Monday, September 8, 2014

It's Time for the U.S. to Join Veteran's Relief Efforts in Vietnam

The Vietnam War left horrible wounds in the lives of American soldiers, their families and the Vietnamese people. The effects of the damage to both the Vietnamese people and to Vietnam are still being felt today. Countless landmines and unexploded bombs dot the landscape making it dangerous for any who veer to far off the main roads.

Over 40,000 people, mainly children, have died as a result of land mines and other undetonated bombs left by American and American allied forces in Vietnam. Agent Orange, a chemical weapon used by American forces to defoliate trees has caused countless birth defects and deaths. This injustice has not gone unnoticed by Vietnam veterans, who have stepped up to help restore Vietnam.

Both American veterans and North Vietnamese veterans, former enemies, have been working together to help fix a larger problem, the death of innocent civilians. In 2005, NPR ran a story, "Ridding Vietnam of Deadly Remnants of War" about Project RENEW, an organization led by Jan Scruggs, a Vietnam veteran, and the founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, which has attempted to remove unexploded bombs from Vietnam. Removing unexploded landmines is extremely dangerous, but  despite their low tech approach, the team that NPR interviewed had not had any serious accidents. Using only a metal detector and shovels, they have managed to deactivate hundreds of landmines and bombs.

Project RENEW aims to educate the community about the landmines, remove as many mines and bombs as possible, and provide relief for those injured by the mines after the war's end. This project has not gotten enough media attention and support as it deserves, possibly because the effects of the Vietnam War are not as present in our minds as they should be.

Another veteran who decided to help fix the damage caused by the Vietnam war is Chuck Searcy, who is working with Project Renew to rid the area of the toxic remains of Agent Orange. His goal is to remove the deadly remnants in the next decade, and has asked the Department of Defense for their support.

Although it is wonderful that veterans are fixing the damage that the United States inflicted on Vietnam during the war, the United States should do more to help alleviate the considerable casualties that are still arising from the war. The United States government still denies that Agent Orange caused any deaths, although conservative Vietnamese estimates put the death toll at close to 4 million.

The United States government has done little to stop the horrible damage that Agent Orange does on the environment, only starting to help clean up the toxic chemical in 2012. The United States denies that its use of Agent Orange broke any international laws about chemical weapons, as they argue that Agent Orange was not a weapon at all, just an herbicide. As the United States government commemorates the Vietnam War's 50th Anniversary, it is important not to forget those still dying from the aftermath of the war: the Vietnamese people.

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