Parental sympathy and presidential obligations: a plea to Barack Obama

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A prominent activist has called on President Barack Obama to redress the deadly legacies  of Agent Orange, fifty years after the US first sprayed the toxic defoliant over South Vietnam.

Between 1961 and 1971, the US Army sprayed  80 million liters of Agent Orange, containing 366 kilograms of dioxin, over 30,000 square miles of southern Vietnam. Between 2.1 and 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides during the Vietnam War.

The following is a letter sent to Barack Obama by Secretary of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Association Len Aldis, who has worked for years to spread awareness about the plight of Vietnam's Agent Orange victims.

Dear President Obama,

You recently made a state visit to my country and received a very warm welcome. Both Houses of Parliament received you with great acclaim. For some, your address gave hope that, under your leadership, the United States will help solve many of the world's problems.

Unfortunately, in Iraq, where the people are still trying to recover from the war instigated by your country [and I regret to state, mine] you still have 50,000 US troops on the ground.

When will they return home to their families?

In Afghanistan the fighting continues. This war, I remind you, has lasted longer than WWII.

During the Vietnam War, your country lost 58,000 and many thousands more were injured. For the Vietnamese, the devastation runs into the millions.

And the weapons used!

In addition to Agent Orange, the US dropped millions of cluster bomblets. Today your country refuses to sign the convention banning their manufacturing, storage and use. Yet, day by day, week by week, these vile weapons have continued to kill and injure hundreds of Vietnamese, particularly children. I have had the misfortune to see some of the victims.

Mr. President, fifty years ago, on August 4, 1961 you were born.  In becoming President of the United States you have made giant steps, and broken down many barriers. I offer my congratulations.

But let me remind you of another date in August of 1961. Six-days after you were born, your country began spraying an herbicide known as Agent Orange over South Vietnam. The spraying continued, day-in day-out, until you reached the age of 10. Eighty million liters of the chemical  were spread throughout the countryside.

That decade of uninterrupted spraying resulted in the deaths of many thousands of innocent babies. Many never reached the age of one month or one year let alone ten. Thousands died in the wombs of their mothers and others survived with horrific deformities.

In all my years of travelling through Vietnam, I've made it my duty to visit as many of these tragic victims as possible.

To be frank, at times, the sight of some of them especially the children made me weep. Mr. President, I have no doubt in my mind that you, as a father, would also weep if your two children were so affected.

It would, I am sure, also make you angry to know that the government who gave the order for the use of Agent Orange and the thirty-six American Chemical companies that manufactured it continue to deny responsibility and refuse to pay financial compensation to the Vietnamese victims or their parents.

Too often the parents, who in so many cases, provide 24 hours of love and care to their disabled children are forgotten. I have had the privilege to see and meet many wonderful parents in Vietnam, and, Mr. President, they deserve much better, from you, your country and the chemical companies.

Let me end by expressing my hope that in this year, the 50th anniversary of the use of Agent Orange, you will accept responsibility for its use and agree to make good the damage unleashed on both the people and land of Vietnam.  In so doing I would ask you to make the manufacturers (Monsanto, Dow Chemical and DuPont et al) accept their responsibility, as well.

Finally, I look forward to the day when you visit Vietnam and meet with its leaders of the country as you did here in the UK.

I strongly urge you to take the time to visit the victims of Agent Orange [a visit that no sitting US president has made]. Only by doing so will you truly understand the pain they have suffered for so many years.

Yours sincerely,

Len Aldis

Secretary, Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society

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