Friday, May 27, 2016

President Obama Squanders Historic Opportunity to Help American Veterans and Vietnamese Civilians

President Obama and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang
During his first trip to Vietnam this week, President Obama successfully established friendlier ties with the Vietnamese government. But did America's first Generation X President lose his soul in the process?

Sure, Obama rightly scolded Vietnamese leaders for their still-shaky record on human rights. But he blew off the Vietnam War and those who still suffer because of it. 
In one speech, Obama, who at age 54 is actually smack-dab between the baby boom and X generations, noted correctly but ill-advisedly that he is the first American president to come of age after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

"When the last U.S. forces left Vietnam, I was just 13 years old," Obama said. "So I come here mindful of the past, mindful of our difficult history, but focused on the future: the prosperity, security and human dignity that we can advance together."
It's understandable that the well-intentioned President wants to look forward and put that horrible war in Air Force One's rear-view mirror.
There's just one problem with that: The Vietnam War isn't over. Not for millions of people in the United States and Vietnam. 
Since 2002, hundreds of thousands of US veterans who fought in Vietnam have sought disability benefits because of their exposure to Agent Orange, the extremely toxic herbicide that was dumped on about 20 percent of South Vietnam by the US military from 1961 to 1971 to flush out the enemy. 
But many of these veterans are still struggling to get this coverage for themselves and their families from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 
Many of these veterans now have glioblastoma, for example, a very deadly type of brain cancer. But these veterans are still being rejected by the VA, despite the fact that many renowned brain cancer experts have linked glioblastoma to the herbicide.
Meantime, more than 3 million people in Vietnam have reportedly suffered from exposure to Agent Orange. Babies in Vietnam are still being born blind, deaf, and with many other serious birth defects because of Agent Orange.

"I was very disappointed that President Obama did not mention much about the Orange Agent issue [this week]," said Christina Cao, who was born and raised in Vietnam and came to the US in 1991 at the age of 19 via the Humanitarian Operation (HO) program. 

Cao's father, a lieutenant colonel who fought alongside US soldiers during the Vietnam War, was captured and imprisoned by the Viet Cong for 10 years after the war.

"After 51 years, the effects of dioxin still persist in Vietnam," said Cao, who did not speak a word of English when she arrived in the US but is now an executive in charge of more than 40 pharmacy accounts nationwide. 

"The Vietnamese and many US veterans are still living with the consequences of Agent Orange," she said, "including unspeakable deformities, glioblastoma cancer, liver damage, pulmonary and heart diseases and more. "

Obama, who landed Friday in Iwakuni, near Hiroshima, spoke today as the first sitting President to visit the city on which the US dropped a nuclear bomb on Aug. 6, 1945. 

He did not apologize for the bombing of that city. But his speech was an eloquent reminder that the world is a very dangerous place, with weapons of mass destruction now at our fingertips.

He could and should have made an equally poignant and powerful speech about war and peace while he was in Vietnam. Because, arguably, the use of Agent Orange for a decade in Vietnam was just as destructive as the two atomic blasts in Japan and has had an equally devastating and long-lasting impact. 
To date, the US has only done a small amount of humanitarian work to clean up what the US military left behind in 1975 when the US Embassy was evacuated and America came home. 
The US has made some effort to assist people suffering in so-called "hot spots" in Vietnam where the most AO was dropped. 

The US is helping clean up Da Nang, for example, the Central Vietnam city that was hit hardest by Agent Orange and was the site of a US air base during the war.

Congress has spent more than $100 million on that cleanup, which is a good start. But most of the work has still not been done. 

Agent Orange is one of the most harmful chemical substances ever created. Tens of millions of gallons of it were doused in South Vietnam. The damage and suffering it caused is profound.

Very few men and women who served in Vietnam knew how harmful these herbicides were at the time. 

But the chemical companies knew. And some US military brass knew.

The spraying of Agent Orange and other toxic defoliants in Vietnam was nothing less than chemical warfare. And its inventors, Monsanto and Dow, clearly knew its potential harms from.

Dr. James Clary, a scientist at the Chemical Weapons Branch, Eglin Air Force Base, reportedly told Senator Tom Daschle in 1988, "When we (military scientists) initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide."
Clary went on to say that makers of the toxic defoliant knew that the ‘military’ formulation had a much higher dioxin concentration than the 'civilian' version due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. 

But because the material was to be used on the 'enemy,' Clary told Daschle, "none of us were overly concerned. We never considered a scenario in which our own personnel would become contaminated with the herbicide."

That sounds like a war crime to me.

Dr. Meryl Nass noted in a 2002 report for the Organic Consumers Association that a 1969 report commissioned by the USDA found that Agent Orange showed a "significant potential to increase birth defects." 

The same year, Nass wrote, the NIH (National Institutes of Health) confirmed that Agent Orange caused "malformations and stillbirths in mice."

After reading all that, if you still don't believe Monsanto and Dow knew how devastatingly harmful this compound could be to humans, you probably also don't believe that Monsanto's Round-up, the most popular weed killer in the world, does not cause non-Hodgkins lymphoma. But studies show that it does.

Despite the President's lost op' in Vietnam this week, the opening he has created in Vietnam these past few days will likely lead to more positive partnerships. Silicon Valley, for example, is itching to get its products into Vietnam and to find the budding genius tech entrepreneurs there.

But if we're going to do even more big business in and with Vietnam, it would be immoral to not reach out to the victims of the Vietnam War who still suffer, on both sides of the world. 

The haunting echoes of that tragic war still reverberate in the hearts and minds of the millions of Americans and Vietnamese who were there, and who are still here. 


  1. What else is new? I bet if I had a billion dollars to give the government, the VA Administration would add glioblastoma to the presumptive list. Money talks.

    1. i'm not a big fan of anonymous posts on my blog. but thanks for reading.

  2. Great article, nice piece of writing, educational, very sad, I agree with your perspective, war crimes are sad and very bad. my mom died from glioblastoma in her mid 60's, extremely interesting Blog, putting 2 and 2 together now, thank you for writing

    1. Thanks for reading, Davis. I'm so sorry about your mom.