Earlier this month, a United States federal judge had dismissed a class suit instituted by mostly Vietnamese citizens over the U.S. use of t...

America Is Not Paying Vietnam War Victims

Earlier this month, a United States federal judge had dismissed a class suit instituted by mostly Vietnamese citizens over the U.S. use of the chemical known as Agent Orange in its war against the commies in Vietnam more than three decades ago. During the Vietnam War in the 1960’s, the U.S. Military used Agent Orange extensively by spraying these chemicals over great portion of Vietnam’s rural are in order to kill and defoliate forest coverings that are used by the communists as hiding places. The Vietnamese complainants claimed that by the massive use of Agent Orange, many Vietnamese rural dwellers were affected by its poisonous effect and became ill of numerous sicknesses ranging from diabetes to cancer. In studies made by many American universities, it was established that Agent Orange contained the chemical element known as dioxins, a highly lethal compound that is now banned from general use all over the world.

According to the ruling, the American chemical companies named in the class suit and the U.S. Military could not be held liable for the main reason that Agent Orange is not a prohibited war substance under any international law at the time of its use. This basically make the class suit devoid of any legal basis where there is no law violated, there is no crime committed. This to me amounts to escape of liability by the U.S. government by mere technicality.

Another reason for the dismissal of the class suit was that the U.S. government is immune from suit and its sovereignty could not be challenged without its consent. Meaning to say, the principle of state immunity does not allow any party to institute any action against the government on the precept that allowing these kind of suits could only interfere with the exercise of sovereignty or the functioning of the government. Simply told, governments could not be charged by any crime or tort for this would only disturb their main task of governing the state.

Under the present rules of war, Agent Orange is in no way included in the list of chemical weapons banned by the Geneva Convention on the rules and conduct of war, not even in the recent Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. Basically, Agent Orange is by nature a herbicide use in agriculture and its use by the U.S. Military was never as a weapon of warfare but as a strategic utility to clear the enemy’s cover. There have been recent calls for amendments to the rules of war since many war experts had determined that the war today is fought in a very different manner compared to decades ago where warfare is not anymore subscribe to an army-versus-army conflict but is fought with unique form of enemies like terrorists and private soldiers of despots; and therefore items like passenger airplanes like the one used in the 9/11 attack on the world Trade Center in New York and agricultural products like Agent Orange could be treated as potential weapons of war, and should be regulated and monitored.

Yet even when the U.S. Government could not be sued for war decisions, in the light of the doctrine of state immunity, the federal judge should have examined the liability of American companies who manufactured Agent Orange, and awarded some form of compensation for the harmful effect of their product. If tobacco companies could be made to pay for the direct and indirect effects of cigarettes, then why not a company making agricultural chemicals? There is a strong basis to my suggestion since in 1984, seven companies that manufactured Agent Orange agreed to pay $180 million in compensation to U.S. veterans or their next of kin. I believe that based on this jurisprudential precedence, the Vietnamese complainants should be compensated for the ill-effects of Agent Orange use by the U.S. Military in Vietnam.

Unlike the Japanese Government feigning innocence over the Imperial Army’s abuses of comfort women, the United States government should have shown exemplary kindness and consideration by indemnifying Vietnamese citizens who have became seriously ill or died as a result of the indiscriminate use of Agent Orange.


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