs or severe retardation. Some enter the world without eyes or sockets, never meant to see. Others have eyes that appear to be just a heartbeat or two from bursting out of their badly misshapen heads. Some are missing fingers, hands and arms. Others toes, feet and legs. Not much unlike some of the victims left on the battlefield. This is Agent Orange’s third generation.
If you have a few minutes, please check out the original post. It remains among my favorites on the blog, describing an afternoon that I still think about almost every day. As always, feel free to share.
While the majority of the pain attributed to Agent Orange was suffered by Vietnamese, it wasn’t confined to the southeast Asian country. Tens of thousands of US soldiers, vets of the Vietnam War and others stationed elsewhere in Asia, were exposed to Agent Orange. (By some estimates, some 2.6 million U.S. service members were potentially exposed between 1965 and 1970.) They’ve argued for years that exposure to dioxin present in the lethal herbicide manufactured by Monsanto has impacted their health and that of their children.
Here are a few very good recent stories on the US angle, co-produced by Propublica, the independent, non-profit investigative journalism organization, and the Virginian-Pilot; all three were published yesterday as part of their ongoing ‘Reliving Agent Orange‘ series, which now numbers 21 separate pieces. The most recent:
For decades, the military and the VA have repeatedly turned to one man to guide decisions on whether Agent Orange harmed vets in Vietnam and elsewhere. His reliable answer: No.
After the VA rejects his claim for benefits, an Air Force veteran challenges the findings of the government’s go-to Agent Orange consultant. Six years later he emerges the rare victor.
For decades, the government has relied on Alvin Young to advise it on herbicides. Here are some of his statements, and what others have said about them.