Speaking of weapons of mass destruction ...

Ed George edgeorge at usuarios.retecal.es
Sat Mar 29 04:53:36 MST 2003

Hong Hanh is falling to pieces. She has been poisoned by the most toxic
molecule known to science; it was sprayed during a prolonged military
campaign. The contamination persists. No redress has been offered, no
compensation. The superpower that spread the toxin has done nothing to
combat the medical and environmental catastrophe that is overwhelming
her country. This is not northern Iraq, where Saddam Hussein gassed
5,000 Kurds in 1988. Nor the trenches of first world war France. Hong
Hanh's story, and that of many more like her, is quietly unfolding in
Vietnam today. Her declining half-life is spent unseen, in her home, an
unremarkable concrete box in Ho Chi Minh City, filled with photographs,
family plaques and yellow enamel stars, a place where the best is made
of the worst.

Hong Hanh is both surprising and terrifying. Here is a 19-year-old who
lives in a 10-year-old's body. She clatters around with disjointed
spidery strides which leave her soaked in sweat. When she cannot stop
crying, soothing creams and iodine are rubbed into her back, which is a
lunar collage of septic blisters and scabs. "My daughter is dying," her
mother says. "My youngest daughter is 11 and she has the same symptoms.
What should we do? Their fingers and toes stick together before they
drop off. Their hands wear down to stumps. Every day they lose a little
more skin. And this is not leprosy. The doctors say it is connected to
American chemical weapons we were exposed to during the Vietnam war."

There are an estimated 650,000 like Hong Hanh in Vietnam, suffering from
an array of baffling chronic conditions. Another 500,000 have already
died. The thread that weaves through all their case histories is
defoliants deployed by the US military during the war. Some of the
victims are veterans who were doused in these chemicals during the war,
others are farmers who lived off land that was sprayed. The second
generation are the sons and daughters of war veterans, or children born
to parents who lived on contaminated land. Now there is a third
generation, the grandchildren of the war and its victims.

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