"Weapons of mass destruction" or WMD is a term that's become a political football. It's become the 21st century bogeyman with Bush Junior and others using
it to justify the invasion of Iraq. It could be used to justify future invasions of "recalcitrant"
The embarrassing thing is that WMD haven't been found in Iraq nor for that matter in Afghanistan, the military's previous favourite destination. But who thinks of Afghanistan now? Who will even remember Iraq next year with Bush now turning his attention to Africa.
Ask today's generation about the Vietnam War and you get a blank look. How quickly we forget. And how quickly we forgot that the Vietnam War was fought with WMD,
the effect of which is still being felt today.
Colin Powell said Saddam Hussein was the biggest user of WMD since the first world war. He was wrong. Admittedly, Saddam did some pretty nasty things like
the Kurds but biggest user of nuclear and chemical WMD since the first world war was in fact, the United States of America.
Powell probably forgot about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He also probably forgot that from 1961 to 1974 the United States dropped 72 million litres of chemicals on Vietnam. Most of it was Agent Orange, a code name for the orange band that was used to mark the drums it was stored in. US soldiers dumped an additional 1 million litres of herbicides
just to empty their tanks. In total, over 10 per cent of the land area of south Vietnam was sprayed with chemicals eliminating 50 per cent of the mangrove forests
and seriously affecting the wildlife population.
A herbicide specifically developed by scientists in the 1940s for the military, the sole purpose of Agent Orange was to deny an enemy cover and concealment in dense tropical terrain by defoliating trees and shrubbery.
Orange contained a super-toxic strain of dioxin called TCCD. TCDD is not found in nature. It is a man-made by-product contaminant of the chemical manufacturing
process used to make Agent Orange.
A small 80 gram tin of TCCD could destroy New York City. The United States dropped 170 kilograms of it during the Vietnamese War. Dioxin
doesn't disperse. High concentrations of the substance applied during the
war persist in Vietnam today, and have irreversibly altered complex ecosystems.
It has rooted itself in Vietnamese soil from where it has spread through water
into the food chain and from there into human blood, breast milk and foetuses.
Today, the poison has seeped through three generations of Vietnamese. The grandchildren
of those who first saw the sweet-smelling yellow powder fall from the sky nearly
over 40 years ago are experiencing the effect of it today.
Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy's recent article in The Guardian exposed
the horror of the Vietnam War's legacy. They found behind a locked door at Tu
Du hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, hundreds of glass containers in which mutated
and misshapen human foetuses float in formaldehyde. Some appear to be sleeping,
fingers curling their hair, thumbs pressing at their lips, while others with multiple
heads and mangled limbs are listless and slumped. None of these dioxin babies
ever woke up.
On the floor below Scott-Clark and Levy further found those who survived the
misery of their births. There are ravaged infants whom no one has the ability
to understand, babies so traumatised by their own disabilities, luckless children
so enraged and depressed at their miserable fate that they are tied to their beds
just to keep them safe from harm. They
describe one victim who is 19. She looks 10. She walks like a spider and her
skin is septic wet red rubble. Her sister's fingers and toes drop off and she
loses more skin each day as her mother watches. Polio, Down syndrome and profound
retardation are everywhere. Some children look scarcely human. The Guardian
further reports that some women give birth to genderless living lumps that contained
organs. This is Vietnam today.
The Vietnam Red Cross
and other organisations are doing what they can. According to the World Health
Organisation there are only two ways to clean up Vietnam - bake all the soil in
Vietnam to 1000 degrees Celsius or pave the country with concrete and chemically
treat what lies beneath. There are 80 million Vietnamese living on that soil.
The fact is nothing can be done.
Scientists have the capacity to develop WMD and will continue to provide politicians
with access to these lethal weapons. But politicians rarely think long term nor
of the legacy that chemical warfare science has left Vietnam - glass jars in a
silent, white-tiled room at Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.
So the question for us today is not whether we support our leaders' stance
on Iraq or Afghanistan but whether we are prepared to accept the long-term aftermaths
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