'Bringing light'

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In the following excerpts from interviews with advocates for Agent Orange victims, three European activists discuss the importance of shedding light on this dark subject.

Al Burke
Author, editor of the Nordic News Network and organizer of the 2002 Stockholm Conference on Agent Orange

Given what US congressmen have said and the testimonies they have heard at their hearings on Agent Orange, what should they do next? What good will come of these congressional hearings?

It is difficult to advise congressmen on how to proceed in such matters, as Congress is a very complex and peculiar institution with its own rules of etiquette and behavior. But I would suggest that sympathetic congressmen should continue to raise the issue as often and in as many different ways as possible, including more public hearings, educating their constituencies via the mass media and public meetings, gathering support both inside and outside of Congress for compensation measures, etc.

They could also organize educational tours of Vietnam and - very important - constantly remind their colleagues and fellow citizens of the United States' criminal responsibility for the Vietnam War and all of its destructive consequences, of which the effects of Agent Orange comprise only one aspect. For that purpose, I would recommend three documents: The Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg's memoir Secrets, and Rev. Martin Luther King's famous 1967 speech against the war, entitled "Beyond Vietnam."

Günter Giesenfeld
Professor, filmmaker, translator, president of the Germany-Vietnam Friendship Association

How can the chemical companies that produced Agent Orange get away with compensating American victims while ignoring the Vietnamese?

As we have seen they can very well get away without any difficulties or dangers. The Vietnamese victims have been and are treated as enemies in a war. And it is hard to see for us, friends who want to help these victims, that delegations of Monsanto etc. are welcomed now in Vietnam bringing biotechnology...

Several countries have held truth commissions... why hasn't America begun to recognize the crime of Agent Orange?

- I cannot imagine that a truth commission in the US would be even thinkable. There have been several administrations involved and neither the actual government nor American public, press, TV will even permit such an idea to take place... This can only be possible in a country where something like a revolution takes place, and this is and will not be possible in the US. The change from Bush to Obama is not one, maybe it's even not just something like a doi moi.

Anjuska Weil
President of the Switzerland-Vietnam Friendship Association

What can everyday people - Vietnamese, American or anyone else - do to support the victims of Agent Orange and help steer the international media spotlight onto this pressing issue?

The media should not only spotlight on the breaking news, they should make people aware of the long-term consequences of wars. So it is important to speak about the past, to inform about the impact on the present, to show the reality of the Agent Orange victims, the dimension of their suffering and to convince the media to join the struggle for justice.

Several countries have held truth commissions... why hasn't America begun to recognize the crime of Agent Orange?

Since the French war in Vietnam, there was not one single year without US involvement in wars. The subject is so huge that a truth commission on the whole issue will probably not work. Nevertheless, bringing light and recognizing the truth on crucial periods would be very important.

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