Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, the highly toxic defoliant used by the U.S. during the Vietnam War, have vowed to appeal the March 10 ruling by a U.S. federal judge dismissing their lawsuit against Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and 35 other companies that manufactured the poison.
The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange says that over 4 million Vietnamese still suffer the harmful effects of exposure to dioxin, the most lethal ingredient in the deadly poisons sprayed by the Pentagon on Vietnam’s countryside more than 40 years ago.
Nguyen Van Quy, 49, one of the plaintiffs in the case, served as a soldier in the North Vietnamese army during the war. He reacted to U.S. Judge Jack Weinstein’s decision to dismiss the suit with a pledge to press on.
“I’m determined to pursue the case until the end, because this is justice,” he told The Associated Press. “I’ll fight, not just for myself, but for millions of other Vietnamese victims.” Quy is waging a battle against stomach and liver cancer, which he blames on exposure to Agent Orange. He also blames dioxin for inflicting genetic damage on his children. He has an 18-year-old son who was born with spinal problems and learning disabilities, and his 16-year-old daughter is deaf, mute and developmentally disabled.
“Those who produced these toxic chemicals must take responsibility for their actions,” he said.
Quy and other victims charge that the chemical companies, by knowingly manufacturing the highly poisonous Agent Orange for the U.S. military, committed war crimes and violated international law. They say the companies are therefore liable and must provide compensation to the victims, who continue to suffer from cancers, spina bifida, miscarriages, severe birth defects and deformities,
diabetes and a host of other ailments caused by direct and indirect exposure to the chemicals.
U.S. troops were also exposed to the defoliants and continue to suffer grave medical consequences, as well.
Barry Romo, a national coordinator of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), said in a telephone interview from his home in Chicago that the domestic fallout of the U.S. military’s use of Agent Orange “just hasn’t stopped.”
“The GIs who were most exposed died the quickest,” Romo said, “but there are many others who are getting older now and the cancers and neurological problems keep cropping up.”
VVAW was the first veterans’ group to raise the alarm about Agent Orange in 1971, and was part of a historic lawsuit against the chemical companies by U.S. vets seeking compensation for the illnesses and disabilities flowing from their exposure to the chemical. In 1984, the courts awarded $180 million — far less than what VVAW sought — to more than 10,000 GIs who were suffering from exposure to Agent Orange.
Romo noted that Judge Weinstein, who dismissed the current lawsuit on the grounds that it has no basis in domestic or international law, was the same judge who ruled in favor of the GIs in 1984.
“If the judge could rule 21 years ago that the chemical companies were responsible, how can he rule now that the situation is totally different? He’s backtracking, especially in view of the fact that we know a whole lot more about dioxin today, after Times Beach [Mo.] and Love Canal [N.Y.]. Dioxin kills.”
Romo said most Vietnam veterans will see the lawsuit by the Vietnamese as addressing “a question of justice,” and will see that “the people who we were fighting are now having children born with deformities, all because of what our government did.”
More than 21 million gallons of toxic chemicals — over half of which consisted of Agent Orange — were dumped on South Vietnam’s forests, waterways, villages, rice fields, and other crops from 1961 to 1971 under the name of “Operation Ranch Hand.”
The Pentagon said the aim was to deny cover and food to Vietnam’s liberation fighters, and claimed that the use of herbicides was not prohibited under international law or the rules of war. Records show, however, that the Pentagon and the chemical companies knew at the time how deadly these chemicals, particularly dioxin, were to human life and the environment.
For more information about the case, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange, and news about a recent international conference in Paris on the issue, visit . Vietnam Veterans Against the War can be reached at .
malmberg @ pww.org