Sat, May 06, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Vietnam war seen through US eyes

By Wang Hong-zen

Last Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. There have been countless studies and endless research done on the war over the past two-and-a-half decades, but most of it has been undertaken from a US perspective, marginalizing Vietnamese viewpoints of the war.

During the Cold War, Vietnam was portrayed as a battleground of famine, terrorism and killings in films like The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now. With the end of the Cold War and the opening up of Vietnam, the popular view of the country has changed. It is now seen as an exotic and dangerous destination. The media in Taiwan has also begun to use an "Oriental gaze" in its reports on Vietnam. These reports are also from a US standpoint, regardless of whether they are retrospectively for or against the war. If we examine Vietnam's post-war development, however, it becomes clear that the "exotic gaze" is merely an apology and rationalization for global US hegemony.

The US lost 58,000 soldiers during the Vietnam War. Their loss created a rift in American society, but what about the effect of the war on the Vietnamese? Accurate data is unavailable, but the Encyclopedia Britannica estimates that about 2.1 million Vietnamese lost their lives during the war, including about 1 million civilians (the Vietnamese government claims that the civilian death toll is as high as 2 million). A loss of this magnitude would be catastrophic for any developing country. In addition to war casualties, Vietnam is still suffering from the devastating and lingering effects of the war. The loss of nearly 1 million young men resulted in a serious gender imbalance in society, and the country has been forced to shoulder the burden of a large number of orphans and widows. Over the past 25 years, Vietnam's government has allocated huge sums for these victims of the war.

Another problem from the war stems from the huge amount of Agent Orange that the US sprayed on Vietnam's forests during the war. The Vietcong fought from the jungles and used the Ho Chi Min Trail, which passed through thickly vegetated areas, to resupply its troops. To aid in troop detection, the US dumped large amounts of a defoliation agent that contained dioxin on the jungles and forests in the highlands of central Vietnam. The chemical agent dropped on Vietnam takes several decades to breakdown, and causes cancer to those exposed and birth defects among subsequent generations.

A survey conducted by the Vietnam government of the the children of soldiers now living in northern Vietnam who had served in central Vietnam when Agent Orange was being dropped shows that nearly 70 percent of their birth defects were likely linked to Agent Orange. And this study was conducted on a sample of the population now living in an area relatively unaffected by the spraying of Agent Orange. It is almost certain that the plight of the people living in the central highlands is much worse. Yet the US government to this day refuses to admit that there is any correlation between the birth defects found in the central highlands and the Agent Orange the US military sprayed on Vietnam during the war, even though there are ample cases of US military veterans that have been harmed by the agent. If the US were to admit to this connection, it would have to pay a huge amount of money to Vietnam's victims. This remains one of the unresolved issues between the US and Vietnam.

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