Thursday, October 10, 2019

‘Just memory’ of Vietnam

HANOI, Vietnam — My husband, Josh Kvernen, and I visited Nguyen Thi Thanh, a 74-year-old woman living in the central part of Vietnam, as we laid the groundwork for a 2018 Mennonite Central Committee learning tour to the area. She was angry.
 “The poison [dioxin] has brought sorrow on the Vietnamese people, and my family in particular,” she shouted. “Why did you bring this poison to us here?”
She was addressing her words to us because we are from the United States, whose military used Agent Orange for 11 years during the war in Vietnam, which lasted from 1954 to 1975. This herbicide and chemical defoliant contained dioxin, a potent toxin that has since been shown to cause multigenerational birth defects and disabilities among those exposed to it.
She had good reason to be angry. Her husband had been bedridden for 10 years. He lay comatose on their bed, requiring her full-time care. During the war he served as a doctor, and he lived and worked in areas heavily sprayed by Agent Orange while he helped care for Vietnamese soldiers.
Ten years after the war he began to experience major health problems and had to stop working. His family connects his illness to his exposure to dioxin through the United States’ Agent Orange spray missions during the war. Their son also has intellectual and physical disabilities that prevent him from working and that could have been caused by dioxin exposure.

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