By KOU YANG
Turlock, Calif. (March 11, 2015) — April 30, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War and January 27, 2015 marks the 42 years anniversary of the signing of the Paris Treaty between the United States and North Vietnam, which allowed the U.S. to pull out of South Vietnam, resulting in the takeover of Saigon by the Viet Cong on April 30, 1975. As we reflect on the legacies of the Vietnam War, the two most deadly haunting weapons of war left behind are Agent Orange and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO).
During the war, the United States military used Agent Orange, the herbicides and defoliants to spray along the Ho Chi Minh Trails in Laos and South Vietnam to clear the Vietcong’s jungle hideouts and disrupt their food supplies. Years after the war, the people there continue to suffer various health maladies and dire consequences, including dioxin poisoning. It is estimated by the Vietnamese government that “there are over 4,000,000 victims of dioxin poisoning in Vietnam, although the United States government denies any conclusive scientific links between Agent Orange and the Vietnamese victims of dioxin poisoning. In some areas of southern Vietnam dioxin levels remain at over 100 times the accepted international standard.” The Vietnamese Red Cross estimated that Agent Orange has affected 3 million people spanning three generations, including at least 150,000 children born with severe birth defects since the war ended in 1975.
In August 2012, the U.S. pledged US$43million joint project with Vietnam to clean up areas contaminated by Agent Orange. Although areas of contamination of Agent Orange include part of the Ho Chi Minh Trails in southern Laos, the joint project between the U.S. and Vietnam does not include Laos. Moreover, the mentioned joint project is only the first small step, as more funds and technical assistance are needed to slowly clean the contaminated areas. It will take generations and billions of dollars to clean up the contaminated regions. The willingness and commitment of the United States government to fund this project by providing assistance to victims of Agent Orange and removing UXO in Vietnam is long overdue, and hopefully the U.S. government increases more funding to clear UXO in Laos, and Cambodia as well.
Unexploded Ordnances continue to be one of many major issues in Laos. Legacy of War, a non-profit organization based in New York stated that the, “The U.S. Air Force carried out 580,000 missions of bombing runs against the country during the U.S. led-Secret War from 1962-1975. That breaks down to about one planeload of bombs dropped every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. According to the experts, the U.S. dropped over 2 million tons of bombs in Laos, more than all of the bombs dropped during the World War II… The United States dropped 80 million cluster bombs on Laos. Ten percent to 30 percent did not explode.” The Unexploded Ordnances do not discriminate between soldiers, civilians, children or animals. Bomblets are hidden underground, waiting for someone to step on or dig into them, which then causes an explosion. Many people have died, and more are severely injured. Many of these are children who were born after the war.
Last year the U.S. government announced a $12 million in its fiscal year 2014 through the Foreign Operations Budget for Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) clearance, victim assistance, food and education in Laos. Since the end of the war in Laos, the U.S. has provided a total of $74 million, including the $12M in FY14, for UXO activities in Laos. Of the total amount, $32 million, or forty-percent, has been allocated in the last five years. Although these funds are encouraging, more assistance from international non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and governments is needed to contribute to the clearance of these Unexploded Ordnances in Laos.
Although the war ended four decades ago, the deadly human toll from the UXO and health impact from Agent Orange will last onto the future. It is imperative that the U.S. government and other nations, including China and Russia, the former Soviet Union, that provided these deadly weapons for use during the war in Vietnam need to show their moral obligations and responsibilities to clean up their own weapons of mass destruction, a cause that is long overdue in the spirit of humanity. In spite of all these efforts, nothing can be compared to the injustice and misery the people of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have suffered as they continue to seek healing and reconciliation.
Kou Yang is Professor Emeritus of California State University, Stanislaus.