Nightmares from Vietnam are not over yet
Up until the invasion of Iraq, Vietnam was probably the deadliest example of mass murder in a non-war combat event.
Vietnam was not a war, although it is often labeled as such, because there were never two contending sides. The only contender was the American Army. On the other side, there were the Vietnamese people.
In the same way it happened in Iraq after 9/11, the United States invaded the country to “liberate” its people and “bring democracy” as it usually says it does. But the story was different, as it usually is.
It was April 30, 1975 and the columns of the North Vietnamese Army entered Saigon without much resistance.
Meanwhile, thousands of American military and South Vietnamese who collaborated with US crowded on the roof of the American embassy waiting for helicopters to evacuate the country.
The history of Vietnam is that of the first televised war, the Napalm and the rain of fire. It is remembered for the hatching of the hippie movement in the West and the first major US military defeat.
But it is also the story of a conflict of figures that even today freeze the blood. Body count strategy devised by U.S. Colonel William Westmoreland, who thought that who had a larger list of bodies would lose the war, was a complete failure that left a trail of victims among the civilian population and both armies.
More than three million Vietnamese died during the conflict which lasted from August 1964 to April 1975.
The figure, which covers both communist fighters and civilians, does not include the more than 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers who died supporting US troops.
The United States actually won the death toll 58,000 Americans are said to have died. They died but this did nothing to intimidate the Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese Army.
The costs of the conflict, moreover, did not end with the fall of Saigon. It is estimated that after the withdrawal some 800,000 tons of explosives remained in the country, which later claimed between 35,000 and 42,000 deaths since the end of the war.
The United States dropped around 8 million tons of explosives on the Asian country and used the conflict to experiment on the population with Agent Orange, a pesticide that contaminated Vietnamese food and drinking water and that spread over 10% of South Vietnam.
The health consequences of Agent Orange can be seen up until today in Vietnam. Spontaneous abortions, birth defects in new borns and disease are still rampant one and two generations later.
The United States sprayed Agent Orange more than 350,000 liters of Agent Orange. This chemical also caused health problems to American veterans of war. Nearly 5 million Vietnamese and 2 and a half million Americans were exposed to Agent Orange.
The economic figures of the conflict are not trivial either. It is estimated that the United States spent $ 250.000 million at the time -about $ 1 billion in today’s dollars- between 1965 and 1975.
After fleeing Vietnam, Americans have spent $ 80 million to clean the territory of explosives and $ 65 million to clear the area of Agent Orange. Unfortunately, this is too little too late.
Today, Vietnam is seen as an American commercial partner. Economists like to brag that such a relationship is worth around $ 35,000 million and that the U.S. is the first export market for Vietnamese products. However, mainstream economists hardly ever clarify that most of the products produced in Vietnam, which are sold in America and the rest of the world, are produced in slave labor camps where people work long hours for tiny paychecks.
More than two thirds of the present Vietnamese population was born after the war, but the bloody memories of the conflict are still open in many parts of the country.
After four decades, the effects of Agent Orange are still visible among the population. Both Red Cross and UNICEF aid programs remain in the country to cater to families whose members die suddenly, are marginalized because of their appearance or who are born anchored to a hospital bed because all types of physical or mental deficiencies.