US-Vietnam Agent Orange clean-up sets a model

On Thursday, the US and Vietnam start cleaning up dioxin from Agent Orange. This reconciliation, 37 years after the war, may set a precedent in the ethics of dealing with the aftereffects of war.

AP Photo/file
US Air Force planes spray the defoliant chemical Agent Orange over dense vegetation in South Vietnam in this 1966 file photo.

For the first time since the end of the Vietnam War, the United States will start to clean up the herbicide Agent Orange used to defoliate forests during that guerrilla conflict.

The cleanup, which begins Thursday at the former US military base of Da Nang, is a step forward in the ethics of modern warfare. It sets a precedent for how former foes can reconcile by taking responsibility for a war’s aftereffects on health and the environment.

It also points to the need for the US to make sure it doesn’t leave any ecodisasters in Iraq and Afghanistan – such as open burn pits – when leaving the military bases in those war zones.

In Vietnam, the US plans to spend $49 million to clean up several “hot spots” where the chemical dioxin in Agent Orange remains a health hazard by seeping into soils and watersheds. Between 1962 and 1971, the American military dumped about 20 million gallons of herbicides on jungles and mangroves to expose communist fighters. The area exposed is estimated to be the size of Massachusetts. In the initial cleanup, millions of tons of soil will be removed to get rid of the toxin. Private donors are being sought to help pay for what may eventually be a $450 million price tag for helping Vietnam end the problem.

The US effort is the result of steady reconciliation with Vietnam since 1996 when the two countries began formal ties. They are now fast removing many irritants, such as their long dispute over the harmful legacy of Agent Orange.

“We had a complicated relationship, but we’re not bound by that history,” said US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a visit to Hanoi in June.

One reason for drawing closer is that China threatens hostility over competing claims by several nations to islands in the South China Sea. The US is also eager to gain naval ship access to Cam Ranh Bay, a strategic port in Vietnam that could help the US defend allies in Asia.

The Pentagon has long struggled with cleaning up its pollutants, especially within the US. It has had a testy relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency in the work to remove hazardous materials at some 900 abandoned bases or facilities that manufactured products for the military.

The US has also begun similar work in Vietnam’s neighbor, Laos, to remove thousands of unexploded bombs dropped on that country in an attempt to cut North Vietnam’s supply lines. Last month, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first US secretary of State to visit Laos in 56 years.

The ultimate cost of any war is difficult to calculate. Even 37 years after the US left a crumbling South Vietnam, costs over America’s use of Agent Orange are still being added. Such delayed expenses from a war should give pause to any country before it enters a conflict.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to US-Vietnam Agent Orange clean-up sets a model
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2012/0808/US-Vietnam-Agent-Orange-clean-up-sets-a-model
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe