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The War Crime of Agent Orange in Viêt Nam and its Lingering Effects

"Chúng tôi không chỉ là người mắc phải, chúng tôi còn là những người đang bị xã hội bỏ rơi. Chúng tôi cần sự quan tâm và chia sẻ từ xã hội." - Lê Văn Hà, người mắc chất độc da cam/dioxin.
 "We are not only the affected individuals, but we are also the ones who are being abandoned by society. We need attention and sharing from society." 
- Le Van Ha, a person affected by Agent Orange/dioxin.

On April 26th, 2023, I visited the Support Center for Agent Orange Victims and Children in Da Nang City and participate in firsthand observation to gain insight into the devastating effects of a chemical warfare agent. With a focus on comprehending governmental and outside support provided to those impacted by Agent Orange, a comprehensive understanding of the physical and psychological challenges faced by affected individuals can be obtained. Additionally, one can gain appreciation for the adaptive strategies harnessed by affected individuals, including social and cultural adjustments that allow continues participant in their communities. Through a combination of personal interactions with staff and patients, direct observation of daily operations, and analysis of the effectiveness of services provided, one can gain a nuanced interpretation of the complex dynamics at play in the effort to address Agent Orange exposure. Examining the role of both Vietnamese and international organizations in providing support and the specific challenges faced in doing so can provide valuable insight into the political and social ramifications of this issue. While language and cultural barriers may pose difficulties in grasping the full scope of the impact of Agent Orange, ongoing research is being conducted to expound on the circumstances surrounding its development and prevalence.

Support Center for Agent Orange Victims and Children in Da Nang City

The Support Center for Agent Orange Victims and Children in Da Nang City is a government-funded organization that provides care and support for over forty individuals affected by exposure to Agent Orange. The center is solely run by Vietnamese staff, some of whom are themselves impacted by the chemical agent. While various organizations may make appearances at the center, it is primarily supported by the Vietnamese government.

What is Agent Orange?

Agent Orange was a herbicide and defoliant chemical used by the United States military during the Vietnam War. The chemical contained the highly toxic compound dioxin, which has caused severe health and environmental impacts in Vietnam. U.S. military officials believed that Agent Orange could be effective in stripping the foliage from the jungle canopy, exposing enemy positions and disrupting their ability to move undetected. In 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy approved the use of Agent Orange as a tactical weapon in Vietnam. As the war progressed, the use of Agent Orange became increasingly widespread, with an estimated 20 million gallons of the chemical being sprayed across Vietnam between 1961 and 1971. The decision to use Agent Orange was controversial, and concerns were raised early on about the potential health and environmental risks associated with the chemical. However, military officials continued to view Agent Orange as a valuable tool in their efforts to gain the upper hand in the conflict.

Today, many areas in Vietnam, including Da Nang, are still affected by Agent Orange contamination. The chemical has caused long-term health effects on the Vietnamese people, including birth defects, cancers, and other diseases.The active ingredient in Agent Orange is a dioxin called 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), which is a highly toxic and persistent environmental contaminant. During the Vietnam War, the approximate 20 million gallons of Agent Orange did not only impact Vietnam but other areas in Laos, and Cambodia. This widespread use of the chemical has resulted in significant environmental contamination and human health impacts, both in Vietnam and among U.S. military personnel who were exposed to the chemical. Many areas in Vietnam remain contaminated with dioxins from Agent Orange, particularly around former U.S. military bases and airfields where the chemical was stored and handled. These areas include the Da Nang Airbase, Bien Hoa Airbase, and Phu Cat Airbase. According to the Vietnamese government, over three million people in Vietnam have been affected by Agent Orange.

Efforts have been made to clean up contaminated areas, but progress has been slow due to the complex and persistent nature of dioxins. The U.S. government has also provided funding for programs to assist Vietnamese individuals and families affected by Agent Orange, including healthcare, vocational training, and disability benefits. The Vietnamese government has been working to clean up and remediate contaminated areas, but progress has been slow due to the complex nature of dioxin. However, there have been recent efforts by both the Vietnamese and U.S. governments to address the issue, including the construction of a dioxin remediation project at Da Nang airport.

In Da Nang and other areas of Vietnam, Agent Orange was heavily used, particularly along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and the Ho Chi Minh trail. The following are some statistics related to Agent Orange exposure in these areas: