Thursday, August 15, 2013

Some Thoughts on Vietnam, Colonialism and War

Agent Orange warfare materials being loaded up for killing anything that moves, destroying all plant life, contaminating land and ground water, and causing immediate and on-going birth defects and serious health problems to this day in the children and grandchildren of survivors.

Growing up in the USA deeply involved in anti-war, anti-colonialism and  national liberation support organizations, one doesn't face the effects of colonialism nor can one really understand the problems faced by nations after they have liberated themselves from the colonizers. At home in the USA, we take for granted all sorts of services and conveniences that are just not available in former colonies even years after their successful wars of liberation. We have forgotten what it means to be a colonized country even though we were a colony for a couple of hundred years and had to kick the butts of the stinking English Monarchists to get our freedom.   Now living in a former colony, even one such as Vietnam that has made great strides and is making giant steps forward, for even a few weeks we realize more vividly that during the colonial period everything was done to meet the needs of the colonizers.  While the colonizers took the wealth out of Vietnam, they didn't invest in infrastructure unless it was needed to increase their profit taking, make war on the indigenous peoples, or for their personal comfort --- the colonized were an after thought if they were considered at all.  For example sewer systems weren't constructed, nor clean water systems, nor power grids, nor highway or train systems unless they were required by the colonials to move their plunder to ports.  No universal school systems or hospitals and other medical services were available.  Add to this the reality of incredible war devastation of practically all bridges, ports, hospitals, schools, roads, farm land -- the list is endless as a result of the French and American wars in Vietnam.  So, at the moment of liberation, the newly independent Vietnam is faced both with a lack of capital (after the plundering of their country by the colonizers who have stolen billions if not trillions of dollars in labor and resources) and with the need to begin rebuilding from the ground up.  In the case of Vietnam, the nation was almost constantly at war for most of 130 years --- against the French, then the Japanese during WW2, then the French again until liberation in 1954 and then the USA from 1954 till 1975 and then afterward with USA imposed sanctions.

Besides stealing the riches of the nation, colonizers treated the colonized people as slaves or perhaps even worse in some ways. The colonialists didn't care if the indigenous peoples lived or died. . 
Here is a photo of the devastation of a mangrove trees destroyed by our Agent Orange attacks.  Note the little boy in the forest --- devastated too by the loss of his home.  We did this over and over --- we dropped dioxin loaded Agent Orange on water sources, the land, forests, rice fields, any place we wanted.  We even dropped it on our GIs and they suffered from the effects of Agent Orange with cancer, skin lesions and other illnesses and they have had deformed children like the Vietnamese.  I have known two vets who suffer/ed from Agent Orange.  I worked in the psychiatric area of Wadsworth-- Brentwood VA hospital next to UCLA in 1971-1972  where Vets suffering from PTSD were housed.  The trauma of their work experience pushed them over the top into mental illness.

All that plus genocide with Agent Orange, white phosphorus bombs and napalm is how we the USA fought the in Vietnam.  Simultaneously our military intelligence service (now there is an oxymoron)  trained the South Vietnamese Police. Together with the South Vietnamese Police and Military, USA military personnel directly tortured prisoners, raped and killed women and slaughtered children (My Lai is one of many examples). 


I photographed more than 75 pictures and story boards in the War Remnants  Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and will share many more.  Some might say, "Let's forget the war" but Agent Orange disfigured and significantly handicapped babies are still being born.  Dioxin from Agent Orange  is still contaminating the water and land of Vietnam and causing these horrendous birth defects. The Vietnamese people live with this reality every day.  When will our US government commit the money to rectify these acts which stand beside the worst atrocities against human beings and the environment as stains on the history of the human race?

What inspires us daily as we live here is that with this history, the people of Vietnam have built and are building a society and economy that is full of physical and social accomplishments.  Accomplishments such as modern infrastructure, jobs, education, health care, science and so much more.  Certainly the road is long, hard and never straight. We are moved by the openness and honesty of the Vietnamese we are getting to know as they energetically work for the future. 

Last thing for this post, a web address to the largest circulation daily Vietnamese newspaper.  This ought to take you to the English language edition. 

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