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Issue #1676      March 11, 2015

Culture & Life

Agent Orange, the Gulf of Tonkin and stealing public ore reserves

To the chagrin of the US military, their troops in Vietnam were safe only in their bases and camps – and not always then. The countryside belonged to the Vietnamese liberation forces. In a desperate attempt to overcome this situation, the US resorted to concentration camps and massive chemical warfare. Vietnamese villagers were herded into “secure” villages where they could be “protected”. That they did not need to be protected from the side they actively supported counted for nothing. It was, after all, not about protection but about separating the villagers from the resistance fighters in the jungle.

The colossal spraying program did not leave the Vietminh exposed and helpless. What it did do, however, was poison the grass and the other plants, poison the soil and crops and poison the people.

What was in effect a policy of turning villages into prison camps no doubt strengthened the resolve of the Vietnamese people to resist the US invaders even more. At the same time, the US brass-hats had unleashed their other brilliant weapon to win the war: unprecedented chemical warfare, spraying millions of litres of the toxic agent dioxin (the notorious “Agent Orange”) over large swathes of the country. Monsanto and Dow Chemicals assured the Pentagon that it would strip the leaves from the trees and leave the black-clad Vietnamese crouched underneath fully exposed to US gunships.

Although it played merry hell with Vietnam’s environment, the colossal spraying program did not leave the Vietminh exposed and helpless. What it did do, however, was poison the grass and the other plants, poison the soil and crops and poison the people. Birth defects still appearing in large numbers today are just one of the effects of this potent chemical pollutant which was dropped with such abandon on “the gooks”. The quantities sprayed are staggering, as are the estimates of the resultant contamination. A general standard is that dioxin levels must not exceed 1,000 ppt (parts per trillion) in soil. Dioxin levels at Da Nang for example have been found to be up to 365,000 ppt.

After much pressure from humanitarian and peace organisations, including US associations of Vietnam veterans still trying to cope with their feelings of guilt, horror and betrayal, the US government – which waged the war and caused the problem after all – has finally and very reluctantly agreed to contribute some money (not a lot and not enough by a long chalk) to the task of cleaning up the worst contamination.

Filmmaker and activist Michael Moore has also given money to the Veterans For Peace organisation for their campaign to clean up Agent Orange residue in Vietnam. Moore did it in memory of his father.

You get some very perspicacious comments from Americans on FaceBook sometimes. Noting that “the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was a false flag operation that was designed to accomplish just what it did accomplish: an expansion of the war against a defenceless country”, someone with the nom de plume Shamanomaha pointed out that “the US has repeated this pattern several times: Grenada, Panama, Iraq. The only winners in this scheme are Big Defence and Big Military. Grumman and Boeing and Texas Instruments and their owners make fortunes. The scam drains off trillions of dollars that could provide Universal Health Care for all Americans and free education for all Americans.”

Warming to his theme, Shananomaha says “the Gulf of Tonkin Incident prefigured the attack on the WTC. Big Defence and Big Military have no problem sacrificing a few thousand citizens or a few thousand soldiers on the altar of profits. America has only one religion: Business. It has only one god: profit.” By America he means of course the American ruling class, not the America of laid off auto-workers or the working poor who have to rely on food stamps to survive despite having a job.

After an article in Truthout by Alan Grayson, the Representative for Florida’s Ninth Congressional District in the US House of Representatives, exposing a move by Senator John McCain and other Republicans to hand over to private hands a swathe of public land – national forest, in fact – sitting on top of huge (and hugely valuable copper reserves, worth an estimated $130 billion) in exchange for an equal amount of land not containing any copper, a number of very pithy comments flew around the Internet.

Someone calling himself danletras suggested “we could have left the area in peace, as undeveloped National Forest. The world is sufficiently mined and drilled and paved already. Continuing the trajectory of destroying natural habitats to pillage their resources is leading to the collapse of the biotic systems that support life on the planet. Congressman Grayson knows that, per the numbers, we are currently living through the Sixth Great Extinction event. It is estimated that 200 species per day are going extinct; this is 20 times the normal rate of species extirpation. Congressman Grayson also knows that, unlike previous mass extinction events, this one is being driven by the actions of one species – Homo Sapiens. Why, under these circumstances, Congressman Grayson merely advocates getting a higher price to destroy part of our national and Earth heritage is the $130 billion question.” Ouch!

However, according to a post by Clyde McWhorter, there is more value to be got from copper mines than just copper. “Copper is not the only product [extracted from these mines.]. The next best-paying product is gold. The gold produced at all other copper mines pays for ALL EXPENCES in mining and processing.” That means the copper is all profit.

There, as here, the battle between the greed induced by the prospect of billions of dollars worth of profits and the desire of ordinary people (regrettably often only the better-educated) to be able to enjoy the natural world and have it enrich their lives in totally non-monetary ways, is waged with vigour and a certain desperation.

An outraged Peggy Conroy, for example, posted: “What will they do about all the animals and plants whose habitat will be destroyed and what will happen to the water situation, as it’s in big trouble all over the west. They will say they have to get rid of the rest of the wild horses and other such things as they are in the way. Totally disgusting on all fronts.”

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