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Accountability is a Dirty Word

Anja Merret

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Agent Orange was the highly poisonous dioxins releasing herbicide and defoliant used by the United States military in the Vietnam war. It was used from 1961 to 1971 to encourage trees to denude unseasonably, so that the enemy could be seen more clearly. Studies, of populations highly exposed to dioxins, indicate increased risk of various types of cancer and genetic defects.

In 1984 US veterans obtained a $180 million settlement against some of the companies, such as Dow Chemical, Monsanto and Diamond Shamrock, who produced the herbicide. During the same year, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand veterans obtained compensation in an out-of-court settlement. In all cases the chemical manufacturers refused to admit any liability and paid out purely to get rid of the problem. The US Government has also refused to admit that harm has been done to it's citizens. It's another case of Vietnam Vets getting the neglect they don't deserve.

On March 10, 2005 a Judge dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange against the chemical companies that produced the defoliants/herbicides. This original action failed as the judge could not agree that there was a cause and effect to be found between Agent Orange and illnesses such as cancer. However, a new civil class action is being fought in a New York court room. The class action is against 37 US chemical companies brought on behalf of 4.8 million affected Vietnamese.

After this many years, the chemical companies feel that the question of Agent Orange has been buried. Hanoi had hesitated to support this action as it wished to normalise relations with the US first in the hope that the States’ government would voluntarily pay reparation. Of course this would never happen under somebody like Pres Bush.

Over and above the class action being brought against commercial enterprises, several activists from the States, France, Germany, India, Belgium, Benin and Switzerland, are demanding reparation be paid by the US government to governments of affected countries to assist with the cleansing process of the environment. Agent Orange has not only left behind damaged people, but has poisoned the soil and underground water reservoirs.

Maybe it is possible to punish companies for the humanitarian damage their products have done in the past. Often countries such as the United States indemnify their politicians and do not allow actions to be brought against the government. If one were to hit the corporates hard, such as chemical, pharmaceutical or armament companies, they might just be more cautious. But then one hasn't really seen the tobacco companies back down, and they certainly sell disease and death.

Anja Merret lives in Brighton, UK. Her personal blog allows her to voice opinions on issues that interest her and observations she makes.

She has started a new blog that deals with observations on self development and personal power. Her recommendation for self help tools may be found on


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