Fallen Leaves, Broken Lives (23/8/2005)

As well as GMOs, Monsanto has long been a producer of highly toxic chemicals and not just for industrial and agricultural uses, but also for military ones.

These include deadly PCBs and the infamous dioxin-laden Agent Orange, the powerful defoliant used in Vietnam which led to the biggest class action suit in US history involving thousands of former GIs.

But as the excerpts, and enormously revealing statistics, included below make clear, theirs was only a small part of the catastrophic suffering caused by the US's industrial-military complex.

This article can also be found in full in the July issue of THIRD WORLD RESURGENCE (No. 179).

Fallen Leaves, Broken Lives
By Edward Tick,
Utne magazine (excerpts only)

30 years after the fighting stopped in Viet Nam, Agent Orange still wages war

[the article uses 'Viet Nam' and 'Ha Noi', etc. to more closely reflect the mono-syllabic character of the Vietnemese language]

Viet Nam's endlessly rolling flatlands covered with rice paddies glow an emerald green. The Mekong Delta, stricken with killer floods for the past six summers, is a floating nest of variegated green vegetation. And the mountains of the Central Highlands, with their steep slopes and narrow, snaking highways, are covered with green weeds, scraggly bushes, or quick-growing trees.

This lush living carpet stretches from one end of Viet Nam to the other. But it is deceptive. After one recent visit to Viet Nam, I reported the Delta's opulence to an American veteran, a "river rat" who had patrolled the muddy Mekong in his deadly boat. "That's what it first looked like when I arrived in '65," he said. "By the time I left a year later, it was nothing but a wasted moonscape."

Between 1962 and 1971, in an effort to expose guerrilla forces hiding in forested areas, the United States military sprayed 11.7 million gallons of an herbicide known as Agent Orange on Viet Nam. By Vietnamese count, 4.5 million of 25.5 million acres of forest and 585,000 of 7 million acres of cultivated land were destroyed. The Central Highlands were hit particularly hard: The timberlands, once thick with 120-foot trees, were reduced to matchsticks; the jungles were left muddy and barren.

Viet Nam has made urgent efforts to reclaim and restore its land at the cost of $120 to $200 per acre -- a vast sum for an impoverished country in which the per capita income is only about $480 a year. The Vietnamese plant fast-growing but nutrient-sucking eucalyptus trees from Australia on barren mountains away from farmlands. These prevent further erosion and are harvested to make paper. Peasants and cooperatives plant tea, coffee, pepper, and other cash crops. Now plantations, tree farms, or spreading scrub weeds instead of impenetrable jungle constitute the Vietnamese earth's green swath.

While the environmental ruin wrought by this wartime tactic remains a subject of great concern, the Vietnamese are especially haunted by Agent Orange's effect on their physical health. Over the years, heavy rains in Viet Nam have washed much of the defoliant through the ecosystem and out to sea. But according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, dioxin -- which is contained in Agent Orange and is linked to cancer and birth defects -- can get lodged in human DNA and be passed from generation to generation. No one knows when or even if it can ever be cleansed.

From north to south, from Ha Noi to the Delta, families have had to endure Agent Orange's tragic legacy. In Hoi An, on the coast of the South China Sea, Do Thanh Son, a marble worker in his mid-20s, had to quit school to support his elderly parents and his older brother, who developed normally until age 3, then disintegrated until he "became mad." Farther up the coast, in the ancient imperial capital of Hue, famous for the brutal battle portrayed in the movie Full Metal Jacket, Tu Ai, a woman in her 20s, tells her neighbor's story: The family's father was infected by Agent Orange during the war. Later he married and had seven children, all of whom who were "strong, intelligent, and attending school." Each child, upon reaching the mid-teens, "became foolish."

One by one they lost their ability to read, speak, and finally to perform everyday functions. The aging, heartbroken parents had to keep these loved ones in wooden cages while desperately struggling to earn a subsistence living and seek "repair."

In Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and all the other major cities and towns of the south, children like these dot the sidewalks, begging as they walk on their hips, crawl, or push themselves on makeshift carts -- their useless limbs dragging, dangling, or slung over their shoulders. In rural villages, where the vast majority of the country's 82 million citizens live, families and neighbors loyally tend to these dependent, impoverished children who, with no medical or rehabilitative resources, often spend their lives on tiny cots, in their mother's arms, or carried in a sling.

In November 2000, the Ha Noi-based Research Center for Gender, Family, and Environment in Development concluded that children in families affected by Agent Orange can suffer "skin rashes, severe personality disorders, memory loss, enlarged head, organ and metabolic dysfunction, missing or abnormal reproductive organs, miscarriages, cancers, numbness, hearing loss, child deaths, birth defects." The center also fears that such effects may "have no time limit" and calls survivors born long after the end of the war "victims of time-delayed violence." The Vietnamese refer to these children, who are scattered across the cities and countryside, as Tre Em Bui Doi: the dust of life.

NO ONE KNOWS HOW long the dioxin in Agent Orange lodges in the DNA or how many generations will inherit its effects. In Viet Nam, severe disabilities that have been blamed on the defoliant are appearing in a second generation since the war. Last year in Hong Ngoc's province, which has a population of 1 million, over 300 cases of extreme disability were discovered.

The Hong Ngoc Humanity Center is a haven from poverty, helplessness, and despair. Its three centers now serve about 500 disabled people, and thanks to its entrepreneurial spirit, and help from friends abroad, it is expanding its reach. Its residents count themselves lucky, since some 3 million disabled young people are living all over Viet Nam.

"My generation will never be free of suffering," concludes Dinh, the 55-year-old vet who drove a truck on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. "But we can work together for the future and for our grandchildren, to make sure they never see war again."

Assistant director Nguyen Thanh Diep agrees, pointing out that Hong Ngoc means Rosy Jade. "We chose this name for our center because our people are not the dust of life. No matter how disabled, our children are precious gems. Vietnamese people know who the gems are."




American Veterans 2.5 million

Vietnamese People In Country

est. 1970 pop. 41 million

In Combat
US: 1.5 million
Viet Nam: unknown

Killed in Action
US: 58,000+
Viet Nam: 2.5 million

US: 300,000+*
Viet Nam: 4 million

Missing in Action
US: 2,000+
Viet Nam: 250,000

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
US: 1.5 million+
Viet Nam: unknown

US: 100,000+
Viet Nam: unknown

US: 150,000 nightly
Viet Nam: unknown

Boat People
US: 0
From Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia: 1 million

Lost at Sea
US: 0
From Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia: 500,000

Disabled Street People
US: unknown
Viet Nam: 3 million

New Agent Orange Deformities
US: unknown
Viet Nam: 35,000/year

Peacetime Deaths Due to Unexploded Bombs & Mines
US: 0
Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia: 50,000+

Maimed by Bombs and Mines (1975-98)
US: 0
Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia: 67,000

Reeducation Camps
US: 0
Viet Nam: 400,000 in 100 camps

* includes U.S: 74,000 quadriplegics and multiple amputees


Total Herbicides Used
19.4 million gallons

Agent Orange Sprayed
11.7 million gallons

Mangrove Forest Destroyed

Forest & Jungle Destroyed

Cultivated Land Destroyed


8 billion+ pounds (4 times more than WWII total; equal to 600 Hiroshima-size bombs)

23 million bomb craters

2,257 U.S. aircraft lost

Over 4,000 of toal 5,778 villages bombed, 150 completely destroyed


10 million cubic meters of dikes

815 hydroelectric works

1,100 lake embankments

8 forestries

48 agricultural research centers with 6,000 agricultural machines and 46,000 water buffalo

400 factories

18 power stations

13,000 boats

15,100 bridges

2,923 high schools and universities

350 hospitals

1,500 maternity hospitals

484 churches

465 pagodas

240,540 thatched huts

$925 Billion

Edward Tick collected these statistics by searching history books, newspapers, and archives, and interviewing survivors and scholars throughout the United States and Southeast Asia. Following is a partial list of his sources. In the United States: Disabled American Veterans; The New York Times; Hell, Healing and Resistance by Daniel Hallock; The Vietnam War: A History in Documents, by Young, Fitzgerald & Grunfel; Webster's New World Dictionary of the Vietnam War. In Viet Nam: Army Museum, Ha Noi; Hong Ngoc (Rosy Jade) Humanity Center, Sao Do; Research Center for Gender, Family, and Environment in Development, Ha Noi; Women's Museum, Ha Noi; War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City.

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