The Victims of Agent Orange the U.S. Has Never Acknowledged

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It was a blazing-hot morning in October 2019 on the previous Ho Chi Minh Trail, an intricate internet of truck roads and secret paths that wove its means throughout the densely forested and mountainous border between Vietnam and Laos. Susan Hammond, Jacquelyn Chagnon and Niphaphone Sengthong forded a rocky stream alongside the path and got here to a village of about 400 folks referred to as Labeng-Khok, as soon as the website of a logistics base inside Laos utilized by the North Vietnamese Army to infiltrate troops into the South. In one of the bamboo-and-thatch stilt homes, the ladder to the residing quarters was comprised of steel tubes that previously held American cluster bombs. The household had a 4-year-old boy named Suk, who had problem sitting, standing and strolling — one of three kids in the prolonged household with start defects. A cousin was born mute and didn’t study to stroll till he was 7. A 3rd baby, a lady, died at the age of 2. “That one could not sit up,” their great-uncle mentioned. “The whole body was soft, as if there were no bones.” The girls added Suk to the listing of folks with disabilities they’ve compiled on their intermittent treks by means of Laos’s sparsely populated border districts.

Hammond, Chagnon and Sengthong make up the core of the workers of a nongovernmental group referred to as the War Legacies Project. Hammond, a self-described Army brat whose father was a senior navy officer in the struggle in Vietnam, based the group in 2008. Chagnon, who is nearly a technology older, was one of the first foreigners allowed to work in Laos after the battle, representing a Quaker group, the American Friends Service Committee. Sengthong, a retired schoolteacher who’s Chagnon’s neighbor in the nation’s capital, Vientiane, is chargeable for the record-keeping and native coordination.

The foremost focus of the War Legacies Project is to doc the long-term results of the defoliant often called Agent Orange and supply humanitarian assist to its victims. Named for the coloured stripe painted on its barrels, Agent Orange — greatest identified for its widespread use by the U.S. navy to clear vegetation throughout the Vietnam War — is infamous for being laced with a chemical contaminant referred to as 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-P-dioxin, or TCDD, considered one of the most poisonous substances ever created.

The use of the herbicide in the impartial nation of Laos by the United States — secretly, illegally and in giant quantities — stays one of the final untold tales of the American struggle in Southeast Asia. Decades later, even in official navy information, the spraying of Laos is talked about solely in passing. When the Air Force in 1982 lastly launched its partially redacted official historical past of the defoliation marketing campaign, Operation Ranch Hand, the three pages on Laos attracted virtually no consideration, apart from a press release from Gen. William Westmoreland, a former commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, that he knew nothing about it — though it was he who ordered it in the first place. Laos remained a forgotten footnote to a misplaced struggle. To those that adopted the battle’s aftermath intimately, this was hardly stunning. Only in the final twenty years has the United States lastly acknowledged and brought accountability for the legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam, committing tons of of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} to aiding the victims and cleansing up the worst-contaminated scorching spots there.

While information of spraying operations inside Laos exist, the extent to which the U.S. navy broke worldwide agreements has by no means been totally documented, till now. An in-depth, monthslong overview of previous Air Force information, together with particulars of tons of of spraying flights, in addition to interviews with many residents of villages alongside the Ho Chi Minh Trail, reveals that, at a conservative estimate, no less than 600,000 gallons of herbicides rained down on the ostensibly impartial nation throughout the struggle.

For years, Hammond and Chagnon had been conscious of the spraying in Laos, however the distant areas affected had been virtually inaccessible. Finally, in 2017, with new paved roads connecting the foremost cities, and plenty of smaller villages accessible in the dry season by tough tracks, they had been capable of embark on systematic visits to the villages of the Bru, the Ta Oey, the Pa Co and the Co Tu, 4 of the ethnic minorities whose properties straddle the Laos-Vietnam border. It was the first time anybody had tried to evaluate the present-day influence of the defoliant on these teams.

Of the 517 circumstances of disabilities and start defects to this point documented by the War Legacies Project in Laos, about three-fourths, like malformed limbs, are identifiable to the untrained eye as situations of the kinds now linked to publicity to Agent Orange. “When we started the survey, I told American government officials we were doing it and said honestly that we didn’t know what we would find,” Hammond says. “In fact, I hoped we would find nothing. But as it turned out we’ve found a lot.”

Hammond’s requests for each the United States and Laos to acknowledge the long-term results of the spraying have to this point been met with bureaucratic rationalizations for inaction: Congress can do nothing with out a clear sign from the Lao authorities; the Lao authorities has been hesitant to behave with out arduous information; officers of the United States Agency for International Development in Vientiane have been sympathetic, however different senior embassy officers have waved away the downside. “One said that if we were so interested in what the U.S. had done in Laos, why didn’t we look at what the Soviets and the North Vietnamese had done?” Hammond recollects. “It was like being in a time warp, like dealing with an official in Vietnam in the 1990s. So we’ve been on this endless treadmill.”

So far, these conversations with officers have been casual, however this month she plans to submit the group’s findings to each governments, documenting the extent of the spraying recorded in the Air Force information and the quantity of disabilities the War Legacies Project has discovered. That’s when the governments of the United States and Laos will not have any cause to keep away from taking motion that’s lengthy overdue.

For Hammond and Chagnon, the private connection to the struggle runs deep. Chagnon took day without work from faculty in 1968 to work with Catholic Relief Services in Saigon, later residing in a compound close to the Tan Son Nhut air base. Even although public opinion had turned sharply towards the struggle since the Tet offensive earlier that 12 months, she wasn’t an antiwar activist. “I’d never been to a demonstration,” she says. “My parents were furious at me for going into a war zone.”

The first jolt to her innocence, she recollects, got here when newspapers in Saigon printed grotesque images of malformed infants and fetuses in Tay Ninh, a closely sprayed province on the Cambodian border. By the late Sixties, Vietnamese medical doctors had robust indications that these congenital defects is likely to be related to the chemical defoliants. By the time Chagnon got here dwelling in 1970, the defoliation marketing campaign was about to be shut down amid rising controversy over its doable well being results. But her anxiousness elevated. Many of the early spraying sorties had taken off from Tan Son Nhut, and he or she anxious about her personal publicity and the long-term results if she had kids. Those fears gave the impression to be confirmed when her daughter, Miranda, was born in 1985 with a number of start defects. There was no proof that dioxin was accountable, and Miranda’s illnesses had been treatable with surgical procedure and drugs, however that hardly quelled Chagnon’s considerations about Agent Orange.

By this time Chagnon and her husband, Roger Rumpf, a theologian and well-known peace activist, had been residing in Vientiane and visited distant areas the place few outsiders ever ventured. They had heard unusual and unsettling tales in Xepon, a small city close to the Vietnamese border. Doctors reported a rash of mysterious start defects. A veterinarian informed of livestock born with further limbs. There had been anecdotal accounts of airplanes trailing a positive white spray. But it was inconceivable to seek out out extra. “In those days there were no roads into the mountains,” Chagnon says. “You had to walk, sometimes for days.”

Hammond was born in 1965 whereas her father was serving at Fort Drum in upstate New York — a darkish coincidence, she says, “since it was one of the first places they tested Agent Orange.” From there her father’s Army profession took the household to Okinawa. Based in Danang, he was chargeable for the building of navy installations in I Corps, the northernmost tactical zone in South Vietnam.

Hammond first went to Vietnam in 1991, when speak of normalizing relations was in the air. She fell in love with the place, deserted ideas of pursuing a Ph.D., moved to Ho Chi Minh City in 1996 to study the language and spent the subsequent decade organizing academic alternate applications and conferences to debate Vietnam’s postwar humanitarian wants. It was at one of these occasions that she met Chagnon.

Since it started, their challenge has channeled modest quantities of materials assist to disabled folks — issues like a wheelchair ramp or a vocational coaching course or a brood cow to extend family earnings — in rural areas of Vietnam that had been closely sprayed. Then, in 2013, Chagnon’s husband died. “After Roger passed away, we started talking about the idea of doing a survey in Laos,” Hammond says. “I think Jacqui saw it as an opportunity to honor his memory.” After protracted negotiations with Lao authorities, the War Legacies Project signed a three-year memorandum of understanding, promising a full report by March 2021.

More than half the circumstances recognized by the War Legacies Project are kids age 16 and underneath. They are the grandchildren of those that had been uncovered throughout the struggle, and probably even the great-grandchildren, since the folks in these villages have historically married of their teenagers. Club ft are commonplace. So are cleft lips, generally accompanied by cleft palate. There are disturbing clusters: 5 infants born with lacking eyes in Nong District; a household with 5 deaf-mute siblings; an inordinate quantity of brief legs, malformed legs and hip dysplasia in Samuoi District — the latter a situation that’s simply treatable in infancy, but when uncared for will result in extreme ache, a waddling gait and extra critical deformity. The rudimentary well being care system in rural Laos implies that few if any infants even get a prognosis.

In every village the girls visited, teams of elders assembled to share their tales, many of their 70s but nonetheless with sharp reminiscences. At first, they recounted, they’d no thought who was spraying and bombing their villages, or why. But in time they realized the names of the airplanes: T-28, C-123, B-52. In most villages, dozens had been killed by the bombings or died of hunger. The survivors lived for years in the forests or in caves. They dug earthen shelters, large enough to cover a complete household, and coated them with branches. “We had no rice for nine years,” one previous man mentioned. Sugar cane and lemongrass survived the spraying. So did cassava, although it swelled to an outlandish measurement and have become inedible — Agent Orange accelerated the progress of plant tissue, killing most foliage.

For the most half, the previous males informed their tales dispassionately. But one Pa Co elder in Lahang, a spot rife with start defects, was bitter. He was an imposing 75-year-old named Kalod, tall, straight-backed, silver-haired, sporting a darkish inexperienced go well with with an epauletted shirt that gave him a navy bearing. Like most of his folks, Kalod noticed the border as a synthetic assemble. During the struggle, folks went backwards and forwards between Laos and Vietnam, he mentioned, relying on which aspect was being bombed and sprayed at the time. He leaned ahead, gesticulating angrily. “Vietnamese people affected by the chemical spraying get compensation,” he complained. “In Laos, we need support from America, like they receive in Vietnam.”

The 600,000 gallons of herbicides dropped in Laos is a fraction of the roughly 19 million that had been sprayed on Vietnam, however the comparability is deceptive. Between 1961 and 1971, some 18 % of South Vietnam’s land space was focused, about 12,000 sq. miles; in Laos the marketing campaign, which started on the Ho Chi Minh Trail between Labeng-Khok and the Vietnamese border, was compressed in time and house. It was centered on slim, outlined strips of the path, 500 meters vast (about 1,640 ft), and on close by crop fields, and the heaviest spraying was concentrated in a four-month interval early in the struggle. It was as intense a ramping-up of the defoliation marketing campaign as in any main struggle zone in Vietnam at the time.

To make issues worse, the newly examined Air Force information present that the first intensive interval of spraying in Laos used not Agent Orange, however the way more poisonous Agent Purple, the use of which was discontinued in Vietnam virtually a 12 months earlier. Tests confirmed that the common focus of TCDD in Agent Purple, a unique chemical formulation, was as a lot as thrice larger than in Agent Orange.

Long earlier than the first Marines got here ashore in Vietnam in 1965, infiltrators from the North had been trickling into the South from the still-rudimentary Ho Chi Minh Trail, and the loyalties of the tribal teams alongside the border had been doubtful. In response to the rising insurgency, U.S. Special Forces arrange small camps close to the border with Laos, notably at Khe Sanh, which later turned a big Marine fight base, and in the A Shau valley, later notorious for the battle of Hamburger Hill and seen by U.S. strategists as the most necessary struggle zone in South Vietnam.

Operation Ranch Hand was in its infancy. By July 1962, solely a handful of missions had been flown, defoliating the perimeters of highways, energy traces, railroads and the waterways of the Mekong Delta. The commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, Gen. Paul D. Harkins, now requested authority to hit six new targets. One of them was the A Shau valley, and it might be the first mission geared toward destroying crops which may feed the enemy. The Joint Chiefs of Staff refused: The location was too delicate; the valley was proper on the border, and the neutrality of Laos was simply days from being assured underneath a world settlement. Harkins pushed again, arguing that the proximity of the unsecured border was exactly the level. Despite President John F. Kennedy’s robust reservations about crop destruction, the mission went forward.

The following January, a 25-year-old Army captain from the South Bronx arrived at the A Shau base. In February, “We burned down the thatched huts, starting the blaze with Ronson and Zippo cigarette lighters,” he wrote later. “The destruction became more sophisticated. Helicopters delivered 55-gallon drums of a chemical herbicide to us, a forerunner of Agent Orange. … Within minutes after we sprayed, the plants began to turn brown and wither.” The younger officer was Colin Powell, future chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state. The chemical was Agent Purple. By the finish of the defoliation marketing campaign, no less than half one million gallons of herbicides could be utilized in the A Shau valley, making it one of the most closely sprayed locations in Vietnam; hundreds finally turned sick or died.

The move of North Vietnamese troops down the path solely elevated, and by late 1965 the C.I.A. was reporting that tons of of miles of new roads had been constructed or upgraded to hold vans. The Air Force was already bombing North Vietnam, so the apparent reply was to escalate the bombing on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.

But along with Laos’s neutrality, there was a second downside: Where precisely was the path? It ran by means of some of the most distant and inhospitable terrain on Earth, hid by dense rainforest, largely invisible to U-2 spy planes, infrared sensors on different plane, even low-flying helicopters. The resolution was to strip away the forest cowl to reveal the bombing targets: the truck convoys and logistics facilities like Labeng-Khok.

In essence, the preliminary spraying of Laos was a mapping train, formally built-in into a large bombing marketing campaign referred to as Tiger Hound. In early December 1965, the ungainly C-123 plane, the workhorses of the herbicide marketing campaign, crossed the Lao border for the first time. Within per week, the first wave of B-52s hit the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The particulars of these air operations in Laos remained largely unknown till 1997, when Chagnon and Rumpf had been at a get-together at the U.S. Embassy residences in Vientiane. They had been pleasant with Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, who was on her option to Washington, Chagnon recollects. Was there something they wanted? Yes, Rumpf mentioned, you may get the Air Force bombing information for Laos. While you’re at it, mentioned Chagnon, by no means one to be shy, how about the information on Agent Orange?

By then, Chagnon and Hammond had gotten to know Thomas Boivin, a scientist with a Canadian firm referred to as Hatfield Consultants that was finishing a landmark examine of Agent Orange on the Vietnam aspect of the border, in the closely sprayed A Shau valley (at present often called the A Luoi valley, named after its foremost city). The information had been in the kind of laptop punch playing cards and wanted to be painstakingly transformed right into a database that confirmed each recorded flight, with its date and the geographical coordinates of the place every spray run started and ended. Boivin later calculated that greater than half one million gallons of chemical compounds had been sprayed on Laos, however different declassified Air Force paperwork present further quantities not present in these preliminary information, and a number of other village elders gave persuasive accounts of flights that didn’t appear to evolve to the official information.

“I’m sure the records are incomplete,” says Jeanne Mager Stellman, an emerita professor of well being coverage and administration at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, who performed a pivotal function in documenting the spraying in Vietnam and calculating the dangers of dioxin publicity for American veterans. “And my understanding is that the guys who were assigned to missions in Laos were sworn to secrecy.” Boivin provides that “the C.I.A. also undoubtedly used herbicides in Laos, but their records have never been declassified.”

In her push to have the U.S. authorities take accountability for its actions in Laos, Hammond has been effectively conscious that it took a few years for the plight of America’s personal veterans and their offspring to be acknowledged, and for much longer nonetheless earlier than the similar compassion was prolonged to the Vietnamese victims of dioxin. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 was handed solely after a bitter 14-year battle by veterans campaigning for recognition that the continual sicknesses that tens of hundreds of them had been growing is likely to be instantly related to dioxin publicity. Once the laws handed, it was decided that when you set foot in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 and suffered from one of the situations on the rising V.A. listing, you had been eligible for compensation. This decision was a matter of political pragmatism fairly than arduous science. Although there was rising proof of the toxicity of the herbicides, research of their well being impacts had been inconclusive and fiercely contested. But the veterans fashioned an offended and influential constituency, and politicians needed to assuage an excellent measure of guilt, each their very own and that of the normal public, over the trauma of those that had fought in a misplaced struggle that almost all Americans most well-liked to overlook.

Accepting accountability for the horrors visited on the Vietnamese took for much longer. Even after diplomatic relations had been restored in 1995, Agent Orange was a political third rail. Vietnamese complaints about the results of the herbicides on human well being — elevating points of reparations, company legal responsibility and doable struggle crimes — had been dismissed as propaganda. American diplomats had been forbidden even to utter the phrases. It was not till round 2000 that the United States was lastly compelled to acknowledge its obligations, after Hatfield Consultants accomplished its examine of the influence of dioxin and confirmed U.S. officers incontrovertible proof of how TCDD moved up the meals chain, entered the human physique and was transmitted to infants by means of breast milk.

Reconciliation between the United States and Vietnam was an intricate dance that trusted reciprocal steps to untangle the three most contentious legacies of the struggle. Once Washington had secured full cooperation in accounting for Americans lacking in motion, it started to help Vietnam’s efforts to take away the huge quantity of unexploded ordnance that also littered its fields and forests, killing and maiming tens of hundreds. These steps, plus Hatfield’s breakthrough examine, set the stage lastly for the two nations to cope with Agent Orange, the most intractable downside of all.

The United States’ relationship with Laos has adopted the same sequence. Since the late Eighties, joint American-Lao groups have carried out tons of of missions looking for the stays of aircrew who went lacking on bombing missions, and over the final quarter-century Washington has dedicated greater than $230 million to ordnance removing and associated applications. The lacking step has been Agent Orange, however missing any information on its human influence, the Lao authorities has had little incentive to boost such a traditionally fraught challenge. Few authorities troopers fought in the sprayed areas, which had been managed by the North Vietnamese, so there have been no veterans clamoring for recognition of their postwar sufferings. “In Vietnam, the magnitude of the problem made it impossible to ignore,” Hammond says. “But in Laos it was on a smaller scale, and in remote places outside of the political mainstream.”

All these years later, the mountainous border strip in the southern Lao panhandle continues to be a panorama outlined by struggle and illness. Unexploded bombs are in every single place. The highway that follows the Ho Chi Minh Trail south is a sort of residing archive of the battle, during which its remnants and relics have been absorbed into the material of on a regular basis life. Men fish in boats comprised of the jettisoned gas tanks of American fighter-bombers. Bomb craters from B-52 strikes are in every single place. Some are actually fish ponds in the center of the rice paddies.

Cluster-bomb casings have morphed into vegetable planters or substitute for picket stilts to assist the thatched huts that retailer rice, irritating the claws of hungry rats. Everywhere the village soundtrack is the uninteresting clang of cowbells comprised of sawed-off projectiles. “These are our gifts from the villagers of America,” one previous man informed me.

Once or twice the War Legacies staff needed to flip again, defeated by roads that had been impassable after current monsoon floods. Halfway to the village of Lapid, the four-wheel-drive automobile floor to a halt in the hardened mud. Chagnon climbed out and paced up and down the steep slope, inspecting ruts that had been deep sufficient to swallow an individual complete. There was no means by means of. It was irritating, as a result of Lapid had been hit arduous. An Operation Ranch Hand aircraft with its full load of chemical compounds had been shot down in the close by hills, and after the struggle villagers referred to as the space the “Leper Forest” for the excessive incidence of cancers and start defects. On an earlier go to to Lapid, the War Legacies Project discovered a paralyzed child lady, a 4-year-old with a membership foot, a teen born with out eyes.

The survey has been a sluggish and laborious course of. Since 2017, the girls have visited scores of villages in closely sprayed districts in two of the 4 border provinces that had been focused: Savannakhet and Salavan. In every village, they word the age and gender of every individual affected, an outline of their situation — with a agency prognosis the place doable — and a touch upon any who may profit from referral to a hospital in the provincial capital or in Vientiane. They exclude disabilities which can be clearly unrelated to dioxin publicity, like the giant quantity of limbs misplaced to cluster-munition bomblets. Their October 2019 journey was designed primarily to investigate cross-check circumstances they’d already recorded, however in addition they discovered a number of new ones, like the boy in Labeng-Khok.

Hammond acknowledges the limitations of their work. Some of their findings have to be verified by medical consultants. “We’re not doctors or geneticists,” she says. Yet she, Chagnon and Sengthong are the first to strive in Laos what has lengthy been routine in Vietnam, the place dioxin-related disabilities are logged systematically by means of commune-level surveys and family questionnaires and the place victims obtain small authorities stipends, and in some circumstances humanitarian assist from the United States.

It was Hatfield Consultants who unlocked the door to that assist, first by means of its four-year investigation of the A Luoi valley after which by means of subsequent research of the former Danang air base. There had by no means been any secret about the big quantity of defoliants utilized in Vietnam, and the proof of congenital disabilities in the sprayed areas was inescapable. Hatfield joined up the dots, exhibiting how the two had been related and the way dioxin could possibly be transmitted from one technology to the subsequent. But that was not Hatfield’s solely perception. According to what it referred to as the “hot spot” idea, the ongoing threat of present-day publicity was biggest round former navy installations like the Special Forces base at A Shau, the place the chemical compounds had been saved or spilled. Boivin puzzled whether or not there is likely to be related dioxin scorching spots on the Lao aspect of the border.

In 2002, Laos signed the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, a category of 12 “forever chemicals” together with the dioxin household. All signatories had been obligated to report on the extent of contamination of their nations. Boivin received a small grant from a U.N. company to research dioxin in Laos, as the nation had little scientific experience of its personal. He discovered little or no, however pursuing his hunch about Agent Orange, he made an arduous journey into the distant border areas, the place it was strongly suspected that the C.I.A. had constructed secret airstrips, the variety of amenities which may have been utilized by herbicide planes and that might have been routinely sprayed to maintain down vegetation, as they had been in Vietnam.

Near a village referred to as Dak Triem, he seen a strikingly flat piece of land. Yes, the village elders mentioned, it had as soon as been an airstrip. Scavenging for scrap steel after the struggle, they discovered some barrels painted with orange stripes. Boivin had time to do not more than some perfunctory sampling, however he discovered elevated concentrations of TCDD, sufficient to categorise the website as a doable scorching spot and suggest additional investigation. He and Hammond had identified one another for years, and in 2014, with funding from Green Cross Switzerland and the European Space Agency, they collaborated on a extra detailed report, which included a chronological desk of all the identified herbicide flights in Laos and an inventory of tons of of clandestine C.I.A. amenities which may pose an ongoing well being threat.

Boivin submitted his studies to the Lao authorities, however they gained little traction. This lack of curiosity may appear startling, however to veteran Laos watchers it comes as no shock. “Things move slowly and cautiously there,” says Angela Dickey, a retired foreign-service officer who served as deputy chief of mission in Vientiane. “For an overworked midlevel official, there’s no real incentive to act on something like this. Only people at the very highest level can consider or speak about controversial issues.”

But there was a deeper cause for the lack of motion on Boivin’s findings. He had made a preliminary estimate of the quantity of defoliants utilized in Laos and located one contaminated air base. But he had by no means got down to acquire information on the human influence. That was the lacking piece of the puzzle that had been assembled in Vietnam, and that the War Legacies Project, utilizing additional Green Cross funding, got down to discover.

When the United States lastly agreed to scrub up the Danang and Bien Hoa air bases in Vietnam, the two foremost hubs of Operation Ranch Hand, and assist the victims of Agent Orange in that nation, it was an integral half of constructing belief between former enemies who more and more see themselves as strategic allies and navy companions. (Today, Bien Hoa is a vital Vietnamese Air Force base.) In one of the bigger oddities of historical past, the most painful legacy of the struggle has turn out to be a cornerstone of reconciliation.

In 2019, U.S.A.I.D. made a brand new five-year dedication to supply one other $65 million in humanitarian assist to Vietnamese folks with disabilities “in areas sprayed with Agent Orange and otherwise contaminated by dioxin.” The funds are channeled by means of the Leahy War Victims Fund, named for its creator, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Hammond’s dwelling state, Vermont, who for years has led the effort to assist victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam. So why would the similar logic not apply in Laos? “We weren’t aware of significant spraying in Laos,” Leahy mentioned by e mail, “Nor of people with disabilities in those areas that are consistent with exposure to dioxin. But if that is what the data shows, then we need to look at it and discuss with the government of Laos what could be done to help those families.”

Hammond has met a number of occasions with Leahy’s longtime aide Tim Rieser, who appears desirous to see what the War Legacies Project has discovered when it presents its report back to his boss this month. “We have our work cut out for us in Vietnam,” he says, “but we’d also want to know what was done in Laos, since clearly those who were involved” — which means wartime political and navy leaders — “have not made a point of making it widely known. I’ve always approached this as doing what’s necessary to solve the problem, and if there’s more to the problem than we knew, then we need to deal with it.”

Hammond is painfully conscious that bureaucratic wheels flip slowly; that Leahy, after 46 years in the Senate, is probably not there for much longer; and that Vietnam will at all times be the front-burner challenge. In precept, the smaller scale of what’s wanted ought to make it simpler to handle. “Even $3 million, which is what the U.S. started off with in Vietnam, would go a long way in Laos,” Hammond says. Meanwhile, the affected individuals are operating out of time. Nine kids underneath the age of 9 on the War Legacies Project listing have already died.

U.S.A.I.D. already has an lively disabilities program in Laos, which incorporates assist for folks injured by unexploded bombs. “All we need to do,” Hammond says, “is add the language we use now for Vietnam, earmark some money for ‘areas sprayed by Agent Orange and otherwise contaminated by dioxin.’ That one little sentence. That’s all it takes.”

George Black is a British writer and journalist residing in New York. He is writing a guide about the long-term human and political legacies of the Vietnam War, in Vietnam and Laos and in the United States. Christopher Anderson is the writer of seven photographic books, together with “Pia.” He lives in Paris.

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