The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

U.S. war continues to kill …30 years later

Nov 8, 2004

In the next few weeks, the Federal Court of New York is supposed to decide a suit filed against Dow Chemical, Monsanto and 35 other companies involved in the production and distribution of Agent Orange. This chemical, which was used in Viet Nam, got its name because the barrels in which it was stored were orange. It became well known only after the effects of this defoliant on American soldiers who served in Viet Nam were too large to ignore. The Vietnamese population suffered the same effects, multiplied many times over: cancers, skin diseases, destruction of the nervous system, respiratory and blood diseases. The effects are not only on those exposed to Agent Orange, but also on their children who suffer from birth defects.

Agent Orange was first used in Viet Nam as a defoliant to destroy a large part of the forests and agricultural land from which many Vietnamese derived their living. The U.S. goal was to force the population out of the countryside into the cities where they could be put under tighter control by the U.S. military, and to expose those who remained in opposition to more accurate bombing campaigns.

The use of Agent Orange was first approved by President John Kennedy in 1961, and then by Presidents Johnson and Nixon. Their administrations knew full well the potential effects not only on the forests and agriculture, but also on the humans who would inevitably be exposed to the chemicals. But that didn't stop Kennedy, Johnson or Nixon from continuing to authorize the use of Agent Orange in a vicious attempt to force the Vietnamese population to submit to imperialist domination.

The use of Agent Orange wasn't stopped until a decade later, in 1971, when both scientists and American soldiers exposed to the defoliants' effects made the issue public. The American soldiers filed a number of legal suits in U.S. courts. In 1984, just before a major decision was to be handed down, an out-of-court settlement was made by the chemical companies to pay between 40,000 and 68,000 American plaintiffs. The counterpart, though, was that not a single one of the estimated one million Vietnamese victims were paid a cent.

It is now some thirty years later, with still no justice for the Vietnamese. An association of these victims now awaits a new verdict. Will they gain anything? It's not at all sure. But even if they do, it won't erase the crimes perpetrated by the U.S. under the Democrats, Kennedy and Johnson, and the Republican, Nixon.