Agent Orange Effects Linger in Vietnam

Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Hamlin Wade, a junior political science major at Wake Forest University. Hamlin attended a panel discussion to learn about Vietnam and Agent Orange. This opinion piece also appears in the Wake Forest University student newspaper.

The Vietnam War is a sore spot in the memories of many American citizens. From 1955 to 1975, the United States found itself entrenched in a war of unrecognizable proportions. Due to the tactical disadvantages faced by American soldiers, action had to be taken to level the playing field, ultimately crippling the guerrilla warfare tactics held by members of the Vietnamese military.

The solution? Agent Orange, an herbicidal chemical extensively used to eradicate jungle flora throughout the Vietnamese countryside. Often used at levels upwards of 50 times the recommended usage, Agent Orange decimated fields and jungles alike.

However, unexpected consequences accompanied the use of this chemical, resulting in adverse health conditions contracted by both the Vietnamese people and the American soldiers responsible for its distribution.

Some 35 years later, the effects of this chemical are still evident in Vietnam, as children are born with birth defects and families are ripped apart at the seams. The war may be over, but the conversation cannot end.

Unfortunately, it seems that the focus of the consequences of Agent Orange has been politicized. Many claim that Agent Orange has had little effect on the people of Vietnam, that it is simply a propaganda campaign by the Vietnamese government to garner international sympathy and financial support for the cleanup of their countryside. Yet, the facts remain.

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Dannia Southerland talks about Children of Vietnam's Hope System of Care.

There still exist some 28 hot spots of Agent Orange, commonly concentrated around former U.S. airport bases where the chemical was loaded into planes.

Furthermore, these hot spots still affect the local communities, as the dioxin produced by Agent Orange attaches itself to fish consumed by the nearby citizens.

Agent Orange can affect individuals in a variety of ways, most commonly in the form of birth deformations and defects. Some Vietnamese children are born without eyes and noses. Others are born without the ability to walk or function in a normal societal setting. Some 150,000 children in Vietnam can attribute disabilities to Agent Orange.

Agent Orange can destroy the livelihood of a family, as they are forced to concentrate solely on the care of those unable to attend to the most simplistic of tasks.

Thankfully, organizations such as the Ford Foundation, locally based non-profit Children of Vietnam and others have acknowledged the continuing effects of Agent Orange in the communities of Vietnam. Even the United States government has pledged some $34 million to help clean up hot spots across Vietnam.

However, a handful of non-profit organizations cannot completely eliminate the hardships brought on by the actions of the United States over three decades ago. If there is to be a future Vietnam that is not riddled by the effects of Agent Orange, global action is required.

It is important to leave any misconceived notions at the door. This is not a propagandist campaign by a bitter government. This is not a ploy for monetary donations. There is a powerful and prevalent problem in Vietnam thanks to Agent Orange. It is important that the world understands the effects of this harmful chemical and unites behind the people of Vietnam. It is possible to eliminate the problems associated with Agent Orange; however, it is only possible if the global community pays attention and takes action.

The story in Vietnam is not unique. War has a long history of destroying buildings in the present and destroying families over the course of time. From the atomic bombs dropped in World War II to the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, war has unintended and unpredictable consequences.

Even in today’s conflict in Iraq, United States forces are employing the use of white phosphorus bombs, another chemically reactant bomb with unknown side effects. Yet no matter how bleak the future may look, all hope is not lost.

The Vietnamese people are a resilient culture and they will fight to overcome whatever obstacles they may face. Families are uniting together in order to overcome the effects of Agent Orange.

Vietnam is a country of great hope with a bright future. If the world is willing to pay attention, the past can finally be eliminated and Vietnam can begin to move forward in the 21st century. No matter how dark and ominous the past may be, it is never too late to overcome history.

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