Nam: a dirty chemical cocktail

With the first part of the minor finally wrapped up, it is time to start focusing on the blogs again and since the second part of the module is concerned with ASEAN, I am going to focus on one of its member states in particular, Vietnam. This does not necessarily mean that I will exclusively write blogs concerning this nation, since I cannot predict the future and would like to continue being able to give my opinion on issues arising in the near future.

To many westerners Vietnam is primarily known for its 19 year lasting Vietnam War between South- and North Vietnam. During this war 3 million people were killed. The war commenced when the Indochinese Communist Party was attacked by the French occupation force in 1946. These attacks sparked the resistance against the French colonial rulers. In 1964, the United States joined the war against the ICP. Together with the South Vietnamese armies they managed to push the North Vietnamese armies back to the border between North and South Vietnam. However, they didn’t follow them into North-Vietnam fearing that China and Russia would get closer involved in the conflict.

U.S. soldier during the Vietnam war.

U.S. soldier during the Vietnam war.

Secondly, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson did not go into the war with the will to win, but more to bolster South Vietnamese defenses until they could manage the war on their own. As a result of that, the North Vietnamese remained able to attack the armies of South Vietnam leading to heavy casualties. This eventually led to antiwar sentiment for the war in the U.S. and in 1973 the troops are pulled back. Two years later the North Vietnamese army takes over South Vietnam after South Vietnamese President Duong van Minh surrenders. 123

The war from a U.S. perspective had failed and showed to the U.S. that despite them being the biggest military power they could not just roll down somewhere and take over. The primary reason why the war turned out unsuccessful is the fact that they resorted from crossing the border into North-Vietnam. Secondly, they did not expect such a formidably trained opponent in the Viet Cong which was the guerrilla movement fighting the South-Vietnamese army with support of the North-Vietnamese army. 4

Although the war has now been over for almost 40 years, the wounds are still visible today. Among the vast array of new weapons which were put into service such as the Bell UH-1 helicopter and the M-16 rifle there was also the use of chemical weapons. The last one still having impact on newly born children today. The Americans resorted to dumping millions of gallons of ‘agent orange’ on the Vietnamese mainland. The substance contains dioxin which is one of the most aggressive substances used in chemical bombs, causing sickness and death even today. Agent Orange, named after the 55 gallon orange drum in which it was transported to Vietnam remains in the water sources and land of Vietnam continuing to poison people. The poison was originally intended for use on crops, plantations and trees in order to deprive the Viet Cong from cover in the Southern Part of Vietnam. By doing this the U.S. tried to even the battleground, so that U.S. troops and the South-Vietnamese army had better chances against the Viet Cong who used the jungle in their advantage. 5

U.S. warbirds dropping their payload of Agent Orange over the Vietnamese jungle.

U.S. warbirds dropping their payload of Agent Orange over the Vietnamese jungle in order to smoke out the enemy.

The children currently born in Vietnam show a lot of mentally or physically disorders associated with side effects of Agent Orange. Since in large parts of Vietnam the parents still rely heavily on their children taking part in labor activities in order to sustain the family. As a result a lot of children are abandoned by their parents in orphanages. The Vietnamese government is partly funding the orphanages caring for the babies. 6

Currently the Vietnam Relief and Responsibility Campaign is working on compensation for the millions of Vietnamese people suffering from the effects of Agent Orange. They hold the U.S. government responsible along with the chemical companies assigned with the production of Agent Orange.7 To put this into perspective, Nuclear weapons can be used to wipe out an entire area and kill thousands of people indiscriminately trough the initial blast and the up following nuclear fallout. During World War 2 it was used to force Japan into surrendering. Ever since than the international community realized that the destructive force of nuclear weapons should not fall into the wrong hands and protection and security have been increased. Summits devoted to the protection of nuclear material have also been held. The question that than arises is why chemical weapons are receiving much less attention when they have an equal amount of destructive power and that results can still be seen decades later.

In my opinion you can place chemical weapons alongside nuclear weapons in terms of the destruction they cause. It should not be an excuse for countries to resort to the use of chemical weapons as they often have grueling effects on people who are nowhere near involved in the conflict. I think that it is therefore shocking that a power as the U.S. who experienced the use of chemical weapons against them in World War2 resorted to the use of chemical weapons once more. I agree when there are organization willing to pursue justice for those who are affected by the Agent Orange and the U.S. should make an utmost effort in assisting the clean-up of Southern-Vietnamese soil and water supplies, as well as promote the reduction of nuclear weapons all over the world. The fact that they seem to reach agreements on the reduction of weapons grade nuclear material should be a motivation for similar actions in the field of chemical weapons, so that the U.S. is able to finally end Nam.


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