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The Agent Orange Bill and the "Budget Crisis"
By Paul Cox
The proposed military budget now before Congress for the 2014 fiscal year is $512 billion. If you add in the secret budget ($56 billion), the nuclear weapons budget ($8 billion), the military housing construction budget ($11 billion), the "Overseas Contingency Operations" (aka, the expected costs of our wars, $86 billion), and the Veterans Administration budget ($156 billion), it comes to around $830 billion, or $1.6 million per minute. To visualize this number: if you papered a full-size football field with dollar bills, it would take stacks of $2,000 to reach a mere $1 billion. Then you would need 830 such fields to equal next year's defense spending. Note that this immense number does not include the interest and principal that we pay each minute on the many billions in 30-year bonds the US government sold to finance previous wars and military expenditures. When the Republicans say the Gummit spends too much money, they really nail it.
Of course, they squawk the squawk, but they don't walk the walk: their version of the DoD budget is $3.1 billion more than even the Obama Administration asked for, while in September they just cut many billions of dollars from the food stamp program for the poor; but I digress.
Currently, according to some credible sources, the US spends more on its military and its wars than ALL other countries combined. I include the Veterans Administration budget of $153 billion because taking care of our veterans is part of the true costs of war. Another cost of war—a small part really—is the true cost of cleaning up the mess we created during the Vietnam war in spraying Agent Orange over large sections of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
As almost all Vietnam veterans know, from 1961 to 1971, the US sprayed and spilled more than 19 million gallons of dioxin-laced herbicides—Agent Orange—over the jungles of Vietnam in the largest chemical warfare campaign in history. Ten percent of those herbicides were Agent Blue. Containing arsenic, Blue was fundamentally different than the rest of the herbicides; it was specifically formulated to kill rice. Even by the slippery legal conventions at the time, it was a war crime to attack food stocks. The generals' intention was to deny cover and food to an elusive enemy who we could not otherwise locate and destroy with our overwhelming firepower. It did not work, however; the Vietnamese outlasted our ability to pour treasure, ammunition, and troops into destroying them. But we did leave a deadly legacy of environmental destruction to the jungles, and poisons in the ground that continue to affect the health of people forty years later.
This legacy affects around 3 million Vietnamese and hundreds of thousands of US veterans with serious and deadly diseases. The legacy of our exposure continues both here and in Vietnam among our children and grandchildren who suffer birth defects.
The Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign, with the strong support of VVAW, helped write a new bill that addresses the major portions of that legacy. It was introduced into Congress in June by Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Called H.R. 2519, Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2013, the bill provides assistance to the children of US veterans, Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans of all ages, cleans up the contamination in Vietnam, and mandates research that will help US veterans ill from AO.
It is the most comprehensive bill ever put forward to clean up this one small legacy of war. It is a modest attempt to get our government to be accountable for and pay one small cost of war. You can read the bill at our website, www.vn-agentorange.org.
What is needed now is to gather co-sponsors, and that is where YOU come in. Generally speaking, our elected representatives are most responsive to three interest groups: campaign contributors, well-funded lobbyists, or the voters from their district. Each person reading this report is in at least one of those groups. We need you to write your congress member and use your considerable influence with him/her to get them to co-sponsor this bill.
No government ever wants to pay the true cost of war. They miscalculate; they engage in all forms of greed; they think they can benefit in some way from the next war; they lie to their people; they send their young and their treasure on adventures; and then—win or lose—they try to walk away from its effects.
One way for citizens to prevent war, one way to work for peace, is by making sure that governments—Our Government—recognizes, is held accountable, and pays the downstream costs for war. If you can help in this effort, please contact me or the Campaign for more information and resources. We will help you be more effective in your effort to help the victims of Agent Orange. Wage Peace.
Paul Cox served as a Marine in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 and is a member of VVAW. He is on the national board of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.