Thursday, July 05, 2007



Agent Orange, name given to the most effective chemical herbicide, or plant killer, sprayed by United States armed forces in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War (1959-1975). It was created from an equal combination of 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. It was called Agent Orange because of the color of the barrel in which it was shipped. Agent Orange contained extremely toxic byproducts known as dioxins. Exposure to dioxins has been associated with severe birth defects and certain rare cancers in humans.

More than 19 million gallons of herbicides were sprayed in South Vietnam between 1961 and 1970. About 12 percent of South Vietnam was stripped of foliage, and tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and innumerable Vietnamese were exposed to dioxins. Toxins that leaked into croplands and rivers around the sprayed areas also had long-term effects on the food supply of the country as a whole.

Around 3 million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange, many of whom died while many others learned of the consequences only once they had children.

Most of these victims are living in difficulties with serious illnesses. Many families have four or five disabled children. Much worse, there are families in which all the children were born with deformities. These children are suffering from polio and mental retardation (27 percent); visual and hearing impairment (27 percent), immobility (19 percent) and other deformities. The number of disabled children who cannot take care of themselves accounts for 40.8 percent of the total.

Monday, July 02, 2007



Her letters, with its careful handwriting, arrive almost every month. I met Hai when pursuing a story on Agent Orange victims in Thai Binh province in July 2004. Ever since, the letters have told me a lot about her. A young woman’s confession on her efforts at “self-reformation”.
“Sometimes I wish I were blind, deaf or mute. So I don’t have to think and suffer anymore from the pains that Agent Orange has caused to my family.” Ha Thi Hai was born in 1976 in Thai Binh prvince, Northern Vietnam. She is the second daughter in the family. The only one who, until recently, was still able to go to school. Her father, a veteran, had no inkling that the fog which fell down from the planes in Quang Tri was going to contaminate his body. Agent Orange has accomplished its “mission” of silent destruction. It has been sown and grown into the bodies of his three children.

Hai had to quit school after 7th grade. Her health couldn’t keep up. She also felt bad about her deformed body. Ever since, she stays at home, spending her days trying to move her half-paralized hands and feet. She cooks and waits patiently for her father, brother and sister to come home.

“Daddy takes them to the fields with him to keep an eye on them. They look allright physically but they have absolutely no memory. Once they missed the path leading home and walked to the next hamlet. Little Ba cannot even re-plant the young paddy. Sometimes when she has her crises she rolls on the ground and even stomps on the stalks.

As to my brother his eyes start rolling when he’s about to have an attack. Then he chases me to hit me, all the while cursing. He has hit me many times but I only feel compassion for him. When the attack is over he takes me in his arms and we cry together. “

Of them all, Hai’s mother is the better off. That is, her health is the least shaky of all. She helps by selling vegetables on and off. Everything for her children.

Hai continues: “I have just learned what the doctors think of my case. They say that Agent Orange has affected my marrow and atrophied my muscles. It is inoperable and incurable. I am going to lose little by little the use of my limbs and not be able to move.” Convinced that it will relieve the family’s burden, Hai tried to kill herself. She swallowed some tablets, a lot of them. After her attempt at closure, the family has been helping her “reform herself”.

In her last letter, Hai wrote that, along with her brother and sister, she has been admitted to a physical rehabilitation center. “ We have had a lot of visitors. They told me I should make an effort to live.” Period. And a last sentence: “ I will.”

Le Thanh Thuy
(Suc khoe va Doi song)

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