From Chuck Searcy in Hanoi
This has been a very impressive effort with a tremendous response, more than I expected -- to be quite honest. More than 500 comments in a relatively short period following publication of the article in the Times confirms what I have believed for a long time: mixed in with the sorrow, and anger, and confusion that still may be evoked among some when Vietnam is brought up, also present are memory and emotion that pour into a very deep reservoir of goodwill among countless thousands of Americans toward the people of Vietnam as well as our own Vietnam vets. Among Americans there exists a broad sense of failure to come to grips with the enormity of what happened during the war, and we are burdened by a nagging feeling of abandonment of so many who suffered on all sides.
And now, coming more sharply into focus than I would have dreamed a few months ago, there is emerging a broad commitment to get things right -- not just to set the record straight and tell the truth, but also to bring closure to the legacies that still remain in Vietnam. America has a responsibility to clean up the bombs and mines, the enduring threat of unexploded ordnance we left behind, and to find some way to help the Vietnamese ease the burden of Agent Orange / dioxin which is still causing such suffering to millions. Americans truly feel, deep down, that we have treated the Vietnamese people unfairly and unjustly, for five decades. While we finally are recognizing and dealing with the pain and suffering of our own veterans, we have not yet fully extended that same compassion and justice to the people of Vietnam.
The 50th Anniversary commemoration may be the opportunity to do just that. It may be the opening to finally address the consequences of the war, to put the funds and resources and selfless commitments in place to make Vietnam safe from the scourge of unexploded ordnance that has killed or maimed more than 100,000 children and adults since the war ended in 1975; to provide some level of comfort and relief to families with two, three or more terribly disabled children presumed to be affected by Agent Orange, to ease their burden and make their lives more bearable.
I believe the American people are ready for that. When I was in the U.S. in August and September, I discussed those themes on several occasions, and without exception audiences responded favorably and positively, with relief, sometimes, in the knowledge that there is still time, and there are ways, to contribute to true healing in Vietnam, after all these decades.
Thanks mainly to the unflagging moral commitment of Sen. Patrick Leahy and the funding that he and a few other key members of Congress have managed to push through the appropriations process, the U.S. government is now significantly increasing funding over the next five years to deal with both of those issues: unexploded ordnance, and Agent Orange. More than $50 million will be provided for UXO mitigation, and $22 million for assistance to AO / dioxin families. That’s not a lot in the big scheme of things, but it’s much more than the $3 to $4 million provided by the U.S. each year for the past decade.
I hope that the very impressive public awareness effort created by this group, now with great momentum resulting from the NYT article, will go on to explain and present to the American people the options for healing these war wounds, and for bringing closure to the war legacies in Vietnam. The American people, the Pentagon, the White House can still turn this "official" commemoration into an historic achievement nurtured through American humility, compassion, understanding and generosity, so that we can truly bring an end to the war -- for the Vietnamese, and for the American people.
I'm not sure how we convey that to a broad base of Americans who I sense are waiting and eager for an opportunity to participate, to right past wrongs. America desperately needs a success; we desperately need something that we can point to with some modesty, and truthfulness, and say, “This is who we really are. This is what America is all about. We have finally done the right thing.” I believe we will never have a better time than now.
Based on the impact that has been achieved in just a short time by this core group in launching the Kicklighter letter, with the work of those involved with the Full Disclosure initiative, and boosted by the attention and discussions generated by Rory Kennedy's film and the upcoming Vietnam history series that Ken Burns is producing, America may now be ready to deal with Vietnam in a frank and honest way, for the first time.
This may be the historic opportunity some of us have waited for, and worked for, over the years. Now may be the time when Americans will step up and join with our Vietnamese friends and work together toward a tangible end that will mark the 50th Anniversary of the War in the most appropriate way imaginable.
What higher tribute could we choose to honor those who died on all sides than to finally clean up the debris of war as best we can, making Vietnam safe for future generations, and to reduce the pain for those who are still suffering the consequences of Agent Orange.
Then we can join together, Americans and Vietnamese alike, and truly celebrate the end of the war.
I hope this group will give some thought and consideration to this as a priority, as a tangible part of an achievable agenda.
International Advisor, Project RENEW
Co-Chair, NGO Agent Orange Working Group
Vice President, Veterans for Peace Chapter 160 (Hoa Binh)
71 Tran Quoc Toan, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: +844 6684 2622
Mobile: +849 0342 0769