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Marking 50 Years of Agent Orange in Vietnam: The Struggle for Justice Moves Forward
By Merle Ratner
2011 is the 50th anniversary of the US government's use of the chemical weapon—Agent Orange—against the Vietnamese people. In 1961 as part of the US's escalating war of counter-insurgency, the military began to spray Agent Orange throughout southern Vietnam. Dubbed Operation Ranch Hand, the use of toxic chemicals was the beginning of a ten year period of poisoning not only the people and land of Vietnam but also the US and allied soldiers sent to fight in the war.
The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA), the representative of Vietnam's Agent Orange victims, is holding a year of activities to highlight the struggle for justice for Vietnamese and all Agent Orange victims. A conference focusing on the hearing the voices of first, second and third generation Agent Orange victims from Vietnam, the US, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Canada will be held in August.
The Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign (VAORRC) will be participating in these activities to mark the 50th year. Fifty years is too long for the victims of Agent Orange to be denied justice and compensation! The US government and the chemical manufacturers responsible for the horrific health and environmental consequences of Agent Orange must heed international public opinion and do the right thing!
US Congressional legislation to provide comprehensive assistance to Vietnam's Agent Orange victims, clean up the toxic "hot spots" in Vietnam and provide medical care for US veterans' children and Vietnamese Americans affected by Agent Orange, is in the final stages of drafting and is expected to be introduced this year.
VAORRC is building a national network of veterans, Vietnamese Americans, environmental, public health, peace activists and others. Expressing public sentiment that fifty years is already too long to wait for justice for Agent Orange victims, this network will educate our communities and elected representatives as well as hosting delegations of Agent Orange victims from Vietnam.
Working with the Bhopal network and other environmental organizations, VAORRC is continuing to shine a light on the attempts of Agent Orange manufacturers Dow and Monsanto to greenwash their reputations. Both companies try to portray themselves as socially responsible even as they refuse to assist the victims of their toxic chemicals. Last year we were there to confront Dow at its Live Earth Run for Clean Water and we will be there whenever dirty Dow raises its head!
In November, VAORRC hosted a delegation from our sister organization, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin. Headed by VAVA President Nguyen Van Rinh and including Agent Orange victim Dang Hong Nhut, the delegation traveled to San Francisco, New York and Washington DC and met with congress members, church leaders, scientists, public health experts, veterans, Vietnamese American leaders and others.
The VAVA delegation had a strategy meeting with VAORRC core and board activists including VVAW National Coordinators Barry Romo and Marty Webster.
In the Bay Area of California, the delegation took part in a traditional family Thanksgiving dinner and joined thousands of people at a Native American Sunrise Ceremony at Alcatraz Island. Building solidarity with the indigenous people of the Americas, the delegation was able to appreciate the history and culture of native nations. The host of the Ceremony, Mary Jean Robertson, a member of the Cherokee Nation, said she hopes the US government will do something about the Agent Orange dropped on the Vietnamese people.
The response to the visit of the VAVA delegation was quite positive with people in each city volunteering to work with VAORRC.
2011 is an auspicious year for making great progress in achieving justice for Agent Orange victims in Vietnam and in the US! Meeting the human needs of our sisters and brothers who bear the scars of Agent Orange on their bodies is urgent. And, it is imperative that the US government know that using chemical warfare, whether in Vietnam, in Iraq or Afghanistan, invokes responsibility to the victims of these weapons of mass destruction.
VVAW National Coordinators Barry Romo and Marty Webster are VAORRC board members. Marty is also on the VAORRC core organizing committee.
Merle Ratner is co-coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign.
Barry and Marty with VAVA.