Monday, November 23, 2009

The Trauma of Weapon Experiments in Vietnam and Iraq

The Vietnam War sits uneasily in many Americans’ hearts as a conflict without pride or patriotism, a battle fought for unclear aims and ended without proper respect for the soldiers upon return. For the many thousands of them sent to foreign soil to combat the supposed Communist threat, their battlefield was a new kind of experience as Vietnamese hostiles openly employed guerrilla tactics utilizing their keen knowledge of the tricky jungle terrain. This same terrain would provide a serious strategic advantage/disadvantage depending on the situation, as forces both for and against the U.S. incursion were blanketed by the natural cover afforded by the foliage. This presented a unique opportunity for elements within the U.S. military to sanction the use of experimental herbicidal chemicals to do away with the jungle cover. The most famous of these defoliants was codenamed “Agent Orange” and was spread in upwards of 10,000,000 gallons over South Vietnam, in areas occupied by allied and enemy forces alike. Seen as a crucial new weapon in the ever-changing face of global warfare, the chemical agent instead wrecked havoc upon the bodies of innocents and armed forces alike, with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs claiming several different variations of cancer as side-effects, in addition to Type 2 Diabetes and two forms of leukemia.

And their report doesn’t even scratch the possible birth defects and mental disorders as a result of continued exposure, the research of which having been openly undertaken by Vietnamese scientists for years before the United States government acknowledged the deployment of Agent Orange. In the interim, many proud American soldiers came home after a long and grueling war to discover that their own government denied culpability in affecting them throughout the widespread use of the experimental herbicide. In fact, the debate over whether exposure to Agent Orange can be listed as a possible source of disability for veterans is still hotly contested, partially due to the overwhelming number of veterans suffering due to the decision to drown them in what essentially was a carcinogenic plantkiller.

Although this specter of government denial and lost well-being for American troops has since been relegated to just another tragedy of past wars, it is important for us to remember the danger as many members of this current generation are locked in an ongoing conflict to stabilize the Middle-East, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan. As military funding has opened the floodgates for more and more weapon experimentation, with a record breaking one trillion dollars being thrown at the problem abroad in weapon spending alone, the armed forces have already begun to create the weapons of tomorrow just as they did in Vietnam with biological deterrents. There exists news online that coming out of Iraq, there is a special “Tactical High Energy Laser” capable of cutting through buses like tissue paper, and a microwave gun capable of non-lethally heating the moisture underneath a human’s skin, the latter having even been demonstrated for media outlet NBC.

At least the military claims the so-called “microwave ray gun” only causes discomfort for the targets, as the weapon was specifically developed as non-fatal. But ask anyone suffering from Hodgkin’s Disease thanks to the deployment of the “non-fatal” Agent Orange, and I’m sure they would be dubious about these assurances. As the conflicts engaged by American forces become trickier and trickier to handle in the coming years (a series undoubtedly started with the Vietnamese and Korean wars and passed down to Operation: Iraqi Freedom), the military will be more and more eager to respond to these threats with more cutting edge technology. Although contemporary health care readily acknowledges the physical dangers associated with Agent Orange, it was a battle fought hard in getting the conditions recognized with the government denying its application. Nevertheless, the effects have taken root with the soldiers, and no medical treatment can undo the cancerous ills that have befallen many veterans already. As one can see,this inevitable march of progress tends to march all over the legacy of human sacrifice and labor, and as America desperately tries to end another controversial battle overseas, it is imperative for us to recognize the possible damage done to the new wave of veterans in the name of victory under any cost.

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