Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Noble Cause

You ask what we were doing over there all those years: what it was all about? I'll tell you pure and simple: it was a noble cause. -- Ronald Reagan

I fell asleep last night with thoughts of a shaky and scotch ridden man (M.) lingering in my mind. He comes in almost daily to the pub and, depending on the time of day, he drinks red wine, pitchers of iced tea with lemon, or watered down scotch on the rocks. He is accompanied by a large wallet and an intimidating bag of meds. Generally he is a pleasant being to encounter, calling you “buddy” and chatting about your school studies, the weather, or his time spent in Vietnam. I haven’t actually seen him in weeks; he tends to patron the business during the daylight hours in winter, I think. But last night I turned the corner into the smoking room and he was leaning over booth 55, cash in hand, expressively and emphatically talking to two twenty-somethings. I knew I needed to watch carefully as to why he was interacting with another table, money falling from his hands, and that if it was anybody else I would interfere and more than likely ask him to leave. But when he had finished talking with the table I stopped by to make sure they weren’t uncomfortable and then sat down with M., smoke from his cigarette pouring around my cheeks. I counted his money for him, all $1021 of it, and inquired as to why he was trying to give it away to customers and why they refused it. His hopes were that these guys, his age while he was in Vietnam, would take the $2 as retribution for going to the VA Hospital and talking to the veterans there.

M. found out yesterday that his compensation from the US government is increasing by $53 monthly. They have finally found research to prove that an herbicide used in the Vietnam War can cause mental and physical dysfunction. M. is 54 and takes 31 medications everyday. M. is pissed. Well, as pissed as a kind, sick, drunk, traumatized and underpowered person can be. He showed me the paperwork he received in the mail. The government is taking responsibility for about 10% of M.’s ailments, like his neurological disorders, the lack of function and feeling in his extremities, and maybe even his cancer. Why is he emotionally charged about this government, the very organization that awarded him sergeant status and placed him in leadership of 60-120 troops in 1973? Because his life is comprised of medications, a torn apart family, and a wait for death- from his own words- that has only just begun to be validated.

The herbicide that was used in Vietnam was called Agent Orange and was created and distributed by the very masterminds that currently hold the patents on most of our seeds and the chemicals that they sell with those seeds. This corporation is as powerful as ever and has been held responsible for a minuscule amount of the damages- something in millions of dollars.

US service men, who at most only served a few months tour of duty, have suffered from cancers, skin disorders and liver disorders. In an out-of-court settlement in May 1984 the manufacturers wore forced to pay $180 million in damages for exposure to Agent Orange, little more than 'nuisance value'. Monsanto as the key defendant was forced by the presiding judge to contribute 45.5% of the total pay-out.

Vietnam won’t stop seeing the damages done to their country for generations still, and M. won’t stop feeling the repercussions until he is laid in the grave. There are millions of affected people, let alone the parched Vietnam landscape, and Monsanto receives a slap on the wrist.

These Agent Orange births are normal for us ... Every now and then we have what we call a foetal catastrophe - when the number of miscarriages and deformed babies, I am afraid to say, overwhelms us. -- Dr Pham Viet Thanh, Tu Du hospital

“The Vietnamese surprisingly bear no animosity to the US aggressors and their allies who destroyed their country. The aggressors were the victims, it was the US who slunk away completely demoralised with their tails between their legs. Noam Chomsky has always taken a different view, the Vietnamese may have won the war, but their country was defeated. The Americans achieved their objectives by destroying a country that dared demonstrate a different political system than that which the US wished to impose on the world. Vietnam is now once again being destroyed by US Imperialism as the vanguard of US transnational corporations move in to mop up what little is left. All done in the name of the new imperialism, globalisation.”

I know it seems like a wayfaring concern, but everyday you are affected by those that control our food systems. Those of you that live in the great plains drive through fields of corn that are doused in the very chemicals that are driven by money, not human and environmental well-being.

It should never be forgotten that the people must have priority. -- Ho Chi Minh

And M. wanders the streets of Ann Arbor with anxious thoughts, shaky hands, and a bundle of medications. He’s not angry for himself so much as he is the others, the past victims, and the current state of affairs. The war being fought in vain and based on more lies.

Never again must the US or any other country interfere in another country's affairs. -- Len Aldis, secretary Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society

My hope is that we try- we try to know where our food comes from, what our money represents and supports, and why we are sending troops to Iraq. I don't want to be passive, to hide my head, close my ears, and hope it goes away. It is here to stay, never to be resolved in my lifetime, inflicting those that return without arms or legs, those that don’t return, those that returned years ago with ageless consequences, and those that are natives in a pillaged land. And we are afraid to admit that cause might not be so noble after all.

Credit for quotes (distinguished by italics): The Legacy of Agent Orange