by John Pilger
In the wake of Thatcher’s departure, I remember her victims. Patrick Warby’s daughter, Marie, was one of them. Marie, aged five, suffered from a bowel deformity and needed a special diet. Without it, the pain was excruciating. Her father was a Durham miner and had used all his savings. It was winter 1985, the Great Strike was almost a year old and the family was destitute. Although her eligibility was not disputed, Marie was denied help by the Department of Social Security. Later, I obtained records of the case that showed Marie had been turned down because her father was “affected by a Trade dispute”.
The corruption and inhumanity under Thatcher knew no borders. When she came to power in 1979, Thatcher demanded a total ban on exports of milk to Vietnam. The American invasion had left a third of Vietnamese children malnourished. I witnessed many distressing sights, including infants going blind from a lack of vitamins. “I cannot tolerate this,” said an anguished doctor in a Saigon paediatric hospital, as we looked at a dying boy. Oxfam and Save the Children had made clear to the British government the gravity of the emergency. An embargo led by the US had forced up the local price of a kilo of milk up to ten times that of a kilo of meat. Many children could have been restored with milk. Thatcher’s ban held.
In neighbouring Cambodia, Thatcher left a trail of blood, secretly. In 1980, she demanded that the defunct Pol Pot regime – the killers of 1.7 million people – retain its “right” to represent their victims at the UN. Her policy was vengeance on Cambodia’s liberator, Vietnam. The British representative was instructed to vote with Pol Pot at the World Health Organisation, thereby preventing it from providing help to where it was needed more than anywhere on earth.
To conceal this outrage, the US, Britain and China, Pol Pot’s main backer, invented a “resistance coalition” dominated by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge forces and supplied by the CIA at bases along the Thai border. There was a hitch. In the wake of the Irangate arms-for-hostages debacle, the US Congress had banned clandestine foreign adventures. “In one of those deals the two of them liked to make,” a senior Whitehall official told the Sunday Telegraph, “President Reagan put it to Thatcher that the SAS should take over the Cambodia show. She readily agreed.”
In 1983, Thatcher sent the SAS to train the “coalition” in its own distinctive brand of terrorism. Seven-man SAS teams arrived from Hong Kong, and British soldiers set about training “resistance fighters” in laying minefields in a country devastated by genocide and the world’s highest rate of death and injury as a result of landmines.
I reported this at the time, and more than 16,000 people wrote to Thatcher in protest. “I confirm,” she replied to opposition leader Neil Kinnock, “that there is no British government involvement of any kind in training, equipping or co-operating with the Khmer Rouge or those allied to them.” The lie was breathtaking. In 1991, the government of John Major admitted to parliament that the SAS had indeed trained the “coalition”. “We liked the British,” a Khmer Rouge fighter later told me. “They were very good at teaching us to set booby traps. Unsuspecting people, like children in paddy fields, were the main victims.”
When the journalists and producers of ITV’s landmark documentary, Death on the Rock, exposed how the SAS had run Thatcher’s other death squads in Ireland and Gibraltar, they were hounded by Rupert Murdoch’s “journalists”, then cowering behind the razor wire at Wapping. Although exonerated, Thames TV lost its ITV franchise.
In 1982, the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano, was steaming outside the Falklands exclusion zone. The ship offered no threat, yet Thatcher gave orders for it to be sunk. Her victims were 323 sailors, including conscripted teenagers. The crime had a certain logic. Among Thatcher’s closest allies were mass murderers – Pinochet in Chile, Suharto in Indonesia, responsible for “many more than one million deaths” (Amnesty International). Although the British state had long armed the world’s leading tyrannies, it was Thatcher who brought a crusading zeal to the deals, talking up the finer points of fighter aircraft engines, hard-bargaining with bribe-demanding Saudi princes. I filmed her at an arms fair, stroking a gleaming missile. “I’ll have one of those!” she said.
In his arms-to-Iraq enquiry, Lord Richard Scott heard evidence that an entire tier of the Thatcher government, from senior civil servants to ministers, had lied and broken the law in selling weapons to Saddam Hussein. These were her “boys”. Thumb through old copies of the Baghdad Observer, and there are pictures of her boys, mostly cabinet ministers, on the front page sitting with Saddam on his famous white couch. There is Douglas Hurd and there is a grinning David Mellor, also of the Foreign Office, around the time his host was ordering the gassing of 5,000 Kurds. Following this atrocity, the Thatcher government doubled trade credits to Saddam.
Perhaps it is too easy to dance on her grave. Her funeral was a propaganda stunt, fit for a dictator: an absurd show of militarism, as if a coup had taken place. And it has. “Her real triumph”, said another of her boys, Geoffrey Howe, a Thatcher minister, “was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible.”
In 1997, Thatcher was the first former prime minister to visit Tony Blair after he entered Downing Street. There is a photo of them, joined in rictus: the budding war criminal with his mentor. When Ed Milliband, in his unctuous “tribute”, caricatured Thatcher as a “brave” feminist hero whose achievements he personally “honoured”, you knew the old killer had not died at all.
Amid the daily cut and thrust surrounding the disputed South China Sea – a dangerous arena clouded by diplomatic bluster and military posturing – some events are more telling than others.
The PLA Navy’s recent deployment of a fully equipped amphibious task force to stage a neatly choreographed show of sovereignty at an isolated shoal in the maritime heart of Southeast Asia is one move that will not be easily forgotten.
James Shoal is also claimed by Malaysia – it is just 80 kilometres off its coast and also close to Brunei – and is well south of the Spratlys archipelago, which can be seen as the epicentre of the broader dispute that involves Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei as well as Malaysia and China (and Taiwan). It is a territorial tangle that now resonates internationally.
For several years, Philippine and Vietnamese officials have expressed quiet frustration that they must constantly take the lead in confronting China over the “nine-dash line” that is the basis for its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, while Malaysia and Brunei remain in the shadows, according to regional security scholar Ian Storey.
However, the James Shoal mission – unprecedented in scale and led by the 200-metre-long, state-of-the-art landing ship Jinggangshan – draws Malaysia back into the fray, whether it likes it or not. It is a less-than-subtle reminder from Beijing that perceived diplomatic reticence is no defence against being drawn into its enforcement of sovereign claims.
A fish farmer who became a cult hero in Vietnam after fighting off an illegal eviction with homemade guns and mines was jailed on Friday for five years for attempted murder in a case that has stirred public anger over state-backed land grabs.
Doan Van Vuon, plus two of his brothers and one nephew, were given jail terms of between two and five years for injuring seven police and soldiers in northern Haiphong last January, state media reported. Two of their wives received suspended sentences of 15-18 months for resisting officials.
Land grabs, both legal and illegal, are a major source of public discontent with the state in Communist Vietnam, which owns all the country’s land. The case has been a major talking point in social media and blogs, with critics calling for changes in land laws.
The government offered land leases of 20 years to farmers as part of pro-peasant policies in the 1990s, but critics say corrupt state officials have allowed illegal seizures in return for kickbacks from businesses.
State television showed footage this week of the courtroom displaying the cooking gas cylinders, electrical cables and steel pipes Vuon and his relatives used for bombs and hand guns.
The authorities in Haiphong have admitted their eviction was unlawful and several officials face trial next week.
by Nick Turse
Forty-five years ago today, March 16, roughly 100 U.S. troops were flown by helicopter to the outskirts of a small Vietnamese hamlet called My Lai in Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam. Over a period of four hours, the Americans methodically slaughtered more than 500 Vietnamese civilians. Along the way, they also raped women and young girls, mutilated the dead, systematically burned homes, and fouled the area’s drinking water.
On this day, I think back to an interview I conducted several years ago with a tiny, wizened woman named Tran Thi Nhut. She told me about hiding in an underground bunker as the Americans stormed her hamlet and how she emerged to find a scene of utter horror: a mass of corpses in a caved-in trench and, especially, the sight of a woman’s leg sticking out at an unnatural angle which haunted her for decades. She lost her mother and a son in the massacre. But Tran Thi Nhut never set foot in My Lai. She lived two provinces north, in a little hamlet named Phi Phu which—she and other villagers told me—lost more than 30 civilians to a 1967 massacre by U.S. troops.
I remember Pham Thi Luyen who lived several provinces north in Trieu Ai village, Quang Tri Province. Decades old Marine Corps court martial records—which told a story of scared and angry Americans under command of an officer bent on revenge for recent casualties—led me to her hamlet. There, she and other survivors told me what it was like to live through a night of sheer terror, in October 1967, when Americans threw grenades into bomb shelters with women and children inside and gunned down men and women in cold blood. It was the night that Pham Thi Luyen became an orphan and 12 fellow villagers died.
I think of Bui Thi Huong who was, according to court-martial records, gang-raped in Xuan Ngoc hamlet by five Marines while her mother-in-law, sister-in-law, husband, and 3-year-old son were shot dead. Her 5-year-old niece was slain too, but by another method. The Marine who killed her did so by “mashing up and down with his rifle,” according to a fellow unit member. Another recalled, “I said one… two… three… And he was hitting the baby with the [rifle] butt!”
I recall too my conversations with Pham Thi Cuc, Le Thi Chung, and Le Thi Xuan who told me about a 1966 massacre by Americans in My Luoc hamlet that claimed the lives of 16 civilians. I think of Vi Thi Ngoi, an elderly woman who told me about the day American and South Korean troops opened fire on more than 100 of her fellow villagers and of the bodies that fell on her tiny frame, shielding her from the bullets. I remember how she explained what it felt like to lie there, for what seemed like an eternity, feigning death, amid the blood and viscera of friends and neighbors.
I remember my time spent talking with Jamie Henry, decades after he had been a young draftee and then a decorated medic. Just over a month before the My Lai massacre, Henry’s unit entered a small hamlet, rounded up the civilians—about 19 women and children—and gathered them together. A lieutenant asked his superior, a West Point-trained captain, what he should do with them. As Henry later told an Army criminal investigator in a sworn statement: “The captain asked him if he remembered the op order [operation order] that had come down from higher [headquarters] that morning which was to kill anything that moves. The captain repeated the order. He said that higher said to kill anything that moves.” Henry tried to intervene, but instead could only watch as fellow unit members opened fire on the civilians. An Army investigation determined the massacre occurred just as Henry said it did, but no action was taken against any of the troops involved, while the files were kept secret and buried away for decades.
In short, on this anniversary, I think of all the My Lais that most Americans never knew existed and few are aware of today. I think about young American men who shot down innocents in cold blood and then kept silent for decades. I think about horrified witnesses who lived with the memories. I think of the small number of brave whistleblowers who stood up for innocent, voiceless victims. But most of all, I think of the dead Vietnamese of all the massacres that few Americans knew about and fewer still cared about.
I think of the victims in Phi Phu and Trieu Ai and My Luoc and so many other tiny hamlets I visited in Vietnam’s countryside. And then I think of all the villages I never visited; the massacres unknown to all but the dwindling number of survivors and their families; the stories we Americans will likely never know.
I wonder if, 45 years hence, someone might be writing a similar op-ed about civilian lives lost these past years in Iraq or Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen; about killings kept under wraps and buried in classified files or simply locked away in the hearts and minds of the perpetrators and witnesses and survivors. Four and half decades from now, will we still reserve only this day to focus on these hard truths and hidden histories? Or will we finally have learned the lessons of the My Lai massacre and the many other massacres that so many wish to forget and so many others refuse to remember.
by MATTHEW PENNINGTON
Forty years after the secret U.S. bombing that devastated Laos, heirs to the war’s deadly legacy of undetonated explosives are touring America to prod the conscience of the world’s most powerful nation for more help to clear up the mess.
Two young Laotians — one a bomb disposal technician, the other the victim of an accidental explosion — arrived Friday on the anniversary of the end of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and its far-less publicized bombing of neighboring Laos. The U.S. dropped 2 million tons of bombs on Laos over a nine-year period up to 1973 — more than on Germany and Japan during World War II.
Manixia Thor, 25, works on an all-female team that clears bombs and other explosives from villages and farm land in her native province of Xieng Khouang, one of the worst-hit areas of the country. Joining her on the speaking tour is Thoummy Silamphan, 26, who lost his left hand to a cluster bombat age 8 as he dug for bamboo shoots to put in soup. He’s from a poor farming family in the same province and counsels victims of ordnance accidents that still maim dozens of Lao each year.
Experts estimate that about 30 percent of the cluster bombs failed to explode after they were dropped from high-flying aircraft, as the U.S. attempted to crush communist forces in Laos and interdict the Vietcong supply line known as the Ho Chi Minh trail. Large swaths of northern Laos and its eastern border with Vietnam remain contaminated.
China has said one of its patrol boats acted reasonably in a confrontation with a Vietnamese fishing boat last week in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
The foreign ministry said it was “legitimate” for China to take action.
Vietnam accuses the Chinese vessel of firing on the fishing boat near the Paracel islands, setting it alight.
Both countries claim the islands, which have been controlled by China since a short war with South Vietnam in 1974.
by David Taylor
[...] The idea that Johnson might have been the candidate, and not Hubert Humphrey, is just one of the many secrets contained on the White House tapes.
They also shed light on a scandal that, if it had been known at the time, would have sunk the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee, Richard Nixon.
By the time of the election in November 1968, LBJ had evidence Nixon had sabotaged the Vietnam war peace talks – or, as he put it, that Nixon was guilty of treason and had “blood on his hands”.
The BBC’s former Washington correspondent Charles Wheeler learned of this in 1994 and conducted a series of interviews with key Johnson staff, such as defence secretary Clark Clifford, and national security adviser Walt Rostow.
But by the time the tapes were declassified in 2008 all the main protagonists had died, including Wheeler.
Now, for the first time, the whole story can be told.
It begins in the summer of 1968. Nixon feared a breakthrough at the Paris Peace talks designed to find a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam war, and he knew this would derail his campaign.
He therefore set up a clandestine back-channel involving Anna Chennault, a senior campaign adviser.
At a July meeting in Nixon’s New York apartment, the South Vietnamese ambassador was told Chennault represented Nixon and spoke for the campaign. If any message needed to be passed to the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, it would come via Chennault.
In late October 1968 there were major concessions from Hanoi which promised to allow meaningful talks to get underway in Paris – concessions that would justify Johnson calling for a complete bombing halt of North Vietnam. This was exactly what Nixon feared.
Chennault was despatched to the South Vietnamese embassy with a clear message: the South Vietnamese government should withdraw from the talks, refuse to deal with Johnson, and if Nixon was elected, they would get a much better deal.
So on the eve of his planned announcement of a halt to the bombing, Johnson learned the South Vietnamese were pulling out.
He was also told why. The FBI had bugged the ambassador’s phone and a transcripts of Anna Chennault’s calls were sent to the White House. In one conversation she tells the ambassador to “just hang on through election”.
Johnson was told by Defence Secretary Clifford that the interference was illegal and threatened the chance for peace.
In a series of remarkable White House recordings we can hear Johnson’s reaction to the news.
In one call to Senator Richard Russell he says: “We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, he has been doing it through rather subterranean sources. Mrs Chennault is warning the South Vietnamese not to get pulled into this Johnson move.”
He orders the Nixon campaign to be placed under FBI surveillance and demands to know if Nixon is personally involved.
When he became convinced it was being orchestrated by the Republican candidate, the president called Senator Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader in the Senate to get a message to Nixon.
The president knew what was going on, Nixon should back off and the subterfuge amounted to treason.
Publicly Nixon was suggesting he had no idea why the South Vietnamese withdrew from the talks. He even offered to travel to Saigon to get them back to the negotiating table.
Johnson felt it was the ultimate expression of political hypocrisy but in calls recorded with Clifford they express the fear that going public would require revealing the FBI were bugging the ambassador’s phone and the National Security Agency (NSA) was intercepting his communications with Saigon.
So they decided to say nothing.
The president did let Humphrey know and gave him enough information to sink his opponent. But by then, a few days from the election, Humphrey had been told he had closed the gap with Nixon and would win the presidency. So Humphrey decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, if the Democrats were going to win anyway.
Nixon ended his campaign by suggesting the administration war policy was in shambles. They couldn’t even get the South Vietnamese to the negotiating table.
He won by less than 1% of the popular vote.
Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968.
The White House tapes, combined with Wheeler’s interviews with key White House personnel, provide an unprecedented insight into how Johnson handled a series of crises that rocked his presidency. Sadly, we will never have that sort of insight again.
Listen to the Archive On 4 programme: Wheeler: The Final Word, on BBC Radio 4 at 20.00 GMT on Saturday or for seven days afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.
by Jason Ditz
Obama Administration officials have hyped their planned “Asian pivot” for awhile, an effort to get more US combat troops deployed in nations across the Pacific Rim in spite of the US not actually being in any wars there. Today Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos revealed his branch’s plans.
The US Marines currently have two battalions “permanently” deployed across the Pacific Rim, mostly Okinawa and Guam. This will be increased to add a third battalion, with an increase in troops in Okinawa, as well as Vietnam and Cambodia.
The Vietnam mission is scheduled for July, and will center around training locals in disposing of unexploded land mines still littering the nation since the US war in that nation a generation ago, while the Cambodia deployment will increase US ties with the regime there.
Amos expressed hope that the Vietnam deployment would build relationships to the point where the Marines could establish a training and operational relationship with the Vietnamese military, while Lt. Gen. Terry Robling says that deployments into Malaysia, Indonesia and even India are also “on the horizon.”
US trade Representative Ron Kirk has announced he’ll be stepping down. During his time in the office he has overseen one of the most significant trade negotiations in recent history – the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Now his office has made an assurance that despite his departure the TPP talks will continue. Celeste Drake, trade and globalization policy specialist for the ALF CIO.
by LEIGH MUNSIL
In the jungles of the Vietnam War, Sgt. Chuck Hagel preferred to be the point man.
As the soldier out front, he was responsible for looking out for booby traps, like grenades hanging from trees, and leading his squad safely around ambushes.
“My brother Tom and I together walked a lot of point, which was all right,” Chuck Hagel said in a 2002 interview for a Library of Congress Vietnam history project. “You know what happens to a lot of point men, but I always felt a little better if I was up front than somebody else.”
The former Republican senator from Nebraska, just tapped by President Barack Obama to be the next defense secretary, has been widely praised for his service in Vietnam, which got him two Purple Hearts, the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross, the Army Commendation Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge and a chest full of shrapnel — some of which remains to this day.
If confirmed by the Senate, Hagel would be the first enlisted service member to be Defense secretary and the first Vietnam veteran in the post. And his brother Tom, who served alongside him, is gung-ho about the prospect as he recalled their grueling days in Vietnam in an interview with POLITICO.
South China Sea tensions have spilled over again in Vietnam as police detained 22 people Sunday at a protest in the capital.
Waving banners with slogans like “the Paracel and Spratly islands belong to Vietnam,” and “China, stop massacring innocent Vietnamese fishermen,” a group of up to 200 people met outside Hanoi’s Opera House and marched through the city center on the way to the Chinese Embassy, flanked by police.
After about 30 minutes police bundled 22 of the protesters into a bus. One of the detainees in the vehicle said they had been taken to detention center Loc Ha. Images from the protests were quickly uploaded onto blogs and social media.
A similar protest was broken up in Ho Chi Minh City but there have been no reports of arrests there. One woman on the march in Hanoi, Bui Thi Minh Hang, 47, said the police had no right to detain the protesters.
She said people came to the march because they wanted to show their patriotism.
The Philippines has become the latest country to say it will not stamp visas in a new Chinese passport because it includes a map of the South China Sea that Manila says shows its territory.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday that the visas will be stamped in a separate visa application form.
It said the move reinforces its protest formally conveyed to Beijing last week against China’s “excessive claim over almost the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.”
It said stamping the passport could be seen as “legitimizing” China’s claims.
Vietnam has already said it will not stamp the passports, while Taiwan has protested against the map’s maritime borders and India has rejected the map’s depiction of its northern border with China. India has retaliated by issuing Chinese citizens visas embossed with New Delhi’s own maps.
The United States, which is taking no side in the territorial disputes but wants to ensure safe maritime traffic in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, has said it will raise its concerns over the map with Beijing.
China’s Foreign Ministry says putting the map in the passport was not directed at any particular country.
An arms-buying spree across south-east Asia will be the elephant in the room when almost 20 world leaders meet in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, on Tuesday.
Defence spending across the region increased 13.5 per cent to $US25.4 billion ($24.5 billion) last year and was expected to rise to $US40 billion by 2016, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said.
Flush with economic success and wary of China’s military expansion, countries are acquiring sophisticated sea- and air-based arsenals that include dozens of submarines that can operate in secret.
The institute said Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia had increased defence budgets by 66 per cent to 82 per cent from 2002 to last year.
A US aircraft carrier group cruised through the disputed South China Sea on Saturday in a show of American power in waters that are fast becoming a focal point of Washington’s strategic rivalry with Beijing.
Vietnamese security and government officials were flown onto the nuclear-powered USS George Washington ship, underlining the burgeoning military relationship between the former enemies.
A small number of journalists were also invited to witness the display of maritime might in the oil-rich waters, which are home to islands disputed between China and the other smaller Asian nations facing the sea.
The visit will likely reassure Vietnam and the Philippines of American support but could annoy China, whose growing economic and naval strength is leading to a greater assertiveness in pressing its claims there.
The United States is building closer economic and military alliances with Vietnam and other nations in the region as part of a “pivot” away from the Middle East to Asia, a shift in large part meant to counter rising Chinese influence.
The Vietnamese officials took photos of F-16 fighter jets taking off and landing on the ships 1,000-foot-long flight deck, met the captain and toured the hulking ship, which has more than 5,000 sailors on board.
The mission came a day after Beijing staged military exercises near islands in the nearby East China Sea it disputes with US ally Japan. Those tensions have flared in recent days.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, where the US says it has a national interest in ensuring freedom of navigation in an area crossed by vital shipping lanes.
Vietnam, the Philippines and several other Asian nations also claim parts of the sea.
Residents of Okinawa Island have recently been confronted with mounting evidence that their land used to be a major storage site for the toxic U.S. defoliant Agent Orange.
Over the past 18 months, dozens of American veterans have claimed that they were poisoned by the dioxin-tainted chemical while stationed on Okinawa Island during the Vietnam War. At the time, the island was under U.S. jurisdiction and a staging post for the conflict in Southeast Asia in which millions of liters of defoliant was sprayed in an attempt to rob enemy forces of jungle cover and crops. Last month, a U.S. Army document was discovered that seems to prove Okinawa veterans’ claims; the report states that 25,000 barrels of Agent Orange were stored on the island prior to 1972.
Despite this apparent confirmation, the U.S. government denies that Agent Orange was ever in Okinawa and Tokyo has refused to conduct environmental tests. The two governments’ intransigence has angered Okinawa residents and left many of them seeking answers about the potential impact on their island. Last month, they were given the opportunity to speak firsthand to someone who has dedicated her life to spreading awareness about the dangers of these defoliants.
Heather Bowser, 39, is the daughter of a U.S. soldier exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam during the war. “My father had five bypasses on his heart when he was only 38 years old and at age 40 he developed diabetes. When he was 50, he died of a massive heart attack,” Bowser said during the visit.
The notoriously persistent effects of dioxin, which can even sicken the children and grandchildren of those exposed, did not stop with her father; his first two children died in the womb and when Bowser was born, she was 2 months premature and missing her right leg below the knee, several fingers and the big toe on her left foot.
“My father used to say that if he’d known the effects of Agent Orange on his children, he would have fled to Canada to avoid serving in the war,” Bowser said.
During the 1970s and ’80s, the U.S. government and the manufacturers of the chemicals strenuously denied the harmful effects of Agent Orange. But Bowser’s father campaigned to spread awareness and often brought his daughter to rallies — dressing her in a bright T-shirt bearing the message, “Agent Orange Kills.”
Although his activities attracted the attention of the authorities and the family’s telephone, he believed, was tapped, work by activists such as him helped to persuade the U.S. government in the 1990s to offer compensation to American service members directly exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
Today they are eligible for compensation for over a dozen illnesses ranging from cancers and diabetes to heart problems. In addition, the sick children of the estimated 1,800 female veterans of the Vietnam conflict are offered assistance. Yet Washington still refuses to help the tens of thousands of poisoned children of male veterans — second-generation survivors like Bowser who are sick with serious health problems.
After her father died in 1998, Bowser carried on his struggle to seek justice for those exposed. In 2010, she became one of the first second-generation survivors in the U.S. to travel to Vietnam to meet with some of the country’s 3 million dioxin victims. Her trip was featured in a Japanese documentary, “Living the Silent Spring,” directed by Masako Sakata.
While in Vietnam, Bowser met a young third-generation survivor whose birth defects mirrored her own. “Meeting him really struck home the legacy of these poisons across generations and borders. And on a personal level, it helped me to come to terms with myself,” said Bowser.
The visit convinced Bowser of the urgent need to reach out to all of those affected by Agent Orange. In January, she set up the nonprofit organization Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance with a fellow second-generation survivor. Today the group has over 350 members on three continents united by its mission statement to serve “as a voice for the children of Vietnam veterans, including second- and third-generation victims of Agent Orange and dioxin exposure worldwide. We will fight for justice globally.”
Last month, Bowser brought the group’s message to Okinawa as part of a program organized by Japanese NPO Peace Boat to highlight the international and intergenerational legacy of Agent Orange. During her three-day stay on the island, Bowser was shown several of the U.S. bases where the toxic chemical had allegedly been stored and sprayed to clear weeds during the 1960s and ’70s.
In the northern Okinawa town of Henoko, Bowser met with people living near U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab. According to U.S. veterans, the installation had a cache of hundreds of barrels of Agent Orange that was used to kill vegetation within the base and on the adjacent Jungle Warfare Training Center. While in Henoko, Bowser heard how local residents were apparently poisoned in the 1960s after consuming shellfish contaminated by the toxin.
Hiroshi Aritomi, an outspoken critic of the American bases in the area, voiced his anger over the Japanese government’s refusal to conduct health tests among people living near Camp Schwab. “Tokyo is only following Washington’s orders. They’re trying to hide the truth from the people of Okinawa. We need an urgent investigation into medical records of former base workers (who allegedly sprayed Agent Orange).”
Bowser also visited Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, often labeled by locals as the most dangerous U.S. base in the world due to its location in the densely populated central part of the city of Ginowan. In June, The Japan Times reported that dozens of barrels of Agent Orange had been secretly buried on the installation and marine corps officers had attempted to conceal the fact when they were accidentally unearthed in the 1980s.
Bowser expressed her concerns and commented on the geographical similarities between the Futenma base and the former U.S. air base in Da Nang, Vietnam, which today is the scene of a well-publicized dioxin cleanup attempt by the U.S. government. “Both Da Nang and Futenma are located in the middle of residential areas where people have been living alongside contaminated soil for decades. It really makes me worried about the long-term health impact on Okinawa residents,” Bowser said.
Bowser’s concerns were also heightened by accounts from local residents of elevated rates of autism and cleft palates on the island — both of which are common problems among second- and third-generation Agent Orange survivors.
On her final day on the island, Bowser attended a screening of the documentary “Living the Silent Spring” at Okinawa University in Naha. As testament to the islanders’ worries over dioxin, the rainy weekday screening drew over 100 residents. Also in attendance was Seiryo Arakaki, chairman of the Special Committee of Base Issues, and four municipal assembly members whose constituencies host U.S. bases where Agent Orange had allegedly been sprayed.
Following the screening, Bowser told the audience that she felt an affinity with Okinawa people, whose prefecture had been devastated by fighting during World War II and continues to host the majority of U.S. bases in Japan. “My few days here in Okinawa have made a lasting impression on me. When it comes to the legacy of war, you have suffered so much, but I have been moved by your power to see through the ravages of loss and find strength in each other,” she said.
Following a plea for Washington to award compensation to U.S. veterans exposed to Agent Orange on Okinawa, Bowser ended her visit with reassurances to residents that they were not alone in their struggle.
“I urge you to start organizing with each other and reach out to international Agent Orange communities. Demand full disclosure from the Japanese government as to the storage and use of Agent Orange in Okinawa. Now is not a time to stay silent.”
Masami Kawamura, cofounder of Okinawa Outreach, the citizens’ group at the forefront of demands for a full inquest into Agent Orange usage on the island, believes Bowser’s trip paved the way for the struggle for justice that lies ahead. “By sharing her knowledge and experience, Heather has inspired many people. From now on, we will work together in solidarity with her. She has shown us that we need to not only look back at the past, but also work together for our future.”
Fifty-one years and counting! On August 10, 1961, America began spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Operation Ranch Hand waged herbicidal warfare for 10 years.
RT recently aired a piece titled, “Homemade bombs beat high-tech? Afghan war failure looms,” in which the astronomical amount of money spent on military weapons systems is examined versus the apparent inability of the US to “win” in Afghanistan.
In all likeness the US’ inability to “win” reflects a failure to balance the weakening of armed resistance to occupation with the propping up of a suitable proxy government. And when fighters are taking up weapons simply to see off foreign invaders – something Afghans have been doing perpetually throughout their history – it would seem that the US, despite all it’s military prowess, would need to impossibly scour every crack and crevice to eradicate every man capable of picking up arms and fighting.
If this sounds like a familiar narrative, it’s because the United States fought a similar war in Southeast Asia spanning Laos and Vietnam. Dr. James William Gibson, author of the book “The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam,” was interviewed in 1987 by “Alternative Views” and gave an in-depth cautionary history of a war driven by a “production process” mentality, complete with quotas motivating soldiers, driving commanding officers, and directing policy makers, all within the backdrop of reasserting a slipping global imperial paradigm.
Gibson points out the obvious flaws of using a “production process” approach towoard war. Soldiers motivated to meet quotas for body counts will fabricate numbers, or worse yet, take innocent life in an increasingly desperate and degenerate bid to survive (missed quotas meant more time spent out in the field). Officers likewise will make tactically fatal decisions in pursuit of meeting these irrational quotas in their sycophantic bid to climb up the military hierarchy.
The vector sum is a war not based on the just cause of national defense, nor driven by actual achievable strategic objectives, but a war motivated by opportunistic interests attempting to profit from the “rules” set by policy – from the soldiers on the ground seeking the “payment” of survival, to the officers managing the conflict seeking advancement, to the corporations and their representatives at the top seeking profits and geopolitical corporate-financier hegemony. In this way, the war can take on a life of its own, a dangerous tropism.
The Vietnam and Afghan Wars were never wars of national defense. They were military adventures sold to the public as “necessary” for national defense. In reality, each in turn was a response to shifting geopolitical spheres of influence and the ruling elite’s desire to dominate them. In Vietnam, the goal was to reassert Western influence over the Vietnamese who were setting a dangerous anti-imperialist precedent for the world.
In Afghanistan, the goal appears to be a means of projecting US power against Iran, Pakistan, and even up to the gates of China itself. It has served as a point of geopolitical leverage, destabilization, reordering, and chaos in a region that may have otherwise moved forward together, shaping a multipolar global order that checked or negated the hegemony of Wall Street and London.
Image: The Fortune 500′s newly launched lobbying front, “Defending Defense.” It, in reality, is designed to defend only the bottom line of the military industrial complex and the immense, unwarranted power it has procured and projects globally.
It too has taken on a life of its own, with profiteers and opportunists seeking its preservation, even expansion to justify increasing bottom lines. For example, “Defending Defense” is a lobbying front assembled by the American Enterprise Institute – a think-tank with Fortune 500 interests fully represented upon its board of trustees, advisory council, and “national council.” The lobbying effort not only cites current wars the US is fighting, but cites future potential wars that require yet more money to be shifted from productive peaceful progress, to the pursuit of hegemonic megalomania – because it is not just about war profits, it is about the power derived in the pursuit of global preeminence.
The goal of propping up a proxy government in Vietnam failed, leaving millions dead, with Americans bled dry both literally and financially in the process. The military industrial complex, however, came out only stronger.
Today, these same corporate-financier interests are doing it again. And when asked the question, “have we learned anything in Vietnam?” many people imagine it is posed rhetorically to our leaders.
These leaders have learned the perfect balance of war profiteering, managing public perception, and eliminating political dissent. They have learned that the war must be fought against the people at home just as vigorously as it is fought abroad.
On the battlefield, they have mastered the art of motivating officers seeking promotions, willing to say, do, or believe anything in order to proceed up the next rung. They’ve managed to push soldiers just enough to keep them in line and on mission, but not too much to where widespread meaningful dissent forms. And as Dr. Gibson pointed out in his 1987 interview, in the “production process” of war, soldiers are easily replaced, so with today’s repeated tours of duty, we see merely the system maximizing return on investment.
Indeed, our leaders have learned much from Vietnam. They are on their way to perfecting the “technowar.”
The banners, T-shirts and handwritten posters said it all. “China! Hands off Vietnam!” read one. “Shame on you, bastard neighbour,” said another. “Stop escalating, invading the East Sea of Vietnam,” a third declared.
As the protesters weaved their way through the crowded streets of Hanoi, past the peeling colonial villas and upmarket shops selling stereos and Versace, they charged towards the Chinese embassy, where they hoped to make a stand against what they call “China’s constant aggression”.
“I hate China!” said one fortysomething protester, his voice hoarse from shouting slogans. “Germany invaded Poland during the second world war, now China wants to do the same to Vietnam. History may repeat itself if the international community is not made aware of China’s bullying.”
From government offices to the streets of Vietnam, tensions between Beijing and Hanoi have mounted in recent weeks over what China calls the South China Sea and Vietnam the East Sea, an area where vast deposits of oil and gas, important international shipping routes and fishing rights are of interest not just to Beijing and Hanoi, but also to the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
But last month’s protesters had only China on their mind. After detaining a group of Vietnamese fishermen near disputed islands this year, Beijing announced that the state-backed China National Offshore Oil Corporation was seeking bids for oil exploration in what Vietnam deems its own sovereign waters.
It also declared Sansha City – on tiny Yongxing in the Paracel islands, which Vietnam lays claim to – China’s newest municipality. The anti-China protest was the third of its kind in Hanoi in one month. “The territorial ambition of China is a common threat – not only for the Philippines or Vietnam but for countries all over the world,” said leading economist Le Dang Doanh, a former government adviser who recently signed an open letter calling for China to abandon its “absurd maritime claims” in the region. “China’s territorial claims are now bigger than China itself.”
Hanoi, 125 miles from the Chinese border, knows it must play a delicate game. Trade between the two countries reached an estimated $40bn last year, and analysts say that ties between the authoritarian, one-party states are considerably closer than either government would like to admit.
The seeming standoff has pushed the US into the game, with recent visits by the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the defence secretary, Leon Panetta, highlighting America’s interest in its former foe. Panetta’s visit to Cam Ranh bay, a US naval base during the Vietnam war, sparked particular curiosity over the US’s intentions to “protect key maritime rights for all nations in the South China Sea” as it moves to deploy 60% of its naval ships to the Pacific by 2020.
The New York Times
‘Forty years after the United States stopped spraying herbicides in the jungles of Southeast Asia in the hopes of denying cover to Vietcong fighters and North Vietnamese troops, an air base here is one of about two dozen former American sites that remain polluted with an especially toxic strain of dioxin, the chemical contaminant in Agent Orange that has been linked to cancers, birth defects and other diseases.
On Thursday, after years of rebuffing Vietnamese requests for assistance in a cleanup, the United States inaugurated its first major effort to address the environmental effects of the long war.
“This morning we celebrate a milestone in our bilateral relationship,” David B. Shear, the American ambassador to Vietnam, said at a ceremony attended by senior officers of the Vietnamese military. “We’re cleaning up this mess.”
The program, which will cost $43 million and take four years, was officially welcomed with smiles and handshakes at the ceremony. But bitterness remains here. Agent Orange is mentioned often in the news media and is commemorated annually on Aug. 10, the day in 1961 when it was first tested in Vietnam. The government objected to Olympic sponsorship this year by Dow Chemical, a leading producer of Agent Orange during the war. Many here have not hesitated to call the American program too little — it addresses only the one site — and very late.’
AUGUST 10, 2012, AT NOON: 51 YEARS AFTER THE CHEMICAL WAR BEGAN IN VIETNAM, WE SHOULD BE SILENT IN MEMORY, THEN TAKE ACTION TO REMEDY
To take action go to
There are images from the U.S. War against Vietnam that have been indelibly imprinted on the minds of Americans who lived through it. One is the naked napalm-burned girl running from her village with flesh hanging off her body. Another is a photo of the piles of bodies from the My Lai massacre, where U.S. troops executed 504 civilians in a small village. Then there is the photograph of the silent scream of a woman student leaning over the body of her dead friend at Kent State University whose only crime was protesting the bombing of Cambodia in 1970. Finally, there is the memory of decorated members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War testifying at the Winter Soldier Hearings, often in tears, to atrocities in which they had participated during the war.
These pictures are heartbreaking. They expose the horrors of war. The U.S. War against Vietnam was televised, while images of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have intentionally been hidden from us. But what was not televised was the relentless ten years (1961-1971) of spraying millions of gallons of toxic herbicides over vast areas of South Vietnam. These chemicals exposed almost 5 million people, mostly civilians, to deadly consequences. The toxic herbicides, most notably Agent Orange, contained dioxin, one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man. It has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a carcinogen (causes cancer) and by the American Academy of Medicine as a teratogen (causes birth defects).
From the beginning of the spraying 51 years ago, until today, millions of Vietnamese have died from, or been completely incapacitated by, diseases which the U. S. government recognizes are related to Agent Orange for purposes of granting compensation to Vietnam Veterans in the United States. The Vietnamese, who were the intended victims of this spraying, experienced the most intense, horrible impact on human health and environmental devastation. Second and third generations of children, born to parents exposed during the war and in areas of heavy spraying — un-remediated “hot spots” of dioxin contamination, — suffer unspeakable deformities that medical authorities attribute to the dioxin in Agent Orange.
The Vietnamese exposed to the chemical suffer from cancer, liver damage, pulmonary and heart diseases, defects to reproductive capacity, and skin and nervous disorders. Their children and grandchildren have severe physical deformities, mental and physical disabilities, diseases, and shortened life spans. The forests and jungles in large parts of southern Vietnam were devastated and denuded. Centuries-old habitat was destroyed, and will not regenerate with the same diversity for hundreds of years. Animals that inhabited the forests and jungles are threatened with extinction, disrupting the communities that depended on them. The rivers and underground water in some areas have also been contaminated. Erosion and desertification will change the environment, causing dislocation of crop and animal life.
For the past 51 years, the Vietnamese people have been attempting to address this legacy of war by trying to get the United States and the chemical companies to accept responsibility for this ongoing nightmare. An unsuccessful legal action by Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange against the chemical companies in U.S. federal court, begun in 2004, has nonetheless spawned a movement to hold the United States accountable for using such dangerous chemicals on civilian populations. The movement has resulted in pending legislation HR 2634 – The Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2011, which attempts to provide medical, rehabilitative and social service compensation to the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, remediation of dioxin-contaminated “hot spots,” and medical services for the children and grandchildren of U. S. Vietnam veterans and Vietnamese-Americans who have been born with the same diseases and deformities.
Using weapons of war on civilian populations violates the laws of war, which recognize the principle of distinction between military and civilian objects, requiring armies to avoid civilian targets. These laws of war are enshrined in the Hague Convention and the Nuremberg principles, and are codified in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Optional Protocol of 1977, as well as the International Criminal Court statute. The aerial bombardments of civilian population centers in World Wars I and II violated the principle of distinction, as did the detonation of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9 of 1945. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese people were killed in an instant, even though Japan was already negotiating the terms of surrender.
The use of Agent Orange on civilian populations violated the laws of war and yet no one has been held to account. Taxpayers pick up the tab of the Agent Orange Compensation fund for the U. S. Veterans at a cost of 1.52 billion dollars a year. The chemical companies, most specifically Dow and Monsanto, which profited from the manufacture of Agent Orange, paid a pittance to settle the veterans’ lawsuit to compensate them, as the unintended victims, for their Agent Orange related illnesses. But the Vietnamese continue to suffer from these violations with almost no recognition, as do the offspring of Agent Orange-exposed U.S. veterans and Vietnamese-Americans.
What is the difference between super powers like the United States violating the laws of war with impunity and the reports of killing of Syrian civilians by both sides in the current civil war? Does the United States have any credibility to demand governments and non-state actors end the killings of civilians, when through wars and drones and its refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the use of Agent Orange, the United States has and is engaging in the very conduct it publicly deplores?
In 1945, at the founding conference of the United Nations, the countries of the world determined:
- to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
- to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
- to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
- to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.
If we are to avoid sinking once again into the scourge of war, we must reaffirm the principles of the Charter and establish conditions under which countries take actions that promote rather than undermine justice and respect for our international legal obligations. The alternative is the law of the jungle, where only might makes right. It is time that right makes might.
August 10th marks 51 years since the beginning of the spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam. In commemoration, the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign urges you to observe 51 seconds of silence at 12 noon, to think about the horrors of wars which have occurred. We ask you to take action so as not to see future images of naked children running from napalm, or young soldiers wiping out the population of an entire village, or other atrocities associated with war, poverty, and violence around the world. We urge you to take at least 51 seconds for your action. In the United States, you can sign an orange post card to the U.S. Congress asking it to pass HR 2634. This would be a good start to assist the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange as well as the next generations of those exposed to these dangerous chemicals in both Vietnam and the United States.
Jeanne Mirer, a New York attorney, is president of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. They are both on the board of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign.
To sign the petition, go to
This is a story of two letters and two Britains. The first letter was written by Sebastian Coe, the former athlete who chairs the London Olympics Organising Committee. He is now called Lord Coe. In the New Statesman of 21 June, I reported an urgent appeal to Coe by the Vietnam Women’s Union that he and his IOC colleagues reconsider their decision to accept sponsorship from Dow Chemical, one of the companies that manufactured dioxin, a poison used against the population of Vietnam. Code-named Agent Orange, this weapon of mass destruction was “dumped” on Vietnam, according to a US Senate report in 1970, in what was called Operation Hades. The letter to Coe estimates that today 4.8 million victims of Agent Orange are children, all of them shockingly deformed.
In his reply, Coe describes Agent Orange as “a highly emotional issue” whose development and use “was made by the US government [which] has rightly led the process of addressing the many issues that have resulted”. He refers to a “constructive dialogue” between the US and Vietnamese governments “to resolve issues”. They are “best placed to manage the reconciliation of these two countries.” When I read this, I was reminded of the weasel letters that are a specialty of the Foreign Office in London in denying the evidence of crimes of state and corporate power, such as the lucrative export of terrible weapons. The former Iraq Desk Officer, Mark Higson, called this sophistry “a culture of lying”.
I sent Coe’s letter to a number of authorities on Agent Orange. The reactions were unerring. “There has been no initiative at all by the US government to address the health and economic effects on the people of Vietnam affected by dioxin,” wrote the respected US attorney Constantine Kokkoris, who led an action against Dow Chemical. He noted that “manufacturers like Dow were aware of the presence and harmfulness of dioxin in their product but failed to inform the government in an effort to avoid regulation.” According to the War legacies League, none of the health, environmental and economic problems caused by the world’s most enduring chemical warfare has been addressed by the US. Non-government agencies have helped “only a small number of those in need”. A “clean up” in a “dioxin hot spot” in the city of Da Nang, to which Coe refers, is a sham; none of the money allocated by the US Congress has gone directly to the Vietnamese or has reached those most severely disabled from the cancers associated with Agent Orange.
For this reason, Coe’s mention of “reconciliation” is profane, as if there were an equivalence between an invading superpower and its victims. His letter exemplifies the London Olympics’ razor-wired, PR and money-fuelled totalitarian state within a state, which you enter, appropriately, through a Westfield mega shopping mall. How dare you complain about the missiles on the roof of your flats, hectored a magistrate to 86 residents of London’s East End. How dare any of you protest at the “Zil car lanes”, reminiscent of Moscow in the Soviet era, for Olympic apparatchiks and the boys from Dow and Coke. With the media in charge of Olympics excitement, as it was for ‘Shock and Awe’ in Iraq in 2003, now enter the man who played a starring role in making both spectacles possible.
On 11 July, a so-called Olympics evening – “a coming together of the Labour tribe”, declared the Labour Party leader Ed Milliband – celebrated its “star guest” Tony Blair and his 2005 “gift” of the Games and “provided the perfect opportunity for Blair’s return to frontline politics”, reported the Guardian. The organiser of this contrivance was Alistair Campbell, chief spinner of the bloodbath Blair and he gifted to the Iraqi people. And just as the victims of Dow Chemical are of no interest to the Olympic elite, so the epic criminality of Labour’s star guest was unmentionable.
The source of the Olympics’ chaotic security is also unmentionable. As established studies in Britain have long conceded, it was the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the rest of the “war on terror” that served to recruit new jihadists and bolster other forms of resistance that led directly to the London bombs of 7/7. These were Blair’s bombs. In his current rehabilitation, courtesy of his Olympics “legacy”, there is the additional spin that Blair’s huge post-Downing Street wealth is concentrated on charities.
The second letter I mentioned was sent to me by Josh Richards who lives in Bristol. In March 2003, Josh and four others set out to disable an American B-52 bomber based at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, before it could bomb Iraq. So did four other people. It was a non-violent action faithful to the Nuremberg principles that a war of aggression was the “paramount war crime”. Josh was arrested and charged with planning to lay explosives. “This was based on the ludicrous idea,” he wrote, “that some peanut butter I had on me was actually a bomb component. The charge was later abandoned after the Ministry of Defence performed extensive tests on my Tesco crunchy nut peanut butter.”
During two trials and two hung juries, Josh was finally acquitted. It was a landmark case in which he spoke in open court about the genocidal embargo imposed upon Iraq by the British and US governments prior to their invasion and the false justifications of the “war on terror”. His acquittal meant that he had acted in the name of the law and his intention had been to save lives.
The letter Josh wrote to me included a copy of my book, The New Rulers of the World, which, he pointed out, had provided him with the facts he needed for his defence. Meticulously page-marked and highlighted, it had accompanied Josh on a three-year journey through courtrooms and prison cells. Of all the letters I have received, Josh’s epitomises a decency, modesty and determination of moral purpose that represent another Britain and antidotes to poisonous Olympic sponsors and rehabilitated warmongers. During these extraordinary times, such an example ought to give others heart and inspiration to reclaim this receding democracy.
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial summit broke up yesterday in acrimony after failing to reach agreement over worsening maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea. Without a consensus, no joint communiqué was released for the first time in the organisation’s 45-year history.
The diplomatic impasse is the product of the Obama administration’s aggressive “pivot” to Asia over the past three years, aimed at undercutting China’s influence throughout the region. Encouraged by the US government, the Philippines and Vietnam have taken a more assertive stance over their claims in the South China Sea, leading to heated disputes with China.
The US has put Beijing on the back foot by pushing ASEAN to adopt a common Code of Conduct as the basis for discussions with China over the maritime disputes. This multilateral approach, aimed at strengthening the position of the US and its allies, cuts directly across previous efforts by China to resolve differences with South East Asian countries on a bilateral basis.
At this week’s summit in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, the Philippines provocatively pressed for the final communiqué to include a reference to the country’s two-month standoff with China over the disputed Scarborough Shoal. In a blunt statement issued on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi declared there was “no dispute” about China’s sovereignty over the reef. “China hopes the Philippine side faces the facts squarely and stops creating trouble,” he said.
Efforts to paper over the disagreements within ASEAN failed when Cambodia rejected a compromise wording of the final statement. Cambodia, which currently holds ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship, is closely aligned with China. While not an ASEAN member, China belongs to the associated East Asian Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum.
The failure to reach agreement sparked bitter recriminations between the Philippines and Cambodia. The Philippine foreign ministry issued a statement “deploring” the lack of a final communiqué and blaming Cambodia for opposing any mention of the Scarborough Shoal. A Cambodian Foreign Ministry official denied that his country had come under pressure from China, declaring it an “unfair accusation”.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario inflamed tensions, warning that the increasing assertion by China of sovereignty over areas of the South China Sea “poses a threat to the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.” He declared: “If left unchecked, the increasing tension that is being generated in the process could further escalate into physical hostilities which no one wants.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa expressed concern over the open divisions within ASEAN. “This is strange territory for me,” he told reporters. “It’s very, very disappointing that at this 11th hour ASEAN is not able to rally around a certain common language on the South China Sea. We have gone through so many problems in the past, but we’ve never failed to speak as one.”
A great deal is at stake in the South China Sea. The area has significant energy reserves and fisheries. It also has key sea routes from Africa, the Middle East and Europe to North East Asia, accounting for about a third of the world’s shipping. The waters are adjacent to China’s southern coast and vital Chinese naval bases.
The Obama administration intervened directly into the maritime disputes in 2010 when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared at an ASEAN summit that the US had “a national interest” in ensuring “freedom of navigation” through the South China Sea. The US navy routinely patrols the area, sailing close to sensitive Chinese military installations.
At this week’s meeting, Clinton allowed the Philippines to play the most confrontational role, creating diplomatic friction. But her comments left no doubt that the US was exploiting the issue to undermine China and consolidate its own influence in the region. Clinton asserted Washington’s right to intervene by declaring that “the United States is a resident Pacific power.” She pointedly criticised “worrisome instances of economic coercion and the problematic use of military and government vessels in connection with disputes among fishermen.”
Clinton’s remarks amounted to a not-so-subtle reference to the standoff over the Scarborough Shoal, as well as the row between China and Japan over the disputed Senkaku islands in the East China Sea. That dispute erupted again this week after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda suggested last weekend that his government would purchase the rocky outcrops from their current private owner. Not coincidentally, Clinton was in Tokyo last Sunday for talks with Noda and his ministers.
China’s state-owned media held the US responsible for the renewed tensions over the South China Sea. An article in China Daily, entitled “US sows seeds of discord,” branded Clinton’s comments as “inappropriate and ill-intentioned”. It continued: “The US, as a force from outside the region, is not in any position to tell countries in the region how to solve their differences.” The article reiterated that ASEAN meetings were not the appropriate venue to discuss the South China Sea.
The Obama administration’s intervention at ASEAN summits is just one aspect of a broad diplomatic and strategic offensive aimed at strengthening US ties with countries throughout the region. As well as closer relations with military allies and partners such as Australia, Japan, South Korea, India and the Philippines, Washington is making moves to prise countries like Burma, Cambodia and Laos away from their alignment with Beijing.
Clinton became the first US secretary of state in more than half a century to visit Laos this week, in a significant step to strengthen relations with the regime. She held talks with the Cambodian government, holding out the possibility that the US might reach an accommodation on Phnom Penh’s demand for a write-off of more than $400 million in debt accrued under the US-backed military government of Lon Nol. Clinton also met with Burmese President Thein Sein after easing sanctions on US investment in that country.
Clinton’s diplomatic moves are backed by a US military build-up in Asia. The South China Sea and key choke points, such as the Malacca Strait, are central to US strategic planning, which aims to ensure the US navy is capable of cutting off China’s shipping routes from Africa and the Middle East in the event of a conflict. To that end, the Obama administration has secured military basing arrangements with Australia and Singapore, and is seeking a similar pact with the Philippines.
The lack of agreement at this week’s ASEAN summit is just the latest indication that the Obama administration’s strategy is recklessly inflaming regional tensions and thus the danger of military conflict.
ARTICLE BY PETER SYMONDS FOR GLOBAL RESEARCH
The case of an 11-year-old girl in HCM City’s Tan Binh District claimed to have supernatural fire- starting powers is continuing to baffle scientists. The girl, whose family claims she has an unusual mental power that can cause objects to burst into flames, has drawn a great deal of attention from the Vietnamese media. The girl’s father said he first became aware of that his child was unusual when the family home’s electrical network suffered several short circuits, about a month ago. Electricians were called to fix the short circuit but could not find the cause behind the power failures. He said the girl was taken to other houses where the same phenomenon took place each time. Her mattresses, fans and other equipment have burst into flames. The hotel room where her family stayed two weeks ago during their holiday on Vung Tau beach also suffered burns from a blaze. The family then realised that objects were burnt when the girl approached them, although her body did not radiate any electric sparks, said her father. The girl has been examined by doctors at Cho Ray Hospital and the Children’s Hospital No. 2 but nothing abnormal has been found. But a team of scientists from the Centre of Research and Application for Radio-active Geo- biological Energy at Hong Bang University has also carried out tests on the girl and confirmed that she is unusual. Prof. Nguyen Manh Hung, director of the university, said that the girl is capable of burning things arround her. “This is a very strange case not only in Viet Nam but for the world,” said Hung. Brain scans discovered an unusual line on the right part of the girl’s brain, said the doctor. “She burned objects that were located near and far from her, so there is no specific distance limit,” said Hung. Samples of her blood, skin tissue and urine along with objects from the girl’s home have been taken for further analysis, he said. Nguyen Phuc Giac Hai, a scientist at the Research Centre of Human Potential, said the girl was a global scientific phenomenon. “This case is special because it has lasted for more than one month and fires have occurred wherever she has been,” said Hai. He said the centre is going to hold a conference next week to find out the causes of the girl’s condition and discuss ways to ensure her protection. Scientists at the Viet Nam Physics Institute are also studying the case and will soon release their findings. Hung said the girl will be taken to school or other places by a car and with carers, and her home and school have also been equipped with fire extinguishers.
Arriving in a village in southern Vietnam, I caught sight of two children who bore witness to the longest war of the 20th century. Their terrible deformities were familiar. All along the Mekong river, where the forests were petrified and silent, small human mutations lived as best they could.
Today, at the Tu Du paediatrics hospital in Saigon, a former operating theatre is known as the “collection room” and, unofficially, as the “room of horrors”. It has shelves of large bottles containing grotesque foetuses. During its invasion of Vietnam, the United States sprayed a defoliant herbicide on vegetation and villages to deny “cover to the enemy”. This was Agent Orange, which contained dioxin, poisons of such power that they cause foetal death, miscarriage, chromosomal damage and cancer.
In 1970, a US Senate report revealed that “the US has dumped [on South Vietnam] a quantity of toxic chemical amounting to six pounds per head of population, including woman and children”. The code-name for this weapon of mass destruction, Operation Hades, was changed to the friendlier Operation Ranch Hand. Today, an estimated 4.8 million victims of Agent Orange are children.
Len Aldis, secretary of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society, recently returned from Vietnam with a letter for the International Olympic Committee from the Vietnam Women’s Union. The union’s president, Nguyen Thi Thanh Hoa, described “the severe congenital deformities [caused by Agent Orange] from generation to generation”. She asked the IOC to reconsider its decision to accept sponsorship of the London Olympics from the Dow Chemical Corporation, which was one of the companies that manufactured the poison and has refused to compensate its victims.
Aldis hand-delivered the letter to the office of Lord Coe, chairman of the London Organising Committee. He has had no reply. When Amnesty International pointed out that in 2001 Dow Chemical acquired “the company responsible for the Bhopal gas leak [in India in 1984] which killed 7,000 to 10,000 people immediately and 15,000 in the following twenty years”, David Cameron described Dow as a “reputable company”. Cheers, then, as the TV cameras pan across the £7 million decorative wrap that sheathes the Olympic stadium: the product of a 10-year “deal” between the IOC and such a reputable destroyer.
History is buried with the dead and deformed of Vietnam and Bhopal. And history is the new enemy. On 28 May, President Obama launched a campaign to falsify the history of the war in Vietnam. To Obama, there was no Agent Orange, no free fire zones, no turkey shoots, no cover-ups of massacres, no rampant racism, no suicides (as many Americans took their own lives as died in the war), no defeat by a resistance army drawn from an impoverished society. It was, said Mr. Hopey Changey, “one of the most extraordinary stories of bravery and integrity in the annals of [US] military history”.
The following day, the New York Times published a long article documenting how Obama personally selects the victims of his drone attacks across the world. He does this on “terror Tuesdays” when he browses through mug shots on a “kill list”, some of them teenagers, including “a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years”. Many are unknown or simply of military age. Guided by “pilots” sitting in front of computer screens in Las Vegas, the drones fire Hellfire missiles that suck the air out of lungs and blow people to bits. Last September, Obama killed a US citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, purely on the basis of hearsay that he was inciting terrorism. “This one is easy,” he is quoted by aides as saying as he signed the man’s death warrant. On 6 June, a drone killed 18 people in a village in Afghanistan, including women, children and the elderly who were celebrating a wedding.
The New York Times article was not a leak or an expose. It was a piece of PR designed by the Obama administration to show what a tough guy the ‘commander-in-chief’ can be in an election year. If re-elected, Brand Obama will continue serving the wealthy, pursuing truth-tellers, threatening countries, spreading computer viruses and murdering people every Tuesday.
The threats against Syria, co-ordinated in Washington and London, scale new peaks of hypocrisy. Contrary to the raw propaganda presented as news, the investigative journalism of the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung identifies those responsible for the massacre in Houla as the ‘rebels’ backed by Obama and Cameron. The paper’s sources include the rebels themselves. This has not been completely ignored in Britain. Writing in his personal blog, ever so quietly, Jon Williams, the BBC world news editor, effectively dishes his own ‘coverage’, citing western officials who describe the ‘psy-ops’ operation against Syria as ‘brilliant’. As brilliant as the destruction of Libya, and Iraq, and Afghanistan.
And as brilliant as the psy-ops of the Guardian’s latest promotion of Alastair Campbell, the chief collaborator of Tony Blair in the criminal invasion of Iraq. In his “diaries”, Campbell tries to splash Iraqi blood on the demon Murdoch. There is plenty to drench them all. But recognition that the respectable, liberal, Blair-fawning media was a vital accessory to such an epic crime is omitted and remains a singular test of intellectual and moral honesty in Britain.
How much longer must we subject ourselves to such an “invisible government”? This term for insidious propaganda, first used by Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud and inventor of modern public relations, has never been more apt. “False reality” requires historical amnesia, lying by omission and the transfer of significance to the insignificant. In this way, political systems promising security and social justice have been replaced by piracy, “austerity” and “perpetual war”: an extremism dedicated to the overthrow of democracy. Applied to an individual, this would identify a psychopath. Why do we accept it?
Today is an ugly anniversary in American history: 42 years ago, National Guardsman opened fire on anti-Vietnam protesters at Ohio’s Kent StateUniversity, killing four students. Ten days later, Mississippi police fired on civil rights protesters taking refuge in a women’s dormitory at Jackson StateUniversity and killed two more students.
Four decades later, as police across the country deployparamilitary tactics developed for fighting foreign terrorists on Occupy and some May Day protests, and as campus policeratchet up responses to tuition hike protests, we must ask, is this where things inevitably are headed—toward deadly confrontations between overly armed police and angered protesters, or just as likely, innocent bystanders caught in a crossfire?
Some of us lived through the Kent State shootings, anti-war protests and assassinations of that era. We also cannot forget the student strikes after the Kent and Jackson State killings that shut down universities and colleges. We are uneasy about a paramilitary police force’s escalating tactics as Occupy protests continue into 2012.
What’s similar today, but happening faster in our Internet-driven era, is how both sides, police and a handful of provocateurs—who may not even be associated with protesters—are willing to use violence. That was the case Tuesday as bricks were thrown at police from a San Francisco roof apparently by a disgruntled veteran and black-clad men vandalized downtown storefronts in Seattle, San Francisco and other cities. These exceptions to what have been overwhelmingly peaceful protests get the most media attention, despitecondemnation by protest organizers, including some who say police may have moderatedtheir tactics since last fall.
I don’t want to be unduly cynical, but the Kent State and Jackson State protests were typical in their day—and were met by the same kinds of police shows of force that we have seen since last fall—the use of the paramilitary tools of their time. I don’t think it is a question of if police will be provoked into indiscriminately shooting or tasering if protests seem out of control, but of when they will panic and unleash deadly force.
Police have shown no reluctance to put on riot gear, conduct mass arrests and use pepper spray, teargas and concussion grenades in recent months, just as they have shown no reluctance to spy on protesters and preemptively arrest people they suspect, often erroneously, of being leaders, as happened in New York this week. Even this video from Portland, where protest organizers say police have backed down, shows SWAT team aiming high-powered rifles at unarmed protesters and videographers.
The Kent and Jackson State anniversaries underscore many questions. When and where will a fatal police overreaction take place? Who will be the victim? What will be the reaction, including from politicians who helped to unduly militarize the police?
This scenario is not an accident waiting to happen. Police use undue force all the time, where the consequence is the armed police shooter kills an unarmed victim. It has happened many times in 2012, according to statistics compiled by the government, just not yet at an Occupy or student protest.
Stashing gold at home rather than having cash in the bank is a generations-old habit in communist Vietnam, but a recent surge in prices has sparkedgovernment attempts to bring the yellow metal to heel.
Last year the country bought more gold per capita than India or China, according to the World Gold Council, and domestic prices soared by 18 percent — far outstripping the global market’s 11 percent increase.
And old habits are dying hard, according to 60-year-old retireeTruong Van Hue, even if an ounce of gold bullion can now cost up to $100 more in Hanoi than anywhere else in the world.
“I still like to keep my savings in gold. It’s safe for retired people like me. I can sell the gold any time, anywhere, when I need cash,” he told AFP.
Although the treasure has long been perceived as a safe haven, the recent gold rush has alarmed Vietnam’s government, which is faced with an 18 percent inflation rate and an unstable national currency, the dong.
Officials are trying to dampen the gold fever by bringing the trade back into their hands, almost two decades after they formally legalised the already-common practice of private gold ownership and trading.
An alchemy of financial measures initiated last summer include a decree that placed the gold bullion business of Saigon Jewelry Company, a dominant processor and trader, under the control of the central bank.
Limiting widespread street-level trading of gold will, the official line goes, reduce price volatility and prevent retail investors from pouring into the precious metal, which undermines the already-shaky dong.
Vietnam here we come! At least that is what biotech giant Monsanto is saying. The multinational agricultural corporation most known for creating the hazardous chemical Agent Orange, which led to thousands of deaths and birth defects due to its widespread use within the country, is now attempting to begin providing Vietnam with their genetically modified foods.
During the Vietnam War, Monsanto’s Agent Orange was used as a part of the United States’ ‘herbicidal warfare program’. Having killed an estimated 400,000, deforming 500,00, and sickening 2 million, even 30 years after the war people are still suffering from the health effects induced by the chemical. Agent Orange has been shown to cause cancer, birth defects, liver damage, and other major health problems. Although the damage is great, US courts have protected both Monsanto and Dow Chemical from liability and criminal prosecution. The US government has shielded Monsanto and Dow from the massive cost of medical treatment for victims and environmental remediation cleanup costs that would spell out bankruptcy for the corporations.
Despite enormous opposition, now Monsanto is making further attempts to profit from Vietnam by selling their genetically modified creations. It would be completely outrageous to see Vietnam accept Monsanto’s GMO’s, as they have already ruined hundreds of thousands of lives with their toxic Agent Orange. Given the well-known human and environmental destruction behind GMOs, Vietnam would only be inviting back tragic health complications.