[This is the speech delivered at the Second International Conference on the Victims of Agent Orange in Hanoi, August 8-9, by AOJ-AVSN representative Allen Myers. Myers was a US GI active in resisting against the US war on Vietnam in the 1960s and was court-martialled twice for his activism. He has been a political activist ever since and is currently the assistant editor of Direct Action.]
Eight years ago, the United States government launched a war of aggression against the people of Iraq, using as a pretext the lie that the Iraqi government possessed weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons. Clearly, the US administration hoped that the world had forgotten one of the world’s most horrendous uses of chemical weapons: the 10 years of spraying millions of litres of the deadly Agent Orange over the territory of Vietnam.
This gathering is testimony that the world has not forgotten, and will not forget, that crime. Indeed, the activities of VAVA and its supporters have been increasing public consciousness of Agent Orange in many countries.
It is instructive to compare the Agent Orange damage inflicted on Vietnam with the horrendous chemical accident in Bhopal, India, that occurred in 1984, when methyl isocyanate gas was released by an industrial accident. Up to 11,000 people died immediately or subsequently from exposure to the gas. More than half a million people were injured to varying degrees, some 4000 of them suffering permanent disability.
The company responsible for this catastrophe, Union Carbide, tried to evade its responsibility. But US courts ruled that it could not hide in the United States, but must answer to the Indian judicial system. Eventually, Union Carbide agreed to pay compensation of US$470 million, compared to the US$3 billion that the Indian government estimated was required. This was grossly inadequate; families of the dead received average payments of only a little over US$2000.
And yet, despite its insufficiency, Union Carbide’s payment is wildly generous compared to the refusal of the US government and the corporations that manufactured Agent Orange to take responsibility for attempting to repair some of the damage in Vietnam, where far more people have been killed or disabled, and where many probable future victims have not yet been born.
Moreover, while Union Carbide was criminally negligent regarding safety standards in its factory at Bhopal, at least it did not set out deliberately to poison nearby residents. It was an accident that could have been prevented if the company had not considered its profits more important than human life, but it was not a case of an intention to disperse poisonous chemicals.
Those responsible for the spraying of Agent Orange over vast areas of Vietnam can not make even that excuse. The destruction of forests and rice fields and human life was deliberately planned at the highest levels of the US government and the Pentagon. One of the major aims of the use of Agent Orange was to destroy rice fields and thus drive peasants into the cities that were still under the control of the US puppet regime. Even if that had been done with less polluting methods, it would still have been a war crime.
Nor can the US government or the corporations that manufactured Agent Orange pretend to be ignorant of the consequences of using this deadly chemical. As early as 1952, Monsanto – one of the companies manufacturing Agent Orange – informed the US government that 2,4,5-T was contaminated with a toxic chemical. The Agent Orange sprayed over Vietnam contained far more dioxin by-product than was warned about in 1952, because the manufacturing process was speeded up to meet the demands of the US military.
Dow Chemical, another of the corporations that manufactured Agent Orange, is now the owner of Union Carbide, which it bought in 2001. How appropriate! How convenient to combine negligent homicide and deliberate murder in the one corporation!
Finally, I would like to say a few words about other countries affected by Agent Orange. In addition to soldiers from the USA and its wartime allies, people in eastern Laos and eastern Cambodia were also subjected to spraying with Agent Orange. I do not know of any systematic studies of this, but I do know that there are many people in Cambodia who show congenital defects of the kind associated with exposure to dioxin. As the movement for justice regarding Agent Orange grows, I hope it will be possible to investigate this further.