Published by the Daily Texan, University of Texas at Austin

Opinion / Viewpoint

Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet arrived in the U.S. Monday for a week-long business trip, accompanied by his cabinet ministers and a business delegation. Pictured smiling and waving in photos across international news outlets, this is the first time a Vietnamese leader has visited the U.S. since the end of the Vietnam War more than 30 years ago. He paid a visit Tuesday to the New York Stock Exchange to boast his country’s economic reforms and advancement. Exports from the U.S. to Vietnam have increased by 300 percent since 2000, when the two countries signed the Bilateral Trade Agreement, and this visit serves as an economic milestone for the two countries. With Vietnam emerging as a successful developing nation, both governments clearly have dollar signs in their eyes.

But U.S. officials and Triet must also use this visit as an opportunity to address the detrimental social concerns between America and Vietnam. Although Triet was not in attendance, on the same day of his arrival, lawyers representing nearly 3,000,000 Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange appealed the dismissal of their civil lawsuit to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Plaintiffs aim to hold more than 30 U.S. chemical companies liable for billions of dollars in compensatory damages and environmental cleanup costs for producing and supplying defoliants during the Vietnam War.

While Triet kisses the hands of the U.S. economic sphere, he should bring up the fact that millions of his citizens are also suffering physically and mentally from Americans’ use of chemicals and that the U.S. has yet to take responsibility by committing to recovery efforts abroad. He should also take part in the case against the U.S. companies that used Agent Orange, possibly even after suspicion of its harmful effects.

According to the American Cancer Society, the U.S. military sprayed nearly 19 million gallons of herbicide on about 3.6 million acres of land in Vietnam and Laos to destroy forests and crops. The herbicides contained trace amounts of TCDD dioxin, which has been said to be the most toxic chemical known to science. The most widely used herbicide mixture came in a drum marked with an orange stripe, earning it a nickname that many have come to associate with utter destruction.

The VA has identified at least 11 diseases associated with Agent Orange, including Hodgkin’s disease, prostate cancer and leukemia. Under U.S. law, veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 are eligible for monetary compensation for exposure to Agent Orange, and in 1984, seven chemical companies paid $180 million to U.S. veterans, but didn’t accept liability for the chemicals’ effects.

The United States has for years been on the right track toward normalizing relations with Vietnam, through measures such as establishing trade agreements and creating liaisons between the two countries. Even public displays, such as the docking of USS Vandegrift in the port of Ho Chi Minh City in 2003, have boosted relations. While this week’s friendly business visit is a step forward for relations between the U.S. and Vietnam, the unhealed wounds of the Vietnam War should not be ignored for the sake of economic priorities.

The Vietnam War may have stopped when bombs ceased to fall in 1975, and more closure may have come when Vietnam turned over maps and reports of killed U.S. servicemen in 1995. But when Presidents Triet and Bush meet tomorrow for their scheduled summit, we hope they both keep in mind that overdue compensation must be paid before fair economic alliances can be formed. The conflict is not completely over until the U.S. takes responsibility for the lasting damage it inflicted years ago.