VIETNAM, TET, & AGENT ORANGE

We take a look back at the Vietnam War, Agent Orange, and its impact 50 years after the Tet Offensive. Charles Bailey, author of “From Enemies To Partners: Vietnam, The U.S. And Agent Orange,” joins us with the details on how dioxin, a chemical compound in Agent Orange, is still causing casualties in Vietnam and what our nations are doing to solve the problem that the war left behind.

Aired on May 18, 2018. 

TRANSCRIPT

> AGENT ORANGE, WIDELY USED BY AMERICAN FORCES DO YOU AGREE THE VIETNAM WAR TO DEFOLIATE FORESTS AND DESTROY CROPS.

BUT LONG AFTER THE WAR'S ENTHE TRAGIC EFFECTS REMAIN.

IN ADDITION TO ENDURING DAMAGE TO THE ENVIRONMENT, DIOXIN, THE TOXIC SUBSTANCE IN AGENT ORANGE CONTINUES TO IMPACT THE LIVES OF THOUSANDS OF VIETNAM VETERANS AND HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF VIETNAMESE PEOPLE.

IN FACT 14 DIFFERENT DISEASES HAVE RESULTED FROM THE EXPOSURE TO DIOXIN, INCLUDING SEVERAL TYPES OF CANCER.

IT HAS ALSO BEEN LINKED TO BIRTH DEFECTS.

BUT THE STORY DOESN'T END THERE.

OVER THE LAST DECADE SERIOUS EFFORTS HAVE BEEN UNDERTAKEN BY BOTH THE AMERICAN AND VIETNAMESE GOVERNMENTS TO STEM THE TIDE OF THE DEVASTATING LEGACY.

JOINING US NOW WITH THE LATEST ON THE 70s CHARLES BAILEY, THE CO-AUTHOR OF THE NEW BOOK, FROM ENEMIES TO PRNTS, VIETNAM, THE U.S. AND AGENT ORANGE.

THANKS FOR JOINING US TODAY.

THANK YOU.

NOW CHARLES, BEFORE WE GET TO THE SUBJECT, TELL US QUICKLY WHY YOU DECIDED TO GET INVOLVED IN THE ISSUE OF AGENT ORANGE.

I WENT TO VIETNAM IN 1997 TO HEAD THE FORD FOUNDATION PROGRAM THERE.

AND AFTER A SHORT WHILE I STUMBLED INTO THIS SUBJECT.

I DECIDED -- I DISCOVERED NO ONE ELSE WAS WORKING ON IT.

I DECIDED TO SEE WHAT I COULD DO.

ALL RIGHT.

SO WHAT IS AGENT ORANGE/DIOXIN?

AND WHY DID THE U.S. MILITARY DECIDE TO USE IT IN VIETNAM IN THE FIRST PLACE.

THE U.S. MILITARY SPRAYED IT OVER A LARGE AREA OF SOUTHERN VIETNAM, PARTICULARLY REMOTE RURAL AREAS.

THE PURPOSE WAS TO DEFOLIATE TREES AND DESTROY FOOD CROPS AND DENY COVER AND FOOD TO THE NEM.

AS I SAID IN THE INTRODUCTION, THOUSANDS OF VET NAM VETERANS AND HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF VIETNAMESE PEOPLE HAVE BEEN AFFECTED BY THE LINGERING EFFECTS OF DIOXIN.

DO WE HAVE A CLEAR SENSE WHAT THE ACTUAL NUMBERS ARE AND HOW EXACTLY HAVE THESE AMERICANS AND VIETNAMESE BEEN AFFECTED.

WE HAVE SOME GENERAL IDEA OF THE NUMBERS IT IMPACTED.

FIRST IN VIETNAM THERE AS YOU SAY THERE ARE SEVERAL HUNDRED THOUSAND CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS WHO ARE LIVING WITH -- SEVERELY DISABLED AND IT'S LINKED TO EXPOSURE OF A PARENT OR GRANDPARENT TO DIOXIN.

IN THE U.S. WE KNOW ONLY ABOUT THE AMERICAN SOLDIERS WHO WERE THERE AND LATER DEVELOPED ILLNESSES AND APPLIED FOR DISABILITY ASSISTANCE FOR ONE OF A NUMBER OF DISEASES.

IN 2015 THE V.A. PAID ABOUT $24 BILLION IN DISABILITY COMPENSATION TO ABOUT 1.5 MILLION OF THESE PEOPLE WHO SERVE OUR COUNTRY DURING THE VIETNAM ERA.

ABOUT 40% OF THOSE WERE AGENT ORANGE RELATED CASES.

NOW YOU WRITE IN THE BOOK THAT THE USE OF AGENT ORANGE IN VIETNAM BY MILITARY FORCES WAS KIND OF A TABOO SUBJECT FROM THE END OF THE WAR IN '75 TO 2006.

WHY WAS IT TABOO.

WELL FOR THE FIRST 20 YEARS THERE WERE NO DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS.

AND WHEN THE TWO COUNTRIES BEGAN TO NEGOTIATE DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS.

THE VIETNAMESE RAISED THIS AND THE U.S. SAID WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT IT.

THE AMERICAN DIPLOMATS POSTED TO VIETNAM IN THE LATE '90s WERE TOLD NOT TO USE THE PHRASE AGENT ORANGE.

IT WAS REALLY A THIRD RAIL SUBJECT.

YOU TOUCH IT YOU'RE DEAD.

. THE U.S. I THINK FELT THAT THERE MIGHT BE QUESTIONS OF LEGAL LIABILITY AND TO THIS DAY THE STATE DEPARTMENT DENIES THAT THERE IS ANY LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY TO RESPOND TO AGENT ORANGE IN VIETNAM.

AND ALSO QUESTIONS THE SCIENCE OF CAUSALITY.

WE VIETNAMESE CONTINUE TO RAISE THE SUBJECT.

BUT THEY WERE TRYING TO NEGOTIATE TRADE ACCESS WITH THE U.S.

AND SO FINALLY IT WENT ON AND WENT ON FOR A LOG IN TIME.

BUT SOMETHING CHANGED IN 2006 AS RECORDS TO THE UNITED STATES.

WHAT CHANGED?

WELL WITH THE PROGRESS OF TIME AND GETTING TO KNOW EACH OTHER AND WITH THE GROWTH OF TRADE AND THE MUTUAL CONCERNS ABOUT REGIONAL SECURITY, THE CLIMATE FOR DISCUSSING REALLY DIFFICULT TOPICS IMPROVED, AND MORE IT PARTICULARLY A STUDY THAT I FUNDED THROUGH THE FORD FOUNDATION IN 2003 ACTUALLY IDENTIFIED WHERE THE DIOXIN -- WHERE THE REMAINING DIOXIN RESIDUES WERE.

WE CALLED THEM DIOXIN HOT SPOTS.

AND THIS PROVIDED THE SENSE OF RELIEF IN A SENSE.

BECAUSE IT BECAME A KNOWABLE, FOCUSABLE PROBLEM THAT THE TWO COUNTRIES COULD GET TOGETHER.

AND SO WHEN PRESIDENT BUSH VISITED VIETNAM IN 2006 HE AGREED TO HAVE IT ON THE AGENDA AND A JOINT STATEMENT WAS AS YOUED.

FOR THE FIRST TIME BOTH COUNTRIES AGREED TO WORK TOGETHER TO KILLEEN UP THE DIOXIN.

SINCE 2006 THE UNITED STATES HAS ACTUALLY INVESTED MONEY IN CLEANING UP DIOXIN.

WHAT IS LEFT TO DO?

WELL, THANKS TO SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY AND THE U.S.

CONGRESS APPROPRIATED A SMALL AND INCREASING ANNUAL SUMS BEGINNING IN 2007 FOR CLEANUP TO HELP PEOPLE WITH SEVERE DISABILITIES.

TEN YEARS HAVE GONE BY AND THE CONGRESS IS APPROPRIATED ABOUT $230 MILLION FOR THESE TWO PURPOSES.

I MANAGED TO RAISE ABOUT $30 MILLION FROM THE PRIVATE SECTOR TO GET THE BALL ROLLING.

SO WE'RE ABOUT AT THE HALFWAY POINT.

I WOULD SAY ANOTHER TEN YEARS TO COMPLETE THE CLEANUP OF DIOXIN AS A FORMER U.S. MILITARY BASE NORTH OF HO CHI MINH CITY AND TO REALLY DEVELOP SOCIAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS FOR THE SEVERELY DISABLED.

CHARLES, WE ARE ALL GLAD TO HEAR THAT AT LEAST THE PROCESS HAS BEGUN.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US TODAY.

WELL, THANK YOU.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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