Kenneth H. Young provides an overall summary of his impressions of the Second International Conference of Victims of Agent Orange held in Viet Nam August 8-9. The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) hosted the conference. He ponders the age-old question why the western world was willing to take responsibility for the children afflicted with polio and thalidomide defects but have ignored the little lambs sacrificed to Agent Orange. If not now, when? BONNIE
The Second International Conference of Victims of Agent Orange was in my opinion an outstanding success. More than 100 delegates from over 25 countries were in attendance as were the Ambassadors of Ireland, Venezuela and South Africa. Later, an appearance was also made by the Ambassador of China, who presented VAVA with a $5,000 U.S. check.
Most of the speeches and reports were related to the use of Agent Orange in different parts of the world: Vietnam, USA, Korea and Canada led the way with speeches concerning their own countries’ use of these chemicals and the impact which it had and is still having on their respective citizens and countries. Iran gave us a report on the Chemicals used against them during the Iraq/Iran War, and Iraqi Kurds reported on the use of mustard and nerve gases by Iraq on them. Only a very few reports were what I would consider direct attacks on the U.S. for their use of the Rainbow chemicals in Vietnam. One report pointed out the inequities of where money was being spent rather than cleaning up the mess created in the Vietnam war itself.
I was somewhat disappointed that, although many countries were well represented by delegates, the major manufacturers and distributors as well as the users of these toxic chemicals — namely the USA, Canada, England, New Zealand and Australia — didn’t see fit to send any official government representation. Something that I thought would have been the very least they could have done, even if they didn’t send a check.
VAVA is the undisputed authority and the organization which has been given the task of caring for close to 300,000 children suffering from Agent Orange attributed birth defects as well as the adult survivors of Agent Orange. Consequently, VAVA is a major player in any settlement or attempt to arrive at an equitable solution to the Agent Orange (dioxin) question.
All in all, I believe people left the conference with a renewed urgency armed with their worldwide contacts to people with similar interests and concerns in the seemingly never-ending Agent Orange saga. In closing, VAVA requested everyone work together towards a solution to the Agent Orange Problem.
Four of us, two from the U.S. and two from Canada, stayed on for a tour of the VAVA Hospitals and training centers. This gave us a further look at some of the most dioxin-contaminated sites in the world. We were accompanied by ex-military personnel and chemists and were in fact the very first non contractors to be allowed to visit two of the three most contaminated sites in the world on Military bases located at Da Nang and Bien Hoa airports (former U.S. Air Bases and the sites where most Agent Orange spray sorties originated and where drums and planes were washed out).
While at Da Nang, when I got near the most contaminated site, the smell brought me back to 1972 when I was contaminated by these chemicals. I didn’t know I had a smell memory and I was more than surprised at the feeling of panic which ran through my head as I stood there. I now know without a doubt what was done to me and exactly where and when it happened.
The children were in dire need of help. The Vietnamese people are doing everything within their power and means to care for these little darlings, who had absolutely nothing to do with the war or the chemicals except to have been born with genetic deformities because of them. They need everything from food to physical therapists, from teachers to the equipment to learn with and from counselling to just plain hugs.
The western world took care of the thalidomide babies in the 60s, the Polio children in the 50s and the starving children ever since, and they sent medical teams and councillors to Haiti and Asia after natural disasters. Why, then, has the world yet to care for the Agent Orange Children? It’s been more than 30 years since this tragedy occurred. Why is it that countries that produced these chemicals sold these chemicals and used these chemicals have not seen fit to care for its side effects or the collateral damage of modern war?
Kenneth H. Young CD