News / Asia

    War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

    US and Vietnamese officials press start button for Agent Orange clean up project in Da Nang, April 19, 2014. (Marianne Brown/VOA)
    US and Vietnamese officials press start button for Agent Orange clean up project in Da Nang, April 19, 2014. (Marianne Brown/VOA)
    Marianne Brown

    Government officials from the U.S. and Vietnam attended a ceremony Saturday marking the next stage in the cleanup process of one of the Vietnam War's deadliest legacies - Agent Orange.

    The herbicide was sprayed by the U.S. military as a defoliant to destroy jungle cover for communist troops. Its highly toxic byproduct, dioxin, has been linked to diseases such as diabetes, cancer and birth defects.

    The $84 million project, officially launched in 2012, aims to clean up contaminated soil by cooking it at high temperatures.

    On Saturday, a group of visiting U.S. senators and congressmen crowded together at one of 28 so-called dioxin “hotspots” in the country, the former U.S. air base at Da Nang, in central Vietnam, where Agent Orange was stored. They hit a giant start button to initiate the clean up.

    Part of the water treatment system at the dioxin remediation site at U.S. airbase in Da Nang, April 19, 2014. (Marianne Brown/VOA)Part of the water treatment system at the dioxin remediation site at U.S. airbase in Da Nang, April 19, 2014. (Marianne Brown/VOA)
    x
    Part of the water treatment system at the dioxin remediation site at U.S. airbase in Da Nang, April 19, 2014. (Marianne Brown/VOA)
    Part of the water treatment system at the dioxin remediation site at U.S. airbase in Da Nang, April 19, 2014. (Marianne Brown/VOA)

    "We built a containment structure roughly the size of a football field and filled it with 45,000 cubic meters of dioxin-contaminated soil," said U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear.

    "Beginning today the contaminated soil will be heated to extremely high temperatures to destroy dioxin. After approximately four months the soil will be tested to confirm that the project cleanup goals have been achieved," he said.

    Healing the wounds of war has been an important issue for the two countries since diplomatic relations were normalized nearly two decades ago. The cleanup has become a symbol of progress and cooperation between the two governments.

    According to U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, who led the congressional delegation, the project has four goals.

    "[The first is] to eliminate the danger from dioxin to people living here. Second, to show that for so many years, the U.S. didn’t ignore this problem, we returned to take care of it. Third, our two countries can work together on an issue that for more than three decades was an obstacle for better relations. Fourth, [we want] to improve services for people with disabilities regardless of the cause, including what may have been caused by Agent Orange," Leahy said.

    An environmental assessment is now being carried out at another former air base, Bien Hoa.

    US avoids liability

    While the U.S. continues to pump money into funding the Agent Orange cleanup and helping people with disabilities in Vietnam, Washington has never admitted liability for health problems caused by dioxin.

    "America is trying to avoid all the one-to-one compensation cases by arguing the scientific basis is not clear, you have no basis, you don’t know what the genetics of the people were to begin with. That’s what a good defense lawyer would do," according to Carl Thayer, a professor at Australia's University of New South Wales.

    In 2004 a group of Vietnamese took the chemical companies that produced Agent Orange to court in the U.S., but a federal judge dismissed the case on the grounds that use of the defoliant did not violate international law at the time.

    The U.S. also helps in programs aimed at dealing with unexploded ordnance (UXO) and landmine contamination in Vietnam.

    But neither the United States nor Vietnam has signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty - Vietnam citing national security concerns, especially border security.

    One expert who works in the field of UXO clearance - who did not want to be named - said this is because Vietnam is reluctant to clear mines on its border with China.

    While the cleanup project has prompted many to reflect on the wounds of war, Vietnam's Vice Minister of National Defense Nguyen Chi Vinh said it is an opportunity to look to the future.

    He said he believed the success of the Agent Orange project lies not in the fixing of past issues, but in opening a new road for the future.

    "President Obama and President Sang inaugurated the new U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership last summer. I can think of no better example for our growing friendship than this project," said Ambassador Shear.

    You May Like

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: KJW 79 from: USA
    April 24, 2014 8:10 PM
    Wow. This Vietcong that posted should be taught about the war and what the north did. We Americans went and fought to give you freedom and now I see you just spit on is for that NO RELATIONS with the North. If the north was as nice an proper as they claim they would admit their own responsibility I the war as admit they were wrong and give the country it's freedom. I guess we should've just nuked the while north and been done with it. Well hindsight is 20/20. As for agent orange, it effected many Americans when they came home and still does to this day and will continue to effect that family line for generations. But just like every other communist and socialist state you don't care and just eat to poke at TRUE freedom fighters. AMERICANS ARE THE WORLDS LAST LINE OF DEFENSE AGAINST THE EVIL IN THIS WORLD. So if I were you, is pray that we would come back and finally give you TRUE freedom.

    by: Ed Perhay from: USA
    April 23, 2014 3:24 AM
    Please do not be swept away with this picture op. None of the Vietnam Veterans who lost friends and their families want to see a loving relationship evolve here again. The North will always be the North. They have had decades to convince the world they can be nation committed to their people and the world. Actions speak louder than words here. They have done nothing to convince anyone they have changed from the 60's. Sorry I'm not going to be in denial. The war did happen and many Americans and other around the world still suffer its results. If you wanted to spend more money on Vietnam you should have done it when American lives were at risk..

    by: NMQ from: Viet Nam
    April 20, 2014 11:26 AM
    CJD-Comparing the USA with Canada? What a joke. There's no contest in terms of the death and destruction that your country has caused in Viet Nam and many other countries about the world. Are you a nationalist or just plain ignorant of Amerika's history? Do you know how many Vietnamese died at the hands of your country's military and that of its allies and its client state?
    In Response

    by: Ian from: USA
    April 20, 2014 1:02 PM
    This article is good in provide the information of how the two countries approaching new friendship after many year of distance.
    Before regurgitate the one sided propaganda acquiring from living under the communist of how bad America & its allies are in the war in Vietnam . I beg you to read more & search for the truth that at the time there was a struggle between the two political systems in the world (The free world & the communist bloc) In that war the communist bloc used Vietnam as a frontier & encourage North Vietnam to overrun South Vietnam (disregard & violate the Paris peace accord)
    Also do stop the habit of assigning the dead toll in Vietnam war to one side ( America & its allied) as if there were no death of civilians , atrocities & destructions committed by the communist north Vietnam.
    Don't be blind to the fact of your own Ho chi Minh had hundred thousands of Vietnamese killed under the disguise of land reform (this is just one example of how conveniently one can be forgetful of one owns crime) Type the phrase "Land reform in Vietnam" in Wikipedia, and read it and think for yourself .

    by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
    April 19, 2014 12:12 PM
    Using chemical weapons is against the international law. The perpetrator must be trailed by the international war crime court!
    Evil America!
    In Response

    by: CJD from: USA
    April 19, 2014 3:27 PM
    Jonathan, yes chemical weapon use is against international law. So is genocide. Not sure how the international war crime court is going to trail them??? Evil is world wide. Just take a look at Canada; http://canadiangenocide.nativeweb.org/ Hate much?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.