In “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” James Lowen offers a sad statistic; less than twenty percent of graduating American high school seniors have any idea of why or how we got involved in Viet Nam, let alone understand the lessons we learned from the involvement there. The fact that history books on average dedicate a page and a half to the conflict and give about twice that to the War Of 1812 could be a clue as to why their knowledge is so scant.
The past in the hands of those who really don’t want to discuss it, can be a short lesson indeed. Lowen tells us that Faulkner reminds us that the past is never the past; in fact it is right now. So whether we like it or not we going to be living the past over and over till we get it right!
Vietnam was anything but a success; a point not contested by either hawk or dove then nor now. And if you tag thirty years onto either side’s memory, your still find people entrenched on both sides of the issue. We have not gotten it right yet. What brought these memories back to me for a sudden rehashing was a recent article in TIME magazine seeking support for the victims of that war. No, not the actual casualties of action which ceased thirty years ago, but the new ones that the government of Viet Nam is trying to deal with today. These would be either children of people exposed to Agent Orange or those who live close to areas that were contaminated by it.
A nicely written piece that said in essence we dumped the chemical (dioxin) all over the place and it is our responsibility to go back and clean it up. Hard to find fault with such logic, but sad to say we never formally recognized the problems that our own soldiers suffered from after their exposures to Agent Orange. Who do they think is going to get excited about complete strangers exposure? I can’t really see any groups of scientist and chemical manufactures on the first plane over there to set up the clean up effort.
To add insult to injury the environmental community has been waiting over ten years for the EPA to issue its final report on that chemical and what it does when we create it as a side product of incineration! Every time you drive by an incinerator converting you garbage to energy or one burning up haz wastes you are in the presence of a dioxin spewer. That pretty much covers the Ohio Valley North, fromEast Liverpool Ohio, if you have a map. So before we go anteing up care packages to send back toVietnam be sure you save some spare change for yourself. While we aren’t being dosed as heavily as they were, no one has any idea of what long term exposure means for any of us. And for usVietnam vets living here there is the added bonus that we already have a head start on that exposure; lucky us.